Our heroes, having finished rifling through the pockets of their slain foes and turning over every scrap of wood and rock in search of hidden treasures, now found themselves facing another closed door. In light of their experience with portals of the closed-door variety so far, a debate ensued as to how they should traverse it. Most wanted to proceed with caution but could not decide if they should just sneak in or don the cultists’ robes as before. Ribs, son of a butcher, on the other hand, was partial to, as he put it, “smash through”. It was at this point that Nimui remembered her trusty and lifelong companion Hawk. Hawk was, as you might have guessed, a trained hawk that Nimui carried with her. Hawk was presumably also mute, nearly weightless and perhaps somewhat translucent since he went unnoticed up to this point.
“I remember! I have a hawk!” Nimui blurted out her sudden recollection. The rest of the group regarded the bird perched on her shoulder and nodded in unison, confirming that she did indeed have a hawk. Hawk squeaked, grateful to exist.
“We can open the door just a bit and I can send in Hawk to scout the area. He’ll come back and report to me. I’ll understand since I’m an Elf and I have an affinity for animals,” said Nimui with renewed excitement. There was much nodding and agreeing from her comrades who all confirmed that all of this was perfectly true and reasonable. Thus it was decided, Hawk will fly in and scout the next room. With Leia standing ready to loose an arrow through the door in case a threat presents itself just beyond and Ribs, son of a butcher, ready to smash anything that might come through, Kastan gently pushed the door open. It creaked a little but opened willingly. When the door was sufficiently open, Nimui pulled the cord that kept Hawk tethered to her arm loose and, with her hand cupped around her mouth, whispered something in Elven in his ear. With an almost inaudible rustling of feathers and a gust of wind, Hawk launched himself through the door.
At this point a dice was rolled to determine whether Hawk successfully scouted the room.
With a single, majestic flap of his mighty wings and the adventurers looking on in awe, Hawk disappeared through the door and, with a shrill “Sqwah!”, smashed into a wall just a few feet into the next room.
The adventurers spent some minutes waiting to see if the noise had stirred up anything in the next room. After a few minutes without any response, they concluded that the room was empty and proceeded through the door to collect their slightly concussed bird. Beyond the door they found the room to be, much like the unconscious Hawk, in disarray. The roof had at some point partially caved in, perhaps due to a collapsed pillar which lay in pieces across the length of the room. The cave-in left very little usable room in the chamber. What space remained was rendered useless by moisture that seeped in through the exposed earth in the ceiling. A musky, nauseating odor pervaded the room and seemed to stick to one’s clothing and skin.
Nimui, ever the enthusiastic botanist, managed to find quite a few mushrooms flourishing in the rubble. Apart from the mushrooms there seemed to be nothing of interest in the room. While Nimui dug through the rubble for mushrooms, Kastan found a door that only barely escaped being sealed by the rubble. Putting his ear to the door he could hear a faint hum from the other side. Kastan felt around in the gloom for a keyhole and, upon finding it, looked through. Beyond the door he saw almost complete blackness except for what seemed to be a small spot of candlelight. Straining his eye to make out any interesting shapes, he saw a figure kneeling in the light but could not tell if it was a person or part of some statue.
While Kastan was spying into the next room, Ribs, son of a butcher, decided that he was hungry and, having depleted his supply of rations, poked around the rubble for anything remotely edible. Ribs saw the large, juicy mushrooms that Nimui collected and concluded that they must be good to eat, otherwise the botanist would not have collected them. He found an undisturbed patch growing behind a rock, their bright red and yellow coloration making them seem most appetizing. Ribs picked one and took a small bite. It tasted earthy but quite pleasant and he promptly ate the whole thing. A few seconds went by with no ill effects and Ribs concluded that these mushrooms must be made for eating and devoured the whole patch.
When Kastan looked back from the keyhole he saw Ribs lying prostrate on his back with Nimui and Leia trying to revive him. For some minutes Nimui and Leia called on every bit of healing magic known to them to try and keep the large man alive. After an eternity it became apparent that Ribs was, at last, stabilized. Then the next problem presented itself – how to move the son of a butcher. At long last it was decided that the remaining party members would leave Ribs, son of a butcher, with a spare potion of healing and an extra ration to recover on his own time and, depending on the circumstance, make his way back to the town or rejoin the group.
With Ribs taken care of the rest of the party prepared to venture into the next room. The minimal light coming from the next chamber made it impossible to see much more than Kastan had already seen and, besides the hum, no other sound could be heard. The party decided that they would risk venturing forth.
Kastan went first, pushing the door open as silently as he could and creeping forward as stealthily as possible. When he crept deeper into the chamber his eyes began to adjust to the new light and he saw that the kneeling figure was not part of a statue after all. The figure was an ancient, robed man and the hum that Kastan heard from the other room emanated from his throat. The ancient man knelt in front of some alien sculpture that Kastan could not, at this point, identify. Behind the ancient man stood another robed figure. Kastan signaled to the others and crept forward. The figures were so engrossed in their task that sneaking past them would be easy. After moving a few more feet Kastan paused to take in more of the chamber. His eyes had by now completely adjusted and he could see that the chamber was immense. He found that he was at the far side of the chamber and on the opposite side he could see the large, locked wooden doors the party had encountered in the first room.
