Adventures of the Cursed Eight 2.5: The cellar

The chronicles of the Cursed Eight

By

Accipiter G. Goshawk

Welcome to a new Chapter in the Chronicles of the Cursed Eight!

We find our party where we left them after the Episode 2.4: Bandits and Therann Village

“More like a few shacks jumbled together,” muttered Shainarra as the rest of the party emerged from the forest. Once again Zal’tat had gone on ahead, ignoring his companions and making for the only two-story building in the settlement. He was now standing in front of it, his eyes roving all over its wood panelling and stone structure.

“Well, that is definitely going to end in tears,” she added, noticing his hungry, lost look. “I’m going to go see if I can maybe find some healing potions. Anybody want to come with?”

“I do!” exclaimed Grell striding forward. “I still need something to replace that potion the bird sold me…I think it might not be a real potion,” he added sagely.

The elven rogue blanched as she looked at the blood-covered half-orc.

“Ahem…yes, you may…need it.”

“Oh, this? This isn’t mine: it kind of spurted out when I was chopping off that bandit’s leg. Cool right?”

“Super cool,” agreed Siloqui. The plains-elf scanned her surroundings and, spotting a woodcutter, went to intercept him. Kathra followed behind her.

“I guess that leaves us to look after the gnome,” Thorin growled, looking up at Nala.

“I guess so,” the warlock answered.

She turned to glance at Zal’tat and froze: he was gone!

“Where in Thelas’ name as he gotten to this-” the old soldier began, before Nala spun him around. She pointed at a small window on the side of the house, where two stubby legs were hanging over the sill.

“Shit!”

Moving as discreetly as they could, the two trotted over to the house. Thorin took the front, while Nala moved to the side. She peered into the window, taking in the rustic décor, the parchment-covered desk and the small sorcerer tiptoeing towards the closed door.

“Zal’tat!” she hissed, “What are you doing! Get back! Somebody might see you!”

As if to punctuate her phrase, a series of heavy footsteps rang out from above them, followed by the sound of someone huffing loudly as they tromped down some stairs.

“Quickly!”

The gnome scrambled for the window and barely manged to clear the sill before the door creaked open.

Quietly, they snuck back to the main street where Thorin was waiting.

“What in the Hells were you thinking?” snapped the dwarf.

“That has to be the mayor’s house,” said Nala. “You could’ve gotten into a lot of trouble. Come on, let’s go find the others. We need to move if we want to reach Astralia by nightfall.”

“I can’t leave, not yet,” answered Zal’tat. “I need to get into the basement of that house.”

“What?!” exploded the red-faced dwarf.

“Why, Zal’tat?” asked Nala, fixing her amber eyes on the gnome’s blue.

“There is something that is…calling to me. Under the ground…something…magic.”

The dragonborn frowned. She closed her eyes, letting her own powers extend past the small street, past the first few layers of soil. Something pulsed beneath her. It was weak, yet persistent.

“There is something. What is it? Why do you need it?”

The gnome shook his head in frustration. “I don’t know. I can’t explain. I just know that I can’t leave until I have it.”

Thorin rolled his eyes and grumbled something into his beard which sounded awfully like “magical mumbo jumbo”, but Nala simply nodded.

“Ok. But no more going off on your own. We are all bound together now. What can we do to help?”

For the first time that day, Zal’tat smiled.

“I need a distraction.”

*           *           *

“That shopkeeper was really nice,” Grell exclaimed as he jumped out of the small trading post.

Shainarra took one deep breath, then another, then finally stepped into the sunlight. Her mind was still awash with the horrifying image of the blood-soaked barbarian haggling with the terrified merchant. The poor bastard had almost managed to resist Grell’s insistent negotiations…but then the half-orc had smiled.

“Still…good for business,” she thought to herself, thinking about the heavily-discounted healing potion she had managed to secure in the wake of the small barbarian’s transaction.

“Did you see where the druid and the ranger went?”

“Not a clue,” Grell answered. “I’m going to go see what’s in the forest! See you later!”

Before she could add another word, he’d jumped on to his dire wolf’s back and galloped off.

“Another one of the many reasons why you should always work alone;” she thought, glaring at the mark of Gerotil on her wrist.

