Catacombs

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Daciana stood before the old man. “We seek a cu—”

“Do not speak of cures. There is no need.” He waved his bony fingers to dismiss the girl. “My eyes do not fail me. I can see that neither of you has a misplaced bone nor boils from a plague. Therefore, you must seek a different kind of healing.” He stared at Alina with his cloudy, sunken eyes. “A supernatural kind.”

A dull ache throbbed inside Alina’s incisors. She licked the ends of her teeth, then sucked on them. “Then you know.”

“The smell follows you my dear.” He flashed his rotted yellow teeth and grinned. “No matter. If you wish my help then I will need five artifacts. The first is below this very chapel, within the catacombs. Inside you will find the relic entombed within a gilded glass case.” The old man wriggled his fingers. “But beware, for there are creatures that lurk within the shadows. Who of you will go?”

Alina drew out her dagger and ran her thumb against the edge. “Could be interesting.”

Leo cowered into the pews in contrast to Daciana who eagerly stepped forward. Ciprian blocked her with his arm and shook his head no.

“What? Why?” Daciana yelled. “I can fight!”

“Not without proper steel you can’t,” Alina replied.

“Give me your dagger then. You can use your longsword.”

Ciprian gave Daciana a hard stare. She turned away and crossed her arms. Alina didn’t think that Daciana was the type to listen to authority, yet there she was moping like a child. Leo emerged from the pews and led Daciana to sit beside him.

“Do you want to hear about the time I accidentally sat on a bucket of blueberries?” Leo said.

Alina and Ciprian followed the old man to a room tucked behind the iron cross. He led them down a torch lined staircase which reeked of dust and decay. They stopped in front of an iron gate.

“Have your hand on your blade at all times,” the old man cackled. “You never know what you’ll find in the catacombs.”

The gate opened with a loud squeal and clouds of rust fell beside Alina’s boot. The old man slammed the gate shut and a chime of keys clinking against each other followed. The click of the lock echoed down the corridor. Alina took the lead and followed the torches down a tunnel, each flame an oasis of light. Within the walls, stacked like cobblestone, were human skulls. Their empty eye sockets seemed to follow their every movement.

Ciprian hacked and covered his mouth with his sleeve. Alina looked at him oddly. “That’s troubling,” she said to Ciprian. “I must stink like these old bones if I don’t notice the smell.”

Ciprian smiled and rubbed his finger under his nose.

She grinned. “That doesn’t make me feel better.”

Ciprian’s eyes floated upward. Alina saw his posture become tense in the flicker of the torch light. “What’s wrong?” she asked.

He didn’t react to her. Instead, his mouth fell open and he shrunk backwards. Alina heard a sound, a rattle like two wooden teeth clacking together. She turned around and drew out her longsword, her cloak swirling behind her. There was nothing but a dusty passage and a wall of bones.

A gust of wind rushed behind them and extinguished the torches, blacking out the tunnel. Alina couldn’t see or hear anything. Only the smell of burnt linen lingered.

“Ciprian?”

She took a step backward and bounced off of something heavy.

“Sorry, Ciprian.”

The magician snapped his fingers and a small flame appeared. Alina turned to the flickering glow and realized that Ciprian was not the one behind her. She slowly reached back and felt something slimy. When she pulled her hand away, strands of viscous goo clung to her fingers. Ciprian clasped both hands together and drew out the flame into a volcanic fireball. Alina twirled around, steel shimmering in the fireball’s light.

Before her was a stack of ribs connected to a juggernaut of a skeleton. Half-eaten flesh dangled from its blood saturated bones and a diseased heart inflated and deflated within its ribcage. The undead beast raised its half bone, half flesh hand and smacked into Alina’s chest. The tremendous blow sent her crashing through the wall of skulls, trapping her beneath a pile of death. She saw the skeleton reach with its bloody hand and slashed at it with her blade.

Her steel rang at impact and chipped away a piece of bone from the creature’s wrist. The monster drew back and raised both hands over its head like a hammer ready to strike, flesh writhing and slurping with its lumbering movements. A fireball exploded at its back and lit the flesh on fire. It squealed like a stuck pig, grotesque and pained, then turned its attention to the magician. More fireballs flew, but the beast continued to walk forward, its body aflame.

Alina pushed the skulls away from her legs and lunged at the beast. She swung her sword and loped off the bones connected to the legs and arms. It shrunk in height until it couldn’t sustain itself and crumbled to a pile. Flames ate away at the meat until nothing but charred bone was left behind.

But just when they thought it was over, the bones began to rattle. The still beating heart rose into the air and attracted the bones to its vile core, reconnecting each limb one by one. Alina chopped at the cursed heart and cut into the meaty muscle. A few more fierce blows split the ball of veined flesh in half. The bones clattered to the floor and dissolved the magic that bound it to the corporeal plane.

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