On our way back I had a little chat with Deesan and Lynea. I did not know why they had spared the Queen, but now that they had, I argued that she was their – our – responsibility. Since she was too fat to fit through the holes in her lair, just leaving her there, alone, after having chased off her ‘family,’ would be a crueler than jjust outright killing her. We would have to get her help.
Before we could save anyone from these tunnels, however, we first had to save ourselves. Our prospects were looking promising when we reached the cellar with the collapsed ceiling; the landslide I had created by knocking down a support beam made for a passable ladder; it looked as if we could easily make our way up through it.
Rather than us climbing up, however, it was Babbin who came tumbling down, wrestling with a human in what could either be interpreted as a mating ritual for Orcs or a fight to the death. Her combatant seemed to be enjoying himself, however, so I’ll assume it was the former. Somewhere, some god did not approve of this interspecies frolicking however, as their dance was promptly interrupted by a deep rumbling which shook the room above so badly that the whole thing came crashing down upon us.
When the rumbling quieted down we found ourselves in the dark. Babbin lit three torches and handed them all to Deesan – magical third hand, remember? – while we surveyed the situation. Poor Reek had come sliding down with the upper floor and was buried under a wooden beam. His leg looked bad, like, bone-poking-out-of-skin bad. For some reason, the ground was now littered with weapons – I suppose there had been a shop above us – and clever Babbin used a longsword as a lever to lift the beam up just enough to allow me to drag our friend out from under his premature tombstone. Besides the aforementioned bone sticking out his leg, Reek seemed fine – the same could not be said of Babbin’s human buddy, however, whose head was squashed like an overripe melon. I don’t know what your story was, friend – and what saddens me the most is that I now never will, and neither will anyone else. Rest in obscurity.
The gang – plus Reek – was all back together, and once again locked up, this time underneath a landslide of rubble. All exits had collapsed, yet Babbin somehow found a weakness in the walls and opened up a hole with a hammer that looked rather silly for how small it was in her hand. She made remarkable quick work of the wall – if her pirating business ever dries up, she might have a promising career in demolishing.
As soon as the hole was big enough for Babbin – so, humongous – she slipped through, after which we heard an unusual ruckus. When I snuck through last – I was supporting Reek in the rear – I was treated to a most peculiar scene. Babbin appeared to be fighting a dapper gnome gentleman who had struck her with a green whip. Deesan smoothed things over, getting the two to stop fighting which I believe the gnome in particular was very thankful for, since he seemed dreadfully afraid. I can’t really say that I can blame him, since we are quite a grizzled-looking crew: Two tieflings – one scarily big, the other eerily small – a half-orc pirate and a lanky clown, escorting an unassuming woman with a goat.
Once Deesan had explained that we meant no harm, the gnome introduced himself as Arnold Arboretum. He had the most magnificent mustache, Thaliar – remind me that I have to compliment him on it, as the well-groomed mustache is often the pride of the gnome, as the beard is to the dwarf. He wore big, golden spectacles and a backpack that was somehow bigger than him. Now, that backpack is quite interesting. It has a chimney, you see, and a little wooden bird that starts chirping madly whenever somebody other than Arnold tires to nab it. Gnomes are so nifty, Thaliar! This one in particular, as you’ll soon find out.
Arnold explained that he was down in these tunnels to examine some unusual fungi; his pockets were overflowing with flowers and actually glowing with orange mushrooms. As the ground kept on rumbling, I suggested that, rather than to continue his investigation, it would be prudent if he were to evacuate along with us. He agreed and provided us with a map of the tunnels, one which he acquired from local smugglers, which would certainly explain the intricacy of these barrows, whose exits were conveniently located in shops and such, which was way too clever to have been designed by goblins.
Reek implored us to take him to the Trader’s Crescent, where he could get his wounds healed, which would essentially lead us straight back to prison. This prospect didn’t seem too appealing to Babbin, who looked ready to slide her ring off and bolt; after both Reek and I insisting on the urgency of the situation, however, she was willing to stay with us, for now. I keep forgetting that, unlike Deesan, Lynea and I, Babbin, who got us into this mess in the first place, is an actual criminal and would probably escape if given the opportunity. She probably wouldn’t even hesitate to leave poor Reek behind. As a documenter of heroics that is not something I could allow. Why can’t heroes on quests ever play their parts properly, like actors do in their place? It’s infuriating.
