As the party caught their breath, recovering from the disturbingly. gory battle with the stone-wretches, they discussed how to proceed. Despite her bravery—and occasional hint of bloodlust—Talise wondered aloud why they shouldn’t just return to Andovahl and tell the High Lord that they had found those responsible for the disappearances in the mines. The other’s considered it, but all agreed that they should find more proof and, more, that proceeding now would prevent the cult from regrouping from their attack or, worse, somehow concealing their presence, or departing entirely while the eladrin debated a course of action. Brother Torm in particular argued that they should follow the path at hand rather than backtracking.
Though the last battle had indeed been bloody, very little of it had been theirs, so they agreed to continue.
And suddenly there came a tapping, as of someone gently rapping at the wall that they had opened with their magic doorknob.
Of course, they opened it. And, of course, they found Ol’ Slosh, who, cautiously at first, but then quite brazenly, saunter-staggered in and informed them that everyone already knew they were there now, so he may as well come in. As he did, it was clear that the caverns did indeed notice. He seemed bent on carrying on deeper into the tunnels.
And so they did, moving back into the tunnel where they’d encountered the gnome and the stone men, and then exploring the side tunnels branching therefrom.
The first was also the worst. It was clearly being used for storage of the food supply for the stone wretches—which turned out to be the dead and rotting bodies of dozens of miners. Most of the party hung back while Ol’ Slosh, not unaffected by the horror, but mumbling about having smelled worse, rummaged about in the horribly putrefied muddy people-goo, digging up a small trove of identifying patches, baubles and belt-buckles that could be used to demonstrate the identities of the “corpses” they’d found. He also turned up a fine but mundane onyx holy symbol of Duergath, the dark god of the southern dwarves.
When he tossed the symbol to Caelythanya, she caught and cleaned it at a distance with a few waves of her wand. Some resonance from the touch of her magic on the necklace caught the attention of the magically sensitive in the group, and all eyes slowly turned to the gory mudbath before them.
Between them, they determined that through some dying urge, lent force by faith and Deurgath’s vengeful intransigence, the bloody muck, properly collected, might be used later to break a curse of magical petrification such as they had already encountered in these cursed tunnels.
Gritting her teeth, Caelythanya carefully scooped up several vials of the goo, fastidiously preserving the magical properties thereof—in this dark place, even the aid of Duergath might be welcome.
After a brief and semi-effective magical cleaning of Ol’ Slosh the party moved on.
The next chamber contained little of interest, having clearly been a sort of guardroom for the stone-wretch sentries they’d first encountered.
As the group moved down the short main tunnel towards the next branching, they all became aware of a strange distortion…both a sense and an actual memory that the central corridor had been longer when they’d first encountered the gnome. Indeed, all but Ol’ Slosh could remember that the tunnel had led off into darkness before while now they could all clearly see that it terminated in a larger cavern just a few dozen paces away.
Puzzled by this, the party paused while Caelythanya and Kimiak felt about them, physically and mystically. After a moment, both the eladrin and the throck indicated that they could still make out the other, longer tunnel, which seemed to somehow coexist in the same space as the current tunnel, but simultaneously somewhat closer to the elemental chaos.
Caelythanya suggested that she might be able to teleport into it, but clearly didn’t want to. Kimiak, unwilling to leave the phantom passage unexplored, insisted on stepping into it, though she volunteered to tie a rope around her waist, and asked that if she was gone for more than a minute, they should pull her back.
And so the throck stepped between worlds. As she did, her form grew hazy and insubstantial while simultaneously slowing as though moving through some clear, gelatinous wall. Her stoney feet had tread not even a full stride before the party was pulling on the rope to bring her back, with the result that the rope passed through her body and returned without her.
The party was, really, not overly surprised at this.
A few moments discussion set their minds at ease, as Caelythanya assured them that she was mostly certain that Kimiak was not in immediate danger from the parallel tunnel itself. She seemed to believe that Kimiak would likely just reappear deeper in these same tunnels, and would just require a much longer time to get there. Likely she wouldn’t even realize that she’d been gone overly long. At worst, in the unlikely event that the Other Tunnel was somehow unstable and collapsed, the throck would be ejected somewhere else in the nearby Feywild or Mana’era, or, at worst, somewhere in the Elemental Chaos.
