Echoes hissed around the small chamber, serpent sounds betraying any attempt to place them. The room appeared empty of life, save for the rat, and a small passage hidden in one corner. A passage far too small for the elfling’s tastes–to crawl on your knees into a hole like that would get you captured by kobolds or dwarves, just like Ravenna the Fair.
Maruc stood back as Miklos and the others searched around the cramped cellar. Feldard seemed to have found something interesting but then came the chittering noise just at the edge of hearing. What was that? he thought. He turned to Miklos and started to ask “Do you hear that?” but didn’t get past ‘D..’ as the expression on Miklos’s face looked quite wild.
At the faint voices Miklos immediately stopped. Listening intently, the clicking of armour and weapons, the shuffling of footsteps and even the heavy breathing of his friends threatened to overwhelm his straining ears. Were they human voices? He angrily waved Maruc to silence as he saw he his mouth open, probably to say something glaringly obvious like “I bet there’s a secret exit over there…”
Ignoring the look of protestation from the Halavist he fumbled at his belt for his dagger. Drawing it he pressed himself to the wall nearest the stairs. Feeling the cool dampness of the wall behind him he felt his hackles rise as the voices ebbed and flowed through the air like will-o-wisps. His anxiety matched his mounting excitement. As the minutes stretched the chattering seemed to Miklos to be getting louder, he was staring intently at the walls. The odd flickering shadows cast about by the lantern light developed malignant personalities of their own that seemed to hunt around searching for him. Even his friends faces started to deform in his minds’ eye into rictus masks of horror. His white knuckle grip on the dagger was the only thing that was reassuring. Cold sweat trickled into his eyes and he automatically dashed them away with his sleeve.
Maruc had only ever seen facial expressions like Miklos’s in the sanitarium at the cloister. He wondered if the others had noticed, Miklos would need watching, perhaps he might need a herbal infusion. Nothing too strong because he seemed to be in control, barely. This was worrying, this sort of thing was unpredictable, especially at stressful times. Miklos had pressed himself against the wall and looked as white as the whitewash coating the cellar.
Miklos visciously rubbed at his face and calmed his breathing. This had the effect of banishing his growing fear, he mustn’t let his friends know about his stress induced claustrophobia, to take his mind off it he pressed his wrist against the hot lid of the lantern. The sharp hot pain was enough to focus him again. But the whispering had not abated. Listening carefully, Miklos was able to determine the sounds were loudest in the northwest corner, coming from behind stacked bags of grain piled against the walls.
Miklos hissed as loudly as he dared to attract the others attention. He urgently pointed with his dagger hand toward the corner with the pile of sacks and grain. He pointed the lantern in the same direction. He silently mouthed the words “There! There! They’re coming from there.”
Saeth turned sharply at a whispering sound behind her. Her hand jumped to the hilt of her sword, then relaxed as she saw it was the youth, gesticulating wildly with his dagger. She glanced at the priest Maruc, who was pointing at the boy. Yes, she would have to show him how to hold a dagger. That grip certainly wouldn’t do! She nodded back to the elder human, affirming that she got his message. But more pressing things beckoned. Miklos seemed to be pointing at the bags of grain stacked in the far corner. Was there something back there, hidden behind them? They should be easy enough to shift.
Maruc too spun sharply at the hissing noise from Miklos then he turned his attention to corner indicated. Forcing the tension out of his body Maruc calmed his breathing and allowed his arms to hang loosely by his sides. He started to bounce slowly on the balls of his feet, a nervous disposition he’d aquired whilest awaiting the ‘corrective redemption’ of his Reverand Father, then he realised he was probably dead. Maruc rufully thought; ‘Well I’ll not be suffering from that anymore…’, then he looked at his bouncing feet and sighed.
The young mage’s heart was thumping in his chest and could feel his hands shaking but he gritted his teeth and waited. Feldard grinned a wicked Dwarven smile as he hefted his huge dwarf-rune encrusted war-mace as he advanced toward the offending corner before Saeth could move. “Clear the way boy. Leave this to the experts,” said the dwarf, eager to demonstrate his value to the group. It was a damn good thing he was here to show all these top-dwellers a thing or two about navigating the underground.
Miklos smiled weakly back at Feldard and valiantly waved his silvered dagger. Saeth would’ve just as soon he lifted the bags out of the way than murder them, but silence was of the essence now. Well, this was dwarven subtlety in action. She stepped in front of the trembling youth to shield him from whatever might come. Slowly drawing a dagger, she waited, ready to pinion anything that lept from the corner.
Feldard skillfully removed the sacks, making hardly a sound. Though he was not the strongest dwarf of his clan, he was definitely the brawniest of this group. When he finished, another tunnel is revealed. Like the other, it appeared freshly dug and was small enough that only a hin might pass through it without crouching. “Well, it appears this way be Lady Thanato’s ‘demons’”.
* * * * *
Unbeknownst to the crew below, Nicolai stood near the cellar opening in the goodwife’s kitchen. Like others of his ilk, he had trained ears and was listening to every word being said. He wondered, what were these odd assortment of characters getting themselves into?