Charn grimaces. "Oh, aye," he begins, "The next time swords and things begin swishing menacingly through the air, I shall tell them, 'Hold, please. My colleagues and I need to suss things out first.'"
Eryndir nods at Charn's comments. "Agreed. Perhaps sitting in the hallway and meditating on the issue was the incorrect approach to one's allies being attacked." The wood elf purses his lips in a look of frustration before turning away.
He walks to where the monk sits meditating and kneels quietly, at a respectful distance, waiting for the right moment to address him.
"This isn't our home. If we don't think about what we're attacking before we attack, we can be as bad or worse as goblin raiders. At least the objects weren't alive, but we also didn't know what they were doing before we charged in."
Eryndir stands from his place near the monk and walks to where Able is standing. His tone is even, calm, but firm.
"If we had charged headlong into a group of unknown, otherwise non-threatening creatures, breaking ourselves upon their shields, I might agree with you. However, we were merely exploring this room when we were set upon by things that sought to kill us. And while we fought and bled, you sat in the hallway for long enough to harm the odds of us succeeding considerably.
"We don't have to be friends. We don't even have to like each other, really. But for as long as we are together on this venture, I expect that we each come to one another's common defense. If that is not acceptable to you, then we should reconsider whether it is appropriate for us to travel together.
"If you believe there may come another time where we are attacked, but you choose to sit aside and watch your compatriots fall before deciding whether or not you will act, please tell us now."
"I think you're right. I don't think it's appropriate that we travel together."
He turns from Eryndir and finds Darusthanav. "It appears that I am unwelcome here because I do not like to deal in death without deliberation. I do not know what your customs are regarding contracts, but if you would release me, I will return to the surface."
Charn seems genuinely bewildered by what he is hearing. "Death without deliberation?" He gestures to the previously animated objects. "How would you deliberate with those when they attack you on sight?" The dragonborn massages his temples. "Gods in heaven, you confound me. You insult our hosts on first meeting back at the tower without any deliberation, and you hesitate when we are plainly attacked on sight."
Able looks at Charn as he explodes, but he makes no reply, instead waiting on the kobold.
Able nods to the party in turn. "Good luck." Turning then he heads back toward the surface.
Eryndir sighs and returns to his place by the monk's side, kneeling once more.
After a few moments, he speak quietly, unsure about whether or not he should be disturbing the monk's meditations. "As you asked, we defended you. May we ask why it was necessary? What caused those items to animate? What it is you are doing here?"
The monk grimaces momentarily, as if in pain. "Unfortunately, I am . . . infected. Tainted, even. There is a parasite within me that would escape if I do not contain it. Should I be slain, the parasite will be free." The monk grimaces again. As he does so, Eryndir can see one of the monk's veins on his neck move, sliding from the side of his throat to the front and back. It writhes in a motion that reminds Eryndir of a snake slithering underneath the monk's skin.
"I believe the artifact which propels this ship through the stars is damaged. The golden mist you see is likely issuing from that artifact. It is a powerful animating force that allows this vessel to guide itself through the Phlogiston. You can think of the Phlogiston as a sea above your world. The golden mist will animate parts of this ship as it did before, but now it will attempt to purge itself of parasites. This includes both me and you."
Another grimace. Another snake, this time in the monk's deltoid.
Caleb returns as Able is leaving, thinking nothing of his departure. The general tone in the room, however, as well as the look on the tiefling's face makes it clear that he probably won't see Able again. Whether or not this is for the best is disputable; the warlock was pretty handy in a fight. Then again, they don't really know each other very well at all, and what little they do know about one another seems to indicate he didn't really fit in with the others. Indeed, fundamental disagreements about the way the world works or how to proceed were commonplace. And as far as the dangers and rigors of the life of an adventurer go, Able could be unpredictable (which might have deadly consequences in the future).
So Caleb has no real interest in stopping him and elects instead to gird himself for the next day's trials, getting as much of his armor on as possible without needing to ask anyone for help. He listens to Eryndir's conversation with the stranger and calls out, "So where is this artifact? Do we need to fix it, or destroy it?"
