We rejoin our heroes having valiantly raced from the clutches of a lecherous junk dealer by the name of Mulanda.
Out of the relative safety of the junk shop and back in the dangerous expanse of the maze two of our heroes are eager to read the scrolls. Kroth and Cate crowd Tremere, still feeling claustrophobic from Mulanda, wanting him to speak the magic on the scroll. Tremere is hesitant. He tells them that the ritual, even in its mostly completed state will take half an hour a piece. Cate and Kroth, dyed in the wool warriors both, inform Tremere, in no uncertain words, that that’s fine, pretty much waiting for him to begin right there in the hallway.
“It would probably be best if we found a safer place than out in the hallway like this.” He suggests.
No sooner than the words leave his mouth, than a great fatigue comes over the party. Some, like Kroth and Dramoor are hearty enough that it barely affects them, but the others feel the weight of the past hours settle upon them. The opening banquet began late in the evening and went later still, and they were thrust into the Great Hunt and into two combats. Once adrenaline soaked muscles now moan in soreness; danger sharpened reflexes dull with weariness; adventurous minds keyed to tactics slow and narrow with lethargy.
There are two options open to the adventurers: 1) to go back the way they came, which despite feeling slightly tedious is actually quite far, to the room they arrived in; 2) push forward until they find another room, because they’ve found others, in which to rest. Tremere, ever looking for the easy way out, casts his vote for going back to the first room. Dramoor quickly puts forth going forward. His reasoning is simple: there are more rooms to sleep in, so eventually they will find another one of those, but what if they find the way out? Wouldn’t it be better to move through the maze as quickly as they can? The majority of the party agrees with him, and they move along, down the hallway.
Tremere reluctantly joins them, feet dragging with trepidation. Though he won’t abandon his companions, he can’t help but feel they have gone the wrong way.
As the party travels down the hallway soon a transformation takes place. One moment they are walking along in the sewers, the next they are in the crypts below the cemetery. There is nothing magical about this transformation; they are not transported from one to the other. The architecture of the maze just abruptly changes.
The walls appear to be ancient in the crypt part of the maze. Where the sewers were made of brick, the crypts are smooth, in places just plain earth. Cut into the wall of the crypt are hollows, some containing bodies, some not. Some of the party, like Dramoor and Cate, are interested in the transformation. Others, like Tremere and Kroth, view this as a bad omen.
It is at this time that Dath’nea, not getting a chance to form an opinion, hears scraping-scuttling coming from one of the alcoves in the hallway. Just as she points this out, before anyone can truly react. Two carrion crawlers, giant centipede-like monsters who feast on the flesh of the dead, but aren’t afraid to be proactive about acquiring their food, scurry from the alcove in front of them. Without thinking the group lunges towards them with weapons drawn.
Like a pack of hungry, desperate wolves our heroes throw themselves against the carrion crawlers. Sword and tooth, acid orb and arrow are brought to bear. Within seconds the adventurers stand heaving triumphant breathes over the gooey remains of the monsters.
“I said we should rest. Everyone heard me say that, right?” Tremere’s velvet tongue turns bitingly on his comrades. They agree, not only that they heard him, that finding some place to rest is a good idea.
Firstly though Dramoor and Kroth inspect the room from where the crawlers came. Inside they find the alcoves for the dead have freshly wrapped bodies in them, besides the couple torn open and emptied by the crawlers and their hunger. Dramoor’s curiosity has him cutting open the shroud of the first uneaten corpse. What he finds inside is the body of one of the mercenaries he recognizes from the opening banquet. This piques his interest, not just because some of the competition is dead, because someone (or something) has taken the time to prepare the bodies for burial.
Other than this interesting fact their scavenging turns up little besides some small bits of copper and a few daggers. The party decides that it is time to find a place to rest for a while. Tremere is almost happy with this turn of events, but they decide to continue forward, stopping at the first place they find, instead of turning around. Luckily for them, their cautious exploration turns up a safe room around the next corner. Our heroes waste no time piling into the room and claiming what cots are there for their own.
Dath’nea and Dramoor, the day’s fatigue hanging about them like mourning, collapse almost as soon as they enter the room. Kroth and Cate accost Tremere once more with requests to remove the curses from their armor. Tremere reluctantly agrees to be the conduit for the magic, he being the only one there with any arcane training.