Signalling the others to follow and try to surround the worshiping pair, Kastan started to move toward the first of six stone sarcophagi behind the robed men. As he took his first step a pebble crunched beneath his boot. The sound was minute and yet it echoed around the chamber. The humming stopped and the two men spun around in a whirl of robes. Seeing that there was about to be trouble, Nimui and Leia rushed in after Kastan. The younger of the two men started forming the question: “Who goes there?”, but stopped midway when he saw the intruders. “Intruders!”, he cried as he drew a dagger from his belt. From his other hand, a sphere of energy rose and danced between his fingers. The older man who had knelt before the mysterious carving raised his hands above his head and shouted some obscene, guttural phrase. A flash of green emanated from him and an instant later the lid of the sarcophagus nearest to them was cracked in half. The two halves of the lid thudded thunderously on the floor forcing Leia and Kastan, who stood nearest to it, to jump aside. A corpse, dusty and creaking, rose from it and hissed as clouds of dust escaped from its ancient lungs. Ghostly green eyes glowed in its empty sockets and they locked coldly onto Leia who found herself nearest to the ghoul.
Kastan lunged toward the oldest cultist, shouting, “I’m going to kill you, old man!”. At the same time, with lightning reflexes, Leia loosed an arrow that lodged itself, with a sickening, dry thud, in the chest of the animated corpse. The zombie seemed not to notice that it had been wounded, its hollow, glowing eyes still locked firmly on Leia. The impact of the arrow slowed the thing down enough for Leia to find her balance. Meanwhile, Kastan had reached the old man and swung his ax only to have the cultist dodge the blow with surprising ease. Kastan had no time to marvel at the ancient’s uncanny dexterity as a bolt of energy lept from the cultist’s fingers and glanced off Kastan’s armour. An instant later the cavernous chamber was, for a fraction of a second, lit as if by daylight as a ball of fire exploded against a far wall. This was followed by a grunt of pain as Nimui, who had dodged the projectile, struck a body blow to the younger mage who conjured it. At the same time Leia, who had retreated some way from the animated corpse, loosed another arrow at the ever advancing thing. The arrow struck it in one of its spectral eyes and, with that, whatever energies had animated it left its form and took with it whatever natural energies that bonded its atoms together so that it disintegrated as it fell.
The younger cultist, hindered by what was surely multiple broken ribs, took from his belt a ceremonial looking dagger and swung it desperately at Nimui. The she-elf dodged nimbly and, in the same spinning motion, struck a devastating blow to the back of the cultist’s head that laid him out, unmoving, on the ground. The ancient, seeing that he was now alone, sent forth once more the animating energies and another corpse rose terribly from the nearest sarcophagus. However, the action was as desperate as it was pointless as Leya, ignoring the thing, loosed an arrow that struck the cultist in the chest. The expression of horrified surprise had not yet fully formed on his face when Kastan sunk his ax into the cultist’s neck with a downward blow that nearly split him in two. The ancient was dead before his body struck the ground in a mess of blood and viscera. The half-animated corpse disintegrated before it had even fully risen and the chamber was suddenly still again.
For several seconds no one spoke a word. Silent and pale-faced the mercenaries took in the scene. Leya was the first to find her voice, “Where are the villagers?”, she enquired, more to herself than to anyone in particular. “There is not a living soul left here,” she continued when no answer was offered. The three stood looking around for any sign of where the lost villagers might be imprisoned but saw only the door by which they entered and the large double doors that led back to the sacrificial chamber where they had their first encounter with the cultists.
“There must be some clue here,” offered Nimui, “Search the leader, perhaps he kept notes on the kidnappings.”
Rifling through the dead cultist’s blood-drenched robes, Kastan found a folded letter and an ancient looking scroll. The contents of the scroll were written in a language that none in the party recognized and it was stored away for future attention. The letter, written in black ink and an unfamiliar dialect, was at least decipherable and read as follows:
“Soth, may this letter find you engrossed in your most vital labors in service of our lord. I write you now to ask that you redouble your efforts in obtaining such persons as you can for the energies required for the transformation of our forms and the appetites of our great priest, as it grow by the day. I must also inform you that we have moved our base to another cavern for the form of him who prepares us for transcendence has grown beyond the capacity of that pool in which he lived before. I have drawn you a map on the back of this letter so your acolytes may find us with fresh captives. Be sure to destroy this letter as soon as you have memorized the new location. Be firm in your labors, Soth, and take heart as the time of transcendence is upon us and it will soon be your turn to receive the gift from the great priest and finally shed this form as a serpent sheds old skin.”
“What does it mean?” asked Leia when Kastan finished reading.
“It means,” replied Kastan, “That we’ll have to kill some more of these bastards before we can get paid.”
Next: Probably some more Crypt