A Long Way From Eden

Arthus closed his eyes, lingering on his last memory of Whitehaven. He had looked back a thousand times since he crossed the town border, but this was the last. He couldn’t even make out the clearing from the hilltop, the only evidence of the idyllic town was the smoke drifting skyward. If not for that, even he would have no idea there was even a settlement there.

This was his favorite image, albeit a bittersweet one, of his past. It was at that moment that he knew he was truly leaving and he wondered if he would ever gaze on his home again.

The crash roused Arthus from his reverie, and he tilted his head to see the serving wench frantically picking up spilled tankards and broken clay dishes to the sound of thunderous laughter from most of the patrons. He used the diversion to inch closer to a table of three men and a halfling who had been deep in discussion for the better part of an hour. He felt bad about sliding the bench out just enough to catch the wench’s foot, but the worst she would get is the back of the innkeep’s hand. He would make it up to her in tips if this job paid off.

From what he had overheard so far, they were working on their biggest score to date. They were friendly enough amongst themselves, but this was primarily a business arrangement and things were discussed as such. As he got closer, Arthus realized they were talking about breaking into a tomb in the graveyard outside of the city. The thought was gruesome enough to make him second-guess his means of earning a living, but his growling stomach mounted enough of a protest for him to stay put.

He could only catch a glimpse of a very old and yellowed piece of vellum on which was a map with several fresh markings and notes upon it. “So it’s settled then.” Grumbled the large man who had been dominating the meeting. “Aye.” Replied the group.

Arthus retreated a bit and ordered another mug of rotgut. He watched out of the corner of his eye as the halfling stowed the map and quills. The group slowly disbanded resolving to leave at first light. Arthus left his last shilling on the table and trailed the halfling upstairs as another of his companions grumbled about why he always had to pack the horses.

By the time the hairfoot was halfway upstairs Arthus was making his way across the room, slowly climbing the stairs and turning the opposite way as his quarry hesitating just enough to see which door he entered. He would wait a bit and make his move for the map.

Arthus waited about an hour or so for the mark to fall asleep, as well as for his companions to settle into their rooms. “Four men… four rooms.” He thought. “They must not be doing too bad to throw coin away like that.” It was looking more and more like the risk would be worth whatever he had to do in the next few days. Arthus had grown tired of scraping enough copper pennies together to buy a spot on the common room floor listening to his stomach rebel against his career choices.

Months of living slightly better than a gutter rat had taught him enough to know he had to take advantage of this opportunity. So, he crept once again up the stairs, down the hallway to the door where he had seen the halfling enter for the night, and pulled out the tools he had lifted from the same halfling’s pack during the serving wench’s battle with the innkeeper. Again his conscience jabbed at him, but he again swore all would be made right when he could.

Arthus focused himself on the task at hand, smirking a bit as the hairfoot’s own lockpicks slid silenty into the keyhole of his room. Arthus was by no means a master burglar, but he had a certain knack for figuring out all manner of contraptions. More than once he had gained entry into the Copper Kettle and rearranged Bartleby’s furniture in the middle of the night, and this lock was no more of a challenge to him.

A barely perceptible click and Arthus knew he had it. With one hand on the door and the other on his less than pristine shortsword, Arthus crept into the room hoping the occupant hadn’t heard him. One last glance down the hall and he was in. He crouched and faced the snoring halfling , locked the door, then worked his way over to the pack. A flickering candle in the window cast enough light for him to quickly find what he was looking for. He took the map, some blank parchment, a quill and some ink, and slinked out of the window.

Arthus dropped down in the alley behind the inn and made his way around to the stables. The stable hand was long since asleep, so it was easy to do his work without being detected. Arthus quickly traced a copy of the map and made whatever notes and marked whatever details he could make out and then slowly went to the only packed horses in the stable.

Arthus knew they were trying to leave early, he would just leave a bit earlier than that. He went through the packs taking a bit of rations from each to sustain him for a few days and then climbed on the stable roof, pausing as the stable hand roused a bit. He leapt across to a small ledge, then threw himself up to grab the windowsill of the halfling’s room. As quietly as he could, Arthus pulled himself up and leaned in far enough to grab the slumbering halfling’s backpack and replace the contents… all except for a few silver shillings Arthus was sure he wouldn’t miss.

