Chapter 11 | Hands

This basement checked off everything on Liam’s “Places I Don’t Like” list.

Dark and cold? Check.

No natural light sources? Check.

Empty crypts and coffins? Check.

Miscellaneous body parts, left to rot without care, or love, or proper burial rites? Check.

He nodded respectfully at Phaedrus, whose expert marksmanship had just taken care of whatever that slimy serpent thing had been. A grick, perhaps? His knowledge of underground wormlike creatures began and ended with that guess. He was pleased to see it put down quickly. Liam had no qualms with self-defense, slaying the creatures of the night, but felt considerably better when foes could be neutralized as humanely as possible. One clear shot had been all it took. It helped that the serpent had been large and corporeal. So far they had encountered no shortage of spectral figures; a bolt, no matter how sharp, could only do so much damage to these more eidolic creatures. He wouldn’t be surprised if they comprised the majority of threats plaguing this basement as the party continued tunneling past the carnage in the dining hall.

Regardless, he was still a little bit surprised when hands suddenly plunged up from the earth, clumps of dirt flying around the party’s feat. Hoben jumped backward, and shrieked. Four ghoulish creatures, their matching clothes hanging like strings from their skeletal limbs, began to claw their way out of the dirt.

Liam dodged toward the south corridor, with Amira and Akra at his side. A ghoulish hand reached for the dragonborn; Akra threw her shield arm up, and its claw scraped against it, leaving no marks as it raked down the length of the metal.

A bright purple glow illuminated three of the ghouls; only one remained in the darkness, shrouded in the back of the western corridor. Liam’s eyes adjusted to the strange light, and he looked at Amira, grasping her amulet. She shrugged and shook her head. Apparently more than one member of his party had the ability to conjure purple magic.

He looked over his shoulder, and Hoben stood, defiant, with his lute clutched in his hands.

The glow helped. Liam could see now the movement of the ghouls, their strange writhing and crawling and stumbling. He raised his sword, and swung at the nearest ghoul.

It struck him first. Across his chest he felt a searing, stinging sensation as the ghoul dragged its claw along his armor. He felt it puncture and penetrate his skin.

His body went rigid. Nothing moved, no matter how he much he willed his eyes to swivel or his fingers to twitch. He was defenseless now, paralyzed and vulnerable as ghouls swiped at his companions.

This is not how I die, trapped in this corridor next to a warlock, he thought, trying to feel his own heartbeat.

In his only line of vision, he saw a creature lift its arm, ready to strike once again. The warlock in reference dodged in front of Liam and extended her palm, and her signature amethyst beam shot from the center. The glowing ghoul shrieked as the beam blast a hole through its torso, and the creature crumpled.

Liam was begrudgingly grateful — but in his paralyzed state, he was unable to convey that, and that was a good excuse to avoid acknowledging that perhaps the warlock had something useful to offer.

To his left, Ruh Ruh hacked at a ghoul, and it stumbled. Phaedrus dispatched the other with ease; it snarled and fell, a bolt protruding from its eye socket where an eye had long since dissipated. Hoben began muttering, and the one creature left standing near Ruh Ruh began to clutch its head, and tried to flee.

It had no chance. Ruh Ruh swung at it again with his axe, and the ghoul collapsed.

Liam willed himself to move again, attempting to tense every muscle in his body — and to his relief, he broke free of the paralysis. His arms flung outward, and he relished once again feeling the strength of his muscles running the length of his body.

This last ghoul was his to defeat, and he lifted his sword, and plunged it into the chest of the creature as it lunged at him. The purple glow was sucked back into the void from which it had been summoned.

Akra looked down at the ghouls, previously undead but now really dead, and nudged one with her foot. She wrinkled her nose in disgust.

Hoben shifted his weight from one foot to another, returned to his timorous state. “Now that we’ve dealt with that, can we backtrack a bit and go deal with this hitchhikers situation?”

Liam agreed. The ghoul had left him weakened, and he needed a moment of respite away from the bodies of creatures that were beginning to pile up around them.

The darkness was pulling at him, but he resisted its call, yearning for just one ray of sunlight.

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