Looking for a safe place to incubate their newly acquired giant eagle eggs, the party headed for the ruins of Riverbend and had one hell of an adventure. When they approached the huge brick buildings that used to be a hospital complex before the fall, they noticed that they were in remarkably intact condition. Monkey Boy, flying overhead attached to the giant eagle he had taken control of last session, noticed some movement below; several small shapes rapidly swimming through the swamp to the two smaller buildings outside of the hospital proper, and four huge trees that seemed to be slowly walking around between the hospital and the deeper channel carved by the Mike Zee River. Swooping lower while the hovercraft circled around to the side of the buildings, Monkey Boy saw that the shapes in the swamp were Coy-Pu, mutant nutrias that the party had encountered on one other ill-fated occasion.
Badders, and the last time the party had ran into them in the pass between the Willing Mate Valley and the eastern desert, Dataan had greeted the curious water-rat men in the name of Glargorion, the terrible worm-god of the Badders. This had angered the plant-worshiping Coy-Pu who unleashed their huge animated tree allies on the party. The huge trees proved to be dangerous adversaries, and the hovercraft was very nearly crashed on the banks of the Mike Zee river high in the pass that day.
Banking back over the moving trees, Monkey Boy saw that the trees were shambling along, a fishing net stretched between each pair as they slowly moved through the swamp. A robed Coy Pu rode in the branches of each tree. At this point Natas the goat-man used his power over weather to cause a thick fog to rise up out of the swamp. Not wanting to drive straight into danger, the hovercraft slowed down while Bark changed his form into a large patch of algae and slipped into the water to do a little scouting. Bark soon realized that a large patch of the swamp bottom had been meticulously cleaned out in a circle around the two smaller buildings that the Coy-Pu in the swamp had retreated to at the sight of the giant eagle circling overhead. This cleared area was marked by a tangled border of a strange yellow vine like plant that the party had not encountered before. As the hovercraft moved away from Bark's position, he realized that the plants seemed to be emitting an exact duplicate of the vibrating noise the hovercraft made underwater. He cautiously approached, stopping about thirty feet away to form a small section of his body into a torpedo shaped piece of wood, which he then detached and propelled at the plants to observe their reaction. The reaction was swift and unexpected, as they ramped up the volume of the noise they were emitting to the point that Bark's body was nearly ripped apart on the spot. This was followed by the yellow vines lashing out at him; stunned by the sonic attack, Bark was too slow to evade the vines and they ripped through his body, unable to grasp his algae form but coating him with a slimy poison.
The party now decided to take the hovercraft to the large parking structure to the west of the complex, driving straight into the second level from the swamp and circling up through the rusted hulks of ancient vehicles. They stopped below the roof and sent Kunta Kinte up to investigate. He emerged in the middle of a rooftop garden. Two robed and ancient looking Coy-Pu tended the raised beds that contained vegetables and herbs of all descriptions. They looked at him without apparent concern, and said something that the deaf giant could not hear. Kunta Kinte tapped on his com-link, signalling for back up, and Natas joined him on the roof as Monkey-Boy swooped down and landed the giant eagle. The Coy-Pu's composure was shaken by the appearance of the giant eagle, and they blew on a piercing whistle and sought cover until Monkey-Boy spoke through the speakers he had dangled over the neck of the eagle, telling them not to fear. Two of the huge trees loomed through the mist, apparently approaching at the signal of the whistle. The Coy-Pu introduced themselves as Jix and Treego and inquired what business the party had in the area. After listening to the party's response, Jix told them that it was unlikely that the community of Coy-Pu that lived in the two smaller buildings would allow them to incubate the eggs of the giant eagle there. The party's questions about the larger, apparently unoccupied buildings afforded cryptic responses about the Kingdom of the Dead and the Dark Mother that apparently resided within the old brick hospital. When asked how they controlled the animated trees, Treego responded that it was a gift of the Dark Mother. This got the party curious, and they began asking if other people could receive such a gift. Visions of animating and controlling plants danced through their heads. Jix seemed to want to tell them something, but he was cut off by Treego. After a little more conversation, the party sought and received permission to park the hovercraft on the roof while they entered the Kingdom of the Dead and sought the Dark Mother's gifts. Treego encouraged them to do this, while Jix again seemed on the verge of telling them something before Treego interrupted him. Bark, severely injured in his previous encounter with the plants, remained behind, while Bozko also stayed back with the Iron Man suit as back up in case the party ran into trouble and needed to be rescued. Natas shrunk the giant eagle to 1/8th its size and the party tied it up and stashed it in the hovercraft so Monkey Boy could disconnect from it and accompany the party inside. Bark used his mental abilities to create the illusion inside the giant eagle's mind that it was sitting on its eggs back in its nest, then rooted himself in one of the garden beds and began to soak up the sunlight (Natas had dispelled the fog and cleared the clouds to allow sunlight to stream down) in hopes of restoring some of his energy.
