...The battle becomes a desperate slog for the party, the horror of what they swim in lost amidst the adrenaline and desperation of their battle. Another thing lurks down in the pit as well; some kind of slime woven from shadows and darkness, which attempts to strike at the Veteran several times before skulking off to the darkest corners of the chamber. The Groth'Ergulg continue to bite and lash at the adventurer's down the pit, Zaruel dropping down to lend his support to the beleaguered warforged and Iron Defender, followed shortly afterwards by the vyrleen. Ardwaine assists from above, firing her crossbow down at anything that hoves into view, accompanied by the lethal bow of the seeker and Ormid's artifice.
Weariness burns in the limbs of all, the adventurer's as they battle the filth dwellers, and with the carrion crawlers paralytic venom surging through them, those in the cess pit find themselves waging a desperate battle against a horrific, choking death. The Veteran manages to rip the life from the first of the Groth'Ergulg - it's bloated body collapsing with a wretched hiss of putrid gasses, spilling greasy entrails and steaming filth into the churned mire - and at sight of this, much of the enthusiasm of the other two Otyugh's flees. They stay a little while longer, and manage to land more infected blows upon the party (Zaruel at one point is particularly brutally wounded, his magnificent armour rent and torn), but with the searing blades of the warforged seeking their stinking flesh, they soon lose enthusiasm, and sink, burping and growling, into the filth – or at least would have were they allowed to by their foes, who strike at them as they flee, laying them open to the muck and ultimately, to death.
By this point, every adventurer – both those in the filth, and those above – are grimy with exhaustion; their arms and legs sore from the constant effort, the initial surge of adrenaline fading, leaving a numb, burning heaviness. The crawler continues to attack the party, its 15' long feelers lashing everywhere in a mad frenzy, leaving horrible poisoned wounds wherever they make contact. The Veteran slogs his way through the clawing sludge of the pit, his blazing axe held high like a shield, swatting aside the tentacles that whip down at him, leaving smears of shit and poison on his armoured plates. Dwarfed by the writhing bulk of the massive bug, he sweeps his blade out in a wide arc, a half dozen feelers falling free, their stumps squirting yellowish haemolymph. The crawlers rears up, smashing chunks of masonry from the roof, the vibrations of its violent movement rumbling through the whole structure, and attacks again, the warforged disappearing within the torrent of snapping tentacles. However, the crawler suddenly goes limp, a great globule of sticky gore erupting from between the monster's chitin, and with a shuddering squeal, a ripple travels along its sinuous body, and it dies.
A moment later, and Veteran swims free of the massive corpse.
02:01 – 02:02 – Back at the top of the shaft, the three adventurer's hear the roar of the crawler (they cannot see it as it moved back away from the bottom of the shaft), and they feel the dull shock of it slamming against the roof moments before its death. Ormid begins to yell down the pit to the warriors, asking them if they are all right, his screeching voice thin and raw in the ammonia rich steam that rises from below. However, as he does this, so Shadevia notices that the double doors which lead into the Malfrect tannery begin to open, and with a harsh whisper, she shoves the artificer – who is leaning over the pit – into it.
“Have you gone mad?” Begins Ardwaine, before she too notices the doors opening, and the grim figure they reveal, and with a curse, jumps into the stench.
With Ormid landing hard in the slop below, his voice echoing his shock and revulsion, and the dundorin cannon-balling into the stew besides him, sending a burst of churned filth up and over the others nearby, the shadeling risks a look back before the doors fully open, and for a heart stopping moment meets the nightmare gaze of the one who stands there...
...He is, or at least was, human, of that she is sure. He stands roughly 9' tall, and wears the same, bone-like plate armour that all the mortals in Black Hook wear. His flesh is the colour of dried blood and cracked, a dismal reddish glow emanating from within his body, and his head is wrong somehow; distorted, stretched, as if the human skull has been distended by a large canine skull within, trying to emerge. Stubby, twisted horns jut out above his dark, fiery eyes, and his diabolical features carry a tortured expression of disdainful amusement, agony and irritation. He is heavily built, and again the shadeling realises that something is wrong – her mind trying to forget the fact that he had an extra pair of arms – short, malformed and clawed – growing from the bottom of his ribs. He appeared unarmed in that briefest of glances, though she saw that there were two things – masses of steaming fluid and cess – that followed him; constructs or summonings of some kind...
