We re-join our heroes the next morning, some of them considerably the worse for wear after their night of revelry! There is little time to recuperate, however—adventure awaits!
Gerard rises with the dawn the next morning, but though he comes down into the Cat & Squirrel’s sitting room early, he finds Aleph already sitting by the fireplace, tuning his baliset.
“Did you, erm, sleep well?” the monk asks.
“I do not sleep,” Aleph replies, “but I passed my night acceptably, if that is what you mean. Thank you for asking.”
A breakfast of fresh bread, eggs, bacon, and cheese has been laid out on a table near the kitchen. Gerard has not been eating long before he is joined by Cyd and Feathers, both of whom take to the bacon with gusto. Minerva appears shortly afterwards, followed an hour or so later by a bleary-eyed Nubbins and a pale and queasy-looking Keothi.
They gather around the fireplace, helping themselves to food and mumbling ‘good mornings’ to one another with varying levels of enthusiasm.
“How were the barricades, tin-man?” Cyd asks Aleph around a mouthful of bread and cheese.
“We made substantial progress,” Aleph replies. “I have good hope that they will withstand the siege. How was your evening?”
Cyd chuckles. “Oh, it was—”
“We will not speak of it,” Keothi cuts in, his eyes on his plate. He is eating dry bread, and seems to be struggling to keep down even that.
“I’ll tell you later,” Cyd mouths to Aleph, her eyes glinting with mischief.
“If you have finished taking on sustenance, then there are some matters into which I would like to inquire,” Aleph says, getting heavily to his feet. “The people of Greenest have many problems, and any that we can assist with—”
“Undead in the temple!” Nubbins interrupts. “These priests I met last night told me all about it! Is that the kind of problem you meant, Aleph?” he adds, craning his neck to look up at the Warforged.
“I heard something along those lines as well,” Minerva chips in. “Could look into it, I suppose.”
Cyd pouts. “But I want to go and investigate those fey in the forest. They might be like Feathers—or friends of hers!”
“The fey may well be gone,” Keothi points out. “My contact said that they were no longer taking the offerings the townspeople leave for them. Or blessing the harvest.”
An uneasy look flits across Minerva’s face.
“Offerings, did you say?”
“Yeah—cakes and buns and things like that,” Cyd says. “They leave them by a big tree in the woods and—Minerva?”
“Oh balls,” Minerva mumbles, jumping to her feet. “Wait for me, will you?” she calls over her shoulder, already hurrying away. “I’ll just be a moment.”
She makes for the small kitchen at the back of the tavern, where Eled is elbow deep in a pail of greasy water.
“Eled, my good man, I’m afraid I must borrow your kitchen,” she says.
Minerva has not been in the kitchen long before a heavenly scent begins to waft into the tavern. Shortly afterwards, she emerges, balancing a cake of truly epic proportions on the palm of one hand.
“That smells good,” Eled observes.
“Not for you,” Minerva tells him. “I’ve taken it into my head—completely spontaneously, mind—to make a donation to those fey I’ve heard so much about.” She digs around with her free hand in her purse and fishes out a couple of coins. “Be a dear and run this over to the fairy tree for me, would you? Here’s something for the trouble, and the baking supplies.”
“I have a tavern to run—” Eled starts to remonstrate, but Minerva is already gone. “…Adventurers,” he finishes, rolling his eyes to an empty room. Sighing, he pockets the coins and picks up the cake.
Minerva catches up with the rest of the group just outside. After the warmth of the tavern, the air feels bitterly cold, and a strong wind makes their cheeks sting and their eyes water. Keothi closes his eyes and takes a deep breath, savouring the chill in the air.
“A mild day,” he announces. And then, frowning at his shivering companions, “surely those robes are unnecessary? Impy and I have no need for cloaks in this weather.”
“If only I had your resilience, Wordweaver.” Gerard shivers beneath his thin robe. “Shall we get moving?”
The temple of Chauntea is only a few minutes’ walk away, a large, well-kept building with smooth stone walls. Everyone hurries inside, glad to get out of the wind. Within, the temple is bright and pleasant, high-ceilinged, with small windows set high in the walls flooding the hall with light. An altar at the centre of the room bears a large bunch of roses.
“Doesn’t seem like the sort of place you’d expect to find zombies,” Cyd says, frowning.
“Dwali! Brem!” Nubbins shouts and waves as he recognises the devotees of Chauntea that he met last night.
The pair walk over. “Good morning!” Dwali says, offering the group an amused smile. “I did not expect to see some of you awake this early.” She raises an eyebrow at Nubbins and Keothi as she speaks—Nubbins grins back; Keothi affects not to notice. “Welcome to the temple of Chauntea,” she continues. “Are you here to pray, or do you need healing?”
