Catacombs, Part Seven - Unexpected Quarter

The heat washing over the heroes was immediately followed by a wave of fire. Tector, having barrelled through the bone door, took the worst of the blast head-on and was very badly scorched. Sophia and Storm, who had not yet passed through the large hole in the door, were protected to some extent but still suffered some burns.

Stumbling to his feet, Tector looked forward to see a portcullis blocking the corridor. Behind it, four skeletal archers stood, raising their bows and loosing a volley at the huge warrior. Three arrows pierced Tector’s dragon armour, causing him to bellow in pain. Storm reacted quickly, calling up a whirlwind around the skeletons, slamming them up into the ceiling and back down into the floor. Sophia rushed forward to aid Tector, calling upon her mystical powers to ease her friend’s wounds.

Tector then stood, bracing himself, and tried to lift the portcullis, but it seemed to be jammed. As the skeletons scrambled to recover their bows and ammunition, Tector tried again to lift the portcullis, this time raising it an agonising six inches. As he heaved at the barrier, he made a tempting target for the archers, who continued to pepper him with arrows, even as Storm and Sophia destroyed two of the undead with a hail of lightning orbs and arrows in retaliation.

After what seemed an eternity of agonised straining, Tector finally managed to slam the portcullis up into the ceiling with a screech of metal. Sophia and Storm finished off the last of the skeletal archers and the group entered a large square chamber. Opposite them stood another portcullis, blocking the entrance to a passageway beyond, and four wooden weapon racks stood against the walls. Tector moved across the chamber, lifting the second portcullis easily.

As the group pressed on, they came across a human skull on the floor in the middle of the passageway, next to a short side passage ending in a wooden door. Immediately suspicious, Storm extended his draconic senses and determined that the skull was enchanted. Approaching cautiously, the heroes were surprised when the skull exploded while they were still several feet away. Each of them was hit with bone shrapnel, and the passageway echoed with the concussive BOOM of the explosion.

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Moments later, a skeletal warrior wielding shield and sword emerged from a side passage ahead of the group, charging them without hesitation. At the same time, the door to their right slammed open and another wave of heat washed over them. Two squat humanoids of magma and stone slid forwards on trails of lava, while behind them a skeleton wreathed in flames hurled a fiery shard at Stor

The dragonborn deftly sidestepped the shard as battle was joined in earnest. Tector charged at the skeletal warrior and they met in a clash of blades. The huge warrior took a nick, dealing a huge blow in return before Sophia finished off his foe with a well-aimed arrow through the skull.

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From the side, one of the magma creatures spewed lava over Tector’s legs, burning him and holding him fast as the lava solidified. The other magma creature slammed him with a red-hot claw, wounding him badly despite his armour. Tector responded with an overhand swing of his greataxe, and Storm stepped alongside him, hurling a lightning orb at the flaming skeleton behind. The skeleton responded by levelling its arm at the heroes and engulfing them both in a scorching fireball. Both were already badly injured, and the flames and fumes overwhelmed them. Sophia looked on, horrified, as they both collapsed to the flagstone floor.

She stood, frozen in place for a few moments, her mind racing as panic threatened to overwhelm her. Realising that she was completely outmatched, and could do little for her friends, she turned and fled. Running headlong back along the main passageway, heedless of her own safety and thinking only of bringing help for her friends, she hurtled almost headlong into the scarred elf and deformed giant the group had encountered previously in the room of eight aqueducts. The response was similar, the elf raising her bow defensively, narrowing her gaze and challenging Sophia. “Where are your friends?” she barked. “Mac, watch your back.”

“They are back there, unconscious or dead, I don’t know!” blurted Sophia, tears of anguish streaming down her face.

Perhaps it was her youth, her beauty, or the influence of her mystical powers, but something softened the stone heart of the elven archer and she took pity on the noble young lady. “Don’t cry.” She said. “We’ll help you. Show us where they are, quickly!”

The two of them sped back down the corridor together, the hunched giant stomping along behind them. Quickly reaching the site of the battle, they found Storm and Tector pinned to the flagstone floor by rapidly solidifying lava oozed by the magma creatures. The flaming skeleton was nowhere to be seen, and Sophia surmised that it may have gone to alert other defenders.

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Feeling that time was of the essence, the twisted giant stepped forward and smashed one of the magma creatures aside with his huge club. Sophia and the elf pinned the other with arrows, cracking its rocky exterior until it collapsed into a pool of lava. The giant quickly wrenched Sophia’s friends free of their bonds and, carrying one under each arm, lurched back up the corridor with the young noble and the elven scout covering their rear.

Hurrying away, they turned down a side passage into an area the group had not explored, and soon came to a dead end. The elf ran her fingers over the solid stone wall, then rapped a particular block with an intricate pattern of knocks. Moments later, the stones began to slide over one another and fold in on themselves, forming a hole in the wall which rapidly expanded into a doorway. On the other side of the threshold, lit by bright light, stood a very old Danagrim with straggly grey hair and faded tattoos adorning his face.

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He seemed about to greet the elf when he caught a glimpse of Sophia. His eyes, both milky with cataracts, widened, and he fixed the elf with a stony glare. “Tinuviel, you’ve brought strangers to our door!” he exclaimed in a broad Danagrim accent.

The elf’s gaze hardened. “Dolgrim, you know I, of all people, would never welcome strangers into our home. These people are in desperate straits and need our help.”

A low yet heated exchange followed, with the Danagrim finally relenting. “I hope for your sake Tinny that you’re right”, he grumbled, stepping back with a scowl. Tinuviel stepped through the door, followed by Sophia and the hunched form of the giant, and as they passed the stones quickly reshaped themselves into a blank stone wall.

As they did so, the adrenaline that had fuelled Sophia’s desperate flight finally ebbed away and she collapsed, succumbing at last to her wounds. An elven voice lilting, “it’s ok, I’ve got you,” were the last words she heard, strong hands catching her as she fell . . .

Catacombs, Part Seven - Unexpected Quarter

Albion Andrew_Brereton Andrew_Brereton