Made it back to the front lines, to the cheers of soldiers. In the distance the burning remains of the of the catapults are easily seen. The archers from the walls fire into the onrushing Zenith warriors dealing massive casualties. Sluggishly the barbarians retreat back into the darkness, cursing and brandishing weapons. We have won our first victory.
Deathshadow comes to the group, grinning. He slaps a hand onto Kazier’s shoulder. "Good job. You’ve increased morale! When all this is over I am sure you will have plenty of people who would be more than honored to buy you drinks!"
Jogging up comes Captain Frotes as well. "This is excellent! I had hoped you would get all the catapults but I never expected you to do it so well! Congratulations. Go and get some rest, for it will be brief. They are certain to retaliate."
Turning Wilford looks back at the sprawling Zenith encampment. "Hopefully they have none in reserve."
As they head back inside Draman Del, the soldiers come up and cheer the group on. There is a lot of witty banter with them. ‘Save some of the barbarians for us, okay? We left some for you after all!’ There is a lot of laughter and it can easily be seen that everyone here is relishing this victory over the numerically superior foe. During all of this Tova has slipped away again, trying to avoid any more animosity towards his people, directed at him.
Back at the Blue Eagle the bar is packed, filled with people. Those there are muscular mercenary and warrior types with a few tradesmen here and there. More and more Draman Del is looking like a great military encampment. Many people have fled the city, going south into Brudic. The majority of the ones left are ones who are familiar with battle.
Entering into the place the group is recognized and they are cheered on. Obviously word of Captain Frotes special team has travelled very quickly the city. It is a good feeling.
Taking a stein from a beer wench’s tray Gashnak raises it into the air. "To Lord Ashen and Corvel!" Dozens of drinks and arms are raised at this and then are tossed back and drunk with abandon.
Lowering his mug Gashnak sees Alex pushing her way through the crowd. She smiles at him, but it is not one of friendship or mirth. "Congratulations!" With the back of her hand she slaps him across the face. Spinning on her foot and with a swish of her red hair she goes stomping back upstairs and slams the door closed. Many of the people here burst out laughing at this and the big orc slowly puts a hand to his stinging face.
Knowing when to get going, Dril, Kazier, Alric and Methos go to the back area to get washed up. After stripping down serving wenches come in with buckets of warm water to help soothe and relax the victorious fighters. The little pixie just jumps into one of the heated buckets, buzzing his wings and splish splashing around. Afterwards they go up to their rooms for some well earned rest.
Downstairs Gashnak decides to forgo such niceties and gets plastered. He drinks a serious amount of alcohol and soon starts having double then triple vision. But no matter how much he drinks he can still feel the slap of Alex’s hand. Before long he passes out and goes to sleep on the floor. He is in good company for many of the others here do the same when they get too drunk to walk. Rooms are in short supply anyway.
When the morning comes to him it comes with a hangover. His head aches and he hears in the distance the sounds of blaring horns, the snap of gunfire, and the clashing of steel.
Upstairs Dril stretches his arms, grinning to himself. "Ah, the distinct and beautiful sound of war." He and the others soon get dressed and strap on their weapons knowing that his will certainly be a very eventful day.
They all gather downstairs and have a few crusty pieces of dried bread. Only Gashnak looks miserable, his eyes exceptionally bloodshot and his clothing still covered in blood and dirt from the night before.
Jinx looks over to him, giving him an understanding smile. "Is that a hand print on your face? It looks like somebody hit you pretty hard."
Grumbling the orc just covers his eyes and turns away. "I did what I had to do. I didn’t want her hurt. Oww. I hate war with a hangover."
Jinx shakes her head. "She is very pissed, Gashnak. It was her decision to go or not. She’s taken off for a bit to cool down."
It is learned from one of the sleepy looking barmaids that Methos has left them a note. Kazier opens it up and reads it aloud: "Not ready to die yet. I have had bad dreams and must return home to Sigel. May the Rellian be with you. Methos."
Hearing this Alric frowns. "Too bad he couldn’t have stayed around to say goodbye. I’ll miss him, he was one of the first big people I ever became friends with." Being a little sad Alric just crawls into a goblet and starts drinking. Before too long he is dizzy with drink.
