By: OldGoat | : 1026 : 3
It all started with a letter. Terri had gone to the mailbox and brought back the catscratch scribbled letter from Rytlock Brimstone.
“My Friend Maggatha,” it began. “I hope this finds you in good spirits. I am hoping you can find the time to help me. I am desperate to find Eir, the Norn you met at the moot in Hoelbrak last wintersday. I was told she had descended into the Catacombs of Ascalon, searching for King Adelbern’s sword. She believes it is powerful enough to use against Zhaitan. I have been studying the history of the war between Ascalon and my people. Adelbern is being held in the catacombs by the Foefire. The same Foefire is what powers the sword the king keeps his ghosts enslaved with.”
“My fear stems from a single passage in the historical texts from the era.”
“Let the sword be held by the King himself, so that he alone enslaves them all.”
“Maggie, I need you. You have met and befriended Eir, I believe you may be the only one to convince her to give up her quest. Eir’s family has offered a generous reward of a gold coin for anyone who can help us bring Eir back safely. My greatest fear is that she will stir up the king and reignite the war between the Ascalonians and my people. This is the worst possible time for us to be fighting on two fronts. The dragons need our attention.”
“We are meeting at the catacombs at two hours past midday. I hope to see you there.”
Maggie showed the letter to Terri. Terri read it and said quickly, “I’ll go get my kit ready.”
Maggie put her arms around her partner and replied, “The catacombs are dangerous. I don’t want to take a chance on you getting hurt.”
“You know I’m tougher than you think. They’re ghosts, I have fire. And you’re there to keep them from getting too close,” Terri assured her.
Maggie’s tough exterior began to crack. Her eyes bright with the beginnings of tears, she whispered, “What if I can’t protect you?”
“We can do this together. Besides, we’re broke. And your share of the the gold won’t pay the rent. Hendrick’s been pestering me all week. Besides, there’s no way I’m letting you and your hot temper run around in ghostville without me. You need me. End of discussion. Now go sharpen your axes.”
They got to the Catacombs a few minutes early and Rytlock was nowhere to be seen. They were in the tourist section, which was protected by the Iron Legion and Durmond Priory and full of magic artifacts used to keep the ghosts away. The ghosts were rumored to be the souls of those who fell defending Ascalon from the Charr.
As they waited, Maggie noticed a small group of strangers coming in the gateway. They were walking towards her with a purpose. Involuntarily, her hands sought the axes at her belt. Terri touched her shoulder and said, “It’s okay sweetie, I recognize the Asuran. His name is Mellen. He’s a necromancer and we did some work together a few months ago.”
“He doesn’t look like he’d be much help in a fight,” was Maggie’s reply.
As the group reached them, Maggie watched them closely. Alongside Mellen, there was a larger than life Norn, and a disheveled Charr. As they drew close, she noticed the Charr smelled vaguely of alcohol and vomit. Her nose wrinkled as he walked by.
The Asuran came right to her, stuck out his hand and said, “My name is Mellen, what’s your name, bookah?”
Maggie wrinkled her brow and squeezed his hand a bit more firmly than friendly, “Maggatha Watson, and this is my partner Terri.”
He winced, “I remember Terri, she and I worked together a few months ago when that crazy bunch of pirates started harassing people.”
The Norn spoke then, his voice actually bigger than himself, “Hi there, my name is Bones, but my friends call me Doc.”
Not to be outdone, the Charr growled out, “Hello, my name is Harry” and promptly laid down on the floor and began snoring softly.
Rytlock walked in at that moment. Shaking his head, he found a pail of water and dumped it on the Charr. This had the desired effect and as Harry stood up, a kitten fell out of his backpack, sputtering and hissing. Rytlock grabbed the kitten and with his tongue dried him off. Releasing the kitten, watching it run back to harry, Rytlock shouted to them all, “Gather round”
Rytlock had everyone’s attention now, and he told them what he knew, “Eir has gone looking for King Adelbern’s sword. We believe she is planning on giving it to a member of Destiny’s Edge to fight Zhaitan. The Priory and the Iron Legion also have reason to believe that her path through the catacombs might anger the king and rekindle the Ascalonian War between the ghosts and the Charr. This could prove disastrous to us all in our fight to end the reign of the dragons. We need you to find Eir and if possible get the sword from the king. The plan is simple, find Eir, gathering information along the way.”
