"Terzin, do you feel up to a scouting expedition in there?" Dubricus asked.
"No!" Robin objected, appalled by the idea of him going into a totally unknown quantity, alone, with only one exit. Terzin, however, was unfazed and in fact eager.
"Are you sure this is a good idea?" his cousin asked plaintively. He certainly seemed think so.
"Would you like an Earth Blend? It won't do a lot of good, but it can't hurt," the Elementalist offered. It would only help when he wasn't moving, but that was something.
Harrick cast his spell, and Terzin moved silently toward the entrance. It appeared to be of recent construction, a short, downward-sloping passage. He descended perhaps fifteen feet and found himself at the entrance to a room, roughly twenty by thirty feet with a distinct downward slant, support columns scattered thickly throughout. Barrels and boxes were stacked everywhere. He did not move forward to examine them, however, because the room was also occupied by twenty-four dead people. Standing up, holding weapons. These were much more rotted than the ones they had met north of Crapaud. Two passages led out of the room on the far side, still going down.
They did not appear to see him. He eased backward very, very slowly. The spell wore off as he returned to the others; they all moved back farther into the forest, and he told them what he had seen.
"Oooh, boy," Robin breathed.
"What'd they look like?" Harrick asked.
"They looked kind of like the zombies we fought before, but more rotted."
"You've fought zombies before?"
"We'll tell you the story later, Dubricus," Robin said impatiently.
"Were they moving?" the orc inquired.
"No, they were on guard," Terzin continued.
"Were they moving at all?"
"Not that I saw." He wasn't willing to bet that they were just a bunch of propped up rotting bodies, especially since some of them hadn't been leaning on anything.
Robin wasn't happy. "Fireball in there might be the best thing to do."
"Yeah, that might irritate them," Harrick muttered dismissively.
"We can't be sure they're zombies, definitely some form of undead," Terzin concluded.
Dubricus sighed. "This is getting more complicated all the time."
"Oh, yeah," Robin agreed.
"Do you think that these could be naturally occurring?"
"There was a big chamber, there were passages past that, obviously the start of a dungeon complex," Terzin told them.
"If it were a smaller number, I'd say perhaps they are a small adventuring party that simply haven't moved on," Dubricus speculated. "But, twenty-four of them, that's a small army."
"We don't know that there's a complex, there might just be a couple of rooms," Harrick replied to Terzin.
"That's a complex."
"How far underground was that?" the orc asked.
"About ten feet."
"What?" Robin asked.
"I might be able to work with that...."
"You have that look in your eye, Harrick," she observed.
"If it's only ten feet down, I can turn all the earth within a fifteen-yard radius around me into loose sand."
"Trap them in it?"
"Basically collapse the entire thing."
"They'd probably dig their way out."
"Well, yeah, but it's a lot easier to kill a zombie when it's buried in fifteen feet of sand, and you can whack them in the head while they're coming up like worms. Admittedly, we'd eventually have to dig all their stuff back out, but that's just work."
"It's a thought. Twenty-four of them. I'd rather have more us." If they dug out faster than expected, that would be a real problem.
It should work, in theory. If they had any Elementalists working for them, it would run into trouble, but that didn't seem likely, or they would have been able to hide their tunnel more effectively.
"I think we need more information," Terzin said, to general agreement. It did sound like a decent plan, but it became clear as they talked that none of them was quite willing to trust in it.
Harrick voiced one reason. "If there are twenty-four of those things down there that are actually moving, it leads to a good possibility that there's a nethermancer down there."
"You're certain that nethermantic magic is real?" Dubricus seemed doubtful.
"We'll take you to visit our hometown sometime," Robin told him.
"You've encountered them, and you're my companions so I must trust your word, but my whole life I have never heard anyone say that they were anything more than myths, fairy tales."
"You want to go in there, tell the zombies that they're myths, fine with me," Robin said.
"There's another possibility. There's a school of wizardry, one of the Words, the true Words, the commands that rule the universe..."
Harrick nodded. "One hundred forty-four of them. Kind of interesting that there's the same number of runes."
"Don't think I haven't given that thought," his fellow mage replied. "One of the Words, if I understand the things I have heard properly, is a Word of animation."
"Hm. You could use it like that...."
"You provide motive force to something. And the easiest way to use it, one would think, would be to provide motive force to something that is already constructed to move."
"Hm. Okay. I can see that...."
"Are you certain that that isn't what you encountered before?"
"No, the one we encountered was an Elementalist who turned to nethermancy. I'm pretty certain he was a follower of the nethermantic gods." Between the stuff in the crypt and Gabriel's interest, that seemed fairly certain. "Although you are correct, the ones that we fought were not showing particular signs of decay, so that might be what's occurring here; it could be a wizard with a Word of animation."
"I'd just rather stick with things that my training has shown me for certain are true," Dubricus shrugged.
"At some point if it's still standing we're going to have to go back to that town, so you're welcome to join us if you really want to go play tag with the true undead." Some day.
He drew himself up. "I would be honored."
"Do we want to take the chance, that these are...?" Robin wondered.
Harrick shook his head. "I don't know enough about wizardry to know what else the guy could do."
"It all depends on the Words he knows," Dubricus nodded.
"Too many possibilities.," Harrick agreed. "Which is another reason it would be better to have troops. We could try to borrow some...."
"I'm sure Sabine and Jedael and probably a few other people would be willing to truck out," Robin suggested. "The bandits are obviously a huge problem for them."
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