The barmaid gives another message, this time to Dril. The sprig adjusts his scaled helm and reads the writing on the bit of paper. "Hmm. It’s from Borem, he wants us to meet him as fast as we can." The message is then crumpled and tossed over his shoulder. "Well let’s see what he’s got to say."
The group goes on leaving both Alric and Kazier behind. "We’ll catch up later," says Kazier. "The two of us need to rest up a bit more that’s all."
Going through the streets they are mostly empty now. To the outer wall comes the sounds of battle. The group moves with a purpose and soon arrive at Borem’s shop. Going in they see that is he has stacks of shields and spears, having been working like mad to supply weapons to the defenders of the city.
The shaggy haired armorer sees them enter and looks down at Dril. "I have your stuff ready, your main suit of dragon armor. Malik will make any adjustments needed. I am extremely busy getting as much done as possible!"
Stepping up is Borem’s assistant, Malik. Like his boss he appears a bit tired. Brushing some of his hair from his eyes he looks at everyone there. Dril looks up at the man. "Howdy."
Borem goes back to hammering a shield, getting a rivet back into place. "Excuse him some, he don’t recall much. He’s been working with me for a bit now and he’s a great blacksmith. Malik’s got some type of memory loss. He got found in Brudic with a whole bunch of dead people around him, they was all shriveled up. Found out he was hard working and I’ve been ordering him around ever since."
Malik says little and helps put the newly crafted armor onto Dril. It is an exceptional fit needing almost no modification. The rest of the group looks at Borem’s supplies just realizing how hard he must have been working to get all of this stuff done so quickly. It is amazing that he and his helper haven’t both collapsed from the strain.
Outside they hear the high pitched shrieking of a little girl and what sounds like to be the unexpected eruption of violence. Instantly they burst through the doors and race out into the street, weapons coming to their hands.
Two of Draman Del’s warriors are in a fierce battle with nearly a dozen wild haired Zenith warriors. They have axes and swords in hand, as well as flaming torches. Behind them is a woman clutching a young child to her breast screaming now in terror at what is happening. Gashnak charges in, drawing his hanji-shah blade and slashing in the same motion. The sword nearly slices one in half.
Dril hurls his axe and it flies forward hacking one’s leg off before spinning back to the sprig’s outstretched hands. Wilford lunges forward with his rapier, the tip stabbing into one barbarian’s throat, exploding out the back of his neck in a spray of arterial red. Jinx stays behind, snapping her staff to full length and clutching it with both hands.
Inside the shop Malik sees this happening and grabs a nearby sword before running outside to try and join the whirling melee. He sees some torches fly up onto the roof and without hesitation he leaps up there and starts beating the flames out with his calloused hands. The fires try to catch but he rapidly knocks them out.
Gashnak lops one’s head off, blocking and killing with each step. Wilford is more elegant, lunging forward like a duellist should, his blade puncturing flesh and bone. Dril throws his axe again and literally cleaves one’s head in two. "Hah! Bet ya got a splittin’ headache!"
The battle doesn’t last long as the Zenith warriors are summarily butchered. One is captured as Jinx smacks him down and pins him to the street with her staff. The mother and her child run off and the two soldiers are very grateful for the unexpected assistance. "The dammed barbarians! How did they get into the city?"
Checking them over quickly they see them covered in foul slime. Dril takes a sniff and grimaces. "The sewers, they’ve come up through them."
"Look!" Says Jinx, pointing to the upper part of the city. All eyes go in that direction and they can see that the main fortress is on fire. "That is where the library is! It’s burning!"
Dril runs over to Jinx’s prisoner and and grabs his throat. Pressing his forehead against the barbarians he yells out: "How many of you are there? Huh? Tell me!" The prisoner just spits and grins madly. Wiping his face Dril then punches him in the stomach causing him to double up. "Fuck it," says the sprig who draws out a dagger and stabs the man to death messily.
"I didn’t need to see that," says Jinx.
They begin to run up towards the fortress. Malik heads along with them, Borem waving him on. Through the city there are small fights with Zenith here and there, all the way to the upper tier. Smoke is billowing out of the library and there is a line of people forming a bucket brigade to try and splash water inside to put the flames out.