Dropping down to the ground again, Arthus walked around to the street and then made his way through the neighborhood to another tavern and sat down to have a drink before he set off. The bartender did several double-takes as Arthus could not seem to wipe the self-satisfied grin from his face. This night in and of itself was the best caper he’d pulled since he left home.

Retreating from the bar to a corner table, Arthus studied his copy of the map, and his stomach started to get that feeling he always got when he was about to get in over his head. It was the odd combination of fear, exhilaration, and anticipation he had felt so many times before. His eyes scanned the notes, and as if he didn’t have plenty of reasons to walk away from this, there was on note that stood out amongst the rest… “25 wheels south of the line.”

That was closer than he would ever like to be to the border of Morrowind. Curiosity and daring-do aside, Morrowind was the subject of countless tales of horror and death… and worse.

Emptying his tankard Arthus reminded himself that he wouldn’t actually be going in to the cursed lands, and that tens of thousands of hardened warriors stood the Line. If something got through that then it likely wouldn’t matter how far from the border he actually was.

The tavern was almost empty when Arthus left. He knew it would take him a day or so to get to the destination indicated on the map. It was going to be a long night, but hopefully it would be worth the lack of sleep.

Arthus kept to the alleys and shadows as best he could not wanting to invite even the slightest interest in his business. Once he was past the town wall (easily evading the eyes of a few patrolling guardsmen) he sprinted to the foothills and was on his way.

The travel was slow going as he got closer to the graveyard. Random road patrols and a road warden or two forced him to lay low in the brush or risk being questioned… or worse. Defenses were tight this close to the line, and no one would be permitted to pass without at least presenting a Writ of Citizenship. The inevitable questions that would follow might cost Arthus his opportunity, so he hoped that skill and luck would be enough to get him by.

A few hours after the next nightfall, Arthus spied the gates of Crownsong Cemetery. There was a wall of stone mounted iron bars with two ornate iron gates. The mist along the ground and the pounding of his heart made the whole scene as bad as any ghost story Alec ever told him. Once again marshalling his courage, Arthus crept close to the wall and began to climb, careful to make as little noise as possible.

Arthus made his entry a good distance away from a small building that had a flickering light in the window. No doubt this was the grave keeper and night watchman. He crossed to the center of the large cemetery staying crouched behind monuments and tombstones so as to avoid detection. Every noise, no matter how faint or distant, made Arthus’ heart jump. He thought for a moment that it would be too much for him, but quickly ridiculed himself remembering that this is exactly what he was looking for when he left the safety of Whitehaven.

Soon enough the gravestones and monuments gave way to small tombs and mausoleums, and these were eventually dwarfed by a large marble structure with two braziers flanking an imposing set of metal doors. “Jackpot!” thought Arthus as he scanned the area for unwanted eyes. This was it, the family tomb of the D’ Argos. According to the group at the inn, they were a prosperous line of nobles whose fortunes came to an abrupt end after some political disputes turned bloody. That combined with the failure of the last son to return from the Line opened the floodgates for the family’s rivals to seize lands and titles as they could.

Arthus pondered this as he crouched beneath the large brazier and studied the doors. The family crest was molded in relief on both doors, and the lock was artistically worked into the claw of a large bird.

Arthus drew forth the rusty lockpicks he had borrowed from his halfling benefactor and set to work. These locks were stubborn… impossibly so. Whoever built this place certainly didn’t want any strangers messing about inside. Then he stopped, slowly drew out the picks, and began studying the entryway with a more critical eye. “If the locks were this secure, what would stop someone from just blasting the door off the hinges somehow?” Then he found it. A slight seam in the surrounding marble. Then another, then another. “Traps!” Arthus whispered to himself. “Shit.”

Arthus had never had to deal with any complex traps even with all of his mischief as a youth. At most a bucket of dirty dishwater set to drench him if he wasn’t clever enough getting into the Kettle’s store room door. This was a whole new animal, and Arthus couldn’t help but feel outclassed and deflated.

