The Battle of Durham, Part Three - Wings of Death
Having sealed the Dark Entry postern, and seen it reinforced by Templars led by de Puiset’s Steward, Nicholas de Lacy, the three friends limped back to the Castle. Reaching the battlements, they saw de Glanvill in a trance once again, with Templars and men-at-arms in close attendance.
They waited patiently for a few moments until the Chief Justiciar’s eyes flickered open. Immediately noticing the companions, he called them over. “Report,” he demanded. Storm quickly explained the events at the Dark Entry postern, the defeat of Hand Shadow Hunter, and reassured de Glanvill that the gate was now secure and well defended.
“You have done well,” said de Glanvill. His piercing eyes looked them over. “You are all badly wounded. Healing!” he commanded, turning to his personal physician, who quickly attended them. Powerful healing magic restored much of the vitality to each of them in turn, soothing burns and staunching any bleeding.
As they were being tended to, de Glanvill turned his attention back to the walls, and the companions followed his gaze. They were pleased to see that the defenders were still in complete control, the zombies, skeletons and ghouls unable to breach the gates, or climb the walls in sufficient numbers to constitute a serious threat. A few ghouls did climb the walls, but most were dealt with by flaming oil or large stones hurled down by the defenders, and those that did reach the battlements were quickly cut down.
After a time they noticed something unusual at the Flesher Gate. Zombies were crowding round the gate, crushing tightly together, and more were clambering on top. Despite the missiles raining down from the battlements, more and more undead joined the crush, forming a heap which gradually grew higher and higher.
Seeing the threat, de Glanvill turned to one of his aides. “Find the Bishop. Tell him that he and his priests are needed at Flesher Gate. Now!”
As they watched, the undead mound grew higher and suddenly a horde of ghouls rushed forward, scrambling up and over one another to mount the wall in a wave of death. The defenders were ready for the assault, and held the line, but undead were atop the Flesher gatehouse and fierce close combat raged.
Gradually the defenders were pushed back by sheer weight of numbers, save in the very centre of the line atop the gatehouse. There the huge figure of Gabriel of Canterbury stood firm, cleaving through undead left and right, his greatsword glowing brightly with holy golden radiance. Further away from the heroic figure of the dragonborn Templar, the defence began to falter, as inexperienced men-at-arms and conscripted farmers came face to face with ravening ghouls.
As the situation became more desperate, the glowing golden crosier of Hugh de Puiset emerged onto the gatehouse battlements. Raising it aloft, his voice carried a prayer to the heavens, and golden radiance exploded outwards, engulfing the entire battlements of the gatehouse. The companions were blinded by the brilliant glow, which advanced until it radiated out from the front of the battlements, on to seething mound of undead in front of the gate. As it faded, the Bishop’s impact was clear: the undead on the battlements and in front of the gatehouse had been utterly obliterated. Nothing remained but blackened dust.
A cheer went up from the defenders on the walls, and the companions joined in with the others atop the castle. The celebration was short-lived, however, as similar assaults began soon after on Clayportgate and Framwellgate.
As the companions looked on, the silver radiance of the Spear of St Peter lanced out from the Framwellgate battlements for the second time, disintegrating the growing mound of undead in front of the gate and buying the defenders precious time, while the Bishop and his priests rushed to Clayportgate and relieved the defenders being led by Fitzdolfin.
“Should we go and aid the defenders?” Tector asked.
“No,” replied de Glanvill, “I need you here, in reserve.”
The Chief Justiciar looked on intently as the undead at Clayportgate were disintegrated by de Puiset and his priests, while at Framwellgate another assault was beginning to form. Mary led the defence, the Spear of St Peter glowing brightly, until the Bishop could lead his tiring priests once more across the market place, rushing up to the Framwellgate battlements and unleashing the power of his crosier once more.
De Glanvill shook his head. “The Bishop is tiring. But the undead seem endless,” he muttered.
Gazing down toward Framwellgate, where the Bishop was once again incinerating the undead swarm with holy radiance, the Chief Justiciar suddenly sucked in a sharp breath, starting violently. He turned, eyes wide with shock. “It is here!” he exclaimed.
“How could I not have sensed this?!” He raised his voice, edged with panic, bellowing at his aides. “The Sultan’s Carpet! Ready it, now!”
