Rumbling came louder and louder, eventually manifesting as a cloud of dust and debris at the far side of the cavern.
“RUN!” Wataru trumpeted and did exactly that, with a heavy piece of machinery under his arm.
It did not require much more persuasion for others as a huge beetle emerged angry from the dust cloud. It was running directly at the party, it’s three humongous horns were reflecting light from luminescent spores and mushrooms. Six large legs were moving with great haste carrying the house sized beetle with scary speed.
Shinigami cast an eldrich blast towards the beast, achieving nothing more than illumination of the thick chitinous armour.
“Maybe it’s friendly?” Rakdos girl asked looking at Nai
“Then maybe you want to stay and find out?” Nai retorted picking up the pace after Wataru and the others.
Moments later, barely outrunning the beetle, the party dove into the tunnel they came here through. Beast slammed hard into the wall, making a dust cloud which covered the entrance. Muddy tunnel gave in and collapsed in front of the party. Mud and water clogged the way forward, but in a moment it fell down again, opening a ramp downward.
Shinigami looked at the huge lump of dark mud that had blocked the water flow from the tunnels above them and shot an eldrich blast at the damp wall. A large chunk of mud dropped down as the clog slid a bit forward.
“Don’t. It could collapse any second!” - Wataru stopped Rakdos from shooting another one.
Raging beast slammed into the tunnel entrance, trying to reach the juicy humans inside.
“Down, now!” - Neirius commanded and ran over the muddy stone into the darkness below. The rest followed.
Nai lit up her torch as they entered a small square room. An ascending stairway and a dark archway led out of this room.
“Shinigami, why don’t you go and check where these things lead?”
“As always I have to pull you out from your troubles” - she grumbled.
Nai scoffed. Wataru placed the device on the floor to catch a little breath. Shinigami pointed her finger to the exit leading to the stairs and started counting:
“Lost man, dead man, knocking on the door. Cankerman, soreman, knock no more.” her finger stopped at the archway. “Here I go.”
Her frail silhouette disappeared in the darkness. Moments later she came back shaking her head.
“We are taking the stairs.”
“What? Why?” Nai looked at her suspiciously.
“Holes in the walls. Spider webs. No. Stairs look better.”
“Alright, lead the way.”
Shinigami, followed by others climbed up the stairs. They were old and crumbled in places. At the third stair landing a clearly visible metal lever protruded from the wall.
Shinigami put her hand on top of the metal shaft before anyone could protest. She refrained from pulling it though.
“I am going to pull it.” she said to nobody and to everybody at the same time.
“Mhh.” Wataru readied himself for whatever that will happen.
A loud metallic rumble followed by a clank. Nothing.
Moments pass. Still nothing.
“Maybe we locked ourselves in?” Katrille speculated.
“Maybe it is broken?” Shinigami reached again towards the lever.
“Enough, don’t push it.” Nai stopped her hand mid air. “Let’s go.”
Party climbed the remaining two floors until they reached a final landing. A single darkened wooden door lead out of it. Wataru smelled something burnt.
“Well, after you.” Nai nodded to Shinigami.
“No way. I’ve already came this far. This is a door and I have a hunch you are good with them.”
“Fine.” Nai came closer to the wooden door with a brass handle.
She carefully touched the wooden surface, it felt old and brittle. Her eyes jumped around the frame. No traps, no wires. She took the handle firmly and pulled. Handle detached from the wood and the door collapsed in a pile of ash. It was burned from the inside. Three globules of light flew out of the room behind.
“What the…” Nai glazed at the globules and missed the ash creature floating behind the dancing lights.
When they saw the creature, it was too late. A cone of ash escaped the hole where the creatures mouth should have been. Shinigami stared directly into the creature and got blinding amounts of ash into her eyes. Others managed to cover their eyes just in time. Four smoke mephits flew out of the room and lashed out at the adventurers. They happened to be an easy foe to deal with, leaving only a thick smoke behind them. As the last of the creatures dispersed, light globules dimmed and faded away.
They brought in their torch inside and found nothing but ashes and charred wood. It seemed like a study of sorts, long forgotten and burned ages before anyone had set foot here.