Those glowing orange mushrooms intrigued me. Were they good to eat? If so, what would they taste like? Babbin decided to try one, but the appetizing fungus was promptly snatched away from her by the gnome. What if they were poisonous? We were this close to finding out, but it’s a good thing that we didn’t, as we soon discovered.
We came across a crack in the wall seeping a thick orange liquid that glowed in the same way that the mushrooms did. Arnold took a scoop – for science, presumably – but got some on his fingers, which seemed to sting pretty bad. Whatever that stuff is, it’s definately not for eating, unless you like really, really spicy food. Which I do.
Pressing on, we stumbled upon yet another crack in the wall, which, according to Deesan – who had somehow commandeered the map – would lead us into the Crystal Cuts, a place that sells magic crystals. This was good enough for Babbin, who once again demonstrated her talent for demolition by bursting through.
Inside was a large rotation contraption with a well at the bottom. The well was overflowing with the same orange liquid we saw before; it was starting to fill up the room and had probably already been seeping into the tunnels, splashing hazardous puddles all over the place and causing mushrooms to glow orange.
A winding stairway leading up and down snaked along the wall, promising an escape; sadly, the snake was on the wrong end of the room, so we would have to drop down to hop on. Brave Babbin went first, catching Deesan and throwing up a rope for the rest of us. As the others descended, I carefully convinced Reek to leave behind his plate armor, which would have been a liability for our descent. He begrudgingly agreed, as he didn’t have a leg to stand on. Poor Reek.
O, and Arnold turned into a cat. A cat with a magnificent mustache, I might add. I didn’t really have time to process at the time, so I still owe him a comical gasp of surprise, but he turned into a cat. With a mustache. A nifty gnome, indeed.
After some trouble – pieces of stairway giving way under Babbin’s weight – we reached a hatch that lead us into the shop. There were several shelves with statues which were made of polished amber, or something of a similar color. There were orbs, too, just like the one old Hush used to spy on us. Do they use this goop – once hardened – to craft magical items? That seems kind of dangerous, considering what just a little splash did to Arnold’s skin. What if you’re telling some chap’s fortune and your globe starts melting when you rub your hot fingers all over it? A definite health hazard.
Speaking of health hazards: The well was still overflowing and, if left unattended, would start spewing its goop out into the streets, like some crazy arcane volcano. I looked around to see if I could find a shopkeep when I saw a white dragonborn cowering in a corner. He was hiding because he thought we were looters, you see. First Arnold, now an innocent shopkeeper… Why are we so terrifying? We really need to work on our image. To be a band of heroic rogues that play loose with the law is one thing, but nobody likes ruffians.
The dragonborn explained that there was a safety mechanism down in the well that could shut the whole thing down in case of emergency. I immediately rushed towards the danger, as I am wont to do; I’m afraid that I cannot say the same of my ‘friends’, however, who I saw disappearing into the front of the shop, no doubt to start their looting, vindicating the poor dragonborn’s terror.
“We’re not heroes!” I heard Deesan shout. “You’re a clown!”
Clowns can be heroes, damn it! If no one else was going to do something stupid, I guess it was up to me. I’d show him.
The orange tide had risen further, blocking my way to the emergency switch. Just as I was imagining how I was going to fumble my way over there, I saw a welcome mustache peek around the corner. Arnold! His feline form allowed him to easily reach the switch, which he flipped with gusto. I was pleased as punch to discover that there was at least one other person around with the penchant for heroics. Thank the Muses!
The switch send the whole construction tumbling down, plugging the hole. Crisis averted! It was too early to celebrate, however. As Arnold and I made our way to the front of the shop, we witnessed complete pandemonium on the streets. People were rioting, looting, wailing, screaming… but not in a fun way. What was going on? During our escape through the tunnels I had not allowed myself any time to speculate on what the source of the quakes could have been. Whatever it was, it had completely destroyed what order there was on the streets. The carnival had turned to carnage.
Out of the frying pan, into the fire, as the saying goes.