Lost Souls

Fungus Among Us

The party meets a strange society of fungal fellows...

Treesday, 7th of Nerth, Year 3033

The javelin soars through the air, whipping past Alistair’s face, finding its mark in the torso of the strange, fungal creature dangling in the snare. The javelin tears easily through its soft, mushy flesh, piercing directly through its body and sticking with a twang into the trunk of the tree behind. Thick, oozing green fluid, like sap, begins flowing from its fresh wound, as the creature writhes in pain. It’s porous openings on its body are frantically puffing colorful clouds of spores all around it, its eyes wide in shock and fear.

The party begins arguing, turning to Korag-Gora and asking angrily why he attacked the creature. Korag-Gora tells them to stay away from it, and that it is dangerous, as could be seen by what it did to Kvothe. As they argue about whether what the goliath did was the right decision, they suddenly “hear” a voice in their heads, but not an actual voice, but rather the thoughts of another being manifesting within their minds. Odder still, the voice “sounds” like a wail of pain, begging for help. Soon, they realize the voice is emanating from the mind of the wounded mushroom man.

They realize they should try to help it, and Korag-Gora begrudgingly loosens his snare trap from the branch, and Lilith catches the creature as it falls to the ground. As she cradles it, she can see its wound is dire, and that the faint luminescence behind its eyes is dimming. Alonwyn kneels next to the pitiful creature, using her divine magic to close the grievous wound, reducing it to a mild cut and stopping the flow of its sappy, green blood. Magnus checks to see if the blood of this creature is poisonous or toxic in any way, to use as a possible ingredient in his poison making, but finds it innocuous.

The fungal humanoid begins to sit up, regaining its strength and thanking Alonwyn for healing its wound. The party gathers around the creature, and they begin to ask it questions. The creature explains that it doesn’t have a name, or a name for what it is, and that it only paralyzed Kvothe in self-defense, and was trying to avoid startling them. It refers to the Sporest as “the world”, and implies that it has never been beyond the edge of the woods. The creature speaks as if it and its people are from some place far, far away, and are lost here, unable to return. It warns the group that its friends are coming to help it, and that they mean no harm to the party.

The party ask the mushroom man for help in finding the bleeding tooth mushroom, but the creature is distracted as it notices the arrival of its kin. Soon, the soft glow of the eyes and caps of dozens of similar creatures can be seen in the darkness, slowly advancing. They emerge from the darkness and step into the glade, a grotesque gathering of the creatures varying in shape, size, and color – some tall, short, slender, or wide, some with short stubby growths for legs and others with long, gangly arms dangling to the ground, all with varying head and “cap” shapes and sizes, some glowing with a faint, eerie light and others spouting clouds of spores.

At the front of the assembly, a wizened mushroom man with a tall, papal-looking cap atop its head steps forward and glances across the faces of the motley crew standing around its injured kin. It carries a tall, wooden staff covered in fungus in its misshapen fist.

The weakened creature stands up and slowly shuffles between the astonished adventurers towards the silent group of mushroom men. Upon rejoining them, the bizarre menagerie turn to leave, giving the strangers who injured and then saved their comrade little attention. Before they can disappear, Alonwyn calls out for them to stop. They halt, and slowly turn, looking at the group with inquisitive eyes.

The staff-wielding one asks, mouthless, “What do you want?” The adventurers are puzzled, and seem to wonder how these creatures are communicating with no voice, in their mind, and also notice the strange, alien manner in which they communicate and formulate thoughts. Somehow, it’s as if they are able to receive the creatures’ thoughts telepathically.

Magnus explains they are looking for a mushroom, which causes the host of fungal creatures to laugh in unison, seemingly amused by the request given their surroundings. Kvothe shows the “leader” the scroll from Aberforth and the illustration upon it, and elaborates that it is called the “bleeding tooth”. The wizened leader says that it has seen it before, but that it is rare. Kvothe says that that is what they were told, as well. The mushroom man says that they can find the mushroom for them, using their numbers and reach across the Sporest, but he says they have a request for them first.

The leader cryptically mentions small creatures that attack them, kill them, just like Korag-Gora did. He says they cannot negotiate peace with these creatures. The party realizes that the small creatures must be the gnomes that Aberforth mentions, and begins asking more questions of the mushroom men. The leader looks skyward, and remarks that the sun will be rising soon and they must leave, or die, for the sun sickness will kill them (this information disturbs Alonwyn greatly). If they choose, they can follow them back to their colony to discuss the matters further.