“There is a hole in the ground here.” Katrille flailed with her tattooed arms for everyone to get closer. “It appears like a tunnel.”
“Well, we have to go somewhere.” Nai jumped in the tunnel. One side of it was caved in leaving only one way further.
Few hundred steps later the tunnel ended up above a cavern. Across the collapsed floor, another end of the tunnel continued onward. Below them spanned a spacious cavern filled with luminescent spores and mushrooms. A dark river divided the ground into two parts. Just below them, at the edge of thick mushroom groove a nest made from melted stone was home for three large larvae. Creatures crawled unsuspectingly, while Shinigami imagined them cooked.
“What do you think lives down in this cavern?” Wataru asked peering over the edge of the tunnel in to the thick vegetation below.
“I bet we will find out soon enough.” Shinigami fired a blast of fiery eldritch energy towards the nest.
One of the larvae popped. Within moments remaining two began to screech, quickly rolling around the nest in circles on their underdeveloped legs. Something rushed through the dimly lit mushroom forest. A dark creature appeared on top of the nest, shrieked and spat corrosive acid at the tunnel opening. Wataru, Shinigami and Nai got touched by various amounts of burning acid. Their clothes burned through, wounds opened up where the acid touched the flesh. All three jumped back from the ledge, leaving small puddles of smoking acid on the ground where they just stood.
“The hell was that?!” Nai tried to get burning acid from her skin.
“Meat!” Shinigami charged another bolt of eldritch energy in her hand and hurled it over the edge at the beast below.
Katrille shot a blast of icy energy, trying to keep her distance from the creature’s acid spit.
“I see.” Nai followed suite and shot a couple of arrows at the beast, one of them breaking through chitinous shell and sinking deeply in the creatures flesh.
Creature having no way to protect her remaining offspring turned back, grabbed remaining beasties and rushed down the stream. Shinigami was having none of that. She quickly tied a rope to a nearby edge and jumped down from the tunnel.
“Meat! Come back!” she ran after the creature which left a trail of broken mushrooms and blood. But the chitinous beast was way faster, even with two larvae in her front claws, so it disappeared in one of the tunnels at the end of the cavern.
“Well that could’ve gone better” Nai said to herself trying to bandage acid wounds with what cloth she had. “Where to now? I see two paths, one upstream and one downstream.” she looked at her torch. “Wind goes upstream, I suggest we go the same way”.
“Mhmph” Wataru trumpeted in agreement lovering himself via the rope that Shinigami left behind.
“But meat is other way…” Shinigami tried to protest.
“Would you help me with Artifimana Siphon?” Neirius shouted from above, “I can’t just drop it down!”
After trailing upstream for a while they reached what seemed like Izzet maintenance tunnel. It was rough made, but appeared still maintained. Water was enclosed in stone canal, with few small bridges over it. Few minutes in the tunnel ended at a clean metal gate. It was freshly installed, at most few weeks ago, if Katrille’s investigation was correct.
“It must’ve been the Goblins!” Shinigami said out of the blue “What? I found a goblin bone in the meat’s nest.”
“Why would you… Nevermind. How are we going to get past this?”
“Nai, I don’t think we can. These gates have been placed here to NOT let something through. Just look at the thickness of these bars.” Neirius explained, “By the looks of it this is Izzet work.”
“So what now? We go the other way?”
“That seems like the only option, yes.” Neirius agreed.
“MEAT!” Shinigami screamed on top of her lungs into the cavern.
Walking down the stream led to another Izzet maintenance tunnel, this had a trail of blood, which excited Shinigami. But within minutes they emerged in a familiar cistern.
“Ok, we go this way.” Neirius commanded and led the party through maintenance tunnels and dark stairwells back outside even against the objections of Shinigami, who wanted to track the beast down.
As they emerged from the tunnels it was getting dark, and they still had a way to go until they reached the safety of Neirius lab.
“I don’t have much to offer, but I know a place nearby which serves ale and warm food.” Neirius looked around in the wasted lab, “I have some mending to do. Place the device in the center please, I will join you in couple of hours. I still have a favour to ask. Open a tab in my name.”