[Game time: Friday – probably about 2pm by now]
The magic circle seemed a safe enough place to rest for a few moments, but the fact remained that they were below sea level in a catacomb full of the undead. Exploration, then. The basement's layout offered a variety of interesting options. Darg pointed out a door that had figured prominently in his none-too-pleasant dreams, so the party elected to explore their other options first. To the east, a winding hallway revealed a dead end with an iron-grated door on the south wall, a lever on the northwest wall, and gas-lamp on the east wall. Shard started examining the lever and the grated door, and Lenora grabbed Bree's cloak to keep everyone out of trouble. When Shard pronounced it safe, Lenora let Bree go, and she promptly yanked the lever, popping open the grating.
They followed the curved hallway down a slight incline to the east, and discovered another barred door blocking their way. Beyond this one there was knee-deep brown water with foul-smelling sludge floating on the surface. Pacing back and forth along the curved hallway, Darg determined that they were just a bit south of the pit where they had seen the ooze smashed by the dark tentacled horror. Something unspeakably fast and vile probably lived in the pit. They decided that it probably needed to die, and so Bree lobbed a sunrod into the water. The room was bathed in bright white light, and then something unspeakably fast and vile lanced through the water and flailed at the scalding light with a pair of heavy pseudopods. It managed to swamp the sunrod and shove it to the bottom of the muck, but the glow surrounded it and backlit it. The entire party opened fire in a deadly volley; it hurled muck at the bars, splashing Thea and Lenora and gluing them in place temporarily, but everyone stood their ground and riddled it with arrows and magic. In seconds it was dead and dissolving into the water. Bree moved the lever with her mind, cycling the man-trap of iron bars, and Lenora winced. They all shuffled into the muck cautiously. Thea retrieved the throwing hammers she had hurled at it, Terciel grabbed an arrow or two that hadn't gotten its fletching fouled, and Shard headed up the narrow tunnel to the north, where the pit was exposed. He picked through the bones relieving them of the few trinkets that appeared to have value, and sloshed back to the south to report that it was a dead end.
The party got back out of the dank water, cycled the man-trap to get out, and headed back to the magic circle to recuperate. It didn't seem to be filling them with white light or odd pencil-thin beams of energy, but at least it was a nice clear spot in the room with good lines of sight to the other doors.
Shard pulled the south doors open carefully, revealing a narrow hallway and a staircase ascending back to the entry level. The omnipresent clattering of skeletons off in the distance seemed to have stopped. The silence was broken by a hideous chorus of screeching echoing down the halls, a grim mix of high-pitched keening and grumbling bass notes, as though a half-dozen mouths stuffed with rotten meat were all being made to sing the same words at once. The noise repeated twice more, perhaps closer this time. A slow shuffling slurp punctuated with wet splats came from upstairs. Something very large and moist stomped around the halls up there, pausing every seven or eight steps to unleash another six-voiced howl…and the howls were getting closer.
Bree hollered up the steps "Who's there?" and a voice yelled back "You! Little girl, I remember you! Are you all alone down there?" Lenora and Terciel were hurriedly pantomiming silence, and Shard had blanched to a particularly wan shade of terra cotta. Rache grinned wickedly and shouted "Yes! We're all alone!"
The voice was raspy and weak but grew full-throated now, eager for the confrontation. "You girls don’t know what you did… can you even fathom the freedom I have now? No, of course you can’t! Are you going to come up here and face me, or do I need to come downstairs and kill you?" They looked at each other for a moment, puzzled, then shouted back "Yes!"
A ham-handed diabolical giggle rippled down the stairs, and the voice said "Alright… I'm sending someone to come get you now. I hope you're ready!" They thought they were ready, but even after all they'd been through, it gave them all a bit of a start. It was a hulking slab of rotting olive-green flesh, bound together into a massive three-legged mess. Arms jutted out everywhere, at least two of them wielding ancient bastard swords of eladrin design, likely looted for their size. A quivering black morass bound the mismatched limbs and organs together and writhed between the body parts, occasionally shaping itself into a pseudopod, tail, tentacle, or foot as the creature's bizarre locomotion required it. Bones boiled up to the surface, too: ribs sharpened to points, jawbones, and little sprays of teeth all forming false mouths anywhere there was exposed surface. The whole thing was draped in a makeshift suit of armor comprising long iron chains and sheaves of dry-rotted hide armor pinned together with bone or steel. It shambled down the stairs towards where Thea and Lenora stood side by side.
