Return to the Necropolis: Chapter 10 (Day 3)

Michael O. Varhola

Read "Return to the Necropolis: Chapter 9"

In the morning the party packed up all their gear; while they thought it likely that they would once again return to the Anemoi vault for the night, they knew how quickly things could change in the dynamic environment of the dungeon. With the small amount of treasure they had accumulated secure in their backpacks, they locked the tomb behind them and headed back the way they had come. At the large intersection where Paros, Selene, and Parthenia had battled the skeletal hound months earlier, the party turned south and followed the main trunk corridor as it bore to the right and merged into a natural, cavernous, west-bound passageway.

"Wait!" Parthenia hissed, holding up her hand to halt the party. She raised her head a bit and sniffed. "Smells like a campfire ..." Alerted to this, the others all smelled the air as well and noticed a vague, cool scent of burned wood. Their weapons raised, the companions cautiously advanced around the corner ... and then halted, stunned, at the sight of what lay before them. Paros, Parthenia, and Selene had entered the large sinkhole cavern dozens of times, and had spent weeks living under the boughs of the sacred pomegranate tree and eaten its exceptionally large fruit, and used the stalks of asphodel that grew up from the flinty floor for both bedding and sustenance. Pumayo had never before been here but even he was moved by what they saw.

In the middle of the sixty-foot-wide cavern, dimly illuminated by early dawn light coming down the shaft that led up to the hillside nearly two-hundred feet above, the companions could see not the spreading branches of an ancient fruit tree but just a pile of gray ash and charred, woody fragments. Most of the asphodel had been trampled underfoot and just a few bent and broken stalks of it remained standing and, as they moved slowly into the cavern, they could see that many of the large, golden fruit had been stamped on and smashed, their pulpy red seeds crushed and exposed. Paros, Parthenia, and Selene all had a weird, surreal feeling, as if they were looking at a mirage, and were having trouble comprehending the enormity of what they were witnessing.

Faced with such a scene of monstrous, purposeless destruction, the three companions who had visited the cavern before had started