As his men-at-arms scrambled to obey, de Glanvill turned to the three friends urgently. “The dracolich is here, moments away. Morgause must be blocking my senses, cloaking it from my farsight, or it could never have got this close. We are ill prepared to face such a foe, and must find a way to distract it or there will be massive loss of life. Come with me!”
The companions looked at each other, wide-eyed, as the Sultan’s Carpet was unfurled and de Glanvill strode onto it. Despite their trepidation, the three brave souls obeyed the Chief Justiciar’s command and joined him on the Carpet.
As they did so, a roaring sound filled the air, and a vast, dark shape loomed out of the night sky, swooping down on Clayportgate and unleashing a huge cloud of writhing purple-black necrotic breath over the defenders, led by the companions’ old friend Fitzdolfin.
At a word from de Glanvill the Carpet launched into the air, so fast it nearly threw the three friends off. De Glanvill dropped to one knee, one hand on the Carpet and the other grasping his runed walking stick. Storm, Sophia and Tector dropped down and each grabbed an edge of the Carpet in order to avoid falling off, with Tector at the rear and the other two to either side.
They sped into the air at incredible speed and banked around as the dracolich flexed its great wings and gained altitude over the market place, soaring on a path that would take it over the Castle. De Glanvill’s mastery of the Carpet was absolute, and he was able to achieve speed and maneuverability that left the companions clinging on for dear life.
Arcing round to the east, the Carpet angled back to intercept the flight of the dracolich as it gained altitude toward the Castle. As it did so, de Glanvill muttered an incantation and suddenly the companions could no longer see him, the Carpet or each other.
Thus cloaked from the dracolich’s vision, they swept toward it. Sophia loosed an arrow, but it was difficult to hit such a fast-moving target and it went wide. Storm drew his Wand of Fire and unleashed a firebolt toward its ribcage, but his aim was too low and the flames shot underneath the huge dragon and on into the night.
De Glanvill steered the Carpet right over the dracolich’s back, and Tector stood, swinging his greataxe at one of its wings as it lifted above the dragon’s back. The big warrior put everything into the strike, but missed the wing, span round, overbalanced and toppled from the carpet! [Alfie rolled a 1 . . .] Landing on the dracolich’s broad back a few feet below, he grabbed one of its ribs and held on tight.
Being in such proximity to the dracolich, they all felt its aura of terror wash over them. Storm’s mental strength enabled him to resist, but Sophia and Tector were overwhelmed by debilitating fear. Tector, on the dragon’s back, felt its sicking necrotic aura sucking the life from him.
The dracolich reacted, flicking its tail at the Carpet as it skimmed away, catching Storm in the back and inflicting a nasty bruise. He managed to stay on the carpet as it soared away and began to bank around. Sophia turned, focusing her powers on the dracolich as it pumped its wings once again. She conjured phantoms to obscure its vision and distract it from the battle, but the huge undead shook its massive skull and ignored her intervention.
Storm recovered from the blow from its tail, calling up his whirlwind in the dracolich’s path in an attempt to knock it from the air or damage its wings. However, the dragon flew on without being affected, as a result of the combination of its maneuverability and huge size.
Tector crawled forward along the dracolich’s spine, until he was level with its wings on either side. Taking out his enchanted grappling hook, the big warrior tied the rope around his waist before hooking the grapple securely into the dracolich’s ribs as insurance against falling off.
As the Carpet swept round, de Glanvill chanted under his breath. The silver runes on his ebony walking stick began to glow, dimly at first but with increasing brilliance as the seconds passed. By the time they had swung back to face the dragon, the runes had lifted out from the surface of the wood and begun to spin round, quickly accelerating to a speed so fast the eye could not follow. Lifting the walking stick, De Glanvill pointed it at the dracolich and the spinning runes shot forward, spinning in a closed vortex and hammering into its skull, knocking it away from them.
The dracolich banked around, trying to get close enough to the Carpet to attack its riders, but de Glanvill was incredibly skilled and the Carpet too fast. As they wheeled round, Sophia drew on her enchantments to instil fear in their foe, but its ancient power was far too great for her young magic. Storm had better luck, splitting the sky with a thunderbolt that slammed into the head of the great dragon, scorching it with lightning and leaving it dazed.
