Catacombs, Part Eight - The Twisted
Sophia awoke, lying on a threadbare blanket on the floor of a stone chamber. She noticed her friends in similar positions, still unconscious, and a girl of five or six, also on a threadbare blanket, red-faced and delirious from a high fever. Fussing over all of them was an old woman in a tattered shift. Sophia watched silently while the woman bathed the forehead of the little girl and tended to Tector’s terrible burns. She noticed that the woman was disfigured by sores on her face, and had several fingers missing.
The woman saw that Sophia was awake and introduced herself as Mara. Noticing Sophia’s gaze fall on her hands, she explained that she had leprosy, but that the disease was no longer contagious and therefore Sophia and her friends had nothing to fear. She asked Sophia a number of questions, including what the group was doing in the Catacombs and how they got there. Sophia answered honestly, but declined to explain why they were there until her friends were awake.
Mara accepted this, and displayed a kindly and compassionate demeanour throughout their conversation. She explained that she and her friends were all outcasts from “above” who were persecuted for being different in various ways, and this meant that some of her friends were very suspicious of outsiders, and concerned about the presence of Sophia’s group in their safe haven. She gave the example of Tinuviel, who as an araken slave had been ritually scarred by her master as a mark of ownership. Although she eventually escaped, she found no solace among her people, who were unable to come to terms with her scarred appearance and the history it signified.
As they spoke, a raven-haired girl of ten or eleven brought a pitcher of cool water into the room. Mara asked Sophia to drink, and then used the water to bathe Tector’s burns. She followed this by placing her hands on Tector’s chest, and Sophia sensed a familiar power flowing through the old woman as Tector’s burns faded in moments. Sighing in exhaustion, she bid Sophia rest and took her leave unsteadily, aided by the dark-haired girl, who she addressed as Rachael.
[Out of game we then had a very interesting discussion about leprosy in the middle ages]
After a time her friends awoke, and Sophia explained where they were and how they got there. Mara returned, and having established that they were hungry, led them along a passageway to a large chamber containing a bubbling cauldron of vegetable stew along with a number of benches and tables. Tinuviel and the deformed giant, who was introduced to them as Cathal Mac Bruinen, sat eating at one table, while the old danagrim Sophia had encountered at the entrance was seated at another, speaking in low tones with a middle-aged man showing the signs of advanced leprosy. The danagrim, who Mara referred to as Dolgrim, scowled at the group as they sat at another rough-hewn table and were served by Rachael. They noticed movement within his woollen robe, in the area of his chest, as if something were writhing beneath the rough fabric.
As they ate, Mara explained that her friends were divided on the question of how to treat the group, and very concerned about where they had come from, what they were doing in the catacombs, and whether they would bring danger or hardship to this small community. The group explained that they worked for the Archbishop, which drew an interesting response from Mara. She was clearly surprised at the political connections of the group, and also remarked on Storm being “another” dragonborn in the service of an Archbishop.
The sorcerer of course wanted to know what she meant by this, and she explained that many years ago, as a girl, she had seen another dragonborn in York, also in the service of the Church though in that case to the old Archbishop Henry Murdach. Storm was intrigued and they discussed more details. As they talked, Sophia’s identity became clear, and Mara was even more surprised. It emerged that Mara had seen Sophia 15 years before, as she worked in the Baron’s household until her leprosy emerged, when she was cast out.
As the conversation continued, the group explained their two-fold mission – to find Bran, the Minster carpenter, and to root out the undead that had attacked the Minster. They discovered an element of common cause with Mara’s community, which she ironically called the “Twisted”. Mara explained that, after years of rejection and persecution, they had found refuge in the catacombs, at least until the coming of the Necromancer around a year ago.
Mara revealed that, while the catacombs were never really safe, they had become far more dangerous since the arrival of the undead, and that two of the community had died at the hands of ghouls and skeletons. She also mentioned that the Necromancer was clearly searching for something, though she did not know what. The group speculated that this was linked to the attack on the Minster, when the undead and the mysterious Bloodmask tried to steal a gilded crucifix.
Mara left the group to finish their meal, and had hushed conversations with the other people in the room. Tector’s ears were particularly sharp, and he managed to listen in to an extent, gleaning that Tinuviel and Mac were supportive of whatever Mara was proposing, but that Dolgrim was deeply suspicious of the group and did not trust them.
Eventually Mara returned and, in the subsequent discussion, the group promised that they would not breathe a word about the existence of the Twisted to anyone else. Storm also talked about his own experiences as an outsider and empathised with the Twisted, which certainly helped in getting the community comfortable with the group.
Mara encouraged them to continue their fight against the undead and mentioned that she knew of three different routes to the Necromancer’s lair: the ‘front’ entrance that the group had taken, a smaller passage which led almost directly from the Twisted safe-haven to an entrance close to the crypt of All Hallows church, and a third way to the east through a series of natural passageways and caverns inhabited by a variety of dangerous creatures.
She offered that, should the group pursue their quest against the undead and find themselves in difficulties again while doing so, her community would offer them refuge once again. The group perceptively mentioned that there was no door to knock at, even if they could find their way back! Mara taught them the coded knock that would attract Dolgrim’s attention to the door, which his stoneborn powers would then open. She also mentioned that Tinuviel was an excellent scout and would keep an eye out for them in the catacombs.
After further conversation, Mara offered them another night of safe-haven, which the group gratefully accepted. Heading back to the chamber they had been in previously, Sophia channelled her healing to restore her friends and they settled down to sleep on the flagstone floor.