The Inquisition Heads North, Part Three - Carrick Confronted
Inside the castle, they came upon a trail of corpses. Servants and soldiers alike had been killed, some by terrible sword slashes, others with their throats cut. Rushing through the halls, they came to the dungeon stairs and hurried down. Coming across another bloody corpse as they descended, they heard the distinctive clash of steel on steel from the dungeon below. Still feeling the ill effects of the acid cloud, Storm hesitated to drink his vial of holy water. Feeling rejuvenated, he followed his friends into the dungeon.
Standing at the base of the stairs, they gazed on the scene of a massacre. The gaoler, Otto, together with his guards and several men-at-arms, lay dead, some with limbs or even heads missing, and with blood pooling across the flagstone floor. In the centre of the main dungeon chamber, two figures circled. The first was all too familiar to the companions, a swordwraith gliding silently and wielding a slender razor-sharp greatsword with incredible speed. Facing it was a warrior equal in stature to Tector, wielding a fine longsword in one hand and deflecting blows from the swordwraith’s blade with a large circular shield strapped to his left arm. He was wearing banded mail beneath a white surcoat bearing a red lion rampant, which Sophia recognised as the symbol of Sir Maldred FitzDolfin. The companions noticed that FitzDolfin was bleeding from half a dozen cuts, some of them deep, while the swordwraith seemed implacable as always.
Tector responded first, charging the swordwraith to relieve the hard-pressed knight, landing a glancing blow. Storm missed with a lightning orb but Sophia’s arrow struck home. The warrior saw his thrust parried before the wraith slashed both him and Tector with blinding speed. Tector connected again with a solid swing of his greataxe, with Sophia and Sir Maldred also damaging its shadowy form, the Lady with a well-placed arrow that glanced off its helm. It lashed out in return, again wounding FitzDolfin in a flurry of blows.
The battle had just begun to settle into a rhythm with the two big warriors circling the swordwraith, when a bellow rang out behind them and the Earl of Carrick charged out from the dungeon passageway opposite the stairs, obviously freed from his cell and swinging a fine longsword. Sophia was concerned to see that it was the distinctive weapon of William Hale.
The Earl’s charge carried him barrelling into Sir Maldred, who was slashed yet again, this time by the stolen Templar blade. The swordwraith struck once more, cutting Tector deeply, but Maldred managed to deflect the return blow with his shield. Sensing that the Earl’s arrival was turning the tide of the battle, Tector unleashed everything he had in a single brutal strike, cleaving the space where the swordwraith’s neck should be. Instantly, the sinister light of the swordwaith’s eyes was extinguished and it imploded, leaving its greatsword hanging, point upright, in mid air for a moment before it exploded. Perhaps because he knew what was coming, Tector reacted with amazing speed, throwing himself down and shielding himself from the razor shards with his cloak. Maldred and the Earl were not so fast or so fortunate, and both were peppered with the steel shrapnel.
At that moment, another figure emerged from the passageway opposite the stairs. Short and stocky, wearing black clothing and facemask, he levelled a hand crossbow at Tector and pulled the trigger. The bolt slammed home, but the dragon armour absorbed most of the damage and the bolt’s poisoned tip was not sufficient to bring down the big man. Storm struck the Earl with a lightning orb and Sophia winged the newly arrived assassin with an arrow from her elven bow. The Earl then took the upper hand in his duel with FitzDolfin, felling the exhausted knight with a shattering blow to the side of the helm.
Seeing Tector and the Earl exchange blows, and Storm’s lightning orb miss the Scot, Sophia directed her magic at the traitor and showed him the penalty of failure at the hands of his mistress. His will buckled under the intensity of Sophia’s gaze, and he fled back the way he had come, shoving past the assassin and his wife, who was just emerging from the passageway. She responded by dislocating her jaw in a hideous draconic transformation, spewing forth a thick dark green gas that rapidly billowed toward the companions.
