The Battle of Durham, Part Two - Shadow Hunters
The companions stood atop the battlements of Durham castle, alongside Ranulf de Glanvill, his personal physician, two Templars and several men-at-arms wearing the King’s livery. They gazed out upon the walls below, satisfied to see that the efforts of zombies and ghouls to batter through the defences at Framwellgate, Clayport Gate and Flesher Gate were proving fruitless. Some ghouls were attempting to scale the walls, but were quickly dealt with by men-at-arms hurling large stones or flaming pitch down upon them.
They noticed de Glanvill break from another brief trance, turning his attention to the west, to Framwellgate and the bridge beyond. Following his gaze, the group saw a huge figure, easily 20 feet tall, emerge from the trees on the far side of the bridge and begin to stride across toward Framwellgate. Knocking lesser undead into the river on either side, the dead giant closed on the gatehouse, bearing a huge tree-trunk clearly intended to smash down the gates.
Fearing the worst, the companions suddenly caught a glimpse of silvery light shining atop the Framwell gatehouse. In its glow they recognised the distinctive figure of Mary of Stamford, watching as she levelled the Spear of St Peter at the advancing giant and unleashed a beam of searing silver light. It struck the creature’s leg, disintegrating it, and the giant toppled off the bridge and into the river below. The companions added their voices as a cheer went up from the defenders on the walls, and de Glanvill gave a satisfied nod before closing his eyes and extending his senses once more.
Suddenly his eyes snapped open and he turned to the group. “Dark Entry postern!” he exclaimed. “Something is awry there, I sense a breach by the enemy, though I do not know how. Hurry there now, and secure the defences.”
Wasting no time, the companions ran from the castle, across Cathedral Green and through the cathedral. As they emerged to the south they heard screams from the cloister to the west, against the wall, and rushed toward it.
Bursting through the main doors, they witnessed a scene of carnage. Several men-at-arms and Templars lay dead, some horrifically burned, others pierced through the eye or chest by arrows or sliced apart by expert swordsmanship. The Dark Entry postern gate on the far side of the cloister courtyard stood open, and before them a familiar figure, skin covered in black molten iron, brought his serrated axe down, ending the life of the last remaining defender, a Templar pinned to the ground by a red-hot iron spike through his leg.
Shocked to see their nemesis, Lorcan, within the city walls, the companions stood flat-footed as the sithe veteran, Celach, reacted first and charged forward, blocking Tector’s way as he stood in the doorway. The dark elf’s rapier found a gap in the Dragon Armour, drawing blood, but the big warrior was able to parry Celach’s stiletto dagger on his vambrace.
Looking up from the ruin of the young Templar at his feet, Lorcan’s unnatural blue eyes bore into Tector’s. Gesturing toward the warrior, he held out his open hand, which burst into flame, before snapping it closed into a fist. As he did so, flames engulfed Tector and he screamed in pain, his armour no protection against such devilish sorcery.
Seeing her friend in agony, Sophia tried to buy him some respite through her enchantments. Focusing on the pliable mind of Celach, she overwhelmed his will and sent him spinning away from Tector and into Lorcan a few steps away. Celach’s rapier struck home, barely piercing Lorcan’s iron skin, while his serrated axe parried Celach’s stiletto dagger.
The slender form of Tarlach stepped into view in the cloister on the other side of the courtyard, covered from head to foot by a greenish liquid sheen, the gem atop his staff glowing emerald. Pointing it through the cloister window toward the group, a glob of acid coalesced around the gem and hurtled at them, exploding just in front of Tector and Sophia. The big warrior, still wreathed in Lorcan’s flames, managed to duck and cover himself with his cloak, avoiding the worst, but Sophia was spattered with burning acid and gasped in pain.
Storm, waiting behind Sophia outside the door to the cloister, was luckily out of range of the acid. Filled with thoughts of revenge at the sight of his old sorcerous foe, the dragonborn unleashed a thunderbolt, slamming the dark elf backwards in a detonation of lightning as the blast echoed around the cloister, acid spattering from Tarlach’s liquid ward and splashing, fizzling, to the stone floor.
