“I don’t hear anything.” Ankh whispered as she kneeled by the door.
“Are you sure?” rumbled Heskan. The two dragonborn sniffed at the air around the door. Cold, musty, damp… Silence.
“Look, even if something was down there, it’s not likely to be making small talk!” piped Aeren. “That goblin boss only said there were ‘dead things’ down there, he wasn’t specific as to what. We should watch our step.”
Brindle and Heskan readied their swords, Marcus gripped his spear and said,
“Open it. We can’t afford to wait.”
Ankh gently pushed, having unlocked the heavy doors with the goblin’s key. The door barely made a sound as it slid open, revealing stairs, darkness, and the strong odour of damp rot.
“Why does it always have to be stairs into darkness?” quipped Aeren.
“Last time I checked Necromancers weren’t into greenery.” mumbled Heskan. “Let’s get moving.”
“Hang on a sec. Let me have a look” Aeren reached out with his mind. It took shape just ahead of the group. Ankh lit a torch, Marcus a Sunrod. Aeren scouted ahead, looking down the corridors.
“It looks like a crypt,” commented Brindle, looking at the dual row of caskets lining the walls. “Aeren, can you see if there’s anything in those caskets?”
“This one’s still occupied!” the Eladrin whispered back. “But a few others are empty!”
“Great,” muttered Heskan, “Some of them decided to go for a stroll!”
“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” assured Marcus.
“There’s something on the floor over here.” whispered Aeren. “Some sort of rune. I’m not sure what it does.”
Heskan fidgeted with his shield. He hated lurking, and creeping in this kind of darkness. The shadows played tricks on his eyes, straining to see into the darkness. This wasn’t helping. At least with the goblins earlier, he knew where they were and where they stood. Here, any flicker of light could be the darkness reaching out to grab him. Taking a deep breath, he shook his head and snorted. Dragonborn? Scared? He was easily the biggest one in the group, the one the others stood behind when the swords and arrows started to fly. Yet for the moment, he felt useless.
Ankh had gone forward with Aeren’s project figure. Long hallways, and other runes became visible in the darkness.
“It’s emanating some sort of magic, I just can’t tell what.” whispered Aeren.
“What about breaking the rune, disturbing it?” asked Brindle.
“Couldn’t hurt.” Replied Aeren. “Let me try something.”
No sooner had he said those words that he immediately regretted it. Aeren cast a short cantrip, attempting to deface the rune on the floor. The rune lit up a sickly green colour, and a soul-shattering scream echoes through the hall. Aeren, Ankh, and Brindle felt the life being sucked out of them and felt an overwhelming urge to run away from the rune. Heskan steeled himself, and Marcus attempted to get his bearings as the other three ran past him. Aeren’s link to his projection was shattered, stunned he found himself running, with Ankh and Brindle on his heels. Running headlong around the corner, Aeren suddenly found himself face to face with several dead gaping faces, all reaching out and shambling forward. Ankh looked to her left, point blank lurching out of the darkness, another one.
“ZOMBIES!” screamed Aeren, dodging several swipes from the slower moving undead. Ankh wasn’t quite so lucky, as an awkward flailing punch caught her across the chin. Snarling she spun around with her sword easily dispatching her assailant with a crippling blow to the side of the zombie’s head.
Charging forward Heskan moved himself to protect Aeren and Ankh, but stumbled in an awkward blow missing his chosen target.
“There’s more coming!” shouted Marcus, “they’re coming from the north!” he exclaimed, hearing more gasping moans echo through the crypt walls.
“That’s nice Marcus!” shrieked Aeren, “I’m a little preoccupied by the ones RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME!” As if in answer, a black smoky first fist grasped the zombie, snapping bones in a good solid hit. Marcus smiled, but this one was more resilient than the others.
Aeren didn’t have a chance to voice his thanks. Brindle had leapt past Heskan to give him some cover, but the shock of facing their first real fight with the walking dead hadn’t worn off. Like Heskan, Brindle’s blow was ineffectual, and he brought up his shield. The zombie Marcus blasted lurched to the side directing its flailing arms at Brindle. Aeren steeled himself, focusing his energy, having this many foes in such proximity was far too dangerous, they needed more space. Making a pushing motion, a wave of force blasted outward, pushing the three zombies back. Heskan responded by sweeping his sword through two zombies in front of him, and as they collapsed to the ground, he moved forward to aid Brindle and Aeren.
Ankh shifted slightly, gracefully bringing her sword down and felling another zombie while moving further into the room. “Marcus, get back here!” she snarled.
“There’s more out here!” he shouted back.
“That’s nice, but if you get in here we can catch them in the bottleneck!”
