Return to the Necropolis: Chapter 19 (Day 6)

Michael O. Varhola

Read "Return to the Necroplis: Chapter 18"

When the party reached the stream, it suddenly struck them that they still had only three of the ram-skull amulets that would allow them to cross back over freely. If Selene attempted to cross over and was unable to, however, there were no additional repercussions that they were aware of, and they could at that point again all go back to the sinkhole and send her or one of the others out that way.

Selene had honed her spiritual powers and mental discipline considerably since the first time she had visited this place. As she moved toward the western edge of the infernal little stream, she felt the same necromantic power that had affected her before and prevented her from crossing back over to the realm of the living. This time, however, she had a much better sense for what she was contending with and focused her mind to resist the enervating force that sought to keep her from leaving the fabricated netherworld. Struggling to move forward, Selene with great effort took one step, then another, and then felt her foot splash into the water — and then, all at once, she staggered forward and found herself on the other side of the little Styx. In spite of themselves, her companions cheered in relief, and then freely crossed over themselves to join her.

Paros and Parthenia led the way up the stairs and, when they reached the landing with the sculpture of dread Thanatos, saw that the sundered bronze golem was still lying in the middle of it. They were stunned, however, to realize that the bodies of the Dwarves were all gone.

"Where ... where did they go?" a mystified Paros asked, to which Parthenia merely shook her head. Some debris of hacked armor and wrecked equipment lay scattered about, along with smears of congealed blood, but all five of the mutilated corpses had disappeared. And, in their place, written large with charcoal on the wall opposite the bas relief, was the scythe-like symbol of hoary Kronos, king of the Titans. Around it were crudely written a number of phrases, in the same runes that Pumayo had identified as Dwarven.

"So Dwarves wrote all this?" Parthenia asked incredulously.

"No, I do not think so ... " Pumayo responded. "These are Dwarven runes to be sure, but crudely executed and depicting slogans venerating chaos and evil. Orcish does not have its own alphabet and its spoken form is transliterated with Dwarven characters. I would venture that whatever mischief has been perpetrated here has been by the Orcs our late Dwarves were hunting."

Some discussion ensued as to why or even how the Orcs had moved the bodies and what they might have done with them (the word "cannibalism" being uttered more than once). In that the members of the party all felt remorse to varying degrees for their slaying of the Dwarves, however, they were distressed at the thought that their victims' bodies were likely being defiled or put to some unhallowed purpose. They were also indignant that the armor and other effects of the Dwarves — which they had debated selling or somehow returning to their owners' community — were now gone as well. And, as important as anything, they were now closer than they had been since returning to the catacombs to discovering where their stolen hoard of treasure was. There did not seem to be any palatable alternative to tracking down and killing the Orcs once and for all.

How they would actually find the elusive Orcs was, nonetheless, somewhat unclear, especially as none of them was particularly skilled at following spoor. Pumayo could offer no magical solutions to this dilemma — but Selene did.

"I can pray my goddess guide me toward an item I know," she said. "The distance I can do this is limited, but if the Orcs are nearby and we wander about I might be blessed to sense its presence."

"But what item of theirs would you know, having never even seen them?" Paros asked. Pumayo smiled, sensing the blindspot in the rogue's question.

"That waraxe that we found by the burned tree and which we brought here and left with the Dwarves once we learned the error of slaying them," Selene replied, eliciting an impressed look from the rogue. "It is gone now, and so is presumably either with them or the valuables they have taken."

This actually seemed like a very sound plan and they began to discuss it in earnest. The party was in fairly good shape but Selene had used up some of her most potent healing magic — and, it turned out, she would have to pray for the spell of finding, for several of them in lieu of the more general array of mid-level incantations she usually prepared. These would not go to waste even if they got lucky with the first one, Paros knew, as he had managed to learn through his interactions with the priestess that she could use the power of any spell she had prepared to invoke healing magic instead of the more specific effect for which she had prayed.

Beyond the priestess's spells, the party members decided that a number of other specific preparations were called for, as they had a foreboding presentiment that the battle with the Orcs — if they managed to find them, of course — would be an extreme challenge. True, they had slaughtered the Dwarves in fairly short order, but that had been on ground and under conditions of their choosing, as well as with the assistance of the bronze Achilles. If Selene managed to find the Orcs, they might have to deal with them right then and there, without recourse to other preparations, and so they needed to make sure they weighed the odds as much as possible in their favor.

Paros asked Pumayo to cast one of his divinatory spells in the stream chamber and the wizard complied, following the rogue's instructions and confirming his thoughts about one feature of the chamber in particular.

Once again, they repaired to the embalming laboratory, barricaded themselves within it, and then took the best of their remaining rations and used them to prepare a hot meal. Then, a decent dinner in their bellies, they shared the last of their wine and Dwarven mead and discussed the activities of the coming day. 

Read "Return to the Necropolis: Chapter 20"