Chapter 08: Source

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Session Number: 120
Date: Sunday 29 January 2012
Venue: Densial's
PCs & Players:

Arrian Rog1/Clr10 (Fergus) (kills: none)
Feren Rog11 (Yeran) (kills: 1 small arachtria)
Lionel Rgr6/Wiz1/ArcA4 (Ash) (kills: none)
Rowaine Pal11 (Craig) (kills: none)
Troll Wiz11 (Densial) (kills: 1 matre, 2 arachtria)

XP Awarded: TBA

Troll and Ethalyn are at Trina, in a projected tent of her making. Feren and Lionel are at Elondel, Rowaine and Arrian with Verithna. Troll returns to Elondel. He checks on the progress of the equipment he has procured from Elondel; as expected, it will not be ready until tomorrow. He picks up Feren and Lionel, then teleports to Verithna's.

Everyone shares their experiences. There is discussion concerning whether the group have enough equipment to venture into an abandoned goblin mine that might harbour one or more matre. Lionel has his backpack, Feren has a few sunrods secreted upon his person. Rowaine and Arrian are missing their shields, but more concerning is the lack of food and water. Lionel offers to hunt along the way - perhaps he can kill a rabbit or squirrel. The party decide to head to the mine.

Using their newly created 'Arrow Protocol 2', the group travel back to the depression. The arachtria remains are still present in the river, undisturbed.

The party cautiously approach the depression. There do not appear to be any arachtria present. Lionel volunteers to scout the area - perhaps the elf has returned?

Lionel sets off, following the depression's circumference in a clockwise direction. Three quarters of the way around he sees humanoid tracks, made half a day ago. The tracks head towards the hole, then return along the same path. Lionel completes the circumnavigation and apprises the others. They decide not to follow the tracks, choosing instead to investigate the mine.

Feren heads out first. On the way he notices stab-like arachtria tracks that become more numerous the closer he gets to the centre. The hole is shored up with weathered timber. Forty feet from the entrance, he notices something rusty dangling from the far side of the hole, moving slightly in an unfelt breeze. It might be an old pulley, its rope long gone. He approaches.

The near-midday sun illuminates the opening. The shaft diameter varies from four to six feet, and descends not quite vertically for about fifteen feet. A fairly low-risk climb, Feren thinks to himself. He dimly sees the bottom gradually level out, becoming a largely horizontal shaft. The shaft wall that is closest to the ground has many stab-like marks down its length. The dangling object is indeed a pulley. Feren moves over to the side where it is anchored. The ground there is solid. The pulley is rusty, but seems well-secured to the surrounding timbers. There is something lying still at the bottom of the shaft; it could be the end of a piece of frayed rope.

Feren beckons the others. Troll looks down, considers a Tenser's Floating Disc, but there is not enough horizontal surface to support it. Arrian decides to climb down. Feren passes him a lit sunrod. Arrian places his foot on loose soil which does not support his weight; he slides awkwardly down the steep shaft wall, scraping his calves. His foot strikes something immovable with a hard edge, and pain shoots up his leg. He retrieves his dropped sunrod and unsheathes his sword.

Arrian's foot has struck one of a pair of very rusty metal rails that are laid out on the shaft's flat floor. The shaft, five feet in diameter, continues straight for around thirty feet, then curves out of sight to the right. A length of well-worn rope lies on the floor beside him.

"On second thought, Rowaine," Arrian whispers up, "why don't you use a rope?"

Troll Dimension Jaunts down and draws two wands. Lionel fastens rope to the pulley, ties it off on one of the timbers and drops the other end down the shaft. Rowaine stows her axe and climbs down.

Troll moves twenty feet further in. Arrian gets to his feet. He notices that the shaft floor is punctured with many stab marks. Arrian keeps an eye on Troll, then follows him as Rowaine descends. Close to Troll there is a piece of very rusty metal that once might have been a pickaxe head.

The others head down as Troll moves over to Rowaine.

"What do you think about scouting the area first, on Harley?" he whispers. "Feren could go with you."

"Good plan," Rowaine says.

Feren and Rowaine climb back up. Rowaine then summons her earth-attuned mount. Harley yelps in adoration as she appears. Rowaine and Feren mount up and Rowaine explains to Harley what she wishes her to do.

Harley sinks into the rock. Rowaine and Feren experience the sensation of movement, then appear in the light ninety seconds later. Rowaine dismounts and walks to Harley's massive head, tugging her ears fondly. Harley explains something to Rowaine in terran as Feren dismounts.

"What'd she see?" Feren asks.

