Having completed their investigation of the two wrecks, and battled the guardians of the second, Walthus leads them up the distributaries of the Soggy River deeper into the marsh until they come up to within a few dozen yards from a fifty foot high cliff that rises along the marsh’s southern border, its face a thick tangle of jutting rocks and bright green vines and nettles. A curtain of these thick nettle vines partially conceals a cave opening at the base of the cliff. Walthus, a bit unnerved by the skeletal warriors at the last wreck, does not seem all that eager to explore the cave. He offers to stay behind and watch over the boats and their packs and gear.
Jethrik says, “I don’t recommend using the alchemists fire to clear the nettles!”
Remembering painful nettle stings from his childhood, Toshio gets one of the skeletons’ swords and cuts the nasty plants away from the cave entrance. Keng joins him using his axe and they easily clear away the nettles to reveal a 10 foot wide and 7 foot high entrance.
Jharad smiles at the pile of nettles, “Those make excellent arrow shafts.” He carefully sets aside a large amount of Keng and Toshio’s trimmings to put away in his pack later.
Jethrik takes out his club and holds it aloft. A soft glow emanates from the top.
“Very nice” says Toshio. “Can you do that for our weapons, too? I cannot wield this mace while holding a torch.”
“Sorry, no” Jethrik shrugs.
Watching Jethrik produce light on the tip of his club Jharad suggests, “We should have a second source of light as well. Who has a second source of light?”
Toshio offers his sunrod to Zeyala.
“Don’t trouble yourself,” says Zeyala. “I have one of my own.” As she lights the sunrod she mutters, “Gods only know why I bother to carry these things.”
“I guess because you knew you’d be exploring caves.” Jethrik offers brightly.
Zeyala forgoes reminding Jethrik that while the range of her vision is severely limited she can see just as well in the dark as in the light.
As they begin making their way into the cave, Jharad makes invisible arcane marks on the walls every so often to help them find their way back.
Ten feet back another narrower tunnel opens up on their right, heading off to the southwest. The main cave continues to the south for another ten feet before it veers to the east.
“Let’s go this way,” Toshio suggests, pointing to the south.
Keng goes where Toshio points thinking to himself, “Go here, go there… better be some frackin’ treasure in this cave, the boats were worthless.”
The ceiling gets even lower, forcing Keng, Jharad, and even Toshio to have to stoop down at times. Moisture drips down from the ceiling constantly to make slippery pools and rivulets on the floor. About 50 feet from the entrance the main cave bends again to the west and the entire floor at that point is covered brackish waters that must have collected from the rains of the last few days that have not yet had a chance to seep into the rock. It is difficult to tell how deep the waters are or how far they extend without entering them and looking around the bend in the cavern.
“Well, no sense in drowning – at least not yet. Let’s try the drier way, and we’ll come back to test the waters later.”
Jharad begins drawing a quick map of the area on the inside of his cloak. Using only his finger, elements of the cave appear and mark the garment with a ghostly white glow. “Good idea,” he comments.
Backtracking to the side cavern they find that they can only travel down it in single file. About 25 feet down it opens up into a larger cavern roughly 15 feet across and 30 feet wide. Because Zeyala and Jethrik are brining up the rear, their lights don’t do much to illumine the cavern, but Keng, who is in the lead, can see perfectly well, and what he sees is an enormous hairy, red-backed spider feeding on the carcass of a giant gecko in a corner of the cave. The spider is not at all happy to be interrupted, it drops the gecko and spring at Keng biting into his left leg. Jharad considers firing an arrow at the beast, but does not want to hit Toshio. He waits for Keng and Toshio to maneuver around the spider so room opens up to engage it. The spider springs back and Keng with his axe and Toshio with his sword both try to hit it, but to no avail as it skitters away from their blows. Keng, Toshio, and Jharad all begin maneuvering around it to catch it between them. Zeyala casts guidance on Jharad as he passes by her. Jharad enhances his blade then steps up and quickly stabs the spider twice with it, the second delivering an arcane mark of a large X. The spider rushes in and bites Keng on the arm, but its poison doesn’t seem to be effecting the mighty half-orc. Before the spider can leap away again, Keng buries his axe in its head, right between its bulbous eyes. The giant spider drops, curls up, and rolls onto its back, quite dead.
