Hunt - Chapter Three
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16 Arodus 4692 AR; Under Kenabres
16 Arodus 4692 AR; Under Kenabres
The caverns were silent. Shayliss had expected to be hearing something from the world above, assuming the demons were still assaulting the city. Some thuds, shaking, or cries from further in the tunnel maybe. However, the only sounds they heard were the drips of moisture and the group's footsteps. Maybe Shayliss wanted those noises. It would mean that she at least had an idea of what was ahead of them or behind them. The silence was worse for its uncertainty.
It was quite impressive how well the others seemed to be handling the situation. There were no cries of hopelessness, no outbursts of anger, nor attempts to flee. Instead stood the determination to survive and the occasional prayer to Iomedae. The steel will of the traveling group was strong. Even when facing against one of the most terrible foes on Golarion.
Yet, Shayliss could feel the fear about to burst from her body. As they moved away from the first cavern and the rubble pile of limbs, Shayliss' authoritative side started giving room for it. She had no idea what they were walking toward and walking from. What will be up on the surface when and if they found their way out? The denizens of Kenabres' underground may not be friendly and they had to be prepared for it. Shayliss knew that she should be making some sort of plan for some sort of contingency. All she could think about though, strangely enough, was if Shadowshine had managed to escape. The horse had the worst kind of attitude she had seen in any kind of beast, and barely seemed to tolerate her or his previous owner, Valtyra. But his safety was on her mind.
That is why, when the group ran into a three-way crossroads of tunnel, she almost slammed her nose into the wall. She caught herself in time and turned around to see that the others were more interested in the tunnels than her almost failing at basic observation.
To her right, the rest of the group's left, the tunnel continued until it reached a cavern about half a mile on. Normally, they would not have been able to see the cavern, even with Strune's light, but within the cavern came an unnatural green glow. The light showed a building that reached beyond the top of the tunnel made of well-cut stone. To her left, the tunnel continued into darkness that Strune's light could not penetrate. Which meant it most likely ran for a long while yet. Either that or it was just barely outside of the light's edge.
"What do you think, Shayliss?"
Shayliss almost jumped at the sudden voice. She turned to look at Strune who was giving her a significant glance. As if she was trying to tell the red-haired woman something. It was not hard to see what message she was trying to send after a couple of seconds. Despite what Shayliss had been thinking about earlier, the group was looking ragged. The companions she had on her trip to Kenabres were all fine, somehow, but the others did not look so good.
Anevia, standing next to the blind Aravashnial, was holding herself hard against her walking stick. While she was trying to control it, Shayliss could see the heavy exhalations she was making and the sweat pouring from her hairline, exhausted from the fifteen minutes of walking. If Shayliss listened very closely, she could hear the stick shaking lightly against the tunnel floor causing tiny flecks of stone to roll away.
Aravashnial was standing tall, the image of a leader. Yet, the blood from his wounds was starting to flow again, mixing with sweat, ripped open by the constant motion. His face was paler than normal and he was catching himself from slumping over. Like Anevia, he held his staff against the ground to hold himself up.
Horgus did not bother with hiding his condition. His breathing was heavy and rang along the stone of the tunnels. The floor of the tunnel dirtied his robes as he sat and sweat was pouring from his face. He had no injuries to speak of but he was obviously just as tired as the others. While she would love for him to suffer a bit more for his annoying attitude, she knew that her conscience, and Valtyra, would hate her for it.
"We make for the building." She said, "We all could use a bit of rest."
Strune nodded in approval and turned to Aravashnial, "Do you agree, Aravashnial?"
The elf nodded his head without hesitation.
They all returned to formation and Strune led the way toward the building. As they walked closer and closer to it, Shayliss started getting more and more details from it.
It was a temple. Twenty feet tall, the building was fortress like with no windows and walls of, like she saw earlier, well-cut stone. By its size, it was most likely a one or two room temple and Shayliss could barely see the frame of a door on its left wall. However, the thing that stood out the most was the large, ten-foot tall carving of an upside-down hammer. It was beautifully done too with designs cut into the head of the hammer and the strips on the handle. Whoever carved it made sure to add the fine details to it as if it had been an act of devotion.