Marcus wouldn’t argue with that, making his way into the room with the rest of the companions, he unleashed a blast of Eldritch fire, incinerating the stubborn zombie that he had hit before. Brindle and Heskan quickly finished off the remaining two, and the group turned around to face the new threat coming down the hall.
Fortunately, Zombies aren’t all that bright. Predictably, they shuffled into view… But it didn’t last long. Heskan spat a torrent of fire from his mouth, incinerating three walkers. Marcus blasted the lead zombie, knocking it down. Brindle stepped forward, kicking the felled zombie solidly in the head. To his amazement, the zombie’s head ricocheted down the hallway. Aeren followed by disrupting the space in the corridor, obliterating two more and clearly hampering the last one. Wasting no time, Ankh quickly moved forward to fell the last one. Taking a moment to listen, the silence told them that at least for the moment, nothing else was approaching.
Taking nothing to chance, the group surveyed the rest of the area, finding several more Terror Runes. Aeren examined the one that he had unintentionally set off, realizing that the runes were a type that couldn’t be readily dispelled. Rather, once triggered, they discharged until someone would recharge it again. The only way across these without setting them off would be to jump.
But then, there was this other passage.
“What about back here?” called out Marcus. The room where they had taken down most the zombies had a passage that continued further to the south.
“You check it out.” grumbled Ankh. She was tired of always being the one to go ahead. One can be a really good sneak up to a point… but screaming magic runes weren’t her department.
Marcus crept down the corridor and glanced into a cruciform shaped chamber. The ceiling was much higher, and a silvery-blue glow emanated from the far end, above the centre of the cross shape, and in front of a pair of large double doors. He didn’t go any further, ten heavy stone sarcophagi lined the walls. Something didn’t sit right, and given the record of what just happened, they weren’t taking any chances.
Heskan pushed on one of the caskets, but to no avail. “You’re wasting your strength.” said Marcus, “these things are part of the wall and floor.”
The Draconic script on the lids wasn’t of any help either, but it didn’t sit right with the group.
Ankh suggested going back and getting a barrel of pitch from the goblin supplies, where they could pour it in the hallway and some strategic areas around the sarcophagi and maybe be ready for anything that might pop out at an inopportune moment. The others agreed, and Ankh set about pouring pitch at the base of each sarcophagus. Yet only part way through her task that her fear was realized, stepping past the first pair to the east, all of a sudden she heard a series of loud bangs as each stone casket slammed open, disgorging a skeletal warrior. Not even pausing to look for numbers, Ankh leaped back and sprinted up the hallway…
“They’re right behind meeee!!! Burn it!” She cried.
Brindle stepped forward with the torch, lobbing into the hallway. The pitch would flare up quickly, but would not burn for long. In the flare, the two skeletons collapsed in the flame, but more were coming. Two moved into position, drawing short bows and firing down the hall, catching Ankh in the shoulder.
“They’re not supposed to have tactics! How do undead have tactics?” cried out Aeren.
Marcus cut loose with a blast of eldritch energy, obliterating one of the skeletons. Aeren’s projection remained inside the chamber, dodging several skeletal swings. But just before the last one connected, dispelling his projection, two sarcophagus doors slammed open again, with two more skeletons to replace the ones that had fallen.
“We’re going to have to go through them! Make for the doors beyond the blue light!” called Marcus.
The flare of the pitch had died down enough, Brindle and Heskan obliged. Pushing forward, striking down more skeletons as they went. They came nose-to-nose with two skeletons that were better armoured than the other.
“Oh crap.” muttered Marcus. “Get past them if you can.”
A few well placed hits and more skeletons went down, and Aeren launched a dimensional burst that sent skeletons falling, giving Brindle a clear path down the hall. Moving forward, he saw two altars to Bahamut, the Platinum Dragon to the left and right of him. Instinctively, he offered a short prayer he had been taught since he was a child.
No sooner had he offered this, than the skeletons suddenly collapsed and the room fell silent.
“That’s it?” exclaimed Aeren. “All we had to do was say ‘Praise Bahamut?’ and they’d fall apart?”
“Well… the Goblins didn’t think of it did they?” rumbled Heskan.
“Good point.” replied Aeren. “I think the skeletons were more constructs than true undead. A safeguard for whatever is back here. But what is ‘here’ anyway?”
“It’s still a crypt of some sort, obviously dedicated to Bahamut.” commented Marcus, “Maybe the soldiers of Nerath that built this place had this place dedicated as a way to hold back the rift?”
“Sounds reasonable. What about this door?”
The great double door at the end of the hall was unlocked, and pushed open relatively easily. The light from the sunrod cast light on an elaborate tomb, with a large stone casket on a raised platform at the end. The stone cover had an elaborate stone carving of a knight.
“Who was this?” wondered Ankh.
“Great and Holy Bahamut, in this our time of need we ask thee for thine help…” Brindle was down on one knee paying obsieance.