The party agrees, somewhat hesitantly, and they begin trekking into the depths of the Sporest once again amongst the company of a dozen or so of the mushroom men. The toadstool topping the leader’s staff glows with a bluish-white glow, guiding their way through the eerie forest. They seem to know the quickest, easiest path through the woods, avoiding all brambles, branches, and other environmental obstacles – the mushrooms and fungus surrounding them seem to pull out of the path as they walk through. It’s quickly clear to the group that they are actually traveling back the way they had been coming, but further south.

As they walk, the adventurers converse with the mushroom creatures. They wonder what to call these strange creatures, and Korag-Gora casually suggests “bobs”. This becomes a running joke within the party, but seems to stick for lack of a better or easier term, or any suggestion from the creatures themselves.

The “Old Bob” begins talking about their society, and their species, saying that they wish to return to their “true home”. This confuses the party greatly, and they are unable to get any straight answers. They ask if they can help them get home, but it explains that this problem is too great for them to help with.

It expresses its wish for the party to “meld” with the colony so that they can understand and become one with them on a higher consciousness. The invitation is one that instantly sets most of them on edge, imagining “melding” as something very sinister. Kvothe agrees to meld with them immediately, not quite understanding what it means but wanting to understand their society and seem welcoming. They ask what melding is, exactly, and the Old Bob points out that Alonwyn, for example, worships the sun. She begins to correct that she reveres a sun deity, but before she can, it continues and explains that melding is, to them, their form of “religion”. It is how they reach a higher consciousness and find meaning in existence.

Walking for what seems like hours, they notice the trees and foliage surrounding them becoming more and more “fungal”, with tree trunks bursting into full-blown mushroom stalks, covered in mold, with branches covered not in leaves but in fungal growths. The air becomes “thicker” with the floating debris and plant matter that seems to be similar to the clouds released by the bobs.

Soon, the host comes to a stop at a glade where a very large toadstool covers most of the ground. The Old Bob approaches, raising its staff, and slowly, the cap of the mushroom begins to rise, lifting to reveal a relatively large opening into the earth – a dank cavern. The other bobs trudge and shuffle awkwardly down into the darkness of the cavern as the Old Bob stands at the opening surveying the sky through the thick canopy of the woods. The final bob, the very one they captured earlier, looks back at the group before descending, giving them a curious glance.

The Old Bob says they must descend into their colony, into the dark, where they can be safe. The group is very reluctant, and ask why they must go into the earth. The Old Bob reminds them that the sun is about to rise, pointing at the now-brightening sky, which was fading from a deep, rich purple above to a reddish glow. It reiterates that the sun gives them the sun sickness, and that it is deadly. Reluctantly, the adventurers traipse into the cavern, instantly noticing the powerful mustiness that meets their nostrils. The Old Bob follows them, shooting a final, furtive glance into the surface world as the huge toadstool lowers and hides their tunnel once again.

Their eyes adjusting to the darkness, they see that the moist, spongey walls of the tunnel are covered in mycelium and are dotted with small, glowing mushrooms, giving the cavern a soft, dreamy light. The cavern descends quite steadily. Magnus whispers to Korag-Gora to be ready for a fight in case this is all a trap, but the Old Bob responds, saying they need not have any fear, which unsettles them both, despite the peaceful message. The Old Bob warns them that the sights they witness may disturb them, but that the “Matriarch” that resides below will not harm them.

After some time of descending the winding, tunnel, they finally reach the opening to a much larger cavern, dimly lit by the subterranean toadstools that seem to be everywhere within the cave. The party is taken aback by what can only be described as a “mushroom garden of their nightmares”.

They step into a very large, bowl-like room, the floor entirely covered in tiny, quivering, twitching little creatures – the bobs’ young – and surrounded by huge, umbrella-like blue toadstools. Amongst the sprouts that cling to the earth, a huge slug-like monster, only barely similar to the other bobs, in appearance, crawls unpleasantly across the cavern floor, its huge, bulbous head having neither eyes nor mouth, instead possessing a hideous orifice like a pocket that squirms with more of the tiny things. Its back is also covered with young sprouts, which cling to its flesh as it slowly drags itself about using long, javelin-like limbs both as legs and as tools. Here within this nest, the sprouts feed on rotting wood and plant matter, safe from the sun’s rays.

The party stands aghast at the Matriarch’s horrifying appearance, but are led down into the nest by the Old Bob. Despite its obvious role in protecting the young of this species, it pays the visitors no mind, which they are very thankful for. The cavern is rife with the smell of rotting wood and the subterranean air is heavy with the spores of the bobs. As they enter the nest, the sprouts seem to part, creeping along the mulch-y earth and making a path for them as they walk.