Arthus sat in quiet desperation as first light was fast approaching not to mention the group of marauders who would not appreciate his presence any more than the rightful owners of the riches inside. Then it hit him… The rightful owners would certainly visit from time to time, or at the very least come to inter a departed relative… How in blazes did they get in?

Arthus searched the symbols and runes that adorned the entryway trying to find meaning or direction, but somehow he knew it would come down to dumb luck. After some time he convinced himself that he had deciphered the clues and there was only one way to proceed. Hoping the groundskeeper had dozed off or passed out or was at least looking the other way, Arthus lit the braziers and prayed to whoever might hear him. As they blazed to life on either side of him, Arthus heard a faint series of clicks that sounded like they were coming from miles away (or beneath.) When that had passed he heard what sounded like air escaping from a small crack, and then all was silent.

Arthus went back to the locks with a renewed faith in his chances, and somehow managed to work them open. A cold darkness greeted him from within, and there was only one thing he could do… he went in.

Closing the door behind him Arthus set the locks and hoped the fires would burn out before they gave him away. He reached into a fraying bag and pulled out what looked like a torch and struck it hard against the floor. The crystal set within erupted with light and Arthus could see most of the main hall. The grandeur was beyond his capacity. He never dreamed anyone could live like this, let alone be laid to rest in such opulence. Solid marble gilded in silver and gold filled the entire tomb. He smiled to himself as he thought he would just retire here and forget making his way in the world of the living all together!

Standing in the center of the room was a huge statue of an imposing looking man in plate armor. The base of the statue had an inscription that read Archduke Edward “The Raven” D’ Argo of Cheydinhal. The dates indicated his death some 400 years prior.

Arthus lingered a bit taking in the other impressive (though smaller) statues, busts, paintings, and banners throughout the large chamber. This grand hall was the entire first floor, with a large staircase heading down steeply into darkness.

If the objects d’art weren’t so bulky, Arthus would have liked to cart them off statues and all, but alas, he would have to leave them to rot in the tomb. He stood at the top of the stairs, took a deep breath, and hoped there were some more portable riches in the catacombs.

Over a dozen marble stairs descended well below ground. That thought mixed with the cold air and eerie echoes of every noise had Arthus’ heart pounding as if there was an imminent threat of danger all around him.

The stairs landed in front of a huge painting depicting a large manor house and several impressive figures in the foreground. The plaque gave the family name again with the date of the portrait, as well as the name of the manor and the city of residence. The name was not familiar to him, but given the dates Arthus thought there was a good chance the city didn’t even exist anymore… all the more reason to investigate what might have happened and what ruins lay forgotten by time.

Catching himself in a bit of a daydream, Arthus shook his head and saw metal gates on either side of the landing. Checking each revealed more statues and many plaques mounted on the walls beyond, no doubt indicating the occupants in the mausoleum. Arthus set to picking the lock on the right door and smirked a bit as he heard a telling click which was quickly followed by another.

It was the second click that had Arthus throwing himself to the cold, hard floor, bloodying his nose and dazing him a bit. He recovered enough to just hear several bolts sail past and through the gate on the other side. He heard each crack against something further down the other hall, well beyond his light.

Arthus scrambled along the floor and sat up against the wall, shaken and more than a little upset with himself. He looked up at the statue of an unknown member of the D’ Argo family, scowled and barked “You almost had me there you bastards!”

Again Arthus closed the door behind him and reset the lock. It wouldn’t be long before the unwanted company arrived. That thought (along with the near death experience) seemed to focus Arthus on the mission. He couldn’t let his mind wander or his steps falter anymore. There was too much at risk here. This place was dangerous enough, but if he got caught looting the graves, the “rightful” owners would never let him live long enough to enjoy it.

It took Arthus several minutes to go the length of the hallway. He was mindful that every step could trigger another surprise, and that he had best get what he could and get out as quickly as possible. The two goals seemed to be in direct conflict with each other, but there was little he could do about that, so he went on as carefully as he could.

