Chapter 15: At the Temple Doors, Part 2

A wooden door set in an old building of ornately carved stone.

Aleph turns and addresses the group. “Our resources are depleted, and the enemy outnumber us two to one. This will not be an easy fight,” he says. “But each one of us is worth a dozen of them!” Behind him, Nubbins starts counting on his fingers. “So, what you’re saying is, we actually outnumber them,” he begins.
“FOR THE EIGHTH!” the Warforged roars, shouldering the doors open.

Gerard’s accusatory stare has no effect on Keothi. “If you did not want them to wake up, you should not have left them alive,” he points out.
The monk turns pink. He opens his mouth to argue but Aleph intercepts him, laying a hand on his shoulder.
“This is a conversation for another time,” he rumbles. “Wordweaver: send your familiar back up to the roof. Ask him to signal you when the patrol group are directly outside the front door. That is when we will strike.”
At a nod from Keothi, Impy does as he’s bid.

“I’ll head up there too,” Cyd says, unslinging her bow from her shoulder. “Wanna help me, Ger? Your firebolt fists could come in handy.”
“They are bursts of radiant energy, not firebolts,” the monk corrects her, “and they are the physical manifestation of my centred ki.”
“Whatever.” Cyd is already walking away. With a sigh, Gerard hurries after her.

There’s a ladder tucked away at the back of the temple that leads up to a maintenance hatch. Cyd and Gerard climb up and out into the winter air, then shuffle carefully along the narrow lip of stone that surrounds the roof. When they reach the cupolas that adorn the front of the temple, they climb into position behind them and peek out at the ground below.

A cluster of cultists and kobolds stand at the foot of the temple steps, two drakes straining at their leashes beside them.
“On three?” Cyd whispers, nocking an arrow. Gerard nods, levelling his fists at the larger of the drakes.
“One,” Cyd whispers. “Two… NOW!” She leans out from the cupola and fires, hitting a kobold right between the eyes.

Below, there’s a dull crash as the front doors fly open and Aleph, Keothi and Nubbins join the battle. The air is filled with projectiles, arrows and golden bolts of energy raining down from the roof while the enemies on the ground return fire with stones and flasks of alchemist’s fire.

Nubbins embeds his hand axe deep in a kobold’s chest and the reptile freezes, a look of shock on his face, before bursting in a shower of razor-sharp ice shards. At this, the cultist holding the snarling drakes releases them with a word of command, pointing them in Nubbins’ direction. They leap on the gnome, knocking him to the ground. Aleph roars as he sees his comrade go down. Holding his shield out before him, he charges across the temple steps towards his fallen friend, barging the raiders out of his path.
“Beasts,” he shouts, “you will not claim another of the eighth phalanx while I still stand!”

He swings his axe at the first drake as it pounces towards him, slicing open its belly in mid-air so that it falls at his feet, mortally wounded. The second he slams with his shield, flinging its stunned body aside. In the brief respite that follows, he kneels beside Nubbins and places a glowing hand on his chest. “Lay on hands,” he mutters, feeling the last dregs of his healing energy flow from him into the broken form at his side.

Nubbins sucks in a deep breath, the ragged wounds in his chest knitting back together as Aleph’s magic takes effect. “Thanks, Al—” he begins, before he is cut off by the surviving drake, which staggers to its feet and makes a woozy leap in his direction. Catching the animal in his gauntleted hands, Nubbins heaves it over his head, throwing it straight into the path of one of Keothi’s hand axes. It hits the ground with a thud.

The gnome clambers to his feet and looks around. The temple steps are strewn with the bodies of the raiders. A pebble hits him on the head and he looks up to see Cyd waving from the roof.
“We did it!” she calls. Then she grimaces as the pain from her various wounds begins to make itself known. “I could really use a nap, though.”
“Me too!” Nubbins replies. “And I think I’m out of magic.”
“As am I, Nubbins,” Aleph rumbles. “But our rest will have to wait. We must dispatch the rest of the raiders quickly, whilst we still retain the upper hand.”
“And before they manage to set fire to the back doors,” Cyd reminds him.

Myconid appears in the doorway, followed by three ragged corpses.
These will not maintain their bodily integrity for long, he informs the group. You should use them quickly.
“Very well,” Aleph replies, after Nubbins has relayed this message . “Send them around the sides of the temple. They can trap the raiders in a pincer. We will launch our final assault now, from the back.”
Gerard nods. “We’ll lend support from up here,” he agrees.
As the undead begin their slow shuffle towards the final party of raiders, he and Cyd creep along the edge of the roof, following their path.

