Monday, March 6, 2017

"The Fetid Wedding" - Out of the Abyss, Chapter 43


Zuggtmoy was prepared. The demon queen had already conquered the mushroom kingdom known as Neverlight Grove, its myconid inhabitants now served her as obedient thralls. Soon she would merge with the great Araumycos, a single fungal life form whose tendrils reached for hundreds of miles in all directions. She already infected the great entity with her poison spores. The spores grew quickly and would soon completely dominate Araumycos' vast consciousness. That moment quickly approached.

Zuggtmoy's vanity would never allow her to simply dominate great Araumycos. She had to make a show of it. She would be joined with the entity in an elaborate public display with a grand wedding ceremony. She had to be seen becoming the ruler of a new world.

She strode forth confidently trailing a lacy train of delicate fungal strands. She was accompanied by her loyal handmaidens who now served as bridesmaids. A throng of her converts lined her procession, dancing and swaying to some inaudible music.

She entered the great chamber at the center of Araumycos. Her "high priest" stood atop a giant mushroom watching as she slowly approached. She saw the thousands of witnesses. A sly grin crept across her rubbery face.

Then she noticed it. Something was wrong. Someone was in contact with her betrothed. Someone was trying to wake Araumycos and warn it! Someone was trying to stop her!

No! Not when she was so close! She halted her procession. The bridesmaids looked at each other, confused. Zuggtmoy closed her eyes. She made telepathic contact with Araumycos. She would have to stop the interlopers herself!

OUT OF THE ABYSS, CHAPTER 43
"THE FETID WEDDING"

Five heroes scour the Underdark
in order to find the ingredients
of an arcane ritual
that will banish the Demon-Lords
back to the Abyss
from which they escaped.

Thus far the expedition has managed to acquire
all the components save for the tinmask mushrooms
from the footsteps of a demon.

But first they must wake Araumycos
a massive fungus the size of several nations
with the mind of a sleeping god,
before it falls under the control
of Zuggtmoy, the demon-queen of fungi, 
in a bizarre wedding ceremony...

THE LEADERS OF THE EXPEDITION
Sir Valerius Adeques - (PC, human paladin 11, male) Defender and champion of the old gods of nature, commander of the forces from the Order of the Gauntlet.
Willow - (PC, human wizard 11, female) "the solution is always fireball!"
Ront - (PC, half-orc barbarian 11, male) Savage orc of the Iron-Thews tribe seeking redemption for his failures.
Pain Grille' - (PC, halfling rogue 11, male) Wily street urchin from Waterdeep, was turned to stone in Blingdenstone but got better, commander of the Lord's Alliance forces.
Cordon - (PC, human cleric 11, male) Morninglord, Holy Radiant of Lathandor the Sun God, on a holy quest to activate the Maze Engine.

THE SURVIVING MEMBERS OF THE EXPEDITION
Thora Nabal - (NPC, human veteran, Order of the Gauntlet)
Sylrien Havennor - (NPC, human veteran, Order of the Gauntlet)
Elias Drako - (NPC, human veteran, Order of the Gauntlet)
Tamryn Tharke - (NPC, human veteran, Order of the Gauntlet) Gravelly voiced amazon with the hots for Feral.
Olaf Renghyi - (NPC, human veteran, Order of the Gauntlet)
The Shield Guardian - (NPC, shield guardian) a contribution from Lord Zelraun Roaringhorn of the Harpers.
Phwee-toop - (NPC, owl) Willow's familiar.

THE GUARDIANS OF ARAUMYCOS
The overworlders moved cautiously into the great cavern at the center of Araumycos. They were bearing the rapport spores of Sovereign Basidia, the true leader of the myconids, which would allow them to make telepathic contact with the ancient fungal entity. They had been warned that while Araumycos slept he was protected by guardians.

The great cavern was vast, larger than any arena or hippodrome, and filled with fungal life of gigantic proportion. There were side chambers that were hundreds of feet across. Every surface was covered in mushrooms that grew waist to shoulder high with the occasional zurkhwood towering to a hundred feet tall. They all emitted a dim glow which gave the dark chamber a soft luminescence.

They could feel the presence of Araumycos all around them.

In response to their intrusion a giant zurkhwood began to shift and move. It began shambling towards them. With it came seven small zurkhwoods.

Pain stepped forward and attempted to communicate with the larger one. It made no reaction and continued its mindless advance towards them.

Cordon cast a radiant fireball which was directed at the larger defender. Willow followed up with an arcane fireball directed at the zurkhwoods to the left. The larger zurkhwood defender caught fire and collapsed. Its mushroom head expanded with gas and exploded, spraying the area with spores. The defender expired, falling into a burning mass. The other animated zurkhwoods returned to their immobile state.

