The boy careened off the walls of the narrow stone passages, the skittering sound behind him growing ever closer. Sweat soaked his tunic under the chain-mail, his heart hammering within his chest.
Trando sat on the barstool beside the boy, nursing his tenth drink for the night. Slamming the newly drained mug onto the table, he laughed raucously, slapping the boy's shoulder. "Nothing like a mug o' ale and good company. Boy, ye' be our lucky star. Right doubled our earnings for the month."
The boy smiled at the compliment, raising his own mug for a toast. Satisfied, Trando clinked his mug against his and tried to take a swig, only to find it empty. "Oi! Who stole my ale!" Staggering off the stool which barely let his feet touch the ground, raising a shield nearly the size of his short frame.
The dwarf swayed drunkenly, his helm askew as he threatened the amused patrons of the bar to return his drink or face his wrath.
It wasn't his first time having such outbursts and the regulars were familiar with his antics. Trando, the dwarf Paladin was quite famous in the Delver circles.
Chuckling, the boy tossed a silver to the barkeep, payment for another round for everyone. Their party had received a windfall of wealth and he didn't mind spreading the cheer.
Tacking hard towards the right, the boy entered an offshoot of the passage, pressing himself hard against the wall. Holding his breath, shivering from fear and tension, he didn't dare to peek out of the corner. Only the sight of their shadows, outlined against the illumination from the torches set in the main tunnel spoke of their passing.
He closed his eyes and prayed.
And wished he hadn't as the image of Trando's disembodied head appeared in his mind. His lifeless grey eyes accusing him even as the creatures sank their teeth into his flesh.
When the passage grew quiet and the sound of skittering feet distant, the boy finally dared to breathe. Feet shaky from relief, he went out of the offshoot, making his way towards the exit in the direction opposite to his pursuers.
The setting sun lit Evelyn's russet hair making it glow the same hue as her flames. Her leather armour was tight against her chest, the tunic beneath unbuttoned to the third button. She was generous that way, giving the men something to think about on lonely nights.
Yet, none had actually succeeded in wooing the fiery woman. The boy thought he had a chance.
"P-please go out with m-mph."
A slender finger against his lip. A whispered apology. The end of puppy love.
Her dying screams reverberated within his mind as he ran from the horrors, gasping for breath. He had survived thus far by relying on his knowledge of the passages due to his role as the team's navigator.
Now that very knowledge worked against him as the 'correct' paths led him deeper into the catacombs. Here the creatures were more numerous and some even retained shreds of rotting flesh covering their bones.
For the tunnels to change more than once a day. The implications were frightening.
Blonde and blue-eyed, Brian had the warmest of smiles and he was quite free with it, brightening everyone's day wherever he went. Broad-chested and muscular, he looked as reliable as he was, and in a fight, his fists were worth entrusting your back to.
Deep down, the boy knew Brian was a large part of why Evelyn had shut him down. Yet, watching him die under the combined assault of several of the creatures had torn his heart.
Tears of guilt and relief streamed down his cheeks as he finally saw a light at the end of the tunnel.
He had reached one of the many undocumented exits of the catacombs. When the creatures had swarmed out of the tunnels into the chamber they were in, Brian was the first to recover from the shock. He had charged headfirst into them to buy time for the rest of them to escape.
Evelyn had refused to run, raining fire down upon the reanimated skeletons. Trando had joined the fray in a blaze of light.
The boy was the only one who had run.
He was the only one who had survived.
As the dazzling sunlight shone upon his face, he kept telling himself that it was for the best. He needed to inform the guild of the irregularities in the catacombs. It was for the greater good.
If he repeated the excuse enough, he might even come to believe it.
As he straddled the separation between darkness and light, the ground blasted out at his feet and a pair of skeletal hands grabbed his ankles.
Smashing face first into the ground, he tasted blood as he lost a tooth from the impact. His nails dug into the soil, leaving bloody furrows as he was dragged back into the darkness.
His screams were cut off as the last of his body disappeared into the shadows. With a rumble of stone against stone, the opening caved in, sealing off the catacombs.
In the depths of the earth, the Tomb of Koschei stirred yet again.
Volume 6 will be about the Trial of Earth.
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