Kroth is the first to go. He has a seat on the floor with his back against the wall with little idea what to expect. Tremere takes his scroll, the one written in elven, and begins the ritual. Tremere concentrates on the words on the scroll, feeling the magic tingling in him as he does. Kroth is not a scholar of language; he doesn’t know what the elven means, but even he is struck by the intensity of the melodic phrases. The words are soothing, and soon Kroth has his eyes closed. After some time, Kroth feels himself getting hot. Sweat breaks out on his skin, trickles between the grooves in his armor. He opens his eyes to say something only to be taken aback by glowing designs covering his armor. He doesn’t know elven, and has rarely had chance to see it written, but his heat addled brain images the symbols must be elven, and the ones he truly doesn’t recognize must be mystic. He tries to ask Tremere about the symbols, but when he goes to talk he finds the heat has dried out his mouth. He works his tongue around to try to get some saliva working, but his tongue sticks to the inside of his cheeks. The heat presses in on him, almost like an attack. He wants Tremere to stop the ritual. He’s lightheaded though, and sways to the side. As his body slides down the wall, the glowing symbols on his armor slide off into the air swirling around him as beautiful heat vapor. The pressure of the heat intensifies, the symbols spin and dance in front of his eyes. His vision blurs, his skin itches and numbs under the heat; he hears tinkling bells in the distance.
“It’s over.” Tremere tells him.
The symbols are gone. The heat is gone. Kroth thought he had slid to the floor, but he’s still straight-backed against the wall. His muscles ache and he’s tired, but he felt like that before.
“Are you sure?”
Tremere, a thin sheen of sweat on a face that is drawn and hollow, nods. He holds up the scroll, which is not blank, and it crumbles into tiny lights that fade from view.
Kroth shrugs his acceptance. Then shoves himself off the floor and falls onto the nearest cot.
Cate looks to Tremere. Her concern for her fellow band member struggles with her warriors pride to get the cursed armor she wears off. Finally she asks if Tremere is alright, and if he would rather do this after they rest. Tremere only hesitates for a moment to huff in resignation, then barks that he just wants to get this over. Cate accepts this answer, readily taking up position on the floor where Kroth just was.
Tremere takes out the second scroll. For a moment the arcane phrases swim and fade across the page before Tremere focuses his mind and they become clear. Slowly he reads the scroll. While the elven scroll was beautiful, almost a song, which talked in poetic language about overcoming in a very vague, almost metaphysical, way; this scroll is a parable about a hero that strives to break the curse of his family’s history.
Kroth stayed off sleep to see what would happen during this ritual, but it’s clear after a few minutes that nothing is going to happen. He flops onto the cot and is instantly asleep.
Cate sits anxiously on the floor waiting, just as Kroth did, for something to happen. She listens intently, apprehensively, at the story as it unfolds. Unfortunately, a bug or something flies near her ear, she shoos it away, but she has missed a part of the tale. She listens, but again the bug flies close to her ear and she misses a detail of the story. She looks around to try to kill the bug but she can’t find it. When she turns back to Tremere she concentrates on what he’s saying, but it seems the harder she concentrates the less clearly she can hear him. Finally she notices sharp ringing in her ears. She tries to ignore it, sure that she’s missing something important in the ritual she’s supposed to be doing. The ringing gets louder, causing her head to ache. She feels moisture on her brow; reaching up to wipe it away her hand comes away red with blood. She tries to say something to Tremere, but the ringing is so loud she can’t hear her own voice above it anymore. Pressure builds in her head. She feels the same warm moisture run from her ears, but refuses to wipe it away, knowing what it is. Her head hurts too much, too much to describe, too much to live with. She opens her mouth to scream.
There’s a loud pop. Everything goes silent. Cate stares at Tremere. The scroll turns to dried snakeskin and falls to dust.
“You’re done.” Tremere’s eyes are sunken, his lips are chapped. “I’m going to sleep.” He falls over on the cot, eyes closed before his head hits the cloth.
Cate slowly wipes her head, just normal sweat there. She makes her way to the last cot and lies down.
Awaking after some time, rested if not refreshed, the party prepares to tackle the maze once again. Kroth and Cate are more confident than they have been in a while, and the confidence is infectious. Even Tremere the Pessimist is at least resigned to the fate of plodding through the dungeon, flirting with Dath’nea helps improve his mood.
The first thing they come to as they navigate the twists and turns is another sleeping room. Just to make sure there’s nothing in there that can come up behind them once they’ve passed, Dramoor steps forward to look inside.
“Look out!” Dath’nea reaches out, tugging on Dramoor’s shoulder. Confused, Dramoor allows himself to be pulled back. Dath’nea quickly points out the scorch marks around the door. Quick examination of the door by Tremere and Dramoor reveals the door has been trapped, but no one in the party feels confident enough to try to disarm it. In the end, the party moves past the room leaving it unexplored.
