When last we saw our heroes, they had just been hired by local “businessman” and rather colorfully-dressed elf, Gwindore, to head for the catacombs far above Bone Falls and search for another party of adventurers sent in some weeks ago and who have not reappeared since. Gwindore was willing to pay them 10 keys each with another 5 keys per adventurer found alive. Cuthmar had still not appeared after the party lost him in the tunnels outside Bone Falls days ago, and now Celiophane had also gone missing, but intent on making a fast fortune, Sherman and Eirik set on their way.
City of the Dead
Taking various steps, ladders and ropes to the top level of Bone falls, then making the long climb along narrow ledges and the steep rock faces took some time but several hours later our bold adventurers had made their way past the lower catacombs and up to the City of the Dead. Wandering around the streets, they saw homes and stores abandoned and decaying for decades, possibly centuries, all covered with and embedded in the Flowstone found throughout the Deep Down, everything given a dull, sickly grey/blue cast by the ubiquitous Fuzz mould.
Soon, they came to a town square, surround on all four sides by tall buildings, their tops embedded firmly into flowstone and the roof of the cavern. The centre of the square was lowered to form a large, shallow pool filled with greasy foul-smelling water with a layer of mud settled into the bottom. In the centre of the pool stood the decaying trunk of a large, old, dead tree. The buildings around the square showed clearly that a great fire of some kind had taken place, their fronts and the floor of the town square burned, pitted and sooted from the heat.
At the end of the square was a large building with two barn-doors at its front. Giving the handle on one door a good pull, the hinges gave way and the huge door came crashing down on our adventurers. Sherman, being quick and nimble, managed to jump away from the falling door but Eirik was slower and the door trapped his feet as it fell. Summoning all the strength he had, Sherman managed to lift the doors a few inches, long enough for Eirik to pull himself out. Luckily, he only suffered some bruising to his feet (and his ego) from the experience.
Moving into the dimly fuzz-lit building they found an enormous, high-ceiling hall. Snaking its way left and right across the hall from the entrance to the darkness at the far end was a metal railing - a set of runners - hanging from which were dozens, possibly hundreds of large meat-hooks. As they moved in, they could see that carcasses of various types hung from some of the hooks, like everything else: decayed, several decades old. The carcasses of pigs, cows, or oxen littered the floor along with, to their shock, the skeletal remains of many humans.
Searching some smaller rooms off to one side, they found more rotting corpses and a wooden box containing small, delicate but very sharp and rusty knives - some form of medical or dissection kit?
Finding nothing more of value, and no missing adventurers, they moved back outside and Sherman decided to investigate the tree in the centre of the pool. As he carefully made his way into the water, he noticed that the “mud” at its bottom was, in fact, some kind of ash - possibly from the conflagration that had taken place here long ago. But what was it that burned?
The tree was old and decaying, the smell almost unbearable, and its surface was more like putrified leather than any bark Sherman had ever seen. Sherman ran his fingers over the bark, which felt like dead flesh, but almost warm to the touch. Then, suddenly, the tree twitched under his fingers! The spot he had touched started to pulse, as if driven by a long forgotten erratic heartbeat. As he stepped back in horror, the pulsing, twitching surface spread, larger and wider across the whole surface of the tree.
“Get out of there!” shouted Eirik from the edge of the pool.
Turning to run, Sherman was a fraction of a second too late as the “tree” collapsed in on itself and broke apart into hundreds or thousands of foot-long giant leathery worms, their mouths full of sharp, spiky teeth snapping at him as he disappeared under the mound of writhing, wasted flesh. A few seconds later, Sherman managed to pull himself up to the top of the mound and Eirik threw him a rope from poolside. As Sherman grabbed the rope, Eirik put all his strength behind an almost superhuman pull that tore Sherman from the clutches of the tree worms and dragged him, coughing and retching to the shore.
Eirik lifted Sherman to his feet and, as the worms began to flop and wriggle their way towards them, they staggered together out of the town square with appropriate haste. Checking his wounds, well away from the worms, Sherman took a few minutes to bind a hand-sized bite taken out of his thigh by a lucky worm and noted that the rips and tears caused by other sets of teeth in his clothing would need a good tailor to fix later.
Agreeing to press on despite their wounds, it wasn’t long before they came to the edge of the city and the tower.
Like everything else, the tower looked abandoned for centuries and was surrounded and cocooned by the cavern walls and waves of flowstone, but otherwise looked intact.