“Great, he gets lucky, and now he’s suddenly a zealot!” mumbled Aeren. Ignoring him, Brindle continued:
“…for we are grateful to you and your benevolent hand. It is in promise to you that we shall ensure that the rift shall remain forever sealed…”
Just then a raspy whispering voice echoed throughout the chamber, interrupting the warlord’s prayer.
“Those are well spoken words young knight, but are they sincere? There are many who would come here to raid this tomb under the guise of discipleship, or worse yet to feign fealty so that they may open the rift!”
Just then the casket lid swung open, and a cloud of swirling dust swirled up, coalescing into an ancient skeletal form. Brandishing a large sword, untarnished by age, the figure stepped forward.
“The rift must never be opened! State your true intentions, or prepare to die!”
“Oh crap, it’s Sir Keegan!” whispered Marcus.
“Who?” snarled Heskan, readying his shield.
Brindle motioned to the others to lower their weapons.
“Sir Keegan, we mean you no disrespect. We have come with news of someone attempting to open the rift, and we are here to stop it.”
“Are you now?” the skeletal figure answered, pointing with his sword. “How do I know you’re not one of them, or some petty grave robbers like those filthy hobgoblins?”
“Sir,” Aeren replied, “we know of the rift, and we are here to try and stop it from being opened. We could use your help, your wisdom, and whatever knowledge you might be able to share.”
“Do you? Maybe you’re seeking my knowledge to further open it? Even if I knew how to stop it, do you have the ability to do it?”
Aeren replied, “If we get there in time, I believe Marcus and I have enough knowledge so that we can at least disrupt the ritual. From what we know so far, it can only be opened from this side, so we may even be able to reverse the process.”
“Indeed. I may have something that may help you…” Keegan lowered his sword slightly.
“Yet the rift is a corrupting influence,” replied Keegan as he eyed the rest of the group, “I succumbed to its madness, how do you know you won’t?” His empty eyes, surveyed the group. Ankh slowly inched away, looking for a friendly shadow. Talking with undead knights was not her strong point.
“We don’t,” Brindle replied, “but may Bahamut protect us in whatever we might face.”
“You seem sure of your faith young one. But will it be enough to strengthen you when you see the horrors that rift can unleash?”
“I believe I shall.”
“Then may Bahamut’s blessing be upon you, that you may do what I could not.”
Marcus stepped forward, placing a coin on the step before him.
“in the name of the Raven Queen, I promise you that this vile abomination will not be released.”
“Raven Queen, eh?” Keegan replied showing some interest. “Maybe one day I will feel her true caress, and find the rest that I denied myself.”
“How about you?” the Knight whispered at Heskan. “You’re a fearsome looking one. Have you got what it takes to face whatever the rift throws at you?”
Puffing himself up, Heskan took a deep breath, summoning all of his courage and growled:
“They will taste the steel of my blade, the fire of my heart, and the power of this entire group. I will drive them out of this keep, and they will lament they day they ever decided to set foot in this place and desecrate this holy ground!”
If a skeleton could look impressed, it did. Keegan lowered his weapon.
“Always trust a Dragonborn to never back down from a fight. I hope you live up to those impressive words.”
Ankh breathed a sigh of relief, if Heskan was good at anything, his bravado was almost matched by his skill with a blade.
“I will help you.” Sir Keegan said, “I cannot leave this tomb, as my burden is to be confined to these walls. The penalty I pay for having murdered my own family and friends. Yet you may find refuge here if you need it.”
“Where is the rift?” Aeren asked.
“Almost directly below us. I can feel its power growing. Be warned, once you feel the earth tremble, you won’t have much time.”
Ankh worked up enough wit to speak, “You said that you might be able to help us, but you can’t leave this tomb. How can you help us?”
“In a small panel in the back of the altars outside of this room this all there are icons of Bahamut. They will assist you in your hour of need.” Keegan paused as if to think. He then turned to Heskan,
“And then there’s this,” as he unhooked the sword and scabbard from his belt, and held it out to the burly Dragonborn fighter.
I cannot leave this place, but my sword Aecris can. I am no longer worthy to bear it, but maybe I find some redemption in releasing it to you. May it serve you well.
Heskan bowed as he accepted the weapon.
“Lastly, look for the armoury hidden in the crypt. I do not know if the interlopers have found it yet, but it may yet have something that can assist you.”
“You are too kind,” Brindle bowed with respect. “May you find final peace at last.”
With that Keegan returned to a cloud of dust that swirled into the sarcophagus, and the great stone lid lowered gently back into place.
Everyone breathed a sigh of relief.
“I’m glad we didn’t piss him off.” muttered Ankh. “can we go now?”
“Don’t forget the icons” said Marcus.