Wednesday, February 16, 2022

The Henchmen Part II

The Henchmen Part II

by Graphite Prime

A pretty little face, swinging back and forth. No, light. Making him dizzy. He could hardly keep his eyes open. Never felt grogginess like this before...

The light was a necklace, the one he earlier found. Talin knelt, hanging the charm before Chade's face, "Her name is Yly," spoke the elf. "A caged sprite, very rare, very useful. She's anchored to this charm, but can leave for brief periods. You merely have to say her name."

"Her name," the sapper barely muttered.

"Yes, Yly," replied Talin. "She's grateful you found her."

"Eelee," Chade's lips hardly moved as if half in a dream.

The charm grew bright and out popped a tiny, four inch tall, glowing faerie, fair-haired, very cute, little wings all a flutter. She buzzed around excitedly before flying and whispering something into Chade's ear, then zipped quickly back into the charm. His eyes widened. That woke him up!

"What!?" he sat up, hands frantically reaching as if for a weapon. His head turned both ways before he froze, eyes locked on the torchlit carnage around him. 

The orcs were all dead, lying in a great pool of blood, flowing from slit throats. Pettr, sat across from him sipping water, his head cleanly bandaged. He looked groggy. Ohn, stood to his right, adjusting his gear, not seeming to be bothered too much by his leg wound, also nicely bandaged. The fight seemed like it happened days ago. In reality, it had been roughly thirty minutes.

Talin stood and motioned for Chade to do the same. "Drink some water, it helps. We can't linger here," he said, slipping the necklace over the sapper's head. He then stood watch as the three gathered their equipment.

Before long, Chade made as if to search the bodies.

"Don't bother," said Talin. "All they had were a few silvers...and those," he pointed to a mass of hair and steel. Ohn already knew, but the other two stared, aghast at the intricate bearded axes and long-braided scalps of Nard and Nalder.

There was silence.

"Orcs don't scalp," said Pettr. "They eat."

"No," said Ohn. "But something with them does."

"Right, what now?" asked Chade.

"We press on," said Ohn. "At least for a bit. If any of the remaining four still live, it can't be good for them. We need to move quickly, we can't hide this mess. Anytime we can choose a direction, we choose up. If we find a way out we take it. Ultimately, we may have to back-track and see where the stairs above the tomb go, worst case, we chance the wasps. Agreed?"

They all nodded.

"Talin and Chade, you lead," commanded Ohn.

They rounded the corner from whence the orcs came, Chade held short sword and torch, Talin ready with his bow. The corridor proceeded for some time, down which they made careful haste.

"At the far end there are steps up, then it turns again to the right, shortly after that, there is a side branch to the left. That's where I ran into the orcs," informed Chade.

Shortly, they arrived at said intersection where they chose to keep going straight. Eventually, the sound of falling water met their ears and they could taste moisture in the musky air. The passage came to an end at an archway with natural steps heading down to their left. They descended the damp stones amid the now loud sounds of crushing water. The steps curled to the right merging naturally with the rocky shore of an underground lake. To either side of them, waterfalls cascaded into the dark water. The place had the same eerie blue candescence of the bridge they crossed earlier, in fact, they could faintly see that very bridge far up and straight away. The lake seemed to stretch for several hundred meters in any direction. Nooks and crannies were aplenty and probably lead to several underground waterways.

A small row-boat was adrift about a hundred feet out. 

They scanned the small shore, but unless they wanted to swim, it seemed a dead-end.

"The boat is peculiar. Your charm..." said the elf, motioning to Chade.

"Huh?" said Chade.

"Yly," stated Talin.

"Ahh, Yly," spoke Chade. The charm burst with light and out shot the little sprite who whispered a question into Chade's ear. "Yes, could you?" he asked, amused, and she wisped away across the lake toward the boat. The three men watched with utter fascination. The elf was accustomed to such glamour.

She shortly returned to Chade's ear and then hovered over his shoulder. "She says there's a dirty halfling sleeping in the boat." he said, smirking, knowing full well who it was.

