After Barl’s fall, the others quickly pulled out rope and anchored it to a crystal in the hallway, climbing down to join the dwarf. Forty or so feet below the stone floor of the crystal halls, the party found a river flowing within a large cave, seeming to come from below the walls of Duramar. A few moments after the Stars, Vorle, Perrath, Tsol, and Smed descended into the water and climbed ashore a rocky bank, the stone trapdoor closed, snapping the rope and the group’s chance of returning the way they came.
Nearby were the small remnants of a makeshift campsite, presumably created by one of the missing teams. Janos and Quinn noticed a smashed lantern of Lo’er, some breadcrumbs, and sitting on a rock, a parchment wrapped inside a golden ring emblazoned with a boar’s head. The parchment read:
“To whomever finds this ring – please see that Cevon Haranthol in the city of Reoth receives this, with all of his brother’s love. -Gabon Haranthol”
The rock itself had the word “caves” hastily scratched into it, with an arrow pointing away from the river. The cavern itself seemed to be natural, though one of the walls was huge stone blocks, which Barl said was likely the outer wall of the city of Duramar – or the hallways leading to it.
The party took a short rest, but Vorle was anxious to continue into the caves, having seen footprints and a small trail of blood drops leading to another tunnel, which Corvus recognized as a man-made passage, alerting the others. Led by Quinn’s light, they carried on.
The tunnel itself led to a maze of twists, turns, and forks, though bloody X’s marked on the corners seemed to point them down a path – the right one – the party hoped. A few hours later, a tight passage required Tsol to discard his bulky plate armor, while Corvus temporarily removed his, willing to bear the weight in case of future danger. As they passed, a horrid stench filled the air.
Vorle tried to keep spirits up, sharing a story of his time in the 9th Legion of the Valanorian army when he had to infiltrate a sewer to track down a rogue alchemist creating explosives. Perrath joined in, telling the others of a shipwreck that had him and a few others climbing a cliff wall for days before they reached safety.
A few hours and many bloody X’s later, the party found a small, enclosed cavern, where the body of an elf wearing a Dancing Dragons tabard had been laid to rest. His wounds were deep and had been bandaged as well as possible, but it wasn’t enough. His weapons and supplies had been removed. Above him, scrawled into the cave wall with a dagger, read:
“Trynn of the Nethervine. Friend and warrior to the end. You deserved more.”
Hours later, the party discovered a large hole in the ground covered with rank-smelling saliva, similar to the ones from the Crystal Halls above. A few hours later showed more of the same; more bloody X’s, more sloppily drawn than before, more wretched stenches, and, now, small quakes that brought dust down from the tunnel ceilings.
Emerging into a larger cave, the party heard whispering and came to a stop. Two small pale, deformed children, a small boy and a girl with stringy, dirty hair, sat in the middle of a room, arguing over something. They fled as the party approached, but returned to inspect the group as they stopped. Quinn, Smed, and Wyverna recognized the children as the same seen above in the Halls, and noticed they had been playing with items in a backpack covered with the familiar logo of Dibart Dyes.
Wyverna offered the children some food, and they seemed to calm down, sitting on the floor to continue drawing on the ground with charcoal. They had drawn a picture of a giant worm eating stick figures, as well as what seemed to be the logos of the Dancing Dragons, the Towering Titans, the Striking Spears, and a bird of some sort. The small boy pointed to the medallions around their necks, then started to draw the Falling Stars icon.
Though unable to communicate (other than the word “hungry”, which they knew in Elven), the party was able to determine that the children had seen another team, or at least knew where they had gone, from their pointing to medallions and down the tunnel path.
Tired and needing rest, Tsol urged the others to stop, and the party set up a small camp for the night with alternating watches. When the others awoke, Janos let them know that the boy had found a pool of blood somewhere nearby, and that they should investigate.
The pool was below another large hole in the wall, and based on the dripping blood and smell, the party now feared that this creature might be closer than they were comfortable with. However, unwilling to turn back, they urged the children to lead them on, and so they did.
A few hours later, the children came to a long, slippery slope, and hopped down. Though wary of being unable to return, the party decided to follow. Several more hours passed, and the Stars were now completely lost, they realized, and at the mercy of these small children, who led them quickly from turn to twist to turn, without stopping.
Around one turn, there seemed to be a dead end, but Corvus quickly realized it was actually a small section of a giant, scaled, wormlike creature, sitting still within two holes in the hallway. The children quickly mouthed to be quiet, and retraced their steps to the previous hallway, where they seemed to argue over the next direction. Finally, the girl and boy both pointed different directions at a fork, and waited for the group to decide.
Trusting the girl, who appeared slightly older, the Stars agreed to follow her, and were led to another slope, this one covered with flowing water and some sort of slime. Realizing now there was likely returning this way, Vorle and the others made sure to agree on descending further. At the bottom of the slope was a large hallway filled with water up to the knee. Janos spotted something shining in the water, and lifted up what seemed to be a pristine sword undamaged by the water – likely dropped recently.
Suddenly, another quake shook the room, and the kids squealed and ran into small holes in the wall, stopping only to point down the watery hallway, directing the party on where to go. Before they had a chance to move, however, a giant wormlike body broke through the walls of the hallway, creating a barrier before and behind the party, sealing them in.
The armored scales of the worm made it nearly impossible to hurt it, though Vorle and Janos were able to find vulnerable areas missing scales and plunge a blade through, causing the creature to temporarily flee – though not for long. Breaking through the floor and walls with its head and spiked tail, the giant worm tried to trap the party again and again before impaling them with poisoned barbs and devour them whole.
Perrath and Corvus put themselves between the worm and the others, attacking its vulnerable maw when it opened to swallow, and the others waded through the water as fast as possible, attacking the worm when possible and trying to flee the confines of the hallway.
After a harrowing few minutes, the party was able to escape the worm, fleeing as fast as possible to the impenetrable bedrock walls of a nearby cavern. Exhausted, the party dropped to the floor to regain their breath, as the children emerged from a small hole near the base of the wall.
The girl took Corvus’s hand, eager to continue, before gesturing back to the watery hall and repeating the only word they had understood so far.