This is Death!
The barge was belayed to the Derketo jetty without incident, and the ‘frontal assault, makes lots of noise’ team vaulted onto the massive stone. Cala and Kayan drifted along somewhat behind. The flare of tapers and braziers in the incomers’ dark-vision made the gate hard to study, but all seemed normal. No massive increase in security nor ominous absence of activity. The pre-dawn was busy with a few porters staggering in with heavy loads from their craft. Others were heading back to their craft along the jetty, casting nervous looks at the armed men they were passing. Guards, moderately well armored and armed, checked the loads and permitted ingress.
Bardic took the fore. Strode forward purposefully yet casually, as though entitled. Drew level with the first few guards.
“Oi” quoth a guard, surprised and beginning to block the way.
Bardic snaked out a huge mitt, and wrenched the man’s head around. The guard collapsed, neck broken, and Bardic strode through the gates, drawing his great-sword. Keth was swigging a potion already.
“I am Bardic and this is death! Death! Death!” he bellowed, and began moving through the now-alarmed guards, chopping them down mercilessly.
Once through the gates, Cala and Kayan ghosted away right, heading for the side compound that could only be reached from inside the main temple compound. But that is another story.
A battle of attrition: the fight through the temple
So, we now move to mook fighting. Each round is a minute, and given the exigencies of fighting, a ‘win’ would advance the group 100’ along a grid map of the temple. A ‘loss’ would force them to stop or move half that distance forward or back, depending on severity. If the heavies had worn light armor, the rate of travel would have been a lot more, but on the other hand the damage taken would have been higher.
In mook fights, damage is usually sustained on both sides. It’s a race to inflict at least half the enemy mook HP in damage, before your own resources (and characters) are exhausted (or dead).
Bardic has chosen to go with reputation, adding fear to his already good BAB (20) plus Leadership bonus (4). In Stygia, however, his rep barely registers so he’s added 1, for a total of +25. It will mean that Derketo and perhaps the wider Stygian hierarchy remember him for future vengeance.
Naturally the lads can all help, provided they can hit DC10 on BAB. So they need a 2 or better. I’m ruling Keth’s mentors are passively supporting him with the greater magic circle against evil effect, plus holy smite if something fiendish hits that circle, plus helping him Turn undead, but no other proactive help. In each round save one, all three support characters helped.
The defense is directed by an evil witch (not a priestess per se) who has a major demon pact and some pretty adequate subordinates. With the arcane help she’s getting, she rolls +23. So close-order guards are efficiently directed to choke points and archers (probably half the guards) are directed to angles from where they can shower arrows.
Round 1: (PCs win) Keth lumbers behind Bardic, tripping the guards and making them easy prey for Celo and Morath. Any guards that work around behind are bamboozled by Celo then stabbed. Morath bounds back and forth, working off Bardic’s great shearing strokes. Surprise is near-complete and Bardic and Morath take a pin-prick of hurt (1) while Celo and Keth are unscathed.
Round 2: (PCs win) Having pushed through to a wide court, options seem limited. Bardic gestures half-right to a tall, broad arch in the far wall. This run is going to hurt if the guards are smart enough to pull back and let archers sheet their arrows home. But they don’t, at least at this stage. The group fights its way to the arch. Bardic and Morath each take 13 damage, Celo 8 and Keth 5.
Round 3: (PCs lose) It’s a real choke-point and nearly makes Bardic lose heart! Guards blocking the tunnel and archers slamming shots home. They can’t move and slug it out for what seems like an eternity. Morath is worst off as he lacks the feats to avoid damage in close-quarters and lacks the armor and HP to soak it up. Bardic and Morath each take 20 damage, Celo 13 and Keth 7. Morath quaffs his first healing dose and gets a rather inadequate 8 back.
Round 4: (PCs win) Flesh and bone can only stand so much and the gore-drenched attackers wade over bodies to the end of the tunnel to gaze out over a long, broad courtyard. Bardic knows that the building to the left has access to the roof, but the difficulty of dragging Keth up persuades him to look for proper stairwells. There’s an ornate and menacing arch on the left wall of the courtyard, leading into the main buildings, so that’s where they head. Sounds of chanting can be heard from the general direction of the pyramid. Bardic and Morath take 10 damage and Celo takes 7, Keth 4. Morath quaffs his second healing dose and gets the 10 back.