Through all the yelling and confusion Wilford sees through the smoke and recognizes a figure. "Vraden!" He cries out! The man hears his name and looks, seeing Wilford coming for him. Instantly he starts to run and tries desperately to get away.
Whipping out his axe Dril hurls it and the deadly weapon clips Vraden at the knee nearly taking his leg off. Screaming the man collapses to the ground, putting his fingers over his gushing injury. Dril leaps on the man and pushes his bloody axe down on his neck. "Is this him?"
Wilford gazes down at the squirming man. "That’s the guy. I don’t want him dead. Yet."
Alex and Gashnak run into the burning library and Malik joins the line of people throwing the buckets of water. Soon Ganam is found in one of the smokey hallways, Alex goes to a knee to check on the elven scholar. "What happend?"
Ganam’s face is blackend with soot and he coughs into his sleeve several times. "Some people ran in and tossed torches. Don’t worry about me . . . The books!" He tries to get up but Alex keeps him down, looking him over for injuries. There is a look of anguish on his face as he knows what is happening all around him.
With Gashnak on one side and Alex on the other they carry him through the flames and smoke to the outside. "The librarian got murdered. Delequium was stabbed in the back. I saved a lot of the books by putting them into Kazier’s magical bag of holding!" He tries fighting back tears. "Damn them! So much knowledge going up in flames! So much lost!"
Outside it is learned that Lord Bandegil was at the make-shift hospital below, he seems to have taken a head wound in battle. He was taken to the hospital at the main fortress nearly an hour ago. Knowing that he is somehow responsible for all this they fan out looking for him while Wilford sits on Vraden ’s chest.
They do a quick search but cannot find him. It is all very chaotic, the fog of war. The library will be saved though many of the tomes there will have been destroyed.
Gashnak goes over to Leden and lifts him up by his shirt. He snarls and throws the man into a wall. "Where’s Bandegil? Why did you kill the dwarves? Answer me!!!" Looking particularly monstrous now, his face a mask of rage, Gashnak bares his fangs at the flailing Leden.
"I don’t know where he is!" Losing control of his bowels he unloads in his pants, the stench is awful. "We were ordered to! We got the orders from a pigeon!" He passes out and Gashnak tosses him to the ground. Some soldiers come over and take Vraden away under guard.
Wilford looks up to the fortress and begins to get a terrible thought. "Lets go there to look for Bandegil."
Malik leaves the bucket brigade and joins back up as they run insde. Within the main fortress the people here are moving about with a purpose. They are extremely busy but it looks like everyone here is still calm and not panicking. There are messengers here running about with guards in silver and black. They look for Bandegil but do not see him about.
"Have you seen Lord Bandegil?" Asks Jinx to one of the guards.
The man bows and then points to one of the many staircases here. "He went that way my lady. He was in the company of Lord Ashen."
Hearing that they go charging up the stairs. On the top level there are many passages and exits with a few guards about. Ahead is Lord Ashen’s room with two guards standing at attention. Gashnak, Wilford and Malik start checkin these other exits while Dril and Jinx go to the two guards.
"Is Lord Ashen available?" Asks a nearly breathless Jinx.
"I know who you are my lady and yes you can see him." Courteously the man opens the door for the two of them.
Dril looks over his shoulder. "Is Bandegil here?"
"No sir. He left just a few moments ago."
Together they go into Ashen’s office. It is rather plain with old paintings of nobles on the walls. There is a desk by an open window revealing an excellent view of the city. On it there are papers and maps everywhere but not a sign of Lord Ashen. Dril climbs into a chair and looks over the stuff on his desk, trying to figure out what he might have been contemplating. Jinx starts looking around quickly.
In a side chamber Jinx finds what she was afraid to. "Oh my god!" She calls out. Dril runs to her and sees what caused the outburst. On a bed is Lord Ashen with a dagger in his throat, his scarlet blood splashed all over the silken sheets there. Gazing at him it is quite obvious that he is dead.
The fortress is searched and the word of Lord Ashen’s death spreads. Bandegil is searched for in back rooms, in the gardens, and even beneath tables but he is not to be found. The look on people’s faces when they hear of their lord’s death is devastating. The war against the Zenith is bad enough, but hearing of the murder of their leader is utterly disheartening.
