22 Etissa 2787
The party recovered from the battle with the strange creatures and moved deeper into the mysterious cavern. Despite the ferocity with which the creatures attacked, it was clear that the party was substantially more powerful than their foe. Perhaps it was for this reason, then, that the group soon saw a strange procession forming at the edge of their torchlight and in the half light of the glowing crystals tucked under the mushrooms and fungus that filled the cavern. Groups of the small, feral creatures stood in neat lines while a clearly aged, decrepit member hobbled toward the party. This creature held a mushroom cap that contained a thick, faintly glowing liquid in its paws. Unlike the others of its kind, it’s bright, silvery eyes were more of a dull gray and they were barely luminescent at all. It approached the party slowly though fearlessly in what could only be described as a gesture of peace or at least parlay. When the creature reached Pearigren, who always remained somewhat in front of the others, it stopped and offered the glowing bowl to her. It trilled something to her in its weird, flute-like language and waited patiently until she took the bowl from its hands and sipped the glowing liquid. Almost at once, the trilling of the creatures became understandable to her and in return, she found she could trill her responses. The words of her companions faded into meaningless babble as she became fully aware of the creatures’ strange, musical language.
Pearigren learned that the old creature had a name that translated to The Walker Between and that these dangerous, secretive creatures called themselves zoogs. They had lived in this cavern for as long as any could remember. As they talked, The Walker Between guided Pearigren deeper into the cavern with the rest of the party following behind in confusion. While the creatures seemed to have set aside their murderous intentions, they surrounded Galen and watched him carefully and with barely controlled menace. More and more zoogs crept from the shadows as the party made their way toward the back of the cavern. Here the zoogs had created a strange village in the nearly petrified trunks of enormous fungus. An incredibly ancient stone circle surrounded by huge pillars of stone occupied a special place in their community. The Walker Between explained that it was a temple of sorts, though the deep carvings in the circle were symbols that represented madness or utter chaos. The alien nature of the village did not stop with this, though. Jagged areas of darkness hung like rigid clouds here and there. The partial branches of twisted trees poked through these dark areas, creating a forest with no discernible signs of support, as if the tree trunks that held the branches had been discarded while the branches themselves remained in place. When questioned about this, The Walker Between could only say that the trees were part of some other place the zoogs also live in, and that they sometimes go there to visit others of their kind. Once it was clear that the zoogs were not going to murder their guests, the rest of the party drank from the fungus bowl and joined their host in conversation. Only Galen was not permitted to drink; The Walker Between indicated that Galen was friends with their most hated enemy and would never be trusted. Apparently, the zoogs had a great enmity toward cats of all kinds, and Galen’s affinity to Shadow, his tattoo familiar, marked him as worthy of nothing but slaughter.
The purpose of this strange parlay was soon made clear to the party. The Walker Between and his people did not wish to do battle with ones as powerful as the party. They also wanted to learn more about another of their enemies: the “creatures from beyond the tunnel” (the trogs). Fritzmaul showed the zoogs the iridescent mail shirt he took from the slain body of the trog leader and described the destruction of the trogs. The zoogs grew ecstatic at this news and seemed to hold the party in higher regard, even moving a bit away from Galen in a sign of respect. The next concern of The Walker Between was the party’s intentions. He wished to remain in this cavern and was concerned the party may seek the destruction of the zoogs as well. Pearigren soon negotiated an agreement with the venerable zoog chieftain. None of her people would descend past the mushrooms that stood in the tunnel leading into this vast cavern and no zoog would go beyond these same mushrooms. Violation of this agreement would mean death to the transgressor. The Walker Between further suggested that if any from Pearigren’s tribe grew unfit, the zoogs would welcome this person as a culinary gift of sorts. Pearigren declined this offer, indicating that “her tribe” would not be sending anyone into the cavern intentionally. For its part, The Walker Between seemed to readily accept this answer. When it came time for the party to depart, Pearigren and Fritzmaul gave gifts of parting to seal their relationship with the zoogs. Pearigren gave The Walker Between a potion of blur, which immediately began to glow when the light of the zoog’s eyes fell upon it. The zoogs trilled excitedly at receiving such a gift. Fritzmaul gave The Walker Between the mailed shirt he took from the trog leader and this gift was likewise accepted with great admiration. The Walker Between touched foreheads with both Pearigren and Fritzmaul and gave them his blessing that they and those under their protection would be welcome. Even Galen would be safe if he came with one of these people, though at any other time the zoogs would slay him. The party then left the cavern and returned up the long, steep tunnel to the crumbling trog temple. Along the way, their speech gradually changed from the fluttering language of the zoogs to their normal mode of speech. The others filled Galen in on all that had transpired, as they were unable to speak with him until the magic of the glowing draught had worn off.
Once in the temple, the party searched the place thoroughly. Galen and Pearigren found a loose stone in the pool surrounding the claw-like alter. Under this stone was a small hole that held a rusted iron wheel. Turning the wheel caused the claw-shaped alter to divide and pivot, revealing a small cut-out area that held the bones of some ancient trog priest or hero. The bones were so old that they crumbled at a touch and the cloth that once wrapped the body was mere dust that fell away with each breath. Under the bones was a remarkably well-preserved spiked shield that radiated magic. The party soon discerned that this relic was a spined shield. They took this prize and returned the way they had come, climbed up the rope at the sinkhole and returned to the Finhold .
Roz approached the party while they were recovering from their expedition. She explained that yesterday evening, Thardon was standing watch outside the Finhold and saw a mocking bird hopping about on the rocks above the underwater entrance to the Finhold. Tied to its leg was a note. Everyone in the party shared a glance; the mocking bird was |Rahim’s favorite animal, because it could mimic something it was not, a trait he wanted his students to be able to master if they were to survive in the world once they left Thridein. Roz handed the note to the party, which read:
Give this to one of the five. It is for their eyes only. If none survived, the oldest among those that remain must undertake this task.
I fear to write to much. You must trust your instincts. Below the missile rock lies an item of value. Retrieve it. Do not handle the contents nor remove them, your very life depends upon this. Bring the item to Qaet. Come at night. Look for my token upon the wall. Do exactly as instructed.
The note was indeed mysterious but seemed to come from their missing master. The Missile Rock mentioned in the note was a landmark their clearly knew from their days at the school, but they had never been to Qaet and knew little more than that it was a city teeming with enemies.
As the sun set, the party began to discuss whether the note was truly from Rahim and how they might be able to find “his token” upon the city walls.