Episode 51: Welcome to the Jungle
The party stood bewildered in the centre of dense jungle foliage. No indication of a portal, gateway, or illusion could be found; however they had arrived here, there appeared to be no way back to the collapsed mine shaft. Sirlius noticed the same black scorch marks he had observed in the tunnel on the sides of a few trees, suggesting that there was some correlation between their current location and the source of the collapse, but could make nothing of it. He also noticed a few drops of blood drying on wide, green leaves.
Ara, decades of training in the wilderness suddenly at the fore, led the party effortlessly through what at first appeared to be impassible vegetation: gnarled twisting trees, vines, thick grasses and plants in a tangled riot, ruled overhead by towering trees hundreds of feet tall, their canopy cover total and trapping a hazy mist. They made their way warily, feeling the humidity soak into their clothes and alert for predators. At length the blood trail resolved at a miner, presumably one of the missing, delirious with fever and near death from a vicious wound on one side and extreme burns across the face, neck and shoulder. Before he died the miner grasped at Ara with one weak hand and whispered, “Beware the temple! Trust not the angels!”
While most of his companions upon hearing these words immediately thought of Mera, the revolutionary aasimar they had recently met in Uman, Ara declared this the delirium of an advanced stage of Bloodburn Disease. Ara warned the party that it was a particularly virulent disease that once contracted was difficult to cure and was fatal in a matter of days. It was rumoured that the disease was in effect partly mystical in nature.
With this dire warning on their minds the party ventured deeper into the jungle in search of the rest of the miners. Ara’s innate ability to read the jungle terrain, combined with Sirlius’s investigative powers and Keen’s heightened awareness allowed the party to both move without attracting the attention of dangerous wildlife and avoid several hazards by keeping to a safe path. After some hours of travel the party arrived at a clearing some 150ft across, its red-black earth utterly barren. Several large conical mounds of earth rose from the floor of the clearing.
Magnus, curious but wary, conjured an Unseen Servant and had it begin to pull down one of the mounds, one invisible hand at a time. Ara, less cautious, simply walked up to another and poked it with his staff. A giant black ant burst up out of the mound, it’s dark, bulbous carapace black in the diffuse light of the jungle. A second emerged from the mound the servant was pulling at. In a moment they were joined by two more, each of them the size of a small dog, clacking razer-sharp mandibles dripping with a yellow-green bile that sizzled where it struck the earth. Instinctively, Ara attacked the creature and killed it. But on the point of the killing blow the ant exploded in a shower of viscous, sticky acidic goop, clinging to his skin and burning like acid.
Drawn by the violence more than a dozen other acid ants burst up out of the ground, and the party was soon being swarmed. They attacked in pairs, surrounding Magnus and Ara, while those that emerged from a distance sent yellow-green bile spewing in long arcs at the party members. Ara was soon drenched, and screamed in pain as the acid burned through his monk’s robes, his skin, and ate its way into his flesh. Magnus engaged the closest pair, quickly becoming covered in the acidic bile himself as his sword dispatched them, causing more explosive ruptures. Keen attempted to collapse the tunnels from which the ants emerged using a phial of the explosive black powder he had recently acquired but his timing was off and the phial detonated in his hands. The closest mound was obliterated, but Magnus and Ara were both blown from their feet by the shockwave. Ara retreated to the safety of the foliage.
A dozen acid ants continued to close and in seconds the entire party was screaming in agony; as soon as they wiped the vomit from their bodies another attack would cover them anew. Yuna held fast and channeling her innate divinity healed her comrades at the expense of her own health, while Sirlius fended of the giant insects with eldritch blasts and magic stones which squeaked like a dog’s toy when the impacted their targets. Keen’s second phial found its mark and the rear-most ants were destroyed in a fountain of fire and earth, while the remaining ants were cut down at range by Sirlius, Yuna and Ara.
The final two ants began a retreat back to the safety of the underground colony; one was cut down by Magnus and a lone survivor disappeared into the earth. Yuna, Magnus and Keen all collapsed from the exertion of battle in full armor and elected to remove it for fear of exhaustion despite the increased risk. An investigation of the clearing revealed tell-tale signs of large bodies being dragged into the tunnels, and the party concluded that the miners had met a gruesome end.
Their thoughts turning to escape, the party followed as Ara let them quickly away from the ant colony, and, finding a place of relative safety in the low trees, huddled together to rest and heal.
Night fell in the jungle, but thanks to Ara’s survivalist expertise they avoided further danger as several deadly predators passed over the exhausted party, who remained unaware despite their attempts at keeping watch. It was only until just before dawn when they became aware of being surrounded in the trees by several frog-like humanoids, regarding the party with undisguised malice. Magnus and Sirlius both attempted to communicate with the creatures, and immediately understood that they had been followed and observed for several hours. Their encounter with the acid ants was noted, and some debate raged among the creatures about whether to eat the party now, or use them as slaves, or send them to fight more ants.
Magnus opened a dialogue of sorts with an elderly red-skinned creature. It declared them the Grung, masters of the jungle to whom all territory rightfully belongs, and indeed the “master race,” to whom all are subservient. Ara declared this an odd notion, given that his teachers had always said that Elves were the master race.
Magnus and Yuna convinced the grung wildling that they would be willing to help the grung in their war against the ants in exchange for some consideration. The grung agreed they would not eat the party, but that neither would they help them fight the ant queen, for most able-bodied grung were dedicated to “the Great Work,” which could not be interrupted. The grung led the party through the jungle to their village, a collection of semi-spherical mud huts arranged haphazardly around a large pond. The wildling provided the party with 5 tiny opalescent pearls and encouraged each of them to swallow one. Keen did so without hesitation, and in moments was surprised to feel gills open on the sides of his neck. His companions followed suit, and together they entered the pond, following two golden-skinned grung with long, chipped flint knives in their mouths.
Their guides led them down, down, deep into the depths of the water. About half way from the bottom, the party was surprised to pass a massive toad-like monster the size of an elephant, with eyes on stubby stalks and long, sinewy tentacles floating peacefully in the water as it sat perched on a rocky outcropping. The monstrosity appeared to ignore them. They followed the golden grung for some time, breathing the water through magical gills, as they navigated a dizzying series of underwater tunnels. After perhaps an hour of swimming they were led to the surface, and emerged from a pool high up in a rocky hillside overlooking a valley. At the centre of the valley they could see, partially constructed, a four-sided temple of stone and mud, being worked by hundreds and hundreds of grung. The golden grung turned away from the valley as one said “the Great Work is not for you,” and let the party down out of the hills.
Party Skill Challenge Success Level: Disappointingly High
Acid Ant Rating: Delightful
DM’s Old Man Grung Voice: Unintelligible
RP Rating: Awesome!