The lower floors were plain and uninteresting - living quarters with long spoiled but once luxurious furniture - although Eirik did find, tucked at the back of a skeletal sofa, a small pipe made from amber with an insect embedded at the base of the bowl. Moving upwards to the next floor, they found only new horrors.
A ruined storeroom was on the next floor. Wooden shelving and cupboards left little open floorspace, and almost every inch of storage contained some new, vile, remnant of long-lost alchemical or biological experimentation. Body parts from all manner of living creatures, including humans and other humanoid beings, sat on the shelves alongside internal organs ripped from those same bodies, all preserved in the bare remnants of foul-smelling fluids in glass jars and tanks. Amongst these horrors, Sherman found an artificial hand, beautifully carved from some form of alabaster with brilliantly engineered articulation made from metal and sinew, intact and unharmed by the years. Eirik found a parchment, an old map with directions through the Deep Down to another realm somewhere in the far off caverns.
Their nerves already on edge from the sights they had witnessed so far, the next floor was no respite. Here was clearly where the abominations they had already found took shape. Laboratory tables in the centre of the floor were flanked around the walls by what were once large glass cylinders, their now shattered remains littering the floor. The metal casing for the bottom of each cylinder rested on the floor while what was once its top hung from the floor above, attached there by a pipes disappearing upwards through the ceiling. Inside each cylinder was the barely discernible corpse of a humanoid creature, crusted in a dried metallic green sludge.
Moving quickly to the next floor, in the hopes of quickly finding their objective, the strangeness continued. Here were more glass cylinders, one for each of and apparently above the ones below. All but one of these cylinders was also shattered, the floor covered with the metallic green sludge that covered the corpses below. One cylinder remained intact, inside it a strange metallic green liquid swirled around the cylinder at speed with no apparent force driving it.
And there, in the middle of the floor lay three bodies.
Eirik could see, on checking the bodies, that they matched the description of the adventuring party Gwindore had sponsored - a man-at-arms, a rogue and a mage. They were, however, deceased, and had been for some time. As proof the party had been found, Eirik liberated a roughly hewn sword from the fighter and a small snuff box, carved from opal, from the mage. Eirik recognized the sword as being made from Cold Iron - slightly more brittle than a steel sword but particularly effective against Fey creatures or Demons in combat.
As he moved on to the rogue, Eirik froze in horror as the fighter’s corpse turned its head to look at him and started to raise itself up with one decayed hand, the rotted eye sockets glowing a dull green and the metallic “sludge” from the floor crawling all over the moldering bones as if itself alive.
Eirik drew sword, Sherman pulled daggers from his belt and the fight began. Seeing the mage as the greatest threat, Eirik swung furious blows but failed to connect, the putrid corpse apparently more agile than expected. Sherman let fly several daggers at the dead rogue, but one hitting squarely in the center of its forehead failed to stop its advance and a raking blow with rank boney fingernails left Sherman with deep gashes across the side of his face and neck, blood dripping from the wounds down onto his chest.
While dodging the mage corpse’s attacks, staggered by their ferocity, Eirik took some time to land a good blow, but when he did his attacker was knocked back, barely able to remain standing. Meantime, Sherman’s last dagger flew from his hand, lodging itself in the rogue corpse’s throat, severing what little flesh remained there, allowing its head to fall from its shoulders and clatter to the floor, the rest of its body following it down. Eirik was beset on two fronts by the mage and fighter corpses, but still focusing on the mage he was finally managing to land some good blows, and once Sherman joined in they made short work of the two remaining adversaries.
With their foes seemingly defeated, Eirik and Sherman took some time to check their wounds, staunching and binding the gashes on Sherman’s neck and successfully stopping the bleeding for now. But, as they finished their ministrations, Eirik noticed to his horror that the remaining pieces of the fighter had started to move again. The metallic green sludge was moving across the floor, still alive, grabbing and pulling the disconnected body parts towards one another and knitting them once again into a full corpse.
Given that they had accomplished their task as far as they were able, they swiftly decided they had seen enough of this city of the dead and made their way with haste back to the tower entrance. But, as they made it to the large doorway, they again froze in terror - the street outside was filled with dozens of figures, all moving slowly, jerkily, twitching as if in continual excruciating death throes towards the tower, their eyes glowing that same dull green they had seen above!
Next Session: Escape from the City of the Dead (maybe?)
The map Eirik found is worth an extra 3 Tack, should the party decide to move on from Bone Falls, giving them a total of 6 Tack so far. Eirik’s sword of Cold Iron does double damage (roll twice) to Fey creatures or Demons.