Once he finished speaking, he led the way and they began their descent. Immediately, trouble started. The first level below ground was a room filled with caskets. Each of them heard a ghostly whispering in the air from something that they couldn’t see. A couple of gravelings had made a nest there and should not have been difficult to get rid of. Black with hard slick skin, they should have been easy to kill. However, some greedy member of their party had opened a casket, then another, and another while searching for loot. Soon they were fighting half a dozen ghosts along with the gravelings. This spread them out very thin in the battle, and the gravelings took advantage and pressed their growling attack.
Terri, the Elementalist, came to the rescue and brought a rain of fire down upon the ghosts and gravelings. Then she dropped a healing rain of water on her fellow party members. Doc also got into the act by doing spot heals of anyone who he saw bleeding. Maggie waded into the middle of the fighting and began chopping and cleaving left and right. Rytlock joined her and together they wore down their opponents.
The sound of the battle was a cacophony of clanks, bangs, and screams of agony. Out of the corner of her eye, Maggie could see Harry firing arrow after arrow into the fray, miraculously hitting only ghosts and gravelings. At her feet she saw what could only have been Harry’s pet kitten, surprisingly powerful with a loud roaring cry, slashing and biting anything that she could reach. The Necro was controlling his minions, all the while mumbling spell after spell to drain the life from their enemies. And suddenly, it was finished, and the room became quiet.
Mellen began the task of setting the ghosts free of the king’s control and they watched their spirits drift away into nothingness. Harry was in the corner vomiting up his morning’s meal. Maggie guessed he was hung over. The kitten was brushing against her leg and mewing quietly as if to say, “Did I do good?”
Maggie reached down stroking the sleek, soft fur, and said, “Yes little one, you did good.”
“His name’s Precious,” stated Harry as he wiped his snout with his sleeve. “He was a present from my mother.”
“Hey, look what I found,” shouted Doc, as he held up a large brown coat with metal rings covering the outside. “This is a nice coat. I wonder if it’s enchanted.”
Terri felt the lining, closed her eyes and said, “Yes, it’s enchanted. It’s got a fire spell. I don’t know if that means you’ll burn up if you wear it, or if you’ll have the power of fire to use.”
Before she could complete her warning, Doc put on the jacket and said, “I don’t feel a thing.”
Mellen joined the conversation, saying, “Use your hammer on that door, we need to get through”
Doc drew his hammer and suddenly it burst into flame. He nearly dropped it in surprise but realized he felt no heat on his hands. Walking to the door he began to pound on the wood. Soon the heavy wooden door burst into flame. The sudden heat pushed them back from the door. As it burned away, the party was hopeful that it would allow them through. But soon it became evident that beneath the wood was cold, hard, steel.
Rytlock walked over to the door and examined it closely. “There’s an inscription here that says one of these caskets holds a key.”
The group spread out and looked in and around each of the open caskets only to come up empty handed. There were a handful of unopened caskets, and Harry began opening one of them, when Maggie shouted, “Wait! Don’t open a whole bunch of them. Just one at a time, okay?”
“Sure thing little one,” said Doc, his huge imposing frame towering over her.
“Back off Norn, or I’ll cut out your tongue and feed it to Precious.”
At that moment, Harry opened the casket and another ghost appeared. The group jumped immediately into action, and soon dispatched this ghost. One by one they opened each casket, killing the ghost that appeared, until suddenly, the sound of metal hitting the stone floor grabbed everyone’s attention. They all dived at the same time for the key. All except for Mellen, who just stood there laughing at the pile of adventurers. “Asurans are never this disorganized. This is why you will never defeat the dragons without us.”
Maggie’s temper began to rise again, until Terri gently stroked her cheek and said, “It’s okay sweetie, everyone knows he’s a jerk. But everyone also knows, he’s really good at his job. We need him. I don’t think he really means it, he’s got short guy syndrome. This is just his way of trying to look tall.”
