Mik, dangling from a rope, peered around him, trying to make out shapes in the candlelit chamber below the pit. His years in the Athasian wilderness had inured him to sights that might turn the stomachs of most folk, but there was an unwholesomeness about the space into which he was descending that unnerved him. He smelled the same putrid odour that had pervaded the area above, where they had defeated the zombies and belgoi. Gradually his eyes became more accustomed to the poor light and he made out two of the same crossbow-armed statues that had guarded the tower roof positioned each side of the shaft. There was a long table close by, set with peculiar vials, bottles and instruments. Further back in the shadows he made out chairs fitted with straps and shackles in which sprawled several corpses. In a better-lit area near the middle Mik saw a circle inscribed on the floor. A figure, plainly dead, with melted face and leprous skin stood in the centre, holding an orb. A second figure stood nearby, this one clad in scale armour, bearing a heavy shield and a longsword.
In the room above, Maro stood braced, gradually paying out the rope which was wound around the staircase wall to serve as a rudimentary pulley. He felt the line go slack for a moment, then felt it jerked out of his hands. Mik had touched down in a pile of what he guessed were human, or at least humanoid, bones. As he did so, grinding noises to his left and right announced that the statues had activated and were looking for a target. Still attached to the rope and roaring in challenge, he charged the figure standing in the circle, guessing that it was the biggest threat. Above, Maro seized the free end of the line and slung it down the shaft. The others quickly divined his purpose and took hold of the rope to stabilise it. The mul descended, followed by the others. He landed clumsily, feet slipping on the charnel heap.
Mik lay prone, pierced by two bolts. He had been surprised by several zombies that had lain concealed in the bone pile. These moved to engage Maro. Naivara slid gracefully down the rope, teleported away from under the shaft and prepared a mental attack on the armoured zombie. As she did so, her concentration wavered. She had glanced at the creature in the arcane circle, and as their eyes met she experienced an odd flash of recognition. Stranger still, the thing’s lambent green eyes had widened in surprise for a moment, then it raised its arm and a glob of acid shot from the globe it held, splashing around the psion. Maro, meanwhile, had called on the earth spirits and brought forth a whirling cloud of grit that battered their enemies, shredding their decayed flesh. Mik struggled up and recommenced his attack on the thing in the circle and its guardian. However, though his blows struck true, they seemed to have less effect than he expected. At this point a barrel fell full on the creature’s head. Naivara’s doing, thought the ranger, but once again, what should have been a lethal blow simply staggered it. “That circle’s protecting it!” he heard Naivara shout. Behind them, Sha-karn had fumbled his way down the rope, still anchored to Mik’s considerable bulk, and had immediately been set upon by the zombies in the bone pile. He yelled in pain and as he did so flames blazed out from his body, incinerating the undead around him. “Bear – revive us!” commanded the genasi, and his ghostly companion shook its shaggy flanks; scattering healing energy like droplets of water. Naivara concentrated again, making the undead warrior attack its companion in the circle. The longsword drove through the zombie’s body and it slumped to the floor. Immediately every other undead creature in the room fell immobile.
Naivara, still intrigued by what she thought she had seen on the thing’s face, came over. The greenish sheen had disappeared from its eyes and as she watched its face transformed into one she knew all too well. The corpse was now that of a young male eladrin. “Aramil…” she whispered. Mik and Maro joined her as she knelt beside the body. She looked up. “My quest is over. I have found Aramil. Yarnath must have transformed him into this vile thing. When we were fighting, I thought I… why didn’t I realise?” There was an awkward silence, broken by the sound of Sha-karn gathering books into a pile on the work table. He glanced up. “Tomes of defiling magic. I don’t really want to start a fire in here, but there should be something in these vials that will do just as well.” As he spoke, he removed the stopper from one bottle and let a drop fall on the pile. There was a fizz and wisp of smoke. “Acid – excellent,” said Sha-karn and began to pour the contents carefully over the books. “Wait!” cried Naivara, and she darted forward and rescued a few volumes. “Put them back, girl – there’s nothing good in them.” said Sha-karn sternly. Naivara ignored him and leafed rapidly through pages of incantations. Finally she stopped and sighed. “I had hoped to find something – some ritual – that would reverse what Yarnath has done to my beloved. Indeed, there is a spell here that might have done just that – but what is the point now he is gone?” Her face fell and she flung the book away and returned to kneel beside Aramil’s body. Mik placed his hand on her shoulder. “Perhaps he was beyond help, but you ended his spirit’s torment. I would have been grateful for that much.” Naivara said nothing. She desperately wanted to weep, even to shriek out her grief, but could find nothing inside. Acrid smoke stung her throat and she looked round to see the acid had destroyed most of the books. “Time to go,” she said tonelessly and rose.