Turning the corner Arthus saw more of the same. A long corridor, several statues, paintings, and tapestries, and the final resting places of many extended family members of the Archduke. About halfway down the hall he spied a doorway, it was just enough to occupy his attention so that a rat squeaked by and nearly caused him to jump from his skin!

Catching his breath and wiping his brow, Arthus headed for the opening. The doorway was actually an ornately carved archway with another, narrower stairway. The runes over the entrance roughly translated to “Eternal Peace… Archduke & Duchess D’ Argo.”

Arthus’ face lit up. He was certain that whatever this place had to offer was down the stairs in front of him. He tightened his pack and held the sunrod in front of him. The same marble led him down to another archway, this one barred by an iron portcullis. Arthus studied the bars and the surrounding stonework, but was at a loss as to how he would pass. Looking into the room he saw traces of silver and gold embellishing nearly every surface of the room to some extent. There were elaborate sarcophagi that were carved to resemble the more prominent members of the D’ Argo family. There were candle chandeliers, tall candelabras along the beige marble floor, and two braziers reminiscent of those outside the crypt that stood on either side of a beautiful altar with a symbol vaguely similar to that of Kord.

Arthus began to feel very anxious, the shadows played on every surface of the chamber, and he couldn’t be sure, but every few moments his head snapped this way and that and he could swear he heard something…

He calmed himself hoping that inspiration would strike again and he would find riches beyond his wildest dreams. They were waiting just in front of him, he knew it. Then his head cocked again, but this time he was sure he heard something. He crouched and listened… footsteps echoed from up above. “Shit.”

Arthus darted up the stairs and down the hallway a bit, taking refuge behind one of the adorning statues. He crouched low beside the base and stowed the sunrod in his pack, wrapping it in an old shirt.

A few moments passed when he heard just the slightest noise like something sliding along the floor. Then he heard “It’s clear.” Peaking out as his curiosity got the best of him, Arthus saw torchlight from down the hall. As it got closer he could make out the halfling kneeling in the archway and waving his companions closer.

As the other three men moved to the stairs, the halfling whispered that he would need a few minutes for the gate below. They grumbled impatiently and he made a rude but somehow amusing gesture toward them.

Arthus spent the time listening to the hushed conversation and tried to remain still and calm. He found himself even fighting the urge to breathe when he heard a rusty screech from down below. “Got it!” exclaimed the halfling, “Now get your lazy arses down here and lift this bloody thing!”

The men headed down, each sheathing their weapon, and Arthus could hear them straining against the weight of the portcullis as their scout harassed them for their weakness.

With one long resounding grunt, the men raised the gate enough to crawl underneath. They made their way into the burial chamber and Arthus crept out to take a peek after them.

Arthus observed as the last of the men crawled into the chamber. The Halfling was searching for something near the altar, and indicated that the others should look for “it” as it should be around there somewhere.

Several minutes passed as they searched every inch of the large room, but the scout was fixated by the altar. Finally he called out to the rest “I got it!” He traced along the underside of the altar top and spoke a few words. Although the hairfoot only whispered, the sounds sent chills through Arthus, and he watched as the three hardened men began to look uneasily amongst each other.

The scout looked at the largest of them as the altar gave way to something Arthus could not see. “Now it gets interesting.” Said the scout, with a somewhat grave tone in his voice.

The men each went in turn, disappearing down behind the altar. The Halfling looked around until someone shouted up “All clear.” He proceeded down, and soon they could be heard no more. A few moments later, Arthus heard the sound of stone sliding on stone. Without thinking he leapt down the stairs landing in a tumble, propelled himself in a dive under the sharp points of the portcullis’ bars, sprang to his feet and sprinted across the room. He leapt, begging Kord’s forgiveness in midair as he landed on the altar. The Trap door below was nearly closed. Arthus dropped into the hole, and about halfway down the dark shaft he grabbed the rung of a ladder as the marble slid into place above his head. “Shit.”

He could no longer make out the voices of his “guides,” but he could see the faint glow of torchlight up ahead. He dare not unpack his sunrod, so he carefully followed the light, trying to gain his bearings as he went.

