Sunday, July 31, 2016

Melinarth Beneath: The "Shooting Gallery"

The heroes lead out, moving slowly down the passageway. It turns left and back in the same direction as the passageway exiting the circular staircase. Overhead, right at the corner of the ninety degree bend, the ceiling is observed by Lorinkh to have a series of evenly-spaced, round holes, approximately two inches in diameter, along a narrow slot, from wall to wall. There are corresponding shallow dents in the floor beneath the round holes. "That would be a portcullis," Horgand says, and the Drulath hero agrees. A pair of Legionaries go back and fetch a long bench from one of the rooms and prop it up beneath the holes. They also place their shields at either end against the wall as further security against a closing trap.

Then the party moves on. It is composed of the Drulathim leaders and a handful of Legionaries, the wizard and his dog handler with the trio of hounds, the two women, the father and son duo, and "the greatest swordsman who ever lived."

As the party enters the reversed passageway the torchlight shows five narrow, vertical openings in the right-hand wall. "And those are arrow slits," says Horgand again and several of his companions nod and quickly move their shields to the right side, blocking the openings as they pass by slowly. Anxiously snatching glances into the open spaces behind reveals nothing but blackness. And all is silent except for the shuffle of the party's feet and the rustle and clink of their arms and armor.

Horgand proceeds down the length of the passageway in the lead and arrives at the end. Before him is a closed door. And on the right is another matching it. Horgand hefts his ax and steps to the door directly ahead. He tries it. It is apparently locked firmly from the other side. Lorinkh and Nouvzé turn to the right-hand door and the Drulath tests the handle. It too is locked. He shoulders it. Very solid! Then he steps back, winds up and delivers a full strength kick. Nothing doing. The party looks around at each other. No axes. Only Horgand is armed with an ax.

Myrdagyn turns to Khrohm. "Send someone back and tell some of those axmen to hotfoot it up here." Khrohm tells off two Legionaries who wordlessly head back up the passageway toward the others.

Horgand goes to work on his door with a will. After two or three blows, suddenly, right behind his back, another portcullis comes crashing down, cutting him off from the rest of the party. In the passageway  around the corner the first portcullis also descends, splintering the bench like match wood, but failing to crush its way to the floor past the Legionaries' shields!

Before the echoes of crashing iron die away the first crossbow bolts issue from the five arrow slits! Most of the missiles imbed themselves in the held up shields, but one snicks right through and the Legionary holding it goes down.

Auhxalys interposes herself between the missiles and the wizard. Sehlinah joins the others in holding up her shield before the blackened slits.

Horgand keeps plying his ax but with little effect. He worries that it might break, but after pausing to check it out, keeps chopping into the hardwood.

Lorinkh and Nouvzé take turns throwing their weight against the other door. All they accomplish is to bruise themselves.

Bolts continue to whine into the "gallery", imbedding shields and shattering off the stone wall behind. Ahnxst is wounded though not seriously. He plies his crossbow above and below the shields and is confident that several of his bolts strike enemies behind the wall. A couple more Legionaries go down to crossbow shot. Khrohm casts his own and several other fallen pila through the slits but without known effect.

The axmen arrive and distribute a pair of their weapons to Lorinkh and Nouvzé. All at once, right before the first portcullis, a section of the wall drops almost soundlessly into the floor, and out of that gap rushes a band of halberd bearing Warriors. Khrohm and his men are attacked heavily!

But the combat is swiftly turned in the favor of the Drulathim and they force the enemy to withdraw back into their revealed passageway. The portcullis has been raised during this fight, and now that the shields are no longer in place, when the portcullis comes down again it locks into the floor. The party is "trapped" in the gallery. As Khrohm and two of his men enter the revealed passageway they are attacked by superior numbers of Warriors. The lowered wall section begins to grind up out of the floor! It is too dangerous, and one of the Legionaries is felled before Khrohm and his man escape back over the rising wall section. It locks in place again against the ceiling.
Meanwhile, crossbow shot has dropped more Legionaries and axmen. The gallery is littered with fallen bodies. Bruno retreats back the way they have come. One of his dogs yelps as a bolt transfixes it. The animal is obviously mortally injured and bleeds out on the stone floor. They get as far as the portcullis and can retreat no further. But no more bolts target him or his two remaining dogs.