Astride its back, Tector raised his greataxe and brought it down in a huge overhead blow on the dracolich’s spine, cracking a vertebra between the shoulder blades. The undead dragon reared, its head snapping back and letting out a soundless bellow. It drove its wings downward and its long neck snaked round so that it could see what had hurt it.
De Glanvill could see Tector’s mortal danger and called out a word of protection. Instantly, the Dragonknight was surrounded by shimmering white light, similar to that conjured by Sophia’s Solstice Amulet.
The dracolich struck, opening its jaws, as wide as Tector was tall, and snapping down upon him. The big warrior reacted with blinding speed, throwing himself backwards, and the huge jaws crunched down on the dragon’s own bone frame, cracking several ribs. [Alfie rolled a 20 on his defence check!]
As Tector grabbed his rope for balance, the dracolich’s head shot upwards, its jaws wide in a silent bellow. Behind the big warrior, its huge tail swept round, catching him in the side. The combination of de Glanvill’s ward and the Dragon Armour absorbed the worst of the blow, but he still suffered some bruising.
From the back of the Carpet circling around their huge target, Sophia tried to dispel the necromancy animating the dracolich’s ancient bones. The death magic was too strong however, and her power had no noticeable effect.
As de Glanvill took the Carpet swooping beneath the dracolich, Storm pushed himself to one knee and unleashed his freezing draconic breath. The bitter cloud engulfed the underside of the great dragon’s neck, coating the vertebrae with ice and causing one or two to crack. He then turned, as the Carpet sped on, aiming the Wand of Lightning into its midriff and cracking several ribs with a lightning bolt. De Glanvill began a chant and the runes on his walking stick began to glow and spin once more.
On the dragon’s back, Tector slammed down his greataxe again, taking another chip out of one of its vertebrae, before throwing himself to its back to avoid de Glanvill’s spell. The runes spiralled out from his staff, expanding into a cloud of glowing sigils that spiralled around the dracolich before slamming into it from all angles. Tector’s quick reactions, coupled with the protection of de Glanvill’s ward and his armour, saved him from harm.
The runes continued to orbit the dragon as its tail lashed round again, but Tector dodged it this time. As the Carpet sped beneath its huge bulk, one wing swept down and just caught Sophia, knocking the wind out of her and sending her sprawling – right off the carpet’s edge!
They were over the woods on the far side of the river Weir, and the young lady screamed as she fell, loosing an arrow that went wildly astray. Storm reacted instantly, diving off the carpet, wings tucked to his sides, and conjuring the North Wind to drive Sophia back up toward him before she hit the ground below. Catching her in his arms, he flexed his wings in a desperate attempt to get back on the Carpet, but its momentum was too great and it sped away, leaving the two friends holding each other in mid-air, the dracolich heading straight for them. Storm braced himself, trying to work out which way to dive.
Seeing his friends in trouble, Tector lunged forward, retrieved his grappling hook and casting at the dragon’s neck in a desperate attempt to yank its head back. He was too hasty though, not only missing but letting go of the rope in the process, and could only watch as the grappling hook fell into the woods below. [Alfie rolled a 1 and threw one of his magic items away . . .]
De Glanvill turned the Carpet sharply, and seeing the predicament of Sophia and Storm, lifted his walking stick horizontally before twisting it in a circular motion. The runes glowed and, simultaneously, a shimmering shield of white light, fully 20 feet across, appeared between the two friends and the dracolich.
The dragon swept on, opening its great jaws and unleashing a huge cloud of roiling black energy. Storm tried to dive away, but the cloud was so massive that it proved impossible to dodge. De Glanvill’s shield absorbed or deflected some of the energy, but was obliterated in the process, and the cloud engulfed the two friends utterly.
At the very last second, as the dragon’s necrotic energy had already begun to strip their lives away, Sophia activated her Solstice Amulet, channelling her power to alter its effect so that it lasted only for a few seconds but shielded Storm as well.
[This was an absolutely incredible passage of play, and Tilly’s quick thinking turned -8 and -9 HP into 1 and 2 HP, probably saving their lives.]
Storm flew out of the deathly cloud as it dissipated, terribly weak and weighed down by Sophia, but trying heroically to fly to the city wall a few hundred feet away. Below lay the river, a steady stream of undead emerging onto the bank ahead to batter ineffectually at the stone bastions.
