From the top of the ladder, Stoni had seen two rows of shelves and a dusty wooden floor between them. As she dismounted from the bottom rung, she expected to see walls behind the shelves. She did not. Through the gaps between the boxes, bags and jars stacked on the shelves, she could see more shelves. The shadows kept her from seeing much further, but the tiny glimpses offered to her showed no walls behind those shelves either. Looking along her row, the light died before she saw to an end. Visible gaps in the receding line of shelves indicated where she could pass through to the adjacent rows.
This feels bigger than the house! Is this all food storage? Raphael was seriously prepared. He could run a delivery service out of here! Or a grocery store. So what's this key for? I don't see anything locked. That means I'm going to have to search this whole place. I'd better do it methodically, one row at a time.
She gazed back up at the well of darkness through which she'd descended. Something might still be up there, but she hadn't heard a sound from it since she'd started climbing. If she left the trapdoor open, she feared it might follow her. But she suspected closing the trapdoor wouldn't prevent it. After an extended process of tortured deliberation, she left it open. Closing it and locking it from below was possible, but it would be additional strenuous work for no certain benefit, and she might want to climb out in a hurry. Just to be on the safe side, she kept the key with her by taping it to her other shoe with a spare piece of adhesive bandage.
"Here goes," she said to the shadows. "Time to see how far this place goes." She hoped she sounded bolder than she felt. "As soon as I get these ropes untied."
A few awkward minutes later, she put her hand through the lantern's handle so she could carry it while brandishing her backstabber. She checked the closest section of shelving first, just to be sure there were no locked boxes she'd missed. There were not. She advanced to the next section and again examined first the left row and then the right row. There were no boxes at all, just some bags of flour on the top shelves and a lot of jars of pickles. The third section held crates of root vegetables. She put the lantern down and leant her weapon against a shelf so she could check inside each crate to make sure none held a hidden lockbox. None did.
The first lateral gap in the left row of shelves was between the third and fourth shelving sections. Stoni peeked up and down the next aisle and saw two disheartening details. First, there was a gap in the next row of shelves, proving that there was indeed more beyond it. Second, when she looked back in the direction of the stone wall she'd cllimbed down, she saw no barrier. This aisle continued back beyond the starting point of the first one. "Does this place even have walls? Hello?"
The echo in response to her shout was scattered and confused, telling her nothing.
As she finished checking the next sections of shelving which were also packed with root vegetable crates, her Observe skill hit Poor-35. That cheered her up for a minute, but she quickly grew bored of digging through bins of dried fruits. There was still no visible wall ahead of her, just more shelves shrinking into the shadowy distance.
Why am I even here? Seriously, what do I gain for doing this? Knowledge? None of this will be any use to me when this mission is over. Am I only down here to pass the time, because I'm bored? No, I'm here because something hurt me and I need to find out what it wants. And when I do, I'll make sure it can't get it. Yeah. I'm not doing this because I'm afraid of some unseen enemy, I'm here for vengeance! I'm the ghost here, so I shouldn't be afraid of anything!
Heartened by this self reflection, she opened the next fruit bin. "Figs!" She slammed it shut. "Actually the round things in the previous bin looked pretty good. I wonder what they taste like." She pulled the lid back off and popped one of the hard yellowish pieces in her mouth. "Is this... banana? Hmm, I think I've had banana, but not dried. I think I like it. These are going on my 'good list'." She took several more and stuffed them in her mouth so she could move on.
Shadows shifted as she walked forward. The light glinted off the next array of pickle jars. There was a gap in the right row of shelves, letting her check out the row beyond. It told her the same story as the gap to her right. Except...
She looked back the way she'd come. It now looked the same as the way she was going. The ladder had been overtaken by shadows. Without forming the intent, she ran back towards it. The shadows melted away as the lantern's light fell on them, and the rungs leading up the stone wall were visible once more. She halted and tried to get her breathing back to normal.
"The exit's right there. It's not going anywhere. It's still there even when I can't see it. This is just a really big cellar and I only have one lantern. There's nothing to worry about," she told herself.
She almost believed herself.
Multiple loud thuds and uncountable smaller sounds made her whirl back around, her heart immediately pounding faster. She could see something was askew. She didn't quite run, but she did walk forward quickly, not wanting to miss seeing anything. As she drew close to the disturbance she saw a scattering of banana chips on the floor. The lid was sitting crooked on the bin.
"Hello?" She listened for a minute, but nothing moved. "This isn't funny."
No one answered.
