Aglaril Cycle:Chapter 05 Down into Darkness by Rich Feitelberg

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SUMMARY: Evan pursues a necromancer into a dark basement and discovers something unexpected.

Evan, Ambrose, and thirty-one knights hurried after the man who had escaped down the marble staircase, pausing only long enough to light torches. At the bottom of the steps, a rough passage ran straight ahead until it disappeared into the darkness. A side passage off to their left was just barely visible in the dim light provided by the torches.

Evan paused considering which way to go. The air smelled musky and Evan thought he heard the faint drip of water from the passage straight ahead.

A noise echoed from the side passage. To Evan it sounded like a scream, faint and distant.

"Ambrose, station five of the swordsmen to guard our backs and ten archers here to guard the other passage. The rest will come with us."

"As you command," said Ambrose.

They started down the side passageway. After fifty feet, the path bent to the right. In the middle of the corridor, near the far wall, the man they were following lay on the dirt floor. Directly above him, sixty glass cylinders were set into the wall.

In the dirt, Evan examined the stranger's footprints, followed by five feet of drag marks then eyed the glass cylinders warily. He did not doubt the man before him was dead despite the lack of blood on the floor or any obvious sign of injury.

"Ambrose," said Evan, "examine the body. See if you can find a puncture or wound that may have killed him."

"As you command," said Ambrose.

"And avoid getting too close to those cylinders."

Evan set to the task of examining the floor and the walls on either side of him. A few seconds passed before Evan discerned faint scratches on the granite walls, as if someone tried to claw at it.

Had he tried to gain a handhold? thought Evan.

Ambrose, meanwhile, advanced slowly toward the man with his sword drawn. He used a toe to nudge the body before jumping back in case the necromancer planned a trap. The man, however, did not move.

Ambrose knelt beside him and felt for a pulse then quickly examined the man.

"I can't find wounds of any kind," Ambrose said to Evan.

"I was afraid of that," said the priest. "It looks like he was dragged to this spot and then killed. I can only assume that magic from these cylinders is responsible for both actions."

"Then why aren't we affected?"

"I don't know. Maybe this is an ancient form of punishment left by the Mireans. If the cylinders detected he was an evil man, it might have triggered some spell. But that's a guess."

"And these cylinders," Ambrose began. "What do we do about them?"

"Do?" said Evan. "Nothing. If you'll recall, we just lost Fathers Alfred and Charles fighting the necromancers outside of Elvenwood. If they were with us, or if there had been time to replace them, we'd stand a chance of knowing what spells might be at work here. But without any mage or priest who can examine magic spells and items, we are completely helpless."

Evan ran his right hand through his hair in frustration. "I think we are done here, Ambrose. Let's search the other passageway before we leave and bring the body with us." Evan gestured at the dead necromancer.

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