Koriszegy Keep - Assaulting the Keep
Drewen flew off in the direction of the southeast tower. Lana and Piotr followed on foot, the wizardess matching the paladin's slower pace. They passed the sorry remains of the old curtain wall. As they did they saw arrows flying from the northeast and southwest towers, all aimed towards the battle going on atop the southeast tower beneath which they now found themselves.
This was the most intact corner of the Keep however it sounded as if Drewen was doing his best to demolish it. Broken bones, old weapons and chunks of stone tumbled down from above. Whatever melee the dwarf had involved himself in was being waged thick and furious.
The other towers were each as intact as the other. The southwest tower was closer. The thirty foot high southern wall was mostly intact and steps led up to a small postern door. The longer, eastern wall was crumbling in several places and was where the collapsed gatehouse was located.
Trusting that Drewen had matters in hand atop his tower, Lana set her sights on the closer southwest tower. She and Piotr hurried toward it, keeping close to the wall to stay out of sight. Once at the base of the tower they began their rise to the top, casting their gazes across the Keep’s interior to see Drewen smash the last of his opponents into bits of bone. Not a moment later he sagged to his knees in exhaustion. Arrows were still flying from the other towers and four skeletal guards were moving along the southern wall toward him.
A few arrows came close to hitting Lana but her protective spells were holding well - though she knew she could not count on them to last much longer. Moments later she and Piotr reached the top of their tower and six skeleton archers came into view. Without a moment’s hesitation Piotr pulled forth his holy symbol; as one the skeletons turned and withdrew down the stairs.
Aware that she was being unkind and more than a little judgmental, Lana could not help but give a scoffing, exasperated noise.
Piotr stared at her, confused. "What's the matter?"
In her mind she saw the priest Alvion framed by the doorway of Mylertendal's tower obliterating handfuls of undead at a time. "We haven't time to be chasing skeletons," she said snippily, "we have bigger fish to fry and my enchantments will wear off by the time we're done." She held back from mentioning how the skeletons hadn't even walked off the side of the tower to smash upon the ground below, but had formed a line to proceed down the stairs in an all-too-orderly fashion.
Piotr submitted to the rebuke. His shoulders slumped giving Lana cause to regret voicing her thoughts so candidly. "At least they won’t fire any more arrows for the time being," he volunteered.
Lana eyed the remaining tower. "Yes," she conceded, "but we can't allow them to pursue us down the well. Let's finish them quickly."
Nodding, Piotr joined her in giving chase. The enhanced speed with which he moved compensated for his armour and he would have easily caught up with the undead if the circle of protection surrounding him hadn't bundled them down the stairs that much faster. The skeletons exited the tower and headed along the top of the southern wall.
Squeezing past Piotr, Lana pursued the skeletons along the wall. One was trailing behind its fellows. She grasped her dagger and lunged but the blade turned on bone and it kept on going. She doggedly kept up the pursuit and a second strike to the back of the skull prized it away from the spine causing the skeleton to collapse. Her sense of achievement dulled when an arrow from the northeast tower took out her image.
At the other end of the wall, Drewen had emerged from the southeast tower and was awaiting the oncoming skeletons with hammer in hand.
Out of the corner of her eye Lana detected movement within the shadowy interior of the Keep. It occurred to her that none of the three had set foot inside the interior yet; on her previous visit she and Sascia had triggered a mental assault upon doing so, drawing dark echoes from the past, though the pair had shaken off the worst of the effect. In the present moment, Lana knew her magical protections would expire soon however she found herself believing she could justify taking a risk before that happened. Rash though her course of action might be... she realised part of what spurred her into action was impatience, the pure and unadulterated thrill of taking a chance.
She delivered another expert thrust and removed the skull of the second skeleton she had been chasing. Then, with a turn and an apologetic smile to Piotr she took a breath and dropped off the wall.
Atop the wall, Piotr and Drewen closed in on the skeletons from either side. With nowhere else to go, the undead were forced to fight. Piotr struck one with his mace and Drewen obliterated one with his hammer.
Arrows continued to fly, none finding their mark.
Catching his foe's blow on his shield, Drewen returned the attack with considerable interest, smashing it to bits. Piotr finished off the skeleton he was attacking with a second swing of his mace. He swiped at the final skeleton but, more used to the longer reach of his sword, missed. It mattered little as seconds later Drewen's hammer crashed into it.
