Catacombs, Part Nine - Once More Unto the Breach
Feeling rested and fit, the group prepared to head back out into the Catacombs. Before they left, Mara spoke to them again, reminding them that they must not breathe a word of the Twisted’s existence to anyone, as they simply wished to live in peace. Each member of the group made a solemn promise to keep this secret, and they returned to the Catacombs feeling that they had perhaps forged an alliance in the dark passageways beneath York.
The elven scout Tinuviel escorted them as far as the aqueducts room and then took her leave, wishing them well as she left. The group found their way back to the circular chamber inhabited by the strange skull atop a marble plinth, which again burst into flames and rose from its resting place as they entered. It had clearly grown familiar with the group, and complemented them, but still demanded they answer a riddle in return for safe passage. This time it asked “what runs but cannot walk”?
This seemed to have the group stumped, and Sophia and Tector began to quarrel as the skull started to press them for an answer. The pressure built even further when the group began to hear sounds of battle coming from the western passageway, one they had not previously explored! Suddenly Storm, who had been silent, shouted “water!” This was of course the correct answer and the Flameskull graciously bid them pass once again.
However, the group were preoccupied with the noise to the west, which reached a crescendo with a high-pitched whistling shriek . . . and then died away. Readying their weapons, the friends prepared for the worst as a humanoid figure with a glowing crucifix around his neck emerged from the darkness. His chainmail armour and black surcoat were obscured by the thick green ichor of giant spiders, but he was instantly recognisable as Guillame de la Croix, one of the Knights Hospitaller and the personal bodyguard of the Archbishop, who Storm in particular had seen around the Minster but never spoken to.
The Knight, although clearly pleased to have found the group, was somewhat brusque and demanded to know where they had been. They explained that they had battled their way through many undead before being blasted by a fireball from a flaming skeleton and driven back. Seriously wounded and outmatched, they fled through the catacombs until they found an empty chamber with a door. Barring the entrance from the inside, they took refuge for a couple of days while healing their wounds and recovering their strength. de la Croix commented that Father Geoffrey had feared them dead, and that he, Guillame, had been wandering spider-infested passageways for the best part of a day trying to find them, slaying more than a dozen of the foul creatures in the process.
Making their way back to the Minster, the group were quickly brought before Father Geoffrey (having received some final advice from de la Croix en route) who was delighted to see them in one piece. They gave him the same account they had recounted to de la Croix, and after answering his questions about the Catacombs and the undead they had faced, they begged for aid from the Templars to help complete their mission.
Geoffrey explained that dark forces were at work, and the Templars and priests were hard pressed to spare any aid. Black ships of the kind used by the sithe had been seen off the coast at Scarborough and Whitby, a dark omen indeed, and both the Baron and the Archbishop had despatched forces (including Brother Thomas) to the east coast to investigate and provide support against any raids.
He also mentioned that it was a grave risk sending de la Croix after them, given the danger to the Archbishop, but that he had no choice given the lack of other resources. de la Croix certainly could not be spared for another mission into the Catacombs, but the Father did offer them some aid, in the form of two flasks of restorative holy water and a crucifix studded with quartz crystals. He explained that, if presented boldly and with a prayer to smite God’s enemies, it would flare with searing light that would burn undead severely.
The friends also asked how they could defeat the Necromancer, having already killed him once in the graveyard of All Hallows church. Geoffrey suggested that they should burn his body, smash his bones to shards, and bury the remains in holy ground. Thanking the Father, the friends returned to their homes and quarters to rest for a day before equipping themselves with a big hammer and heading back into the Catacombs once more.
Once again they were challenged by the Flameskull, but Storm was equal to the challenge as usual, immediately guessing “a cold!” in response to the question “what can you catch but not throw?” The Flameskull wryly complemented Storm on his riddling, and joked that it would have to come up with something harder for him next time.
Moving quickly through the empty chambers of aqueducts and smashed coffins, the group took a moment to prepare before dashing through the cathedral-like chamber where the chokers lurked. As they ran, they noticed one of the grey-skinned creatures moving down a pillar close to their exit, ready to intercept them. Storm called up his whirlwind, ripping the creature off the pillar and cleverly slamming it down on the area of the floor where Tector had previously come close to succumbing to a magical paralysis trap. With the sinew-armed creature incapacitated, the friends hurried on.
Without further incident they made their way to the bone door, only to find it completely unblemished, with no sign of the hole they had blasted in it just days before. Storm recalled that, last time they were at the door, he had sensed that it could be opened by channelling necrotic energy into it. The group went through their belongings, and thought they had something when they came across a metal shard. It was a fragment of the Swordwraith’s blade that had exploded when they had destroyed its wielder following the ambush en-route to Dalby Forest and the standing stones several weeks earlier.
