By Brian Flood
Chapter 34 - Withdrawal from the Stone Door
East of Kendall Keep, Kingdom of Cormyr
Late-Afternoon, 19th Day of Mirtul; Year of the Tankard (1370 DR)
Sheathing his rapier, Alain reaches down and retrieves his main-gauche. He sheaths that also, and then turns to Malk and says, “Good job my friend. I felt you moving to support me in the doorway.” The warrior motions to the path head leading into the clearing and adds, “Please guard our backs from anything that might come up that path.”
“Tiron!” Alain then calls out, irritation clear in his voice. “Help Malk, and keep an eye on the top of that cliff, too. I don’t want anyone to start dropping things on us.”
Turning his attention back to the downed party member, Alain says, “Velgardrin, we need to move her away from the door. Salik, help Velgardrin move Amiel over there,” he directs, pointing towards the edge of the clearing.
Spinning around, Alain faces Declan, and motions the fiery mage over. “I’ll also need your help too, Nathan,” Alain gives the young mage a quick smile as he motions him over as well.
With a slight swagger, Malk nods to the warrior as if to say,‘of course – I do this kind of thing everyday’. He moves to comply with Alain’s orders, moves past Nathan, and playfully taps Tiron on the back with his sword. “Come on Tiron, I need help to find a rhyme for ‘skeletons’.”
Tirondalin takes out his bow in deep consternation. “Very well Alain,” he states in reply to his default leader’s orders, “this is all well and good, but what are we to do in the longer term? Do we renew our attack or do we retreat to nurse our wounds?” He voices the question sternly and moves toward the confluence between the clearing and the path, but stops for a moment, and turns.
“Good job with those nasties, too!” the half-elf calls with genuine affection that is a sudden and marked change.
“Are skeletons affected by fire?” asks Salik. “I have some oil in my backpack; we could light it and throw it in as the door opens. That might bring them out in the open so we could fight them more effectively. Or, if they refuse to come out in the open, we can just stay out of their reach and fire arrows at them. If we have people on either side of the door waiting to ambush the guards should they emerge in the daylight with some archers directly in front of the door at a distance to shoot them, we should find them a lot easier to beat. We should probably throw a lit torch into the passageway so the archers can see though if we’re not going to throw burning oil at them. What do you think, Alain?”
“I don’t know about fire, but I’m pretty certain that my magical missiles effect them,” Nathan volunteers as he walks over and joins Alain and the others in conversation. “An added benefit is that they do not miss their target. The only requirement is that I must be able to see the target.”
Velgardrin steps over to his pack and gets his healer’s bag. Then he begins to use the supplies in it to bandage Amiel’s wounds in order to help prevent infection in the future.
“Skeleton Guards?” the dwarf comments as he works. “Hrrm. Then mehaps they be enchanted to guard inside only unless we knows the what ter say er do ter pass them.”
“Amiel be stable but weak,” the dwarf then announces. “We be not able ter aid her more until tomorrow.”
Malk arrives at his appointed place and has a good look around. He scans the cliff tops and checks the horizon for unwanted movements. He also casts his mind back to try and remember if the party passed a defensible campsite.
Alain nods his head to Nathan, “Magic Missiles, sounds good. But I saw Declan use a spell that cast a flaming wave out from his hands – that would hopefully affect all of the creatures. What do you think Declan?” Alain shifts his gaze over to the other mage.
“That spell is only for close combat," Nathan says after shaking his head from side to side. “For me to use it, I would have to be right in the front and exposed to direct attack. I’m no coward, but that would be a foolish place for me to be.”
“How big is ther area where these skeleton guards be?” asks Velgardrin. “How er they positioned? It be interestin’ me ter see what be guarded by therm.” The dwarf has a faraway look in his eyes as he tries to picture what lies behind the door.
“From what I could see, the passage way is only about five feet deep,” answers Alain. “The room beyond seemed to be twenty by twenty, with between twelve to sixteen skeleton guards.”
The warrior glances over to Nathan, “So if the spell was cast from the doorway, you would only be five feet from the closest guard. Would that be close enough?”
Not waiting for Nathan to answer, Velgardrin continues asking questions. “Could more be hiddern or air yer thinkern less than twenty fer sairtan?”
Alain looks back to Velgardrin. “I’m pretty sure that it's less than twenty, unless they are stacked like firewood in the corner where I could not see.” Alain smiles at his own grim humor.
“I wonder what be happenern should we block the door open. Will ther come out?” Velgardrin half-squints and raises one eyebrow in question as he looks at Alain.
“I don’t think they will,” replies Alain. “As soon as I backed out of the hall, they seemed to loose all interest in me. That’s why I want to know if either Nathan or Declan has a spell that can hit them all from that range.”
While waiting, Alain removes his ruck and rummages through it. Finding one of his heavy winter blankets, he hands it to Velgardrin.
“Wrap Amiel in this,” directs the warrior. “It should keep her warm and more comfortable.”
Closing his pack, Alain returns it to his back. He then bounces on his toes a couple of times to settle it comfortably back into place.
A large smile crosses the dwarf’s face and he replies. “If they remain in ther places could we pick them off one by one? And when you guarded Amiel, did all come to the door or only some?” The wheels of ideas churn rapidly in Velgardrin’s head.