Yet more arrows flew but none came close to hitting. Piotr was about to follow Lana to the floor of the Keep but paused. His eyes flickered across his companion's armour, noticing traces of fresh blood. The dwarf was clearly in pain, though being Drewen he likely would have never admitted it.
"You are hurt," he pronounced.
"No, I'm fine." Drewen attempted to wave him away. "Just a few scratches. Don't waste..."
Kneeling to the extent that his armour would permit, Piotr grasped his companion's shoulder. "Your wellbeing is the wellbeing of us all." Murmuring soft words he proceeded to administer his care.
".... OW! Oh... hmph... that feels a bit better."
Piotr held the dwarf's gaze in a meaningful way before inclining his head. "I believe Lady Budanter means to engage the remainder of the undead singlehandedly."
"Of course she does; she's Lana and she hasn't killed nearly enough things yet for her liking."
"Shall we join her?"
Drewen pulled a face which would have been familiar to Lana, had she been present to see. "Better make sure she doesn't get in over her head."
Meanwhile Lana was moving across the floor of the Keep. It was mostly in shadow with the occasional streak of daylight creeping timidly across the floor where the eastern wall had crumbled away. Directly in her path was the well and shuffling around it in a circle were zombies.
She managed a quick headcount as she strode toward the well - six or seven she made it. Stopping thirty feet away she spread her hands and released a salvo of glowing missiles - five bolts across the nearest three, striking one to the ground. Her hand was closing round one of the vials of holy water which Piotr had given her when several things happened at once.
What little sunlight there was became obscured by a dark cloud and the gloom became so oppressive that she could only see a few feet in front of her.
There was a rumble of thunder from seemingly right overhead.
A fire sprang into being in the hearth.
Light levels returned to what they were and Lana saw half a dozen zombies - one with the now-familiar burning, hateful light in its eyes - mere feet from her, reaching out with grasping fingers. She flinched in shock and then three arrows struck her, nearly causing her to collapse with the pain. One more shot like that, she thought, would see her staying in Koriszegy Keep.
Piotr meanwhile had vaulted off the wall and was making his way toward Lana with all good haste, seeing that she was in trouble. Drewen had paused to examine something that had caught his eye before flying up in the air to see to get a bird’s eye view of what was happening. His attention was drawn to the five amber bolts.
Without a moment to lose Lana levitated ten feet and hurled down her holy water on the head of a zombie. It dissolved with a hideous hissing and bubbling sound. WHOOSH - Drewen flew past in a blur of red, silver and gold and crashed into the skeleton archers on the northeast tower. A single arrow flew wide of Lana. Zombies swarmed and grasped at the air inches below her boots.
Piotr contemplated hurling his spear while advancing but drew his sword, ready to lay waste and get stuck into melee.
Lana flinched and rose a few more inches before lobbing more amber bolts: three at the glowing-eyed zombie and mercifully it was enough. The fourth missile took out another so she directed the fifth into one clambering onto the corpses of its fellows to get closer to grabbing her. Unfortunately that was not enough to stop it but now Piotr was close by with gleaming blade in hand. Two of the three remaining undead turned their attention to him, grasping at his face but he forced them back with his shield. They threw themselves upon him; he wrestled free but saw that the unholy light had begun to shine in their eyes.
With arrows sticking out of bits of her, Lana grasped her dagger with both hands and channelled all of her ire into a downward, gravity-assisted plunge. She drove the blade into the top of her selected zombie's skull - up to the hilt - with a satisfying squelch.
Lightning struck the northeast tower. Piotr and Lana turned to see great chunks of masonry detach and crash to the ground. Unfortunately none of the stones hit the half-dozen skeletons which had emerged from the base of the tower. Lana cringed, wondering whether Drewen was alright. She and Piotr were just about able to keep their minds on the task at hand and dispatched all three of the zombies.
"Come on!" Lana exhorted Piotr, glancing at the menacing clouds above, "we need to finish those skeletons then get the hell out from under that damned sky."
It struck her as peculiar that heading down the well should seem appealing, but it was far from a normal scenario. She felt her body tense, expecting the lightning to strike a second time.
