I awoke, and quite to my surprise, with a splitting headache. It was not the headache that was a surprise but the fact that I had awakened at all. I thought for sure that I was a dead man. The last thing I remembered was the damn skeletons swarming over me and the sharp pain of their weapons finding their mark in a screaming confusion of shouts, flashing lights in dark halls, and screams of pain and oaths of vengeance. "That was one hell of a disorganized mess, we have to plan better than that if we are to survive," I thought to myself. I then began looking around to become more aware of my surroundings. I could see several of my companions standing around with Dax looming over me breathing deeply as if he had just finished a labor.
"Where am I," I inquired of Dax, my voice weak and crackling in my dry throat.
"I just pulled you down the hall to this room Forest, you have been lying down there unconscious for a day, we though you were lost. I guess it is a good things skeletons don't need to eat or they would have had a nice meal of you!" replied Dax in his usual manner, trying to make light of a serious situation.
"I guess I owe you my thanks friend" Forest croaked and then nearly blacked out from the pain of trying to stand.
"None of that friend, let us get you up to the surface and mended and I am sure you will be back on your feet in short order" ordered Dax.
I decided to take my partner's advice and between Dax and Tierathas I was brought to the surface and laid down in [our camp next to the to the bodies of] Comiza and Wulfgar. I remembered both of them in trouble during the fight as well, and could see that they too were lucky to be alive and not buried in the ground like Helmon. I looked over at the fresh grave not 20 meters away, or even worse end up a meal for some cursed creature like poor Erg had.
"Tomorrow is another day" I thought, "I better get rested" and slipped into the blackness of sleep.
I awoke, cold and stiff. I had not had the opportunity to prepare a proper resting spot and found I had been sleeping on a rock all night, as if my wounds were not bad enough by themselves. I forced myself up and immediately began my daily ritual to renew my powers. It was hard to concentrate, I was weak and in pain but I knew if I kept at it I could soon be in good condition. It was not long before I felt the familiar rush and my connection to the natural world renewed in me and I knew I was ready for the day. "First things first" I thought, "I must be healthy in order to help others", and I tapped into my powers and released upon myself the healing touch. Such was the extent of my injuries that it took a large portion of my energy to bring myself nearly back to full health. I held some in reserve knowing we would be resting for several days and I could heal the last of my wounds with time. I expended the last of my energy on Comiza's wounds and then the party settled into a full day of rest. The routine of rest and healing continued again the next day as well and the party was nearly ready to resume our exploration.
During the day I received a warning from my eagle companion Soar, flying high above the desert floor. Someone was coming down the road, but the raptor did not project a sense of danger through the link we shared, so I advised the others that travelers where approaching. What arrived shortly thereafter was a ragtag party of adventurers who looked like they had been run through a millstone. Well three of them at least, the fourth companion of the group was a strange sight. A gnome sat atop a wolf, dressed and armed like a miniature knight, and who bore no wounds like his compatriots. The two groups greeted each other, exchanged pleasantries, and then told of their recent encounters. The newly arrived group seemed to have had their fill of adventuring and were looking for a place to find shelter and healing. I empathized with them and was loathe to send them off and possibly face a band of lizard men as they traveled the roads in such poor condition so I talked his party into letting them stay long enough to heal them before sending them off on their way even though it would cost them an extra day. During this it became evident that the Cavalier gnome who went by the name Nyelo (for short) was unhappy in his current party and wished to join our band. Having a shortage of fighters after the previous day's disaster he was taken in, much to the [delight] of his three [former] partners.
Remembering my waking thoughts of the other day, I began drawing in the dirt the layout of the rooms below to begin strategizing how we would better vanquish our foes and not suffer such a defeat as before. The rest of the party saw what I was doing and began to gather round and we began strategizing our next attack. After a brief while we had a plan of attack mapped out to try and use the doorways to enable us to attack the skeletons at a decided advantage using the "T" intersections to gang up on them one at a time. We then prepared camp for a final night's rest before re-entering the subterranean lair.
I got up at the crack of dawn and began my daily ritual, the others did what they needed to do as well to prepare. Magicians chanted repetitively, the fighters checked their blades, and then all had a quick breakfast. We then rehashed the plan again to make sure everyone executed it properly. A key element of the plan was magically closing the doors that had been left open to the rooms we had last fought in. This would limit the skeleton's ability to maneuver, and this was where the plan failed first. While sneaking up to the doors Wulfgar accidently passed in front of one before it could be closed, and there waiting was one of the skeletons. It immediately attacked, racing through the doorway and swinging at Wulfgar. All was not lost though as the skeleton had actually moved into a position that could be flanked. Then Nyelo on his mount broke from the plan and raced around the skeleton's room through a side corridor and entered the side door to attack a skeleton in the middle of the room, leaving himself open to be flanked. The party now began reacting instead of executing and a swirling melee ensued.
One skeleton used the door Nyelo opened to come around and attack Wulfgar from the side. This negated the ability to flank the first skeleton that attacked him so I decided to insert myself into the hall to block that from happening and found myself fighting one on one like Wulfgar. The preplanning did pay off somewhat though as now the skeletons were spread out and in some cases flanked, and although the fight was hard, Nyelo had been the only one near death during the battle, but once again there was going to be a lot of healing needed by the party as a whole.
