Return to the Necropolis: Chapter 21 (Day 7)

Michael O. Varhola

Read "Return to the Necropolis: Chapter 20"

Boards, rocks that had been supported by them, and a large amphora came crashing down upon Paros, Parthenia, and Selene, knocking them down and causing the trio to disappear from Pumayo's view in a cascade of debris and cloud of dust. As the jar hit the ground, it ruptured, freeing the mass of yard-long centipedes, black-backed monstrosities with scarlet heads and bright yellow legs, that had been jammed into it. These oversized vermin were hungry and angry at being so abruptly disturbed and swarmed through the rubble to attack the moaning and bewildered people trapped within it, venom oozing from their chitinous mandibles.

Paros was stunned but had enough presence of mind to curse himself for the sloppy stupidity of failing to even look to see if the door was trapped; after a week of successfully dealing with poison needle traps, glyphs of warding, and spring-loaded darts, it was humiliating to be brought low by a clay jar and a bunch of rocks propped up under some boards and brought crashing down by a door disengaging a rudimentary trigger. He could hear Parthenia and Selene groaning, cursing, and struggling to free themselves and ready their weapons against the centipedes, which they caught glimpses of through the debris. He screamed as one of them ran over his lap, barely visible beneath the board he was trying to get out from under, and sank its mandibles into his wrist.

A desperate and undignified melee ensued, the three companions in the corridor stumbling to their feet while they tried to fend off and slay the vicious, agitated vermin. Pumayo retrieved a scroll from the case at his belt and uttered the arcane syllables of one of the four spells remaining on it and, when he did, three glowing bolts of force burst from his hand and shot into the passageway. They unerringly struck and slew two of the monsters attacking Paros and one of those menacing Selene, leaving five by the wizard's count; this was reduced by one more when Kidna shot into the debris and sank her fangs into the head of one of the centipedes, poisoning and killing it almost instantly. Twenty heartbeats later, the companions had slain the rest of the monstrous vermin, although all three of those who had been caught in the trap had each been bitten once or twice.

"Here, drink this!" Paros said, quickly handing small vials of liquid to Parthenia and Selene. "It's antitoxin, will help fight the poison in your system." He popped the cap on the one in his hand and gulped down the contents. "I'm glad I compounded these, good thing to always have with us." Selene drank hers as well and then began cleaning first the bites she had sustained and then those suffered by the other two, treating them for poison using her own methods. Then, the three of them waited apprehensively to see if they had been adversely affected in any way, sensitive to any aches, shakes, or other possible symptoms. After a few minutes, they were reasonably sure they had not been; their bites throbbed and the encounter had taxed their nerves but none of them were actually badly wounded.

"Good," said Paros. "Well, the antitoxin will stay in our systems a little while, maybe an hour, so if we meet any more of those horrible things it may yet continue to help us."

If anything had been waiting for them beyond the partially open iron door it had certainly been alerted to their presence — and they were certainly fortunate not to have been attacked by any such beings while they were compromised by the trap and the centipedes in the passageway. Paros pulled the portal open the rest of the way and peered into the area beyond it. They were somewhat surprised to see a large, roughly square area that was about forty feet wide and deep, albeit with a number of natural niches and protrusions, that appeared to be a semi-improved natural cavern, with a high, twenty-foot-high ceiling. It appeared to have been set up as a great workroom and, among other things, the companions could see a forge, anvil, bellows, and other heavy metal-working equipment. Everything appeared to be neglected and long unused, evidenced in part by the heavy overlay of dust, and the only signs of recent habitation included garbage, waste matter, and discarded scraps of broken armor, weapons, and other items. Toward the far, right-hand corner of the chamber a passageway led off to the northwest, apparently deeper into the side of the hill. And, roughly between that passageway and the party, was what appeared to be ten-foot-square pit in the floor, partially covered with three or four long planks.

"I can hear something coming from that pit ..." Paros said quietly, the hair standing up on the back of his neck when he imagined the size of centipede that could very well dwell within it. They decided not to close or lock the iron door behind them, concerned that if they had to make an expeditious retreat that it might get stuck or become wedged shut by the debris from the outer passageway. Then, weapons at the ready, the party advanced toward the pit, spreading out as they each entered the workroom.