"It's the symbol of Torag." Strune said.
Behind Shayliss, Kaira was nodding her head in agreement. Mordria stepped up and asked the question that was probably on everyone's mind, "Why is it here? And why the unnatural glow?"
Strune's mouth curled down into a frown, "I fear corruption. Be ready for anything."
With that, everyone drew their weapons. There was no growl from Blueeye yet, but Shayliss looked back and saw that the wolf's eyes were narrowed. He sensed something was in there.
"Anevia," Shayliss said, "Guard the others. Wait for us to give you the all clear."
Anevia made sure she had an arrow nocked and readied, "Understood."
Anevia was definately military. Despite her debilitating injury and exhaustion, she did not back down from an order or even hesitate to obey it. Even if it did come from Shayliss, who was self-trained and only fought a relatively few major battles. Did the woman really trust her that much? Or was her stress and strain causing her to run on instinct without thought for anything else?
Shayliss shook her head. She needed to focus.
Mordria and Strune led the group as they walked around the temple toward its only door. They had to circle the building completely as rocks piled in front of the opening to the left enough to block their movement. When they got to the door, Mordira opened it slowly and checked it before stepping inside.
She had stepped into the temple's antechamber. Stone benches that were once beautifully designed lay broken against the walls of the small room. Dust covered every surface possible in thick layers and a small altar stood at the other end. It was dust covered as well, but other than that it was unmarred. There even remained some water within the altar. When everyone crammed into the room and shut the door, only Strune's holy symbol illuminated the place.
"There is definitely something here." Mordira muttered, "Even I can feel it."
Blueeye let out a low snarl in response. Kaira nocked an arrow into her bow and pulled it halfway back. They obviously felt it too.
"Do you know what it is, Strune?" Shayliss asked.
"It could be a number of things." Strune answered, "Without looking at it, I cannot tell you anything more than it is most likely the source of whatever is corrupting this place. My first guess is demon from the attack above."
Shayliss let out a soft curse, "Alright. Mordria and Strune, up front again. Kaira and Saga, get ready to provide support. We need to either pull it back outside or push it further in. There is no room to fight in this tiny space."
The others nodded and stepped up to the stone door that led further inside. Before they could open it, though, a strong force slammed into it from the other side.
The force of the blow shook dust from the door frame and threatened to tear the door down. Blows came from the door again and again and again. BOOM, BOOM, BOOM. It was rhythmic like a war drummer banging out a marching tune.
Or a body trying to shoulder a door down.
"Get ready!" Shayliss yelled, her voice more high pitched than normal, "Let it break through."
Mordria took a step back from the door and held her arms out at a slight diagonal. As if she was preparing to give someone a bear hug. Her legs widened and she placed one further back to brace herself. After she got into her stance, she even took one more step back so she was almost right up against the wall. She knew how to handle a charge.
Sure enough, when the stone door crumbled into pebbles under the weight of some kind of creature, she tensed up. When that same creature, some sort of undead being, sprinted right for the fiendish woman, she pulled herself back so most of her weight was on that rear foot. When the undead creature collided with Mordria, she clamped her claws around one shoulder and one upper arm. This stopped the undead's charge abruptly and it started snapping its rotted but sharp teeth at her.
For a second, the woman held it in place. Then, when she knew she had a good hold on it, she started slowly shoving it backward. Either it did not notice or did not care. As she pushed it back, it continued to try biting her and clawing her with its long nails. Any hit she did not outright dodge she took the brunt of. Each hit she grunted and snarled but did not show any sign of weakness. Even when blackish blood started flowing from injuries to her arms, face and bare chest she only held on.
The problem, though, was with Mordria so close to the creature, no one else could get a hit in or else dare risk hitting her as well. So, until she got the creature fully into the nave of the temple, she was on her own.
"Once you get it inside, break from it and move back to prevent it from escaping." Shayliss said, "Everyone else, flank it. Don't let it overpower you and don't underestimate its strength."