Another figure entered the fray, Roarc stepping through the Dark Entry postern into the cloister. In a swift movement he nocked an arrow and let fly, just piercing Tector’s armour at the right leg. Numbing poison entered the big warrior’s bloodstream, but he was made of stern stuff and shrugged off its weakening effect.
The final member of Hand Shadow Hunter, the shadowy figure of Uathach, emerged from the right of the cloister and focused her will on Sophia. The enchantress felt her limbs stiffen and begin to seize up. Almost in a panic she dug deep, finding mental strength she did not know she possessed, and forced her arms and legs to obey her commands. She was still slowed by Uathach’s powerful charm, but avoided the complete paralysis the dark elf intended.
Tector, roaring in agony from the still-burning flames, charged at Roarc, striking him square in the chest with a massive blow that split his armour and left him winded, bleeding and with several broken ribs. [Alfie rolled a 20 and then a 12 for damage, doing 40 damage in total!]
With his mind still dominated by Sophia, Celach span away from Lorcan, charging at Roarc and hitting him with both rapier and dagger, the younger warrior staggering away from the double onslaught of Tector and his erstwhile ally.
Lorcan sent flames lashing at Sophia but she leaped away unscathed. Still slowed by Uathac’s sorcery, and sensing that she and her companions were overmatched, she attempted to even the odds by enfolding Lorcan, Celach and Roarc in her sleep enchantment. While Lorcan’s iron will prevailed and he was resolutely unaffected by her magic, she was delighted to see both Celach and Roarc sink to the ground asleep! Not wanting to face the demonologist’s flames once again, Sophia ducked into cover behind the cloister wall.
Twenty paces away, on the other side of the cloister, sickly green gas began to billow from the crystal atop Tarlach’s staff and quickly gusted toward Storm and Sophia, both of whom were stood close together near the door leading from cloister to courtyard. Sophia suffered minor burns from the clinging acid cloud, but Storm inhaled some of the noxious stuff and began to choke in pain before stumbling sideways out of the cloud and into the cover of the cloister. Seeing his nemesis, Tarlach, standing close to Roarc, he called up his whirlwind and swept them both up into the air, slamming them down into the flagstone floor and knocking the wind from them.
Having failed to affect Sophia with her last spell, Uathach turned her attention to the softer target of Tector, attempting to conjure awful visions that would bring him terrible anguish and distract him from the battle. However, God’s eye was on his new Templar at that moment, and His power sent the witches’ sorcery back upon her! [Alfie rolled a 20 on his defence check!]
Celach and Roarc were unable to act as they lay soundly asleep, before Lorcan strode over, kicking them both awake before hurling flames at Tector, burning him once again. Meanwhile, the badly-wounded Tarlach struggled to his feet and hurled a glob of acid at Storm. The dragonborn tried to dodge back behind the cloister wall but was not quick enough, and was hit on the shoulder, the acid searing into his scales. He retaliated furiously with a lightning orb that struck the dark elf full in the face, leaving his features a ruin. As he collapsed, dead before he hit the floor, the crystal atop his staff exploded in a shower of acid. Fortunately no-one was close enough to be doused.
Finally shrugging off the slowing effects of Uathach’s magic, Sophia ran out of Tarlach’s acid cloud. Seeing Lorcan as the greatest threat, she projected phantom images into his mind and was pleased to see him turning his helm from side to side in confusion, clearly distracted from the battle by her enchantment.
In the centre of the cloister, Roarc faced off against the Dragonknight, slicing through his armour with a skilful blow, severing a vein in his arm and leaving him bleeding profusely. In response, Tector hammered the dark elf’s defences with a flurry of blows, the final one slamming into his chest and sending him reeling backwards, his facemask glowing as healing energy coursed through his body, keeping him on his feet. Tector stemmed the bleeding from Roarc’s skilful cut, but was still being burned by the terrible flames conjured by Lorcan.
Uathach focused for a moment and was surrounded by illusory doubles of herself. She moved forward toward Sophia and Storm while Celach, no longer under Sophia’s influence, attacked Tector with rapier and dagger, neither managing to pierce his armour.