"Fucking Boze," spat Pettr, literally. "Of course that little shitter's alive."

"Hmm, how do we get to him?" wondered Ohn.

"Yly can you wake him?" asked the sapper. "Maybe?" he repeated, as the sprite fluttered away to the boat again. What followed was a slight flash and a yelp. Up popped the muddied face of a round little man who watched in confusion as Yly flew back to shore and disappeared back into her charm.

"Boze!" Ohn yelled a bit cautiously. "It's us. Can you row yourself back?"

He did not respond, and even at that distance in the eerie blue, they could all detect the utter fear in his eyes as he kept low.

"Boze!" Ohn yelled again. "It's Ohn!"

"Boze, you little shit! Are you deaf?" harassed Pettr.

"Man," remarked Chade. "I don't think I've ever seen him this afraid."

"Are you kidding me? He's afraid of everything," said Pettr. "Fucking little coward is what he is."

Chade glanced sideways at Pettr. "If you were that small..."

"No," shot Pettr. "I've known brave halflings. That one is a shitter!"

Talin interjected skeptically, "Chade's right, he's under the guise of terror, something's amiss, unless, he can't hear us for the waterfalls, but he should see us."

"Or he's been through too much down here. He may be the only one left," said Ohn. "But, we can't keep yelling," he added as he walked backed to the steps and peeked back up toward the corridor.

Just then, everything went unnaturally black!

A darkness spell! They'd seen it used a few times on the battlefield, but none of them had ever been inside one.

They yelled frantically at each other. "Ohn!" "Chade!" "Talin!" "Watch your weapons!" None of them dared move too much, yet they jerked this way and that, reaching out with their free hands, feeling for each other. The darkness was complete, it was absolute! Suffocating! There was a splash. Pettr screamed or exhaled in an odd way. 

"Pettr!" shouted Ohn.

"YLY!!!!!!" shouted Chade.

The sprite appeared again, canceling out some of the pitch, but they now saw everything flickering in the negative. They saw Pettr kneeling in the edge of the lake being choked by something from beyond the grave. He grabbed at the rotting hands wrapped around his throat. His mouth agape, his skin stretching thinner across his face before their very eyes, his strength was waning fast.

They all struck at the undead thing, but their blades had little effect. It's eyes glared at them with a light that somehow expressed darkness. It was negative energy. There was a sentience to it; a hatred. These were hardened men and they were terrified!

Yly flew right up to it's face and seemed to explode in a tiny supernova. The walking corpse lurched back. Ohn rushed with his shield, knocking the creature splashing into the lake. Chade and Talin helped Pettr to his feet and they all rushed back to the steps and up as fast as they'd ever moved. 

They were out of the evil darkness and stumbling back down the corridor. Pettr could hardly stand upright. Their torch had been dropped in the scuffle, now Yly was leading the way. They passed the side passage, intending to head down familiar halls, when they collectively screeched to a halt. Another thing was coming their way! They turned back and raced down the side passage which shortly opened wide, into a maze of colossal columns, between which, the shadows moved. More undead!

"Shit!" exclaimed Ohn.

"Over there, stairs!" informed Talin.

Yly seemed to flicker, giving them all pause. She flickered again, and for lack of a better term, stumbled, back into her charm. They were in darkness once again.

"Torch, now!" cried Ohn.

They formed a circle as Chade fumbled through his gear. He frantically struck his tinder sticks, each little spark a signal of hope until finally...light! 

They proceeded to the stairs, glaring eyes all around. Unfortunately, the stairs went down, not up. They were wide though, as like in a great gallery. Pettr stumbled, his armor echoing as he hit the ground. Ohn and Talin helped him up, but damn, he was weak! The stairs had several landings before they reached the bottom -- a semi-circular room full of alcoves, each occupied by classic looking statues. The stone here seemed to be of yellow marble, but it was hard to say in the dancing torchlight. In between each alcove was a passage.

Ohn looked back up the stairs, the eyes were coming. "Damn! This way!" as he motioned to one of the passages on the right. It led to more stairs, much narrower with a low curved ceiling, again going down...and down...and down...