"The passageway goes off straignt to the right for about the same distance again," Rowaine explains, "then opens into a very large cavern with short passageways coming off it. The chamber seems to have some sort of chimney or vertical shaft that goes up to the surface."

"Did Harley sense anything moving in there?" Arrian asks.

"No."

"It would be interesting to go to the chimney and see what's going on there," Troll says, looking at Rowaine. She nods, says a sentence or two to Harley in the strange, gravelly tongue of the dwellers of the earth, then mounts up again, beckoning for Lionel to join her. Harley leaps skyward, her wings beating the air and raising clouds of dust. she levels off about a hundred feet above the ground and begins circling an area that does not seem to offer anything of interest. But wait, what was that? Lionel's keen eyes spot something a little odd about the patch of ground.

"Land over there," he says to Rowaine. After touching down, he jumps off and begins searching the ground. He pulls aside bracken and grasses, some of which is dead. Beneath it is something timber: planks, nailed together. He discovers the edges of a wide expanse of planks, about fifteen feet square. Half way along one edge there is a large iron ring close to a foot in diameter, with a length of chain attached.

"Rowaine, help me pull on this?" Lionel asks.

"Shall we clear away some of the bushes first?" Rowaine replies. "It might make it easier to lift."

"Yeah."

Rowaine and Lionel clear away the debris they can reach from the ground without stepping on the timbers. The chain will reach the opposite side of the timber structure. Together, they tug at the chain. The timber does not move.

"Could you get Harley to help?" Lionel asks.

Rowaine nods in reply, calling Harley over. She fastens the end of the chain to Harley's saddle, then mounts up. Lionel stands near the large iron ring. Harley takes the strain, then pulls. The square platform pivots on the edge opposite the ring on unseen hinges and the door opens a crack. Centipedes and slaters scurry away from the light. Beneath is a round hole, at least ten feet wide. Harley takes a step; the edge where Lionel stands is now about a foot off the ground.

"Stop there!" Lionel hisses.

"Do you want us to drop it back down again?"

"Yes."

The trapdoor closes, not quietly - at least to their ears. The others do not hear the noise.

Lionel looks for arachtria tracks around the trapdoor. He sees not the stab marks that indicate the passage of arachtria, but the shape of booted humanoid feet, and quite fresh - less than 4 hours old.

Rowaine, Lionel and Harley head back and tell the others of their discovery. Troll asks Rowaine about the shaft. Rowaine clarifies with Harley, who says that it is about 3-4 body lengths tall to the top of the cavern (around thirty feet). The cavern itself is 100'-150' across. She knows of no other exits: all the small tunnels that lead off the main cavern end.

"OK," Troll says, "everything in there knows we are here now." He brightens up. "Oh well, let's go in anyway!"

The group scale the tunnel entrance. Feren takes the lead, Arrian the rear. The tunnel bends to the right, then carries on for another forty or fifty feet. Along the way they see that the tunnel broadens sharply, shortly after which the single set of tracks becomes two, diverging left and right. Lionel sniffs the air. "This place looks and smells like it has been here for a long time."

The party continue, finding themselves in a large cavern. Passageways of various size branch off the walls both left and right. The metal tracks follow the walls. The party see half a dozen streaks of light spearing down from the centre of the cavern ceiling. Not enough to banish the darkness. Lionel throws a sunrod into the centre, illuminating the entire cavern.

goblin_mine_overview.gif

The rails form a loop that follows the cavern walls.

"No point scouting," Troll says. "We can now see everything."

"And they can see us," Arrian warns.

"Standard formation, left wall," Rowaine says.

The first three passageways the group pass are all short dead-ends.

"Let's look for arachtria tracks," Troll suggests. The party retrace their steps, Lionel in the lead. He easily spots a ten foot wide corridor of stabby tracks that make a straight path off to the left, heading towards a passageway a little larger than the others about half way down the left arc. Lionel leads the party along the path of arachtria traffic, single file. Three quarters of the way along the path, it is clear that they enter the passageway straight ahead and follow it around to the left. There is a purple, pulsing glow on the passageway's right hand wall.

Arrian makes the party's predetermined hand signal for all to use their special powers. Troll Detects Magic, Rowaine Detects Evil. Both shake their heads.

"What makes purple light? Rowaine whispers.

