Checking their gear, the group cautiously examines the entrance into the side of the hill – a dark cavernous hole, covered with the detritus of eons, and yet somehow, the manufactured skeleton of a building endures, buried beneath rock and soil.
Between her biotic barrier and incredible reflexes, Kassana is the hardest to hit among the group, and takes point, flashlight at the ready. It’s clear a dry gully that leads to the cave mouth carries rain runoff into the cavern during Etamis’ storms, but now just the mud, lichens, and mosses carpet the ground, and the strange concrete.
While cracks run through the visible manufactured stone, and there are clearly conduit holes or duct holes that open in parts of ceiling, walls and floors, little else but the strong walls and the carbon spars remain. What they first think are huge steps to get down into the half hexagon entry room, they quickly understand to be pre-formed benches shaped right into the walls.
They move into the only corridor, and all notice a slight increase in gravity, as well as warmth and moisture. The air from the ruin ahead of them is warmer, and seems to surge in and out occasionally, like a faint sleeping breath. When it exhales, earthy, musty scents come with it. While not humid enough to truly concern Kassana, the implication that it may be more moist deeper in the ruin is conjectured.
Out of the long hallway the group comes to a huge central room, some of the walls hold the bench forms of the entry, and a large pedestal or base of some sort sits off-center, whatever rose from it long knocked over and shattered into thousands of chunks of rubble. Great curtains of moss and drape-lichen hang from the 30’ ceiling overhead.
It’s Milo who hears the telltale rustle, flips his flashlight straight up and screams a warning while dodging to the side. Spiralling out of the darkness and moss come a dozen fist-sized beetles, corkscrewing down toward Milo and the group’s position just a moment prior, razor sharp mandibles clacking as they miss their potential prey. Hitting the ground, they scatter in a dozen different directions through the old mud, rubble and detritus.
Milo climbs up on Nero’s back, aims the flame projector, and fires several gouts into the mossy draperies – revealing fearful chitterings as three more beetle swarms expose themselves and flee, while small, more harmless squeaky cave animals also run from the roar, heat, and light of the flame.
Feeling a little better about their situation, they explore the room, finding several passages off from it, though Milo continues to watch the ceiling for threats.
Roger gets some 3-D scans of the rubble surrounding the pedestal in the hope that someone with a more powerful computer may be able to recreate what once stood there – likely a statue of some sort in their estimation. And examining the ground, the water-borne mud and debris reveals several sets of tracks, though only two clear – one heading roughly south, dragging something, and one heading east, with a strange gait, and with some strange stains on the stone of the floor and wall near it’s path.
Deciding that having the Blazemaster closer to the entrance in case a desperate escape from carnivorous beetle is necessary, the retreat briefly, and drive the truck closer, parking it right outside.
Following the eastern path they find a room with a set of broad spiral stairs, and a large mangled, overgrown metal and carbon spar structure fallen from the ceiling long ago upon it. Strange smoky quartz shards can be seen amidst the debris, and a clear if shallow path through the dried mud can be seen – one of the rain watercourses down. While careful approach would allow entering the stairwell without issue, more stains and some recently ripped leather/cloth can be seen on some of the flanges of the metallic mass.
Deciding that exploring the entire structure they are in before descending is a good idea, they retreat from the stairwell and explore the other passages. They find two more large round rooms, with roughly one half of each having the carbon spars rather than solid walls. One is mostly collapsed, with rock and earthen slough long stabilized filling the holes between the bent and snapped carbon spars, tiny mouse-hole like entrances into the pile giving an idea of the room’s current inhabitants. The other remains much more intact, the spars still supporting massive viewport-like windows made of the smoky quartz material – awash in millions of fracture lines, but still holding the earth on it’s outer side at bay.