Lorcan, still slowed, held his ground and conjured more hellish flames around Tector. The Dragonknight was engulfed by the conflagration, and called on the power of the Ring of Reflexes he plundered from the kurgen warrior Kazimir in order to sidestep the worst of the flames. Despite its magic he was still badly burned, and swayed unsteadily as the pain threatened to overwhelm him.
Behind him, Sophia fired through a cloister window, hitting one of Uathach’s illusory images and causing it to blink out. Storm moved past her, opening his mouth and unleashing a freezing cloud of dragon breath that destroyed all her remaining illusions, before levelling his Wand of Lightning at Lorcan, blasting him with a bolt of electricity.
Roarc, lucky to be alive after the intervention of his mask, backed away from the duel between Tector and Celach, heading for the Dark Entry postern. Turning, he loosed an arrow at the Dragonknight which took him in the chest, piercing a lung and knocking him off his feet. He lay unmoving as Uathach yelled “Pian” at Sophia, and the young noble lady screamed out as her body was wracked by unnatural pain.
With Tector down, Celach ran into the cloister corridor and charged at Storm, his blades flashing in from all angles. The dragonborn defended desperately, dodging the rapier strike and parrying the dagger with his lightning claws. He heard a door open at the side of the cloister, off to his right, but before he could take stock he had to throw himself away from another gout of flame conjured by Lorcan, which struck the pillar Storm dodged behind. Celach advanced on the sorcerer, pressing the advantage, but a girl’s voice rang out from the corner of the cloister corridor a few yards behind Storm. “You bad man, leave my friends alone!”
Storm turned in astonishment to see the diminutive figure of Isabelle de Neville a few feet away. Celach’s eyes flickered momentarily in her direction before advancing mercilessly on the badly wounded dragonborn. Suddenly her voice rang out, surprisingly loud. “Stop!” she commanded, holding up her hand imperiously. And to Storm’s great surprise, the dark elf warrior stopped in his tracks, frozen in place with a startled look upon his face!
Seeing Lorcan advancing painfully on Tector’s prone form, Storm thought fast, calling up the power of the North Wind to lift the big warrior and deposit him next to Storm and Sophia in the relative safety of the cloister. Sophia wasted no time, dropping to her knees beside the wounded warrior and enveloping him in her healing light.
Unfortunately for Storm, Roarc still stood in the cloister on the far side of the courtyard, and was able to loose an arrow at the dragonborn. The sorcerer tried to duck behind a pillar for cover but was too slow and took Roarc’s arrow full in the chest. Coughing up blood and gasping for breath, he collapsed to the flagstones in agony.
Sophia helped Tector to his feet, and was turning to Storm when Uathach again called out a word of pain to stop the young lady in her tracks. She focused her will and ignored the illusory agony. Still suffering from his own wounds, and seeing both his friends in some trouble, Tector called down the blessing of the Lord on all of them, soothing their injuries in a soft golden glow. He then drew on the boundless endurance of his Brooch of Mithras, and felt its rejuvenating power begin to flow into his body at a slow but steady rate.
As Tector raised his greataxe and turned to the still-frozen figure of Celach, Lorcan walked from the courtyard into the cloister corridor a few feet from them and blasted Tector with more hellish flames. At that moment, a woman’s voice called out for Isabelle, shortly followed by the figure of her mother, who entered the cloister, her features drawn in shock, seeing two dark elves just a few feet from her little daughter.
“God save us!” Emma de Neville exclaimed, before rapidly chanting an incantation. As she did so, lightning coalesced in the palm of her hand. She extended her hand as her spell reached a crescendo, and a lightning bolt leaped forward, slamming into Celach’s chest. He shuddered with the shock and pain, but moments later found the use of his limbs once more and moved to attack Tector.
Sophia blocked his way. “Your death is upon you!” she declared, as she projected images of his demise into the dark elf’s mind and sent him stumbling away in terror.
Isabelle de Neville stepped lightly over to Storm, who was struggling to his feet. “Oh, that looks sore,” she said, looking at the arrow still protruding from his chest. With a deft move she reached forward and pulled it out, but instead of the rush of blood and pain he expected to feel, a strange calm flowed through the dragonborn and the wound seemed to close. Thanking Isabelle, but aware that they were still in grave danger, he turned to face the advancing Lorcan.