Entering the main lobby through an open window above the level of the swamp, the party was astounded to see it free of water and immaculately clean as if it was carefully swept and dusted regularly.
They next decided that they needed to find the basement, where they assumed the emergency power generators would be located. Prying open the door of one of the elevator shafts, they lowered a spiderbot down into the maintenance access hallway below. Irons, wireless connected to the spiderbot's video feed, saw that around a dozen strange clusters of volleyball sized black spheres had burst through the concrete. The spheres were grouped like clusters of grapes and were covered in a slimy black liquid. Poking one with the spiderbot caused it to explode in a shower of yellow spores. Leaving the mysterious spheres alone for the moment, Irons instructed the spiderbot to investigate the door at the end of the maintenance hallway. The door was warm, nearly 80 degrees according to the spiderbot's sensory equipment. Irons had the spiderbot drill a small peephole in the door and a nightmarish scene was revealed.
Beyond the door was a large room, possibly the boiler room although it was hard to tell because the large machinery inside was completely covered with a slimy black substance. The entire room was coated with the material, and a huge formless blob of it towered in the center. Dozens of skeletons of all types and sizes dotted the room, connected to the central blob by more of the thin threads. Even worse, partially decomposing corpses surrounded the mass. The corpses all stood erect and had their arms plunged into the slimy black thing, and the black liquid that covered the mass was traveling up the arms of the corpses, leaving clean bone behind covered in the black lacquer-like residue left by the liquid.
Feelings of rage and betrayal began to flood the party members, including Monkey Boy. They felt that the Coy-Pu had tried to lure them into a trap and they felt an intense hatred and dislike of the terrifying blob-thing the spiderbot had discovered. The urge to descend into the basement and destroy it was strong and nearly overpowering. Calling over the com-link to Bozko, the party had him fly over one of the biohazard suits that had been scavenged from the military complex in an earlier session. Natas folded his prehensile tail around his waist and suited up, then waited at the open elevator shaft as the spiderbot continued its examination of the chamber. Suddenly, a telekinetic force tried to push the party into the elevator shaft. Monkey-boy resisted the mental attack and Irons and Kunta-Kinte were both too heavy to be forced over, but Natas tumbled forward. Irons successfully grabbed him in an attempt to save him from the plunge, but the weight of Natas proved enough to enable the force pushing on Irons to send him into the shaft as well. Luckily, Natas did not puncture the biohazard suit in the fall. He was filled with a black rage focused on the entity beyond the hallway, and he set off with plasma rifle in hand. The black globes exploded around him as he walked down the hallway, but his suit evidently protected him from any harmful effects. The hallway did, however, become completely filled with the yellow spores.
Back up in the lobby, Kunta Kinte found himself alone as Monkey Boy had flown away as soon as he resisted the force that tried to push him into the elevator shaft. Kunta Kinte, holding his four-barreled rocket launcher, nervously looked down the elevator shaft and waited for word from his companions.
Down below, Natas was unable to resist the urge to attack the monstrosity, and he flung the door open and blasted away with his plasma rifle. Despite scoring several direct hits, he did little appreciable damage and found himself once again in the grasp of an invisible telekinetic force which began dragging him toward the blob. Irons, still at the far end of the hallway, brought his laser sniper rifle to bear and carefully squeezed a shot off around the helpless body of Natas. He scored a solid hit, and while it again seemed to do little damage to the massive mound, it did cause it to release its mental hold on Natas who now found himself in the middle of the chamber, with dozens of skeletons of all descriptions suddenly moving after him!