A final blow on the door seems to have somehow opened it, and for a moment Horgand stands there poised and peering into a poorly lit chamber. Suddenly the door is yanked back out of the way and a Warrior leaps into the opening to engage Horgand in combat. The room seems filled with more Warriors! Knowing that his only salvation is to keep to the narrow confines of the doorway, Horgand meets this attack to his own advantage and dispatches his foe. The body is dragged out of the way and he is instantly attacked by a second Warrior. This fight is also brief, the man is down and rolls aside to escape. Each time Horgand kills or wounds or otherwise fells a Warrior, yet another takes his place. This cannot go on very long!

The door before Lorinkh and Nouvzé reels and splinters and is soon kicked apart into the room behind. Dashing inside, the two heroes see a wall of Warriors presenting halberds, backed by crossbows. A couple of slight wounds is all the enemy has time to inflict before the furious assault of swords. Behind the leading pair of heroes come Myrdagyn, Ahnxst and Khrohm. A furious melee ensues in the guard chamber.

Back at the other doorway, Horgand is suddenly bereft of his beloved ax, which splinters in his hand! Gloating, the Warrior before him readies a deadly blow. But his confidence miscarries as Horgand seizes upon the weapon and wrestles him for it. The stronger man wins! Horgand is armed again and forces his foe to flee.

All shooting into the gallery ceases as the last few crossbowmen turn their weapons on the breached doorway. But these ambushers are themselves attacked and swiftly done to death. Other than Nouvzé being knocked senseless by a heavy fall in the press of combat, and a few other minor hurts shared by Lorinkh and Ahnxst, the party is unscathed.

The levers to the portcullises are found and both of them are raised. Or rather, the far one is raised, and the one behind Horgand is restricted by his own body! Even as the lever was applied to raise it, Horgand's body was slammed backward by the captain of the Warriors, and so violently was the blow delivered that Horgand's gear, including the head of his halberd, have inexplicably intertwined with the iron bars and pinned him there!? (This is known as an "epic fail", readers: Horgand rolled "Snake Eyes" in combat, then failed his LUK test, "epically"; we stopped having the character roll after his third straight roll of 96+!) He twists futilely in the grip of this unlikely trap. The Warrior captain strikes at him again and draws blood. Sehlinah and Myrdagyn struggle to free their hapless companion!

Lorinkh has managed to raise the portcullis only a few feet above the floor. Xoniuqé sees that without an instantaneous distraction, Horgand is going to die before their eyes. He summons his will and calls for the dogs. Bruno releases them and they come on the run, filling the gallery with their baying. As they sweep past the wizard their transformation is instantaneous and terrifying: Hell Hounds in every aspect! They leap at the captain of the Warriors as he readies another deadly blow at the helpless Horgand. Of course the captain withdraws in dismay and defends himself. His men join in the resistance against the apparent Hell Hounds and one is dispatched. The other is called away by Bruno. (Warriors of Chaos are not as easily dealt with by such sorcerous stratagems as are scum and thugs!)

But in the moments of respite gained by this diversion, Horgand is freed from his impromptu trap and roars back into the fight. His halberd swings and clears the doorway. The captain of the Warriors is knocked off his feet, momentarily stunned. Behind Horgand, the portcullis rises out of sight into the ceiling. He leaps across his momentarily immobilized foe and into the room. Behind him comes Myrdagyn followed an instant later by Sehlinah.

