"Where's your boss?" Terzin asked the unhurt woman.
"I don't know where Mendel is. Didn't you see him, he just ran out through that door."
"Don't play us for fools! Wouldn't we have noticed if he'd left?"
"Look, we're unarmed, you already cut one of us...."
He felt a bit bad about that, actually. The others tossed the room rapidly. Terzin winced at the haphazard way they were going about it and began a search of his own. They did not find any way that Mendel could have escaped. There were clothes and a couple of beds, but nothing else of note. The two guards had a couple of copper bits on them and a pouch that might have been Mendel's with a dozen or so pennies in it. Jared took the shield one of the men had been wearing.
They looked out into the hall. Coming down the slope, still a good way away, were a half dozen zombies. They could hear something else coming the other way. The only way out looked like that stairway.
They went down a couple of flights and came out in a narrower corridor than the one above. The only light was Terzin's torch. They kept going straight, ignoring a branch to their right, and then one to the left. No sound of pursuit yet. The hall turned right. Then there was a door on the left, and the corridor still going ahead.
They tried the door. It was locked. They could hear the zombies now. Jared kicked in the door. More stairs, still going down.
"Want to keep going?" Robin asked dubiously.
"Sure, sooner or later we'll end up in hell," Harrick replied with grim cheer. "We don't know where we're going anyway."
They went down again. This door was sturdier, and they closed it behind them. Dubricus paused and did something to it with Vine Twist. "At least they won't know we came down here right away."
The five hurried down what seemed like a very long way before the stair ended. They were either at or below the level of the valley floor, they guessed. After another brief stretch of corridor, they came into a long, narrow room. The entire sense and feel of the place screamed, "crypt." The furnishings, on the other hand, said "bedroom."
Not that there was necessarily a difference, depending on what they were dealing with. There was a bed, wardrobe, writing desk, some rugs on the floor and icons on the walls, red and black candles in tall iron holders. Against one wall stood a lectern with a large book. The room was empty.
Terzin picked up a candelabrum and began smashing the icons with his eyes averted. Large, crude-looking, somewhat like masks hanging there, they seemed to made of baked clay. One, two. He readied to strike at the third and could not force his muscles to move. His eyes opened inadvertently. It was her. He dropped the bar, frozen.
Dubricus, having noted that the room had no exit, was guarding the door.
Harrick opened the armoire, carefully, standing well back from the doors. It was a women's wardrobe, with clothes the Contessa wouldn't mind wearing around court. Men's clothes as well, farther in back.
Robin went over to Terzin and shook him fiercely. Once his eyes left the icon he could move again, but he could feel his own treacherous muscles trying to force his gaze in that direction. Jared guarded his eyes and smashed the thing with his mace.
The entire room screamed.
That gave everyone pause, but the other two icons did not create such a reaction when Jared broke them.
Harrick looked under the bed. Nothing. Maybe behind the wardrobe. "Move the armoire," he directed Jared, who shrugged and heaved at the thing. Meanwhile, the orc gave in to temptation and went to look at the lectern.
"Are you going to burn that book up?" Terzin asked. He had gone to investigate the desk, trying to shake off the lingering horror of that three-eyed gaze.
"Don't look at it. Just burn it from a distance."
Robin kept a nervous eye out to see if either of them froze, but Harrick seemed okay.
The book was open, with a heavy bookmark on the open page. The pages were jet black. He closed it with an echoing thud. No title.
The desk contained a vast amount of paper. Notebooks, scrolls, scraps, with names and dates on themmembership rolls?and funding sources. A ton of information on the day to day operations of the cult. All within the Kingdoms, it seemed, except some Dwarven names. Once they realized what they were looking at, they stuffed a sack full of the papers, and Jared tied it to his pack.
Harrick tried to cut the book's cover with his dagger, but the blade would not penetrate the leather. A Flame Gout set the lectern on fire, but did not harm the book.
"There's no way out of this room," Dubricus reminded them. "If we're going to leave, we had best get going."
"We don't want them to know we took anything," Jared spoke up.
Dubricus nodded. "You're right." He lit the desk on fire.
Harrick tipped the burning lectern onto the bed, which caught rapidly.
They headed up the stairs again, Jared first. He opened the door and heard the unmistakable tread of zombies nearby. They turned down the way not yet taken. Lost far beneath the earth with who knew how many undead at hand and no hope of aid, they were all aware that they were doomed, and so high on adrenaline that it didn't seem to matter much. The only thing they could do was keep moving.
They went around a couple more turns and found themselves in a very large crypt. Twenty simple stone tables, five of them occupied by perfectly preserved men and women in red and black robed, were spaced around the room. The obvious thing to do was burn them.
"There doesn't seem to be any way out of this room," Dubricus noted. "Do we want to have a fire behind us, and...?"
"And zombies in front of us?" Robin finished. "Hm."
"Well then, take the head off these things or something, I don't want 'em getting up at my back," Harrick snapped.
Five bodies, five of them. Each adventurer poised him or herself to deliver a simultaneous stroke, just in case hitting one woke the others up. Two swords, a mace, and two Flame Gouts prepared themselves and struck. Bone was crushed and severed. Flames exploded around the bodies and almost instantly died.
Something intangible brushed past Robin and Harrick. It was very cold. A shadow fell across Terzin's torch. The light went out.
Terzin and Jared backed up against the wall, certain they were lost. Robin bolted toward the door, missed it in the dark, slammed into stone instead and broke her nose. Harrick prayed.
Something like a tissue paper of ice settled across Jared. He could feel himself weakening already. Terzin, beside him, felt another touch his leg and slide up his shuddering body. Another fell across Harrick.
Dubricus ripped off his cloak and Flame Gouted it. There was a brief burst of light. Robin could see the door, and the zombies approaching down the hall. There were shadows on the wall, roughly the size of Jared and Terzin. Harrick crouched in the room's center, also covered in darkness.
Voices whispered through the bones of the shadowed ones: You defile our bodies?
Another shadow fell over Dubricus' cloak, putting out the light again.
They had made a fatal mistake, and there was only one thing to do that would possibly help. Harrick being Harrick, he didn't hesitate for so much as an instant. No regrets. He offered Mathelwyn a deal.
The god accepted.
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