And finally, a door, very fancy, very old. Locked, of course!

Chade went to work while the others took a guarded stance. Pettr, leaned against the wall and slid to the ground.

There was a click. "Got it," said Chade as he paused and looked back at Ohn for the "go ahead" to open, which he gave.

It was a small, ornate room with a sarcophagus in the center...and no other exit.

"Mercy," said Ohn under his breath. "Go on, we have no choice." They all poured in. "Lock it!" he commanded, and Chade obeyed, then intently listened for activity from the other side. Talin stood near him, bow ready. Pettr sat on the floor.

Ohn gave the room a quick scan with the torch. It was like the earlier tomb they encountered, but much nicer. The walls were painted dull green in between semi-columns. Hieroglyphics dominated the scene. The sarcophagus was intricately carved in places, smooth marble in others. Two braziers hung in the corners farthest from the door. In between them on the wall was a mosaic depiction of two giant serpents hopelessly entangled in battle or dance, it was unclear. 

Ohn went from brazier to brazier lighting them both. When the second one was lit, the lid of the sarcophagus slid sideways with the groan of stone grinding on stone. They all nearly shit themselves! Even Pettr jumped to his feet. Nothing came out though, nothing happened. After a few breathless moments, Ohn nervously approached with the torch.

"Stairs," he said "More stairs."

"We are heading in the wrong direction," said Chade. "What about Boze?"

"Boze will have to look after himself," said Ohn. 

"Where's my axe?" asked Pettr out of the blue, a sense of presence returning to his eyes.

"You dropped it in the lake, do you not remember?" asked Talin.

Pettr shook his his head.

"Here, take this," said Ohn, handing the big man his sword. "I'll use my back-up."

Talin put his hand up, quickly looking at the door. They froze. Something scratched. Then the pounding commenced.

"Let's go!" ordered Ohn, handing Chade the torch. "You first, Talin, Pettr." One by one they climbed into the coffin and descended the narrow, stone steps. Ohn went last, shield and short sword at the ready. The grinding of stone caused him to glance back just in time to see the sarcophagus lid seal itself shut. Both good and bad, he supposed. He followed the others. It was single file, very tight, their shoulders almost scraping the walls. The ceiling was very low, not a good place for the claustrophobe. The steps were well worn and looked hundreds of years old. Ohn glanced back, but the top was no longer in view. He turned to continue his descent and slammed straight into Pettr. It seemed they had stopped.

"Umm...we have a problem," said Chade from the front.

"What is it?" Ohn enquired.

"Water," replied the sapper. "We're at the bottom, but the hallway is flooded. It looks about chest-high."

Ohn looked down and shook his head, he was feeling the pressure of leadership. "Do you remember the siege of Brynmire, how shitty that was?" 

They all answered in the unmistakable affirmative.

"I would rather be there," he said.

Even the elf chuckled.

"Right, back-packs off," said Ohn. "Our supplies must stay dry. We hold them high. Pettr, you carry Chade's. Chade, how's the torch?" 

"Light is good," said Chade.

"Light another and carry two just in case," said Ohn.

When they were all ready, Chade stepped forward. Water immediately seeping through his boots. As a sapper, he'd been in similar situations. It sucked then, it sucked now. But, with no options... Into the  water they went.

The others followed suit, wading down a flooded hallway that smelled only as cold, subterranean water could. Brushing against unseen debris shook their nerves, but they pressed on, navigating several tight bends. At one point the passage dipped dangerously low. The water reached their necks. Chade strained to keep the torches dry. Lesser folk would have succumbed to panic. Mercifully, the corridor then slanted upwards and they all emerged, soaked straight to the bone, onto a stone ledge.

Their arms were like lead. They rested, inspected, and re-slung their gear which seemed in good shape.

"We should re-bandage your leg," Talin said to Ohn.

"No time," he said. "Let's keep moving."

In front was a long pit about three feet deep and ten feet wide filled with mud and debris -- bricks, planks, and such. Further on, they could make out steps going up and around. The moldy walls on either side had occasional holes varying in size, at various heights, going up and out of sight. Some of them trickled water.

