By Brian Flood
Chapter 33 - Battle of the Stone Door
East of Kendall Keep, Kingdom of Cormyr
Late-Afternoon, 19th Day of Mirtul; Year of the Tankard (1370 DR)
Again, the grating noise of stone against stone emanates from the portal. And again, the door opens ever so slowly, rotating in and to the left. Because of Amiel’s’ position, none of the other party members can see past the ranger and through the stone doorway.
From her position directly in front of the door, Amiel peers into the space beyond the stone portal. The light from her temporarily enchanted sword provides illumination, albeit a very channel that is formed by the open door and a section of stone wall that runs north-south just for a pace or two just inside and to the right of the doorframe.
What lies inside the narrow beam of light is still enough to make the ranger’s heart stutter. Three skeletons, standing at attention and armed with polearms stand in ranks just a few paces inside the room beyond. The last of the three is at the far edge of the light provided by Amiel’s sword; the ranger cannot tell if more of these still sentinels lie in wait.
“Skeleton guards!” hisses Amiel as she charges into the doorway, whirling her glowing sword and slashing at the first skeleton. “Vel, Tiron to me! Bring your holy symbols!” she cries as she attacks.
Tirondalin hesitates in indecision for a moment before committing his actions to those ordered by Amiel. In one swift motion, his arrow is stored and his bow is shouldered. He moves a step or so closer to the entrance and his hands begin to move toward his holy symbol – the Hawkeye’s sole comfort against what he suspects is the forthcoming onslaught of supernatural beings of evil.
Malk quickly stoops and picks up his fallen weapons. Grasping his sword in his right hand and dagger in his left, the bard tries to keep his wits about him in the confusion.
Also in the rear of the party with the bard, Nathan reacts to chain of events. With Tiron blocking his line of sight to the door, the young mage opts to maintain his position and spell readiness.
Seeing Amiel dart into the passage with weapon raised, Alain rolls around the corner following her, and looking for an opening for a lightning quick rapier thrust. Unfortunately, the lady ranger fills the door, locked in melee with the foes beyond. And so the warrior bides his time, looking for anyway he can support his leader.
Velgardrin moves to support Amiel, ending up beside Alain outside the doorway. The dwarf brandishes his axe but does not draw his holy symbol. “Alaghars dern’t be turnin’,” he growls.
Meanwhile, inside the room or chamber beyond the doorway, Amiel suddenly finds herself facing a veritable legion of undead as the light from her sword illuminates the chamber. She sees that there are at least four ranks of skeletal soldiers standing before her; more than dozen of the foes are immediately visible.
The ranger’s sword glances off the extended polearm of the foe to her front with a metallic clang. The skeleton then thrusts its own weapon forward. Amiel’s sword intercepts the polearm, saving the ranger from harm.
It is then that warning bells go off in Amiel’s head. Her mind conjures the image of her weapons instructor from her time in the Wraiths. In an instant, she recalls the grizzled veteran counseling his recruits about combat with polearms. The benefit of polearms, he said, is that their length allows the soldiers in the second rank to also attack an enemy formation.
This tactical advantage is apparently not lost on Amiel’s foes, however. Even as the ranger’s sword pushes the first polearm out of the way, attacks come at her from left, right, and even from the skeleton behind the one she just parried.
Spang! Sparks come from behind the door as the foe to her left front strikes the back of the stone door with its weapon.
Then Amiel feels the blade of weapon slice open her right arm as an attack comes from that direction. The ranger has barely enough time to register that wound before she gasps as the skeleton that stands behind the one to her direct front thrusts its weapon forward, piercing her abdomen.
An explosion of pain erupts in the ranger’s head as she is literally skewered by her foe. The chamber rapidly fades from her sight and the last thing she hears is the metallic clang of her weapon hitting the floor before she slips into unconsciousness.
The adventures outside the doorframe see Amiel frantically attacking and parrying some unseen foe or foes. Metallic clangs ring out as steel strikes steel. The ranger flinches as something wounds her arm.
Then, from his position immediately behind Amiel, Alain is aghast to see the pointed end of some sort of polearm erupt from Amiel’s lower back. The blade withdraws as Amiel’s glowing sword slips from her fingers and she collapses to the stone floor just inside the door. A pool of bright red blood begins to grow around the ranger’s still form.