Thinking quickly, Storm evoked a wall of ice which formed rapidly, rising from the floor and dropping from the ceiling simultaneously. Lorcan noticed what was happening, and tried to leap aside, but too late! He was surrounded by thickening ice, trapped firmly within. The dragonborn then leaped out into the courtyard, flexing his wings and twisting in the air to fly up onto the cloister roof, trying to duck quickly behind the peak of the roof before Roarc could fire at him from the other side of the courtyard. Storm was not quite fast enough, and the sithe arrow caught him in the leg as he flew. However, with Tarlach dead, Lorcan encased in ice, and Celach fleeing past him, Roarc concluded that continuing to attack could be damaging to his health, and sprang through the open Dark Entry postern, following Celach into the darkness beyond.
Seeing Uathach as the last member of the Shadow Hunters standing against him, Tector advanced on her with his greataxe. She ensorcelled him, wracking his body with terrible, debilitating pain. He charged in response, striking her, but so weakened by her spell that his blow lacked its usual power.
At that moment, Emma de Neville noticed that a ghoul stalker had entered through the postern unseen, and was creeping along the cloister toward her and Isabelle. With a curse, she unleashed another lightning bolt and the ghoul fell back, blackened and twitching.
As Tector and Uathach circled each other in the courtyard, two more ghoul stalkers darted through the open postern, followed by a lumbering ghoul brute. Sophia shot at the first, just missing. Noticing that Sophia was unsteady on her feet, Isabelle skipped over to her and hugged her tightly. A sense of peace and serenity flowed through her and she felt rejuvenated as the fatigue of battle fell away from her entirely. Behind them, the ice surrounding Lorcan glowed orange as he called on his hellfire to melt through the wall imprisoning him.
Fearing that more undead would continue to enter through the postern, Storm launched himself into the air, across the courtyard and toward the open door. Flying directly over Uathach, he hurled a lightning orb down upon her, striking her in the back. Her legs buckled momentarily and she stumbled, before recovering herself and unleashing a desperate flurry of blows at the advancing Tector. The big warrior parried her first strike easily, while the second found its way past his guard but bounced harmlessly off his armour. Recalling that her mask had saved her from death or capture in the past by spiriting her away when she fell unconscious, the Dragonknight lunged for it, attempting to tear it from her face, but the dark elf dodged his lunge.
One of the ghouls circled behind Tector and clawed him with its talons. Fortunately his ornate armour protected him from anything more than a scratch, and he flinched away before it could bite his neck. The other moved into the cloister, advancing on Sophia and Isabelle. Screaming in rage, Emma launched herself at its back and plunged her dagger between its shoulder blades.
Sophia pushed Isabelle protectively behind her, before skewering the advancing ghoul in the chest with her rapier. Despite Emma still clinging to its back and stabbing it with her dagger, the ghoul grabbed Sophia in its talons and bit her shoulder, causing her to cry out in pain.
Out in the courtyard, Storm landed just inside the postern and slammed it shut in the face of several more ghouls, before hurriedly replacing the iron-shod locking bar that had been removed by the Shadow Hunters. Outside, he could hear the undead pummelling in vain at the thick oak beams.
Flanked by Uathach and the second ghoul, Tector managed to parry the dark elf’s glaive, but the stalker managed to dig its claws through a joint in his armour and draw yet more of his blood. Still weak from the multiple wounds he had suffered, he felt the benefit of the boundless endurance slowing flowing into his body from his Brooch of Mithras. Seeking to end the combat quickly, he called God’s radiant blessing onto the blade of his greataxe and swung at the ghoul. Perhaps it was his weakened state, or the speed of the ravening undead, but his blow did not connect and the blinding golden glow faded away.
Back in the cloister, Lorcan remained trapped in Storm’s wall of ice, slowly melting his way out. Nearby, Sophia and Emma stabbed frantically at the ghoul, but it was too fast, dodging aside before clawing and biting Sophia, sending her stumbling backwards in agony.