Mordria grunted as another claw managed to rip a line into her skin. Now she had a lot of small lines of blood that slashed this way and that on her upper half. However, she had managed to get the creature into the room.
"On three, break." Shayliss yelled as the group made their way into the room and into various flanking positions.
Mordria started moving up the aisle of pews within the nave. The creature finally got what was happening and tried to pull away from the fiendish woman. She held on, grunting in effort as well as pain. Its motions became frantic and unnatural. Bones crackled and tendons snapped. She still held on.
The sounds of a bowstring being pulled and arcane words muttered came from the corners of the room. Strune was starting a prayer to Iomedae and her weapon glowed with a golden radiance. Shayliss tightened her grip on her hook and blade. She stood across from Strune ready to flank the creature from the pews. It tried to push Mordria forward, but she held her ground, her talons struggling to hold onto the ruined rug underneath.
Mordria, with a last huff of effort and shove, forced the undead creature away from her. As it stumbled backward in surprise, Mordria backpedaled until she was at the doorway. She took up her stance again, ready to grab the creature again if it decided to bull rush her.
Shayliss and Strune, as the creature was just recovering its balance, rushed for it. Seeing that Strune was the obvious threat, the creature tried to attack her. Shayliss whipped her grappling hook around once then snapped it forward. The metal claws latched onto something within the undead creature and she pulled without hesitation. The pull stunned the creature and prevented it from being ready when Strune's blade, glowing with Iomedae's grace, came hammering down. The blade cut deep and if the undead had vocal cords it would have been screaming. Instead what remained of its teeth rattled painfully, the sounds echoing around the room. Yet, it was not deterred.
It turned around, pulled out the grappling hook, and leapt for Shayliss. The red-haired woman tried to brace herself but was way too slow. Undead flesh met living as the creature landed a solid punch into Shayliss's ribs. She hoped that the sounds of cracking bone was from its undead form rather than her chest. That thought was exchanged for another as she was sent flying into one of the many broken pews angled differently than the others. Her back slammed hard into the back of the seat and she heard the strain of old wood.. If she had been only a couple of inches lower, the seat would have shattered and crushed her spine. Instead, her back was only sore along with her butt after gravity let her down not so gently.
The creature again lunged for Shayliss, managing to dodge another slash from Strune in the process, and placed itself right above the woman. A horrible stench plumed out of its mouth as it opened to chomp her neck. She let out a scream but before the undead creature could attack, an arrow pierced its soft skull. It turned to see Kaira pull back another arrow and fire. That arrow barely missed but it had gotten the undead's attention.
That is when Shayliss struck. She was not able to get a good angle of attack because of the pew she still sat on, but she thrust her blade forward and felt the resistance build as metal slid into its chest. It rattled again and did not know if it should attack Shayliss or Kaira.
Its confusion was interrupted when a blob of acid sailed through the air and hit its back. Rotting flesh sizzled and the undead being turned to charge at Snaga with a rattle of rage. Instead, it was face to face with Strune who slashed at its belly. Flesh sizzled more and white fire blazed across its body. The rattling intensified but it clawed twice at Strune anyway. One strike hit, cutting into one of the gaps in Strune's armor. The other bounced off of metal and left scratches.
Another splash of acid dissolved away even more skin and then an arrow came into replace what had disappeared. But that did not stop it from using its greater than normal strength to shove Strune aside and rush for Snaga. While the half-orc did not know how to handle a charge as well as Mordria did, he knew to stop his spell casting and switch to his fists. The spiked gauntlets glimmered in Strune's holy light as he pulled back a fist and thrust it forward. Bone crunched under the half-orc's fist and the blow stunned the creature.
"Kill!" Kaira snapped.
Happy that he was finally able to join the fight, Blueeye let out a howl as it charged for the creature. It turned to the new combatant but was too stunned to do anything as the white furred beast lunged for the creature and bore it down to the ground. With a savage twist and growl, the fight was over. The wolf spat out the hunk of rotted meat and flesh it had torn out of the creature's neck and trotted back over to Kaira.
Now that the combat was over, they could hear noise from outside. Loud noises.