This was nothing like the elaborate tomb above, it was dank and muddy. The tunnel was roughly carved into the earth, and went on for quite a way. Arthus wondered if they would eventually be outside the boundary of the cemetery itself.

Arthus turned a bend in the tunnel as his only light source had done a minute ago. He could see the light ahead coming from around another bend. The light flickered and then disappeared. Arthus hurried along the passage again, then slid to a halt when he heard screams from the other marauders.

The sounds of battle were evident as the leader shouted hasty orders and the others yelled, screamed in pain and panic, and cursed wildly. Other sounds, perhaps the attackers, also flooded the tunnel. Grunting and groaning could be heard in between the screams of the men. Then, as suddenly as it started, it stopped.

Unsure of how to proceed, Arthus crept along the corridor and around the bend and as he turned his eyes refocused and he saw light glowing from a hole in the cavern floor. He could hear the strained and worried voices of the men below as he made his way quietly to the opening.

Looking down there was another stone chamber. Not the elaborate marble work of the crypt above, but a solid manmade room nonetheless. He eavesdropped a bit while he tried to figure out if he should turn tail and run or not.

Two of the men frantically bandaged the third, while the halfling lay whimpering on the floor. After a couple of minutes it was clear that they had done all they could for their comrade, and cursed as they slumped away from his lilfeless body.

The scout was in and out of consciousness and the two men were certain he would not survive long enough to get back to town. They cut away his pant leg to reveal a deep gash which was filled with a thick greenish puss. “The Rot.” Said the leader as he gave a grave look at the other man. “We have to get out of here!” said the other hoping there would be no backlash from his companion.

They argued a bit about whether it was worth the risk for the two of them to continue, all the while their halfling scout lay in a cold sweat.

Arthus rummaged through his pack and pulled out a small clay jar with a cork stopper. It was a gift from Alasaar before he left for Kvatch. He said it was an ancient remedy passed down to his mother, and that he hoped Arthus wouldn’t need it.

Arthus leaned over the opening and called down to the men “Here… catch.”

The leader jumped and grabbed for his sword as the other turned pale and looked frantically around for the source of the noise.

“Who the hell are you?!?” Said the larger man.

“I’m the one saving your scout’s life.” Said Arthus. “So catch!” Arthus tossed the jar down and as the man caught it said: “Just spread the whole thing over the cut. It should cover it completely. Don’t mind the smell.”

The leader looked suspiciously at Arthus as he opened the jar. “What have you got to lose?” said Arthus “your friend is almost gone.”

With that the man did as Arthus told him, and Arthus took the opportunity to drop into the room and ready himself for who knows what.

“You have some nerve following us!” Said the other man in a shaky voice.

“Actually I got here first!” said Arthus defiantly.

“So you were trying to poach our score?” Asked the leader.

“Uh, well, Yeah.” Arthus admitted shrugging his shoulders.

“We should kill him right here!” Yelled the other man.

“Keep your damn voice down! Do you want more of this?” Scolded the leader pointing at their fallen comrades.

“I’ll make it simple” said the leader “If Talas lives, you live… deal?”

“Since you put it that way… deal!” replied Arthus with an uneasy smile. He prayed that Alasaar’s mother knew what the hell she was doing.

“My name’s Arthus.”

“Cort. That sorry coward is Micah.”

“Ta… Talas…” said a small voice as Arthus’ heart fell back out of his throat.

“Looks like you live for now.” Said Cort.

“Lucky me!” smiled Arthus. “You should still get him to a surgeon…” “but that still leaves the matter of the job.”

Arthus knew he was pushing his luck, but he was out of options.

“You have some balls kid!” said Cort. “We have to get Talas and Jeron out of here” he said motioning toward the body on the floor. “This job is scrapped.”

Arthus looked at the three of them as if he had some say in the matter, and said “I can finish it.”

“Oh c’mon!” exclaimed Micah. “You heard him, the job is finished!”

“I can finish it.” Arthus said looking Cort straight in the eyes. “I need some tools and the details, anything I get we split.”

“Horseshit!” yelled Micah. “You’re lucky we even let you walk outta here!”