Round 5: (PCs win) Hah ha, it’s a huge evil temple, excellent. Carefully avoiding the obvious evil sigils on the floor, they fight off the last few guards behind them, and search. Onwards seems to be the best option as it leads to a fine balustrade stairwell leading upward to the next floor. Bardic and Morath take 9 damage, Celo 6, Keth 3. Morath slugs back his Endurance potion, 2 Con, it adds 10 HP (L1 to L10) as well as a better Fort save.
Round 6: (PCs win) Idly debating how many guards they have slain already, they hack their way past archers up the stairwell. The chanting can now be heard again, over the noise of the dying. Archers seem to be re-positioning. Pooh! The stairwell leads only to administrative quarters around the upper floor of the same vaulted temple. Finding the roof access takes some time. But wait! Isn’t that scratching claws on the roof above? We need to head back to the ground floor! Bardic and Morath take 8 damage, Celo 5, Keth 3. Celo takes a healing potion, Bardic takes one then tosses his other to Morath, who gladly drinks.
Round 7: (PCs win) So it’s down the circular stairwell instead of heading up. The stair does continue down, but probing the cellars does not seem appealing. The ground floor is gained: two exits, one open. Not that way! Instead let’s try the door towards the pyramid! The open exit does lead to more guards. Bardic and Morath take 7 damage, Celo 5 and Keth 3.
Round 8: (PCs win) Nothing stops our mighty Bull’s Strength imbibing heroes! Keth and Bardic bash the barred door in. It allows access to a pillared, smaller courtyard. The last of the guards is also hacked down and all remaining guards and archers are prudently withdrawing. Bardic and Morath take 6 damage, Celo 4 and Keth 2.
End of the mook fight.
Demonic foes swoop
The next move, via an arched hall, was along a narrower courtyard.
“Keth, I wish you could move just a little faster,” Bardic grumbled as he studied the opposite arch.
“If it’s vital, I can remove my outer layer of armor,” Keth offered, “but really, you’re only slightly faster than I.”
“Right, well, you murderers sprint across and cover us. We’ll follow and fight off the flying things.”
Celo and Morath did so, and an angry screech from above followed them. But in the meantime, a rolling evil yellowish mist also engulfed Bardic and Keth! They struggled through as best they could, skin burning. Then as they jogged forward, two winged demon-like creatures swooped at them.
Bardic judged his moment and leaped to meet one, nearly bisecting it with his massive sword. Keth smacked it crisply, finishing it. The other finished its swoop, but as it entered the zone around Keth, its skin began searing off! Keth and Bardic hammered into it, and that one dissolved as well.
The dead rise (then run away)
Meanwhile Morath and Celo were in cover at the opposite arch. Morath picked up shadowy movement on the stone coping above to the right, at the limit of his dark-sight. He had a chilling flashback to the vault under Shadizar:
Having been spotted, the vampire lord reared up and a wave of skeletal warriors, clutching decayed spears and age-pitted scimitars, scraped over the coping and dropped down to the courtyard.
“Well Keth, this is what you are waiting for!”
Indeed not merely Keth but his two Lions as well! A sheet of white light raced over the bony warriors and they collapsed into dust. The vampire was gone – presumably fled!
The struggle across the courtyard was not over. Now clear of the choking mist, Bardic and Keth rallied to the rogues’ shelter, only to receive a report that it led away back to the entrance if anywhere!
Bardic groaned and cursed and chose an exit back off the courtyard left of where they were. As they raced out of the arch, a vast swarm of cat-sized scarabs closed around them!
Bardic and Keth were in their element as they smashed vast numbers of bugs, while Celo yelped in pain from a poisoned bite and Morath dodged and cut. Celo used his antidote, but found that the painful bite made him move slower.
Children are found
Kicking the intended door in with some difficulty, they moved across a lofty vaulted hall, kicked another door open, and emerged onto a large pillared courtyard. And here they found their first children to rescue as they hacked down the priestesses that were hurrying them off stage left.
Keth found the four children spoke Shemitish and reassured them as much as he could. The oldest was around seven. Bardic ground his teeth and promised even more revenge. But before he could ‘kill them a second time’ he needed to find them. The most promising exit seemed to be heavy double doors.