Out in the courtyard, Storm took to the air once more, hurling a lightning orb at the ghoul brute that was slowing advancing on the beleaguered Tector, hitting it squarely in the chest. Surrounded, the big warrior was unable to get his guard around in time to parry Uathach’s glaive this time, and its puissant blade sliced through his armour and into his leg. He retaliated furiously, slamming his greataxe into the dark elf’s chest. Blood spurted from the gaping wound, and she fell backwards, disappearing before she hit the floor. From behind, the ghoul took advantage of Tector’s distraction, tearing through a joint in his armour and almost severing an artery.
Lorcan’s flames had done their job, and he began to smash his way out of the weakened ice with his serrated axe. With Tector and Sophia both close to death, and Storm wounded, things were looking bleak for the three companions.
Sophia stabbed desperately at the ghoul that was clawing her, but once again it dodged aside. Storm noticed movement on the far side of his ice wall and, suspecting that allies might be trying to get into the cloister, triggered a rapid melting, before hurriedly casting a lightning orb toward Lorcan that fizzed past the dark elf in vain.
Seeing Lorcan advancing on Isabelle, Sophia and Emma, Tector wheeled away from the ghoul that was tormenting him and charged at the dark elf. Invoking the unnatural strength of the Brooch of Mithras to counter the weakness and nausea flowing through him as a result of the ghoul’s sickening bite, he slammed his axe into the molten iron skin of his enemy, and was shocked to see that his blow left little more than a scratch!
The ghoul stalker behind him leaped onto his back, clawing at his armour but unable to find a weak spot, while the huge ghoul brute lumbered after them. To the left, the second ghoul stalker tore into Sophia once again, and she collapsed to her knees in a pool of her own blood.
As Lorcan turned to face Tector, raising his axe to strike, the remaining ice wall behind him exploded inward as a Templar smashed his way through. Seeing the ghoul brute about to attack Tector from behind, the knight rushed forward to engage it, rapidly followed by two more Templars who slammed their longswords into Lorcan’s iron skin.
Storm joined the assault, hurling a lightning orb at the dark elf commander. It struck home, sending sparks of electricity dancing across his iron skin, and left Lorcan shuddering. Tector pressed the advantage by calling up the icy power of his gauntlets, conjuring a net of frost and throwing it over Lorcan, trapping him in the freezing net. The ghoul stalker was still clambering over his back though, and tore at him with teeth and claw once again.
A few feet away, the other ghoul stalker ripped into Sophia with its claws once more. Its relentless assault finally overwhelmed her, and she collapsed unconscious. The ghoul grabbed her, head bent, jaws wide to take a great bite of her tender flesh. But Isabelle rushed forward, grabbing its face and lifting it from Sophia’s prone form. Its snarl died on its lips as smoke poured from its flesh where Isabelle touched it, and within seconds it had disintegrated, nothing more than a covering of dust over the unconscious Sophia. Emma quickly fell to her knees beside the ravaged young woman, brushing her cheek lightly and channelling enough healing power to keep her alive.
More Templars rushed into the cloister, attacking the ghouls, while two of their fellows engaged Lorcan. He tore Tector’s frost net apart just in time to parry the longsword of the first, and took a blow on his iron skin from the second, before ripping his axe across the chest of the first Templar, leaving a terrible, bleeding wound. Glancing around, he saw more Templars rushing into the cloister, Tector advancing on him from the side, and his companions either dead or gone. With a shake of his head, he disintegrated before their eyes into a vortex of ebony shadow bats, which spiralled lightning-fast into the night sky and away!
The Templars quickly butchered the remaining ghoul stalkers, the companions finishing the brute with a deadly combination, striking it in quick succession with an arrow in the chest from Sophia, a lightning orb from Storm that impacted full in its face, and a sweeping blow of Tector’s greataxe that cleaved its head from its shoulders.
Leaning on each other for support, and grateful to be alive, the three friends felt both elation and frustration through the agony of their wounds. They had closed the breach and, more importantly, had bested their nemesis once more, but Lorcan, Uathach, Celach and Roarc had all escaped to fight another day.