“Right, ‘cause you’ve done such a fine job so far!”

Cort stepped between the two and put his hands up. “Look, if he gets it, we get paid. If not, we get nothing anyway.”

Cort looked Arthus up and down. “You don’t look like much… but what have I got to lose?” Before Arthus could voice his indignation, Cort continued: “Take what you need from Talas’ pack. All the details are in his journal and he has all the tools you’ll need.”

Arthus chastised himself for not finding the journal the night before, but it was too late for regrets now. He was in.

“So,” asked Arthus as he flipped through the journal, “what exactly am I looking for?”

Cort sat down next to Talas, looked at the halfling who shrugged, and said “we’re not completely sure.”

“Shit.” Arthus thought to himself as he looked incredulously at Cort.

“I know. I know. It’s ridiculous to risk life and limb for something like this, but the payoff was too much to ignore.” Said Cort.

Arthus weighed things out in his head as he continued to look through the halfling’s notes. As Cort went on Arthus realized that Talas knew far more than he was letting on to the other three men. He glanced quickly at the scout who was now sitting up against the wall as color returned to his somewhat childlike face. The look Arthus got back was almost imperceptible, but it confirmed what he had already figured out.

Arthus let Cort finish, and nodded as if he had digested every word.

“Well, before I head off… who did this to you?” It was a fair question, but Cort tripped a bit over the answer.

“Men… looked like they were down here a… while…” He trailed off looking like he was trying to resolve some inner struggle.

Arthus looked at Talas who just shrugged as if to say he never saw what got him. It didn’t fill Arthus with hope, and every shred of common sense he had said to flee while he still could, but he easily convinced himself it would be worth the risks to press on ahead.

Staring down a narrow stone corridor into the darkness ahead, Arthus checked his position against the sketches in Talas’ journal. “Well… back in a bit!”

According to the maps sketched in the book, it wouldn’t be too much further. A few corridors, and then a large chamber… no problem. He pulled out the sunrod from his pack and was happy it still had some life left in it. He covered the gleaming stone with a single layer of cloth to dim the light. It gave him enough light to see a few feet ahead, but wouldn’t give him away too easily.

Arthus crept cautiously along the hallway, taking care as if each step might bring disaster. It seemed that with every move his heart pounded harder, and he soon found himself worked into such anxiety that every noise was terrifying.

It didn’t help at all when he swore he could hear breathing up ahead. He crouched low and held the light behind his back, bringing up his sword that for the first time he had lost all confidence in.

Shadows played on the stone blocks that made up the walls, stretching back and around the next corner. Arthus marshaled his courage, thinking about how his friends would never let him forget it if he wet himself and ran back to safety. Besides, he had to be tougher than a measly halfling and three… hardened… mercenaries… “ugh.”

“Ha!” Arthus leapt around the corner with a shout, swinging his shortsword and the sunrod wildly. Sparks flew off the stone as the blade scraped all over.

Arthus realized he was still alone in the hallway, and he pulled himself together, cursed himself and gave thanks that no one else was there to witness his spectacle, and he continued on.

Up ahead he could just make out a wide archway with some light flickering from somewhere within. He once again crouched low.

With his heart again lodged firmly in his throat, and a less than steady hand on his rusty and pockmarked sword, Arthus advanced. As he got about halfway down the hall, he could make out some of the details of the archway. It was a different sort of stone, each carved with strange symbols. He couldn’t read them, and as he tried to focus on them he began to feel nauseated. Blinking hard, Arthus decided to concentrate on the ground ahead of him, and the light inside the room.

A few more steps and an odd thought occurred to him. Why weren’t there any bodies of the enemies in the room with his new partners? “Shit.”

No sooner did the thought pass through his head than a screeching, howling, cry issued from the room ahead. Several figures rushed at him, and he knew there was no escaping this one.

Dropping his pack and the sunrod, Arthus pulled a long knife from his boot with his off-hand. With any luck, the narrow hallway would keep him from getting surrounded, and with two blades he might stand a chance. As the sunrod hit the floor the crystal cracked and the hallway was left in darkness. The only light was that flickering from the room beyond. The light served to create eerie silhouettes of the men rushing him and that only added to Arthus’ near panic.