Suffering from the gas, Tector quickly grabbed the prone form of FitzDolfin and dragged him back to the foot of the stairs, where Sophia channelled her healing into him. The assassin responded by pinning Tector with another crossbow bolt, with much the same result as the first. Storm then called up his whirlwind, catching both the assassin and Lady Carrick in its powerful winds and smashing them into the vaulted ceiling and back to the ground. Catching Tector’s eye as she looked up from the floor, Lady Carrick assaulted his mind and tried to force him to attack Storm, but the warrior shrugged off her influence, hanging back to stay out of the poison gas.
From prone, the assassin shot at Storm with his crossbow, but the dragonborn dodged with ease. Then, trying to bring the battle to a conclusion, Storm levelled his Wand of Flame at the assassin and unleashed a bolt of fire, suffering a painfully singed hand for his trouble. However, the dark elf was badly burned by the bolt, and even Lady Carrick next to him was seared by the flame. Sophia’s arrow flew wide, and FitzDolfin hung back as the poisoned gas began to dissipate. At that moment, the Earl of Carrick, having shrugged off Sophia’s enchantment, vaulted over his wife and the assassin as they began to regain their feet, and charged into Sir Maldred, slashing him once more with the stolen longsword.
Getting to her feet, Lady Carrick gestured at Tector, who felt reality slipping away as he was consumed by a vision. He was back in the Catacombs beneath the streets of York, in a deep chamber surrounded by undead. He slashed back and forth with his greataxe, but their numbers overwhelmed him. As he was pinned by the weight of their bodies, the jaw of one huge ghoul dislocated, opening incredibly wide, and it lunged forward, chomping off Tector’s head in a single bite! The big warrior suffered such trauma as a result that, back in the dungeon, his knees buckled and he collapsed unconscious.
The assassin fired a bolt at Sophia, which she dodged, and Storm responded with a fizzing lightning orb that the dark elf somehow managed to evade. Sophia shot the Earl in the shoulder with an elven arrow, causing him to bellow in pain. He and Sir Maldred then began their blade dance again, both drawing blood with furious strikes. Lady Carrick cursed first Storm and then Sir Maldred, who gasped in pain, and the assassin fired at Sophia, missing her. Storm then hit the assassin with a lightning orb, sending him crashing to the floor as his body spasmed with electricity. Sophia buried an arrow in the Earl’s leg, and the traitor and the knight exchanged blows, the former felling the latter with a stunning strike.
With Tector and Maldred both down, things were looking desperate for Sophia and Storm as they faced off against the Carricks. However, the Earl was bleeding from many wounds and his wife was unsteady on her feet having been smashed by Storm’s whirlwind, blasted by fire and hit by lightning. Seeking to bring the battle to an end, Storm targeted her again, this time with his new power. Opening his arms wide, he conjured lightning between them, which rapidly formed into the shape of a dragon. Beating its wings, this shimmering form streaked at Lady Carrick, who threw herself aside in a desperate attempt to avoid it. The lightning dragon swerved at the last moment, hitting the sorceress on the leg, and she collapsed to the ground, hair standing on end and limbs shaking with the shock, before lying still.
Sophia pinned the Earl with yet another arrow, and he stumbled backwards. Looking round at the unconscious form of his wife, and swaying from blood loss, he turned a baleful gaze on Lady de Percy and the dragonborn. Seeing them poised with arrow and lightning ready, he lowered his sword. Grinding his teeth as if the very concept pained him, but glancing back at his prone wife again, he growled in a thick Scottish brogue, “Will you accept our surrender?”
Storm locked eyes with the traitor for a moment before replying simply, “yes”. The Earl dropped his sword and, turning to his wife, fell to his knees and began to tend to her. The dragonborn watched the Carricks while Sophia administered first aid to Tector and FitzDolfin, staunching their bleeding. As she did so, they heard people coming down the stairs and Mary of Stamford entered the dungeon, accompanied by another Templar