Return to the Necropolis: Chapter 22 (Day 7)

Michael O. Varhola

Read "Return to the Necropolis: Chapter 21"

Even before they reached the end of the corridor leading into the great workshop near the front of the complex, Parthenia could look through the room and see large, dark figures coming through the outer entrance. Paros started to say something to her but, recognizing their foes as hated Orcs before he could, the barbaric Elf, speeded her pace, dropped her morning star, and let the shield slide off her arm and land on the floor. Then, swiftly drawing the greatsword from her back with a whisking sound, she snarled in rage and bolted straight toward the lead newcomer. The partially-covered pit was between the savage woman and her target but she single-mindedly ran straight toward it and, rather than try to maneuver around the obstacle, leapt over the void when she reached its edge. The Elf's heavily-armored opponent was equally aggressive and, with a howl of rage, he began clanking across the room to meet her. 

Her heavy bronze hoplite armor notwithstanding, powerful and lithe Parthenia easily cleared the ten-foot-wide pit. She had not expected the Orc to be as intent on engaging her as she was to attack it or that it would close with her as quickly as it did, however, and even as she slashed with her keen blade the two of them smashed into each other, her weapon flailing past and failing to connect with him. The hulking Orc took the brunt of Parthenia's charge on his heavy iron shield, slamming into her with it even before her feet completely touched down on its side of the pit. They never did and, as the massive Orc continued to drive forward, he knocked the airborne Elf straight back the way she had come. Parthenia was propelled backward and came crashing right down onto the rickety boards covering the pit, which, as she tried to react, began to creak and crack under her weight. 

Selene had paused in the passageway and cast a spell, scattering a handful of powdered silver around her as she did. Paros stepped into the room, alertly casting about for something in one of the niches in the wall to his left side and spotted what he was looking for just as he heard the twang of a bowstring. The nimble rogue stepped to one side as an arrow whistled past the spot where he had been standing, its head ricocheting off the wall behind him with a metallic whine. He then counterattacked, hurling a vial at the cloaked figure hiding within the alcove. Kidna had seen the Orcish cutthroat sneak into the room ahead of its companions but had not herself been spotted, she had warned Pumayo, and he had immediately passed on this intelligence to Paros while they were rushing up the passageway to confront the evil humanoids. The delicate vial hit the lurking Orc directly and, as the alchemical fluid in it splashed across him it erupted into flames, eliciting screams of pain and terror.

"Stay close to me!" Selene called to the rest of the party members as she moved toward the near side of the pit with an eye to helping her prostrate sister-in-arms. "I have cast a spell that will protect anyone within six cubits of me." The hazardous situation around them notwithstanding, Pumayo smiled as he converted the archaic measurement provided by the odd priestess and then called out "Ten feet!" for the benefit of anyone who might not have comprehended her meaning.

As Selene approached the pit over which Parthenia lay, Pumayo sticking close behind her, she knelt, dropping her own weapon and reaching to grasp one of the Elf's shoulder straps — but, as her hand closed on it, the boards beneath the Elf splintered and she plummeted into the cavity. The hulking Orc, meanwhile, had turned his attention from her and was moving around the pit toward Paros and the others.

Pumayo uttered a demi-syllable, nothing even approaching a word and devoid of any gestures, but its arcane power was such that, as she disappeared into the darkness, Parthenia's descent was arrested, much as Paros's fall into the sinkhole had been slowed by the ring he had found in the Anemoi tomb. Parthenia had to drop her sword, and it fell amidst the Dwarven zombies below that would have attacked her after she smashed into the floor of the pit, but she was able to stretch out her arms to grasp the edge of the hole near where her friends stood.

Paros got a good look at the monstrous Orc as it came plowing around the pit toward him. It was almost an ideal of its type, standing some six-and-a-half feet tall and covered in iron plate, its flat, ugly, gray-skinned face exposed in the opening of a heavy helmet cast crudely in the form of a wolf's head. The image of a wolf was, in fact, emblazoned upon the monster's wide shield, and in its weapon hand it wielded a talwar so broad and heavy that Paros would have only been able to swing it with both hands. The rogue had pulled another vial of alchemist's fire from his pouch and wanted to throw it at his nemesis in the corner to finish him off but hesitated as the mass of muscle and metal closed in on him, raising the huge chopping blade that it carried.