As the spores descended upon the expedition, they began to feel drowsy. The rapport spores of Sovereign Basidia were communicating with the spores of the dying defender. The overworlders swayed and fell unconscious to the soft spongy ground.

The warriors of the Order of the Gauntlet formed ranks around the unconscious heroes with the myconid allies of Sovereign Basidia forming a defensive outer ring.


The Overworlders found themselves floating in a grey void. All around them floated far away mountains or nearby pebbles, it was impossible to tell distance or scale.

Distinct from the other floating rocks was what appeared to be a smooth white marble hemisphere. They were drawn towards it. As they flew through the void they began to realize that the white marble hemisphere was as large as a mountain. It rotated to reveal a blank human face. The hemisphere was the head of an ancient marble statue. The head was broken and cracked and was missing its jaw. The head revealed itself to be hollow. Mushrooms and lichens grew on the rough interior surface.


At the center of the hollow space inside the marble head was a colossal round mass. The spherical mass was covered with tentacle-like cilia. The cilia waved slowly like undersea grass under gently rolling waves. Willow sensed that this was the "brain" of Araumycos, the center of its being.

On one spot of the spherical mass grew a black patch like cancerous mold, a tumescent corruption with tendrils that reached into the core of the mass. It was the corruption of Zuggtmoy, slowly taking over Araumycos.

The Overworlders began moving towards the spherical core.

There suddenly appeared in their way a humanoid form with wrinkly ochre-yellow skin covered in fungus and lichens. Ront shouted, "Zuggtmoy!"



AGAINST ZUGGTMOY
Several of the Overworlders collapsed in fear and madness. Ront screamed and flew towards the demon queen in a blind rage.

Valerius used his magic sword Dawnbringer to cure the madness afflicting Cordon. Cordon then helped Valerius remove the madness from Willow and Pain.

Ront and Zuggtmoy flew towards each other. The two clashed in mid-air as the sky exploded from Willow's fireball.

Zuggtmoy shrugged off the fireball and laughed. Pain sped quickly through space, making his way towards the black patch afflicting Araumycos' mind. Willow turned invisible and followed but much more slowly.

Cordon created an angelic spirit warrior to aid Ront against Zuggtmoy.

Zuggtmoy moved away from Ront and attacked Willow.

DM Note - Willow's player interrupted, "Don't forget! I'm invisible!" and I replied, gravely, "Yes. I know." She deflated, "Oh...Shit."

Willow disengaged and joined Pain.

Cordon moved forward and healed the injured Ront. Valerius rushed to aid Willow.

Dark tendrils shot out from the black patch attempting to ensnare Pain. Pain nimbly dodged the tentacles and began slicing them away from Araumycos' core.

Zuggtmoy screamed, "NO!" She made one final attack against Willow, lashing at her with a long whip-like tendril.Willow cried out in terror and disappeared!

DM Note- I took Willow's player out of the room and told her she woke up back in the cavern, alive and well. I told her she saw myconids and spore servants and bridesmaids fleeing from a large passage. From the passage emerged a colossal black formless mass! The oozing mass slithered towards Zuggtmoy and began enveloping her.


Pain continued cutting away at the black patch.

Zuggtmoy seemed momentarily distracted. She looked away into the distance and hissed, "Juiblex!"

Zuggtmoy winched as if struck by an invisible blow.

Pain finished cutting the black patch from the mind of Araumycos as yelled "Araumycos! Wake up!". As the severed black tendrils drifted free, the slowly waving strands of Araymycos bolted to attention. A deafening bass thrum crashed through the interior of the hollow marble head.

Zuggtmoy screamed in pain and disappeared as if wrenched away from the dreamworld of Araumycos' mind.

A sudden gust of wind blew Pain, Cordon, Valerius, and Ront. Pain was able to right himself and flee the interior of the hollow head but the others were knocked around within the interior. They exited the head stunned and disoriented.

Pain caught a glimpse of the massive marble head, its eyes beginning to glow. The light from the eyes consumed Pain's vision, blinding him.

Pain woke up in the cavern to the sound of giants fighting. He leaped to his bare halfling feet. The others were still lying on the ground disoriented.

Across the cavern he could see two massive entities locked in mortal combat - Juiblex, demon-lord of slimes and oozes, trying to kill its mortal enemy Zuggtmoy, demon-queen of fungi and lichens!


ENTER JUIBLEX
Pain and Willow stood guard over the party as they lay stunned on the ground. Any wounds they suffered in Araumycos' dream seemed to be purely illusory for they were uninjured. Minutes passed while they lay helpless watching Juiblex fight and defeat Zuggtmoy. The giant black oily mass of Juiblex continued to lash Zuggtmoy until the demon queen fell to the ground. Her last act as she lay defeated was to turn her head to face the demon-lord. Juiblex then moved over Zuggtmoy's fallen form, consuming her. Her hideous scream became a sick gurgle as she was absorbed into the mass of Juiblex's formless interior.


