Newcastle, Part Two - Battle
Over the next two days, the weather steadily worsened. The Pons Aelius cohort garrisoned the keep, while the castle garrison were deployed at the main gatehouse and along the wall. The Umfravilles and their followers manned the second gatehouse and the wall either side of it, while the Foehammer clan walked the wall and manned the other towers along its length.
The following day, the companions woke to the sound of drums. Doom, Doom, Doom, Doom in the distance, growing steadily nearer. They rose quickly, dressing and grabbing their gear before rushing up to the battlements of the keep. The Archbishop, de la Croix, Sir Gerald, the two danagrim commanders, Myrddin and Tegan were already present.
Gazing across the snowy hills to the north, they could see large groups of araken moving into position. In front of them, less visible in the snow, a mass of undead shambled forward toward the Wall.
Decius, Grungni and Sir Gerald rushed from the battlements to see to their men, and the Archbishop turned. “With me,” he said to the three friends, and walked briskly down the spiral stairs.
A few minutes later they stood atop the main gatehouse, an imposing fortification standing proud of the Wall and without the benefit of a moat. They watched the horde of undead shamble closer, and noticed a huge tree trunk being carried toward the main gatehouse. Arrows rained down, to little effect, and the massive battering ram crashed against the thick iron-bound doors.
The defenders poured boiling pitch down upon the undead. A few burst into flames and stumbled away, but the tree trunk did not catch fire and other wights stepped forward to bear the burden, slamming the trunk into the doors once more.
Seeing that the castle garrison was having little success, and feeling the floor under his feet shudder with another impact, the Archbishop opened his ornate, leather bound bible and began to chant. Storm and Sophia recognised his latin prayers, and as his voice grew in volume the script on the page began to glow with a golden light. The Archbishop raised his right hand to the heavens, and it began to glow, dimly at first but with an increasing brilliance as the prayer intensified. As his chanting reached a crescendo, the Archbishop swept his arm downwards and a wave of blinding light crashed down upon the undead before the gates. The companions were dazzled by its brilliance, but when they opened their eyes, they were shocked to see that, of the 40 to 50 wights around the battering ram and the gates, nothing remained but piles of ash!
The companions had little time to marvel at the Archbishop’s power, as the undead to their left had reached the moat and were walking through the freezing water unperturbed, even though it quickly swallowed them. Emerging on the other side slippery with ice, they tried to climb the Wall, with little success, as arrows, bolts and boiling pitch rained down upon them.
In the meantime, another two score of wights had rushed forward and picked up the battering ram, smashing it into the doors again and cracking one of the timbers. Once again, the Archbishop opened his bible and invoked God’s power, blasting the second wave of undead into ash as he had the first. Clearly this took a toll on the old man, as he leaned on de la Croix for support.
The group looked along the Wall, watching the futile attempts of the undead to scale it. Suddenly, everything went black! None of the friends could see a thing, and they heard the Archbishop gasp in pain. Sophia sensed someone close by, and sidestepped just as something bumped into her shoulder. Storm and Tector could see nothing, and both were surprised by the bite of cold steel, Storm in his back and Tector in the side of his neck, a weak spot in his armour. Both were stabbed deeply, and felt the icy cold of poison flowing through their veins! Storm was able to shrug off its effects, but Tector succumbed to its chill, his muscles going rigid and refusing to obey his commands.
Guillame’s commanding voice cut through the darkness. “Defend the Archbishop!” It was followed by the ‘swish’ of a sword and the sound of impact, followed immediately by a gasp of pain. Tector focused every ounce of his strength and forced his muscles to shrug off their paralysis. The Archbishop spoke a few soft words in Latin, and suddenly light blazed forth, burning way the darkness all around. Blinking in the sudden light, the companions saw that five dark elf assassins were among them, wicked blades gleaming and in some cases bloodied.
