The door crashes against the rough stone wall with a loud crack when Stepjan stumbles into the rank, dark room. He manages to close it with a much more delicate sound before leaning against it and closing the latch. He staggers down the narrow steps with a pained groan, while he presses his free hand against his side where blood is seeping through his shirt. It’s tempting to just drop his bow and quiver where he stands, but if they catch him without anything to defend himself, he’s done.
The air smells stale and musty, filled with a very particular scent that tells him without actually needing to see his surroundings to know he’s in a tomb of some kind.
“Just my bloody luck, I guess.”
Stepjan slings his bow on his shoulder and strikes a match one-handed even though that is probably a bad idea. The flickering light reveals that this isn’t a cushy last resting place for nobility, but rather more of a root cellar stacked to the top with coffins in various stages of dilapidation. The bodies inside wear matching grimaces of putrid rigor and faded red soldier’s uniforms, their dust-crusted brass buttons gleaming in the low light. He’s not unfamiliar with violent death, but the grisly scene still sends shivers down his spine. Stepjan lurches forward all of two steps before the match burns out on his thumb and his curses into the dark.
The matter of blood loss becomes more pressing in seconds though. He pitches forward, just barely avoids falling onto his injured side and ends up looking right into the sightless eyes of a corpse, whose face is surrounded by wisps of black hair that cling to the papery skin, before he loses consciousness. When Stepjan opens his eyes again, he hopes that he wasn’t out for more than a couple of minutes, but the steady drip of blood into a puddle on the floor tells a different story. He fumbles around for another match. It’s not going to do much, but he’ll be damned if he dies here in the dark with a bunch of half-mummified red coats.
The flame springs to life, then steadies, before leaning to the side as if touched by a breeze. Stepjan turns his head, freezes – the eyes he meets are no longer bulbous and grey, but bright amber, lips parted by an icy breath. They both stay motionless for a beat, but when it – she – draws back a fist to smash through the brittle wood of her coffin, he can’t stifle a scream. While he’s still reeling, the previously dead woman slithers out through the hole, and his luck turns for the worse when yells rise outside, and something heavy starts battering against the door. She crouches over him, flicks her eyes up to where the latch is one good hit away from breaking and hisses:
“What’s your name?”
She nods and hauls him up with unnatural strength.
“I’m Valerie. Now run!”