The adventurers set about exploring the cleared sections of the cavern. Vahkragg hauling the bodies of the defeated ghouls into the fire pit they had built at the entrance. Experience had taught them the wisdom in burning any undead they defeat rather than have to fight them again on the way out.
With the caverns diverging along three corridors, Verumalleus and Rubin stand sentry over the first two while they waited for Pan scouting the final pathway under the watchful cover of Telfor’s bow. They are meticulous in their exploration for their quarry was cunning and powerful.
When Pan at last returns, they gather by the cave mouth to discuss.
“The first corridor is heavily warded, I scuffed what runes I could be confident would be disarmed but there was a number I didn’t recognise,” Pan explains, handing Rubin a small pile of sketched symbols before continuing, “The second path bore the marks of sorcery, but only by the door at the end. It was scored with a complex array of runes I couldn’t discern the purpose of and beyond it I heard movement.
The third corridor is completely unwarded as far as I could see. The path twisted several times so I didn’t see how far it went, but it is also the most used. If I had to put money on it, I’d wager our target is down that way.”
Telfor nods contemplatively at Pan’s description, choosing a path was always his most hated part of infiltration. Choose the wrong one and you risk getting your men killed and your quarry escaping. Sorcerers were the worst again, the combination of reality altering power, paranoia and insanity made predicting them an act of futility. Some were so paranoid as to booby trap even what they carried on their person, while others so egotistical they never considered the need to protect themselves.
As Telfor considered their route, Rubin shares his interpretation of Pan’s sketches, “The runes from the first corridor define latent contingencies which actuate the derivative invocations our saboteur has heretofore neutralised. Regretfully their meaning follows a cipher thus attempting to elucidate further meaning would be futile. However I hypothesise that with the underlying device disabled, even should the contingencies be met, no following effects should occur.
As for the second paths door…” he trailed off, fidgeting with the sketch between with thin devil red fingers, “I have never observed spell-craft quite so manifold. I can deduce aspects, but without time I can offer no meaningful verisimilitude.”
Vahkragg hadn’t bothered attempting to understand the loquacious ramblings of the academic and instead looked to Pan who translated. The mood was no more improved by the insights, cryptic behaviour was always a dangerous sign. The attention of the room settled on Telfor , awaiting his decision.
Sighing, Telfor runs his hand through his thick black hair down the leathery skin of his neck. “The third path is off the table until Rubin has time to properly study the wards. Pan, trap it as best you can in case something decides to come out behind us.” He orders, “Whatever is down the first path is complicated enough to warrant nuance, I don’t like complicated. Pan, same deal with that one, Rubin, help him if you can. When you’re done Pan you’ll be scouting ahead on the second path while we follow you, you know the routine no more than one corner ahead.
Any prayers or potions you’ve got, now’s the time to use them. Our big bad should be right at the end of this corridor.”
The party springs int action with practised efficiency, securing their flanks and preparing with militaristic precision. Verumalleus approached Telfor to offer the blessings of her god. The divine light suffused his flesh and Telfor’s confidence is bolstered and strength courses through his veins. The blessings initial rush wears off and he notices the crusader still staring at him politely waiting to speak. Acknowledging her he asks, “What’s the matter, Veru?”
“Sir,” her formality a familiar quality of their relationship, he appreciates the respect she gives to his command though it stands out distinctly against the behaviour of the rest of the team, “I have a bad feeling about this”
“So do I Veru, that’s why we’re being cautious,” Telfor replies, noting how unlike Verumalleus it was to express concern like this. Especially while hunting a necromancer. In all the years he had known her she had always been the first into the fray and the last one out, at times he’d wondered if her faith had taken the place of her fear of death. “What can I do to help your bad feeling?”
She takes a folded and sealed leaf of paper from her cloak and offers it to him saying, “I dreamt of my death last night. This is a letter to my family. If I fall here, will you bring it to them?”
Telfor accepts the letter with a nod, “I’ll return it to you when we’re done here.”
Verumalleus moves on without a further word, calling the blessings of her god for each of the group. Shortly Pan and Rubin return, reporting that they will be safe or at least warned from any company from the other wings of the cave system.
Together the group forms up and begin down the path, Pan creeping silently through the shadows ahead. Deeper in and deeper down the natural formation of the rock twists and turns into the mountain. Eventually Pan signals the group back, explaining in hushed tones when further back that he had seen candle light on the wall and heard the turning of pages.
“Rubin, Pan, get in and surround the target without being seen. Vahkragg, you and me will be supporting Verumalleus as she arrests him,” Telfor orders quietly. Rubin vanishes behind a veil of illusion and Pan steps out of sight, “We give them one minute then we approach, be ready for a fight but don’t drawn weapons until we’re aggressed upon.”
Completing his mental count, Telfor signals to move. Verumalleus steps calmly forward into the candle light, flanked by the two much larger men. The cavern is well lit by magical candles and well adorned with comfortable furnishing. In the centre of the room, a man seated at a desk looks up from his tome as they enter. Mild surprise crosses his expression, he stands slowly, stepping around the desk to meet their approach. With guarded curiosity her speaks, “Good day. To what do I owe the pleasure of this uninvited company?”
Verumalleus’ voice is strong and commanding, “We have come under the order of the Earl. We have a warrant for your arrest in suspicion of unlawful sorcerous misconduct. Come with us now and you shall be afforded the respect befitting a citizen of the realm, resist and we shall be forced to use force.”
The man’s expression shifts from surprise to annoyance, his perfectly youthful visage a product of his heritage concealing any sign of his age beyond maturity. His features were sharp but more rounded than Verumalleus’, the shallower point of his ears signifying their divergent heritage. His sharp eyes quickly shift from the crusader to her companions and back to hers, “Could I be so bold as to ask, what sorcerous misconduct I am being accused of?”
“Defiling the bodies of the dead for necromatic purpose, enchantment of a free citizen and thus the subsequent crimes of spying performed by the ensorcelled individual” she replies. Telfor notices the subtle widening of his eyes as the list of crimes is heard followed by the furrowing of his brow shaping an expression he has come to associate with an intention to resist.
The sorcerer’s fist clenches, white knuckles conveying his frustration. His eyes flicker with movement conveying the cogs working behind them. The silence grows as the tension builds. Vahkragg’s hand has come to rest on the handle of his great-axe, the giant man growing impatient. At last the sorcerer released his tension, fixing the crusader in his view he breaks the silence stating, “You have been mislead lawmen, I am no necromancer nor have any investment in spying on the doings of city folk.”
“Should you be innocent your cooperation with an investigation by the courts will both prove your innocence and aid in the capture of the true culprit,” Verumalleus states firmly. The sorcerer nods submissively.
“It seems I have no choice then, I shall accompany with you on the condition that you swear by your god that I will receive a fair and honest trial”
“I swear it,” she replies.
A small smile crosses the sorcerer’s face, “My name is Oliver, I hope we have a pleasant time travelling together.”