Chapter 20 | The Cultists’ Cavern

The lack of chanting now seemed more ominous than the chanting at full volume, Ruh Ruh thought, as they proceeded down a corridor. They passed a set of shackles, from which a skeleton still hung. Phaedrus knelt to it, and took a black cloak and a gold ring, which he slipped onto his finger, to no effect.

Ruh Ruh pushed open a door, the outline of it just barely visible in the stone wall. They emerged into a cavern, Ruh Ruh at the front. In the cavern wall, the carved faces of Gustav and Elizabeth Durst stared at them, smugness permanently etched into their expressions. Ruh Ruh shuddered, remembering what they had become — angry, rotting creatures, reduced to piles of ashes.

The cavern was expansive, formed straight out of the earth, and it was larger than Ruh Ruh would have expected. He braced himself for a surprise, for something to stir or growl or jump as they entered, but nothing yet moved. Stone platforms surrounded dark water of an unknown depth, and in the center of the water stood a circular dais.

Akra and Liam crossed the room, toward a pile of refuse that Ruh Ruh couldn’t quite make out — the room smelled like rotten foliage, slimy and submerged in still water. Ruh Ruh avoided bodies of standing water whenever he could; water that pooled and didn’t flow often held disease, and the creatures that survived in it were creatures that Ruh Ruh didn’t like encountering.

Regardless, the fighters began to hack away at the refuse with their edged weapons. Ruh Ruh was growing weary of their egos, as if the groups’ only might was found in swords. Sometimes strength came through patience, instead of thrusting one’s self straight in the middle of danger.

It was hardly a surprise when something finally did roar from the refuse, and came alive in a quick, wet movement. As the creature awakened, the chanting began again, and it was louder than ever. Ruh Ruh threw his hands over his ears, but he could still hear the words —

Lorghoth the Decayer, we awaken thee!

The ground shook and rumbled under their feet. Vines climbed up the far wall, and tentacles shot out from the refuse pile, and reached for Akra.

With effort, Ruh Ruh tore his hands away from his ears, and took hold of a javelin. Beside him, the warlock shot the creature with a blinding beam of amethyst light, and the creature roared, gripping the dragonborn tighter. Akra screamed, and Ruh Ruh heard the blood-curdling sound of bones snapping.

The paladin retaliated, and began emanating a bright golden glow. He sliced expertly at the monster, and a severed tentacle fell into the murky depths. Ruh Ruh couldn’t hear what Hoben shouted at the creature, but his look of disappointment suggested that whatever it was, had no effect.

Ruh Ruh moved closer to the monster, and tossed a javelin. It pierced the monster, and it writhed in pain.

“Everybody move!” Amira screamed. With great strength, Liam pulled on the dragonborn, who briefly came loose from the monster. She was limp in Liam’s arms, and Ruh Ruh feared the worst.

Amira uncorked a small vial, and threw it squarely at the creature. It hit, and luminous green flames began to climb across the tentacles and the vines. The creature shrieked, consumed by the flames, and Ruh Ruh thought that might have done it —

But the flames began to wane, doused by the surrounding water. The warlock swore, and the monster once again pulled Akra into it. She struggled in its grip, gasping for air, before once again falling limp, her eyes closing. Ruh Ruh shouted. Liam gave a fierce cry and pierced the mound with the tip of his sword; the ranger’s bolt followed, and the mound recoiled and writhed in agony.

With one hand, Liam reached for Akra’s, and infused her with light — with the other, he severed a cord as a beam of magic shot across the room. It was enough this time. The monster went limp, and slid into the water. Liam caught Akra before she was dragged down into the muck.

The chamber went silent, and they were submerged in such sudden quiet that Ruh Ruh’s heartbeat sounded deafening in his own ears. He put his hands on his knees, and regained his breath.

The paladin revived Akra, who looked shaken and nursing an injured arm, then walked onto the dais. Ruh Ruh watched as Liam inspected the shackles, dangling from the ceiling above. Akra, now steady on her feet, joined him — and together, they cut down the chains, and tossed them unceremoniously into the water.

Phaedrus put a finger to his lips, and they listened intently. Ruh Ruh could hear nothing. Was it possible they had finally purged the worst of the house? Why didn’t he feel any peace yet? He likely wouldn’t until he was back outside, under the moon and under trees, where he belonged.

There was nothing more to explore, and no way out from here. Collectively they walked in silence through the open portcullis, and back down the narrow, dark corridor, past the reliquaries and shackled skeletons. There was no point in returning to the attic, now that they had uncovered the trap door. Akra went to it, and with some effort, pushed open the door, and climbed up into the hunter’s den. Ruh Ruh made up the rear, and resolved to not cringe as they passed the stuffed wolves, their faces stretched in eternal, silent howls.

One by one they went back into the house, now immersed in utter chaos.

Like what you read? Give Ashley Warren a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.