43: Fomorian Forward Camp, Part 1 (2018-03-09)
The Menagerie stands at the mouth of a large tunnel, its entrance a static eruption of earth and stone. The slope is not gradual, but also not steep enough to hinder movement. The tunnel maintains a rough average of thirty feet in both width and height, and the earth is densely packed from the comings and goings of a small army. Haeltin’s heightened senses detect Anastrianna’s scent among that of many orogs leading into the cavern, so the party begins their descent; everyone is on foot except for Zed, who sits atop his elk mount, Bullwinkle.
It’s evident that the walls of the tunnel have been intentionally worked smooth, yet roots of varying sizes project into the tunnel’s interior. These roots are all covered in a thick, grey fungus, and seem very much the worse for it. Hael scrapes some of this fungus into a vial and manages to avoid drawing breath as the stuff enthusiastically throws out spores.
The cavern snakes its way further and deeper into the ground, and the group soon progress far enough into the system to be completely enveloped in pitch darkness. Nearly everyone can see in darkness except for Finn, who affixes her familiar, Sally, to her head and channels her vision through the lizard. After some time, the dim shape of a fortification gate made of sharpened logs is visible just at the edge of the party’s vision; at the same time, four crossbow bolts zip out of the darkness and find purchase in Val and Bullwinkle as four Orogs notice the intruders. The party is able to make relatively quick work of the guards, and with the classic combo of Val’s flaming sphere and Gimble’s web, none of them live long enough to escape and raise an alarm.
Beyond the guardpost, the grand tunnel continued on and down, but several smaller tunnels branched off to the sides. Anastrianna’s scent continued down the main tunnel, but the orcish smell did as well, stronger and stronger as the tunnel went until finally the party came to a sharp turn in the cavern and the scent of the eladrin was completely overpowered. Hael theorized that the entire orcish host might be nearby, and the group decided to investigate the side branches to ensure that something nasty would not catch them from behind.
The first side tunnel that the party investigates begins to slope upwards for a while, and they discover that it terminates in a ladder up to a trapdoor. The door swings upward on a hinge to reveal a different part of the Murkwood; it seems that the orcish host has multiple muster points from which sorties could depart. They investigate a second tunnel, and find a similar sally point. In the third tunnel, Finn (through Sally’s exemplary darkvision) discovers a couple of orogs directing the tunneling efforts of a large creature, possessed of a plated exterior, pointed muzzle, and thick, sharp claws. She retreats, informs the group of this ““rock dog,”” and they elect to try another direction.
In another tunnel, Haeltin catches the scent of something marine; the smell of water, but also of salt, and an undercurrent of something acrid. They come to a cliff that opens up into a large cavern, and spreading out some twenty feet below is a small underground lake - the source of the marine scent. Squinting in the darkness, the group is able to make out hafts of weaponry, ragged clothing scraps, damaged leathers, and dissolving general refuse. It seems like this is where the orcish host dumps their trash, and it seems like it might be dangerous. Zed and Bullwinkle trek back to the guardpost and retrieve a body (christened ““Ted””) to dump into the liquid, and although there isn’t a flashy reaction, some sort of acidic effect can be observed. When Ted hits the surface of the water, the movement of something in the distance catches someone’s eye, and the Menagerie discovers that what was initially thought to be the back wall of the cavern actually extends for some unknown distance in a jagged passageway. This small corridor extends downward, meaning that the acidic liquid travels through it as well.
More exploration of the cave system results in a tunnel that widens for a few dozen feet into a larger room, littered with weapons and cast-off clothing. Val moves in to acquire one of the cloaks for herself, but the cloak attacks! It unfurls into a large stingray-like creature, leather-cloak-brown on top but pale white underneath, and latches on and envelops Val in a smothering embrace. She wild shapes into a giant elk and breaks the creature’s hold, but two other cloaks stir to life and attack the party as well. A memory comes rushing back to Haeltin of his father, who had fought these things once before, and he is able to identify them as ““cloakers”” and warns the party against striking them while they’re latched onto an ally. Immediately thereafter, he is enveloped, and Finn uses her wand of magic missile to attack the cloaker, harming Hael in the process. The battle continues, with most of the party focusing on two of the cloakers while the third cloaker and Gimble have a mirror image contest. Gimble burns through most of his luck and arcane reserves, but eventually the Menagerie stand victorious after a hard-won combat.