Taking a deep breath, Maggie stood up and walked to the door. She had been the fastest and had grabbed the key before everyone else landed on top of her. She put it into the lock, and the door slowly opened to show the stairs leading down into the darkness. It got very quiet as each of them peered into the darkness. Suddenly, Maggie heard barking. Doc came running to the door. “That’s Garm, I’d know that voice anywhere. Come on, we’ve got to find her!”
“Wait,” cried Maggie.
Unheeding, the Norn ran down the stairs. The others followed more slowly. Suddenly, Maggie heard him scream, “Aaarrrghh, Be careful, Spike traps! Aaarrrgh, my legs!”
Putting her hand up to halt the group, Maggie began to descend the stairs, searching ever so carefully for traps. Behind her, she could hear the rest of her party muttering about the stupidity of the Norn.
Mellen shook his head as he cast a beam of light into the void, “Norns, always they run before they think.”
Harry interrupted, “I know how to find the traps, if you’ll let me have a moment.”
“How?” Maggie asked.
“I’m a ranger, I can see them. It’s hard to explain.”
Maggie waited for the ranger to catch up and go ahead of her. He stood a few steps below her and looked around. After a few moments, he turned back to her and said, “There aren’t any on the steps, they’re all on the floor below.”
The group picked up the pace until they could see the floor, and the wounded norn, moaning near the middle. Searching all around him, Harry spoke to them all, “There are traps all around him. We can’t get to him without triggering traps. If we did reach him, the trap he’s on would likely finish killing him. However, all traps have some sort of mechanism that will disable them.
We only have to find it. The bad news is, it is usually protected by the very traps we need to avoid.”
Mellen questioned, “What would something like that look like?”
“A button or a switch, sometimes a chain with a loop on the end.”
Maggie spied something on the far wall and pointed, “You mean like that?”
“Exactly, those chains are most likely the release. However, since this place is infested with ghosts, it might also wake some of them up.”
Before anyone could stop her, Terri mumbled an incantation and a large wall of ice appeared. Jumping on top of it, she was able to avoid the traps below and quickly raced across to pull the chain. Suddenly, a bright flash of light nearly blinded them and two ghosts appeared near Doc. Harry, quickly pulled his bow and said, “The traps are disabled. Get them.”
They flew into action and began attacking the ghosts. Harry seemed to be wide awake now, his arrows hitting the targets. The Norn, in spite of his injuries, throwing whatever he could reach at the ghosts. It took them a while because the ghosts seemed to be able to appear and disappear in another location at will. Maggie dropped her axes and pulled her bow, Terri began throwing balls of flame, while the kitten chased the ghosts. Mellen whispered a quick spell and threw a virulent cloud toward the ghosts in the hope that they could be sickened. Rytlock jumped into the middle of the floor and began swinging his greatsword.
Together, the party wore down the ghosts until all was quiet except for their labored breathing.
Maggie then ran to Bones. He was unconscious but still breathing. Terri joined her and together the two woke him. The necro, using his staff, whispered another spell, and suddenly the Norn smiled. After a few moments, he was able to stand and Precious began licking what was left of the largest wound. As they watched, it healed completely.
“Thank you friends,” he said.
Maggie and Terri sat in the corner drinking from their water skin. Mellen pulled out a huge mushroom and devoured it in seconds. Rytlock refused Harry’s offering of dried meat, choosing instead to sit with the Asuran. The kitten made the rounds, sharing in everyone’s meal, except the mushroom.
After a few minutes, Maggie spoke up to the group, “Two fights and each time someone got hurt because he rushed into things too quickly. It’s because we don’t have a plan and we definitely don’t have enough discipline. We need to slow down. I know Eir needs us, but we aren’t going to be any help to her if we’re all dead.”
“She’s right,” said Harry, “we need to slow down and put together a plan.”
Maggie was relieved to have a supporter, even if it was the Charr. She felt like it was her job to keep them all alive. They all had skills and were unwavering in their support of each other during the battles they had already waged. All they needed was a little more cohesion.
For the next few minutes the group discussed, sometimes loudly, the plan. Mellen spoke first, “We need someone to make decisions about who we fight next and whether to fight or run. I say the human warrior has shown herself capable. I could do it, but I’m needed more in the long range planning.”
Bones added his own thoughts, “She’s saved us twice already by quick thinking. I vote for Maggie as well.”