Terciel was the first to recover from, or at least act on, his revulsion. He fired a quick spray of arrows into the monstrosity. A putrid spray of necrotic goop leaked from the wound and came alive on the floor like mercury, trying to climb back up the creature’s legs. Everywhere the goop touched the marble, an acrid puff of smoke sizzled from around it and the smooth floor was left etched. Thea and Lenora set upon it with axe and flail, and as they scored heavier and heavier blows, something gave way inside the ball of corpses. The black gooey web snapped, the abomination thrashed, and an orc’s body flopped to the floor. The corpse was mangled but still recognizable as one of Thurig's men. They continued to fight against the beast, but were assaulted from their left flank, where a horrid-looking little green person stood, dressed in tattered grave rags. Most of them recognized the now one-eyed corpse of the witch doctor, now strutting around and cackling as he fired spells at Rache and Bree. He screeched orders to the abomination in the doorway: "That one has my robe… and that one took my wand. Kill them both and they will serve our lady in death!"
A thick milky-white bubble sat in his empty eye socket, but other than that the witch doctor's corpse was apparently promising enough to bring back intact. The other orcs had not been so lucky, and surged mindlessly forward trying to trample Thea to get to Bree and Rache. Thea's axe bit back and knocked another orc off the pile. The corpse on the floor at her feet swung a lazy claw near her, trying to grapple with her, but she retaliated swiftly with a heavy arcing chop that went right through it and buried her axe in the black and green mess assaulting them.
It swelled up, mouths and pseudo-mouths clenched tight, and with a rippling BRAAAAAAP let loose a throat-burning cloud of stinking grave gases that filled the room. Nearly everyone within sight of it coughed and gagged, but Shard had sought cover behind a pillar and Bree managed to slip out of the way. Most of the party were still gagging and choking on the stench when an orcish corpse stood up near Lenora and flopped across her left shoulder, disintegrating into sticky threads of ichor and bile. As the abomination grabbed Thea in one of its tentacles, Lenora found herself stuck to the floor, screaming for someone to come help before it carried Thea off. Rache seemed to be among the able-bodied but then the witch doctor quietly offered her terms for surrender. She spat out a retort too low for the others to hear but he was enraged and laid into her with his mace. A black fire shot along its handle and washed over her. She gasped in pain and steeled herself for revenge. Shard saw the situation beginning to fall apart and assaulted the witch doctor, blades singing as he sliced into the orc's putrid flesh over and over.
Darg and Bree fired salvos of magic at the fleeing flesh golem, and Rache squinted at the witch doctor, lips pinched into a scowl. She looked away for a moment at Thea, then back at the witch doctor, and bolted. A brisk sidestep through space, a crunching "pop!" and she was standing next to the thing. She sprayed the beast with a burning spray of arcane energy, and it staggered to a standstill, dropping Thea. It howled and tried to bite her, but now it was on the run. Shard continued to press the advantage, and ran out of luck: the witch doctor scored a solid hit, black flames and smoke swirled around Shard, and as he staggered back the orc teed off on him, blasting him with otherworldly power. Shard went down hard, but help wasn't long in coming.
They began to swarm all over the witch doctor: Darg with bright flashes of radiant magic, and Rache, stepping calmly through the fray with her back to the beast, dealing out crackling bolts of infernal smoke from the orc's own wand. Another of Terciel's arrows whistled overhead and caught the thing broadside. So many corpses had fallen off and been slain that there were no longer any recognizable bodies in it, and it fell apart into an oozing puddle of decayed filth and loose bones. Rache never looked back, firing shot after shot into the witch doctor at range while Lenora stepped in and lowered her shoulder. Lenora hollered out to Shard, and the orc turned at the same time looking right into her swing. Her flail caught him between neck and shoulder with plenty of downward momentum, and there was a sickening crack as seven or eight of his bones broke at once. The orc collapsed for the second and last time. Rache was almost upon him, still firing eldritch blasts when he fell, and she snatched the mace from his hands before it even hit the ground. She turned it over once or twice in her hands with an appraising smirk, and nudged the body with the toe of her boot.
Shard stood up and rubbed his temples. The undead orc's offers of alliance and surrender didn't add up. He'd offered to make Rache a full partner, to teach Bree control, and to find "a use for" himself and Lenora… but he wasn't the boss. He said that Kral had saved him and brought him back, but the terms of surrender were allegiance to his lady. And he had threatened them with Garon's wrath if they refused, so it was only a matter of time before Kral, Garon, or the late late witch doctor's lady friend found them.
What do you make when life gives you six dead orcs?
In which the bacon zombies' ick factor is topped.
[Game time: Friday – probably about 2pm by now]