The first enemy lunged at him and Arthus swung up with his sword and felt it connect. The man didn’t scream though and soon Arthus felt several razor sharp blades raking at his skin. His clothes tore away in shreds, and he swung wildly as their attack was so violent and chaotic that he could hardly catch his breath.

One of the pack grabbed Arthus’ ankle and tried to drag him to the floor, but balance and quickness had always been Arthus’ strong suit. He rolled backwards and kicked up with his other foot catching one under the chin. He heard a gurgling hiss as he tumbled upright bringing both blades to bear.

They rushed him again, but one seemed to lag behind. Arthus was sure he did some damage and vowed to remember that trick if he lived to fight another day!

The others rushed him, but this time Arthus timed their attack. Lunging low under the incoming attacks, he plunged the shortsword in between the ribs of his assailant. It shrieked and dropped to the floor writhing in agony.

Another flailed at him, incensed at the way things had played out so far. The other who had hung back from the fray staggered towards them. Arthus spun low slashing the leg of the man in front of him, then in a flurry they exchanged blows, with Arthus landing the decisive shot driving his knife into his foe’s throat.

As the final enemy closed, Arthus could sense his hesitation. Arthus waved his swords wildly and yelled. His foe was not impressed however and leaped at Arthus with both arms outstretched.

A second later Arthus found himsef on his back being cut across his chest. In an instant the Arthus could feel the other man’s saliva dripping on his chest. Instinctively he stuck the knife across his face and it caught the madman between the teeth as he was trying to bite down on Arthus’ shoulder.

Wrestling and squirming, Arthus got free from his enemy and slashed down wildly as it tried to stand. Arthus’ blades struck several telling blows, and the man slumped to the floor.

It took Arthus a long time to settle himself enough to get back to his feet. What the hell was this place? Some kind of asylum? Who the hell tries to bite someone?!? That was just foul play, plain and simple, even Alasaar never tried to bite him even with those teeth!

A few minutes passed, and Arthus collected his pack and cleared his head. After the terror and excitement wore off, he was ready to see the inside of the room ahead. He stalked forward, this time with a wry smirk on his lips as he knew he had just passed his first test on the road to greatness.

Arthus kicked one of the bodies in a triumphant disgust, but jumped as it gurgled. “best to get a move on this…” he thought. He could only hope there was no one else lurking for him up ahead. He was sore all over and his chest and limbs burned where he had been cut. He wished he hadn’t given the Dragonborn ointment to the damned halfling as blood flowed freely from several wounds. “Shoulda let the little bastard rot!” he grumbled under his breath. With that thought, Arthus peaked inside the room.

It was a large, circular, vaulted chamber with several wrought iron braziers and sconces spread throughout. Most of them were not lit, but one brazier and a couple of torches gave off enough light to see without a problem. As he passed through the archway a sickening feeling overwhelmed him and he took several minutes to regain his equilibrium. Breathing heavily and deliberately Arthus scanned the details of the room.

Set around the room in careful symmetry were many glyphs and sigils carved into the floor to form a large circle. In the center was a larger, more elaborate carving that was mostly obscured by a bundle wrapped tightly in the middle of it. Arthus took care not to step on any of them as each was reminiscent of the runes on the archway. He didn’t waste much time trying to decipher them, knowing that would be hopeless, but each time he caught a glimpse of one his head ached just a bit.

Avoiding the obvious altogether, Arthus walked the perimeter of the room studying the walls and checking for any traps or other hidden surprises. The last thing he wanted was to get ambushed or shot in the back. Satisfied that there were no such dangers laying in wait, he turned his attention to the center of the room.

Taking out the halfling’s journal once more, Arthus read more notes and descriptions. What began to strike him was that that so much of the writing was in different hands. Some of the notes were in Elven, which thanks to Fizbin, he could understand. Still others were in Dwarven runes, arcane runes and some others that he could not rightly place. It was too much to wonder about now, if Talas had stolen the book, or was working for someone else didn’t matter. He needed to keep his eye on the task in front of him.