“Keng, please let me examine the bites from that spider,” says Zeyala. “Blessing from the divine,” she prays as she transfers a ball of glowing warm energy from her hand to Keng’s wounds.
“Thank you Zeyala,” groans Keng. Shaking his head to clear his thoughts as he feels strength seep back into him and the wounds miraculously close. ”I hate spiders,” he growls.
Jharad wipes spider goo from his blade with a summoned rag. “I figured you would just saunter up and step on it, Keng,” he says. Smiling he summons another rag and hands it to Keng for his axe.
Keng gladly accepts the rag and chuckles at Jharad’s joke, although it comes out as a low rumble much like a growl.
Turning to Zeyala, Jhrad says, “Timely guidance again Zeyala. Um… thanks.” This last work comes awkwardly, as though from a small child learning to speak. In retrospect, this may be the first time any of the group has heard Jharad use the word at all.
“You are most welcome, Jharad” says Zeyala. “Though I am simply the channel for the divine.”
Jethrik begins scanning the cave for magic but finds none.
Toshio says, “Keng should be up front. We need his darkvision there.”
“I agree. Lets us your healing, Zey, before we use our potions,” adds Jharad.
There is no treasure or anything else of interest in the spider’s cave aside from the giant gecko carcass. Beyond that is another tunnel that splits into two – one going southwest and the other going southeast.
“Left, Keng, if you please.”
The passage going off to their left in the southeast direction seems to empty into the main tunnel of the cave network but on the far side of the section completely blocked by the pools of water. In this section the tunnel slopes down at a slight angle to the east but only a third of it is full of standing water. The floor is slippery but they are able to move along without any problems though they do have to step with care. After 40 or 50 feet the tunnel opens up into a cavern about 35’ at its widest and 70’ long. The whole southern rim of the cavern and particular the southeast part of it lies underwater, and that part seems to curve around to the north. Passages also lead out from the north and far western ends. Scattered throughout the cavern, Keng can see four inert skeletons sprawled upon the floor. They are all wearing the same kind of armor as the skeleton that attacked them at the wreck of the Kaijitsu Blossom.
Jharad whispers to Toshio. “We should assume these things will rise. I suggest we get ourselves in a good position to receive them, then Jethrik and I can wake them up with arrows: you and Keng in front, Jethrik and I in the middle slightly behind, Zey behind us. What do you think?”
“Good plan.” Jethrik whispers. “I’ll take the one on the left. You get the one on the right.”
“Good idea, but let’s smash all of them before they can rise, rather than letting them start after us,” Toshio says. “I don’t like skeletons. They don’t rest as they should. Take up positions to smash these on my signal. We can each smash one, with Zeyala standing back.”
Meanwhile, Keng, not stopping to listen to the others, walks over to the nearest of the skeletons and with his great axe smashes it to bits. He turns back to Toshio and says, “Just to be sure.” Right at that moment the three other skeletons in the cave begin to rise up, and even from the waters of the flooded parts of the cavern two more skeletons arise. Unlike the other skeletal samurai, these ones are unarmed and reach out with grasping bony fingers to claw at those who have intruded upon their uneasy rest.
One of them immediately rips into Keng with both claws. The other four skeletons converge on the rest of the team, and within moments Toshio and Jharad are lying on the cavern floor bleeding to death. Only Jethrik’s quickness and the fact that he is a smaller target spares him from any bloody wounds, while Zeyala’s position at the rear gives her a moment’s respite.
“By Pharasma’s divine light, return to slumber!” shouts Zeyala. As the flare of Zeyala’s radiant light touches them all of the skeletons in the cavern collapse and rise no more.
There is no time to be relieved however, for Zeyala sees that Jharad and Toshio are dying at her feet, and Keng’s bloody wounds make it evident that even he is in no shape for another fight should any more skeletons come lurching out of the darkness.
Zeyala stands next to where Toshio and Jharad are laying and calls Keng over. “Power of the divine, heal and awaken my friends.”
Jharad sits up, feeling like Keng sat on him. Focusing on the half-orc he says calmly, “It never hurts to spend a little time preparing before rushing into battle. Next time lets do some of that. What do you think?”
“Yeah. Maybe. But it worked out!” Keng replies. “Where’s the treasures?”