It was extremely unlikely that she would be crushed out of existence in a rapidly collapsing extradimensional space. That almost never happened.
Unsure what else to do, the party proceeded to the next branch of the tunnels, which terminated in a small, cluttered room that had clearly been the quarters of the gnomish elementalist they’d encountered earlier. Some exploration revealed a significant quantity of ritual components and a magical circle inscribed on the floor in chalk and blood. The party was unable to determine the circle’s purpose, but they were able to make out symbols and scribblings that translated roughly to “Grorri sits in contemplation of stone,” though the script, tense and…feel…of the inscriptions gave the phrase a strange and unpleasant tone.
On hearing that name, Caelythanya started slightly, and announced that she recognized it. She recalled aloud that Grorri had been the name of the gnomish assistant to an eladrin mystic named Demmarris had gone to explore the infamous Terlin Shaft. If indications were to be believed, at least some of Demmarris’ expedition seemed to have found their way back from wherever they’d gone.
Lacking reason to investigate Grorri’s room further, the party turned their attention to the large room at the end of the main tunnel where they hoped Kimiak was slowly making her way.
The cavern was the largest in the complex so far, with a pillar supporting it at its center and two large boulders set at the entrance of the two passages leading out, the leftmost of which led down a rough stairway and out of sight.
Slosh was the first across the threshold, and he froze immediately, having clearly seen something alarming. He whispered and unclear warning behind him before bounding suddenly off to one side, seeming to take cover behind the central pillar, hiding from whatever he’d seen.
As the rest of the group edged forward, peering into the large cave, they saw what had startled the drunkard.
A tall, slender humanoid, seemingly made of living stone and dressed in worn robes stood across the room, partly hidden by the boulders, grinding his rocky hands along the haft of a bulky, hewn-stone cudgel.
He spoke, like gravel on a washboard. He called himself Demmarris, and went on at length about the right of the primordials to all the planes of Erat. He spoke of the purity of his devotion to The Eldest, and his lord Ogremach, and demanded the intruders either join his cause, or leave these tunnels.
He singled out Talise, scolding her for accepting the gifts of The Eldest and offering her support while standing before him in defiance.
As he monologued, Fate kept him speaking while he subtly gestured Slosh to carry on sneaking along the caver wall to flank the earthen mystic. It seemed to be working, and Demmarris none the wiser, until the boulder between Slosh and his prey bulged, murmured, and lashed out.
Demmarris shouted a curse against their treachery, and smote the ground with his great cudgel, throwing most of the party to the ground. Meanwhile, the two great boulders unfurled into strange inverted stone blossoms the size of ogres and moved to assault the party.
The Apostle of Ogremach struck the ground again, drawing forth a fierce, winged gargoyle which flew immediately to the attack. He then turned to flee down the stairs. He might have escaped except for Caelythanya’s chilling magics, which slowed him enough to allow Ol’ Slosh, somewhat the worse for moving past the flailing tentacles of one of the great boulder beasts, to reach him.
The fight got serious quickly. Both Demmarris and Ol’ Slosh fell to the ground mortally wounded by each other and, in Demmarris’ case, the deadly magics of Slosh’s friends. Meanwhile, the gargoyle successfully prevented the party from moving too effectively to Slosh’s aid, and one of the giant elementals nearly killed brother Torm by pulling him into its grinding, deadly interior.
In the end, Brother Torm forced his way from the rubbley remains of one elemental as the other carried Demmarris’ dying body down the stairs, the gargoyle, largely uninjured, guarding their retreat against the badly wounded party. Fate seemed desperate to give chase, but his companions, including Ol’ Slosh who had been rescued by the last minute administration of a healing potion, waved him off.
Whether the battle rightfully belonged to the category of “win” or “draw,” all agreed that they were unlikely to survive an immediate rematch.