The Old Bob says that they will be safe here, within the spore nest, and that they must meet the Sovereign. It explains that though their people have no “leaders or ranks”, the Sovereign is the oldest and wisest of their kind, and his wisdom is valued very greatly. It explains that it is the second-oldest and second-wisest of their kind, and is known as the Heirophant.

The party presses the Heirophant for more information on everything they had been talking of, including the small creatures. They ask what they want them to do with them. The Heirophant says that they do not wish harm on the gnomes, but rather to extend a request for peace, as the gnomes have been encroaching on their territories and homelands, and destroying their homes. When they try to communicate, the gnomes attack and kill them on sight. The Heirophant asks that the adventurers act as ambassadors for the bobs. They want to know why the gnomes attack and kill them on sight, and the Heirophant says there was an “accident”, and points to a strange, shadowy creature sitting on the edge of the nest.

They find that the creature is a gnome, or rather, was a gnome. The poor gnome’s body and face are covered in fungus and tiny, sprouting stalks of mushrooms, its eyes milky and white, empty of any intelligence or sentience. It’s clothes have been consumed by mold and mycelium. His mouth hangs ajar, drooling slightly. The gnome’s resemblance is uncannily similar to the rat and the deer that Kvothe had seen before, and it suddenly becomes clear what the “accident” had been.

The Heirophant explains that the gnome had invaded their home, and had been killed accidentally by the poisonous defense spores of their people. They felt guilt because of this, and brought him back to life, in the way that they can. They ask if they sometimes bring back animals or deer, and the Heirophant says that they do, and that it is their gift to the others of the world. The party explains that bringing something back from the dead as an infested zombie isn’t really giving it “life”, but the bobs seem unable to see what is so unsettling to them. Alistair, whose hunger for souls is so great now that it consumes his mind, attempts to pull the soul from the infested gnome, but is unable to, as the gnome is entirely dead inside and lacks a soul.

As the party continues to learn more about the bobs and their way of life, as well as “melding”, they feel a slight tremor in the earth. The tremor sets the entire spore nest into a fervor – the sprouts begin quivering wildly, detaching and swarming around the Matriarch as the slug-like caretaker flies into a wild state, frantically releasing the sprouts from its hide and its “pocket”. The huge, puffy, umbrella-like toadstools that surround the bowl begin to move, extending out and over the young and creating a sort of shield that covers the nest, protecting it. The party, alarmed, asks what is causing all the fuss, and the Heirophant warns of danger. Asking what is so dangerous, it explains that something is coming that feeds on their young.

Magnus, not noticing the tremors or the imminent danger, has been suddenly compelled to pull out the freakish idol that always finds its way into his pack. Being sucked into its dark depths, Magnus senses nothing but the abyss within the idol. Korag-Gora notices him being haunted by the horrid object, and kicks it full-force out of his grasp, sending the thing bouncing around on the large mushroom bubble that now encompasses the floor of the cavern.

The Heirophant says that they can either try to escape further into the colony, or stay and fight the intruder. The party begins discussing what they should do, arguing over whether it would be better to stay or escape. The Heirophant explains that they normally use poisonous spores to kill intruders, but that their presence makes it unsafe to use the spores. They want to try to escape to the surface, but the Heirophant senses that the creature is burrowing from that direction and would cut their escape off.

Before they can decide on what to do, the cavern begins shaking with more force, and chunks of rock and rubble begin to fall from the ceiling and walls, destroying large growths of fungus, and crashing to the floor but bouncing off the large, protective toadstool barrier that shields the sprouts. Huge pieces of rock begin falling from the area in which they descended into the cavern, and soon they see something stirring in the wall from that end of the room.

A large, grotesque claw emerges from the solid rock as it punches a crack through the earth, connected to an insectoid, strangely hairy, appendage. Soon, the rest of it emerges through the crack, pulling itself into the dim light of the cavern which gleams from the shiny, umber chitin armor that covers its entire hulking body. Its small, insectoid head sports a pair of undulating antennae, a set of huge, sawlike mandibles, as well as a pair of beady black eyes. Below those eyes are a pair of huge, lidded eyes, which suddenly open to reveal massive, glowing reddish-orange compound eyes, like the eyes of a gargantuan hell-fly.

