Chapter 9: Tunnels of Mud
Blood and mud, attacks.
With each step we sink deeper.
Dark magics confront us.
~ Miyara Miwa
I looked over Ravena's shoulder as she drew a rough sketch of the entire area: where we had been as well as what only Res Li had seen so far. The sketch was enough for me to see how it all fit together. I carefully considered our options. I could see where it was likely that some tunnels met up. I decided we should explore the one that left from the stage first.
Jeisan led, still carrying Res Li on his shoulders, followed by Kyosuke, me, Sutoiko, and the rest behind.
The passage curved, and we came to a locked door. Res Li said it was a finished room with a door on the opposite side. Ash moved up and hacked the door open. The room was empty, and the door on the other side was not locked. I was certain the tunnel would just lead back to the room with the stage, but in fact it forked almost immediately. We followed the left passage and found that it did go back into the stage room, but also had another passage from it. So we cleared two passages from the room and gained two more to explore. Much like the tentacles that replace themselves.
We started to follow the second tunnel, which led out of the mud. Then Res Li shouted that tentacles were back, and they attacked the rear of the party. I could not see around the curves, but someone shouted back that Mongo and the White Faerie were battling numerous tentacles, and then Ash started to slowly move up from the middle to help, exchanging places with one person at a time. From the front of the line, I could never get there in time to help. The quickest way to the back of the line was also blocked, as we snaked around two corners. We were stretched too thin because of the narrow halls. From my memory of Ravena's sketch, there was still a tunnel that ended in the stage room unaccounted for, and another on the other side that led directly to the back of the line; the tunnel I stood in was between the two.
I decided to move up the tunnel, hoping it would lead me back to where I could go help the two battling the tentacles. Kyosuke and Jeisan, and Res Li of course, came with me.
The tunnel rose out of the mud; then we could, and did, run. We came to a round room with one exit. It did not lead the direction I hoped, but it still could meet the tunnel from the stage room. We continued that way, Jeisan in front with his longer legs. Right in front of me, he shouted and he and Res Li disappeared. I slid to a stop just before following them down. If I had not seen them go through the floor, I would certainly have fallen. The illusion hid the deep pit in the ground, but knowing it was there, I could see through it. Jeisan and Res Li were about 20 feet down a narrow, straight-cut pit. And none of us had a rope: the White Faerie probably did, but he was still battling tentacles, still without our help.
Jeisan actually threw Res Li up out of the pit, where I caught him. Then we heard the others coming up the tunnel towards us. Were they retreating? Had they chased the tentacles away again? Were Mongo and the White Faerie dead? Were tentacles following them all up the tunnel?
I moved to one side of the door, out of the way of anyone coming in and ready to attack anything that was not one of us. Kyosuke placed himself opposite me, ready to do the same. I could hear the battle still taking place down the hall and around the curve.
As they entered the room, one by one, the rear of the party, Ash, Mongo, and the White Faerie, came into view, still battling the tentacles, but also still alive. The fighting retreat finally brought them up out of the mud, and the tentacles did not follow them.
Ravena took care of the wounded, the White Faerie cast a rope down to Jeisan to get him out of the pit, and the rest of us looked around the room. It was empty. Res Li looked carefully, but there really was nothing here.
The White Faerie told us that just before the attack, he had another vision. He had seen a beautiful white, strangely shaped crystal, pulsating slowly. Suddenly, a huge number of writhing tentacles came at him, and he found himself fighting for real.
He believed the crystal was somehow healing, or regenerating the creature and that we had to find and destroy it to kill the creature. Else it would surely whittle us down, bit by bit.
We spent a short time catching our breaths while Ravena cared for the wounded. Then we continued on our way.
We carefully climbed around the hidden pit and exited the room through the tunnel behind it. It curved, and then of course led us right back down into the mud.
Before we quite came to the next door, the tentacles attacked us again, this time from the front. Jeisan, Kyosuke, and I fought while Ash made his way up to help, and Res Li looked through the door. It was not locked, but there were more tentacles on the other side keeping it shut.
I had several tentacles attacking me at once. I fought them as best I could, but did not fare so well this time. Too many of them battered me as I sliced through them, only to be replaced by others. I clung to consciousness, as the last thing I wanted to do was pass out and fall into the mud. Ash arrived before that happened, and I changed places with him. Kyosuke and Jeisan fought their tentacles, Ash and I fought mine, and then the White Faerie was there as well. With three of us fighting them off, I was cleared quickly, and I changed places with the White Faerie. Dizzy, I made my way to Ravena, who took care of the worst wounds immediately. That done, I felt less like fainting and stood there, watching the others drive away the tentacles yet again.
Res Li looked through the door and saw a writhing mass of tentacles. The room itself was far larger than he could see, but what he did see was empty. The White Faerie tried to push open the door, but there were too many tentacles holding it shut. He said he would smash it open with his maul, and we should make torches of the remains. So he set himself, with Res Li on his shoulders, and started to bash the door, with Ash right behind him. The rest of went back up the tunnel above the mud. Ravena did her healing trick on me while we waited.
We heard a shout that they were through, and that the tentacles pulled away. Mongo went to explore the new room, while the rest of us waited where we were.
They were gone for a short time, then returned, and we discussed what they had found.
The room opened out into a much larger room, with a dais and a cage in the middle. The walls were covered in religious rites of the faeries, but the White Faerie said they were not quite right and were rather disturbing. The far wall had two huge bronze panels, each with a bas relief of a hideous, screaming face, covered with sores. The bronze panels appeared to be doors, but they were reluctant to open them, with such pictures on them.
The cage in the middle was empty, although there was a hole in the ceiling inside of it.