"Men are the only animals that devote themselves, day in and day out, to making one another unhappy. It is an art like any other. Its virtuosi are called altruists." - H.L. Mencken
The monk continues explaining in response to Caleb's question. "The spelljamming helm is on deck four. Our wizard had made some modifications to the helm. We had recently come into possession of a fragment of Hadar, the dark star. The helm would allow anyone to fly this ship, the Always Vigilant, regardless of their spellcasting ability. I believe the Neogi were able to track that fragment of Hadar and thus engage us in battle. If you can make it to the spelljamming helm, you could repair it and claim the Always Vigilant for yourself, or destroy it rather easily. However, please know that the infection I have inside of me is likely elsewhere on the vessel and I do not know how to cure it, merely contain it."
As if on cue, the veins in his calves writhe.
Eryndir looks back at the party from his place near the monk, his expression one of interest.
"I don't know what a word of that meant, other than we need to find deck four and avoid being tainted by parasites."
He stands and walks over to the chest. He tosses the Cloaks of Protection to Charn and Prythurkan, respectively, and places the Potions of Invulnerability near their packs. "You two are our front line. You'll need these. Will either of those suits of plate armor fit you?"
"We'll need to be cautions and take advantage of anything we find in here that might benefit us." He looks between Kairon and Darusthanav, while holding the second Circlet of Blasting. "Which of you will benefit from this?"
He glances to the crossbows. "Are any of you proficient with those?"
Eryndir kneels once more and picks up the L-shaped device. He glances at the bag of black powder. "Well, I'll be..." He carefully points the object away from himself and at a far corner of the room.
"I have seen these before, though never actually held one. They're quite deadly if you know how to use one." He looks to the party. "Have any of you ever fired a pistol before?"
Cor'val's incredibly interested in whatever "firing a pistol" means. He picks up the second L-shape and mimics Eryndir, even pointing at the same corner across the room. With a grin he starts inspecting the device more closely.
Eryndir nods as Cor'val picks up the pistol. He nods to the bag of what-looks-like-pepper-but-smells-all-wrong. "I believe it uses that powder to create a small explosion, propelling some kind of projectile at high velocity. Something to perhaps explore once we're out of here, unless you are feeling lucky and adventurous."
He stows the pistol he was carrying (unless anyone else seems to want it), and readies his longbow before moving to the door. He offers one last look to the pained monk. "Is there anything we can do to provide you with aid, other than making our way to deck four of this ship or finding a cure for what has infected you?"
Cor'val also puts away a pistol. Until they have time to figure it out, he's not going to try to use it. After a cursory look, he'll hand the pepper bag to Eryndir.
Eventually, the explorers emerge from the lazarette in the Always Vigilant. The all too perfect construction of the wooden planks only reinforces the alien nature of this ship. Only a few minutes of scouting reveals stairs descending further into the earth and the bowels of the ship.
The hallway runs along the outside of the vessel. The planks forming the hull are of the same perfect construction as the planks composing the floor. They're made of a darker wood, however, and some sort of clear resin coats the interior of the wood. Where the hull wood breaks away reveals that the ship is truly embedded in the stone under the earth - the rock appears fused into the wood from the holes torn in the exterior of the vessel.
The hallway ends at a staircase that leads down. Darusthanav surmises that the other side of the ship would have a staircase leading up to the main deck. The stairs descend down five feet before a wide landing doubles back all the way to the next floor. The darkness is thicker here and almost palpable. What light sources the explorers have seem to be fighting back against the creeping shadows. The knots and whirls illuminated in the perfectly cut wood seem to bend and distort the otherwise beautifully engineered construction.
The next floor has but a single door. Listening beyond the closed portal yields periodic buzzing and snapping. Frustrated, Prythurkan opens the door over the objections of the more cautious explorers. The dragonborn enters confidently. The room's most notable feature is the extreme presence of fungus - a fascinated mycologist could spend months here without noting all of the various types of mushrooms. Unfortunately, many of the fungii are sparking electricity and sparks arc between cap to cap or between the gills.
The room is a large square, perhaps 50 feet to a side. In the very center of the room is what appears to be some sort of altar carved out of blackened iron or steel. Stained glass shards are embedded throughout the altar. As the sparks of electricity fly from mushroom to mushroom, the reflections in the stained glass altar catch the glow and sparkle beautifully.