At the sight of these disgusting compound eyes, the party suddenly feels themselves losing control of their thoughts, their mind becoming a scramble of confusion. They manage to avert their eyes and regain their composure, but Magnus, whose mind was already weakened by his dark idol, is unable to escape the powerful gaze of this umber hulk. Magnus is frozen in confusion, unable to think or react, peering thoughtless into the glowing, red, metallic portals of the monster’s eyes.

The umber hulk approaches the adventurers, now ready for a fight. Alonwyn stands at the front, shield raised, ready to defend her allies. The creature swings its massive claws at her, scraping across the steel surface to no avail. To her surprise, the monster’s huge, saw-like mandibles reach over her shield and snap shut, slicing into her arms and injuring her. Kvothe, seeing the danger Alonwyn is in, transforms into his dire wolf form and lunges at it, jaws agape. Biting down on its chitin armor has no effect, and his teeth are unable to pierce the surface, which is like solid rock.

Lilith notices that Magnus is still stood in a confused, vulnerable state, and flies over to him, carrying him up to the ceiling of the cavern, out of harm’s way. Korag-Gora pushes in front of Alonwyn, facing off against the umber hulk, and stabs his great sword straight at the creature’s face, but the point glances off the thing’s chitin exoskeleton. The bobs that are gathered around the party begin releasing clouds of spores, sending them like projectiles towards the umber hulk using forceful blasts of air. The spores seem to have no effect on the creature, which shows no signs of paralyzation. The Matriarch, her young now protected and accounted for, springs into action, slithering swiftly from behind the party.

Alonwyn, remembering the way that Magnus’ icon bounced around on the mushroom bubble that has covered the nest, runs and jumps onto the nearest toadstool. The bouncy mushroom cap sends her tumbling into the air, and she manages to flip herself over, soaring above the party and the umber hulk below. Unfortunately, her descent is not as graceful as her ascent, and she tumbles back down and falls upon the back of the umber hulk, bruising herself badly and landing prone, but also throwing the monster off its balance.

Alistair casts a hex on the creature, hexing its mandibles so that they cannot function properly and making it susceptible to his attacks. Kvothe returns to his humanoid form, sensing that his dire wolf form will not be effective against the monster’s unbelievably strong armor.

The umber hulk, now surrounded, punches its powerful claws into the solid rock of the cavern floor, carving its way below the cavern floor and out of sight. Lilith, seeing an opening for an attack, drops Magnus, hoping he will land on the soft and springy toadstools below, and sends a flurry of magic missiles into the tunnel, pelting the umber hulk with arcane energy and piercing its diamond-like chitin. The spell causes a wild magic surge within her, and her arcane power manifests itself randomly, causing her to teleport unexpectedly. She reappears below Magnus, managing to use her body to cushion his fall, which also snaps the halfling out of his confused stupor.

With the umber hulk burrowing below, the bobs spread out and try to sense where it will reappear. The Matriarch begins using her huge, javelin-like limbs to stab and carve into the earth, attempting to cut off the umber hulk’s burrowing. The Matriarch clashes with the umber hulk below the cavern floor, causing the room to shake and the sounds of the struggle to echo through the cavern.

Kvothe jumps into the nest, sliding between the mushrooms forming the shield, and enters into the tunnel formed by the Matriarch, finding the two monsters fighting in the darkness below, but unable to enter the fray. Magnus, no longer demented by the umber hulk’s confusion rays, but unsure of what is happening, suggests that they escape, but the others make it clear that escape isn’t an option at this point.

Alistair jumps into the umber hulk’s rock tunnel, coming up from behind and blasting it with a blast of crackling eldritch energy and scorching the weakened spot where Lilith had damaged. This enrages the creature, which turns and begins slashing at Alistair with its huge claws, but the revenant is too swift and is able to dodge every attack. Flanked again, the umber hulk pulls itself up and tunnels directly up, bursting through the floor where the party and many of the bobs are standing, sending them flying. Korag-Gora and Magnus are able to stay on their feet, jumping out of the way in time to avoid it.

Kvothe conjures a flame blade, a fiery, elemental scimitar, and begins swinging at the umber hulk, driving it back from the party. He is forced to cover his eyes, shielding himself so that he isn’t affected by the umber hulk’s mesmerizing eyes, which causes his attacks to miss wildly. Lilith sends another barrage of magic missiles at the subterranean beast, damaging it further.

With a berserk roar, Korag-Gora raises his massive door and pushes into the umber hulk, using his immense strength to shove the creature many feet into the cavern wall, pinning it there.

To be continued…

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