Rytlock stood up, clearing his throat, “I asked each one of you here for a specific reason. Maggie is here because she is an experienced fighter and can make those quick decisions in the heat of battle. Is anyone opposed?”
Precious chose that exact time to jump into Maggie’s lap as if to say, her vote counted as well. Maggie took the floor and began working out the details. She decided Bones and Harry would maintain the forward position, Bones offering protection to the others, Harry and Precious sniffing out traps and other hidden dangers. She would be next, the rest would follow behind her, ready for anything.
Using this plan, they easily avoided a large array of firetraps and fought off groups of ghosts throughout the catacombs. Until finally they found Eir and Garm. Garm as always was delighted to see Maggie and the rest. But when his eye fell on his old friend Precious, he was beside himself. Ignoring everyone else, they touched noses. Then came the play, as Garm lowered his head and met the kitten’s eyes. Soon Precious had climbed on his back and the two began conversing in that silent language known only to pets.
Meanwhile, Eir briefed the group on what was ahead. She believed the sword was held by Lieutenant Kholer and his squad. At this point Rytlock, who had been surprisingly silent throughout the discussion said, “Eir, we came here to stop you. However, I believe it is too late.
what I have seen here so far, has convinced me that our presence has stirred up the ghosts. I think the only way to avert a war between the King’s army and our own people is to get the sword and sever the king’s head to release the ghost army from his bond. According to the Priory, if Kholer doesn’t have it, the king has it and we have to fight his three champions to get at him. Nente the master ranger and his pets are difficult, but I believe this group is more than able to defeat him. Kasha the necromancer has some skills that could be problematic, but Mellen here has fought her kind before and I know he will outsmart her. The Lovers, Ralena and Vassar are only hard when they’re together. We’ll have to come up with something to separate them. And then there’s the king. He will be the most difficult fight of all. None have ever defeated him. Even when he lived he could only be vanquished by overwhelming odds.”
Maggie jumped in, “We are overwhelming odds. None have stood up to us yet, and none will going forward. This is a group of the most courageous people I know. I am honored to be included. We will decide on a plan to defeat the king, if and when we meet him.”
Everyone’s heart swelled with pride at her words. No one doubted they would succeed.
Especially Terri. Her heart nearly burst at the words her love had spoken. At that, they turned their attention to the Lieutenant. Putting their heads together, they formed a plan to draw him from his post and force him into a corner where Terri and Mellen could bombard him with fire and poison.
Maggi, drawing her bow, ran up the stairs and fired at the Lieutenant. He angrily charged at her, his ghostly squad not far behind. Maggie rolled back down the stairs and Bones took over.
Uttering foreign sounding words and waving his greatsword, he protected his friends while forcing the ghosts into a corner. Terri and Mellen began casting fire and poison spells and soon wiped every ghost except the lieutenant. Maggie then leaped up with her Axes and began to hack and cut at the ghostly warrior’s frame. Over and over she hacked, all the while being protected by the Guardian, until finally the Lieutenant fell with a shouted curse.
Maggie stood over his corpse as it slowly changed to the rotted skeleton it should have been those many years ago. Catching their breath, no one dared speak to her while her eyes held the wild glare of combat. Except Terri, who slowly approached her, and whispered gently, “It’s over, you’ve won. Time to become yourself again, my love.”
With those words, Maggie began to breathe more easily, and her eyes began to lose the fiery glow. As she calmed, the rest of the group began to settle as well. As if nothing had happened, Garm and Precious began playing on the high platform. Eir searched for the sword, but found only an old tome which she could not decipher. Handing it to Mellen, her eyes pleaded with him to help. He sat quietly for a time as the rest of the group patched each others minor wounds. Suddenly he closed the book and said simply, “King Adelbern has the sword. And once he has been beheaded, all the ghosts of Ascalon will be released to move into the next world. The Charr will have peace at last.”
Once rested, the group marched on. First they defeated Nente the ranger. Garm and Precious fought his pets to the death and were victorious also. Second came the necromancer Kasha. It took a bit longer as she kept spawning minions to draw life from and they had to be killed as well. But they were determined and finally finished her as well. Finally the Lovers. Maggie came up with a plan to separate them using the pets. It worked flawlessly. Garm and Precious attacked Vasser and ran immediately for the door. Both Vasser and his lover followed, one behind the other. Mellen was hiding behind the door when Vasser passed through.