"Nothing mundane that I can think of," Troll says. He continues studying the light. "It is reflected," he says. "The source is farther in. Huddle together, everyone." He casts a sphere of Invisibility around the group and they head closer, Arrian and Rowaine in the lead. The passageway narrows as it turns left. The arachtria tracks bunch up, remaining in the centre of the passageway.

goblin_mine_01.jpg

The passageway turns about ninety degrees and opens up into an oval chamber. A beast is near the far wall. On either side of it are two metal projections erupting from the cavern wall, one above the other. Arcing between the projections and enveloping the creature is the source of the light: a cloud of pulsing purple plasma. The creature occasionally spasms, as if in pain. It looks hauntingly like a matre - sort of. There is something not quite right about it. Rowaine, Troll and Arrian immediately think about another similar creature entrapped in a cavern wall: the creature Elondel identified as a patre. And yet it is not quite the same as that creature either.

"Look at that!" Arrian whispers. "It is not alone!" Arrian is right: two smaller arachtria lie before the larger one, also enveloped in the pulsing field. Troll slowly moves forward until the creatures are within range of his Detect Magic spell. The larger creature becomes agitated, wrestling and struggling within the field. It looks smaller than the matre that they have encountered thus far. Arrian and Lionel also notice that it has no antenna, and is missing a leg.

"Is it taking damage?" Arrian whispers. "Is it being constructed?"

"Is it being deconstructed?" Lionel adds. He surveys the arachtia tracks at his feet. They all make a beeline to the glow ahead.

"Rowaine, you could charge…" says Troll.

"What will the glow do to me?"

"Wait, I might be able to find out."

"Reeeeaaaaeer!" The largest creature screams, writhing. Troll sees four distinct magical auras, the most potent of which is very strong. The creature radiates strong universal magic, the pulsing light radiates strong compulsion enchantment magic. It is difficult to tell what the two lesser auras are, they are overwhelmed by the two larger.

The creature balls up and grunts rhythmically.

"Troll, do we shoot it?" Rowaine asks.

"If you do, you lose the Invisibility!"

"It's moving around," Rowaine says. "I think it can tell we're here anyway."

Rowaine coordinates a volley of ranged weapon fire, targetting the large creature. The party blink into view as Troll's two Magic Missiles hit the creature, but they appear to be ineffective. Two of Lionel's three arrows strike. The first makes no impression, the second barely makes a scratch.

"Imithrium!" Rowaine barks, firing two arrows tipped with the unique material. One strikes and damages the creature, the other harmlessly bounces off the creature's faceted flank. It does not react to the damage it has sustained.

Lionel switches to imithrium arrows, steps forwards and looses three arrows. Two of the three missiles punch through the creature's metallic shell. Arrian casts Recitation. The creature continues struggling, curling into a ball and making pulsing noise. Feren readies a dagger. Rowaine moves forwards and bends her bowstring three times. One imithrium arrow marks the creature. Troll's finger vomits an Acidic Splatter. His aim is high and wide; the arc of acid splashes onto the wall behind and etches its surface. The creature spawns a smaller arachtria, like the ones the party have seen recently. It tumbles from beneath the larger creature's abdomen and immediately exits the glow, charging towards Harley. The stone flyer snaps at the small creature, sending it tumbling backwards.

Three more arrows from Lionel cross the short distance. Two damage the creature, which is starting to show signs of wear and tear. Arrian moves over to Troll and casts Aid on him. Feren closes with the little arachtria, which has found its six feet again. His dagger stabs into the creature's body and it collapses to the floor.

"They've always come out in packs of three, so be careful!" Feren warns.

"Let's get this matre!" Rowaine roars, firing arrow after arrow into the embattled creature. Troll finishes it off, and the pair of smaller arachtria, with a Fireball.

Troll stalks over to the remains, his fingers communicating further destruction. "I sense no evil from them," Rowaine says.

"You haven't before, on live ones," Troll says. He punctuates the statement with a stream of acid. He then moves to the rods embedded in the stone walls. They continue to pulse energy about the motionless creatures, like a close-hugging purple cloud.

"Are they being repaired?" Arrian asks.

Troll looks closely at the remains. "It doesn't look so."

"What is it?" Arrian continues. "It is much smaller than the patre we found embedded in the wall, not to mention that this isn't embedded at all - although it might as well be."

The creature looks damaged, beyond what the party has inflicted. Troll moves over to the rods, fingers extended. Arrian stops him. "Let's look around the mine first before any more destruction," he says. He and Lionel leave the small chamber, leaving the others on guard.

The unexplored passageways leading off the main chamber all end after fifteen to forty feet. Some are relatively straight, some twist and turn. At the far end of the cavern there are a couple of old, broken rail trucks, one of which is missing one of its four wheels. The cavern ceiling rises to forty feet at its centre. The chute looks to be rough and straight, with no side passages. There are piles of dirt on the floor below the chute. They head back to the others.