She raced forward, leaving Piotr trailing again. The six skeletons bore an assortment of old weapons and had gathered around the well with their eye sockets aglow. Glancing up at the tower, Lana spied Drewen battling a skeleton on the very edge. Drewen struck his opponent, even as the stone crumbled beneath their feet. Drewen could fly however the skeleton could not and shattered upon hitting the ground. The dwarf halted his fall and raised his shield over his head to protect himself from the rubble. He swung his hammer and swatted one chunk of stone in the direction of the skeletons on the ground. It didn't hit them but disappeared down the well with a distant-sounding sploosh.
Lana took out the nearest skeleton, which happened to be armed with an axe. Another bore a dagger and the rest swords. Ducking and weaving she avoided the attacks of the remaining five, recalling her weapon training and realising the difference it made to her safety. Piotr arrived to provide support.
As she jabbed at boney appendages, Lana wondered who these people might have been. Retainers of the keep, centuries ago? More recent adventurers whose curiosities got the better of them? What if she herself should fall, she mused - would the flesh rot from her bones, would a glow creep into her eye sockets and would some bold intruder strike apart her reanimated remains in times to come?
She took her eye off the skeleton with the dagger for just a second and in that moment it managed to catch her arm with the rusty blade.
It took two blows of her dagger to disassemble the one with the axe. Piotr cleaved two in half with his sword. Drewen came to earth and brought his hammer with him to meet the skeleton who had just taken more blood from Lana.
And then ... KRA-KOOOOM!
Lightning struck the ground dizzyingly close to Lana. She was thrown off her feet but found she was unhurt. The remaining skeleton jabbed its sword through the space where her throat had been a moment earlier. Then Piotr forced his sword through its neck and the fighting was finally done.
The three looked at each other. Drewen was rubbing his eyes to recover from the flash. He hadn't been hit the second time but Lana could see from the burns that he had not escaped the previous bolt unscathed by any means.
Piotr's gaze passed between his companions. "You are both hurt," he said, wavering for a moment before extending a hand toward Lana.
She swatted it away. "Save it for below," was her gloomy response, "I'd sooner be living and sore than left for the ghouls." Feeling light-headed and ready to faint, she waved her hand to dispel the miniature dragon-ferret hybrids circling her head. "We need to get down that well before the lightning hits again."
Bringing out a second scroll she unfurled it with care. "This is in case we are expected at the bottom - as is likely the case." She proceeded to read the inscription aloud. As she finished the short verse, her words wrought a deep rumble… not from above… but from below.
From the well.
Lana glanced all around before staring at the blank parchment in her hands... had it been cursed? Had she conjured a hostile force? No, she told herself as her gaze settled upon the well. The aura surrounding her and her companions had renewed itself - she could feel its increased protection. Instinctively she rose ten feet into the air and gestured wordlessly for the others to do likewise. All the while her eyes didn't leave the top of the well.
The three rose into the air.
The rumbling grew louder.
The ground trembled and cracks appeared along the well.
A geyser of blood exploded forth.
Piotr appeared outraged and began making all manner of gestures to ward away evil.
Knowing that the magic of the Keep wasn't bound by the rules of normal magic, Lana forced herself to consider whether the spectacle might be illusory. She wondered what Karnus would make of the scenario, what openings he might find to challenge its existence. She sharpened her perspective and clung to her scepticism, ordering her mind to remain rational. She simply didn't believe and lo... to her eyes, the horror faded from view.
"Ignore it," she instructed the others as coolly and sensibly as she could. "It's not real."
Drewen slowly nodded. He lacked Lana's understanding of magic but he possessed good old dwarven resistance and stubbornness which could be just as useful.
Piotr though seemed deaf to his friends' words. He raised his hands to shield himself from something that was not there. The force of whatever he faced seemed too great to counter or resist; Lana and Drewen watched as their companion was swept away in mid-air, gasps and choking noises escaping his throat.
* * *
I look around me; all is blood. From the well and the top of every crumbling wall, the crimson tide surges forth. It drenches my feet, my legs, now my knees, now before I know it the level threatens to rise above my head. More rapidly than anything that is natural in this world, blood fills the Keep.
I look to Lana and Ser Drewen, to ensure their safety more than anything. They have been affected by the unholy magic of the place, just as Lana warned they might be. They babble incoherently at me, their wits addled, oblivious to the danger we are all in. A great, elemental-like wave of blood crashes over me.