When the immediate search is over word is sent out by Captain Frotes to keep on the watch for Bandegil and he is to be taken prisoner. Destor, Lord Ashen’s son, is badly shaken by this most awful of news. He immediately orders a War Council to discuss possible actions to sue for peace with the Akrindorians.
Gashnak lowers his head sadly and grips the hilt of his sword. "Our worse fears about Bandegil are true. He was working for the enemy all along."
Things are going badly. Captain Frotes does his best to keep a sense of calm. He knows that his actions are being watched by others. If he shows panic or fear it will spread. "Gashnak, you need to get the team down into the sewer to prevent them from coming up. We are barely holding the 7th wall right now. With these infiltrators emerging with impunity through the city it is causing almost total chaos. Bandegil might actually have gone that way, who knows."
On the way to the sewers they pick up hip waders from Borem. If they are going to drop down into the sludge of the undercity, they want some protection. Borem just looks to Malik and nods. "You’ve done all you can here Malik. Go with them, you might be able to do some more good that way."
Alex is met at the Old Book Inn. She looks quite melancholy, as does everyone right now. Gashnak nods to her and she looks at him. In her eyes she is still angry but with all that has happend it matters very little now. The battle still rages on at the walls and it is not even noon yet.
Putting on their protective gear they climb down the steel rungs that lead into the tunnels below. It is incredibly dark and foul smelling here. Gashnak leads the way getting waist deep in all the slime and muck. Carefully he helps people over to a nearby stone ledge before joining them himself.
Drawing his sword it begins to glow a light blue. It give enough illumination to see by but just barely. Gashnak holds the sword ahead, and within it’s crystalline form the blood of an ancient god ebbs and flows.
Dril slips ahead as a scout, being able to see in the dark just fine. Slowly the group follows behind on the ledge, being careful not to fall into the brownish-gray muck that is flowing by. As they move onwards they realize they are heading deep within the mountains.
For nearly an hour they progress on like this when Dril comes back. Getting close he whispers just barely. "There is movement ahead. Get prepared."
Everyone silently draws their weapons except for Gashnak. He sheathes his glowing blade, cutting down on the light immensely. He doesn’t want to give their position away to the enemy unless he has to.
Together, hand to shoulder, they move onward. It is incredibly dark here, everyone’s eyes straining just to see a little bit. Dril remains at the front, holding his double headed axe with both of his hands.
From out of the darkness comes an explosion of light and Dril dives forward, a bolt of white energy blasting over his head. The area suddenly lights up as lanterns are uncovered. The tunnel ahead turns into an ‘L’ shape and it is filled with howling Zenith warriors waving swords and daggers. In back is what appears to be a sorcerer in dark skins with a skull staff.
Dril swings wide with his axe and cuts out the legs of one and Alex plunges her two swords through the midsection of another. Wilford plants himself and waits for the enemy to come to him. Gashnak and Malik leap across the tunnel to the ledge on the other side, they are trying to get around to the sorcerer who is in back. Jinx remains where she is, staff held high in a defensive stance.
On the other ledge Gashnak and Malik begin running across the slippery surface. With a bit of forward momentum Gashnak tries to make the great leap to get across to where the enemy is. He fails and lands in a belly flop into all the nasty sludge. The spellcaster hurls a bolt of energy at the stuck orc. Amazingly the hanji-shah blade deflects the magical attack in a shower of red sparks.
Behind him is Malik also jumping as well. Tossing his sword into the air Gashnak brings up both hands and helps push or bounce Malik on over to the other side and then re catches his sword in a magnificent display of both swash and buckle. Landing on his butt, Malik slashes with his longsword and is sprayed with blood.
Together, Dril, Alex, and Wilford form a devastating trio. Any shaggy Zenith that comes at them is soon relieved of the burden of life. They are split, stabbed, or hewn, their bodies falling everywhere. Jinx remains in the rear at the ready, but none seem to live long enough to get even close to her.
The sorcerer weaves a spell and ensnares the mind of Malik. (This is known as The Whammy) Juxtaposing loyalties and friendships, the dark haired amnesiac is now seeing his enemies in reverse. Turning he now charges at Dril and Wilford, raising his sword high. Both can see a glazed look in his eyes and know that something is wrong. Wilford blocks Malik’s attack and then disarms him sending his blade clattering away. Dril swings up with his fingers and does a nerve strike (in the nerve known as the groin), knocking Malik senseless.
