Down the Rabbit Hole

The amount of decay of the body under the collapsed stairway indicated that the stairs had buckled within the last tenday. A ladder led down into the lower chamber. Skrie waited at the bottom while the rest of the party descended into the catacombs. Exploring the room, Theren saw a lever against one wall. Pushing and pulling on the arm, he noted that this was the mechanism to open the passage into the lower level.

“I’m gonna make sure they don’ sneak up on us,” said Malusk. Grabbing a large post from the fallen stair, he jammed it in place to prevent the cultists from opening the passage from the ground level. Then he yanked the ladder down, well out of reach of any pole hooks.

Skrie examined what was left of the stairs.

“These were trapped,” she said.

Garrick joined her and looked at the rubble.

“You’re right,” he said. “I can see where the wood was sawed through here,” he pointed to a pair of breaks too clean to have been accidental, “and here.”

“Let’s find a place to rest,” said Theren, peering into the room at the far end of the passage. “I think we could all use one.”

“Good idea,” said Skrie, following the mage.

The room had one entrance and appeared to be a storeroom of some type. At the chamber’s far end were a small barrel of anointing oil, a barrel of Holy Water, and several barrels of lamp oil. One of the cupboards held priests’ robes and vestments and a ceremonial, silver-coated dagger in a sheath with a spiral pattern embossed in silver on one side tucked between the fabric.

Skrie found a corner near the door to settle. At the same time, Garrick continued investigating the room’s contents. The rest of the group sat to meditate or grab a quick bite of rations. The party had barely rested a candlemark when they heard a loud boom from the direction of the collapsed stairs.

“Think they found us,” said Skrie, rising from the floor.

“Almost, not quite,” replied Malusk, gathering his gear and making his way to the door. “They ain’t bustin’ this door down yet,” he opened the portal enough to see the other end. “Let’s go ‘afore they figure out what t’ do,” said the half-orc, exiting the room.

Turning left down the south hallway, the group checked the doors on both sides of the passage. A set of double doors to the right were wedged shut from the other side, allowing no entry. Further down the hallway stood a zombie. The creature did not move as they crept down the corridor.

The next door on the right was ajar. Skrie peeked inside and saw the dim light of an oil lamp nearby and more light at the back of the hall. On each side, separate alcoves with metal gates enclosed individual sarcophagi, each with a warrior’s visage carved on the lid. As the group entered the chamber, a zombie rushed them as a cultist jumped from the shadows, attacking the party.

Malusk reacted with a swing of his sword, impaling the onrushing undead, then bashing at the cultist with his shield. That was when the creature at the end of the corridor joined the fray. Theren and Skrie managed to blast the zombies and keep everyone healed, but it cost most of their remaining magic reserves. When the creatures were all down, Malusk and Garrick moved the bodies to the rear of the chamber, soaked them in oil, and threw a lamp into the pile, closing the door behind them as they left. Returning to the storage chamber, they treated their wounds and rested longer.

They continued to hear the sounds of the cultists above, trying to get in.

“I think they’re usin’ a batterin’ ram,” said Malusk when the tone of the pounding changed. “I think they aim t’ break the coffin.”

“We need a plan, then,” said Skrie, looking around the storeroom. Her eyes locked on a barrel of lamp oil, and she grinned. “I got it,” she looked around at her companions. “We soak the busted stairway with oil, then set a lamp to fall over when something disturbs the pile.”

Theren looked shocked, but Malusk and Garrick approved of the plan.

“You mean to …” the mage said, swallowing hard.

“Yes,” said the cleric looking up a the elf. “Do you think these cultists would treat us any different than they did the villagers.”

“They shot Mayze in the back,” said Garrick, his voice flat.

“Very well,” Theren capitulated, seeing the haunted look in the man’s eyes.

Malusk rearranged the rubble where the stairs had fallen so that there was no avoiding the pile when dropping into the tunnel. He saturated the dry timber in oil. Skrie set a low-burning lamp on an unstable board and balanced it so that anyone stepping onto the pile would tip it into the oil-soaked wood, causing it to ignite.

Continuing their exploration of the southern corridor, Skrie sneaked a look into the western door. Malusk looked over the halfling’s shoulder into a well-lit room that contained three sarcophagi. A skeleton stood at the end of each stone coffin. One skeleton was massive, holding a long sword and shield. The second was smaller, also armed with a long sword and shield. The third stood next to a short sword and shield but held a bow in its hands.

“We can’t take all three of ‘em,” said Malusk.

“Not without more spells,” said Theren, the strain of the day’s casting showing around his eyes.

“Let’s try to draw them out one at a time,” said Garrick.

Keeping low, Skrie opened the door enough for Malusk to stand in the doorway, trying to draw the nearest undead. Nothing happened. Garrick fired a bolt, hitting the skeleton. It walked toward the source of the attack and entered the hallway. As the halfling moved to pull the door closed, the skeleton turned toward her, swinging its longsword.

Skrie heard the half-orc mumble something about plans never working like they were supposed to before pain drove all thought from her mind. She saw Malusk attack the undead creature as she hit the ground. Somehow, the party managed to defeat the skeleton, though they were all wounded.

“Something was different about this one,” said Skrie, breathing heavily.

“It’s almost like it were thinkin’ on its own,” said Malusk, “not like th’ rest o’ th’ brainless undead.”

“You know,” said Theren, rubbing his chin, “you might be right.”

“It were like it was smarter,” said Malusk. “An’ them weapons was way more sturdy than th’ rest, an’ so were ‘e.”

“Let’s see if we can find another way,” said Garrick, turning toward the door at the south end of the passage.

Oil lamps lit a short hallway. A dead cultist lay in a heap at the back of the room, though the man held no signs that he’d been injured. As Skrie approached the body, she sniffed the air around the corpse.

“Almonds,” she said, inhaling again, “and sulfur? There’s a poison that leaves and almond smell, but I can’t remember the name off the top of my head. And I’ve never heard about it mixed with sulfur.”

“Sulfur is flammable,” said Theren. “I know it burns at low heat and makes a blue flame.”

“Skrie,” said Garrick, searching the cultists’ clothing, “here, you keep these.” He handed her a set of lockpicks. “I have better ones, and I’ve seen you eyeing them. So, these are yours.”

The halfling looked from the tools to Garrick’s face and back again.

“I …” she began, “if you’re sure.”

“I’m sure.”

“My thanks,” she said with a grin.

Searching where they found the body, they noticed a small hole in the wall surrounded by a yellow residue.

“Sulfur,” said Theren.

“They be another stair way down,” said Malusk, peering into the hole.

Previous: Into the Ruin

Next: Escape and Back Again

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