I fight to resist being swept away by this maelstrom. Skulls and rotting limbs float around me. My feet no longer touch the ground and I am swept away, borne upon the torrent of blood. It fills my mouth and tries to force its way down into my lungs. The weight of my armour asserts itself and drags me down into those red, wet depths...
This is the end of me. All hope is gone.
* * *
Drewen looked anxiously at Lana. "What's happening to him? Would it help if I grabbed him or would he think it's an attack?"
Lana grimaced. "I honestly don't know. We should do something though..."
They watched Piotr fly through the air, buoyed by an unseen force, his arms and legs flailing. Part of Lana's mind marvelled at the interaction between the potion he had drunk and the Keep's own magic. "Grevenov!" She channeled as much direct command into her voice as she could muster. She had a knack for being persuasive, she knew - it was a matter of matching one's tone to the person listening, knowing how their mind worked and having the conviction of one's words. As a sworn member of the Order of the Griffon, Piotr was before all else a soldier who was accustomed to taking commands.
"It's not real!" she barked. "Pull yourself together!"
She recalled Sascia waging a similar struggle the last time they visited the Keep together. It had targeted her mind... she resolved that she wouldn't let Piotr fall victim to the same malevolent trick.
Ten feet above the ground, Piotr maintained his consciousness and continued to struggle valiantly against the unseen force.
"Take these." Drewen sighed. Passing Lana his hammer and shield he flew after Piotr who had been 'swept ' towards a gap in the Keep wall.
He closed the distance and grabbed Piotr under the arms. The paladin hacked and spat, staring around the Keep's interior watching what his companions could not.
"It recedes," he declared. Lana and Drewen exchanged baffled glances. "You lifted me free from it."
"Don't mention it," was the dwarf's bemused response.
Piotr's forehead was beaded with sweat, his entire body was shaking uncontrollably. The ordeal had been harrowing in the extreme.
He coughed and tried to spit blood from out of his mouth - blood which was not really there. All the while his gaze travelled around the Keep's interior, still seeing what his companions did not.
"It is over. You are safe." Lana knelt beside the paladin and put her arms around him. He was among the bravest of souls she knew; she had never for a moment expected the Keep's magic would affect him so profoundly. She gave him a squeeze and smiled reassuringly.
Badly shaken by the ordeal, Piotr steadied his breathing. "My chest is on fire, all I can taste is blood," he spat again, "but I believe my dignity may have suffered the most. I am ready to continue."
Lana did not doubt the severity of what had transpired, and that Piotr might have been making light of what he had endured. "Are you certain? We can wait a while for you to recover, if you -"
It was then she realised that she had her back to the well. The sudden look of alarm that came to both her companions' faces, accompanied by a noticeable chill in the air alerted her to the fact something was deeply wrong. She spun around to see a ghostly figure had risen from the well - a woman with a terrible burned visage and fiery red eyes filled with hate.
Lana stood her ground and sucked in a breath. "Hold spirit!" she called, trying to sound both amiable and commanding. Even as she spoke she doubted that her Common tongue, Imperial Thyatian, would make sense to this troubled soul. "We would speak with you."
Piotr meanwhile closed his eyes and focussed on the spectre's aura.
The translucent figure floated in silence, not attacking Lana but just staring at her with unbridled malice.
Piotr rose to his feet and leaned close to Lana's ear. "The aura of evil around this spirit is very strong indeed."
Drewen muttered several dwarven oaths.
"Piotr, would you be so kind as so relay my words?"
Without waiting for the paladin to respond Lana continued in Thyatian. "You must have suffered terribly. And known terrible loss. We know so little about you..."
Piotr spoke her words aloud in Traladaran.
"... yet we would learn, if you will tell us. What happened here, to you, to those who were your kin?" She squinted slightly, wondering whether the figure's expression might change. "Are you the Lady Koriszegy?"
Holding the spectre's gaze, Lana had brief mental flashes - a feast; lightning; fire; an obscenely bloated bestial figure - with aspects of hog, ram and goat all twisted in a grotesquely demonic fashion. The visions each lasted less than a second but each one hurt like a knife driving through her skull. She wondered whether this was what it felt like for Karnus.
Still the spirit floated over the well. It did not speak. It did not move. Its expression did not change.