Toshio groans as he sits up. “Of all the stupid… How do you live long enough to breed?” Immediately Toshio regrets his words. He can feel that the poison of his anger and the abusive words erupting from it has a created a cloud of evil, blocking the divine light that he normally feels shining from within.
Taking stock of the situation, Toshio looks around and sees the now destroyed skeletons. “How did that happen? And next time let’s do that sooner, whatever it was, eh? Zeyala, thank you for healing us. I admit, I feared the worst as I lost consciousness. How much healing power have you got left for today?”
“And here I thought you brought me along for my fighting prowess,” she says with a wink. ”My powers are still fairly strong. I can cast heal spell on a single person three more times, but my ability to heal the group is waning. Perhaps two more times.”
“That’s all for today,” Toshio says after assessing. “Let’s go back to Proudstump’s home and recuperate. In that place of safety Zeyala can expend the rest of her healing on us if she’ll be so good, and we can rest. Tomorrow we can continue the exploration of these caverns. For now, I’ll be glad to get back into the sunlight.” He starts to lead them back to the boats.
Jharad scans for magic in the cave before they leave, as does Jethrik. There is no magic to be found however.
Toshio is quiet on the way back to the boats, ruminating on his sudden loss of grace.
“So we return in the morning?” queries Keng. “I want to finish what we started here!”
Toshio pauses for a moment. He realizes that Keng doesn’t seem to have a full grasp of the situation. “Keng, we will go back to the cave tomorrow, when Zeyala will have her full healing abilities restored – just in case. We won’t leave the job unfinished.”
Changing the subject, Toshio looks Keng in the eye and says, “And speaking of not leaving things unfinished…” He pauses, considering his words, and then bows at the waist, saying, “Please accept my apologies. What I said in the cave was thoughtless. In my anger I let my words cause more injury. I am sorry, Keng.”
“Sorry for what?” asks Keng.
Jharad, who had so far remained silent since leaving the caves, says, “For implying that half-orcs are too impulsive and asking how you live long enough to propagate your own species.” He smiles widely at Keng.
“I don’t believe you need to trouble yourself with our discussion, master elf,” responds Toshio coldly.
Jharad laughs at Toshio’s reaction.
Toshio tries to ignore the rude elf’s intrusion, and instead gives Keng his full attention, as befits the situation. Turning back to Keng he adds, with proper contrition, “But the wizard is correct. That is why I am apologizing.”
“I thought the remark humorous as befitting fellow warriors,” Keng responds. “You worry too much.”
Toshio looks puzzled for a moment, and then hides it. “Ah, well. Yes. Perhaps I do.” He stands, wondering internally what to do next, then hastily adds, “Anyway, I’m glad you were not offended” before turning to something – anything – else that’s going on in the room.
Just then a raucous burst of flatulence is heard from Jharad.
Jharad looks over at Jethrik, who is busily looking innocent, and says calmly, “Do you really want to start that game gnome?”
“Hey wizard,” yells Keng! “I learned me some magic” Keng then waves his fingers and says, “Expeluranus,” while he lets out a huge burbling fart!
Once the group gets back to Proudstump’s shack, Zeyala uses the last of her day’s allotment of channeling. After channeling her healing energy, Zeyala says, “I think that should take care of everyone. Anyone still wounded?”
When everyone has been treated, she continues, “I respect the dead, but I don’t like them waking up and trying to claw my face off.”
Toshio says to her, “Excellent. I was hoping we wouldn’t be too much delayed. Thank you for your help, Zeyala.”
“If there’s nothing else for this evening, I need to pray and get rested for tomorrow,” says Zeyala.
Toshio responds, “Yes. Please do so. There is no time like the present, eh?”
Before heading up to the Proudfoot’s guestroom, Zeyala approaches Keng and with complete sincerity, she says quietly to him, “Keng, your strength and determination are valuable assets, but perhaps we can come up with a more effective strategy when tackling our next foe. It was only because I was in Pharasma’s favor that she gave me the power to cast off those skeletons. She is fickle when it comes to healing and death, and I know not if she will grant me similar blessings if we come across more undead. Tonight I must pray for her guidance.”
Jharad spends some time the day before finding a suitable prodding stick (makeshift staff) to take with them the next time they visit the caves. He spends the rest of the day working on thistle arrows.