As the trio move forward, Jinx goes to the fallen Malik. She lifts his head and cradles it in her lap while the fighting rages on. When he awakens he sees her looking down at him. Malik puts a hand to his forehead and grimaces. "I have the worst headache . . . Ever!"
Crawling up out of the sludge Gashnak sees one enemy warrior with a blade in either hand. Amazingly he does not rush up to attack him while in this vulnerable position. He waits for him to get up, motioning for him to hurry. Gashnak stands up, slime dripping off him, glowing hanji-shah in hand. With a swish of his blade he salutes his opponent.
The Zenith moves first, slashing downwards with a sword at Gashnak’s head. In a blur Gashnak ducks and hacks his foe across the chest. There is a look of absolute surprise in the Zenith’s eyes, whether from pain or disbelief none can know. Easily Gashnak parries his next strike and then drives his blade through the torso of the man, dropping him to his knees. He looks up at the orc one more time before death claims him.
Gashnak moves towards the magician who is ready and waiting. The dark garbed spellcaster hurls a magical blast, striking Gashnak in the chest like a flaming hammer. His leather armor is singed and he is driven backwards, almost knocking him back into the sludge. The orc stays on his feet, just barely.
Seeing this Dril throws his axe at the magician. His weapon whoops through the air and just before it would strike his target, another Zenith just happens to step in the way. The man’s head bursts apart in a gooey spurt of red and gray. "Damn!" Cries out the ill-tempered sprig, catching the axe as it whirls back to him.
Wilford dodges past the dwindling enemies and lunges at the sorcerer. The strike doesn’t connect, the sorcerer diving to one side. He brings up his skull staff and he begins to look afraid, his protection is rapidly getting wiped out.
Gashnak staggers forward, killing another Zenith and then wounds the sorcerer. Lastly Dril gets there and hacks the man nearly in half. Behind them Alex kills the last two Zenith and the fight is now over.
Smiling, Alex flicks the blood from her two blades before sheathing them. "Glad we girls came along this time Gashnak?"
"Yep. Yer a lot prettier than Tova."
Seeing that his armor is charred, Alex moves closer to Gashnak. "Are you okay?" There is concern in her voice.
"Yep. I can make it."
Jinx uses her healing powers on Malik, Wilford and Gashnak. Dril gives one of his healing mushrooms to the injured orc who happily munches it down. Wilford nods appreciatively at Jinx. "Thank you my lady."
She smiles back at him. "Glad to be helpful."
Dril quickly pats the bodies down, rolling them one at a time into the murky sewer sludge. He finds a nice knife on the sorcerer and kicks his skull staff into the gunk. Once everybody is feeling better they head back on their way, Dril once again moving ahead to scout.
They travel onwards, the tunnel sloping up slowly. Dril points out several vents in the walls, ones that seem to have been blocked with fitted stone. It is strange, but they keep on going as stealthfully as they can. The stone changes from bedrock to porous volcanic. Quite some time passes by as they carefully go on their way through the winding tunnels.
At one juncture Dril finds what looks to be some sort of locking mechanism over his head. There is a steel lever in the up position. Naturally curious the group examines it but no one knows what it might do. There is some discussion but eventually Dril decides to yank the lever down.
The sprig hops up and pulls, swings, and kicks with his feet. He doesn’t have the strength to pull it down. Brushing him aside Gashnak yanks it down easily and there is a distant booming sound, followed by a lot of echo. It goes on for a few moments and everyone waits to see what might happen but nothing does.
Moving ahead again the group continues their trek. It seems to go on for hours and hours. All are trying to map the place out in their minds for the eventual return trip back to Draman Del. Eventually they get the scent of fresh air and see some dim, gray light before them.
"I’ll be back," says Dril. He slips forward to take a look at what might be there. Everyone else hunkers down, a bit on the tired side now from all of the fighting and travelling they have done. Each knows that the city is being attacked, and all wonder as to what might be transpiring there and not knowing is the worst of all. That along with the murder of Lord Ashen weighs heavily on their minds.
Dril sneaks back, making not a sound. "There is a big barbarian force ahead in a tunnel that goes to the outside. Over a hundred I reckon, organizing to invade. They also have gunpowder, lots of gunpowder."