Pumayo spoke again, a short phrase of rhyming inhuman words accompanied by some waves of his hand and, as he did, Parthenia's discarded hoplite shield leapt from the floor and shot over to intercede itself between Paros and the massive Orc warrior. Bobbing in the air just as if an invisible arm were controlling it, the bronze device swung up to catch the Orc's oncoming blade, which, instead of cleaving into the rogue, banged into the protective device and was deflected by it. Paros hurled the vial at the Orc footpad, who was struggling to extinguish the flames leaping across his clothes and armor, and the glass receptacle exploded on the floor, spattering its contents onto the Orc. It screamed in pain and frustration and began rolling on the floor, pulling its cloak over its head to protect it from the redoubled flames.

The three Orcs who had entered the room were all doing things that involved various sorts of words and gestures, one beginning a rhythmic, chanting song in its native tongue accompanied by a primitive dance of sorts. One of the others appeared to be a female, who had turned her attention to the burning rogue, and all at once a mass of water appeared just above him and then deluged him, helping him with the job of extinguishing the flames.

The other spellcaster, a robed male, seemed intent on the party, who were all now clustered together around Selene on the far side of the pit — and suddenly a monstrous hound, black-and-orange-furred and straight from the pits of Tartarus if the waft of sulfurous smoke that accompanied it were any evidence, appeared in a flanking position, directly on the other side of the party from the armored warrior. It opened its misshapen maw and, as it did, a blast of fire erupted from it, directly at Parthenia, who had just crawled out of the pit and was on her hands and knees almost face-to-face with the beast. The wild Elven woman screamed in spite of herself as the gout of fire burst at her — and then flared out in every direction, as if it had struck an impenetrable sheet of glass.

"Stay close!" Selene barked at the Elf as she staggered to her feet. "My spell will protect us against summoned monstrosities like this. It cannot come within ten feet of me," she said, using the more familiar measurement she had heard Pumayo emphasize.

Feeling protected by the animate shield, Paros raised his loaded crossbow and drew a bead on his now-extinguished counterpart in the Orcish party. The pig-faced bandit had retrieved his own bow, however, and loosed the arrow it had nocked at Paros; the floating shield was intervening against the huge warrior's attack and, as the enemy rogue was attacking from a different angle, could not also lend protection against him. Paros felt his breath knocked out of him followed quickly by a sickening pain as the Orc's arrow embedded itself deep in his thigh. He squeezed the trigger on his own weapon and the bolt leapt across the room, striking the Orc in the shoulder, causing him to stagger and the drop to the floor; groaning, the wounded footpad began to crawl away, toward the door to the outside.

Paros turned and, the Orc hulk bearing down on him, ran to get behind the armored priestess, knowing he could do more with thrown and projected missiles than he could in hand-to hand combat. As he did, however, he felt the warrior's great curved sword hack into his back, and screamed as he was knocked to the floor from the impact, struggled himself to crawl away from the monster, which moved in to finish the job; Parthenia's animated shield worked as well as if wielded by a person but, in fact, no better than if it had been, and the behemoth had been able to get past it.

Scroll in hand, Pumayo stepped forward, uttering the words of a third incantation from the sheet of parchment and, as he completed the evocation, a wreath of crackling electricity appeared around his hand. He then reached forward and touched the breastplate of the armor-sheathed Orc. There was an explosive burst of lightning from the wizard's hand to the warrior's chest and, in spite of himself the Orc stumbled backward and the crashed onto the floor, smoke drifting out of from around the edges of his breastplate. He had not by any means been mortally wounded, but had been debilitated long enough to allow the lightly-armored rogue and wizard to scramble back to safety behind the priestess, the bronze shield bobbing along behind them.

The robed Orc with the trio by the door counterattacked, magically launching a pair of luminescent arrows from his hand at Pumayo. As usual, the glowing bolts of force shot unerringly at their target — and, as with when the Dwarven mage had done the same thing, were drawn harmlessly into his brooch of shielding, prompting the Tyrean to once again chuckle in spite of the harrowing events in which he was engaged. Why did wizards almost invariably attempt to eliminate their enemy counterparts with magic missiles? When it worked, of course, this tactic could be very effective, but Pumayo had learned it early on and had never undertaken a more worthwhile project than the creation of this invaluable accessory; it was chipped and pitted and would eventually crumble from the damage it absorbed and, when it did, the wizard would not delay in creating a new one.