02:03 – 02:10 – Shadevia lands with a slap in the mire, and all the group look up briefly before scurrying into the darkness away from the line of sight of anyone looking down. A moment later and the sound of the doors at the top of the shaft being slammed shut ring out, followed by muffled, evil laughter, and then a low, constant swooshing sound – like waves continually breaking. Gathered in the putridity of the cess, the group can all feel the gradual press of the slowly building gasses squeezing their brains with poisoned fingers, and knowing now that the owners of the tannery must be aware of their presence, and that to stay here too long would be certain death, they begin to try and fathom a way out.
The Veteran is all for going back up and fighting his way in, whilst Shadevia and Ardwaine want to try and find a more stealthy option. Ormid reminds everyone that he can, if given some time, recharge the Veteran's burrowing girdle, which could be used to create a way out of the pit without exposing everyone to a full frontal – and, he points out to the warforged, suicidal – assault.
“But we can't stay here.” Groans Llewellyn, trying to ignore the dizziness and headache that are starting to press on him.
“What about through there?” Asks Zaruel, pointing at the sagging form of the crawler, “The tunnel it's made must lead somewhere, and it's better than treading effluence and waiting to be suffocated?”
The group agree, and Veteran swims his way through the porridgy filth and with a little assistance, is able to pull the massive bulk of the slain monster out of the hole from which it emerged, revealing a rank tunnel cut from the foundations of the city, thickly smeared with filth.
“I guess we go in then?” Coughs Ardwaine.
02:11 – 02:16 – The stronger members of the party help the rest to “swim” through the revolting filth in the pit, and soon everyone stands within the tunnel. Ormid, despite the stench and the danger he and the group are in, actually starts to feel better about his companions, and with an inner warmth, finds that his despairing distrust has flown, replaced with an eagerness, for now, to work with his allies and old friends. Zaruel seems unmoved by the entire ordeal, as does Ferrous, whilst everyone else tries not to think too hard about the weariness and pain that sweeps through them.
The group move a small way into the tunnel and rest for a moment as soon as they feel the cess gasses are not an issue. During this time, they try to scrape the worst of the muck off themselves, and those with wounds wash them with drinking water as best they can, binding them with damp and rather dirty bandages pulled from their leaking and cess stained backpacks. Down here, there is only the light of the warforged's flaming axe and the angelic paladin's relucent blade, and beyond their meagre glow, the darkness swims with imagined threats.
Only not all the threats are the produces of minds strained by weariness and in many cases, the onset of illnesses borne in the filth, for something without form slithers like a glistening black carpet along the roof of the tunnel, mindlessly heading towards the warmth and noise it's sensitive body has detected. Flowing like a lush, oily wave over the rock, the green slime gets within a few feet of the party before it is spotted by the keen, black eyes of the shadeling.
“On your guard, something approaches!” She hisses, grabbing her bow and leaping to her feet.
“Ugh, another ooze of some kind.” Roars Ormid.
“Green Slime!” Replies the seeker, “Turns flesh into muck if allowed. Deadly, but stupid and weak against fire and light.”
The group form up, the warriors at the front.
“There is something else further down.” Growls Llewellyn, peering past the warforged into what seems to be a small cave further down the tunnel, “Are they. Are they mushrooms?”
02:16 – 02:17 – They are indeed mushrooms of a kind; carnivorous fungi that the dundorin calls simply “Violet Fungi”. There are three in all, and two green slimes; a potent band of monsters that have lived on the excretions and uneaten prey of the carrion crawler for long and long, down here, in the steamy, choking dark, but which have never met the like of the group before.
Soon they are no more, though they have left several members of the party with brutal stings and eyes gummed and half-blinded by spores.
02:18 – 02:25 – Now feeling the weight of their trials keenly, the group discuss whether or not to take a proper rest. Ardwaine in particular argues that their chances of success are going to be increased hugely if they take some time to gather their strength, knit their wounds with magic and prepare themselves for whatever measures the Syndicate – who are clearly aware now that something is cracking off – will take to keep Mishazael from them. Ormid and the Veteran are the main proponents for pressing on, arguing that the longer the group give their enemies to prepare a defence, or to sniff them out, the lower their overall chances of success.