"Kind of strange they would have that," says Malik. "They are just a bunch of barbarians."
Wilford shrugs. "Bandegil probably got it to them."
They hold a quick talk to decide on what to do. If they make it to the city with all those explosives the damage they would inflict would be catastrophic. Very likely Draman Del would fall within hours of such an assault. Jinx will run back to the city to tell Captain Frotes what is going on and possibly bring back reinforcements. Gashnak hopes that Alex will go with her but she decides to stay. Everyone else will do their best to slow them down for as long as possible.
Gashnak moves up with Dril to take another look at the force. There are a lot of them there. They spot several dark robed shamans or sorcerers and the kegs of black powder is not being distributed amongst their soldiers. They are preparing to move very soon. One Shaman Priestess seems to be the commander over all. Zinaida is her name. She is a beautiful, sensual zenith woman with a wonderful body and long dark hair falling in plaits over her shoulders. Her otherwise sweet face is rendered sinister by her peering, cruel dark eyes.
They return and tell everyone what is about to go down. Enemy scouts move in behind them and the group is detected. Frantically they try to move quietly on back but the dozen or so scouts run fast on their trail, waving torches about trying to find who is here in this tunnel.
Gashnak gives Malik his bow and his pistol to Wilford. "We need as much range support as possible in this." Malik plucks at the string and seems to like how it feels in his hands very much. Wilford examines the gun. It is a weapon he has always wanted to duel with.
The Zenith approach quickly and the group makes ready to fight them. Malik fires his bow and the arrow buries itself in one’s eye. The man yelps, spins and dies. The fighting has begun! In a very vicious and intense struggle the Zenith scouts are wiped out. Everyone gets bloody in this and the conflict is over fast.
However a lot of noise has been made and their companions soon come yelling and roaring, charging down the tunnels in the hundreds. The Zenith are waving torchesd and weapons, ready to kill and roll in the blood of their enemies. They are more than eager to engage in battle.
Rapidly Dril checks the bodies and finds they too are carrying a few wooden kegs of gunpowder. Quickly he sets up one over to the side, looking up at the ceiling of the cave. He tucks the other one under his arm. The group moves back and Malik dips an arrow into oil and lights it up. They know what they have to do and fast.
The Akrindorians advance, stopping at where their comrades bodies lay all about, hacked, shot, and arrowed. One glances down at the upright keg of gunpowder and stares. There are a lot of them there, all bunched together ready to fight and kill those who did this. The opportunity here is incredibly awesome. Alex puts her hands over her pointed ears in preparation.
Gashnak jumps up and yells at the top of his lungs. "Welcome to Corvel!" He draws their attention and Malik fires his arrow. The flaming missle strikes the keg dead center. For just a second the arrow, burning, can bee seen, impaled in the barrel. The eyes of all those there open into wide circles. It is one of those Kodak moments.
The blast is incredible, a shock wave rolls past them and the ceiling rumbles, collapsing from the pressure. Smoke, dust, bits of debreis all strike the group as they are knocked off their feet from the violence of this explosion. Rocks and boulders tumble down and the whole world shakes and groans.
A moment passes and the trembling subsides, the torches having all gone out. It is now very, very dark. Gashnak draws his hanji-shah sword and it glows very faintly now. Looking everyone over nobody is hurt badly. Some have scratches and bruises but nothing serious. Malik lights up a torch to see better.
Looking back the entire tunnel ahead seems to be collapsed. "I wonder how many got killed there?" Asks Dril with a malicious grin.
"Not enough," answers Wilford.
Moving forward, they investigate. The air is thick with dust and it irritates their eyes badly, forcing nearly everyone to squint. The tunnel is sealed off but a side of it has opened up. The blast has revealed something else. Peering within they see what appears to be another, very large cavern. Sniffing the air Gashnak smells something. "There is water that way, fresh, cold water."
Pushing a few stones aside they move that way into the newly opened area. In the dim light of their torches they see what appears to be an underground lake ahead with a cylindrical tower just barely visible.
"That’s very strange," says Dril.
TO BE CONTINUED . . . .
Chronicled by Ken Paynter aka...Maurice leChevalier
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