"Let me check it out," said the sapper. Carrying one of the torches, he carefully leapt down amongst the debris. His boots squished as he walked, both from the mud and the fact that they were now soaking wet. He poked here and there with his blade. At one point he crouched down and moved a few planks. He scraped at the mud... "Bones, human, someone died here, yep, here's some mail. Looks like it's been awhile though. And over here..." as he moved on, "What's...huh, look at this, a dagger, looks like silver," he held it up fingering the gemmed pommel, "This is worth something."

The other three were too miserable to care.

Stowing the dagger, Chade continued poking here and there. At one point as he passed a hole, his head jerked back. He put the torch in, but saw nothing, or did he? He went to move on, but jerked back again, sure he'd heard something.

The others watched intently.

"Sounds like...rats," he said. "Wait, something's..." he jerked back. "Alright," he motioned to the others. "Let's go!"

They jumped down and followed. "What is it? What'd you see?" asked Ohn.

"Eyes or something, I'm not sure..." he glanced back as he said it. Then his eyes widened. "That!" 

Peeking out of one of the holes was a rat the size of a dog! It eyes were aglow with fiendish crimson dots. It's flesh, rotting, betrayed innards.

It hissed.

And then another one appeared beside it, and then more. Many more.

Then, as if a great valve opened, scores of them cascaded down into the pit, squealing and hissing as they swarmed! 

The men bolted for the steps, but they were quickly surrounded. The rats were maniacal! They didn't just bite, they scratched, they tore, they hissed and climbed. Ohn and Pettr stabbed and slashed furiously. Chade, backing up the steps, cut and burned like a mad man. 

Several rats pulled at Talin's cloak as he was trying to draw his tomahawk. It was a rare moment, but the elf  lost his footing and slipped in the mud. He was promptly covered by the beasts who rabidly bit and tore at his flesh. His mail protected him mostly, but blood was starting to spill. He grabbed at them and rolled in a panic, somehow he got to his knees and retrieved his tomahawk which he immediately put to deadly use. His bow was out of reach and his arrows lay all around. Eventually, he regained his footing and proceeded to slay with elven fury.

They all forgot about being wet and cold. They slashed and stabbed and slashed some more until the tide seemed to turn. But there was a bone-chilling screech from above as a mass dropped. A hulking thing. A rat-thing. A hulking, man-rat thing! Red-eyed and rotting just like the small ones. It let out another screech and scores more rats entered the fray.

The four men stopped trying to fight and ran for their lives up the steps which curled around and out to a corridor. The rats were right with them. The four sprinted desperately, passing several doors, not daring to stop. They cut and stabbed and burned when they absolutely had to, all the while racing toward a large door far away at the hallway's end.

"The door, Chade!" cried Ohn, as he crouched in a defensive posture. Pettr and Talin stopped with him, trying to give the sapper some breathing room. Almost instantly, the three were holding back a veritable wall of vermin. 

Chade reached and tried the door. It was sturdy oak and wouldn't budge at all. Dropping the torch, he fumbled for his picks, dropping many. He worked the lock, but his gut told him it wasn't locked, but braced. He slammed his shoulder into the door in frustration. "Damn it!" he shot. Behind him he heard Talin yell Ohn's name in despair.

Ohn had fallen and was already being torn apart.

Talin and Pettr were on their knees, half buried. A torrent of rats flooded past and assaulted the sapper. 

"YLY!!!!" Chade screamed, but the charm merely flickered. The vermin pulled him to the floor, just as...

The door flew inward! Out stepped a woman clad in the holy armor of the Merciful One. She held strong the cross of her faith and spoke the language of her church. The entire hallway lit up in a righteous flash, setting many rats ablaze with the rest scurrying back toward their dark holes of Hell.

The stunned survivors fell into the room, followed quickly by their savior. There, a tall, lightly armored man braced the door with a large wooden beam.

Talin, Pettr, and Chade lay half dead on the dungeon floor. Standing over them, Cynne and Taer of the original seven.

Too be concluded...

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