The Master falls
Edric, coming back to earth, abandoned his search and hastened out into the tunnel. Even as he did so, he mentally kicked himself: he could just as easily have stayed in the doorway. He summed up the situation at a glance and called Hod to ready a shot against the foe. But too late!
One of Master Martin’s massive hands extended, and he uttered a string of syllables. Edric alone understood them: enchantments were being stripped from his fellows. Hod readied his bow. Realizing he had missed his chance on the main target, he waited for a shot against any of Martin’s backup Friars. They were well-screened by the mighty, twelve-foot-tall form of the Master.
Morath listened as the heavy footfalls approached and passed. Lighter ones could be heard as well. So, another giant, and some backup, he thought. Have to time our appearance carefully. Then he noticed an enemy hand moving in a sowing motion along the threshold, and gray powder had sifted down into a line. He motioned to Celo, drawing his attention to the substance.
Martin stepped right up, looming over Bardic and Gollarn, and cut down at them with his massive Berdiche axe. They held their ground, though fresh blood ran from the wounds the axe had opened in their shoulders and most of the remaining shoulder-guard from Gollarn’s scale hauberk had disintegrated.
Buoyed – and relieved – to find themselves still on their feet, the two Cimmerians replied! Gollarn hammered up at the plate-armored cleric, but failed to cut through. Beside him, Bardic did manage to penetrate the plate-armored defenses. From behind Martin, one of his backup cried out in pain: he was soul-linked to his superior, and would share any damage Martin took. The two then fell back, to where Keth and Edric could pour some healing into them!
Morath began a vault over the gray powder, but as his shoulder passed it, flames erupted! He dropped back into the room, dazed. For the moment, he and Celo were helpless to intervene!
Behind Edric and Keth, Hod took a shot, but found he was wasting arrows. He checked to his left: the fighting on the stair seemed under control: then he noticed Forgrim pulling back. “Trouble below!” he called. He tugged out the flask of healing potion he had been given, and readied it.
Martin struck again. Twice his great blade merely glanced off Bardic’s armor. A third stroke thundered into Gollarn’s flank, rending his targe. Feeding his fury with raw rage, Gollarn threw off the near-useless shield, took a two-hand grip on his broadsword, and screamed his defiance!
Edric had been conserving one crucial spell. He cast it: a Dispel, directly on Martin! Suddenly, they were now facing a very human-sized form, and no longer did the Berdiche blade glow with power!
Gollarn and Bardic returned to the attack! But underestimating the Master’s normal defence, they made little impression on him. Keth stepped closer. Now without any spells left, he was ready to strike at Martin’s axe, or attempt to trip him.
Morath and Celo vaulted over the dying flame, bracketing the nearest healing brother. Instantly, they put their mark down. Panicking, the other healing brothers struck out at them: but ineffectually. Morath was now behind Martin!
Hod passed the healing draft to Forgrim as the strange mute warrior reeled back, blood spurting from riven helm. Below, Damsons flanked Kayan, cutting at him and while not getting through his defense, still forcing the Asuran back too. They pressed fiercely: the combat was now on a knife-edge! Hod tossed his bow to the safety of the scrying-chamber where Forgrim was now stanching his wound, and with a roar, swept his battleaxe up and into the fight. Kayan stepped back again, allowing the Damsons to spill up into ideal killing-ground at the stair-head. His twin Zingaran blades weaved a deadly dance.
Keth swept his Quaterstaff low past Bardic: Martin’s feet were taken out from under him! Instantly Bardic and Gollarn smote the evil Master, wounding him grievously: Keth smashed the head from his Berdiche. As Martin struggled to rise, Bardic struck again: the great blade sundered the gorget, and the master’s head leapt from his shoulders in a great gout of blood! Meanwhile Celo and Morath had finished the two remaining Friars off in short order.
Morath and Edric stooped to gather Martin’s head and axe, arranging a gory display. Bardic raced to charge the Damsons at the stair-head and Gollarn, still raging, followed. Forgrim, no longer bleeding profusely, joined them.
As they cut into the heavily-armored Damsons Edric, raising Martin’s head as a standard, bellowed:
“See and know fear, ye heretics! This is your leader – dead by my hand!”
The Damsons’ hearts quailed: their blows seemed to lack conviction. With five fighting men able to concentrate on no more than two Damsons at any one time, the battle was brief and decisive. Only two remaining Damsons stumbled down and over the wreckage and bodies at the foot of the stairs!
Bardic, following up, paused in some amazement at the scene:
The foot of the stairs was near-blocked by the wreckage of the door, and the bodies of two healing brothers and at least two armored fighting brothers. The antechamber beyond, still unlit, was the scene of wild chaos. The bodies left fallen from the early fighting still sprawled. A couple of dead horses could be glimpsed lying by the great pedestal whereon stood the statue of Mitra. A crowd of Damsons, all heavily armored and waving their Berdiche axes, seemed to be moving almost at random both towards and away from the main entrance. They had perhaps become alarmed at the sudden retreat of their tough brethren. But something else also appeared to be fixing their attention: something beyond, in the brazier-lit entrance chamber.
The nimbler of the pursuers jounced down the stairs, slipping through blood and stumbling over bodies, then vaulting the near-blocked doorway to spring to the attack! Bardic and Kayan were soon in action, Hod and Keth not far behind them. The tough Damsons that had retreated urged their brethren back south, through the open double-doors. Some others recoiled north.
In ones and twos Edric’s desparadoes joined the melee. Forgrim climbed slowly down the stairs: he was not built for quick movement! Edric threw his awful burden down into the antechamber and clambered in. Celo and Morath arrived near last, danced past the Damsons, and began positioning themselves ready for back-stabbing and flanking. Gollarn sat resting atop the stairs: he was exhausted.
The Damsons, urged by their tougher brethren, ordered their retreat. Most fell back south, to where the double-doors could be closed and barred. Three blocked retreat north – as though Edric intended to retreat! – and half a dozen readied themselves for a last stand blocking the southern exit.
Edric and Bardic directed their main attack south. It took minutes of tough fighting, but at last, all those unable to retreat through the double-doors and bar them were slain. Then as Gollarn at last regained his wind, the northern trio were joined by five more from the entrance.
To everyone’s surprise, it was the Friars that took the initiative, rushing at the Damsons’ fighting line and using the reach of their Quarterstaffs to begin the attack. as the others joined the battle, the issue was soon settled: all Damsons fell, to add their life-blood to the thickening gore running across the antechamber.
Mitra’s blank stare considered the victors as they rested their arms. It looked very much as though victory was about to be theirs! But how fast should they pursue the defeated?