The dracolich flexed its wings to gain altitude and Tector struck with his axe once more, this time a glancing blow that had little effect. De Glanvill’s runes, still orbiting the dragon, slammed inward again, causing it to thrash about and almost throw Tector off its back. Its tail whipped up and over, hammering down into the big warrior, and its head snaked around, chomping him in its massive jaws. The Dragonknight breathed his thanks for de Glanville’s ward, his Templar crucifix, and the Dragon Armour, which between them enabled him to survive the onslaught.
Storm continued to strain every sinew to get them to the city wall, knowing that certain death awaited if they fell to the riverbank below. His strength was failing, and it looked as though they would fly into the wall rather than over it, but Sophia called on her beguiling power and enchanted her friend, helping him unlock hidden reserves of strength for one last flex of the wings to propel them over the battlements.
Atop the dracolich, Tector struck again with his greataxe in frustration, barely leaving a mark and now seriously in fear for his life. He saw de Glanvill’s orbiting runes hammer inward for the final time, dropping flat on the dragon’s back and avoiding the worst by virtue of the Chief Justiciar’s ward. As he raised his head, its tail lashed round again, slamming into him and leaving yet more bruises despite all his protections.
Suddenly, a huge stroke of green-tinged white lightning smote the night sky above, slamming down into the dracolich. Bones smashed with the impact, and Tector felt the electricity judder through him, though again de Glanvill’s ward protected him from the worst.
Looking up, he saw a white pegasus, gleaming in the light of the fires burning below, a rider bearing a staff topped by a floating blue-white Solstice Stone. Myrddin had joined the fray!
Storm and Sophia had been surrounded by soldiers on the wall, who quickly realised who they were dealing with given the distinctiveness of the dragonborn sorcerer and lady archer. They turned in time to see Myrddin’s lightning strike the dracolich, and he raised the Solstice Staff in salute as he flew over them.
As he did so, two more pegasi swooped in, both bearing riders. One shot an arrow which streaked out, trailing flame, before hitting the dracolich and blossoming into a huge explosion. Tector was once again caught in the blast, and again gave thanks to de Glanvill’s ward for keeping him alive.
While that pegasus, bearing the archer Sian the Swift, flew wide of the dracolich, the second flew straight for it. A fair-haired elf-maid Tector did not recognise held out a twisted ash wand and unleashed a firebolt into the tail of the dragon from short range. The Dragonknight thanked God that this time he was outside the blast! Swooping her pegasus directly beneath the dracolich, the elf-maid held aloft a sword that blazed into flame as she swung it, smashing blackened shards from its underside.
Before it could react to this sudden onslaught, the dracolich was caught in a whirling vortex of wind that seemed to come out of nowhere. Spinning sideways, wingtip over wingtip, the dracolich fought for control as Tector struggled desperately to hold on! Breaking free of the horizontal whirlwind, the dracolich righted itself and Tector noticed a windswept figure flying above and to the east.
Before the big warrior could react, two more pegasi swooped in from the north-east, sideways on to the dracolich. A male elf with a glowing staff sat astride one of the flying steeds, while the other carried a beautiful female elf in a simple white dress. Tector recognised Queen Dienwe, as a spear of solid moonlight coalesced in her right hand. She cast it, and it streaked like a comet to smash through the ribcage of the dracolich, before exploding outward in a huge blast of moonlight. The dracolich seemed to convulse in pain, but as the moonlight washed over Tector he felt a sense of peace wash over him and the pain of his wounds eased.
The explosion of moonlight reached its fullest extent around the dracolich and then coalesced into a net that was almost solid. The companions watched as it closed in, the dracolich frantically twisting to avoid touching it. In seconds the net had constricted the dragon’s great wings, and it began to lose altitude as flight became increasingly difficult.
Tector was considering whether to jump as the net of moonlight passed over him. As he stood on the back of the dracolich Tegan, circling above, spotted him, meeting his gaze with a shocked expression. She made a quick circular motion and upward gesture with one hand, and the Dragonknight was immediately lifted from the dragon’s back by a powerful wind and found himself soaring up toward the elven wind sorceress.
“Well met, Tector,” she said with a smile, as the dracolich plunged into the woods below, smashing through hundreds of trees before disappearing from sight. Turning, they saw the five pegasi and their riders fly over the battlements of the city wall toward Durham castle. With a gesture from Tegan, the wind around them grew stronger, propelling them quickly after the elves.