22 Almsberth 459
Charmalina froze, the points of her ears quivering. There was a chill to the air, and she kept expecting to see her breath. She no longer heard Kiernan moving about, and could easily picture him lapsing into a meditative state, oblivious to anything going on around him. The narrow corridor was silent, but the for the occasional snore or similar expression from the rooms behind her, so the distant sound seemed loud to her pointy little ears.
... Schick… schick…
There it was again. Charm’s eyes grew wide as she realized what she was hearing. It was the scrape of bone against stone. Just beneath it, she now recognized the jingle of mail. They were moving quietly, like a predator closing in on its prey, but there was no doubt in her mind that it was one of this castle’s wayward skeletal patrols… and that they were drawing near.
“Someone’s coming!” she shouted, drawing her heavy blade. Its dull glimmer did little to disrupt her magically-enhanced vision. “Wake up!”
They turned the corner, pausing only long enough to note the lone halfling shouting in the empty passage. One of them immediately raised a heavy crossbow, loosing a wicked-looking bolt in her direction. It stung as it lodged in her armor, chipping into the stony flesh beneath, and Charmalina flinched, imagining another crack in the fine spiderweb of creases that had begun to form in her magical hide. She took a second to extract the quarrel. The tip was bloody, an ample reminder that she was more than just a moving statue. She casually tossed it aside.
It was a brief sprint for the nearest of the undead warriors. Charmalina had but moments to perform a head count as the skeleton’s narrow blades closed for the kill. There were six grinning undead soldiers, weeping tears of flame from their bony eye sockets… and there was something else. Some sort of shodowy, cloaked shape hovering in the air behind, huge and menacing. Charm took a casual swipe at her forehead to keep the sweat from her eyes and turned her attention to her assailant.
These weren’t typical undead soldiers, clumsy and unthinking. There was an awareness or memory of some sort that guided their weapons. They fought like men, cautious at times, vicious at others, but never careless. Charmalina’s assessment of the creature as a warrior did little to shake her confidence as she deftly ducked the first swing of his sword, but she knew the bite of those blades. They did more than wound; they burned your body and seared your soul. It was best to avoid contact with them.
Most of the patrol were of the agile sword-wielding variety, but a couple of them were the larger orcish undead with the massive axes and spiked shields. One of them raised his hand and spoke, the hollow words indecipherable and heavy with arcane menace. One of the doors at the halfling’s back slammed open and Jasmine slipped into the corridor, Charmalina’s malformed brother on her heels. As they slid to a stop, the enemy commander’s invocation took hold and a sheet of magical flame billowed into the hallway, forcing the heroes to put their backs to the wall to avoid the conflagration. The corridor instantly became a furnace.
Which Charmalina quickly realized did little to hamper their opponents. A couple of the swordsmen moved past her, their blades wreathed in the flame they used as a magical halfling repellent. Before she could move to intercept, one of the orcish brutes was upon her, straddling the fire and swinging his waraxe in a level sweep. She quickly dropped into a crouch, her vision growing hazy around the edges as she summoned the bloodlust. Her blade seemed to hum in anticipation, and she smiled, tasting blood and sweat as she adjusted her grip.
Jasmine took note of the approaching undead who lurked in the magical flame. Ahead of her, Charmalina deftly dodged the stroke of a mighty axe and smashed the ribcage of one of her smaller assailants, her blade leaving bluish trails in the air. Jasmine could see that her diminutive companion was now foaming at the mouth and judged that there would be no further communication with the girl until the battle was done. Even as one of Charm’s opponents fell to pieces, the awewielder somehow reversed his momentum and cleaved into the halfling’s side. Charmalina grunted in pain, then started laughing.
Jasmine shook her head. Someone should’ve warned these walking stickmen about the berserker in their midst.
The assassin hadn’t the time to watch the girl work, however, as a pair of fiery blades swam from the nearby wall of flame. Jasmine easily batted the swords aside, opening a path for her magical mace. She smiled as it hid dead center, driving the warrior back a step with a shower of sparks. She could clearly hear the thwack of Arlyn’s bowstring as he fired one of his deadly projectiles past her as she fought. The arrow traveled the length of the corridor, slamming into the skull of a swordsman on approach to his sister and removing the head entirely. The rest of the creature hung comically for a fraction of a second, as if unaware of its condition, before finally crashing to the floor in bony pieces.
Charmalina spun to face the commander who had summoned the wall of fire and charged, not even slowing as Arlyn’s victim shattered in front of her. Bone dust and ash formed a cloud in the air as the skeletal brute met her charge head on, his axewielding companion stepping in behind her and tearing rents in her armor with each mighty stroke. Caught between the both of them, Charm was unable to meet them blow for blow and quickly fell beneath their blood-soaked axes.
Jasmine heard a vile curse emit from her goblinoid companion and looked up in time to see Charm’s broken body sliding to the floor. She felt a cold lump form in the pit of her stomach. It was unlikely that the halfling swordswoman would rise from that. Before she could react, however, Anyariel joined the fight. From the door nearest their fallen comrade, Elessar emerged, his eltritch oaken blade now wreathed in flame. Jasmine blinked, groaning as her nearest assailant managed to get through her defenses. She was unaccustomed to seeing the paladin wade into battle without his armor. Even as she was struck by the oddity of it, one of the skeletal axemen drew a line across his chest.
Behind Jasmine, Kiernan stepped into the corridor, a cool blue mist clinging to his body. Arlyn leaned past him, firing yet another arrow toward the undead soldiers, this time felling one of Jasmine’s own unholy foes. Free of any immediate threat, Jasmine launched herself along the length of the hall, ducking Elessar’s backswing as he drove his enchanted blade into the nearest axeman’s midsection, tearing him to pieces. The paladin shifted to his left, driving Anyariel up to meet the other warrior’s downswing, and Jasmine dropped to her knees, scrabbling for her pouch where a healing potion was kept. It didn’t seem possible given the depths of the girl’s wounds, but Charmalina continued to draw breath. Even as the assassin watched, an invocation from the priest somewhere behind her was closing the halfling’s wounds. Jasmine shook her head, glancing up at Elessar as the paladin finished the last of their foes.
The knight turned to inspect Charmalina’s wounds. Jasmine froze, wide-eyed, as a massive wraith swept up behind him and reached its chilling hand into the paladin’s body as if questing for his heart. Elessar never saw it coming. An ashen look fell across his features as he stumbled from the spirit’s grasp. Jasmine leapt to a crouch and rolled forward, attempting to get behind the beast and divide its attention. She felt its touch, but slid past it with little more than a chill. Gaining her feet, she spun to ward off the monster’s next attack.
That’s when Kiernan raised the icon of his faith and invoked the names of his chosen dieties. Unable to bear the presence of such divine strength, the wraith fled, ascending into the ceiling and disappearing from sight. With a solemn nod and a quiet prayer, the cleric reached for the fiery wall and extiguished it, plunging the corridor back into darkness.