Since the arch was wide enough, Bardic Keth and Morath all put their shoulder to the doors and they burst open. Beyond, across a fairly narrow vault, was another set of heavy double doors. And after that, another set, opposite across an open vault.
Wary eye to the sky, which now showed a pre-dawn hue, they hurried to it. Two monsters materialized behind them, but were swiftly dealt with. They smashed the far door open as well. And there across another vault was a much heavier pair of doors.
“This is one we’ll have to ease open,” Bardic declared. “Celo?”
Celo tested the doors and first removed a trap trigger, then eased the heavy, time-worn chambers inside the huge lock around and pushed them cautiously open.
“Finally!” Celo exclaimed, peering out from the arch. “And look! It’s open right out to the walls. That must be the stand-alone tomb-temple Cala thought might just have the loot in it, but more importantly if we climb the wall out there we can easily work back round to the pyramid.”
“Sounds good. Though we’re bound to have some trouble in open ground like that. This is what I’ll do. I’m going to let the breastplate go. You rogues and me’ll sprint for the wall and cut down archers, Keth’ll shelter the children and follow up.”
“A good plan my friend! And see – your fine Kothic breastplate will act as a shield from stray arrows!”
From the half-crouch the barbarian and the two rogues sprinted forward, Bardic speeding away, Morath perhaps a trifle faster than Celo but all moving so fast in the limited light thrown by wall bale-fires that archers missed them completely. As they ran up the steps, the archers hastily cleared back, allowing Keth an easy job with the children.
The pyramid lies beyond!
From their new vantage Bardic studied the precincts. They were one-quarter of the wall’s circumference away from the pyramid. The corner bastion seemed to offer some shelter so that was their next stop.
“I’m thinking the children can wait here while we take on the child-sacrificing monsters that run this joint. Keth, back us up if you can,” Bardic announced.
“My help might be better spent warding you as best I can,” Keth replied. As they rested briefly and checked weapons – Morath and Celo both had poison daggers ready to throw at mages – the friar cast blessings on Bardic and Celo.
The dawn’s light was growing stronger as the three set off at Celo’s pace, Keth some distance behind them. Ahead, it looked as though the final barrier to gaining the pyramid would be an easy jump up to a narrow, long wing of the temple that their length of wall terminated at. But as they neared it, the wing shook and crumbled and a huge slab of shifting rock, with vaguely human features, rose out of the rubble!
Bravely, Keth pushed forward to test the thing’s defences. He smote it mightily with his quarterstaff, though its rocky nature soaked up much of the impact. Then two room-size fists smashed down, one narrowly missing Keth and one sending him bowling backward!
Bardic had worked out his best measure, though. He had met one of these “earth elementals” before and had nearly died. He ran forward, raging, leaped high and smashed his sword through both its limbs. At the same time Celo distracted it by striking at its impermeable hide with his short-sword. The great-sword, forged by Kothian master-smiths, held true and the elemental crumbled.
“Now it’s an easy jump down, then we need to jump up from the rubble across to the pyramid,” Bardic pointed out.
“Hurry! She’s chanting some more!” Morath urged.
The witches fall
Indeed the senior witch, floating well above the pyramid’s top, was summoning again. Her junior witches were doing the same, though now they had run out of sacrifices. Their voices screeched hollowly, promising many lives to their demons.
The leap down was indeed easy. Bardic and Morath managed to keep their momentum, running up the rubble and launching themselves across the intervening gap as high up the pyramid as they could. Celo managed more of a short leap but in any case, planned to take one of the closer targets. He flung both his daggers at the lower witch menacing Bardic, killing her outright.
Bardic was immediately faced with a swooping, black-pinioned demon. He split it asunder, rage burning in his breast. Another vaster demon appeared opposite Morath, shadows seeming to cloak its vulture-like form against the growing light, but backed off behind the remaining lesser witch. That was room enough for Morath: he flung one dagger up at the floating witch, and the other at the lesser witch. Both penetrated whatever protections they had prepared and threw their targets into convulsions as the poison took hold!
Uttering a croak of dissatisfaction or contempt, the vulture-like demon seized its summoner and disappeared back to hell.
“Done!” Bardic triumphed, wiping blood off his face and using a dead witch’s robe to clean his blade. “Well lads the compound is as safe as we can make it. I think we’re even close to the time Cala wanted. Let’s head back, make sure the children are safe: then we’ll take a look at the lone tomb building.”