Threshold

Episode 4: Into the Catacombs

In Which Our Heroes Descend.

(illustration by Stephen Fabian, from N4 Treasure Hunt)

The four castaways moved into the hall, planning to cross to the other side of the manor, where Osric said they’d find the hidden entrance to the catacombs. Theronna leaned on Alistina for support.

Zeke whispered “There’s some goblins ‘round the corner ‘n’ down a bit.”

“Great,” said Alistina. “Anyone got a plan?”

“Sneak past ‘em?” Zeke offered weakly. Eilir held her tongue instead of replying.

They moved into the cross-hall, which ran nearly two hundred feet to the other side of the manor, with several sets of double doors on either side.

“Intellego!” Eilir spoke the wand’s command word, bringing its detection magic to life. Paying close attention to its rosy glow as she walked, the wizard bumped into Zeke, muttering an apology and trying to hide her blushing face by looking intently at the floor.

Alistina saw the wand’s glow brighten a bit when they reached the midpoint of the hall. Before she could say anything, Theronna pointed to the north and said “Someone’s coming.” At once she opened one of the double doors, and the four of them ducked into the room as humanoids appeared at both ends of the hall – orcs to the north, goblins to the south.

Zeke closed the door as softly as he could as the humanoids shouted at each other, then charged, coming together with a mighty crash just outside the room.

He turned to see what was left of a library. Eilir wandered through the ruined shelves, fingertips brushing the moldy remains of books with a furious expression. She made her way toward a large wooden plaque leaning against the east wall, depicting a life-size harpooner drawing back his weapon. As she approached, the wand’s glow intensified.

Zeke stood braced against the door, keeping an ear trained on the melee in the hall. He thought that the goblins were losing.

“Look,” Eilir said. “This harpoon is separate from the plaque.” She reached up and carefully removed it; its head fell off, revealing the golden hue of the javelin beneath.

Eilir gasped and peered at the tiny symbol engraved on the weapon’s shaft, which depicted three lightning bolts converging on one point.

Alistina described it aloud to Theronna, but it was Zeke who said ”’S Talos’s mark. God’a thunder ‘n’ lightnin’ ‘n’ such.” His father had spoken that name more than once, to spare their crops from his wrath…

He snapped out of his reminiscence as the doorknob began to turn in his hand, and he heard Eilir talking (too loudly for their circumstances) about the javelin’s possible powers. Eyes widening, he shushed the women and grabbed the knob; he held the door fast, until the frustrated grunts on the other side ended, and the orcs shuffled away.

“Are they gone?” whispered Alistina.

Zeke shook his head, eyes still wide, unable to hide his annoyance.

“I hear them.” Alistina pointed at the door on the south wall – the orcs were moving to enter the library from another direction.

Zeke cracked the double door open and peered into the hall, seeing three dead goblins and no orcs, living or dead. He eased into the hallway, and the women followed, Theronna having finally regained her senses.

They crept through the manor to the room that Osric had marked “Go to Catacombs” on their map. That door was closed, but the door at the end of the hall, leading outside, was opened a crack. Zeke opened the door and entered the room, finding two broken desks, several bookcases groaning with trays full of mold and scraps of paper – and Osric.

“What kept ye?” asked the old man as the castaways filed into the room. The sudden sound startled Eilir, and she grabbed Zeke’s arm, letting go just as quickly.

“Ye lot’ll be ready ta leave, I’ll wager.” With a smirk, Osric stood up, dusted himself off, and walked over to one of the bookcases. Reaching up to the top, he pressed a hidden button with a soft click. Then… nothing.

Theronna drew her longsword. Zeke blinked slowly. “Something wrong, Osric?” asked Alistina.

“Seems.” Frowning, the old man pressed the button again, with the same result. “This here button should open th’ bookcase so’s we can use th’shaft. Ain’t used it in twenny years, though, s’I can’t say’s I’m too surprised.”

“You mean we cain’t get down this way?” Zeke asked, dumbfounded.