“None of them moved from where they stood when I was there,” replies Alain. “The three that were right by the door attacked me.”
Declan, who has been waiting for a pause in the conversation between Alain and Velgardrin, finally speaks up. “I normally ‘ave the po’er to cast the fan o’ flames, but not t’day,” the mage announces. “I don’ ‘ave the bloody magic dart spell in me ‘ead, either. Anyways, I ‘ave t’ be in sword fightin’ distance from a bloke to affect ‘im. I saw what ‘appened to Amiel and what almost bloody ‘appened to you, Alain. If I stood ‘n the doorway, I might be able t’ ‘arm three er so, but I’d be chuffin’ spitted worse ‘n Amiel if any o’ ‘em lived!”
“By the Keen Eye!” exclaims Tiron, listening to the conversation from a short way away. “Even twelve skeletons is enough for us to handle, let alone twenty!”
The half-elf thinks for a moment and then resumes speaking. “You know, comrades, I believe the central question is not how to attack but whether to attack,” he states in measured tones. “I am no great healer but anyone could see that Amiel is going to need a significant portion of rest before she can fight, and if we do beat the guards, what do we do then? We can’t leave her here and as surely as Hell burns in the eyes of those undead, we cannot take her with us unless she is properly rested...” His words trail off, inviting with his gaze the contribution of the others.
Velgardrin ponders the situation as he covers Amiel with Alain’s blanket. Obviously Declan and Tiron are both right, but this door must have some reason for all the guards.
“Ah Alain, they sound like stationary targets,” Velgardrin remarks. “We may well be able to pick them off one-by-one if the door be held open. What think the rest of ye?”
Salik clicks his tongue in annoyance. “That’s what I just said. Someone needs to throw in a lit torch though, so that the archers can see their targets. We should also have someone on either side of the door in case they decide to come out.”
“I be thinkern and not listern well enough, Salik,” Velgardrin admits. “But we dern’t be havin’ nearly enough arrows unless we plans only ter clear the door since Alain said only those close attacked him.”
Malk chips in from his watch post. “I think Tiron may be right. How about sealing the door shut and coming back later when we are prepared? If these undead bags of bones only attack those who open the door, they are unlikely to be those who are attacking the travelers. Don’t forget there is a caravan on its way.”
Then, as if to add its own opinion to the ongoing debate, the light from Amiel’s sword is suddenly extinguished. Apparently Malk’s enchantment of the weapon has expired.
Alain looks one more time at the door, with frustration. “Tiron, Salik, head up the trail slowly, and keep an eye out for a campsite,” orders the warrior. “Velgardrin, give the scouts a minute then follow after them; I’d like you to look for the materials to make a stretcher. The rest of us will carry Amiel and her equipment.”
“Malk, Declan, and Nathan,” Alain next announces, “if you three will split up her equipment, then I will carry her until we can get a stretcher made.” Alain looks around at the group, “Let’s go people,” he urges.
The warrior then heads over to Amiel and starts to strip any extra equipment off of her, stacking it off to the side. “Take as much as you can,” he tells the newly conscripted porters.
With a grimace and a grin behind Alain’s back for the benefit of the rest of the portering crew, Malk trots over and shoulders his pack. He then trots up to the fallen leader and looks for items that he can add to his load for her. He selects the ranger’s hand-and-a-half sword and straps it on over his back.
Next, the group’s two mages step forward. Declan reaches down and grabs Amiel’s pack. Since he already wears his own rucksack on his back, the mage puts his arms through Amiel’s pack and wears it so that it rests on his chest. Although awkward, this method will still allow the encumbered mage to carry two packs.
Finally, Nathan takes the remaining items – a belt with two daggers and a jingling belt pouch – and stores them in his own backpack.
Tiron tightens the straps on his pack. “Right, let’s go Salik!” he shouts. Shouldering his bow, the half-elf starts off back along the trail, returning to the shelter of the forest and searching for a hospitable clearing.
Velgardrin places his healer’s bag back in his pack then slips his arms through the straps and wears the pack again. “If yer be carryin’ her, give me yer pack, Alain,” he tells the party’s leader. And then he waits for a response before heading back along the thorny path.
Slipping his arms out of the straps to his pack, Alain hands it to the healer. “Here you go my friend,” says the warrior. Velgardrin takes the pack and straps it on over his chest, in the same manner that Declan has done with Amiel’s pack.
Pausing a moment, Alain makes sure Velgardrin is adjusted to the weight of the heavy pack and then announces, “Listen up everyone, the marching order is as follows. Tiron and Salik, will scout ahead. Velgardrin will follow. Nathan will be next, with me behind him. Declan will be behind me, and Malk will guard the rear.”
Alain glances around. “Any questions?” he asks.
Velgardrin belts his axe and then struggles down the path at the front of the main body. Behind him, follows Nathan who does not seem significantly effected by the few additional items that he has inherited.
Bending down, Alain makes sure the blankets are snugly wrapped around Amiel. He then gently lifts her into his arms. Rising, the warrior begins making his way to the path. Declan waddles along behind the warrior, obviously encumbered by the two backpacks he is carrying.
Finally, grunting under the extra weight of Amiel’s gear, Malk takes up his position at the rear. He starts to whistle his favorite marching tune softly, but quickly finds he needs all his breath to keep a look out and keep moving.
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