The Gullibility of Quaggoths
More than a day had passed without incident, but in the Underdark, what was a day? Wolfe and the others concocted a story where, in Prince Derendil’s slumber, the fierce warrior convinced the others that Kingdom Nelrindivane did indeed exist.
He explained to them that despite Quill being from the High Forest, she was not aware of Derendil’s kingdom due to how secretive and hidden Nelrindivane was. Besides, the High Forest was larger than the Darklake. One could spend a lifetime exploring it and never reveal all of its secrets.
Derendil nodded along. “Of course,” he said. “That is exactly why none of you know of the majesty of Nelrindivane.”
The jury was out on how to deal with the quaggoth once the group got near, or to the surface.
The Story of Moira
A long tunnel barely ten feet wide climbed at an upward slope. It gave hope to the surface dwellers that they might be on the right track. Rihuud led them here, and the beauty of the cavern was an oasis within the horrors of the Underdark.
Their senses were assaulted by a rainbow array of phosphorescent lichen and mushrooms. Zurkwood towered along cliff sides in great palisades, arching toward a blue lagoon in the center of the basin. The smell of earth and decay filled their nostrils, the smell of nature. It was a foreign, but welcome, aroma in these dark lands.
Far ahead, within another cavern was a blurred shape. The awesomeness of a mushroom the size of the largest building in Waterdeep shone brightly in purple hues. Over the sound of the babbling brook seeping into the lagoon they could hear faint music emanating from the grand mushroom’s cave.
“Thank you,” she grumbled. It was rare to hear such niceties leaving the lips of the tribeswoman. “I promised to protect this girl and I feel like in the past weeks you have been doing more than I have.”
“You’re welcome,” said Nashua.
“I’ve looked after her for two months. Can you believe she found me drinking myself to death? I had no reason or purpose after I avenged my sister, until she came along asking me to help her sister. She asked me to kill her, of all things.”
“The Duke of Port Llast took a shine to her sister a year or so ago. Once he had permission to marry her, Moira and her family had lost all contact. They reached out to Port Llast but would get no reply. She may be but a girl, but she’s headstrong. She went to Port Llast and discovered the evil behind the duke, and how he had performed a ritual to burn her sister for eternity as an offering to his dark lord.”
Wolfe interjected, “And she just left her there?”
“She tried to kill him. She tried to kill Duke Barlow in broad daylight.” Siva spit, thinking of mad duke. “He’s the one that struck her, scarring the girl and knocking her blind in that eye. How can any of use let a man like that live? When others couldn’t do the job, she found me.”
It was clear that once she reached the surface, Siva was going to kill Duke Barlow and damn the consequences.
Just then, through the tall fungus strode a man-sized myconid. The purple fungal creature approached, and leaned toward them timidly, then loosed an explosion of yellow spore. The cloud filled their mouths with yeast, and their minds with euphoria.
“I… would exercise caution…” it said motioning toward the edge of the lagoon. A decaying mound rose up from the shore, and with tendrils teeming with vines and bones of absorbed dead, reached out for Moira.
Amber was knocked backward by it as it tried to envelop Wolfe and Siva who were upon it like whirling dervishes. Kaz barked orders and warning to everyone as Nashua tried his best to spot weaknesses for them to strike, and provided cover fire in the form of magic.
Magic missiles shot out of his fingertips, striking with the percussion of Wolfe’s gleaming silver sword. Derendil leapt atop it, ripping at the animated mound’s exterior. It writhed underneath, taken aback by the resistance. Another zurkhwood tendril shot out, and slammed Amber into the mud at her feet.
“Damn it,” she cursed, peeling herself back up out of the mud. Her crossbow was jammed, unable to fire. By the time she looked up, the creature slammed her back into the ground again with a sickening crunch.
The mycond was pushing it further back into the lagoon as the size of the monster was reduced to a slithering pile of rot. It whipped out, seeking to absorb Amber, but was stopped by the myconid. The living mushroom towered above the creature, and ripped out its core.
“Humph,” it said. “I thank you. Please, help me bring the dead to Basidia?”
It reached down and grabbed Amber. The dwarf screamed out when she was pulled out of the water, and backed away in a panic.
“Humph,” it said again. “Just the rest then.”
“No,” said Wolfe. He was refusing based on principle. He never met a myconid he liked. “We’ll stay here and you can keep your Basidia to yourself.”
“Have it your way,” it said. “I am Loobamub, and this is Neverlight Grove. Stay as long as you like. Eat what you must. We rarely get visitors.”
And Loobamub left, carrying handfuls of the shambling mound with him to be converted into nutrients for his people.
An hour had passed, and Nashua became eager to see the rest of the grove. If the Underdark had taught him anything, it was better to stay safe than sorry. Instead of exploring too far, he muttered an incantation and flew vertically into the air.
High above near the ceiling of the glowing cavern he could hear the sweet music emanating from the cave of the great purple mushroom. It was too large to be believable. Watching it put him in a state of dream.
Far below, around the entire cavern, he could make out the shapes of the myconids in their natural habitat. They were assembling in circles around mounds. They were beginning to commune, to meld their minds with one another as Stool had explained to him before.
One on a high ridge was peering over the zurkhwood palisades nervously. It peeked, then paced back and forth, fidgeting. This place was strange. Nashua lowered himself back to the cavern floor.
“Friends!” said a very tall, very old, and very wise myconid as Nashua entered his spore cloud. The cheerfulness of the large myconid’s voice echoed in their heads through spore telepathy. “I am Phylo, and this is Neverlight Grove. I am the sovereign here, and this one here is Basidia. My co-sovereign.”
Wolfe rolled his eyes. He dusted what he could of the sticky dust from his armor.
“How long do you plan on staying in our garden?”
“Oh, you’ll not find one here. But you are fortunate! You have come in time for our grand celebration. The Great Seeder is upon us! And she will soon be married.”
Nashua shuddered, “I hope he means Great Cedar. C-E-D-A-R, or these are nasty folk.”
Phylo continued as if he didn’t overheard the wizard’s lament.
“Soon the Garden of Welcome will be ready to receive you. Please stay, and partake of the celebration. There is no danger here in the grove. We myconids live in peace. Now, I have some duties to attend. Remember! Visit the Garden of Welcome.”
The other soveriegn, Basidia, stayed behind. He sprayed the party in another disgusting, euphoric cloud of telepathy spores.
“Please,” it pleaded. “I know not what Phylo has become. The other softies have not returned from the Garden of Welcome, and I fear for my other myconids to go because I believe it means death. I do not know what is going on, so I must implore you. Can you see what is up there? I only wish to see if those still loyal to me must flee.”
A pit was felt in each of their stomachs. The music from the next cavern grew louder, and eerily quiet again. Myconids were talking of celebrations and using gender-related pronouns. Back in the Whorlstone Tunnels they had come across the other myconids, dancing to unheard song.
“More demons,” Nashua snapped. “We’re getting the hell out of here.”
Rihuud interjected, “But the stone says one here knows how to get to the dream world.”
“Friends! Have you come to meet the Great Seeder?” it asked after another spurt of myconid spore.
The two looked up at Rihuud, and shouted, “I don’t care!”
Wolfe grabbed his sword. “We’re done. Let’s move out.”