The illumination from Amiel’s fallen sword provides a narrow beam of light that is channeled by the opened door and a portion of an interior wall. It is sufficient enough to allow Alain to see a column of skeletal soldiers, standing at least four ranks deep and armed with polearms, positioned in the space beyond the doorway.
“Alain! Guard me!” shouts Velgardrin. The dwarf reaches out to grab Amiel’s foot from around the corner of the stone lintel.
Seeing the party leader go down and hearing Velgardrin’s request, Alain quickly springs forward to stand over Amiel’s body. Brow lowered and a snarl on his lips, the warrior wades into combat. A thrusting rapier and a readied main gauche are his answers to the danger threatening the party.
“Vel, I have no torches!” Nathan exclaims as he moves to a new position at Tiron’s right side, with the clear intent of providing covering support. He stands ready to use his quarterstaff on any charging foe that presents itself, since he has no chance to use a spell.
“Fools!” exclaims Tiron. “Let them out so we may all attack together!” The half-elf ranger-priest clasps his holy symbol, praying for the life of Amiel while the words of the incantation for the banishment of undeath coalesces in a swirl of righteous magic in his mind and spirit.
Malk moves quickly behind and past Tiron to place his back against the cold stone to the right of the doorway. He stands ready to support Alain or attack whatever leaves the deadly hole. This kind of fighting he knows – with a wall behind him and the unexpected to come, it reminds him of the city.
“Bloody ‘ell,” mutters Declan as the bard moves into position. “You’re blocking me!”
Salik also readies himself. The rogue grips his scimitar and prepares to meet the oncoming enemy.
Inside the chamber beyond the stone doorway, Alain finds himself facing over a dozen armed skeletons standing in a military-like formation across the width of the room and as far back as the edge of the light from Amiel’s fallen sword. His rapier thrust slips right through the gaps in his first opponent’s ribcage, failing to cause any harm.
The skeletons are slow to attack, armed as they are with long polearms, but their counterattack is massive. Alain instantly sees that the long shafts of his foes' weapons allow two ranks of skeletons to attack. A moment later, the warrior is attacked by nearly half a dozen opponents.
A front-rank skeleton to Alain’s front left aims a blow directly at the warrior’s chest. With reflexes honed from hours of practice, Alain’s main gauche strikes out, forces the shaft of the weapon aside, and saves him from certain harm. Out of the corner of his eye, Alain next sees attacks coming from the other skeletons in the front rank and he contorts his body wildly, causing the remaining two of his front-rank opponents to miss. Lastly, he manages to skillfully dodge the attack of the second-rank skeleton immediately to his front.
Behind Alain, Velgardrin’s muscles strain as the dwarf struggles to pull Amiel’s body – weighted by her backpack and other equipment – out of danger. The dwarf staggers backward a few paces, barely handling the load. Nonetheless, he somehow manages to pull the fallen ranger out of the doorway and into the clearing. He then glances up to see how Alain is faring.
Once again, those outside the doorway see a lone member of their group subjected to multiple attacks from unseen foes within the chamber or room beyond. Alain furiously blocks one attack and then spins wildly as others seek his flesh. After a few seconds of frantic dodges and blocks, the warrior somehow remains unwounded and continues to stand his ground just within the doorway.
The prayer that was forming in Tiron’s mind dissipates as other concerns beg for his attention. “Alain, curse it, withdraw!” Tiron shouts at the warrior, hoping to draw their enemy out into the vulnerability of the open field.
“Alain, fall back!” shouts Salik, adding to the group’s advice to their imperiled comrade.
“Norothin Thorden!” Velgardrin exclaims in Dwarvish as he tends Amiel. Once again the dwarf calls upon the power of Clangeddin Silverbeard to aid in restoring a wounded comrade. As he does this, he tries to keep an eye on Alain and the door.
Ignoring Declan’s earlier outburst, Malk glances around the corner of the door. He is looking for a gap beside the fighting form of Alain.
At the rear of the party, Nathan’s frustration with not having a clear target is evident as he maintains his position and resumes spell-readiness. Salik, meanwhile, moves towards Alain and his fallen companion looking for a way he can help his comrades.
Standing inside the doorway, and knowing that the better part of valor is being able to brag about it later, Alain backpedals as fast as he can. The warrior holds his main-gauche poised to block.