Kunta Kinte, the sunlight streaming in the windows of the lobby behind him and casting his shadow on the wall of the elevator shaft in front of him, felt a sinking feeling as several more shadows were cast on the wall as if a group of figures was approaching him from behind. He whirled around and saw that the skeletons the party had left behind in the physical therapy room had emerged and were closing the ground on him fast. Gambling that they might be controlled by the threads that attached to each skeleton, Kunta Kinte aimed at the doorway to the Physical Therapy room and let a missile fly with the hope that he would destroy the threads and stop all the skeletons at once. He placed his shot perfectly, the missile exploding on the ground right in the doorway, and at first it seemed like his plan had failed. The closest skeletons were already swinging at him, and he took some damage from their bony fists. The rest of the skeletons continued their charge. But as Kunta Kinte scrambled to the side to avoid being pushed into the open elevator shaft, he realized that the skeletons were mindlessly continuing doing exactly what they had been doing when the explosion severed the threads. The ones nearest him continued to swing at the empty air where he had been, while the rest continued in a straight line and ran into the swinging skeletons, and the whole lot crashed into the shaft and dropped below. When Kunta Kinte peered down at them, he saw that they continued to make the motions as if they were charging forward even though they were jumbled in a tangle of bones at the bottom of the shaft.
Meanwhile, Bozko had been rejoined at the hovercraft by Monkey Boy, and they decided to grab some of the party's C4 plastic explosives before flying back to aid their friends. Back in the basement chamber, Natas was surrounded by a rapidly growing ring of skeletons, including the animated bones of a huge swamp bear that dug its great claws into him. In addition to this, great tentacles were being exuded from the black mass in the center of the room, and they began writhing their way toward him. Near death from the injuries he had sustained in the fall and the blows he had already taken from the skeletons, he wavered between taking a last few shots at the massive blob that he felt such uncontrollable rage against and trying to make a break back toward the doorway. Irons and Bozko yelled over the com-link to run, Bozko adding that he was coming with explosives to deal with what they could only assume was the Dark Mother.
As Irons continued to lay down covering fire with his laser rifle to prevent the Dark Mother from using telekinesis, Natas shrunk down to 1/8th his size and made a break for the door directly between the legs of the swamp bear skeleton. He pulled off his risky maneuver as the skeletons harmlessly swung over his head, and he restored his size to normal and pulled the door shut behind him, instructing the spiderbot to begin welding it shut. Behind him in the hallway, the black pods began to extrude out of the ground and it became apparent that they were attached to the same kind of strange black tissue that covered the room beyond the door. As this tissue squeezed up into the hallway, it began to form writhing tentacles that groped toward Irons and Natas, who was holding the door shut while the spiderbot welded.
At this point, first Bozko and then Monkey Boy flew into the lobby with the C-4, which Bozko took with him down the elevator shaft while Monkey Boy ran into the Physical Therapy room to enact a cunning plan. He gathered up the severed ends of the threads that still dangled from the ventilation shaft, and began to use his parasitic control mutation that allows him to gain control over an organism after successfully maintaining physical contact with it for three rounds. He activated another mutation before doing this that doubles one of his attributes; he doubled his willpower and rolled a 10 on a d10, so his willpower jumped from 21 to 42(!!!) for 10 rounds. Bozko blasted straight past the tentacles in the tunnel, leaving Irons to deal with them while Bozko started packing the C4 onto the spiderbot. Irons blasted the closest tentacle to him to bits, and the tentacles nearest Bozko seemed to be unable to penetrate the suit's force field when they attempted to grab him.
Kunta Kinte felt vibrations and realized that he was sensing many footsteps coming down the staircase that opened up from the lobby (as Kunta Kinte is deaf, I have been giving him some minor benefits like being particularly sensitive to vibrations that he can feel through his feet and hands, and this has seemed to work well in game). He again shouldered his rocket launcher and aimed at the ceiling right where the staircase opened into the lobby, figuring that this was a load bearing point and he might be able to completely seal off the staircase if he caused the ceiling to collapse. He missed and his missile shot up into the stairwell, exploding and partially blocking the stairs, but not completely sealing them off as he had hoped.