Valerius quipped, "Well, that's another one down. Time to go! We can take care of Juiblex once we've performed the ritual."

Ront pointed towards Juiblex, "No! Look! Jooblix is not done! Jooblix eating Armicus!"

Juiblex had moved over towards the center of Araumycos and had begun dissolving the fungal entity. All around Juiblex the fungus was dying then dissolving, exposing bare rock.

Valerius shrugged, "So?"

Ront spun to face the paladin, "That bad! Armicus is the size of entire country. It lie underneath elven forest. Armicus is tied to surface, which is why Zugma wanted control. If Armicus die, so will surface! We not done! We must Armicus kill!"

Ront charged off through the high fungal growth, screaming an orcish battle cry.

Valerius sighed and summoned forth his celestial lion, "Alright! Wait up!" The paladin, astride his leonine mount, had soon caught up with and had passed the orc barbarian.

"Me too!" shouted Pain as he activated his magic boots and shot past.


Willow hopped onto her magic flying broom and zoomed over the tops of the tall mushrooms. As she drew near she cast a fireball spell at Juiblex. The fiery explosion had little effect on the protean demon-lord.

Valerius and Pain outpaced Ront and reached Juiblex first. They quickly learned that the smell emanating from the oily fiend caused them to wretch and heave with nausea. Pain, as a halfling, had an easier time than the others.

Juiblex finally took notice of the insects attacking it. The demon-lord hurled a blob of mucus at Valerius, covering the paladin and his mount with disgusting slime and impeding his ability to fight. Valerius was forced to stop fighting and scrape the slime away from his face and hands.

Juiblex then threw a blob of acid at Willow. The wizardess screamed in pain and retreated out of range.

Cordon created a giant wall of radiant fire directly behind the demon-lord. Juiblex became gaseous and simply moved away from the fiery wall. The demon-lord reformed and kept attacking Valerius. Now Ront, Pain, and Valerius were trapped between Juiblex and the wall of fire.

Juiblex deemed Valerius the greatest threat and kept focusing its attacks on the paladin. Ront pulled forth a magical amulet of protection against demons given to him by Vizerian, pressed it against Valerius, and activated it. The amulet kept Valerius alive a few moments longer but, eventually, Valerius could take no more and fell to the demon-lord's repeated acid lash attacks.

Cordon dismissed the fiery wall and switched to more dangerous holy prayers. These prayers had little effect. Willow, back on her broom, would fly into range and cast a spell of banishment before flying back again. She repeated this tactic several times hoping to send Juiblex back to the Abyss.

Ront and Pain, meanwhile, kept up their assault on Juiblex. The pair were wounded and their chances were beginning to look grim.

Willow successfully banished Juiblex on her fourth attempt. The demon-lord disappeared!

Cordon quickly saw to the injured, reviving the dying Valerius. Willow, meanwhile, concentrated. She had to maintain her concentration for a full minute for the banishment to be permanent.

After a minute passed, she let out her breath and collapsed with exhaustion!

Juiblex and Zuggtmoy had both been defeated!

DM Notes - Willow and Cordon had worked out the strategy. They had caught on that Juiblex had free successful saving throws. I was an idiot and let slip that he had two more! They used that information to form a tactic whereby I would use up my saving throws on Cordon's spells. Then, once they were gone, Willow would start trying Banish. It was a little meta-gamey but it was a great tactic. I still had advantage on those saves and it took Willow four tries before I failed a saving throw. She was just about out of spell slots. 

After the battle, the myconids infected with Zuggtmoy's spores slowly reverted to normal. Sovereign Basidia was restored as the rightful ruler of Neverlight Grove. The myconids gave their eternal thanks to the heroes from the Overworld.

DM Note - My players joke that most of the rewards in this campaign come in the form of two thumbs up and a "Heyyyyy!"

In addition, there was a message of thanks from Araumycos. The vast entity also bestowed upon the heroes a magical charm of heroism that would grant them extra vitality in a single battle. Finally, Araumycos offered to answer any one question posed to it. The entity was vast and its knowledge was fathomless. Valerius inquired about the location of the spellbook of Gromph Baenre. Araumycos provided Valerius with a vision of the drow city of Menzoberranzan. The vision zoomed in on the tower Sorcere and into the sanctuary of its occupant, Gromph Baenre.

Afterward, Ront and Valerius located some tinmask mushrooms that had sprouted in Zuggtmoy's footsteps. They had obtained the penultimate ingredient for the ritual.

After a long rest, the Overworlders began their long journey back to the Tower of Vengeance.

Their mission was nearing its end.

TO BE CONTINUED...