Immediately he slammed the door shut and pulled down the lock. Vasser was trapped. The group then turned their attention to Ralena. Overwhelmed, she wavered and fell. Then, when she was down, Mellen opened the door, and they all turned on Vasser, who was nearly half dead from fighting the pets. He took no time at all to vanquish.
The group took a few minutes to rest, Maggie pulled some dried meat from her pack and fed it to Garm. Garm immediately shared it with Precious and all were in high spirits when they began the final leg of the journey. While they were walking they discussed how to defeat the king, who was a powerful sorcerer wielding Foefire, the flaming sword. This weapon was the reason Eir had entered the catacombs. This weapon was the reason they were all here
The plan they formed was simple. They would surround Adelbern and fire at him from range.
They were so full of their own courage and daring and just knew he would be no match for them. They never even masked the sound of their approach, they just spread out and began the attack. Without warning, the king began to spin, his sword spouting flames in every direction. Then he muttered an ancient incantation and all went black. Suddenly, they found themselves battered nearly to death, wounded and hiding behind the crumbling pillars. An unnatural, vicelike grip of fear had found them.
Wounded and afraid, the group had lost direction. Scattered and unable to communicate, none were willing to stand and fight. Then Maggie began to get angry. How dare this ancient dead king hold Ascalon hostage. She began to draw upon her anger. Looking over at Terri, she was also able to draw on the love she felt from Terri’s scared smile. Finally able to face the fear, she stood up.
“I’m here your majesty,” she shouted with all the derision and insult she could put into her tone of voice, “Why don't you come and fight me like a man, instead of a spoiled child?”
Bones peered around his pillar to see what affect her impertinence had. He was pleasantly surprised the king had turned toward her and had begun to glow with a newfound rage. Not to be outdone by the smaller human female, he stood and added his own challenge. “No, fight me, I’m stronger than that little girl you're so angry with.”
Not to be outdone, Harry the Charr Ranger let loose an arrow that struck the King in humiliating fashion, right on the backside. The king turned toward him just in time to meet a fireball from Terri. He directed his sword at Terri and as the flames lashed out and struck her face, she went down. Maggie became enraged. Drawing her twin axes, she jumped at the king and began hacking and pounding him with all her might. Bones desperately shielded her from the King with what magic he had left. Mellen sent his minions to replenish her life force. Harry kept firing arrows, all the while wearing down the King’s defenses. Garm joined in the fray, as did Precious, putting their bodies between the king and Maggie.
Terri lay motionless on the edge of the platform. Eir and Rytlock guarded her body while watching the amazing fight before them. Maggie, hair aflame, face red, eyes glowing with the madness of love kept up her attack. The dog and kitten guarding her from the flaming sword. The Guardian protecting her from the King’s spells. The Ranger firing arrow after arrow, setting trap after trap. The Necromancer sending poisons into the King.
Suddenly, Maggie sensed weakness in her opponent. The fire in his sword slowly shrank until it became a cold, dark shadow of itself. This drove her ever forward, axes flashing, until suddenly, with a piteous cry, the King fell. With a final leap, Maggie severed his head from his body. His power over the ghosts of Ascalon was finally released. Suddenly, all around them the air began to clear. As Maggie recovered her senses, her thoughts turned to Terri. Running to the lifeless body, she fell to the ground. “No, you will not die. Not now. You will not. I won’t let you!” she shouted, tears streaming down her face.
Garm and Precious, covered with their own blood, lay on top of Terri and all three began to glow. Maggie saw Precious grow and grow until he was as big as a lion. He began licking Terri’s face and breathing into her mouth, until her eyes opened and she said, “Hey, did we smack him down?”
Laughter filled the catacombs then. Laughter as the newly formed friendships solidified and they hugged each other. Laughter as they each took a turn mauling Garm and Precious with affection. Laughter until Harry spoke up, “Hey, I’m thirsty. You know we’re not that far from a nice place I know. I’m buying the first round.”
Maggie and Terri, looking at each other, laughed as Mellen spoke up, “Not unless you change your clothes and take a bath!”
The look on Harry’s face was priceless as the group laughed even louder at his dismay.
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