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 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. They take stock of their final situation. The two rooms behind the "ambush room" are opened and explored. The far one happens to be a gaol. Three occupants in a half starved condition greet their rescuers with expressions of gratitude. After being released from their bonds, the two parties are introduced to each other. The freed prisoners have a back-story.

Having heard of this place, the "flame wizard", Mehlkohr, and his hired fighters, fancying themselves equal to the adventure of exploring its depths, penetrated Melinarth by one of its numerous ancient entrances. (This all has a ring of familiarity to the much older, "retired" adventuring wizard, Xoniuqé, and he listens with full attention to Mehlkohr's tale.) Mehlkohr hails from the Wild Wastes and came upon Melinarth from the north, skirted the dead city via the foothills and arrived at the mouth of Tarn Chasm. Evidently, their way in, where a tunnel downward was uncovered (according to ancient documentation), was unknown to Ghrusoq or possibly even the High One. In any case, the undead guarding the mouth of the chasm were dispatched easily enough while the party quickly forced the opening, entered it and closed it back up. But Mehlkohr's esoteric lore did not prepare him for the reality of Melinarth-occupied! He and his men penetrated the under city and were acquiring loot and artifacts as planned, when they fell afoul of an insidious trap. Ahkrysyohs had been alerted to their presence by "the god. He prepared an ambush ahead of them, which was supposed to fail and draw them on, which it did. Entering a chamber, the leading elements of the party were cut off from the rest by a suddenly descending door, which crushed its way down and could not be raised: for each time that Mehlkohr attempted to raise the door with a spell, some mightier force cancelled his sorcery. Finally, exhausted by his repeated and feckless efforts, he and his two men were in an almost starved condition, when their enemies opened the chamber and took them captive. Offered a chance to join the Apostle, like his men outside the trap had been (and they had accepted), Mehlkohr had refused. And he stoutly encouraged his two remaining fighters to follow his example. They had been cast into the room where Myrdagyn and Company found them, many days later.

All hurts are attended to by Lorinkh and Xoniuqé. Of the fallen only a single Legionary and hound are beyond saving. The rest, including the very weak Mehlkohr and his two swordsmen, are helped back to the chambers near the circular stairway. The party rests, setting strong watches throughout the night.