Sophia pushed her mind into the consciousness of one of the assassins, forcing him to attack his fellow instead of her. Storm slashed with crackling lightning claws but the swift dark elf evaded him. Another assassin stabbed at Tector, who parried easily and punched the sithe in the face, breaking his nose. The fourth plunged his dagger into the Archbishop for a second time, drawing blood once again, while the fifth lunged at Guillame who parried easily. Calling out a prayer, his longsword glowed with a golden light and he lunged, running the assassin through.
As Guillame’s opponent fell, clutching his entrails, Tector called upon the power of his armour and the blade of his axe shimmered with bitter frost. He slashed sideways at his opponent but the sithe ducked below the blow.
The Archbishop’s voice rang out, and his body glowed with a golden light. The companions were amazed to see all his wounds close in an instant, and as the light touched them it eased their injuries as well. Sophia maintained her grip on the mind of the dominated assassin, forcing him to leap from the gatehouse and crash to the ground below. She then slashed with her rapier and cut another of the assassins.
The sithe battling Storm continued to dodge his claws with ease, retaliating with a stab to the dragonborn’s thigh. Tector also took a knife wound, while Guillaume intervened to deflect a blow aimed at the Archbishop’s ribs.
As Storm lashed out ineffectually yet again, Tector slammed a massive overhand blow into his opponent, the frost glittering on his axe as it sliced through the shoulder and halfway down the sithe’s torso. Light blazed from the Archbishop’s eyes, but the assassin attacking him seemed unaffected.
Sophia stepped away, drawing her bow and loosing an arrow at the Archbishop’s antagonist, but it was a rushed shot and went high and wide. Storm’s tormentor sidestepped his lightning claws yet again, and both the remaining sithe stabbed their targets, Storm and the Archbishop both dripping blood onto the stone floor.
The battle continued to rage, the two remaining assassins dodging arrows from Sophia and Storm’s claws repeatedly, and shrugging off the effects of the Archbishop’s magic. Guillaume landed another solid blow on the Archbishop’s attacker, but he and Storm were both stabbed again by their fanatical attackers. Storm in particular was weak from loss of blood.
Tector fared little better against the speed of the sithe, and Guillaume was forced to throw the Archbishop behind him and take a blow on his behalf rather than see the old priest stabbed again. Storm tried hurling a lightning orb but this too missed, while the dark elves, being harried by Tector and Guillaume, wounded them both. The Templar responded by running one through, stepping over the assassin as he bled out on the floor. Tector struck the other a powerful blow on the leg, causing him to stumble but not fall.
Sophia heard shouts from below and saw araken surging around the base of the gatehouse. She heard desperation in some of the yells and something about a breach. Focusing on the task at hand, she loosed an arrow at the remaining assassin but it went high. Surrounded and outnumbered, the sithe fought on. Storm’s terrible day reached a new low when he lost control of a lightning orb and shocked himself, but Tector and Guillaume combined to deadly effect, finally finishing the remaining dark elf.
The Archbishop glanced at his guardians, taking in their many wounds, and opened his arms wide. “Come to me, my children,” he said, his robes stained red with his blood. As they gathered, he placed his arms around them and began to chant, glowing with an intense golden light. It gradually faded, and they all found that their wounds had miraculously closed!
They looked around. Far to their left, undead had filled the moat in front of the second gatehouse, their corpses forming a bridge over which araken scrambled. Some had gained the wall and Foehammer danagrim were fighting ferociously to repel them. Sophia noticed Decius Augustus Pius standing atop the keep, gesturing toward the gatehouse and issuing orders.
Storm felt a shiver down his spine and sensed massive sorcery building. Hundreds of yards away, atop a small rise, a group of araken and kurgen surrounded a tall, female kurgen. She raised her arms in the air and a globe of fire formed above them, growing rapidly to huge size before arcing through the air towards the gatehouse battlements!
The group threw themselves down, trying to avoid the worst of the blast, but a silver-white hemispherical barrier sprang up over the gatehouse and the huge fireball exploded harmlessly against it. Looking up, the group saw Decius atop the keep, arms spread wide, glowing with the same silver-white energy.
