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TDL BK I, CH 29: And Behind This Door… 

Chapter Twenty-nine: And Behind This Door… 

The temple was strange in that it was oriented towards the right. That was where the altar stood on its raised dais, and that was the direction the pews faced. Despite this, the doors leading deeper into the mausoleum stood opposite the entry doors in the middle of the wall. In Howe’s mind, that was the obvious choice; however, it had two contenders. On the left side of the room was a locked wooden door, whereas in the right corner stood a secret stone door. 

Cyne and her men came across a concealed stone door when doing their due diligence and making sure that no stone was left unturned when sweeping the right flank. Being smart, they chose to report it instead of attempting to open it. Secret rooms in crypts rarely led to good ends. Being less savvy than he was, some of Guiilame’s men wished to explore the ‘hidden’ path in the hopes of finding treasure. Fools! Any real treasure would be hidden further in and not behind an ill-concealed door in the very first room. The clear choice was to continue straight ahead. They could check the secret room on the way back before leaving, or maybe never, so that whatever traps lay within remained undisturbed. 

The door on the left wall was left out of the discussion from the start. Guillaume had put one hand on the door, paled and walked away, ending any further discussion of it. As they discussed their options, Howe maintained that they continue on the obvious path into the mausoleum, edging closer to the presence Guillaume had sensed at the start. The evil presence was likely the corpse of the statue in the foyer, a lord of no small means. Surely the good stuff would be next to the burial chamber of the lord of the estate? Others agreed, but out of fear of missing out, they pushed to explore the hidden door first, emboldened by the lack of response from their psychic leader. 

“Don’t pout, Howe!” his friend teased. 

That just makes him pout harder. “Not pouting!” he ground out as the others examined the door. 

Guillaume spotted a few making faces at Howe behind his back. It told him he had made the right choice. Howe made good points, but his men deserved the assurance that their opinions were taken seriously and not superseded by someone who only dropped in on two out of ten missions. That was why he was off in the wrong part of the room, facing away from the hidden door so those outside did not catch what they did to open it. With nothing else to look at, his eyes strayed to the other locked door. 

Knives on a grindstone. Sharpening for the sound, not the edge. Soft ripping. The parting of dead flesh under the knife. Blood dripped away, draining from the body under the watchful eyes of the mortician. Gleeful almost perverted giggles as he carved up the bodies, but there was something missing. 

Screaming. Struggling. Cold, dead eyes staring dispassionately at the figure on the table, only coming alive when the blood began to spurt. The flesh parted differently when it was alive, better, wetter. Watching a heart beat through an open chest was such a beautiful sight, but it always ended too quickly. Live passed too quickly. Only death was eternal. He’d always known this. Luckily, he had a remedy, a way to— 

“HEY!” interrupted Howe, staring at him with concern. “You’re doing that a lot. Are you alright?”

Guillaume grunted. This place was grating on his senses, rubbing them raw in a way he had never experienced. “Lots of suffering happened here”, he said as an explanation. “It’s left its mark, making it too easy to pick up on the traces.”

“Something I should know?” he asked, eyes tracing his line of sight to the cursed door. 

Guillaume shook his head, not trusting himself to open his mouth when his vision was still so fresh. The room had been a mortician’s workroom once. He had seen as much. That was where the family prepared the bodies of the dead before laying them in state in the temple and before entombing them. However, things had clearly changed since the mortician’s reanimation. He was prepared to fight all sorts of skeletons and even face whatever ancient horror lurked in the depths. What Guillaume was not prepared to do was fight a creature that would embalm him alive if he lost. 

“Okay then!” His friend nodded, brushing his hair back and slicking it in place away from his sweaty brow. 

Guillaume watched as he pulled a special kerchief from a pouch on his belt to wipe the perfumed oils from his hand. Only after this did he take out a different kerchief to wipe his face. Sometimes, he wondered how much of the nitpicking and posturing was intentional and how much was due to his friend’s idiosyncrasies. He was sure some of it was, but the rest, like the fact that Howe kept leaning against the walls so he could loop his thumbs in his belt holes and stand in what he thought was a flattering pose. An effect he ruined when he pushed off and had to spend several minutes brushing dust off his clothes. 

“THE DOOR IS OPEN!” Diarmuid yelled. 

“Finally!” Howe exclaimed, pushing off the wall. However, before he could start his cleaning routine, something burst out of the dark corridor they had just opened, bowling over one of the men. 

This was no skeleton. The thick corded flesh wrapped tightly on its twisted frame belied that. Bulbous, luminous yellow eyes locked onto its prey as it lumbered forward. Hunched like an ape, it crawled on its overly long hands. Clawed hands grabbed the man it crashed into and pulled him close, where a mouth too wide to be human opened up to reveal pointy teeth and a tongue that rolled out like a slimy, braided rope. Guillaume ran at it, the screams of his men resounding in his eyes. Some brave fellow tossed his torch in its face. Sadly, that did not deter the creature. It dragged its quarry up and bit into it with its fanged maw, tearing the screaming man apart in a frenzy of blood.

Beside him, Howe cursed before lighting up, sparks travelling across his skin before he skipped ahead, propelled at speeds faster than Guillaume could catch up with. The lightning-aligned cultivator ploughed into the monster like a cannonball, stabbing his sword into the side of the unsuspecting creature. This had the side effect of clearing the doorway, allowing them to look in and, more importantly, allowing the creatures within to look out. Luminous yellow eyes shone in the darkness of the corridor, preceding their growling owner as another of the fanged monsters leapt into the room. 

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