Pointedly ignoring the conspiring dragonborn, gnome and dwarf, she marched towards the other end of the settlement, intent on finding the two least reckless members of the party.

She found them at the edge of the forest. They were both studying the trunk of large birch: its bark appeared to have been stained black. Among its roots the thief could easily make out a few small clumps of what seemed to be a violet sludge.

“Gathering ingredients for poison?” she asked, attempting a jovial tone.

This resulted in a look of confusion from Kathra and a scathing glare from Siloqui.

“It isn’t natural,” said the plains-elf severely. “I’ve encountered this…corruption before. It’s the reason I was in the region of St. Vornias on the eve of the battle. I’ve been following this dark sludge ever since I left my tribe.”

“What does it do?” Shainarra asked gingerly, taking one step backwards and scraping her boots nervously on a nearby rock.

“I don’t know much about it. All I know is that it can possess the creatures of the forest. The first time I encountered it, it had taken over a blink dog…I had to put it down.”

Kathra glanced at the tooth hanging on the leather cord around Siloqui’s neck.

“Ok…so a corrupted creature left these marks?” the rogue asked.

“Yes and judging by the amount, it is considerably larger than a dog,” the ranger said. She paused for a moment, her eyes following the trail of dark sludge leading deeper into the forest.

“I need to find it. Hunt it down. I don’t expect you to help me.”

“Maybe you don’t, but I will definitely be by your side,” said Kathra kindly. Taking a moment to concentrate, she shifted back into a horse and stamped her foot. Siloqui smiled, and leapt on to her back, urging her into the trees.

 Shainarra said nothing.

Then, after a minute…

“Ah shit! I’m sure I’ll regret this,” she snarled, sprinting after them.

*           *           *

Zal’tat paused at the top of the stairs.

Behind him he could hear the man he assumed to be the mayor of the village sputtering confusedly, while Nala bombarded him with questions. Thorin was somewhere nearby, ready to intervene.

“The rest is up to me,” the gnome breathed. He cautiously made his way down into the cellar, paying attention not to upset any creaking floorboards.

At the bottom of the steps he found an unlocked door; behind it he could feel the Thing, calling to him, egging him on.

Slowly, he put his hand on the large iron handle and pushed.

The smell of rotting meat slammed into him and had he not been utterly captivated by the energy emanating from the far side of the room, he would have been violently sick.

He almost didn’t register the corpses strung up on the walls, nor the various chains and torture implements scattered around the space: his gaze was fixed on a small wooden chest laying on the edge of a bloodstained table.

Unable to wait any longer, he dashed forward and grabbing the box, swiftly stowed it in his satchel.

Only then did the horror of his surroundings become apparent. He stifled a gasp, backing away from the terrifying scenes of pain and death.

Then he heard a heavy footfall at the top of the stair.

Thinking fast and ignoring the nervous sweat forming on his brow, the gnome silently moved behind the open door, preparing to dash up the stairs as soon as the mayor had moved far enough into the room.

As the steps reached the bottom, he heard a sharp intake of breath. He felt the floor shake as a hulking figure rushed in, moving directly to the table in the far corner. Without a moment’s hesitation he slipped out from behind the door, climbed up the stairs and sprinted out the front door, almost colliding with Nala.

A muted roar rang out behind him and he shivered.

“I think we need to go,” he said, grabbing the dragonborn’s hand while motioning to Thorin.

In less than a minute, they managed to recover their horses, find Grell and take off into the forest, following the direction in which – according to the young half-orc – the others had been going.

Behind the, a shadow descended on Therann Village.

*           *           *

Deep within the forest, the ranger had stopped moving.

Glancing back, she motioned to Shainarra and Kathra to hide. The druid’s form shifted again, and the bushes rustled for a moment. The rogue was merely another shadow amongst the trees, invisible and deadly.

Crouching low, Siloqui snuck forward to the edge of the clearing. She paused as she heard something large shift somewhere in front of her. Using a felled tree for cover, she peered out.

The colossal frame of an owlbear lumbered into view. Its fur was matted with dark sludge and she could see that more of the corruption was seeping out from among the feathers of its head.

“This might get messy…” she murmured.

Her two curved blades made no sound as they slid from their scabbards.-

The story continues in episode 2.6

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