Bree hung back, at the end of the line, as her comrades descended into the dark stone stairwell. This time she didn’t do it to watch the rear or because she felt safe. This time she did it out of fear.
Something down there was giving Bree a strange feeling. A sort of… pulling sensation, drawing her inexorably down, down, down, into the dark. She knew not what lay beyond, what was calling her, but she had the distinct feeling that whatever it was would change her life forever. She thought about letting the others go on without her, about staying behind, but she didn’t. She couldn’t. Despite her better judgement, she wanted to see what was calling her. She yearned for it.
Though what it was, she couldn’t fathom.
Fudin led the way, at the front of the line, ahead of their light source. Nes walked behind him, another glowing ball of heatless flame in his hand. Santon strode behind them, broadsword ready in his hands. And finally, behind him, Bree walked carefully, cautiously, terrified of what lay beyond.
Her palms sweated upon her sword pommel and after only a few steps she began to wish she still had a belt, so she could sheath her scimitar, before her palms became so slick she dropped it.
They descended at least twenty feet in depth, into the ground, before they spotted the base of the stairs. It opened up into an enormous laboratory at least fifty paces deep and forty paces across. Three massive mold-encrusted tables filled the center of the room. On both the left and right side of the room were a curved set of stairs which led up a dais. Upon each was a large workbench covered in a bewildering series of glass vials, tubes and other tools whose purpose Bree couldn’t fathom. Some of the containers were filled with a murky, green substance. Mold-encrusted tiles lined the floor, interrupted occasionally by metal drains the size of dinner plates. Directly to Bree’s left was a short hallway which ended in a wooden door.
Nes strode across the room to examine the tables of tools and glassware.
Fudin stood beside him, protectively. “What need had priests for an alchemy lab?” Nes shrugged his shoulders, “Perhaps some among their number studied the arcane arts, instead of the divine. They might have used this laboratory as a place to brew potions and salves, to heal in the name of the Dawnflower as their brethren did.”
Bree glanced the green substances in the vials with a raised eyebrow. “This doesn’t look like a healer’s concoction to me.”
“I wouldn’t drink it, either,” Santon chuckled.
Bree moved closer, eyeing the slime with distaste. It quivered in response, jiggling like jelly. Bree jumped back and the substance stopped. She blinked. Had she imagined it?
She crept forward again, slowly. It quivered and then gushed forward out of the vials, straight for Bree’s head. She screamed and ducked, causing the slime to fly past her. It landed on the ground with a slick thud. Bree turned, drawing her sword.
Behind her Nes squealed. “My robes!”
The slime looked like a sloppy, near liquified lump of plant matter spotted with tiny mushrooms and patches of sickly green mold. Bree glanced at Nes, to see he and Fudin fighting back a second pile of slime, which retreated down a drain.
The slime before her jiggled as it launched itself forward. Bree twisted to the side, dodging the slime but crashing into the mold encrusted table. Santon swung his sword, cutting sluggishly into the ooze-like pile, which surged forward and began climbing swiftly up his legs. He roared, dropped his sword, and tried to pry the slime off of him. Each handful he tore off was replaced by two more. Bree ran over to help, flinging the nasty goo across the room.
“There it is,” Fudin shouted behind her, “coming up from the drains!”
“I’ve got it!” Nes shouted back.
The slime creeped higher, and higher still, until it reached Santon’s face where it tried to force itself up his nose and down his throat. Bree pried at it frantically.
“Lashto vax bethnin! Conus!” Nes shouted.
Heat billowed behind her. Lightning shook the chamber.
Santon shoved his hands down his throat and finally pried the goo out. He flung it at a nearby wall. They backed up, towards the stairwell, with Santon spitting wads of slime out of his mouth.
Nes was slick with sweat. His spellcasting seemed to be taking far more energy from him than normal. He grunted and then roared. Finally, the slime caught flame, burning and sizzling. Still, Nes held on, pouring more and more of himself into his incantation.
The second slime slipped into another drain as the first sizzled and melted away, into a slick puddle upon the floor. Nes smiled, looking triumphantly at its remains.
“Well, done, my brother.” Fudin congratulated.
“The other lives.” Bree warned them.
The brothers turned and backed away from the drains in the floor. From the wall behind her, Bree heard a squishing sound. She turned just in time to see the slime shoot out from a pipe jutting from the wall right at her eye level.
The mold enveloped her head, forced its way up her nose, and down her throat. She gagged, but still the slime inched its way lower. Her vision blurred, her hearing became dull and her breathing ceased. She struggled and then, all at once, became bombarded by voices and visions. They tore through her skull like cyclone, mixing her own memories with those of the slime until everything was an incoherent, broken jumble. She screamed, or at least she thought she did, as the combined experiences and emotions of multiple lifetimes assaulted her.
Her head felt as if it would explode. Each memory, each sensation, was sharp as a blade, cutting through her brain, taking it apart fold by fold.
Her vision went dark, and then entirely black.
Bree fell to the ground overwhelmed, cracked her head upon the moldy, tiled floor and knew no more.