Aware she was seeking to deliberately provoke the spirit into a reaction, Lana continued. "The heir went missing. The… son? of Koriszegy? What became of him? And in all this," she gestured around, thinking surely her words would have a consequence, "what is the significance of The Goat?"
Nothing. The spectre's response to her questions remained a baleful silence.
Lana regarded her with a mixture of pity and disappointment. "It mustn't have been your choice to dwell in the dark, knowing only torment without end. We will release you."
With that she spread her hands and spoke words of magic, counting on the scroll to hold the thing at bay. A blizzard established itself, raging intensely for several seconds. When it finished the spectre was gone and the air felt a bit warmer.
Exhaling slowly, Lana's gaze returned to the well and her thoughts to what awaited below. "Nobody must engage anything in hand-to-hand," she said in a slightly unsteady tone to Drewen and Piotr, "until the time is right. That spirit would have laid into us had it not been for the scroll. Things will get worse and we need all the protection we have..."
She tarried for a few moments, watching the top of the well in case anything else should emerge.
Drewen stepped up and peered over the well's edge.
"That's deep. Are you sure we should go down there? We're all hurt – especially you Lana. We could do with a rest. You should let Piotr heal you at least."
The paladin did not speak but sidled closer.
Lana imagined how her companions might look if they were paralysed, stock still, in the cavern below ground. "I'm fine, really."
"I know you're worried about ghouls," Drewen went on, "but I also know when you're just standing by willpower alone. You're a healer; you know you've lost a lot o' blood. If a ghoul does get its claws on you it might just kill you straight off in your condition and what if there are more archers down there?"
The comment caused her to shudder. "After the," she clutched at the proper term, "zombogres I can't even think about ghouls with bows. Very well." She resigned herself and offered Piotr her hand; he took it and murmured soft words. Warmth spread up her arm and into her body; some of the wounds left by the skeletons' arrows salved and mended.
Lana attempted to thank Piotr and acknowledge Drewen's concern; given the various emotions she was undergoing her smile surfaced looking weird and distorted.
"Permit me to return the favour," she said. "Both of you." Bandages appeared in her hand and she set about tending their wounds as quickly as she could, her magical protections waning all the while.
Drewen's expression changed as she busied herself.
"I nearly forgot. Did either of you see those bows them walkin' bones were using?"
"No," said Piotr, "you got much closer than we did."
"All the other weapons were old and damaged but some o' the bows were new. Looked real well made as far as I could tell. Probably belonged to elves."
Lana's eyes widened. "The crafty old devil! He knew we might come back. His ogres weren't just fetching food, were they?"
Drewen shook his head. "What exactly are we going up against here Lana? What do you know about Krazy Ziggy?"
Lana paused to recall the tales she had heard as a child growing up in the opposite corner of the Grand Duchy. "He's a vampire, at least I imagine he is." She moved onto bandaging Piotr and kept herself from frowning; a spell-casting vampire was quite dangerous enough, she would not consider any other possibility. "In his day he was a wizard and the head of an old Traladaran family. You've heard the old stories, haven't you?"
Drewen looked a little dubious and nodded. "Mmmhmm."
"He didn't see his line continuing," Lana went on, "so he took a risk. Tragedy befell his family. Maybe pride was part of their downfall but many innocents were caught in the fallout. There was a feast and a fire destroyed the Keep. Perhaps it was the will of the higher power. Several times I have seen a demonic figure - a terrible combination of a hog and a ram and," she eyed Piotr knowing he would get the significance, "... a goat. The first time I set foot inside the Keep a goat skull rose into the air and mocked me.
"As for what's down there, he has ghouls for protection. There's a cave full of them. He can summon vermin, too, though I'll try and put paid to them as well. And…" she shivered whether from nerves or excitement she could not tell, "I know where he keeps his coffin. If you engage the ghouls and keep Koriszegy distracted, I'll do what I can with my spells. Aside from that I'm afraid we'll just have to deal with each thing as it comes."
Her companions both looked less than enthused by what awaited them. Piotr's dark eyes remained fixed on some faraway spot.
"You're the leader on this one Lana," said Drewen. "I just hope you've some good spells left. I think you both remember what happened the last time we all went down a dark, evil hole in the ground to fight the undead - and there were more of us then. Pity Vasily wouldn't come but he's got to obey the law of his church I suppose."
Shrugging, he peered down the well again.
"Shall I go first then?"
Read the next instalment - Down the Well
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