"Rowaine," Troll says, "can you and Harley see what is behind these metal protrusions?"

Rowaine agrees and she and Harley venture into the stone. Moments later they return. Harley reports there is nothing that catches her eye.

Troll examines the rods for some time. He deduces that the enchantment works like a permanent Hold Monster spell, but it has been particularly tweaked to target constructs. It also appears to have been enriched by the subtle signature of imithrium. He tells the others.

"One of the Roulae family's old labs?" Arrian suggests. He inspects the area, looking for any markings on the rods or wall. He finds none. The rods themselves are dull, leadlike in appearance.

"How long can that creature have been here?" Arrian asks.

"Not for a very long time," Troll replies. "The imithrium field would have killed it. I cannot imagine a matre surviving longer than a week - probably less."

Lionel looks for non-arachtria tracks in the area. He gets his companions to show him their own footwear, comparing them to the tracks he can find on the cavern floor.

"Someone else has been here," he says. "More than one, by the looks of it. I'm fairly sure none of them were the same person whose tracks I spotted above." He deduces that the makers of the tracks ventured right up to the creatures, and to either side where the rods are anchored.

Troll is too busy trying to understand the magic of the rods to notice Lionel's proclamation. He cannot find any means of turning the effect on or off; there are no mechanics to speak of. It just seems to be a permanent magical item. Arrian casts True Seeing on Troll, but the spell reveals nothing else he cannot see by his own means.

"Why was the little arachtria not subject to the field?" Troll says, more to himself than any other. He suspects that the intent of the field was to trap all arachtria, but the little one did not seem to be inhibited at all. The positioning of the rods and the aura of the field suggest that it might be keyed to a particular size - maybe the little ones did not attract the field's attention. Troll is convinced that the item's creator was not up to any good - anyone powerful enough to fashion such a device was surely powerful enough to simply kill the arachtria. Perhaps their intent was to study or replicate the constructs. Perhaps they also liked to tinker with parasites and darkness… Or, is this some creation of his future self? Stranger things have happened! Regardless, Troll no longer thinks he needs to destroy the device. Might it be used to good purpose? He makes a mental note to ask certain questions of Elondel.

goblin_mine_02.jpg

There does not seem to be much more for the party to do here, so they travel back to Verithna's. Out of courtesy, Rowaine dismisses Harley before Wane sees her.

"How did you do?" Verithna asks.

"We found the source, and and dealt with it," Troll says. "There might be others out there, but I wouldn't be surprised if they just dropped to the ground and stopped working."

Arrian describes the magic item responsible for entrapping the matre, taking care to emphasise that such a device would require considerable skill to create. He also adds that they found evidence of a humanoid in the area.

"They wouldn't be from around here unless… No. I know of no other around here with the skill you describe."

"What about the elf that I raised?" Arrian wonders.

"I cannot say," Verithna replies. She has a pensive moment. "Would the thing be drawing the creatures to itself? Except the little ones seemed to be moving away from it…"

"I saw no such auras," Troll says.

"Strange." Verithna puts on a pot of dandelion tea. "You must be hungry, I'll make some lunch. Actually, you seem to be popping in and out of town, as it were… Would you be able to bring some things back for me? I'd like some jars… a dozen, about that big, with some sort of screw lid?"

"Done," Troll says.

Verithna asks for a few other items: rope, iron spikes, a new pot.

"There were cart tracks not too far south of here," Arrian says. "Are there any settlements nearby?"

"No. Sometimes people come this way and occasionally I will have things delivered…"

"So no one else that lives near here?"

"No."

"Would you know?"

"I make it my business to know. I picked up on you fairly quickly, didn't I?"

"We did see fresh humanoid tracks going to and from the mine," Arrian says. "I wonder whether there was a minion keeping an eye on it - perhaps that person I raised from the dead? Perhaps that is why he was not willing to cooperate. Be cautious, Verithna. He could be a dangerous person."

"I find it weird that someone would set up something so powerful so far away from anything," Verithna replies.

"Maybe that's why they did it," Arrian offers.

"Interestingly, it was fairly close to where we were found," Troll says.

"I think I shall pay a visit," Verithna says. "Call upon some allies to help me."

"Do be careful, Verithna," Arrian says.

"Oh, you needn't worry about an old woman like me. I can take care of myself. But thank you - you have made an ally."

"If you want to go, do you want us to go with you?" Arrian asks.

"You say that there are no more of these creatures there?" Verithna asks in reply.

"No more arachtria."

"I do not fear the other creatures. If you say that these metallic beasts are gone, then that is good enough for me."

"I will go with you anyway if you like," Troll offers.