Out of an old ceiling conduit hole – likely for lighting/power there is only a fraction of warning as another swarm of drop beetles makes an attempt at the delicious crew. Gouts of flame and high beam flashlights disrupt their attack, such that many are fried or shotgunned before they can land on the nearest target, Kassana. Her reflexes limit the number that land on her, and her heavy leather and padded clothing absorbs the initial bites, allowing her and the others to beat the last few off of her without harm. A quick scan with the medical programs on the hand scanner of the beetle bodies reveals a hard reflective carapace, many eye spots for extraordinary awareness but high light senstivity, and mandibles which are capable of injecting a weak anesthetic, individually. Their dislike of the “Drop Beetle Swarm” only increases.
Continued exploration reveal two square rooms (the first they’ve found in the structure – everything else being round or roughly hexagonal), which have few clues as to what they once were, though given the mixed debris and remnants of an ancient corroded metal door, and stains on the walls and ground, and lack of the “wall bench” form, some kind of supply room or perhaps small office.
Following the other trail with the drag marks, the group passes one of the square rooms, descending a short flight of stairs, and down a long corridor that then angles back toward the “rear” of the buried structure. It is clear that this corridor is the main path for water runoff from a storm, with the most dried mud and outside debris. Turning the last angle of the corridor, the group is suddenly blinded by a harsh floodlight and a click sound…
“Um, hello?” queries Illyria. There is no response, except for a movement of air back and forth.
Moving forward slowly, the group finds themselves in the path of a heavy duty floodlamp connected to a motion sensor and a portable battery generator, all attached to a crosspiece framework with winch set up over a large, perfectly round hole in the floor. The hole once had a lip of some sort, and clearly other pieces of a framework embedded in it which are long gone, and a concave structure in the ceiling into which something once fit…but any machinery or power conduit is long corroded and gone.
Supplies for a small camp sit half-unpacked next to the winch framework, and off to one side lies a body. The exo-suit material, and feet give it away as a quarian. But neither sound nor movement comes from it despite the party’s lack of stealthy approach.
Shining a flashlight down the hole shows cracked psuedo-concrete shaft for a short distance before it shows a shattered edge, moss, and darkness.
At that point, Milo turns the quarian over, revealing dozens of rips in the exo-suit, especially near the chest, and the cracked visor revealing a mostly fleshless quarian face. But Milo’s shout of alarm comes when the swarm of tiny “child” drop-beetles, disturbed by the movement of their nest, blossom forth out of the chest hole in the armor, chittering and skittering, climbing down the hole in the floor and up the walls of the room, looking for ancient conduit holes to hide in.
A few mass effect shots near some of them knock a few from their wild climb, and using a specimen jar from the med pack, a live one is captured. Milo expresses a distinct dislike of the “drop beetles”, and their method of reproduction. Everyone pretty much agrees.
That’s when Illyria, in an attempt to see better down the hole, angles the floodlamp down into the darkness. Mostly moss drapes are all that is seen, followed almost immediately by a shrieking chorus of clicks, chirps, whistles and wingbeats, as the spider-squirrel bats of the cave are roused by the sudden bright light, and swarm up from the darkness below like a surging tide of flying spiders right up the hole and all over Illyria and company. Nero’s bellow, and Roger’s encouragement earlier in the day, are the only things that keep Illyria from either racing blind and breakneck around the room near an unfathomable hole or shooting wildly amidst the party. Instead, she drops to the floor and screams until the bat swarm is gone.
Important safety tip: creatures in this lightless cavern seem to consider sudden, bright, unexplained light to be disturbing. The party takes note.
While the bats are gone, the group catalogs the gear in the camp, investigates the area, and attempts to retrieve the omnitool data core from the dead-quarian’s suit. The group carts the majority of the gear from the dead camp to the balzemaster, leaving the winch, floodlamp, frame, and powerpack set up where they are. Nero is fairly certain he can crack and access the omnitool data, but the deceased quarian was very security conscious, and without additional information. the decryption will take some time. That said, he is able to access timestamp logs which corroborate the rough times provided by the Assassin VI as to when it’s previous crew, heartily poisoned, left the Albatross last. In addition, the suit had an emergency comm beacon program which triggered, broadcasting a distress alert until the suit power ran out. No log of that ever reached the Albatross.
