The stairs led down and into death.
‘I found a door in the side of a hill, and after a moment’s hesitation, I opened it. I had seen, or so I thought, the worst and the strangest that Gods’ Hollow had to offer.
‘I was wrong, of course.
‘The stairs were well-worn in the center, dips having been worn into the stone from decades of use. When I reached the bottom of the steps, I discovered why.
‘Flameless torches hung in steel braziers, illuminating the broad hallway that stretched before me. Along either side, I saw the walls were textured, and upon closer examination, I discovered they were not textured. Instead, the skulls and bones of the dead had been embedded into the stone.
‘The sight of them rooted me to the floor as a fear grew in me that should I look down, I would find myself treading on the dead as well.
‘Still, when I forced my gaze downwards, I saw that there was nothing more than stone beneath my feet.
‘I drew a deep breath and considered my situation, half-expecting to hear the dead speak to me. This was the Hollow, after all.
‘They did not. Or, if they did, I was unable to hear them, and for that, I was grateful.
‘With growing confidence, I walked forward, eyes shifting from left to right, searching for a sign, though I knew not what it might be.
‘At the end of the hall, I discovered a small room, and within it, the bodies of three monks. One sat in an alcove, the other two stood at the wall. Each bore a nameplate. Stepping onto the dirt floor of the room, I read the names on the plates. The one closest to me bore the name Mal Blud, and a shiver raced through me.
‘Mal had been a relative, a cousin from my boyhood. As I gazed upon the remains, I heard the voice of the old woman in my ears. The reminder that I would find it on the ninth day.
‘It was the ninth day since I had seen her, and without a doubt, I knew what needed to be done.
‘Stepping forward, I relieved Mal of the burden of his skull and carried it with me out of the room. With the skull tucked under one arm, I retraced my steps, and soon I stood once more in the sunlight of the Hollow.