Injured and in pain, but not incapacitated, Paros readied more alchemical missiles during this interaction between the opposing wizards and, while doing so, managed to get a look at the three Orcs by the door. The female who had extinguished the burning rogue had stepped over to help him and was even now laying hands upon him, and Paros could see that she was armed with a heavy sickle and protected by a suit of half-plate armor and a shield bearing the modified cross that was the symbol of Kronos, king of the Titans. The male who had summoned the hell hound and tried to eliminate Pumayo with his magic missiles was on the oldish side, with a scraggly black-gray beard and a face creased by age and the elements; he clutched a wicked-looking iron dagger in his hand and a sinister looking rat with an unnaturally human-looking face scampered around his feet. The third Orc, a gaudily clad male with a chain shirt showing beneath his clothes, dramatically twirled a fine looking longsword as part of the quasi-magical bardic ritual he was performing to bolster his companions' resolve; he looked vaguely familiar with his array of gleaming jewelry and snaggley, gold-capped teeth, and to Paros he looked almost like ...

"Hate Rockma!" Paros cried. It was him, the Half-Orc minstrel from the Four Winds Bar who had appeared to display so much interest in his tales! His true motives were now abundantly clear, and Paros cursed the gullibility and vanity that had clearly induced him to reveal while in his cups details that had led the evil bard and his predatory companions to this place. It looked, in fact, as if they had been using it as a base of operations for their depredations against the Dwarves and the gods knew what other mischief. Paros hurled the object in his hand, a gray, artificial-looking stone, and it sailed across the pit and intervening space of the room to land squarely between the Orcish bard and his wizard compatriot.

There was a deafening "Bang!" as the thunderstone hit the floor and exploded, causing the three Orcs nearest to it to recoil. Pumayo took one of the stones from Paros and hurled it as well, and it hit five feet behind the first and went off with a thunderous explosion, further staggering the humanoid spellcasters. Hate Rockma had ceased his singing and was looking disoriented, and the other two appeared to have had incantations in progress disrupted. From the bewildered looks on their faces, it was apparent that they had all been deafened.

When the thunderstones exploded, they distracted the heavily-armored Orc bruiser and, just momentarily, he glanced over his shoulder in the direction of his companions. Parthenia had been moving around behind Paros and Pumayo while all this had been happening, resisting the urge to waste her time attacking the hell hound and instead going to block the Orc warrior before it could reach Selene. She pounced, greatsword upraised, as her opponent looked away, and brought the blade slicing in at his mail-covered neck, confident that she could cut through it and decapitate him. He turned his huge, ugly head back toward her just then and, showing his prowess as a seasoned combatant, ducked. It was too little too late, however, and, while Parthenia's powerful blow missed his neck, it hit him on the side of his head, hacking through the iron plate and connecting with the skull beneath. The hulking Orc staggered backward, blood gushing out through the gash in his helmet and down the side his neck onto his shoulder, and crashed onto the floor.

The badly burned Orc rogue had already stumbled through the door to the outside and now, their frontline fighter lying dead or gravely wounded on the floor, the deafened spellcasters staggered out too, banging into each other in their attempt to escape. The sorcerer barked some ugly, garbled words that were by no means structured like a spell and would not have worked if they had been and, when he did, the diabolical hound retreated from where it had been trying break through Selene's magical barrier and instead leapt toward the door to guard the retreat of its master. Parthenia charged the beast and her companions fumbled to ready their missile weapons but, as they did, the Orcs pulled the door shut behind them.

Flame erupted from the hell hound's yellow-toothed maw as the barbaric Elf closed in on it and the gout of sulfurous fire caught her full-force, scorching her armor and searing her exposed flesh. She staggered as the flames engulfed her and then swung wide with her greatsword, grazing the beast's black-orange spiky hair but not connecting with its flesh. It lunged forward then, sinking its filthy teeth into her thigh, below where her armored skirt had ridden up; its mouth was burning hot, and she screamed as the searing fangs bit deep into her flesh. She hacked away at it in a rage, her keen blade slicing through its thick hide, eliciting howls of pain from the beast, and then Selene moved up and swung her spiked mace it, smacking it hard on the head. The summoned monster exploded into a cloud of sulfurous smoke and then dissipated, leaving the women choking and their eyes watering from its stench. 

Read "Return to the Necropolis: Chapter 23"