A slightly woozy Nouvzé pauses in the doorway to dispatch the prostrated captain of the Warriors, and Khrohm, coming swiftly and closely behind, caroms off the youth and knocks him to the floor on top of the already downed man. Both struggle to extricate themselves. Sehlinah furiously rushes blindly into the melee and is beset by two Warriors. She takes a wound, falling back toward the wall. Horgand drives his man deeply into the room and finally dispatches him. Myrdagyn swiftly kills the first Warrior he meets. Then he turns and kills the nearest Warrior focused on the girl. Between them the second is also slain. The few remaining Warriors are outclassed and swiftly one by one they are killed. The last one to die is the captain.
Silence descends upon the halls and chambers of the small battlefield. All hurts are attended to by Lorinkh and Xoniuqé. Of the fallen only a single Legionary and hound are beyond saving. The rest are helped back to the chambers near the circular stairway. The party rests, setting strong watches throughout the night.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Pyramid Penetration

(The Pyramid Battle concludes)

Nouvzé quickly makes a tactical decision. "I am going to get my father," he says and runs back up the slanting passageway to the stairs and goes to the top of the pyramid. He repeats his intention to Xoniuqé and descends the pyramid stairs over the double bronze doors. At the landing, he meets Horgand, who has just arrived there after climbing away from the carnage below. The two palaver on what to do next. Nouvzé describes the situation above, how the two women fighters are guarding the door and are no doubt by now in combat with the fanatics.

Below the father and son duo, the last of the wizard's sword and crossbowmen are being done to death, and the main mass of townspeople from Uhrbum Mhortuorum have been caught lower down on the pyramid by the pursuing Warriors. Stragglers who have escaped the combat on the stairs move past the bronze doors to the top of the pyramid and begin to enter it. They can hear sounds of combat emanating up the circular stairwell: Auhxalys and Sehlinah at her back are pushing their way in and down. Like mown grain, the fanatic guardsmen of Ahkrysyohs fall before the mace wielded by the "moving mountain", and tumble screaming into the depths. Finally they have had enough and retreat in complete rout down the stairs. The terrible anger of the massive woman hastens her feet on the stairs as she tries to keep foes within reach. But they are fleeter of foot, and her step falters and she nearly loses her balance on the edge! Almost as if an inner voice reaches her, calming her impetuosity, she slows to a safe speed and continues to move downward, brushing the wall. Several twists of the staircase below, Ahkrysyohs has confronted his minions in the full anger of his god. Rather than face his wrath and punishment, mere death by mace or falling seems the lesser evil choice! The remnant of his guardsmen return to their duty and climb the stairs to their doom. They perish under Auhxalys's mace as the first Drulathim Legionaries catch up with the two women.
While this forlorn rearguard action buys him a few minutes of time, Ahkrysyohs hastens further down the circular stairwell, four, five more twists, a full one hundred feet deeper beneath the upper city, and then moves through passages and secret doors to his inner sanctum, there to prepare his last and most potent defense. He can feel the god Qurosh'g there. He has not abandoned his Apostle!
Taking courage, he mingles with his minions in the spacious chamber, amidst the gardens and pools and fountains. His favorites greet him joyously, not aware of the carnage above at all. The beauteous courtesans bring him sweet meats and drink and array him in a flowing gown of comfort. Laying back on a divan, he awaits the arrival of his enemies.
"Nay! Not your enemies any longer, in fact, they were never that," the god assures him: "But, rather, your best and most devoted friends!"
"How can this be?" Ahkrysyohs asks aloud. And his followers hear his voice, see his face and fall to the floor in dreadful awe: The Apostle is in another vision!
"Wait and behold," Qurosh'g continues inside his mind. "Those who seek your life and mine - the deluded and pitiful fools! - have passed the test and proven themselves worthy of your company at last. You shall instruct them. Your sojourn on earth has advanced you, faithful Ahkrysyohs, to the next level of my favor. Your duties have been scrupulously carried out and I am pleased. Enter into my rest and full glory, as soon as you have delivered up your present duties to your successors. They will be here soon!"
The last survivors on the bronze doors side are Bruno and his three war hounds. Xoniuqé greets him with a grim smile and they leave the top of the pyramid to join those who have gone down before them.