"If you wish."

"I wonder if quiet people should go," Arrian says. "Verithna, are you good at being quiet in the woodlands?"

"I am an elf, steeped in nature! The woodlands flows through me. I can be very quiet if I wish. But I tend not to be too quiet on my rambles, it is often better not to startle certain creatures."

"Are you a druid?" Arrian asks.

"Yes. You are familiar with our ways?"

"Only vaguely."

"We can move through a glade and not move a single blade of grass if we so wish, but it is not our way to be quiet."

"If you want clunky company…" Arrian says. "I am concerned about who you might run into."

"You can come if you wish."

The party escort Verithna to the mine, taking Troll's cart with them atop a Floating Disc. Nothing much has changed since they were last there. Verithna looks around inside the mine. Lionel traces the pair of unidentified humanoid tracks, which travel between the small chamber with the glowing rods and a spot directly under the vertical chute. At that point, they simply disappear. Lionel takes another look at the railed passageway; he thinks it would be a struggle for the large creature to negotiate that path. Perhaps it came in by the trapdoor?

The party gather to leave the mine, intending to investigate the trapdoor above. Verithna has some more investigation to do - she says that she will finish up here, then have a good look at the surrounding area before heading home.

Aboveground, Lionel identifies a single person's tracks near the trapdoor. The boot prints are not unique enough to determine whether it is one of the people who was down below. The tracks seem to come to the trapdoor from the east and they head out along the same path for about a hundred yards before turning south.

Lionel leads the party, following the tracks to the south. The individual appears to have made some effort not to be followed, doing such things as walking downstream and upstream rather than simply fording rivers, backtracking, and attempting to erase tracks. Lionel labours for close to two hours, following the tracks as they head in a generally southern direction, before finally losing them altogether. It is now about four hours after midday; something like three hours of daylight remain. With that in mind, the party decide to head back to Verithna's.

Verithna is not at home when the adventurers return. They wait, and Verithna arrives an hour before dark.

"Ah, I didn't really expect you," she says.

"If is alright, may we stay one more night?" Arrian asks.

"Yes," the druid replies. "You are very welcome. I am going to have to do some more hunting, though. I have put the watch out; if anything happens in the area surrounding the mine, I will be told, and I intend to go there fairly regularly over the next little while. But it is odd for people to be walking in my lands; it is odd enough for you to be here. I find it discomforting."

Verithna starts making dinner. Lionel ventures out into the nearing dusk to hunt for game. Verithna gets the remainder of the group performing menial tasks: collecting and preparing vegetables, boiling water. Lionel returns as the light fades, bearing a brace of coneys. Verithna thanks him. The evening and night pass.

The next morning, Troll prepares three Teleport spells. Remembering the little arachtria, Troll takes all but Feren back to Elondel. Feren stays at Verithna's, helping with her chores and drinking a different kind of elven tea.

Troll presents Elondel with the carcass of one of the small arachtria. Elondel suggests that show it to Abbey, as she is more knowledgable on matters conderning metal and stone. He can project his image and contribute as needed.

Troll and the others transport to Abbey, who has a look at the disabled construct. "Just a minute, dear," she says, then falls within herself. Her consciousness disappears for a time, then she is back.

"This is most extraordinary," she says. "I have never met anything like this from the arachtria, certainly not in the little ones. These are able to decide and act on their own. They have autonomy. You say you saw this created?"

"Yes," Arrian replies, "by a small matre."

"Hmmmm. That is highly unusual." Troll draws a sketch of the matre. Abbey looks on with interest.

"That definitely looks like a matre, but it looks incomplete, like it is cannibalising itself."

"This matre was held within some kind of magical containment," Troll says. "Was it using itself to create little autonomous things to shoot off because it was held?"

"Matre themselves possess the same decision pathways that I am sensing in this creature, although to a larger scale. To put it into perspective, this probably has the same cognitive ability as a mammal."

"They weren't evil," Troll says, looking at Rowaine who confirms his statement with a shake of her head.

"I wouldn't expect them to be, but then again, I wouldn't expect to find this level of complexity in what normally amounts to a drone. They've never done it before, but it almost sounds as if it was not only cannibalising itself in body but also in mind."

"So Troll was right," Arrian says. "These little ones are distress signals. There were no arachtria in range for the matre to control. It couldn't control the normal ones far enough to help, so it made small ones with a mission and enough intelligence to carry it out - find help."

"They've never done it before," Abbey says, "but that does make sense."

With this sobering news, the party are now faced with a choice of places to return to: the cave that holds this unique matre, Verithna's, or Avarriel?

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