They heard fierce fighting from below, and from within the castle courtyard behind them! Suddenly, an araken leaped over the side of the gatehouse battlements, charging at the group. de la Croix stepped forward to engage, yelling for the companions to find out what was happening below. As they rushed to the stairs, Mary of Stamford arrived on the battlements with several Templars and some men of the garrison, and battle was joined with the araken that were scaling the wall.
Rushing to the back of the gatehouse, the companions saw dozens of araken in the courtyard below, and more pushing through from the gatehouse. Somehow the gates had been breached! As they hesitated, they heard Grungni Foehammer let out a warcry and leap from the wall into the araken below. He landed on one, breaking its back with his hobnailed boots, and swung his mithril hammer down on another, stoving its head in. His cousin Halvar gestured and the flagstones beneath a knot of araken exploded, piercing them with shrapnel. The zircon amulet at his breast glowed with emerald intensity and Grungni’s skin roughened and turned grey. Araken surrounded him but their blows struck sparks from his skin and bounced off.
Myrddin’s voice cut through the clamour. The group looked round and saw him on a nearby tower. “Treachery!” he called. “The portcullis has been opened. Get to the second level and close it!”
The companions rushed down the stairs, seeing more araken flooding through the gatehouse into the courtyard beyond. They saw Matilda Umfraville leap from the wall into the fray, laying about herself with shortsword and broad-bladed spear, whirling through her foes with dance-like grace and leaving blood flying in her wake.
Reaching the second level, Tector threw open the double doors and heat washed over him. In the centre of the chamber a huge flame demon curled, fire blazing from its mouth, eyes and skin. Behind it, by the portcullis winch, they noticed a man in the livery of the garrison levelling a crossbow in their direction.
Before anyone could react, the demon reared up on its serpentine lower body and unleased a gout of flame at the doors. Tector reacted with amazing speed, throwing himself to the ground and using his cloak to protect himself from the inferno.
The big warrior stood and grabbed his crossbow, trading bolts with the traitor at the winch that both went wide, as did a lightning orb from Storm. Sophia tried to terrify the flame demon but was unable to force her way into its alien consciousness.
The demon surged forward on its serpentine body, slamming two blazing fists into Tector and burning him badly despite the protection afforded by his armour. The traitor unleashed another bolt, which struck Storm hard in the shoulder, drawing blood. Sensing the power of his foe, Tector put everything into his next blow, slamming his axe into the side of the demon and opening a gash from which molten magma poured. Intense heat washed over him but, tough as he was, he shrugged off the ill effects.
Sophia reached out with another enchantment, this time trying to put their foe to sleep. It did not work as intended, but succeeded in slowing the demon down a little. Stepping to one side, Storm unleashed his ice javelins at the demon, two slamming home and the other showering it with icy shrapnel. An unnatural scream rent the air and it thrashed in agony, its flames losing intensity under the freezing assault.
The traitor loosed another bolt, which narrowly missed Storm and thudded into the door. Tector, shrugging off the intense heat once more, stepped back and focused the power of his armour, conjuring his ice net. He hurled it at the demon, but it threw itself to the floor with amazing speed, clearly desperate to avoid its chill touch.
Drawing her bow, Sophia fired past the demon, taking the traitor in the throat with an excellent shot. Storm stepped forward into the chamber and unleashed his draconic breath, the freezing cloud billowing out more powerfully than ever before. Tector was caught in the cloud and badly hurt by the cold before it engulfed the demon. Screeching in agony, it writhed as the bitter air extinguished its flames, crashing to the floor as its skin hardened to blackened rock, before suddenly exploding in an eruption of burning magma. Tector was overwhelmed by his burns, collapsing to the floor unconscious, but Storm reacted with amazing speed, protecting Sophia and ensuring that they both suffered little from the flames.