Standing at the edge of the pit, Paros and Parthenia could not see anything in the darkness but could tell that it was fairly deep and could hear within it a shuffling and scraping sound. Kneeling, the rogue thrust his sunrod into the pit, illuminating what lay within — and, when he did, he and the barbarian recoiled in horror. Shambling around at the bottom of the twenty-foot-deep pit, armor hacked and bodies covered with fatal wounds, were the five Dwarves they had battled on the stairway beneath the temple, somehow restored to a mocking semblance of life.

"Necromancy!" Paros hissed.

"Yes," Pumayo said nodding and adopting a somewhat more analytical tone. "Although whether it is a result of the dark energies associated with this place or some deliberate action is not clear."

"Probably deliberate," Selene said. "It seems like too much of a coincidence that they would have risen up and just happened to have come here and fallen in this pit." (None of the others, of course, were thinking anything of the sort). "My guess is that one of the Orcs is a priestess and that she did this."

"Ugh! That would be a pretty powerful priestess wouldn't it?" Paros asked, forgoing any questions about how Selene presumed to know the gender of whatever sort of clerical spellcaster the Orcs might have had with them.

"Well, I could do the same thing if were I so inclined," Selene said. "So, she is at least as adept at spellcasting as me." This was a sobering revelation and gave the rest of the party some sense of what they might have to deal with when they found the Orcs; they continued their search of the room all the more cautiously, Paros and Pumayo doing a counterclockwise circuit of it while the women kept guard at the mouth of the passageway that continued into the darkness.

Coming to a wide indentation in the side of the western side of the large chamber, Paros could see water dripping out of a broken ceramic pipe in the wall, fused and rusted handles beside it and the shattered remains of a large stone trough beneath it. He reflected that he was probably looking at damage inflicted during the worldwide volcanic upheavals of a century before. The water trickled down to the cinder-covered floor, and shoved up at the base of the wall was a haphazard collection of helmets, chunks of broken pottery, wadded up pieces of cloth, and other second-rate means of harvesting the moisture. Paros thought back to the dozens of pots the Orcs had smashed in the embalming laboratory and how useful to them those would have been for gathering and storing water here in their lair. What stupid, shortsighted, self-destructive people; it was a shame he and his companions had to battle them, Paros thought, because it was probably only a matter of time until the starved to death, wandered off the edge of a cliff, or otherwise obliterated themselves by misfortune. Would that it could be so simple ...

With Parthenia in the lead, the party proceeded down the passageway and further into what appeared to be a factory complex of some sort; as they did, Paros noticed Kidna slithering into a corner and then curling up to face the door, apparently at the behest of Pumayo. Leading off of the corridor were numerous rooms of various sizes filled with the scattered remains of broken work tables, ruined tools, carts, scraps of wood and stone, and other detritus; the remains of once-sturdy wooden doors hung loosely on rusted hinges or lay on the floor. Several of the rooms had scattered throughout them substantial amounts of dried up turds, hair, and gnawed bones, suggesting that they had at some points been used as the lairs of beasts.

"This must be where they manufactured the rails for the fence and carved monuments and other stonework for the necropolis!" Paros said with some appreciation. Obviously the extensive cemetery had not just sprung up by magic and a facility of this sort made perfect sense, but its existence was something he had simply not considered one way or another.

When the companions neared what they suspected was the rear of the industrial complex, they came to a room that still had a reinforced wooden door and, beyond it, a chamber that was chaotically scattered with bedrolls, foodstuffs, weapons, and other gear. A glance made it clear that their treasure was not here but two narrow iron doors were set into the walls, one to the north and the other to the west. Each of these was equipped with both a built-in lock and hasps for padlocks, and each did, in fact, have one padlock affixed to it.

"I think this must have been a vault!" Paros said excitedly. "And those safe doors are still locked, which is a good sign that something is still in them."

"Attend!" Pumayo hissed. "Someone is coming. Kidna senses them in the yard without this place." Their hearts beating hard, the party members turned about face and began to quickly move back down the hallway to the main room. Parthenia led the way, followed by backup fighter Selene and then Paros and Pumayo. As they walked, the wizard sidled up behind the other man and whisperered something to him, causing the rogue's jaw to drop in surprise, after which he nodded in comprehension and immediately began to fumble for something in one of his belt pouches. 

Read "Return to the Necropolis: Chapter 22"