"That's it, I'm done taking this slowly," she declared to whatever might be listening. Leaving the mess where it was, Stoni strode down the aisle. She gave the contents of each shelf only a cursory check, not bothering to open any more boxes. After two more sections she saw a stone wall ahead with narrow shelves carved into it. She continued marching onward until she came to the end. Neither side shelf reached all the way to the wall, nor did any of the other parallel shelves. The narrow shelves held jars of honey and fruit preserves, and had no gaps. "Let's see how far this goes."
She set a braid of garlic down at the intersection mark the way back. Assured that she wouldn't get lost, she took the left hand turn so she could see down the aisles as she passed them. She counted five more aisles before she reached the corner. "Good, there's an end to this place." That comforted her, but only slightly. She knew there was something active down here with her, but hadn't caught even a glimpse of whatever had disturbed the banana chips. As much as she wanted to believe otherwise, she knew there was no way they jumped out by themselves.
Behind her, a few aisles back, a jar broke. She turned toward the sound. "Huh?"
A second jar broke, closer than the first. Stoni had a great view of the shards of glass and droplets of honey as they exploded outwards from the stone shelf.
The shrapnel was still raining down when a third jar burst, even closer. The pattern was obvious. She turned and ran.
A safe distance from the wall of bread spreads, she stopped. The sounds stopped. She looked back. Nothing moved.
A bag of flour erupted halfway between her and the end wall. Then a closer pickle jar.
She resumed running.
The sounds fell behind her, then stopped. She kept running, passing a gap to her left.
Barely two paces ahead, a well-aged cheese burst into fragments. She skidded to a stop, her shoes skidding on the floorboards. After briefly backtracking, she ducked into the next aisle. A crate of pumpkins in the aisle she'd just vacated was converted into a barrage of splinters and orange gore. She leapt aside and barely avoided being caught in the spray. The detonations followed her. She sprinted down the aisle, dodged through a gap to the right to avoid returning to the jar wall, and continued back in the opposite direction.
The carnage continued close on her heels. She dropped her backstabber and put on more speed. The sounds of destruction fell behind. She kept on, going further than she'd been in any direction. When her surroundings changed and the noises stopped, she slowed to walking pace. That let her look around better, but more imporantly she was gasping for air. "So... this is the... wine cellar." She was pleased to have solved that mystery at least. Turning a corner to the left, she only saw more bottles. There were no barrels or casks or any other kinds of containers.
"That's... nice. So, there's a lot of wine down here. Or I think it's a lot of wine. I wonder..." She learned close to a shelf to read the labels.
A bottle behind her shattered loudly and she almost dropped the lantern. "Alright, I'm running!"
She walked quickly, and the shattering did not repeat.
Whatever's doing this can see me. Or at least knows where I am. And I can't see or hear it. Is it intangible, or is it exploding things from a distance?
She didn't have a way to answer that, so she kept walking. She slowed as she reached a branch to her left. When she began passing it, a bottle in front of her burst. "Alright, you want me to go left. Got it."
A few steps down the new aisle of bottles, a series of shatterings close behind her forced her to run again. Several paces further, a wall loomed out of the shadows. The bursting bottles forced her to continue faster.
This is a dead end! It's got me trapped! There's so many bottles that there's no way I can... Oh!
Directly ahead, at the base of the wall, rested a large chest with a highly visible lock. Stoni ran to it and stopped. The explosions stopped too. She bent down and examined the chest, putting the lantern down a little to the side for optimal lighting. It was entirely made of metal, and appeared to be extremely solid. She estimated it was large enough to fit at least four pairs of shoes. "Good thing I've got the key. Looks like no one's getting this open otherwise."
She ripped the adhesive bandage off her shoe and pulled the key free. It definitely looked like it could fit. She lifted it to the lock, got it seated in the right orientation, and slid it home. It slid in cleanly. Once it stopped, she rattled it to see which way it would twist. "Wow, no tolerance at all." It turned a little way, then stopped. She gripped the key tighter and twisted harder. It started moving again.
Something sharp stung her thumb. "Ow!" She pulled her hand away and saw that the tip of her thumb was bleeding. She glanced back at the key but saw no blood or sharp surfaces. "Huh?"
The metal chest began to hum softly. "Is... is it doing something with my blood?"
The humming stopped, and a series of loud clicks issued from inside the mysterious box. At the fourth and final click, the lid was loosened and popped up a little way. The chest was open.
Stoni reached for the lid. "Time to see what's inside you and find out what all this is about."
Something snuffed out the lantern, plunging the cellar into darkness.