In the Physical Therapy room, Monkey Boy was extending his mental control up through the threads and down through the ventilation systems into the main body of the Dark Mother. He realized with a start that in addition to the huge mass that he was trying to control, there were also four other "daughter" nodes in the upper floors of the hospital that seemed to be, although connected with the Mother through the threads, independent monsters in their own right. Realizing that he could only control one of the five, he continued to try to bring the Dark Mother under his control.
Kunta Kinte launched a third missile up into the stairwell and this time did manage to completely clog it up, then, sensing vibrations behind him, spun around and loosed his last missile at the balcony above him where another small army of skeletons was emerging from the upper levels. Down below, Bozko had shattered the concrete floor, removed his armored glove and was changing his arm into a root that burrowed down and over, hauling the C4-laden spiderbot with it as he tried to dig underneath the Dark Mother. The tentacles in the hallway continued to lash at the iron man suit, failing to penetrate its force field again, and a few struck at Irons.
Then the turning moment of the conflict arrived as Monkey Boy took control of the Dark Mother. His mind was flooded with an overload of sensory stimulation, as the Dark Mother was reading the thoughts of all life forms within 1000' feet. He quickly realized that if he had not doubled his willpower, he would have been overwhelmed by the flood of thoughts that were entering the Dark Mother, so he had only 7 more rounds to do what needed to be done. First, he sent a signal to the daughter nodes, pretending to be the Dark Mother, getting them to divert their controlled skeletons to a far corner of the hospital. This occurred just in time; right as Kunta Kinte was about to be overran by dozens of the walking bones, they turned around and marched back the direction they came from. Next, Monkey Boy had some of the root-like appendages that radiated out from the Dark Mother meet Bozko half way and grab the spiderbot with all the C-4, then he pulled it back up and inside the Dark Mother so that when it blew it would detonate from the middle of the blob-body.
Bozko went to grab Natas and carry him out of the basement, but Natas still wanted to gain the Dark Mother's gift and thought that if he touched the slimy body of the Dark Mother and escaped with his life he would have the ability to animate and control plants. Natas blasted the door back open and ran up to the Dark Mother, pulling the head-piece off the biohazard suit and stuck his head into the slime. He failed a save vs. poison and was paralyzed, covered with acidic ooze. Monkey Boy used the Dark Mother's telekinetic abilities to grab the paralyzed body of Natas and fly him out of the hospital. Bozko had flown back to the hovercraft and it arrived in front of the hospital one round before Monkey Boy was about to lose control over the Dark Mother; everyone except Monkey Boy piled in and took off, while Monkey Boy waited till the last possible second, then flew at top speed out the windows while Irons sent the signal to the spiderbot to shoot an electrical charge through the C4, detonating it and destroying the Dark Mother.
I gave a small chance of the building collapsing, because the charge was detonated in the basement and the boilers all superheated in the explosion and shot upwards through the building, causing even more structural damage than the initial C4 blast. Bozko rolled the percentage chance and used his d30 roll, but he got a 20 and the building did not collapse. Still, the Dark Mother was slain and a portion of the lobby collapsed into the basement. The Coy-Pu were undoubtedly upset, but no one was waiting around to see their reaction. The hovercraft was heading off into the swamp as fast as it could. Kunta Kinte and Bark could not resist the temptation to touch the slime that was dissolving Natas' face before Bozko scraped it into a vial for later analysis; Kunta Kinte made his save and was not paralyzed, but Bark rolled a natural 1, failing his save and also prompting me to call for him to make an additional save vs. poison to avoid death by heart stoppage. He made that one, and lives on in a paralyzed condition.
As the Swamp Orca cruised on into the swamp, Bozko had a realization. "We were played for fools! There was no gift of the Dark Mother! The job of those Coy-Pu shamans was to feed people to that terrible monstrosity, and we fell for it!" The players of everyone who touched the slime turned to me and asked if they had any new abilities, but I just smiled and said, "Not as far as you can tell."
And then I said,
"I sure hope that paralysis isn't permanent..."
... You gotta give 'em something to stew over till next session!