Tuesday Teaser: a complex

The fight stilled. All that could be heard was the sound of weeping, groaning bandits whose life ebbed swiftly away, the demented braying of the donkey back up the tunnel, and the heavy breathing of four comrades who had seldom felt death stand quite so close as in the past few minutes.

“We’re all here Edric – it’s good to see you!” replied Celo, who had emerged relatively unscathed. “Verus is down – I’ve had a look at him and kept him alive.”

“And I was the one who pointed out he wasn’t dead!” Vorel commented wryly.

“That was some fight!”
“Unbelievable!”
“Slaying is thirsty work – let’s have a look around – there’s bound to be some decent grog!”
“I wouldn’t touch something these scum drank from!”
“I heard some whimpering from those cells, Bardic – whoever it was isn’t about to break out, but we should watch out there.”

Bardic, Morath and Vorel drifted away to search and see if they could calm the donkey. Edric hurried over to where Verus lay in the pool of torchlight.
Working with Celo, he cut free the Nemedian’s heavy armor and stitched closed the great gash. “Now all we can do is hope Mitra shows him mercy,” Edric concluded, “though perhaps getting him up onto drier ground will help as well.”

“I’ll see what the others have found.”

“Do that. Then get Vorel and Bardic – there’s more searching to be done down the way I came from.”

While Vorel hitched the donkey to its cart, using what he recalled of his own family’s wagon as a guide, Bardic coaxed out the two children he had found captive in one of the cells. He sat them in the cart, where they hunched down and froze quiet.
“I really loathe these men!” Bardic reiterated. “I better not find any left alive!”
“Not much chance of that,” Morath asserted: he had been “tidying away” the four nearest bandits, ensuring they would not recover, and beginning the chore of looting.

With bandit corpses dragged out of the passage, the cart was wheeled about and the donkey led as far as Verus. The big Nemedian was lifted gently onto the cart-bed. Celo stood watch.

Vorel, holding a captured lantern, searched the passage Edric had emerged from. As he had already observed, it zigged around a large block of “foreign” stone, then formed a T-junction, the left leading to an arched entrance, the right leading away into darkness.

He was joined by Bardic and Edric at that point.
“I was trussed up down there,” Edric explained, “most of my gear was just lying on the steps here, but my money mysteriously vanished. I didn’t do more than listen at the far door – I thought I had best get out there and let you guys watch my famous imitation of someone who knows how to fight.”

Bardic chuckled. “You can’t keep a good man down, by Nemain! Now let’s have a proper look. So that’s the evil symbol of ultimate evil eh?”

“I think it’s a basic divination thing, but I’ll need to do some research.”

The pair listened carefully at the far door, then pushed it open. It led to a fairly plain, utilitarian chamber, bearing signs that the occupants had taken gear and left. A table, fairly well put together, bore large parchments. A few oddments of worn-out cloaks, candle nubs and odd carved blocks of masonry lay about in corners. A single door in the opposite wall led deeper.

“Who’d have thought these kidnapers had an entire underground to live in?” mused Bardic.

“These ancient stones could tell a tale, if only they could speak,” responded Edric. His study of the parchments – mere rosters of watches and meeting-times – concluded, he looked curiously at the paperweights. At first glance scrimshaw, he realised they were carved stones of colossal age.

Bardic bent near the opposite door. Nothing could be heard. Entering swiftly, he found a room well fitted-up as a permanent quarters. Again, weapon-racks and clothes-press had been emptied, save for things of very little value. A large standing cupboard proved to be a pantry. The only other exit was a massive stone valve in the right-hand wall.

Bardic’s muscles strained, a bar holding the door closed snapped, and the door grated open. The room beyond was dimly lit in similar fashion to the previous two. Again, it seemed to have been well fitted-up as a quarters. On one wall, bedding: on another, a writing-desk, and on a third wall, a large pigeonholed cabinet, papers stuffed ino the lower two-thirds. Edric hurried over to it.

Bardic stooped over a trapdoor in the floor. “Edric! hold the light close! Edric!”

Edric, arms stuffed with documents, turned absent-mindedly toward the barbarian.

“Hmm?”

“Edric! Oh, never mind!”

With a grunt Bardic wrenched up the trapdoor. Nothing. Lowering a candle, he found that it was a straight drop down to a horizontal shaft – leading to some escape route presumably.

* * *

Leaving Edric browsing the shelves, Bardic returned to report, collecting Vorel on the way. The ranger had nothing to report, Celo likewise. Morath had made a preliminary sweep of coin and assessment of other less-portable loot. The four turned their attention to their next course of action.

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