Chapter 10 | Hoben’s Passenger

If this was fear, Hoben wanted none of it.

It was all-encompassing. He felt his blood go cold within him, and a dread so deep that it reached his very core.

Two personalities fought inside of him. He felt the yearnings of a seven-year-old boy compete with his natural instincts to dash into the darkness. Crippling anxiety met recklessness. Hoben reeled. He wanted to retch, or cry, or cover himself with a blanket and huddle in a corner.

The party began descending down the staircase. Despite his better judgement, his legs began to quake, and a fearful moan escaped unbidden.

Run Ruh took his hand. “It’s alright, little pup. You’re safe with us.”

Amira pulled Thorn’s stuffed skeleton from her satchel, and placed in his hands. The plushy toy felt comforting and familiar, but Hoben scowled at needing to be placated by a toy. But he didn’t mind Amira’s brief grip of his other hand, her fingers cool against his sweating palm.

Hoben pushed against the intrusion; he felt it abstractly in his mind as though it almost took up physical space in his head. This would not do. They needed to deal with this problem, and fast.

Hoben scowled again, and followed reluctantly, forcing his feet to move. The staircase led into a dark, dank basement, the walls and ceilings hewn out of wood and earth.

An eerie chanting emanated throughout the floor. Its haunting, repetitive melody made Hoben’s blood curdle, and he turned to run — but Ruh Ruh tightened his grip on him and pulled him closer.

“We’ll protect you,” Ruh Ruh said, the dwarf’s voice gruff in his ear. Tears pricked Hoben’s eyes, threatening to pour out in a torrent.

The party proceeded down the tunnel, quickly finding two crypts, onto which the names Rosavalda Durst and Thornbolt Durst were engraved. Akra and Liam heaved the crypts open, finding them empty, just open coffins perched upon stone biers. Hoben felt a pull toward the crypt with the boy’s name, and the sudden urge to climb into the coffin and lie in it. It was if the boy had become just slightly sleepier, or calmer, being near it. But the fear returned full-force as they proceeded past it, despite Ruh Ruh’s reassurance that they would go back to it soon.

Hoben clamped a hand over his ears. The chanting was terrifying. The darkness was terrifying. The dining hall they discovered, with the body parts and blood strewn about haphazardly, was terrifying. The scent of mold and decay was thick in his nostrils. The jasmine he had brushed against his mustache seemed so long ago, and he missed its strong, floral bite that overwhelmed all other scents.

Akra put a foot into the dining hall. From a dark alcove, they heard the sickening sound of something heavy and slimy slithering on the stone and dirt floor. Hoben went cold from head to toe, like something frigid had been injected into his veins.

A serpent-like creature came into view, but it wasn’t like any serpent Hoben had ever expected to encounter. Its body was fat and sluggish and glistening. Hoben swore its head tore; it split into tentacles, and from the center was a disgusting, wet mouth outlined by a sharp beak.

Hoben froze. From over his head, a bolt flew through the air, whistling as it cut through. He watched, helpless, as it went straight into the mouth of the creature, and it recoiled, emitting a horrible noise, before collapsing.

The party turned around and looked at the ranger in the back, who lowered his crossbow, pleased.

In this midst of his fright, Hoben felt a familiar seedling of himself emerge in his mind, through the fog of possession, and it held just a touch of jealousy.

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