Chapter 4: The Holy Man’s Tomb
“I still say that it’s an odd name.” The man at the bar looked to his side as though unsure of what he would find there. As the Lady Maire slid onto the bench at the tavern, the taciturn swordsman raised his hand for another drink. The petite figure at his side blithely continued, “You should try John. Or William. Or Oisin. Those are good, normal names.” She raised her hand for a mead, then wiped the cup’s rim before taking a drink. “You never told me why you left Rus-” she looked confused, then shrugged. “Why you left home.”
“No, I didn’t.”
“Is it because your parents named you Vladimir? That would make me leave home.”
Vladimir realized that his mug was now empty. Once he gained the barkeep’s attention, he pantomimed a larger mug. He turned to the woman next to him while he waited. “Maire—”
“The Lady Maire,” she scolded.
He fortified himself with several swallows from his stein before continuing. “Lady Maire, we are here in town to accomplish something. If you are going to insist on following me, you will have to help me with this.”
She smiled, a happy, toothy smile. “I already have,” she said. “It’s a good thing you have me around.” Vladimir drank deeply of his grog, while signalling with his hand for another.
With one more strong kick the metal grate clattered to the floor with a pile of stones from where it once stood. Vlad pulled himself through the opening and dropped low, searching the light-less room for movement. There was none. Maire eased herself through, then proceeded to brush off all the dirt, dust, and cob webs that had accumulated as they climbed through the old sewer drain. “I still think you should have given me more time, I could feel the door giving way to my advances.” Vladimir didn’t look, but he could already see the self assured smile she had drawn across her face. He lifted up the makeshift torch he had fashioned before entering the tunnel and lit it with his flint. The room they were in looked like an old washroom, with basins around the outside that had mostly rotted away.
Maire did in fact get the exterior door to this ancient monastery unlocked, but it would not open to either of them, no matter how hard they tried. Vladimir had seen such enchanting done in his home country, he only knew that it was an old system, and not used anymore. Whether it was because they forgot how, or they thought it a hassle, he did not know.
It was only through sheer luck that he and Maire found this old sewer line that lead into the monastery. and despite all her objections that this was not how you properly entered an ancient ruin, she finally followed him. The crawl was long, but they finally made it to a metal grate that had become loose with age.
As they walked through the heavily stoned area, they came upon the main monastery. There were holes in the ceiling where the moonlight trickled in, but the torch still helped them see. They walked down one corridor after another, until they heard sounds. Moira had been chatting to Vladimir as they searched, and he almost missed the footsteps. “Maire, don’t torture me now, i hear something”. She listened for once, not even correcting him for not using her proper title. Instead, as they crouched around a corner and listened for the footsteps coming closer she whispered, “Vlad, we really must work on your English. You keep saying torture when you mean talk to”.
Vlad was ready with a reply when a whole new feeling washed over him. The dread seeped into his very soul, and before he knew it he had his hand on his sword. He peeked around the corner and saw a man wearing old tattered brown clothing standing with his back to him and wearing a loose hood. Ah, so there still are monks here, he thought to himself as he tried to suppress theis feeling of dread and walked towards the hooded figure. As he neared the man, some sand crunched on a stone, so the monk turned around. And Vladimir drew his sword.
The man’s face was drawn tight across his bones, and down the front of his robe was a long dry stain from where his jaw had fallen off. He saw Vladimir and it seemed almost like a smile of pure joy and rage crossed what remained of his face, and he lifted up two bony hands and lunged at Vladimir with a soundless scream.
Vlad threw down his torch and swung with both hands, his blade cutting through the ancient being easily, but despite a cut across the chest that would have killed any man the creature still moved forward. A crossbow bolt flew past Vlad’s ear and hit the man right in the forehead. His head exploded into dust from the impact and the crossbow bolt continued wide and impaled itself in a wood panel. The creature’s husk fell back and crunched under its own weight. As Maire came up to Vladimir she pulled the bolt free and muttered in her motherly tone, “I swear Vladimir, you’d never survive without me.”
“I seem to recall I wandered for many long years… before… you…. Do you hear that?”
The Lady Maire added her weight to the large doors, pushing them closed with great effort. She and Vladimir smiled at one another in relief. Vladimir then seemed to realize what he was doing, straightening with a frown. On the other side of the door, the sound of flesh on stone and wood continued, unabated. The Lady Maire could smell the stench of old death even from inside the room.
Looking the room over, they found themselves in a study of some sorts, a private room for a higher ranking monk to take books and scrolls and look them over with more privacy than the main library likely afforded. The table was miraculously intact, but the small bookcase and chair had long ago fallen into debris. As Vlad fortified the room, shoving a wrought iron floor candelabra into the handles of the door, and checking the small window, the Lady Maire poked around in the debris of the bookcase. Picking up a piece of parchment, she started to call to Vladimir, but her voice was drowned out by the sound of something large slamming into the door of the room.
Quickly stashing the paper, the Lady Maire helped Vlad shove the heavy table in front of the doors. She then began searching the walls, running her hands over the stone, and occasionally stopping to rap on a stone. Vlad looked at her in bewilderment.
“Maire-” he began.
“The Lady Maire,” she replied absentmindedly.
Vlad said a word in his native tongue. The Lady Maire decided she was glad she didn’t yet know his language. He attempted a calming breath, then with a concerned peek at the the quivering door, asked, “The Lady Maire, what are you doing? We need to find a way out of here.”
It was as he completed the sentence that he heard a great screeching of stone on stone. The Lady Maire stepped back and crossed her arms over her chest. Vlad briefly closed his eyes, no doubt in wonder, then rubbed his hand over his face. “That’s a tunnel, isn’t it?” he said wearily.
“It should run to the library,” she said. Her smile, however, was shortlived as the smell of several long rotting bodies reached them, with the sound of movement. She drew her sword, Vlad doing the same, noting that once again the sword fairly leapt from the scabbard. Both faced the entrance to the tunnel, and the approaching creatures.
This wave of monks seemed larger than the last, and both of them knew that they were nearing exhaustion due to the other wounds on their bodies. Sharing a concerned look, they had just cut down their first opponents when light filled the tunnel, sending a sense of comfort through them both. The light seemed to have the opposite effect on their undead enemies, though, sending several of them running, and even turning one to dust with its power. An elf stepped into view. He seemed calm, despite the several cuts in his well made clothing, and the dirt smudged upon his cheek. He set himself against the wall of the tunnel, and raised his hands again.