In the end it is decided that the group will not take a long rest, and that Ormid will go ahead and re-energise the burrowing belt so that Veteran can create a passage down beneath the tannery, and hopefully, closer to the imprisoned angel.
02:36 – 02:40 – The party now stand at the end of a 35' long tunnel, ripped from the ground by the warforged and his ensorcelled belt, by a wall of dark purple metal, which utterly resisted the biting blades of force which had so effortlessly torn solid rock apart.
“Durium.” States the dundorin, rapping it with her knuckles, “Incredible alloy that is tougher even than adamantium. Needs sorcery to make, which is why my people tend to leave it be. 'Tis dwaer metal.”
Ormid examines the wall, and nods as he listens to the priestesses words. “It is a very resilient material, and for almost any other troupe would be the end of the line. However, I do believe I may have a way to punch through it.”
“Ah, no no no lady, you may scoff, but I am an expert metallurgist, and I am sure that I can, with a little time and effort, set up a magical resonance within the alloys binding energies, which may make it more vulnerable to brute force.”
The warforged smacks his hands together at this. “I can help with that.”
Ormid nods. “If you are all happy for me to try, I can start at once.”
Shrugging and mumbled agreements. “Right then, be ready. Once I have got things going I shall point to the areas most vulnerable to being shattered. Give them a damn good shove, and if we are lucky, the metal will shatter before my brain does.”
Ormid then turns to the wall and closes his eyes. At once, the ambient temperature begins to drop, steam suddenly banking off the adventurer's, their breath fuming in the metal tasting air. A subtle charge tingles across the skin of all gathered there as the artificer begins to manipulate the fabric of the local dimensional skin with channelled arcane energy, an uncanny pressure gathering around him like condensing lighning. To his eyes, the physical world falls away, replaced by a trillion delicate threads of glowing energy; the magics that bind spirit to body, that holds those forms together, and which fill all the spaces in between. He can see the enchantments within his own armour and the items of his allies; flickering webs of neon energy held within rigid patterns where they are lain within the bounds of their physical forms, as well as the auroral play and shift of ambient magics – the “free” energies born of the very plane itself and its interactions with those beyond. He can see the spikes and needles of power as they flow through and around his allies, each one's subtly different in composition and feel, and can see clearly the tight structures of magic crystallised into the durium plating before him.
Concentrating, he reaches out mentally to the gossamer smoke of the ambient magics and begins to form it into something that has no physical strength or power, but which to the metaphysical constructs he perceives in the metal, is as solid and destructive as a battering ram. Ignoring the growing headache and the taste of copper in his flesh and blood mouth as he channels this power, keenly aware of the terrible repercussions should he lose control, Ormid begins to direct this blunt, smashing power at the bonds in the metal, striking it again and again, each blow sending a sympathetic wave of disruption through the eldritch structures before him.
To his altered level of perception, it seems to take a small eternity for the resonances to begin to undo the fundamental structures of the metal, though in truth, barely a minute has passed. Bleeding from his nose now, the artificer pushes on, smashing the structure again and again, watching as ripples of disruption flow out from the point of impact and begin, in certain areas, to form pools of agitated light; weak spots in the metal. On and on he goes, his mind now utterly dedicated to the task at hand, and soon the pools begin to fragment, sending spiderwebs of broken magic out into the solid frame of the durium's structure. Enraptured by the scene, he almost forgets that crude flesh and blood creatures are waiting for him to do...something...
“There!” Screams Ormid, pointing at the section of wall, “And there, there and...gnnnnrgh....there! Strike them all together when I give the word, and for the love of the immortals, if you punch through, shake me to make sure I can break f-f-f-freeee of this....effort....”
Dots of red spatter on the artificer's filthy boots as he returns to the arcane level of perception, and he sees that finally the weakness has spread enough that the right amount of physical pressure will shatter the metaphysical structures.
“NOW!” he gasps, sinking to his knees, “STRIKE AS HARD AS YOU CAN!”
They do, and with a brittle, desiccated sound, the metal shatters into a thousand shards, opening a way through. At the instant this occurs, Ormid passes out, and the shadeling's keen senses pick up the dismal thrumming of a magical alarm soundlessly screaming in the gloom beyond the wall.