The rest of the group walk back through the temple and quietly remove the furniture and barricades blocking the back doors. Soon, the only thing standing between them and the raiders is a few inches of wood.
Aleph turns and addresses the group. “Our resources are depleted, and the enemy outnumber us two to one. This will not be an easy fight,” he says. “But each one of us is worth a dozen of them!” Behind him, Nubbins starts counting on his fingers. “So, what you’re saying is, we actually outnumber them,” he begins.
“FOR THE EIGHTH!” the Warforged roars, shouldering the doors open.

For the last time, the group burst out of the temple. The kobolds tending the spluttering fire scramble to pick up their weapons, then scatter in panic before the fighters’ advance. As they flee through the smoke, Cyd and Gerard pick them off from the roof. Those who manage to escape the aerial bombardment are cut off by Myconid’s zombies, who at that moment shamble into view around both sides of the temple, their grey eyes empty and terrible.

Cyd pauses between shots and turns to grin at Gerard. “Hey, this isn’t going so bad—”
There’s a heat-haze shimmer in the air behind her. The snow and smoke swirl together, coalescing into a sharp edge. Gerard’s eyes widen. “Cyd!” he shouts. Cyd frowns, makes to turn around—and the spectral sword stabs her in the back. With a cry, she stumbles forward and falls from the roof.

Gerard lunges towards her, throwing himself flat against the tiles and reaching over the side. A hand catches his—Cyd is dangling from the roof’s edge, her feet scrabbling to find a purchase that isn’t there. The monk ignores the magical weapon slashing at his legs and back as he drags his friend back over the precipice.

Below them, Aleph pauses mid-swing as he hears Cyd’s shout, scanning the battlefield to see who has done her harm. He hears a snarl as two dark, hulking shapes emerge from the shadows beyond the circle of firelight.
“Drakes!” Aleph bellows. “They have more drakes!”
Around him, the remaining raiders raise a ragged cheer as the huge creatures stalk towards them. A cultist in ornate robes holds them at bay; as Aleph’s eyes meet his, he releases their chains and they spring forward.

Aleph, Keothi and Nubbins brace themselves, drawing together into a defensive line before the temple doors. They can hear the townsfolk inside beginning to clamour, unnerved by the growling of the drakes and the raiders’ cheering.
“They must not make it inside,” Aleph murmurs to the others. “We stop them here, or perish in the attempt.”

And then another sound echoes through the temple behind them: the sound of slow, ponderous footsteps. Risking a glance, Nubbins sees Myconid appear in the doorway. The sentient fungus reaches out, snatching one of the drakes out of the air like he is swatting a fly. His arms rear up and he crushes the beast into the ground with a sickening crunch. Nubbins gapes.
The half-elf was correct. Myconid’s telepathic voice rings out in the party’s minds. This is our home, and I will defend it.

The raiders who had so recently begun to triumph cower away from this new threat. With Myconid at their backs, the three fighters charge forward with renewed heart, felling the other drake and driving away the remaining kobolds. The cultist in the ornate robes scowls as he sees his comrades flee around him. Moving his hands in a complicated gesture, he opens his mouth to speak a word of power—and coughs out a gout of blood instead, as an arrow hits him in the neck. On the roof, Cyd lowers her bow.
“Thanks for the assist, Ger,” she mutters, “I think I got him.”

It’s the final blow of the fight. The smoke dissipates from the stamped-out fire as the party regroup, checking one another for injuries and re-barricading themselves within the safety of the temple.
“We have defeated the raiders at your doors,” Aleph tells the townsfolk. “You are safe, for the moment.”
“And we couldn’t have done it without you, mushroom man!” Cyd adds, climbing down the ladder. “Way to save the day!”
“I am going to sleep,” Keothi announces.
Gerard pokes his head through the roof hatch. “A rest does seem to be in order,” he agrees. “I’ll stay up here and keep an eye on the situation outside.”

Saph sidles up to the foot of the ladder. “I could keep you company, if you’d like?”
“Of—of course!” Gerard replies. “You would be most welcome!”
Cyd nudges Aleph and smirks. “I think they may have ‘obtained a chamber.’”

*

Saph and Gerard sit down—gently, in Gerard’s case—on the flatter part of the roof and gaze out over the town. Snow settles around them, blurring the pinprick lights of torches that dance from every road and building. The Keep glows atop the hill, the braziers on its battlements burning brightly in the night. Gerard gives a hollow chuckle as he wraps a bandage around his chest. “It is almost beautiful, isn’t it? On another night, one could imagine that those were festival lights.” He winces as he pulls the bandage taut. “I hope all of the citizens made it to the Keep.”

