On reflection, Eveneye mused, he really should have anticipated this eventuality.
For a start, there was the horse tied to an outcrop of stone. Eveneye had timed his arrival at the ruins for shortly after midday – to his way of thinking needing to do anything early in the morning was the result of a lack of planning, and that was one thing Eveneye would never be guilty of. He had memorised the route on his map perfectly and was pleased to see that the landscape was in accordance with it. He found the entrance to the lower catacombs easily, and it was there that he saw the other horse.
Eveneye supposed that it had been too much to hope for that the place would be deserted, but no matter, it wouldn’t impede him. He swung himself down from his horse and tied it up next to its fellow. Eveneye took his hammer from its leather sling on the saddle and hooked it onto his belt. He similarly extracted several potions and other miscellaneous tools from the saddle pouches and secreted them about his person. His glasses had picked up some dust on the way – only one or two specks, but it was enough to require cleaning. Eveneye quickly but methodically wiped his glasses and readjusted them over his eyes. Then, with the confidence of one who knows that he is completely in control of his situation and circumstances, he entered the catacombs, barely noticing that the door had been forced by a being of immense strength.
His heightened olfactory senses detected the foul smell almost immediately. After a moment or two to recover himself Eveneye saw the remains of rats strewn across the floor. The dark brown patches around them – which he presumed to be blood – showed that they had been dead a few hours. It looked like whoever had come here on the other horse had been armed. Eveneye looked closer and was surprised to see a measure of calculated finesse in the slaughter. The mysterious visitor had been efficient in slaying the creatures. Curiouser and curiouser.
As Eveneye proceeded further into the ancient stone corridors he saw more rats massacred with the same lethal efficiency as well as some that looked like they had been incinerated. Either the other person had some form of fire-based weapon or he had a companion proficient in magic. Eveneye had long before learned to assume the worst possibility, and so he went with the latter option. Such a combination of skills would be difficult to best in combat, however, Eveneye had more than one way to resolve such a situation.
His memory of his map guided him unerringly through corridors and stone archways until finally, he reached his goal – a chamber dominated by a large iron door. Eveneye started to smile to himself, then stopped as he saw the two other figures in front of the door. He quickly assessed them – a human girl wearing the robes of a mage and a canine Wild One armed with two large swords. He recognised them as the two involved in the altercation at the Kobold’s Head the previous evening. Now they seemed to be working together. They seemed bewildered at the barrier in front of them.
Eveneye decided to make his presence known. “Well,” he said, his voice loud in the silence, “Isn’t this an interesting development?”
The girl and the Wild One spun around, each of them reaching for their weapons. Eveneye held his hands up. “No, I’m not here to fight,” he said, “But I’m assuming you are also here for the ancient ossuary?”
The girl shook her head. “No, you’re wrong. This is a bandit camp. They took my client’s urn with his grandmother’s ashes…” she slowly trailed off and both she and Eveneye looked at the Wild One, who shrugged his shoulders.
“Tac was told to bring gold cup,” he growled, “Tac was told he would get money, be able to buy lots of ale.” He held up his key. “They gave Tac key.”
The girl also held her key up. Seeing little advantage in hiding his own key, Eveneye held it out.
The three keys were identical.
“Well, I suppose we will have some questions for our employers,” Eveneye said, his mind racing with the implications. Three adventurers, brought to the same place but given different reasons? Why? The answers could wait. He still had a task to do. “For now though,” he said, “May I suggest we work on getting through this door?”
The other two didn’t look convinced. Eveneye sighed. “Look, you have no reason to trust me, nor I you, but we are here on common purpose and we’ll never see each other again after we’re done here.” He looked at each of them in turn. “So what do you say we just get this done?”
The girl nodded slowly. The Wild One, who Eveneye saw seemed to be taking his cues from the girl, shrugged once more. Pleased with the outcome, Eveneye stepped forward and appraised the door. It was exactly as it seemed, an iron door. With three keyholes. Eveneye inserted his key into the middle keyhole and on either side, he heard the girl and the Wild One insert their keys. The noise when they turned was like a sudden thunderclap in the quietness. With a shuddering, scraping noise, as though it had not moved for years, the door slowly opened.
Eveneye leaned forward in expectation to see what was beyond – namely the artefact he had been sent to find. What actually was beyond the door surprised him. Or, more specifically, what was not beyond the door surprised him.
What was not behind the door was a golden ossuary.
What was behind the door was an immense passageway – a tunnel really – heading away and down.
Eveneye found himself feeling somewhat perturbed. This was not on the map. The map only led to the iron door. There was no indication as to anything like the tunnel that now lay in front of them.
The girl stepped forward. “I guess we go this way?” she said in an uncertain voice. She held out her staff and a bright flame appeared on the end. The tunnel seemed to go on forever. Eveneye and the Wild One – who, Eveneye recalled, had referred to himself as Tac, followed as the mage led the way into the darkness.
The walls of the tunnel spoke of ages long passed. Stone buttresses crumbled even as the three adventurers looked at them. The columns were engraved with writing and images long worn away. Whatever this place was, wherever it led, it was far older than the ruins above or even the catacombs they had already travelled through.
Eventually, they emerged into an immense cavern. To Eveneye’s mind, it resembled a temple, circular in shape, with columns holding up what looked like the remains of balconies. High above them, a hole allowed sunlight to shine down to the centre of the expanse. In the middle of that light was an ancient stone pedestal. Surrounding the pedestal was what appeared to be a spiral stone bas-relief. But it was what was on the pedestal that drew the attention of the three intruders.
On the pedestal rested a gold urn, shining in the sunlight.
Tac snorted with glee and started moving forward towards it. Eveneye tried to hold him back but the Wild One was too fast.
“Wait!” Eveneye called. The sound echoed throughout the cavern, seeming to grow in intensity as it did so.
Then the spiral bas-relief started to move, as though it was uncoiling. Before their horrified eyes a huge creature resembling a snake, or more accurately, a worm, reared up above them. In place of a mouth it had for huge mandibles, and these gaped open, revealing row upon row of razor-sharp teeth. The creature roared, the sound causing the cavern to shake and some stones to fall.
Eveneye managed to find his voice. “Well that seems problematic,” he said.