Along the outside of the room are eight sarcophagi. Although they are mostly covered in fungus, it looks like the sarcophagi are mostly glass and resistant to the electricity and the mycology. There is also a sealed double-door across from the entrance to the room. Further searches reveal no alternatives or side routes, the only way further into the ship is through this room.
Darusthanav begins examining the altar. Prythurkan stands by the stairs you came in, along with Briana. They're ostensibly serving as guards. Kairon inspects the electric mushrooms.
Caleb regards the scene for a moment then asks Eryndir quietly, "Do you think there is a path through the room that keeps us as far away as possible from the mushrooms?" THe cleric looks down at the chainmail draped over his frame. "I feel like I'm about to walk outside during a thunderstorm."
Eryndir regards Caleb as the cleric asks his question. He taps a finger on the studs protruding from his leather armor. "I know what you mean."
Looking back to the room, he thrusts his chin in the direction of the sarcophagi.
"I'm not crazy about either the fungus or the electricity, but one seems to be a much more immediate threat than the other. Perhaps there's a way to get to the glass caskets and use them to shield us. At least long enough to find a way to shut down the power."
Cor'val glances up at his companions (both new and old), pausing to make sure he isn't about to interrupt someone.
For only the second time since meeting him above ground, the small elf speaks, "There's only one or two mushrooms, really. Each organism just has many, many caps." His common is soft, with a lilting, musical accent.
Kairon takes note of Cor'val's assessment. "You're right, my elven friend. I believe the mushrooms convey and feed on the lightning. Are they breaking whatever this room is or was?"
Briana points at Bird. "He should just burn it all away. Then we'll have no more mushrooms." Prythurkan nods. He appears to be chewing on something. Based on the lack of sparks coming from his mouth, it probably isn't one of the electric toadstools. Probably.
The kobold at the altar pipes up. "He should do no such thing!" Darusthanav points at the altar and the system of mycology surrounding it. "These mushrooms are feeding off of energy contained within this altar. They were likely introduced here whenever this ship came crashing down out of the stars. I think I can dispose of the disruptive fungus, but the whole mess might animate given all of the golden mist. If we're so inclined, I can preserve much of this room while you fight off whatever it is that tries to thwart us. That's likely more lucrative than just burning it all down."
Prythurkan burps. "My vote is to burn it." Briana nods and jerks a thumb toward Prythurkan. "Mine too."
Kairon shakes her head. "Save it." Darusthanav smiles at this, drawing the vote even. Bird opens his beak. He echoes Prythurkan saying "Burn it" and Kairon saying "Save it" at the exact same time. Listening to the Kenku is an unsettling experience.
Caleb makes a face. "Voting." Shaking his head, he says, "Burning it all would be safer. But we can try to salvage as much as we can first. A fire inside the ship might spread and who knows what the golden mist would do if it spread, too."
Eryndir nods along with Caleb. "A fire in this space might be deadlier than the electricity. And imagine if the fire somehow gained sentience itself? That said, now that we have two Decanters of Endless Water, containing and controlling a non-sentient fire might be possible."
He considers Darusthanav. "Then again, if they can be preserved to our employer's satisfaction, it might be better. Could the Decanters be used to douse the mushrooms in some way that would short the electric current long enough for us to shut it down?"
The kobold considers. "We would need to figure out where the energy is coming from." The diminutive figure points his claws around the room - his various springs, rings, bracelets and other adornment jingle faintly as he does so. "If we knew what to immerse, maybe we could contain the energy."
Darusthanav examines the arcing electricity. A few audible "hmmms" and "huhs" later and the kobold finds himself standing next to one of the glass sarcophagi closest to the door. The diminutive figure squats near the transparent box for a mere moment before reaching out and slashing away some of the fungus. As he does so, a notable portion of the bed of mushrooms ceases to spark.
"That's where the energy is coming from. I'll take care of the rest, just leave me to it."
A few dancing moments around the room later and the kobold has managed to sever the bed of fungus from its energy source - the various glass sarcophagi around the room. At this point, the mushrooms no longer arc or sizzle.
The kobold, quite proud, rests his hands on his waist and puffs his diminutive chest out quite broadly.
Prythurkan, far too loudly, laughs. "Well done!"
Kairon frowns. "Now what?" asks the tiefling.
Eryndir stands from examining the base of a sarcophagus. "Dirt. Strange. Everything else in this entire ship has been immaculate, but someone's been here with dirty boots."