I began searching the room and noticed in a pile of bones, that there was one that looked odd. We studied it and realized we might have found something valuable. I tapped into my powers and began searching the object, probing it for magical emanations and quickly realized it was indeed powerful magic. Further study led the party to understand it was resurrection magic. We looked at each other with the same thought on our minds at that realization, and we headed back to the surface and began exhuming Helmon. The stench was unbearable but Tierathas was able to maintain his composure long enough to test the wand on the rotten corpse of Helmon. As we watched, his corpse began to shimmer and coalesce into the recognizable form of Helmon, and within a moment or two clods of dirt began to fly as Helmon came to life and tried to clear himself from his shallow grave as the party stood watching, jaws agape. The shock of seeing Helmon resurrected quickly faded as we realized he needed help and they all pitched in to clear the dirty dwarf from the soil among many choice Dwarven oaths let loose from the mouth of Helmon despite his clerical calling. It took a while to convince Helmon he had been brought back from the dead and to calm him down, but soon he was back to his old self. Actually Helmon was looking in perfect health, unlike many of the party that had just finished the prior battle.
Another round of rest an recuperation was in order before the battle resumed.
This day began much as the previous day's preparations for battle had. We had held another strategy session and this time tried to make sure everyone understood the plan better. I was not wild about the prospect of going down into that hole again, I like being under the open sky, but the party needed me, and I needed the experience of combat to increase my skills if I was ever going to be part of taking on the likes of the dreaded Xox.
Once again the plan was to use the doorways to our advantage if we could to funnel the enemy into a killing zone. Fighters to the front, backed up by the healers and the ranged attackers in the rear. I also was glad of a new weapon we carried in our arsenal. Helmon could peer through closed doors and warn us what we faced in advance. We had already used this earlier in the morning during a scouting mission and had determined the final room on the first floor was a lair for several huge spiders. While not thrilled with the prospect, I was glad that at least it was something natural and not the cursed undead. Perhaps I could use this battle to learn more about venoms, I had heard that it was possible to become immune to venoms if one studied them and how they worked, and this would be a great opportunity.
The party assumed battle formation by a door in the corner of the skeleton's room and readied our kill zone. I ended up in the front group since one of the team's fighters had to cover the other doorway, and stood at the ready with my scimitar held high with both hands. The door was opened and immediately one of the giant spiders charged at the first team member he saw, that being Wulfgar. The spider had to pass by me to reach Wulfgar though and I let loose with a mighty swing of my scimitar, my muscles surging with strength. The timing was just right and my blade sliced clean through the arachnid, killing it instantly in a spray of goo. This did not intimidate the next spider in the least though, which quickly skittered through the door on its eight legs and attacked Wulfgar. The sudden end of the first spider had left the party slightly stunned and the second spider was able to make an attack versus Wulfgar which was weakly returned. This spider so expertly hedged into a kill zone by the party's plans then did what they had not thought of, it quickly scurried up the wall over the roof and dropped down amid the rear of the party endangering their mages. So sudden and unsuspecting where Wulfgar and I to this maneuver that we failed to connect with the creature as it climbed away.
Now the final spider charged in and Wulfgar and I were forced to deal with it and could not assist the mages in the rear. I was reasonably sure the others could handle the challenge and focused on this last spider. The second spider had taken some light hits and it was now surrounded by 2 mages, a cleric and a rogue and was flanked on all sides.
The third spider was putting up a heck of a fight, at one point I felt the sharp sting of its fangs and then a quick wave of nausea as something entered into my blood. My vision blurred a bit but I steeled myself to continue on and fight back against the sickness that began to envelope me. As I fought the waves of nausea it began to fade, much to my relief, but I still felt weak from the effort. Shortly thereafter both the remaining spiders were twitching in death, and the party was still in reasonably good condition.
Searching the spiders lair we found nothing of worth, but there was hole in the wall that was curiously free of webs. Anxious to find some hidden treasure such as the resurrection wand we had stumbled on previously, we sent one of the gnomes into the small hole to see if they could find a stash. What Comiza the gnome found was not what he was hoping to find. A large snake had been waiting for lunch and now it had some, wrapping Comiza in its coils it began to squeeze the life out of him. The party was unable to see him to assist and only Nyelo could possibly fit through the hole, and he wasted no time squeezing through to aid his fellow gnome. Someone shouted we need a rope and grappling hook and I immediately responded using my incredible running ability to make it to the surface camp and back in under 30 seconds. That was too long for poor Comiza though, who succumbed to the lethal squeezing of the python and had passed out. The snake then turned on Nyelo who had been busy hacking at the creature as it squeezed the life out of Comiza. With little effort it wrapped around Nyelo and he too began to lose consciousness. Helmon, thinking on his feet, cast a ranged healing spell to assist the gnomes. This also healed the snake, but it gave the gnomes a chance as Comiza felt the healing surge and regained consciousness and immediately began attacking the snake as Nyelo had when the tables were turned. Meanwhile the party kept unsuccessfully trying to throw the grappling hook through the narrow hole, which turned out to be much more difficult than it first had appeared.
With Helmon's healing aide keeping them alive the two gnomes were able to inflict damage to the snake faster than it was healing. Much of this was due to the fortunate coincidence that Nyelo's arm was free from the coils and he was able to contribute to the attack. Just before Nyelo was about to pass out the snake succumbed to the cumulative slashing of the gnomes short blades and the coils loosed their grip on him and he could breathe again, but for all that effort the subsequent search turned up nothing of value.
"Well at least we have learned a lesson or two... I hope," I mused to myself, glad that this sudden turn of luck had not become tragic. My thoughts brightened at the prospect of heading back to the surface again and the clean fresh air and to feel the link rejoin with my companion soaring in the skies above. "Soon," I thought, "soon, I will know that feeling too". I headed for the entrance and prepared for another round of healing and rest.
So ends the journal of Forest for this day....
[Minor editing and corrections provided by the DM.]