Battle is far from Tiron’s mind as he reaches the fading body of Amiel in a few short steps. His hands still clutching his holy symbol, the half-elf begins the musical, honeyed incantations of a healing prayer.
Tiron’s prayers are interrupted after a few brief words, however, as Alain – all but flying backward – crashes into the half-elf. The ranger-priest sighs as he feels the energy from the started spell dissipate slip from him.
Alain, on the other hand, shakes the darkness from himself, apparently unaware that his inadvertent collision with Tiron has ruined the half-elf’s spell. The warrior draws himself up just in front of the lintel and prepares to defend his position.
Meanwhile the silvery aura of Clangeddin’s powers moves from Velgardrin’s hands and over his patient’s wounds. When it dissipates, the ranger’s bleeding has stopped and her heartbeat is steady yet very weak. The wounds themselves remain unhealed.
With Alain free of the doorway, Malk catches a glimpse of a skeletal form about ten feet beyond the stone lintel. Unable to get into a perfect position to throw, the bard uses an underhand movement to cast the dagger in his left hand toward the undead foe. The missile sails harmlessly past its target and into the chamber or room beyond.
Salik looks around him at the confusion of the battle. “Clear the door! Back!” he cries. Unable to do anything, the rogue waits for an opening into the fray.
Keeping shoulder to shoulder as best he can with Alain, Malk calls out, “Vel, Tiron: take Amiel! Everyone back up!”
Unable to back up any farther, Alain waits in the doorway for his chance. He stands like a serpent, looking to strike. His main-gauche is held defensively in front of him and his rapier sways from side to side.
Velgardrin stands and moves to stand over Amiel. “We move her when ther door closes,” he growls. The dwarf’s unusually gruff tone reveals his tenseness at this situation.
Nathan maintains his position and casting preparation yet again, a grimace of resignation taut across his features.
The pain caused by the heavy bulk of Alain crashing into him is ignored as Tiron gathers himself and takes a step back while assessing the situation, coming on line with Salik and Nathan and hoping to give Alain and the other warriors space to maneuver. Concluding that Amiel is beyond his minor healing powers and that she is at least stable, he looks ahead to the source of the threat.
The Hawkeye’s throat turns dry and a knot of fear twists his stomach as he beholds the nightmarish beings in the cave. Even Amiel’s hurried report of skeleton warriors was insufficient to prepare him for the sight and smell and ungodliness of these creatures. He reflexively grabs hold of the silver arrow that is his holy symbol and suddenly words come to him that, even though he has never spoken them before, come fluently as he is guided by the divine hand of his god to fight this blight on the Natural Order. The words are strange and alien and they resonate over the field in all directions, while his amulet glows with a strong, radiant blue light that is the very antithesis of the dread blackness of negativity that emanates from the evil foes.
Although the adventures have all readied themselves for a veritable onslaught of unholy foes, the skeletal warriors do not move forward from their positions within the area beyond the stone lintel. The light from Amiel’s sword, channeled by the position of the open door and the interior wall, provides a narrow beam of light into the area beyond the door. Those few who can see the undead enemy can see that they have returned to a position of attention and stand unmoving.
Then, with a familiar grating noise, the stone door begins to close. The light from Amiel’s enchanted weapon is narrowed even further as the closing portal pushes the weapon across the stone lintel.
Velgardrin, still standing guard over Amiel, asks, “What evil be in there?”
Malk, realizing that he has been holding his breath, relaxes his guard as the door closes. “Skeleton guards Vel,” he answers over his shoulder. “How’s Amiel?”
“Alain, we have the chance, now let’s formulate some strategy!” exclaims Tiron. The half-elf is already concerned that if there is any organization to the force they are facing, they may have mustered more power to meet the assaults of the company.
Salik stands ready at Tiron’s side. To the half-elf’s other side, an incensed Nathan yet again maintains both his place and his spell readiness, in case one of the foes should try to exit the passage.
Alain sees the enemy threat dissipating. He drops his main-gauche and quickly reaches forward to retrieve Amiel’s sword, making sure that it does not get caught in the closing door.
Just as the warrior moves back with the fallen ranger’s sword, the door finishes closing with a solid thunk. An eerie silence falls over the clearing, broken only by the excited breathing of the adventurers.
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