He looks to the others. "It looks like there's a way down through here." He glances back at the double doors on the other side of the room. "Continue on, or follow this new and interesting path?"
Caleb makes a face. "I don't think I want to go in there," gesturing toward the glass case. "Not if I have a choice."
Ever curious, Cor'val wanders up behind Eryndir and peeks at the tracks and sarcophagus.
Cor'val tells Eryndir, "I have not seen a print like that. Have you?" and points to the hand print on the inside of the sarcophagus.
Eryndir considers it for a long moment, then looks to Cor'val and shakes his head. "No, never."
Brianna tilts her head at the hand print.
"Was somebody or something pushing on the inside of the lid like a door?"
Eryndir grins. "Or a secret passage."
The dwarf looks at the wood elf incredulously. "It's made of glass, ya woodpecker. There isn't any secret."
Charn joins the rest of the crew, still somewhat suspicious of the various mushrooms in the area. He looks at the sarcophagus a moment and eyes his dragonborn colleague a moment. "Well. Shall we open it?" He seems ready enough.
Caleb shakes his head, but says nothing. He shifts his shoulders to readjust the weight of his pack and ventures closer to the door on the far side of the room, hoping his colleagues' experimentation doesn't result in their premature deaths.
"The two questions we must ask ourselves are 'how do we find the helm on deck four?' and 'how do we avoid infection?' A secret passageway that might provide us a manner of getting through this ship without exposure to pathogens..."
The wood elf lets the thought drift away.
"I do not know where we should be going otherwise, but this doorway --" he nods to the sarcophagus, "-- seems like it might offer more answers than a galley or a gunwale."
Eryndir obviously knows precious little about ships, but throws out the few terms he does know with indifference to their actual meaning.
"Why are we less likely to be infected in crawlspaces and hidden passageways?" Caleb asks honestly, not meaning to argue. Eryndir knows him well enough by now to be sure that if the cleric wanted to start a fight, he would say why he thinks the elf is wrong.
Grimacing, and against his better judgment, Caleb continues, "Whatever road we take to reach our destination, may we do so safely and without more heartache. Perhaps... we can split up and take both paths?"
Charn surveys his fellows and suggests, "Based on our last fight, I am convinced splitting up is not a good idea." He fishes a copper from his pocket. "A flip, then. Heads, the sarcophagus, tails, the door," and he adds cheerily, "If we don't die, we can always come back for the other route."
"The door, then?"
Eryndir looks wanly at the sarcophagus, a look of mourning at tthe missed opportunity of greater adventure in his eye, and moves towards the door at the far side of the room.
Prythurkan smiles. "Finally! We have good sense! Let's go."
As he walks through the formerly electrified mushrooms, he slams his fist on the altar in the middle of the room. He doesn't notice, although everyone else does, the increasing smell of ozone and the desiccated corpse of a halfling that appears in one of the sarcophagi.
Eryndir's attention turns immediately to the sarcophagus bearing the halfling corpse.
"Perhaps we've been too hasty in seeing this room as a hurdle to be cleared, rather than part of the mystery to be explored."
He approaches the glass coffin slowly, warily, and begins clearing mushrooms from the other sarcophagi to investigate their contents.
The rest of the glass is transparent and reveals nothing of note to a casual observer.
The halfling is inside the sarcophagus. The smell of ozone slowly dissipates.
Charn grimaces, but it's not clear whether he's lamenting the new data messing with plans or what the new data IS. "Well, let's make a more informed choice, I suppose." He positions himself to open it with someone's help.
Eryndir moves to the side of the casket with Charn and nods, ready.
The sarcophagus opens silently although with a renewed burst of the ozone. Inside, the dried out corpse doesn't really smell at all. It slides to the ground with an ignoble sigh.
Examination of the poor halfling reveals two puncture wounds, each the size of a crabapple, just below the halfling's left kidney. The halfling has no other visible wounds, aside from extremely severe dehydration and the fact that it is dead.
Caleb's curiosity is piqued in spite of his better judgment. He approaches the corpse and kneels, trying to get a better look at the remains to examine them. "A bite, maybe."
The dwarf looks at the corpse then the sarcophagus.
"Someone oughta climb in there and see where that came from." She nods, realizing how smart she is.