Suspicious, Nero attempts to radio query the Blazemaster, and then the Albatross, both short distances away in the grand scheme of things. Broad scale interference jams the signal. Though a source is not obvious, it’s likely somewhere in the ruins, as they didn’t notice it near where the Albatross was landed.
Once the liberated exploration gear is transferred to Blazemaster, the group decides to examine the stairwell, hearing, as they descend, the return of the spider bats to their roost. The stairs descend, to what could once have been another storey, but the crushed and rock filled passage suggests it is no more, continuing their descent, they find the stairwell offset from itself, the walls and stairs not lining up quite right, as if a whole other floor is missing, rock and earth having seeped into the cracks and wedged the two stairs in place. Sidling over to the central pillar and hopping down onto the continuation of the stairs, the group continues.
They can just make out a wide doorway below them, but 3/4s of the way to it, there is a broad crack in the stairwell wall, smells of must and moisture pulse in and out, and occasional sleepy chitters and distant plinks of water can be heard. A flashlight shows a modestly wide ledge beyond the crack. Kassana dons her safety harness, and the rope is cinched to Nero who takes a seat and begins feeding out the line as Kassana explores.
Out on the ledge, she looks out into a vast empty space, what ceiling she can see is covered in more of the moss drapery, lichen, and fungi. The air is decidedly warmer and more moist – though still not uncomfortable to her. As she scans with her flashlight, she swears out of the corner of her eye there is pale bluish or reddish light, but never where she looks, eventually noticing that the fungi and lichen appear to be phosphorescent. Far below there appear to be shapes she can almost pick out in the darkness – large, unmoving, with rounded forms. And water. Not a drip or trickle, but the rush and burble of something larger.
The wall of the ledge stretches up and curves out to the greater ceiling amidst the grey, green, and bluish strands of plant growth, but a small natural alcove seems to be filled with piles of material, all coated in a brownish-purple muck, which does not share the bioluminescence of the other nearby fungi.
Calling back to the others about what he’s found, Kassana feels a dull “thwup” against her back…and then she is lifted bodily off her feet. Nero digs in and holds on, causing Kassana to become the mid-point in a tug of war, roughly 15’ off the ground. The rest of the group pile out on to the ledge and see a long purplish tendril extending up into the mossy overhangs attached to Kassana’s back, taut and pulling.
Applying a warp field to the tendril, Roger’s biotic attack elicits a clicking-grunting reply from behind the obscuring moss. Illyria aims the “noisy cricket” pistol at the tendril. There is a spray of white-blue and purple ichors as the shot severs the tendril, and it fwips up into the darkness with a sckreeling sort of response.
Kassana is snapped forward by the sudden release of tension, and does her best to roll with the fall, but still face plants significantly, leaving her staggered with bruises…
The group helps her up and retreats to the stairwell. Inside, they notice that the other end of the tendril is still stuck to her jacket. Some medicinal alcohol later it drops off, though an odd discoloration remains on the leather layer of the heavy clothes – and the med scanner suggests some kind of mild paralytic mixed with the adhesive. Kassana removes the jacket until they can clean it, and the group decides to hoof it back up to the Blazemaster, and head back to Cardinia Colony, seeing about getting Illyria’s shotgun repaired, and maybe picking up some more appropriate gear, now that they know they’ve discovered a fairly aggressive ecosystem. Possibly seeing if they can reach a Xenology specialist with the drop beetle samples.
A final decision isn’t made, though the group seems to be more in favor of exploring more before revealing what they’ve found. Soon they are back aboard the Albatross, and back to Cardinia Colony, picking up supplies, and looking into parts for Illyria’s shotgun. it won’t be cheap – though Ari is fairly sure she could do it for less if everyone offers up their guns so she can pick and choose parts to repair Illyria’s shotgun.
The group thinks about how to proceed…