The hallway spilled out into a large antechamber. Greg’s torch made shadows dance across the rough stone walls. They teased my eyes and made me see things moving just out of the range of our light that weren’t really there. There were doors leading from the left and right side of the chamber, but we decided to try the most direct route through the catacombs and went through the door on the opposite side of the room from where we entered.
The stones that made up the roof of the hall had partially collapsed up ahead of us. When we got closer we saw a small, almost-feminine hand protruding from the rubble.
Greg moved up past Lluc to get a better look and held the torch up to the hand. “I think we may have found our missing apprentice,” he said.
“Where do we go now? The way is blocked,” said Barry. His eyes glowed red from the torchlight—not like a man’s eyes, they were more like a nocturnal animal’s. Given where we were, they were more than a little unsettling to see staring through the darkness behind us.
“Master Cagle always said to keep turning right to find your way through a maze,” I said. “My grove trained trees into a massive living maze. I always got lost before he told me the secret.”
“Right it is then,” said Lluc. He led the way back into the antechamber and through the hallway to our right. We exited into a room with elevated stone slabs covered in clay pots, small chests, and baskets. It smelled vile.
“Th-that smell,” stammered Barry. He pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and covered his nose and mouth.
Kaius moved forward and started to pick through some of the baskets to one side of the room. “Offerings,” he said. “This must have been where families left goods for the priests’ services.”
Greg came through the door last, and as the light from his torch poured in, the floor in the back corner of the room started to move.
“Rats!” exclaimed Barry. There were dozens, and they were big.
I reached out to them. The only emotion I sensed was an overwhelming hunger. A few of the rats turned to see where the bright light was coming from and hissed when they saw us all in the room. The same sense radiated when they looked in our direction. We were food.
They surged forward, and I saw Greg, standing next to me, calmly move his arm in an arc out in front of him. While he was mumbling something, his fingers started to glow, leaving a blue, sparkling dust in the air behind them. The dust spread out and blanketed the rats. I felt panic rise in the room, followed immediately by sudden calm. The the rats all laid down and were overtaken by a deep slumber.
Lluc gave Greg a weighing look, then nodded appreciatively. I hated to do it, but we had to put the rats down. They were too much of a risk to us. They were too hungry and angry, and would certainly have lashed out from confusion if they woke up and we were still around. We left after a fruitless going-over of the room’s contents. The rats had chewed through most of the containers, and anything of real value had already been taken. All that was left was rotting food.
And so we continued to make our way through the dark halls and rooms; turning right, and right, then backtracking when we couldn’t continue. We had just started up a set of stairs when Barry came sneaking back to us out of the black up ahead.
“There’s a light up ahead,” he said. “I heard a voice. It sounded like chanting, or praying.”
“Maybe the priests haven’t all left after all,” suggested Kaius.
I don’t think any of us believed it, though. A respectable person wouldn’t have holed up in a place like that. Given the condition of the chapel, I doubted the rest of the abbey could have been in good shape.
Lluc looked up the stairs and squinted. “I don’t see anything.”
“You humans are so night-blind,” said Barry, and he left us to climb back up the stairs and out of sight.
Lluc just grunted and started up the steps with the rest of us close behind. Greg doused the torch as we got closer to the light up ahead. I could hear a low, monotonous voice repeating words in a language I didn’t know. I looked to Kaius questioningly, but he just shrugged in response.
There were several torches lit along the room’s walls, and a brazier in the middle. A robed man was kneeling behind it, arms stretched out to either side, palms up. He looked up from his prayer and saw us enter. He pulled back his hood and removed a small figure from his belt, holding it toward us. He started to chant again, the words different and audibly more commanding this time, and I saw Kaius tense up.
“I don’t think he means to welcome us here,” said Kaius.
Barry leaped out of the shadows the priest had cast behind himself and sunk his dagger viciously between the priest’s shoulders. The priest screamed in pain, grabbing desperately for the halfling on his back. Barry yanked out his dagger, kicked off the priest’s shoulder, then rolled away, safely out of reach.
Lluc was running for the priest. He raised his longsword and brought it down with a roar. A black war hammer materialized in the priests hands, and he swung it up to meet Lluc’s blow. Lluc must have been recovering from his surprise of seeing the hammer appear from thin air, because he missed the priest’s counter swing and it took him full in the side.
The hit forced him to his knees. The priest re-positioned and prepared for Kaius’s morning star right as Kaius stepped in to distract him from Lluc. I circled around to get behind the priest. I got a good look at the black war hammer and saw that wisps of darkness were rising from it.
Kaius and the priest were trading blows, so I tried to hit while the priest had his back turned to me. The priest made a sweeping strike at Kaius, forcing him back, completed the turn to face me, and knocked my scimitar from my hands. He smiled fiendishly at me and raised the hammer above his head. A small object struck the priest in his temple. The priest’s hammer evaporated in the air, and he turned, seething hatred on his face, to spot Barry disappearing behind an overturned table.
Lluc bellowed as he got back to his feet, visibly weak and barely able to stand. The priest began a new chant and grasped at the air as if to retrieve another weapon, but it was too late. Lluc had already run him through. Then both Lluc and the priest collapsed to the ground.