Outside, on the plaza side, the main battle continues with much loss of life. All of the gunners and crossbowmen in the Legion perish as they withdraw to the lower stairs, where they are caught in the vice of the steep stairs behind and Warriors and dismounted Knights in front. Ushim arrows pick off rear ranks above the melee. The Drulathim missiles take their toll while they can.
Around the rear of the pyramid where the lava floe laps its feet, Urtukim and Ushim in their masses follow the trench around to the remaining three staircases and mount them. They are met at the top by Lorinkh, who has taken quite a few out with his crossbow as they climbed. Drulathim cover the other two staircases. Myrdagyn places himself at the head of the stairs won by the Warriors on the bronze doors side, relieving the Drulathim there to go below. Down on the stairs of the plaza side, Ahnxst uses his crossbow to good effect as well. Beside him, Khrohm waits grimly for the arrival of their enemies. But the Warriors and Knights pause before engaging the second line of Legionaries and the two heroes. Their prowess is already noted and appreciated!

With combat on the plaza side broken off, the rest of the Drulathim there climb up and enter the pyramid, moving down the twisting stairwell. They are intermingled with the residue of sturdy axmen. Below them all is now quiet, now that the last of the fanatics have perished.

From the other two staircases on the floe side, the Drulathim waiting at the top are attacked in strength and the defense begins to weaken. But Lorinkh, Ahnxst, Khrohm and Myrdagyn cover the last of the Legionaries as they withdraw into the pyramid.

The leader of the Urtukim, Glushslug himself, arrives at the top of the stairs and gets in the first blow on Lorinkh. The Urtuk chieftain has no idea what he is up against. His ferocity and confidence turn in the next instant to alarm, followed by a serious wound that would have killed a lesser man. He falls back down the stairs, catches himself and howls, "Kill 'im!" to his men. They grip their weapons and one after the other arrive within reach of Lorinkh's blade, to be dispatched before they can even strike a blow. Bodies drop or fly backward to land on the steps further down, knocking more hapless Urtukim off the pyramid. Three quarters of Glushslug's command litter the stairs and the ground below, before the terrible executioner above them suddenly turns and vanishes. Trepidatiously, Glushslug and his few remaining men move up the last few steps above them. They see only comrades arriving to fill the flattened top of the pyramid. All of their enemies have gone below. One Ushim chances the opening and finds a rearguard of Myrdagyn and Lorinkh waiting. The bravado of that lone fighter is rewarded with a crossbow bolt through his head. None of the other defenders of Melinarth are inclined to chance the opening to the passageway down. This effectively ends the battle above ground. A stiff guard is left on top of the pyramid and the slab door is closed. The rest go down to the plaza and camp there to await events.

Auhxalys and Sehlinah, still leading out, arrive at a landing in the midst of the interminable twisting stairwell. A doorway leads to a torch-lit passageway, the far end of which is dimly seen to continue to the left. Between the stairwell and that turn are four doors, two each side. The women pause, wondering what to do next. Horgand and Nouvzé arrive in company with the first of the survivors of Uhrbum Mhortuorum and some Legionaries. Everyone waits for "the Chief", feeling the eerie and foreboding quiet of the place after the so-recent cacophony of battle.

Soon enough, Xoniuqé and Bruno arrive with the dogs. The war hounds do not seem in the least agitated. But the wizard is too cagey an old adventurer to simply proceed without some "probing". He casts a "searching" or "ID" spell and probes the walls and passageways with his will. After a long moment he declares their surroundings free of any sorcerous presence.
"It appears that our foe has fled far away," he says. "And that counter spell talisman in the alter above? It only works as a surface defense. It doesn't reach down here."

The two women try the first pair of opposing doors, while others try the other two further ahead. The rooms behind are empty. But from the furnishings and belongings these rooms appear to be quarters for priests or acolytes, perhaps even those fanatics just executed by Auhxalys (although it should be confessed that the very first of them to die above was at the eager hand and hewing spear of Sehlinah, before the larger woman had grabbed her by an arm and thrust her behind out of harm's way).

"We will finish exploring this level and secure it," says the wizard. The other heroes and leaders show up soon after, and agree with the plan to leave the bulk of their men here, once the area is cleared and occupied and provisioned. Then a party will be decided upon. And that select band will pursue Ahkrysyohs the Apostle. Hopefully, in fleeing, he will help lead them to where Ghrusoq is laired up...

(Next up: "Melinarth Beneath", the pursuit of Ahkrysyohs and the confronting of Ghrusoq the wraith....)