Echoes and Shadows

Rats in the Cellar, Part II 8/3/09

In Which Our Heroes Encounter Some Very Dangerous Rodents

The heroes passed a restless night in Mendel’s basement, under the unmoving eyes of Mendel’s servant Dmitri. The party’s dreams were fraught with graphic violence, twisted space and curved angles, colors that defied the eye and mind, and vastnesses of mass and time. At one point in the night, Joseph woke up to find a worm-like tentacle writhing up from the floor and stroking his cheek, but the thing bolted back into the black stone as soon as it was seen.

Nevertheless, the next morning, if not entirely refreshed, the heroes were determined to continue to fight back against the alien things that had infested Mendel’s basement. Velle seemed to have gone off during the night, without telling anybody where he was headed; it was assumed that the Githzerai had returned to his home plane by some magical means or other. After Baldric prepared a cold breakfast, the heroes were ready to press on. However, Dmitri held up a hand to indicate that they should wait and went jogging off back upstairs (?), returning several minutes later with Mendel and two new adventurers in tow. Mendel was complaining about how his tower was turning into a hostel for vagrants. These two new individuals, were Kriv, a dragonborn swordmage, and Fellin, a deva bard. Apparently, Giotto had encountered them in town and sent them along to Mendel, along with an experimental batch of Giotto’s Restorative Alchemical Cola for the heroes to put into field testing. Mendel was not so encouraging of youthful adventurers as was his friend, and he urged the heroes to go down into the lower levels of the basement and be done with their duty. The heroes obliged.

The next sublevel of the basement was much like the first—a large room, its corners crammed full of dusty and disused arcane trash as well as empty barrels and boxes. This room, too, had a trail of glowing yellow light going along its borders, and this strip was guttering in places and elsewhere was entirely burned out. In contrast to the room above, this level sported several large shelves along its walls, and these shelves were packed to the brim with preserved biological specimens, floating in glass jars in some form of fixative solution. The heroes were moving carefully forward to get a better look when they saw the flicker of writhing tentacles at the meeting of walls and ceiling, and they braced for the attack.

Again, several thrashing nests of tentacles rushed through the air to strike at the party, but now the heroes could see several other tentacle creatures remaining floating where they were at the top of the room. These creatures twisted their tentacles in arcane patterns, tying themselves in knots and slipping back out again and stabbing at the air, and were able to inflict blasts of madness on the party even at a considerable distance. But the heroes fought bravely, with Kriv unleashing torrents of green flame at the thrashing tentacles and Fellin tossing off cutting disparagements of the creatures’ looks and ancestry that, for whatever reason, seemed to cause the writhing knots of tentacles to flinch in psychic pain. The heroes cut down the lashers and then turned their attention to the pulsars sniping at them from the shadows. Baldric leapt up on a stack of empty barrels to close to melee with the beasts, which resulted in more harm to the fighter than to the fell taints as he crashed back down on the barrels and sent splinters flying across the room. But Kriv and Joseph and Fellin possessed enough ranged firepower to take the fell taints down, and soon enough had dispersed the aliens’ essence back to their weird plane of origin.

With the immediate threat neutralized, the party found itself at liberty to inspect its surroundings. The things in the jars proved to be a rather unsettling collection of preserved organs, brains and hearts and lungs and all, as well as fetuses from numerous species. There were the expected pig and human fetuses, but more exotic specimens such as giant insect grubs and a dragonborn fetus as well. Kriv took the dragonborn fetus down from the shelf and shattered it against the basement floor; Dmitri took off running and brought Mendel back a minute later. The wizard was none too pleased, but Kriv was adamant in asserting the wrongness of keeping such a thing around, and at length Mendel threw his hands up in the air and decided to make no more of it.

Joseph had been inspecting the jars and found that one of them which contained a brain suspended in alcohol gave off a strong aura of magic. He asked Mendel about this jar, and Mendel laughingly encouraged the warlock to investigate the jar, by all means, but not to come complaining if he discovered anything he didn’t like. Mendel grumbled about ignorant neophyte adventurers and went back to his studies or his Hell curry or whatever else he had been busy with before the interruption.

Joseph was going to get a closer look at the jar, but Fellin, who showed no rational fear of anything, beat him to it. The bard went and touched the jar. The interior of the jar was instantly clouded with bubbles boiling up from the bottom, and Fellin felt an alien presence enter into his mind, as sure as a hand clamping down around his skull and squeezing with terrible force. Fellin’s eyes unfocused, and he began to speak with a voice that was not his own.

Kriv threatened to break this jar as he had the other, but was thrown back against the wall by an invisible force. Joseph began to interrogate the thing that had infested Fellin’s mind: The brain said it had been bottled up for eighteen years now, and those eighteen years seemed to only have concentrated and fermented its hatred for all things. But it hated Mendel most of all. It promised the party power and rich rewards if the heroes would just help to kill the aging wizard and assist the brain in having its revenge. Comments such as this and others in which the brain spoke of “the two-minded madness who presides over chaos” and promises of “ruling over the nothing that remains after the rotten fabric of the world is ripped apart” led Joseph to conclude that the brain had belonged a servant of Demogorgon. Finding no immediate utility for this new “ally,” the party encouraged Fellin to snap out of his trance. When the consciousness of the brain was banished back to its jar, the heroes moved on to the last level of the basement.

This level was dominated by a large magic circle drawn on the floor. Silver-painted symbols, sigils, and runes were arrayed in concentric circles on the floor. And around these diagrams, their tentacles flowing like fronds of aquatic vegetation in some invisible current, were a number of fell taints. The air around the fell taints appeared to be strangely ripped in places; small gaps hung in space, showing strange colors and some kind of movement that definitely was not coming from anywhere within the room. The party rushed forward, the alien vermin rushed forward, and battle was joined.

It soon became clear that there were new mutations of fell taints among these ranks. In addition to inflicting horrific visions and searing psychic pain, their attacks would leave an adventurer paralyzed, his limbs not responding to the normal commands. The party was hard pressed to defend itself against the onslaught of mental attacks; several of the fell taints dropped, but then the creatures began to concentrate their fire on the more vulnerable members of the party, and soon Joseph and Fellin had fallen, as well. Baldric and Kriv tried to draw the things into the magic circle-which they were taking pains to avoid-and managed to lure a couple of them in, finding that this forced the creatures fully into the material world and left them vulnerable to attack. Two more of the things fell, but two remained. The defenders went about the room, doing what they could to resuscitate their allies and forcing the alchemical cola past lifeless lips, but the monsters slapped the revived heroes back down as soon as they got up. Kriv and Baldric squared off against the remaining fell taints, killing one. Only one remained, The heroes threw everything they had at the creature, but it slashed back, cutting down Kriv, leaving only Baldric on his feet. The goliath fled from the basement to find Mendel and brought the wizard back moments later, to see the last alien running its tentacles over the inert form of Fellin. The wizard hurled a magic missile at the “rat,” blasting into into nothing. He then dragged the dead forms of the heroes into the magic circle and dusted the bodies with silvery residuum, then kicked at the bodies and demanded that they get back up. The revived heroes were blinking and confused and weak, but alive.

Mendel grunted his satisfaction, and immediately set about the incantation of a ritual. When he was finished, the tears in the air stitched themselves back up and vanished, and the swatch of yellow light running around the edges of the room grew bright and constant. The wizard grudgingly admitted that the heroes had earned their reward and encouraged them to go off to the inn in town and return the next day, when he would be willing to share what he knew of Thomas Iggins. And so the battleworn heroes staggered off to enjoy a well-deserved rest in real beds, without creatures of nightmare invading their dreams.

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