“I didn’t say that, lad. Ya could pry th’ bookcase away from th’ wall, but that’d take time ‘n’ make noise… But once we’re down there there’s more works that’ll seal the shaft b’hind us.” A strange look came over the old man’s face as he caught sight of the javelin in Eilir’s hand, but it only lasted a moment.

The group considered their options. Finally, Eilir pulled a large wooden beam loose from the debris littering the floor. “We could use these to pry the thing open. Doing it quickly would cause a ruckus and draw their attention. We could do it slowly instead, but that could take a while. Either way, we risk getting caught.”

They got to work. Theronna and Eilir closed the door and shifted debris to block it, listening for patrols, while Zeke and Alistina tried to force the bookcase open with makeshift prybars.

“Someone’s coming!” Eilir whispered. The prying stopped at once. Footsteps echoed in the hall. Another door opened – across the hall? – then silence returned.

They resumed prying. After a minute or two, the bookcase groaned away from the wall, revealing a shaft behind it. They lowered the case to the floor carefully. Zeke saw that the shaft was very dark, and about two feet in diameter, with rusty steel staples for rungs.

Osric brushed past Zeke and started to climb down, just as someone tried the door. It opened – barely – and they heard goblin voices arguing.

Theronna drew her sword again. “Hurry, down the shaft!” she whispered, preparing to cover the others’ escape. Zeke readied his falchion and stood by her side.

As they filed down the narrow passage, the goblins tried to force their way into the room. Fortunately, they were delayed by the mountain of debris. By the time Osric, Eilir, and Alistina were out of sight, they opened the door open enough for a goblin to get an arm in, flailing around the other side of the doorknob.

Theronna turned to face Zeke, yelling “Move farm boy, go! We must save our strength for a real fight!” The sound of her voice caused a change in the goblins’ pitch – three of them at least.

“Have it yer way,” he said, and started down the shaft.

Theronna held her position until the shaft was clear, then climbed down, the first goblin bursting into the room as she reached the bottom.

The castaways found themselves in a dark, damp chamber with rough stone walls, partitioned into three storerooms. A low shaft led off to the south, deeper into the catacombs. They felt surrounded by quiet.

Osric reached for a lever and yanked it. A tremendous crash came from overhead, and the sounds of goblins descending the shaft turned to screams. A great cloud of dust rushed out of the shaft and a hail of rocks pelted down, forcing the adventurers to take cover.

“That oughtta keep ‘em out,” grumbled the old man. “Made it. Knew we would. Haven’t been down here awhile.”

“So where are we?” asked Alistina.

“Catacombs, where I entombed himself ‘n’ nis family. Used his ring ta keep ‘im from rottin.’ In ‘is adventurin’ days he found a ring that made things happen if ya wished for ‘em, d’ye se. So I wished they’d ne’er decay, so they’d be in one piece when it w’s ime for tha dead to rise up in th’ afterlife.”

“Smart,” Alistina said, thinking Sounds extremely dangerous, but smart.

Osric continued, saying “I were gonna get down here an’ shut the shaft when th’ orcs first landed, but they grabbed me. Ya done me a real favor, gettin’ me down here so I could shut it off.”

Eilir brushed dust from her hair and readied the wand. “You really cared for him and his family, didn’t you?”

“Course!” he replied. “Can’t let them bastards make off with ‘is treasures ‘n’ pretties. What manner o’servant would I be if I did?”

“So where are these pretties?” asked Theronna.

“Wouldn’t you like to know,” replied the old man in a sing-song tone.

“Not really,” said Zeke. “Where’s the boat? I’d like to git clear ‘fore Tymora smites the whole damn place.”

Osric turned on Zeke, spell-light gleaming in his eyes – and on the shining dagger in his hand. “What manner’o servant would I be to let you profane his son’s tomb? Nah, you ain’t leavin, no more so than me. Gonna die down here, like me. Good idea.”

He lunged forward, but Theronna’s longsword was already in her hands. She deflected the old man’s attack on Zeke, then swept her blade up, slicing Osric’s neck open. He clapped a hand to the wound and fell to his knees, blood streaming through his fingers, laughing maniacally as he died.

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DarthKrzysztof

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