“We heard that there are undead beneath the temple,” Aleph replies. “We would like to offer you our aid in removing them.”
Dwali lowers her voice, looking sheepish. “Ah. Yes. Thank you—we’ll take all the help we can get. We’ve been trying to keep the whole situation quiet—people have enough to worry about, with a siege on the way—but the undead have infested the library, and there are some agricultural treatises down there which could really help us deal with the problems we’ve been having with this year’s harvest.”
“They’re obstructing your access to books?!” Gerard looks appalled. “We should have come sooner.”
“It has been difficult,” Brem agrees. “Knowing that they’re all down there, just waiting to be read, but not being able to get to them…”
“…Torture,” Gerard finishes sympathetically.
“Brem, when did these zombies appear? How did they come to be in your crypt?” Aleph asks.
“That’s the strangest part! I don’t know. I was down there alone one day, reading my books and minding my business, when suddenly there’s a loud crunching noise and a dozen zombies are heading towards me from the other side of the room! I get out as quick as I can at that point. Didn’t even have time to rescue any books,” he adds, disappointed.
“I’ve tried to go back down a few times since, but every time I do, I hear them shuffling towards me and I lose my nerve. They’re slow, and they haven’t tried to leave the crypt, but there’s too many for us to fight by ourselves.”
Brem points to a bookshelf at the back of the temple and continues. “There’s a trapdoor down to the crypt under there. We blocked it off after the undead came along—just seemed safer, somehow. If you help me move that bookshelf, you can go straight down.”
Aleph shunts the bookshelf out of the way with ease and heaves open the trapdoor beneath. He peers down into the darkness below. The room looks empty at a glance, but shuffling sounds can be heard from behind the partition wall. Aleph turns to the group. “There are things moving down there, but I cannot see them. Wordweaver, would Impy be willing to scout ahead?”
Keothi nods and Impy vanishes from sight. The goliath closes his eyes for a moment, sighting through his familiar’s gaze. “There are a dozen zombies gathered around a hole in the back half of the room. Impy suggests throwing books at them—the bigger the better.”
Gerard and Brem look aghast. Cyd interjects. “We might need those books, Keithy—and I don’t think zombies are weak to papercuts.”
Keothi nods. “I cannot say Impy is not disappointed.”
“I think we should get to work,” Aleph says as he begins to climb down the ladder. “I do not believe the zombies will look after their own needs.”
“Take care of themselves?” Cyd suggests.
“That also,” Aleph replies as he vanishes from sight.
The group follow him down in time to see several zombies emerging from the far end of the room. Gerard looks around as he drops into a defensive stance. “Hmm. They will have us surrounded if we are not careful.”
The first zombie reaches Aleph and grabs his shield. As the Warforged tries to dislodge the attacker, the rest of the zombies lurch forward with sudden speed, seizing hold of Cyd and Nubbins. Within seconds, both are buried under several shambling bodies. Gerard ducks and sidesteps the sudden onslaught of grasping arms as Keothi taps the end of his staff, quickly running onto the ceiling and crouching. He draws his axes as Impy throws a small book at the nearest enemy.
Several zombies are hanging off Aleph as he pushes forward, burying his battle-axe into the heads and chests of any zombie within reach. Another zombie leaps onto the pile and the Warforged grunts as he braces himself. Gerard continues to bob and weave as he watches Cyd and Nubbins get dragged away, muffled grunts and yells emerging from beneath the bodies piled on top of their own.
“They do not seem to be eating us,” he muses. “Curious.”
Keothi fells two zombies in one of the archways connecting the two rooms.
“Perhaps they are currently full,” he replies. “I will move along the ceiling to see where they are going.”
“Good id—” Gerard is cut off mid-sentence as a zombie manages to get a purchase on his arm.
“Oh dear,” he murmurs as he, too, is dragged under by the zombie swarm.
Cyd flails and kicks as the zombies drag her away from the group, but the more she struggles, the more hands find a purchase on a leg, or an arm. How many of them are there? It has to be more than the twelve Brem mentioned. She finds that thought cut off as the zombies throw her down the hole at the other end of the room. She lands with a painful thud on a patch of rubble. The room she finds herself in is dark, but illuminated from somewhere by a faint blue glow. Cyd checks herself over; strangely enough, she is unharmed.
“Not even a scratch?” she mutters. “But the zombies…” She scrabbles to her feet and looks around, trying to find a way back up and out into the room above. That is when she realises that the undercrypt in which she finds herself is not empty.
Hello. Who are you?
The words float in the forefront of her mind without seeming to need to come in via her ears. Cydonie looks around wildly, and sees…
“Woah,” she says softly. And then, louder, calling up to the room above. “Guys, get down here! You need to see this!!”
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