Rising to their feet, Sophia rushed to heal Tector while Storm strode over to the winch. Releasing the lever, he watched as the portcullis crashed down on the araken below, skewering a couple of them and blocking the passage into the castle.
Recovering from the battle, the companions resolved to stay where they were, in order to guard the portcullis from any further interference. Outside, they heard the clash of weapons and the cries of battle, growing louder and then gradually receding.
After some time, the doors flew open. Readying their weapons, the group were pleased to see ten danagrim legionaries had come to relieve them. Exchanging a few words with the sergeant, they left the gatehouse and gazed out over the carnage of the courtyard. Bodies lay everywhere. Perhaps a hundred araken lay dead, sprawled among the corpses of two score castle garrison and Foehammer danagrim and a handful of legionaries.
Returning to the top of the gatehouse, they saw Myrddin and Tegan alongside Guillaume and the Archbishop. The old priest looked exhausted, leaning heavily on his bodyguard for support. The companions followed his gaze over the battlefield and took in a new threat. Lumbering toward the two gatehouses was a fresh wave of undead. But this time, a huge undead giant, fully twenty feet tall, towered above the rest of the force. It lurched toward the main gatehouse, while several undead ogres shambled toward the second gate.
Guillaume shook his head. “This is the devil’s work. The Archbishop has destroyed four waves of undead. This cannot continue.”
Myrddin agreed. “We must cut off the head to kill the snake.” The druid pointed across the battlefield, to a hill in the distance. The companions noted a knot of undead around a huge figure, a fierce, bare-chested kurgen with skulls at his belt and red flags on his back glowing with a shadowy energy. “That is the necromancer. If we destroy him, we should blunt the undead attacks.”
Tector questioned how that could be possible, given the hordes of undead between the castle and the kurgen. Myrddin turned to Tegan. “Can you get us there?” She nodded in confirmation, and the druid outlined his plan.
“We need to move fast. Tegan will take Tector and Sophia, while Storm and I fly using our own wings. We will use our powers to fend off the necromancer’s undead bodyguards, giving the three of you time to destroy him. You will have to be quick – we will not be able to hold such weight of numbers for long. And remember, as a necromancer he will be very hard to kill.”
The friends conferred. They recalled Deathwhisperer, the last necromancer they had fought, and the lengths they had to go to in order to finally destroy him. Realising that they needed to bring back his body for proper destruction, they agreed a plan with the two elves. Myrddin healed a badly wounded Tector and the five then launched into the air, the cold north wind whipping around them.
As they sped across the sky, they spread into a wide formation. Just as well, as the kurgen spotted them easily and, as they approached, reached for one of the skulls at his belt. He hurled it through the air and it exploded just in front of Tegan, engulfing her in life-sapping necrotic energy. She gasped as her life force was sucked away, and although she survived the ordeal she looked shaken and very pale.
Fortunately none of the others had been caught in the blast. As he swooped overhead, Storm pointed his wand at the kurgen and unleashed a bolt of fire, which roared into the necromancer, burning him. He bellowed in rage as Sophia landed nearby, hurling a goblin flashbomb gem at his feet. The kurgen was too fast however, closing his eyes to avoid being dazzled by the blinding light. He responded by grabbing the second skull from his belt, hurling it at Storm. It took the flying dragonborn full in the chest before exploding, ripping the life force from his body and sending him crashing to the hard ground unconscious.
Tegan flew directly above them, and all around her hurricane winds swirled, driving the mass of undead away from the melee, isolating the necromancer. Myrddin landed, transforming into his elven form, and added hail, sleet and snow to the maelstrom. A huge undead hulk looked as though it would make it through, so the druid blasted it back with a bolt of lightning.
In the eye of the storm, Tector landed and charged the necromancer, cutting deeply into the kurgen’s arm. Sophia rushed across to Storm, channelling her healing power into her friend’s limp form and helping him to his feet.
