Down in the Cellar

Mistress Moorvak hurried about the kitchen with the two coils of rope and a pair of lanterns Ted had asked her to provide the band. The kitchen was full of bubbling pots and inviting fragrances. Ollie lifted pot lids as if he expected to find the missing girl in the potato soup.

The plump dwarven woman handed a lantern to Ted. “These are what I can send with you," she said. “Please make haste, Flindia is all alone down there with… whatever was making those awful noises."

Ted looked down at her sympathetically and nodded. “We’ll find her and bring her back. Try not to worry.” He looked over at the wooden trapdoor in the corner of the room. It might be that the girl was waiting to jump out and laugh once they were all in the cellar. Of course, if Moorvak was right, there could be something else waiting to jump out at them. He looked over the rest of the search party. 

Old Marley was wrapped up in layers of filthy cloaks and blankets that the smells of the kitchen almost hid. The beggar’s eyes darted about the room suspiciously, and Ted wondered which utensils might have made their way into the folds of his cloaks. Marley still had the heavy wooden staff he always walked with but had brought no other supplies with him.

Ollie brought no extra equipment either but had one of the coils of rope and a lantern Moorvak provided along with his short bow. The youth cocked his head to one side and curled up his lip in confusion. He was listening to Otho try and explain that he’d always been that height and wasn’t playing a trick on him. The halfling was very patient with the halfwit. He seemed kind-hearted and earnest, and Ted thought he would be someone you could depend on. Sadly, he was barely three feet tall and looked too delicate to be much help in a fight. At least he was prepared, and brought along a small leather bag of supplies and held a small spear braced against his shoulder.

The tall Northman walked over to stand by Ted, slurping noisily from a metal ladle, spilling soup down his braided beard and onto his chainmail shirt. “If there is a fight they will all die," he said and gestured with the spoon, slopping more soup on the floor. Ted was troubled by Aulk's pessimism and hoped the others hadn't heard him. The barbarian let the utensil clatter to the ground and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “I will find that girl and drink my fill of ale when I return.” He hefted his heavy round shield and ax as he walked towards the trapdoor.

It seemed like a bad idea to bring this group into the unknown, but there was no turning back now. “Well, let’s get this over with,” Ted thought as he grabbed the heavy iron ring and swung open the door to the cellar.  A steep and narrow set of stairs led down to the storage room below. The big man drew his sword and held the lantern high as he started down creaky wooden steps.

The cellar was a large area under the Inn, with heavy wooden posts rising from the floor to support the timbers above. Beams of light shone down between the cracks in the floorboards, and dust drifted down as people moved around the room above. The space looked well used and orderly with a well-swept cobblestone floor. Stacked wooden crates, barrels, and sacks lined the walls with various supplies for the Drawn & Quartered Inn. 

The band spread out and started looking behind the supplies for the missing girl. Ollie swung his lantern wildly as he ran back and forth around barrels and crates like he was playing a game of hide-and-go-seek. Old Marley seemed more interested in the crates, and Ted didn't think he expected to find the girl inside them. 

Out of the corner of his eye, Ted saw a dark red curtain at the far end of the cellar was moving. Hairs on the back of his neck stood on end, and he quietly moved to investigate. Ted took a deep breath, braced himself, and used his sword to quickly move the ragged and moth-eaten fabric. A damp breeze blew past, causing the lantern to flicker as its light revealed a smaller room with a partially collapsed floor. Echoing up from the darkness the burbling of an underground stream could be heard. 

From his side, Ted heard a small voice. “I could investigate the hole. I’m small and less likely to collapse the floor any more than it has.” Botho looked up at Ted with enthusiasm. It was clear he wanted to show he could be helpful. “I can take a rope with me, and if the floor does collapse, you can pull me back up,” the little man continued.

Ted thought that sounded safe enough... unless some voracious fiend leaped out of the hole to grab the halfling, of course. He had to remind himself that while tiny, Otho was no child. Stories he'd heard said the small races lived longer lives than men did. This little adventurer might be even older than him. Despite his size, he was still a man and Ted should honour his choice to take a risk like he would any man. With some reluctance, he nodded. “Ok, we'll follow your plan.” 

Otho tied one of the ropes around his waist and handed the rest to Ted. Slowly the burly fighter let out the line as the little halfling padded across the floor towards the hole in the back corner. His small spear was held at the ready, waiting for some foul creature to lunge out of the darkness. While he moved towards the hole, Marley, Ollie, and Aulk crowded around to watch what would happen, each holding their weapons tightly.

As he reached the precipice of the hole, Otho looked down into the darkness. “I’ll need a lamp,” he said. “I can't see much, but there's a strange smell. Wait a minute, there’s something here on the ground.” He reached down and picked up a small piece of jewelry from the floor. “It’s some sort of cloak pin” he shouted excitedly. “What if the dwarven girl—“

Suddenly a loud rumble of stones cut him off as the floor beneath Otho’s feet gave way as the little man dropped into the darkness. Ollie gasped and started to rush forward, perhaps forgetting the rope that Ted was holding. A moment later a little hand appeared at the broken edge of the floor and Otho pulled himself back up onto the cellar floor.  

After catching his breath the halfling said “I think the rest of the floor is safe enough. There's some kind of cave beneath this corner and it starts where the hole is.”

Marley stepped forward with one of the lanterns as the others slowly made their way into the room. The old beggar stopped, roughly set down the light, and picked up a shiny gold coin. He marveled at the treasure he found and turned to see if there was more. Soon, Ollie and Aulk joined Marley in hunting around the room for more fallen coins scattered about the room. “Is this an adventure?” asked Ollie.

Ted stood at the edge of the abyss shining his lantern down into the darkness. A damp breeze from the hole brought a fetid stink and the sound of running water from somewhere down below. His lantern light reflected off some kind of slime or muck below, but there was no sign of the girl. If she had fallen through the floor when it collapsed, her body wasn't lying in the cave. Their ragtag band of rescuers would need to climb down to continue looking for her. Ted turned to see Otho standing nearby instead of searching for coins. He decided he had been wrong about how helpful the halfling would be.