Arthus wanted no part of entering the circle of circles, but he couldn’t reach the bundle otherwise. He walked to the edge of the carvings, and took a deep breath. As he did so he looked up, as if to beseech the heavens for inspiration, and saw a gruesome sight.

The domed ceiling of the room was some twenty feet up at it’s highest, and it was painted in a grotesque mural of black-washed figures. It depicted a scene of walking dead. Hundreds, maybe thousands if the painting were allowed to go on past the limits of the room, of deformed and monstrous men looking as if they were being led by indistinct figures in the distance. Pale blue “light” glowed around one of the distant shadows as it did in the hollow eye sockets of the accursed figures in the foreground.

The painting itself was not a concern for Arthus, it was surely just somebody’s image of nightmares come to life. What struck him dumb for several minutes were the long-dead bodies lashed to the ceiling with chains bolted right into the stone!

Arthus could not control himself as more and more of these poor souls, nearly two dozen of them, came into focus. He wretched into one of the unlit braziers and hyperventilated uncontrollably. He had no idea how much time had passed, only that he was horrified like he had never been before. Who would desecrate the dead like this? Were these poor bastards more of the D’ Argos from the tomb? He couldn’t bear to wonder about the answers to his questions, all he wanted was out.

Arthus turned quickly and with an air of determination bolstered by fear and disgust, he entered the circle between two of the glyphs on the floor. His steps dragged just a bit as he crossed between them, but otherwise he felt no ill effects.

Searching the journal for some clue as to what he should do next, Arthus came across a small sketch in the margin of one a yellowed page. The sketch depicted some runes that were very similar to those surrounding the bundle on the floor. Beside the runes was a word he had never seen before, but he could read it just the same.

“Kel-lor!” Arthus spoke and the chamber echoed with his voice. The glyphs around him began to glow with a faint light. The bundle was bathed in light from the runes surrounding it, and as suddenly as the spectacle began, it ended. The glyphs and runes sat dormant again, and Arthus stood once more dumbfounded.

Shrugging as if to answer himself, Arthus grabbed the bundle and made a diving leap for the floor beyond the circle. His jump landed him a few feet short, but he rolled and sprung himself clear of the mysterious markings.

He noted that when he retold the story he would be sure to say he had cleared the distance with room to spare.

Arthus sat next to his pack and poured through the journal to get any other information that might be useful when negotiating his payment, not to mention satisfy his own curiosity.

All he could make out was that whatever this thing was it was called by several names by those few who even knew of its existence. Most of the names he could not decipher, but some of the words like death, damnation, unlife, and eternal stuck in his mind as he read.
With a chill down his spine, Arthus took up his pack, grabbed a torch from the wall, and went back the way he came.

He went cautiously, but not as much so as when he made his way in, and arrived fifteen minutes or so later at the last doorway. He could hear somewhat familiar voices beyond, and breathed a sigh of relief a moment before he entered the room.

The three men in the room looked a mix of relieved, astounded, and excited that Arthus had indeed made it back. Talas was now on his feet, with only a wide red bruise on his leg where he was so grievously wounded.

Cort slapped him on the back and said “Great job! You look like shite!”

Arthus and the others enjoyed a laugh, and Talas approached. “Is that really it?”

“I hope so!” said Arthus. “I’m not going back for anything else!”

Micah stepped forward stretching out his hand half grabbing for the bundle under Arthus’ arm. Arthus pivoted away and made a move for his sword.

“No need for that, Micah.” Said Cort. “We have an arrangement… right?”

“Right.” Said Arthus glaring at the other man. “So how do we proceed now?”

Cort looked at the halfling, and Talas said “I have someone who will pay us for the contents of the box in that pack.” “We agreed on 50 crowns a person. You can have Jeron’s share.”

Arthus did his best to keep his poker face, but it was no use. Fifty gold crowns was more money than he had ever seen in person. As much as he fought the excitement, he knew his face lit up enough to lead the way home!

“Then let’s get the hell out of here!” Said Cort

“Aye!” they answered in unison.

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