IF I STUMBLE, THEY’RE GONNA EAT ME ALIVE: in which we dispatch mucky foes and a moonbeam returns

“Shall we?” Zeno asked, glancing at the sewage and gunk that lay ahead of us with a pained expression. As much as this seemed like the most logical route for getting us closer to the prisoners, it also seemed the route most likely to make everyone, especially Zeno, the most uncomfortable. “Lankin, you like sticky stuff, right?”

Lankin sniffed the sewage and gross slimes ahead of us. “Hey, guys, I got no clue about it.”

“Truly inspiring, Lankin,” Felegum said, examining the slime and goo himself.

“Glad to help,” the elf replied cheerfully and walked right into it.

It didn’t look very easy to move through, and this was saying a lot considering that Lankin was certainly one of the strongest people I knew.

Tem shook her head. “Have you never encountered a gelatinous cube before?”

She went on to lecture us about how these sorts of situations were prime breeding grounds for them as Lankin continued to move through the sewage and Zeno, sighing, took off his sandals, packed them in his bag, and stepped barefoot into the slime.

When the rest of us expressed audible distaste at this, he shot back that he’d lost more than enough pairs of shoes and that he’d rather not lose another one. Felegum also made a wardrobe change, but he put on his reinforced leather boots for the trek.

I took a different approach. “I can show you the slime,” I sang to my broom, “shining, shimmering, splendid. Ew.”

That was about as far as I got. But, thankfully, it was still enough and the broom took off and I flew above the slime as careful as I could manage.

There was a shiver in the rooms, a shake.

“I think,” Felegum said, “that the walls might be alive.”

Suddenly I was especially grateful that I was airborne.

“Anyone want to risk lighting a torch?” the mage asked. It was dimly lit in here so we could kind of see where we were going, but not as bright as additional light would make it.

“Uh,” Harry said, “we did not check if this was flammable.”

“Yeah,” I said, reaching for my holy symbol. “Luckily–“

I was going to do some cool magic here, but then Tem had the audacity to be eaten by a wall and ruin my flex.

She cried out in surprise and above her in the ceiling of the passageway, a mouth opened with each tooth made of little tendrils.

Felegum shot off a magic missile at the teeth, and then Tem opened her mouth and breathed out a stream of fire into the mouth. The teeth writhed and blackened and Tem dropped back to the floor, free.

“Watch out for tendrils,” Felegum said, somewhat belatedly.

“No one touch the walls,” Lankin added for good measure.

Zeno waved it off. “Just go the way I go.”

I took the opportunity to actually light my necklace this time. The slime layer here was thicker, but at least with the additional light from my symbol, we stood a slightly better chance of evading the walls and their reaching tendrils.

Man, the things I did for Kalends.

“Oh boy,” Zeno said as he rummaged in his bag for his shovel and began scraping off the ooze on his bare legs.

“Cheer up,” Felegum chimed in, “this is nothing like Egonia.”

“You guys have been to some terrible places,” Tem said from the back.

Someone coughed.

“Great, even the air is slimy.” Zeno huffed and walked along.

We walked along for a few rooms and discovered several things. First, while the last few chambers had been squares had been fairly uniform, this new room opened up and went downwards. Second, there was a coil of rope wound around a log that reached down the hall.

“This feels like someone’s lifeline,” I said, deeply wanting to touch it.

We all looked at the rope.

“I regard this as a curiosity and nothing more,” Felegum said.

There were slime mouths everywhere on the walls, and honestly, it was getting harder and harder to keep stable on the broom. It was wobbly, like it had been before in the mines, and I failed to correct in time.

I slammed into the wall, losing control and quickly being enveloped by oozing tendrils.

I spat out slime and it tasted vile. Somewhere I thought I heard armor clanking after me, but it was quickly stopped. Croaking out a quick spell, I felt the sacred fire leave my hands and strike the thing that held me.

Somewhere, a shovel chipped into my armor. And then a strong elven hand grabbed me, I broke free, and the room was alive with movement.

To our left, there was a rushing sound, like water. Harry stabbed both of the talons on his hands into the water, like was straining it or attempting to catch something moving through it.

Two slimy mucks emerged, a larger one to our left from where we’d come and another smaller one to the right, down the hall near the rope.

“Oh come now,” Zeno said to the smaller muck, “you looked better on the floor.”

It looked visibly upset, as much as something with no face and just a mouth could do so.

Felegum, who was closest to the smaller muck, tried to step back but was stuck in the slimy floor. He couldn’t move. So instead he unleashed a ray of frost.

And it was brutal. Hexagonal patterns of frost appeared on the muck, snapping tendrils off with the cold.

Harry broke free of the slime holding his feet and got next to Zeno. Lankin, as was his wont, went into a rage and threw one of his daggers at a frozen spot on the muck. The dagger sunk in, wounding it, and then continued to sink in, becoming consumed by the muck.

The dagger was a loss but it was a very solid hit.

Tem then tried to cast her purification spell. This was the same spell she’d been using in the desert to make the water clean, and while it did indeed seem to have a cleaning effect on the water making up the muck, the muck itself was not affected.

It did smell a little better, though.

I tried tugging the rope. Nothing happened besides the log feeling even more unstable in the slime next to me. I shrugged it off, moved next to the smaller muck, and slashed into it with my spicy knife.

I had thought that perhaps, since these things were full of water as Tem had shown, that the dagger was a worthwhile risk.

And my knife drank.

The muck’s tendril that I’d sliced was so devoid of water that it fell into the slimy floor, completely desiccated into a brittle seaweed. The knife felt good.

