“Where do you think it leads?” asked Garrick.
“Dunno,” replied the half-orc. “It goes down int’ th’ dark further than I c’n see.”
“Let’s see what’s in the altar room,” said Theren.
“What about the skeletons?” asked Skrie.
“Did anyone but me notice that they didn’t react until we attacked?” asked the mage.
“Er,” said Skrie, “no?”
“I suggest we check the altar room, then head out,” said Theren.
Oil lamps glowing on the north wall illuminated the three open sarcophagi. One skeleton remained, standing near the wall to their right, a bow in its hands.
Along the opposite wall stood a white marble dais with unlit oil braziers at each corner. A gleaming white sarcophagus and three statues occupied the platform. A cultist lay crumpled near the altar, a sword wound in his chest. He had been dead for several days.
A statue of a woman in a flowing gown, flanked by two armored figures, stood over the sarcophagus. On her head Skrie saw the outline of a tiara; on her wrists, the outline of metal bracers. Around her neck was a blue-silver outline of a torc. The woman on the sarcophagus was the same as the ghostly image the halfling saw at the old temple.
“This is the place,” said Skrie.
“Are ye sure?” asked Malusk.
“I’m sure,” replied the halfling. “That’s the elf from my vision.”
“We need to get the items and bring them here,” said Theren.
“Let’s go back,” said Malusk. “We can bring the relics after we’ve had food and rest.”
The group descended the spiral staircase. On the lower floor, they found a door and spiked it shut. They looked inside, heading down the stairs and opening the trap door under the stairway. An old wooden platform with dust-covered stairs descended into the darkness. This place had obviously not seen use in many years. The blackness went on seemingly forever, and only the faint drip-drip of water far off could be heard.
Theren placed a spell on a dagger to glow with a faint light, handing it to Garrick so he and Skrie could see. The tunnel below the stairs was low and narrow. It had been cut directly from the rock, with a gradual rise. This was not a natural cavern.
They came to another set of old stairs three hundred paces down the tunnel. This one is also covered with dust. A few stair treads were broken, and some floorboards were missing. They helped Skrie up the broken stairway. At the top of the stairs, they found another trap door. This door opened into the back of the westernmost mausoleum, behind the sarcophagus. Although the crypt had signs of visitors in the past, it looked like it had been several years since anyone had paid their respects.
Taking a look outside, the party realized it was almost midnight. The area around them and the ruins were clear of cultists and undead, so they headed back to their cave near the river.
The next day, the group sneaked back to the village. What they saw had them in shock. Most of the ruin had collapsed inward, leaving only the southeastern section standing. Stone rubble and wood roofing were all that was left.
Fewer cultists and more zombies shuffled around the village. The high priest, dressed in dusty black and red robes, directed the few cultists left. Not long after the party settled in to watch, they heard raised voices coming from the direction of the ruins.
“We have searched within a mile of the village and it is not here or they have found a way to hide it.”
“There are limits to the spell, Priestess, distance, time, or if it is buried under rock or metal.”
“I care not about your shortcomings!” screamed the shadowy figure. “I want those relics!”
Several zombies had been gathering firewood while this argument took place. A few moments later, the hooded priestess began chanting. Red and black fire burst from the circle while the Drow chanted. The priests and other cultists rose as zombies when the fire burned away. The newly undead gathered heavy tools and made their way to the far side of the ruins. Some of the undead and the Drow went into the northern section of the wreckage that had not collapsed.
After watching for another finger of the sun, the party headed into the mausoleum. Retracing their steps through the hidden door, down the stairs, and the tunnel, they returned to the secret stairwell that led up to the ruins. Opening the door a crack, Skrie peeked into the room beyond.
“Two zombies,” reported the halfling, “end of the hall.”
The half-orc stepped into the corridor and attacked the undead as they approached. Garrick, Skrie, and Theren attacked from a distance, finally killing the pair. As the last one fell, two skeletons appeared from the door on the right.
“I thought we spiked that door,” said Garrick racking another bolt on the rail of his crossbow.
Malusk charged in again and took the brunt of the melee, with the others using their crossbows and spells. Just as the last skeleton appeared defeated, a darkness that no light or darkvision, judging by Malusk’s reaction, could penetrate fell. The skeleton moved back into the darkness as the half-orc attacked it.
“You have thwarted my plans to acquire the rey’an,” boomed a voice from the darkness. “But other ancient devices in other ruins will suit my purpose. The Cult of the One was but a tool to a goal, though they have failed me here. Do not believe they have failed in other villages. What they seek does not lie beneath the ground, but above it. The more Believers that are convinced of their lies the more powerful their master becomes. He may be of use to me, later. More people come, but you will not survive to greet them.”
Skrie moved to the altar room door where the ghost’s sarcophagus was as the voice soliloquized.
“Everyone!” yelled the halfling on instinct, “into the altar room!”
Turning back to the rest of the group, Skrie saw a massive spider scurrying down the hall as they fled to the doorway.
“Malusk! The box!”
Malusk tossed his pack to the halfling. He stayed at the entrance, yelling at Garrick to get inside.
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Next: The Lady of Light
To read from the beginning: Exploring Everine
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