Saph nods, laying a hand on his arm. Then a thought occurs to her; she takes a pocketbook from her satchel and waves it at him.
“I’ve been talking to Kaax while you were busy saving the world.” She flicks through the book’s pages: it is filled with notes in a large and messy hand. She grins, producing a second volume as full as the first. “And the myconids, too.”
“What have you learned?” Gerard asks eagerly. He reaches for the books, but Saph dangles them just out of his reach, watching him with laughing eyes.
“I’m not sure I should say.” She slides the books slowly back into her bag. “After all, I haven’t finished my observations yet.”

Gerard looks aghast. “You have to give me more than that! Could I at least look at one of them?”
Saph cackles. “Nope! They’re not finished yet! But I tell you what—” she pauses, the notes still poking from the top of her satchel.
“What?” Gerard asks.
“I’ll give you some of the highlights now. If,” Saph adds, holding up a finger in warning, “you promise to do me the favour of editing them, once they’re done.”
Gerard nearly falls off the roof in his readiness to agree.

While he binds the rest of his wounds, Saph regales him with a short lecture on myconid physiology and spore effects. He stops her every so often to make a note or ask a question. When she has finished, he pulls a waterskin and some rations from his pack and lays them out between them. He breaks a piece of hardtack in two and offers Saph half.
“A picnic!” Saph claps her hands. “How romantic!”
A gust of wind sweeps across the roof, making Gerard shiver. “I am only sorry that the weather isn’t better suited to al fresco dining.” He smiles ruefully and begins rolling his trousers back down over the fresh bandages on his legs. “Still, the view isn’t bad.”

Saph follows his gaze upwards to the distant shape outlined against the clouds. “He is pretty spectacular, isn’t he?” she murmurs.
“It’s a he?” Gerard asks.
The half-elf winks. “Oh, yes. The men always have those nice, big horns, you know?”
Gerard chokes on the swig of water he was taking, hacking and coughing so violently that eventually Saph stops laughing at him long enough to give him several hearty slaps on the back. Scarlet-faced and wheezing, he recovers his breath, and with it some of his composure.

“You missed a spot, by the way” Saph tells him, pointing out a small line of blood on his back from a narrow cut.
The monk cranes his head for a better look. “That one I’ll have to leave: I’m out of bandages. It’s a paper cut compared to some of these.”
She hands him a handkerchief, which he presses against the wound. “Thank you,” he says. “I suppose it would be embarrassing to bleed to death now.”

“Once you’ve taped yourself back together, may I accompany you back to the Keep?” Saph asks.
Gerard blinks. “I should warn you: it’s dangerous out there and we’re likely to meet resistance,” he replies. “It could get bloody. Will that… bother you?”
The half-elf shakes her head. “I’ll manage! Besides, I don’t think anywhere in town is safe right now.”
“Then by all means! I believe that Brem will be joining us as well, to help heal the wounded at the Keep.”

Gerard glances in the direction of the stronghold as he speaks, and frowns. “That’s concerning.”
“What?” Saph asks, following his gaze.
The points of light dotted across town are beginning to converge on the hill.
“The raiders are gathering at the base of the Keep,” Gerard says. He packs away the food he laid out with a sigh. “We should gather the others. It looks like it’s time to head back.”

*

Inside the temple, the rest of the group are playing a team game of dragonchess. Cyd and Nubbins wave as they spot Saph and Gerard climbing back down the ladder, but Aleph and Keothi are losing, and barely spare the pair a glance.
“I do not see why my dragon cannot capture all of the pieces below it,” Aleph complains. “It is inaccurate to show a dragon unable to fire upon multiple targets simultaneously.”
“And if these warriors were of goliath blood, they would be able to withstand fifty dragons,” Keothi adds. Aleph nods in agreement.
Cyd grins and whispers something to Nubbins, who moves one of his gryphons into position. “Checkmate!” he cries.

“This is a game of chance,” Keothi mutters as he goes to pack away his things.
“A real army can fight on without a king, if they share a strong bond,” Aleph rumbles.
The group collect up their belongings, return the chess set to Dwali and bid Myconid farewell. Brem and Saph meet them at the door, and together they head out into the long, cold night.

Read the next chapter here!

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One Comment on “Chapter 15: At the Temple Doors, Part 2

  1. Pingback: Session 5: At the Temple Doors, Part 1 – Tabletop Tales

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