Shortly after that, and several more turns, Dath’nea and Dramoor pick up the metallic tinge of blood on the air. Cautiously they lead the party to the source. Turning the corner of the room where the blood is, they are greeted by a grisly sight. An entire mercenary party has been slaughter in the room. Blood coats and drips from every surface of the room; it pulls in corners, falls from the ceiling, congeals on limbs. None of them have ever seen anything like this before; not Cate who patrolled the city streets seeing the worst the city had to offer, not Dramoor or Dath’nea who navigate the dark wildernesses of the world home of monsters as well as animals, not Kroth who is more at home on the field of battle, and not even Tremere who has traveled the world and seen sights that both fascinate and frighten.
Our heroes take a moment to compose themselves. Then they enter the room. First they check to see if anyone is alive. It is a slim chance, but Cate isn’t willing to let it pass. Even her meager medical skill is enough to tell her that even if someone were to survived the attack they would have soon lost their life of loss of blood or shock. Kroth, being of a practical bent, searches the bodies for moneys and usable equipment. Dramoor and Dath’nea try find bite marks on the corpses, and try to figure out what could have done this. Alas though their knowledge is vast they could not conceive of a creature. With nothing much left to be done, Tremere joins Kroth searching the bodies.
It’s during the search that the party comes across a small girl huddled in the corner of the room. She is covered in blood and her clothes are ripped in several places. Dramoor and Cate try to talk to the girl, but she is traumatized and neither of the two, apparently, is any good with children. In halting sentences containing little comfort they try to coax the girl out the corner. Tremere frustrated at his party members for their lack of ability with kids, perhaps remembering his own time as an orphan, pushes forward and crouches down in front of the girl. With soothing voice and gentle touch he shows the girl they are not there to hurt her. The girl hurls herself from the corner and wraps her arms tightly around Tremere’s neck, shoving her face into his chest.
Tremere, unsure how to take his success, rejoins the party with the girl. Cate tries to examine her wounds, but the girl refuses to let go of Tremere. Still Cate does her best, and finds that her wounds aren’t as bad as one might expect given the state of the room. Dramoor is more practical, and asks what happened in the room.
“It was…horrible.” The girl cries into Tremere’s shirt. “The men were all swords and cursing, and then there was blood. So much blood.” The girl shoves her face hard into Tremere’s chest, refusing to answer any more questions. Tremere glares at Dramoor for frightening her.
With not much else to do in the room, the party quickly exits it, heading down the hall. They are in such a hurry that they pass by an open room without much attention paid to it. It is then that the gravehounds sprint from the room to attack them.
Gravehounds are undead dogs, patches of hair and flesh missing on their bodies, their breath carries with it the stench and chill of the grave. They are quick to attack knocking first Kroth, then Cate, then Tremere to the ground, a layer of frost covering their wounds. Kroth gets to his feet, and brings his thunder to bear, slamming his sword into the gravehound in front of him and shouting his rage at another one bringing up the rear. Cate does her best to engage as many of them as possible, but she is just one sword against a pack of undead. Dath’nea quickly transforms into a wolf to meet the hounds on their terms, ripping and tearing at the flesh of their dead bodies. Dramoor looses bolt after bolt, sinking them into undead flesh, but doing little to deter the hounds from his friends. Tremere, having to deal with the weight of the girl, tries to maneuver out of the way of the hounds, feeling their frigid teeth snapping at him as his does; inspiring his fellow adventures as he does to keep them on their feet.
It is a fight of inches. Our brave heroes would attack the hounds, driving them back. Then the hounds would spring forward to attack, driving them to the ground. Dath’nea is savage in her attacks on the hounds, as if her primal nature abhors the mockery of beasts the hounds have become. Cate shoves and bashes the hounds back, only to have them surge back her again and again. Kroth’s blade and thunder rock the hounds, causing their bones to shake, but the dead know no fear and they return his attacks one for one. Dramoor , fearing the hounds will take down Kroth soon, charges forward, drawing his sword, to protect his party member. Tremere miraculously keeps to his feet with the girl, while weaving magic into a tale of battle that disorientates and confuses the hounds. All this effort seems to be working, as one hound goes down, then another. Unfortunately the dead hunger for company, and the next thing they all know Kroth is unconscious on the floor. Dramoor tries to drive back the hounds around his fallen friend, only to have the hounds strike a vital blow against him, sending him down as well. Dath’nea’s jaws and Cate’s fist sink into the hounds circling the bodies of their downed friends driving them back to the grave. Tremere weaves one last bardic insult, and the last hound collapses, whatever force sustaining the dead body dissipating.
It is then, concerned for their friends, trying to catch their breath, being strangled by panicked little girls, that the sound of moaning reaches them. Turning, Tremere, Cate, and Dath’nea see a troupe of zombies shuffling down the hall towards them.