[The story so far]
Session 13 - Back to the barrow (pt.2)
Robed (or pretending to be captives), the adventurers headed on deeper into the winding tunnels under the barrow...
[Note - I'm writing this several weeks after it happened, so I'll be brief-ish, and may have forgotten some of the fine detail]
The tunnel opened up into a roughly round chamber, its floor paved with octagonal slabs, tessellated with small squares. In the centre stood a large, shallow metal bowl two or three feet across, resting atop a substantial tripod. Around the walls, cut into the rock, were rows of horizontal niches about two foot high and six foot long... each filled with a body whose head was wrapped in spider webs!
"Oh man! There must be about thirty of them! What if they wake up? We're so dead!" exclaimed Grat and before anyone could stop him he used his staff to smash the skull of one of them. "One down! Come on, everyone get started - quietly."
They did. Unfortunately, Rubeus Mangold the elf missed the head of his target and its hand shot up to grab his arm. He staggered backwards, yelling out, but failing to dislodge his attacker - remembering Nomos' eye and the sharpness of their claws, he tried to bat away the other arm but it grabbed onto his wrist. Now they were locked together and, all around, other zombies were stirring...
Everyone but Rubeus quickly clustered around the tripod and bowl, quickly lighting the oil that was in there. Rubeus got headbutted by his zombie, getting his nose broken, as he tried to twirl it into the flames. The zombie caught light but didn't let go, and the others where now having to fend off the rest of the restless dead. Only Aurelius was able to respond to Rubeus' increasingly frantic calls for aid, smashing his staff down onto the zombie's arms and knocking them free. One zombie down and smouldering, but the odds get worse every moment as more and more stepped down from their niches. A tide of almost silent death threatened to overwhelm the party.
"There must be some way of stopping them - those cultists obviously come through here."
"Yeah, mabe, but they didn't start smashing the zombies up..."
"What did we get from them that might stop them - quick!"
"I've got that wand, but I don't know any spells for zombies. What if it blows us all up in a fireball, or turns us into zombies?"
"Just bloody wave it around or we're all dead anyway!"
Grat gripped the strangely carved wand, took a deep breath, and made a non-specific plea that any benevolent higher power listening might help, and waved the wand....
.... and the zombies stopped. It was as if they had frozen. Giddy with relief [think the bit in A New Hope when Luke, Han, Leia and Chewy don't die in the garbage crusher], they wasted no time in setting light to the remaining zombies, chucking them into the furthest part of the room from the passage entrances.
A failed attempt by Dumnorix to re-set Rubeus' nose just bent it across to the other side and the offer to try again was politely turned down ("Come near my nose again and I'll open you up from neck to navel!" "Is that a 'maybe' ?"), and they continued on their way...
The passage took a sharp turn and, on the left, a set of small fissures between stalactites and stalagmites allowed the party to spy upon what lay beyond. A group of a couple of dozen robed and hooded men, in the same rusty-red robes they had taken from the cultists, stood chanting in a paved and decorated chapel cut into the rock. They faced towards three more hooded men [I keep saying "men", but under the robes species and gender were well-concealed] whose garments were jet-black and embroidered with silver tracery, like spiders' webs, along the hems and cuffs.