Beside him, Bazalus was growling, his teeth bared, staring up at the bats. Zarrek looked over at the entrance; there were no doors beyond the bent gates, nothing to keep them from passing through the crumbling archway and into the halls of the tomb. He loosened some of the chain that bound the shadow hound to him.
“Elezar, are there bats inside, too?” Zarrek asked.
“I have no way of knowing,” the older man replied. “I did not come this far without you.”
“We have to get inside either way, right? Ready your sword. We’ll have to them as quickly as we can.” Then he looked down at his beast. “Bazalus, keep the thrall bats off us. Is that understood?”
“As you command, master,” Bazalus replied. “I never did like bats.”
Elezar readied his sword, and Zarrek drew his own, surrounding it with his fire, and together they stepped towards the entrance. The ancient gate squealed as the young prince opened it. The noise set the bats off, and very soon the were flapping all around them, screeching and trying to find flesh to bite.
Their slashing swords took down many of them, and Bazalus snapped several others from the air, devouring them whole before leaping up for more. They kept moving all the while, up the crumbling stairs that had once been pale grey stone, under the archway, and onto the shadows of the tomb. They were relieved to find that there were no more thrall bats inside, although they still did not let their guard down; there could have been more further down.
“This is a place of the dead,” Bazalus growled as he looked around the small room in which they now found themselves.
“It is,” Elezar agreed. “There was once a time when the people kept their dead in tombs rather than returning them to the earth.”
“I can smell the deaths from the crypt below us,” the beast added.
Zarrek looked to Elezar, how brow raised curiously, then back the Bazalus. “All I smell is dust and… age. Everything here feels and smells so old.”
“You are mortal,” Bazalus reminded him. “The beasts and demons of the abyss can sense what you cannot.” He sniffed the grounded as he stepped forward, towards the doorway that led to a dusty stairway.
Elezar held he torch high as they descended the stairs. They all knew that if he and the young prince should both lose their flames, they would be encased in darkness, and they would be lucky to find their way out. Zarrek mused that even the brightest daylight never reached the crypt, that it had always been seen by the mere light of torches. It was no wonder that Métius preferred such places.
At the bottom of the stairs, the room was not much wider than a hallway. The ground was scattered with dirt, the air musty. Elezar noticed several torchiers in the walls, and lit each of them. A part of Zarrek wished that he hadn’t. There were recesses in the walls, each one just a little bit longer than a person was tall, and not much deeper than a man’s shoulders. There were twelve on each side of them, their edges crumbling, threatening to let loose their contents.
“Is it true,” Zarrek began, “that there was once a long and detailed process for treating the bodies of the dead?”
Elezar nodded. “Living in Thiizav, you learn a lot death, whether the way things go nowadays, or the way things used to be. These bodies had a lot done to them before being laid to rest here.” He paused, watching Zarrek approach one of the recesses. “I would leave the shroud be if I were you. A lot changes after a few thousand years.”
Zarrek peered over his shoulder, and in the end took the older man’s advice. They went deeper into the tomb, through several hallways, down more stairs. All the while, Zarrek could not help but think that it was incredible how deep the place had been made, all of the halls and rooms that hand been made so many centuries ago. As they passed through some of the levels, the styles changed, the burials sometimes more complex. Sometimes there were endless rooms of stone coffins, others more simple treatments, like in the first hall they had passed through.
Many of the recesses were covered with thick layers of webbing. Elezar explained that these had been made by crypt spiders. Some rooms were difficult to walk through because the spiderwebs went from the walls to the floors, and many times they spanned across doorways.
“How do the spiders live,” Zarrek wanted to know, “all the way down here? What could they possibly eat?”
The question made Elezar stop and stare down at him. “Use your imagination, boy. There is one thing that this tomb has plenty of besides spiders.”