by Just Jae
The party enters the ruin in search of answers
Into the Ruin
Approaching the door carefully, Skrie peered inside the dark entry room. The cleric slipped into a corner, letting her eyes adjust to the dim glow from the doorway. She knew the human cultists were just as night-blind as she, so she figured shadows were safe spots. Hiding in a darkened corner of the entry, Skrie peeked into the next room. Several shrines dotted the room, and some had candles providing dim light.
A cultist stood four paces away, next to another doorway with more light spilling through. Looking back toward her friends, she saw Malusk standing at the outer door, directing Theren and Garrick to watch east and west for guards. Lifting her finger to her lips, she pointed into the temple, then held up one finger.
Movement from the far side of the room snapped her attention back to the cultists. A robed figure entered and approached the cultist. Talking in low voices, Skrie strained to hear their conversation but missed almost everything.
"... longer ... thought," was all she heard. "... report ... tower."
Not able to hear anymore, the halfling moved toward the exit to warn the others. From the corner of her eye, she saw the robed cultist return from whence he came, and the messenger turned to leave.
"We need to hide," she said, pushing at the big half-orc's knee when she reached the opening. "One of them is coming this way."
The group darted to the side of one of the mausoleums, reaching cover just as the cultist exited the building. They watched him leave and head toward the village, then waited a few dozen heartbeats to make sure he didn't return immediately.
Sneaking back into the dim room, the group stayed close to the doorway as Skrie and Malusk explored the second room. Skrie remained in the shadows and moved closer to the opening on the right. Little light seeped through the door, but the halfling saw the soft glow of an oil lamp burning deeper inside. She saw a stone bench with a skeleton standing nearby in the dim light and the hint of a robe on a dark figure near a bone pile on the floor by the wall. She backed away from the door, not wanting to disturb whoever was inside.
Skrie turned to see Malusk look into the two rooms to the north. She followed him. Poking her head in the first room, she saw three rows of five white stone tablets embedded in the brown rock tiles of the floor and a large sarcophagus along the back wall. The acolyte she saw entering this room just a few moments ago was nowhere to be seen. The fellow in the other room was wearing different robes than him.
Where could he have gone? the cleric ruminated.
Malusk moved toward the room on the left, having cocked his head as though he heard something. As he peered into the room, Skrie saw a glob of green ooze hit the half-orc's shield. Through her friend's legs, the halfling saw a giant spider looming inside the doorway. The green ooze quickly turned to a sticky, stringy webbing. Raising his shield in the nick of time, the ooze stuck to the metal, nearly ripping the shield from his arm.
The cleric watched as her friend wrenched the shield from the webbing, the spider rushing to meet him. The giant arachnid latched onto Malusk's shoulder, dealing a vicious bite. Responding with sword and shield, Malusk battled the monstrosity inside the dark doorway. Spewing another glob of webbing at Malusk, the spider covered him completely in a green, sticky ooze that expanded to fill the entrance, gluing him to the wall and floor.
Theren and Skrie watched the fight between Malusk and the spider, unable to see the spider from where they stood because the half-orc blocked the entire doorway. As the pair considered how to help their friend, a noise from the eastern entrance drew their attention. A skeleton armed with a short sword marched into the room. Seeing Theren, it attacked, narrowly missing the mage. Entering the chamber at the sounds, Garrick fired his crossbow at the undead creature. The bolt passed through its open rib cage, doing no damage. Skrie cast a spell at the creature, but it fired harmlessly into the wall behind the walking bones. Theren threw a bolt of magical fire at the skeleton, and it burst into flame, crumbling to bones.
Malusk struggled to get free of the webs. Spotting a section of web stuck to the floor surrounding Malusk's leg and foot, Skrie targeted it, sending a spark of radiant flame at the sticky substance. The webbing caught fire, releasing Malusk's leg. With a mighty push and a little boost from Skrie's spell, the half-orc drew on his strength, ripped the webbing away, and smashed the spider in its maw. The creature reeled back, then lunged forward, giving Malusk another savage bite.
Skrie, seeing that her friend was severely injured, approached from behind. She got close enough to touch him on the calf as she prayed to her goddess, restoring some of the health the spider had stolen from him. Renewed, Malusk attacked the creature, then leaped backward out of the doorway, nearly knocking Skrie down.
Garrick yelled at Skrie, pointing to the eastern door where another skeleton appeared. Firing magic and crossbows, Theren joined Skrie and Garrick to destroy the creature. As the fight ended, Skrie saw a man in cultist robes hiding on the other side of the doorway. She signaled Garrick to approach the door on one side and closed in from the other.
Hearing a noise behind her, Skrie glanced back to see the spider entering the room, intent on killing Malusk, paying no attention to anyone else in the chamber. Attacking and biting at Malusk again, the poison seeped into his body, undoing the healing Skrie had previously given him. Theren cast a bolt of fire at the creature, finally dropping it to the ground, where it burst with green ooze and poison. The carcass caught fire, sending a hideous stench into the room.
Gagging, Skrie touched Malusk once more, healing his wounds. They moved away from the odor, toward the eastern room, taking a moment to discuss their options.
"Now what?" asked Theren.
"Garrick and I saw someone in this chamber," said the halfling, pointing into the room the man still watched.
"I haven't seen any movement since you pointed him out," Garrick responded.
"I'll take a peek," said the halfling, slipping through the doorway and into the shadows. Finding no stray cultists and no way out, Skrie returned to the group. "He got away somehow. We need to be quick. He's probably bringing help."
"Let's check the other room, then," said Theren.
The chamber had several white stone tiles embedded in the floor, with a large sarcophagus bearing the image of a warrior in armor armed with a shield carved onto the stone lid. A large plaque with a gold spiral on white adorned the back wall. Three large topaz stones were embedded in the spirals.
"I saw one of the cultists go into this room," said Skrie. "He came back in here after the other one went to warn whoever's in the tower. And it wasn't the same guy as the one that was in the other room, either."
"I wonder," said Theren, tapping a finger to his chin. He began looking around the sarcophagus and the white tiles. "Ah," he said after a few moments of looking at the floor. "Look here," he pointed to several of the white tiles. "Here, here, and ... here," a gem on the spiral lit as he touched each tile. As the last topaz glowed amber, the sarcophagus slid silently toward the back wall.
"How did you ...?" asked Garrick.
"Each of these tiles," the mage, "is dedicated to an ancient hero." He pointed to the white stones embedded in the floor. "This one," he said, pointing to the first tile in the first row, "is dedicated to Ohgomarah, an elven priest and sage of great renown. Thousands of years ago, he protected his people from the undead, destroying all he encountered."
"This one says 'Jerol Almstead'," said Skrie. "I wonder who he was. Jerol is a common enough name for the Hin, but I never heard of a 'Jerol Almstead'."
"Gurat," said Malusk, looking at the third plaque, "were a hero among my people. 'E helped fight off th' orc tribes and bandits that threatened us at th' end o' th' Great War. Th' stories say 'e was mayor of some city in 'is later years."
"Check this out," said Garrick, looking down into the hole exposed beneath the sarcophagus.
Next: "Down the Rabbit Hole"