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....)