|| Asymmetry | Role-Playing | Earthdawn-ish | Chapter 1 ||
The streak of bad luck Robin had been enjoying all week seemed determined to continue. The vines found her first. Catching movement out of the corner of her eye, she saw some kind of tentacle, with three more following, threw herself out of the way and rolled back to her feet, spear in hand.
Harrick threw a barrage of thorns at one of the things, but his aim was off and they rattled harmlessly into the underbrush. Robin stabbed at a tentacle with her toad spear, ripping a long, deep gash into it. The tentacle oozed green ichor and went limp. Jared stabbed at another, drove in his spear point and yanked hard; something snapped. The tentacle flopped for a few moments, then grew still.
The other two vines lashed out at those who had just hurt it. Robin tried to duck out of the way, but it grappled tight around her legs and pulled, working its way up and beginning to squeeze. Jared's wrapped itself around his shoulders and moved toward his head. Terzin hacked at the one that had his cousin trapped, sending ichor spraying from the wound. Jared freed himself without much trouble, but the vine wrapped itself back around him almost immediately. The tendril wrapped around the helpless Robin's throat as Terzin renewed his attack, severing the tentacle. Harrick tried again with the thorns; the vine writhed in response and whisked back into the mass of plants against the cemetery wall.
Looking at it more closely, a thick vine appeared to run down into the townsome kind of runner, which meant there were likely more of the things down there. They brushed themselves off and moved into the center of the cemetery, where they found that the statue was to Gabriel, as Keeper of the Dead. Someone had knocked off the head, and there were scratches in the pedestal where the name had once been.
Robin wanted to look at the bones revealed near the base of the strange plant. It might have been one of the people who left the tracks. Terzin was always interested in a chance to loot, so he went along with her. Of course, as soon as they got near enough, the remaining tentacle attacked again, but they were expecting it this time and made short work of the thing, since it had already been wounded. Other vines on the far side of the wall stretched out menacingly, but could not reach them. This seemed to be the central stalk. Harrick's knowledge of elemental lore suggested that in order for such a thing to exist, somewhere nearby was some concentrated source of elemental magic. Given that they were looking for the lair of an elementalist/nethermancer, that seemed to fit.
There were several sets of bones, one of them human, with no flesh remaining. The skeleton yielded ten silver pennies, the head of a hatchet, andamazing finda steel longsword that could use a sharpening, but was undoubtedly the best weapon any of them had even thought about owning. Jared was strongest, so he took charge of it. Robin was more comfortable with her toad spear. Terzin collected the coins for later distribution. Then they returned to look at the tombs that showed signs of human presence. The second, busier one certainly looked like a good bet. A white marble mausoleum, a wrought iron gate barred the entrance, but had obviously been opened recently. The name on the crypt was "Istaris," which meant nothing to any of them.
They took stock of their torches and lantern, checked their weapons, tried to calm their racing hearts, and opened the door. The sarcophagus occupied most of the floor; the tracks led up to it. Engraving on the side said, "To my dear wife Lindara, who died of the Black Plague." The whole place was relatively dust-free.
"We could open the sarcophagus," Harrick suggested, in a tone that seemed to say that he didn't really like the idea. Robin tapped walls in case there was a secret passage. Nope. She looked at Jared.
"Want to open it?" She and Jared took an end apiece. Terzin nocked an arrow, ready in case a zombie jumped out or something, and Harrick kept a spell ready.
"Is this on three, or after three?"
"On the three. One, two, three!" They shoved on the lid. Nothing happened. They realized that it was on hinges.
"There's no good reason to put hinges on a sarcophagus lid," Robin muttered, thinking mainly of things that could push up and out. They rearranged themselves, and heaved.
A hideous, ear-piercing shriek split the air, with a massive flood of fetid air. Jared and Robin were both struck with overwhelming terror, the former hurled out of the crypt by the blast of wind. He scrambled to his feet and kept going, as Robin tried to burrow into the corner.
The others saw the outline of a spectral form, first a hand that had thrown Jared and then a human shape. Harrick knew immediately that this was elemental magic, and not the undead. If it was a bound elemental, there might be a command that would release it... he dove to check the name on the crypt again. Terzin loosed an arrow, to no effect; the thing laughed horribly, caught the arrow and threw it back at him, shattering against the wall.
"Lindara!" Harrick yelled. It was gone. Jared stopped running after a few paces, and returned. Seeing the thing vanish, its effect went with it, and Robin stopped shivering against the wall.
There was a stair inside the sarcophagus, about five feet wide and leading down. They all congratulated Harrick on his quick thinking, then nerved themselves and began the descent. Noted the tracks on the steps.
Robin went first with a torch in her free hand, tapping every step with her spear to make sure it did not move or hold any traps. Harrick came next, then Terzin, then Jared to guard the back. After descending steeply for about fifty feet, they stepped into a small chamber, about three paces by five, entirely covered with very disturbing mosaic. It was free of dust, and it did not have any obvious way out. The mosaics depicted tentacled things in a variety of unpleasantly bloody acts. Everything seemed to lead the eye toward one side of the domed ceiling, a white star with eight points, surrounded by runes. Given that this was supposed to be a nethermancer's den, they were not particularly surprised by all of this, but it was plenty creepy.
While the others checked for things that might be a trap, Harrick looked for more stars. The ones in the ceiling seemed to be the autumn constellations, although the brightness of that one was inaccurate. In the wall opposite the stair, the mosaic pieces seemed to indicate a door. A robed figure with tentacles showing under the robe was depicted there, with a three-fingered hand raised. Terzin poked the hand with his walking stick, and something clicked. A door swung open, and the torchlight flickered slightly as the air moved. They lit the lantern, and continued on.
The new room was large and vaguely octagonal, a square with the corners cut off. They'd come in through one of the corners. In the center stood a statue, set into what looked like a compass rose, and in each of the eight directions a corridor left the room. Seven ways to go. The statue showed a stern-looking man in pre-Winter garb, seven feet high, with one arm extended in a pointing gesture toward the eastern corridor, the other clutching a pair of rods to his chest. The statue moved, Harrick found when he tried to shift it, and enlisted Jared in turning it slowly on its base.
"Well, which way should we go?" Robin wondered.
"Keep going north?" Harrick suggested. The statue had been pointing east, but now they had moved it. They went down the east corridor.
After three paces a wall slammed down in front of Robin. They heard a grating noise; the statue was pointing in their direction. A crackle of elemental energy"Duck!" yelled Harrickand a bolt of flame shot down the corridor, singing Jared rather badly. They were all flat on their bellies by this point.
The crackle came again; they scuttled back out of the corridor, but not before it fired a second bolt, hitting Robin. Once they had all left the hall, it remained quiet.
"Trial and error is not the way to do this," Robin suggested, patting out the sparks in her hair. Terzin took a few cautious steps down the western corridor, only to see the wall slam down, hear the grating and the crackle; he sprinted back.
Then Harrick had a brilliant idea. There were holes in the compass rose, between the direction points. The rods, as he had expected, could be removed from the statue's grip and placed in the holes to hold the statue in place. They pointed it back toward the exit and placed the rods in the holes. Once they were in place the doors that blocked the corridors slid back up. They headed east.
"Now, let's see what we were being prevented from seeing!" Terzin enthused.
"Probably the last person, who died," Harrick grumped.
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Copyright © 2000 Brian Rogers et al