Sadly though, there was barely any vestige of magic, much less necrotic energy, remaining in the blade and their efforts came to naught. The friends then discussed various plans, including trying to blast though it with Father Geoffrey’s crucifix, using their hammer to smash away the stones of the doorframe, and even Sophia using her charms to try and persuade the door to open. In the end, they decided to simply wait in ambush in the passageway until something passed through the door from the other side.
After waiting for an interminable time, Storm, who was peering into the darkness back the way they had come, suddenly noticed a slight movement. Sending his flickering lightning spark up the corridor, he revealed Tinuviel stalking towards them. In a low voice she asked what they were doing, and in a whispered exchange she reminded them that there were other ways into the Necromancer’s stronghold, one of which was just a short (and relatively danger-free) walk from one of the entrances to the Twisted safe-haven.
After some debate the friends asked the elven scout to guide them, which she willingly did. Although they had to endure the scowls and mutterings of Dolgrim Stoneborn once again, they quickly passed through Twisted territory and Tinuviel bade them farewell having set them on a straight path along a narrow passageway towards the Necromancer’s domain.
After some distance, Storm’s spark of lightning, moving ten feet ahead of the group, revealed that they were about to enter a chamber. However, the flickering light seemed to have attracted attention as a rhythmic clash of blades suddenly began in the room. The group hesitated, and as they did a four-armed skeleton, armed with a longsword in each hand, moved into sight and began advancing towards them, clashing its four blades together.
Tector immediately charged, and met the much faster skeleton in a flurry of blades. The undead drew upon some reserve of speed and hammered no less than four attacks into the warrior’s defences, but his reflexes were no less incredible and he parried every one! [Alfie rolled a 20 for his first Speed defence roll, so I ruled that he had parried the first two attacks. Then he immediately rolled another 20 for the second roll and parried the other two!] In return, Tector kicked the skeleton backwards and slammed his greataxe into it, snapping some ribs and sending shards of bone flying.
Storm and Sophia moved into the chamber behind Tector, and noticed a skeletal archer across the chamber, at the bottom of a flight of stairs. Storm blasted it with an orb of lightning, and Sophia put an arrow through its skull, felling it before it could even raise its bow.
The four-armed skeleton attacked again, high and low at the same time, but once again Tector’s reflexes saw him parry both blows. [Another 20 from Alfie!] Then the skeleton began to whirl its blades in front of it. Tector attacked with a great overhand blow, which he was sure would connect, but somehow the skeleton got two blades crossed above its head and caught the haft of the axe before it could slam home. Sophia then fired an arrow from the side which was heading straight for its skull, but incredibly the skeleton flicked another of its blades and knocked the arrow aside!
The undead attacked again, and this time Tector’s defence was not perfect and one of the blows struck home, drawing blood. Tector responded with a powerful blow that knocked his opponent backwards, before Storm let loose a huge lightning orb that smashed through the skeleton’s ribcage before exploding, blasting it into shards of bone which peppered Tector’s armour. [George, using Alfie’s d20 given its outstanding performance in the game to that point, rolled a 20 on his attack roll. That make four 20s in five rolls on that die – definitely a first for me in any game! I am checking to see whether they have painted a few extra 20s on there . . . ]
Realising that they had made a great deal of noise, the group pressed on, deciding to ignore a narrow passage to the right and a wider one to the left in favour of investigating the stairs. They climbed one flight, reached a landing, and climbed another, emerging in a small chamber. Moving up to the door, they were surprised to see daylight through a gap in the door, and recognised the gravestones of All Hallows church on the other side! They tried the door, but it had clearly been barred quite solidly from the outside. Commenting that this was no bad thing, given what lurked below, they descended the stairs to return to their mission.
Clearly the noise of the battle a few moments before had attracted attention, as two skeletal warriors, wearing rusted bits of armour yet carrying sharp blades, were poking through the remains of the four-armed skeletal guardian. Noticing the group, they immediately charged to attack, but a combination of axe blows from Tector, arrows from Sophia and lightning orbs from Storm made short work of them, destroying the skeletal warriors before they were able to land a meaningful blow.
Looking at Storm’s map, the group decided that the Necromancer’s lair must lay to the east, which appeared to be the way the two skeletal warriors had come. Sensibly taking stock of their situation, and seeing that they were all uninjured but for a minor flesh wound to Tector, they readied themselves again and prepared to move down the wide corridor in that direction.