“This is the coolest,” Lankin said.

I held the pose for a moment longer, arm fully extended, having finished the slice. It was pretty cool.

Helli moved cautiously through the slime– we were starting to see that when you stayed still for too long then the floor would start to suck you in and hold you in place. Move too fast and the walls might get you. It was a fine balance.

The smaller muck struck out at me and Lankin and thanks to whatever discouraging thing Zeno had said to it the last time, was unable to find the strength of character within itself to land a blow. Perhaps because of this, it opened its mouth and breathed out a stream of garbage onto us, all brown and full of chunks.

It was really gross, not gonna lie, and I felt really sick.

Then Zeno did something that made the muck not as focused, like it was afraid of me and Lankin for whatever reason. I might have missed it because I was too busy feeling ill. Felegum, meanwhile, did a spell. This one felt familiar, but again, I felt really bad.

Harry was probably down the hallway trying to hold off the other muck, so Lankin sliced into the smaller dude we were up against. The muck seemed even more fearful of the blond, axe-wielding elf than usual and Lankin was able to efficiently slice off another withered part of the creature with ease.

Then Tem did something we hadn’t seen in a long time and had thought we’d left, quite firmly, in the past.

She spread her hands and a moonbeam cut through the dim sewer light onto the muck.

Harry and I, familiar with what happened when you stayed under such things too long (or had them appear above you), reflexively flinched.

Anyway, I wasn’t about to let a little queasiness prevent me from being supremely effective. My dagger had been too awesome the last time, drying out all those gross tendril things so that everyone else (and me) could hack them off the smaller muck. I was a strategic necessity. Or at least my dagger was. So, I sliced again.

Between the muck being vaguely scared of me and my limited ability to strike true with my stomach in knots, I managed to hit it and again, the dagger drank deeply of the muck’s aqueous form.

But this caused a secondary problem: the knife did not want to leave. It was stuck, in the sense that the muck was goopy and trapped stuff, but also stuck in the sense that something in it was very thirsty and was not about to leave until that thirst was slaked.

I asserted my own will on it and demanded it listen to me.

And, to my amazement, it did.

I couldn’t wonder at that too much, though, because 1) I still felt like shit and 2) Helli yelled from down the hallway, “Guys, I think the water’s coming!” Then she swept out a few magic missiles at the larger muck with her wand.

The muck near us split in two and slid up the wall onto the ceiling, which was annoying of it. The farther one advanced on Harry and Helli and that weird water rushing noise intensified.

“Uh, guys?” Helli said. “It’s here.”

“Yeah,” Harry gritted out.

“Thanks, guys,” Felegum said, and then popped out of existence again.

Always very polite.

Anyway, the other concerning thing here was that muck nearer Helli and Harry was expanding, like it was making a dome out of itself. Zeno gave it a discouraging bagpipe honk, and the mucks above us started to do the dome thing too.

Felegum came back for a quick visit to deliver another ray of frost and then vanished again.

“Maybe,” Harry posited, “we step away from the great slime monster?”

He made an attempt to move, but found that he couldn’t after being still for so long, and so viciously attacked the grossness on his legs to free himself. One leg was free; the other remained stuck.

Lankin, meanwhile, did what Lankin did best, which was to attack with his greataxe while doing a little dance in place to stave off any errant slimes. Unfortunately, even the nimble elf got stuck.

As Lankin’s predicament sunk in, Tem freed herself and, casting a spell on herself that made her shine a little more fiery, possibly thanks to Bahamut, she slashed the muck. Not only did this make the muck a little smaller, it also caused the moonbeam to dissipate, a relief to all of us near it.

Awk had left an impressive legacy.

Anyway, possessing good sense and not one to leave this opportunity hanging, I disengaged with ceiling-muck and headed carefully down the hall toward the rest of the rope, proceeding without incident thanks to an assist from somewhat-here-somewhat-not Felegum. Then I called on my own god to try to pick it off from a distance with some holy fire.

Not quite as effective as the dagger, but honestly I did not have it within me to be constantly fighting one more magic item in my possession. The broom was proving to be more than enough.

Helli, seeing our strategic anti-dome retreat, rushed toward us, only to get pulled into a wall.

As this was happening, the ceiling-muck at last dropped, gluing Zeno, Harry, and Lankin in place. Also, this was when the hallway flooded. Wherever the larger muck had gone, it was doing nothing to hold back the water.

As expected, Harry broke free and surfaced. Zeno looked like he had a moment of struggle, but still managed to get out. Lankin, though, was having a tough time. Recalling our experience with the mouse and the massive pile of nuts and berries we’d passed before, I cast Mage Hand and tried to pull him out using that.

But things did not work as I’d thought– the hand was about as effective as it was usually for pulling humanoid-sized things around, which was not at all. Tem, though, stepped in and saved the day, and Helli swam by, clad in the Cloak of the Manta Ray we’d gotten from Milto in addition to my fancy cloak.

There was something following us that seemed like it was dangerous, but neither of the dragonborns said anything about it, so we swam with moderate haste down the hallway where the rope had been.

We passed over a waterfall and something small hit the surface of the water after us– a coin?

The rest of the rope from earlier dangled by the fall. Where we’d come from seemed to be about a hundred, maybe a hundred fifty feet up. Weird, but okay. Hopefully this would do as Harry had said it might and bring us closer to the prisoners. I’d liked that plan.

What I didn’t like was the faint spark of recognition in Harry’s eyes when he looked out around the pool.

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