The shadowy aura from the kurgen’s flags began to suck Tector’s life force away, as he was in such close proximity. The big warrior feared for his life, but did not back down. The kurgen slammed a massive shadow-wreathed fist into Tector’s ribs, bruising through the scale mail armour and tearing away yet more of his life force. The dragon warrior responded by drawing upon his Brooch of Mithras. Feeling the adrenaline surge through him, he unleashed another huge blow, slicing deep into the necromancer’s thigh.
As they circled, Tector was dismayed to see that the kurgen’s wounds were beginning to heal before his eyes. Storm took to the air once more in the eye of the storm, sending draconic lightning swooping down, slamming into the kurgen with a crackle of electricity and leaving him roaring in pain and anger.
Myrddin’s voice cut through the howling winds. “We cannot hold them much longer!” In response, Sophia drew her bow and loosed an arrow at the kurgen, but it went wide.
Toe to toe with the necromancer, Tector took another huge blow from the kurgen’s unholy fist and felt his life ebbing away as the shadowy aura overwhelmed him. Drawing the last of the power from his brooch, he felt healing flow through him in a steady pulse, somehow keeping him on his feet for a few moments longer.
Seeing her friend on his last legs, Sophia tried, without success, to terrify the kurgen and force him to flee, while Storm struck him with a lightning orb, seeing him stagger slightly. In response the necromancer surged forward, catching Tector on the side of the head with a huge haymaker punch and dropping him to the cold ground.
“They are breaking through!” cried Myrddin. Sophia saw twisted shapes staggering toward her through the winds and fought a rising panic. Storm focused and hurled another lightning orb into the kurgen, seeing him stagger again before lurching towards Sophia.
The noble lady stood her ground, knowing that this arrow had to strike home or all was lost. Nocking one of her last arrows of piercing, and calling upon the power of her bow to make it fly true, she loosed. The silver-tipped shaft took the kurgen in the right eye from a range of twenty feet. He toppled backwards, the earth shaking as he hit the ground.
From above, Storm saw several wights struggling through the last few feet of the raging storm and yelled to his friends to flee. Tector took the feather charm Sophia had given him earlier, snapping it in two and flying into the air. Sophia quickly swallowed the gooseberry Sian had given her during their original flight from Lahm Sealguire, vanishing from view and running swiftly back toward the castle, taking care to give the shambling undead a wide berth as she did so.
Myrddin transformed into an owl and took flight, and Storm flexed his wings to drive himself higher as Tegan’s winds sucked the necromancer’s body into the air behind them.
Heading quickly back toward the castle, the companions saw many undead stumbling, collapsing to the ground, or simply standing still. Others shambled on, but with far less purpose than before. As they approached the gatehouse, they saw the undead giant kicking the portcullis, gradually smashing through it. They watched as Grungni Foehammer stood on the battlements and pointed the Foehammer at the giant. The mithril head of the hammer sparked with electricity and a bolt of lightning arced from it, smashing into the giant’s face and knocking it backwards.
Behind the danagrim, Mary of Stamford lowered the Spear of St John, unleashing a lance of blinding silver light. As the brilliance subsided, the companions saw the giant’s legs on the ground. The rest of its body had been reduced to a pile of ash.
The group landed atop one of the wall towers. Sophia reached the edge of the moat and, as her invisibility wore off, Storm called upon his north wind to carry her up and join them. They turned to watch the undead attack falter and then cease, failing to notice the necromancer’s body twitch. Suddenly, his clawed hand grabbed Sophia’s leg, tearing into her flesh!
Tector responded like lightning, severing the hand with a stroke of his axe. Myrddin yelled for oil and flame, and the group tipped the ogre’s corpse over the inner battlements into the courtyard below.
Minutes later, as Tector watched the necromancer burn, Sophia and Storm looked north across the battlefield and saw the araken force moving away. Beneath them, the portcullis rose for the second time that day. This time, Grungi and Halvar Foehammer charged out, roaring warcries, leading the warriors of their clan in pursuit of the araken withdrawal.
Myrddin smiled wearily at the companions. “Well done. We have won the day.”