Last Man Standing
While we were having our ill-fated “visit” under the Glenwathen cathedral Branden was separated from us. On a later date I managed to extract the story of what happened to him during the time between that night and the time we were reunited.
Branden was silently following Ramsey up in the balcony as the serpent tattooed bandit left the conspirators. The balcony led to similar hall, this time devoid of any people.
After Ramsey left the conspirators in the cathedral’s tower Branden stalked him, hiding in the shadows of the upper balconies. The bandit wandered through other similar halls before disappearing into a smaller study. Sounds of clashing steel could be heard where Branden had left his friends. He felt torn; the sentiment that this was the man responsible for the death of his mother seized Branden’s mind.
His mind told him to follow this mysterious bandit leader. Branden tied his rope to the balcony railing that was above the doorway Ramsey had entered and lowered himself down to the hall floor. He took a quick look through the doorway. There he was, standing in the back of the room with his back to the archer. Unfortunately for Branden he was not silent enough as his footsteps echoed in the hall.
Ramsay turned to face the archer. For a moment there was a stern stare between them. Then the bandit leader started walk towards the ranger. Branden was sure that going alone against this huge well experienced bandit leader would be nothing short of a pure suicide. He hastily retreated to the previous hall, climbed back to the balcony and pulled his rope up to prevent Ramsey from following him further. Ramsey stepped in the hall and saw Branden in the balcony. After one last exchange of glares between them, Ramsey returned to the study and Branden rushed back where he had last seen his companions.
To his horror, Branden saw all his friends in a state paralyzed state. They had been stopped by a spell in mid charge and were turned into living statues. They had apparently tried to attack the one called Master who was right now standing next to them.
If his friends were all made harmless by this one person there was no chance that Branden could ever defeat this man alone. Desperation began to take over his mind. This person was a mage of great power and Ramsey was still just one hall away, not to mention the guards that were most likely summoned to the tower. The only thing he could do was to make his escape and try later to help his friends.
Rushing along the corridors of the great tower Branden managed to find window that would help him to escape. Under the window were scaffoldings built on the outer wall only about 30 feet downwards. Branden tied his rope to a bar in the window and lowered himself down to the scaffoldings, hoping they would support his weight. As he descended swiftly and silently through the scaffoldings, he heard noises from the window he had made his escape only moments before. There would be no going back through the same route. Branden quickly reached the ground and disappeared in the darkness of the night, trying to avoid the preying eyes of the bandits above.
He was alone. Normally that wouldn’t have bothered him but this time it was different. His friends had been captured by the very person that wanted Branden and his companions dead. It gnawed his mind. He felt like a coward but to share the faith of his friends felt foolish. Branden steeled himself after a moment of despair: he needed to help his friends.
He tried to find way back in the cathedral but all the doors were locked and the windows were barred. He caught a glimpse through a window of a priest being dragged away by two men that looked like thugs. Could that be the priest that guided them to the tower earlier? Branden did not have time to feel sorry for this man, he had plenty of troubles already. After a while he was convinced he couldn’t get in without anyone noticing. It was time to get the word to Ross magh Connacht as fast as possible.
As Branden was leaving the courtyard he saw at least a dozen birds against the night sky, flying away from the tower of cathedral and scattering around the city. “Homing pigeons” the ranger thought. He could only guess what messages they were carrying.
Something had certainly been put to action, for the city was going crazy. As Branden reached the eastern part of the town where the Crown’s Secret Service had made it’s base of operations he could see larger groups of people gathering in the streets. He heard an agitator speaking to the crowds:
Soon members of the lower clans were marching on the streets and calling for the deaths of those in charge.
Branden never had much reverence for the letter of the law but this kind of anarchy seemed wrong and, he feared, manufactured by someone. By using dark alleyways and the shadows of the night, the ranger managed to avoid the marauding mobs and to return to the headquarters of the secret police. He was getting more frustrated by the minute as he knew that he had to explain the situation by the one thing he was the least fond of: conversation.
Branden had to wait for a while for the spy-master to return to the base as he was personally leading the raid into the warehouse where Findley‘s men had unloaded the contents of the riverboat. Ross arrived after a while. Judging from the numerous wounds on him and his men the raid had not gone without a bloody fight. When he stepped in alone into Ross’ office, the archer saw from the man’s eyes that he expected more bad news.
Branden began his report. Ross’ appearance begun to change more and more serious as the ranger laid down what had happened within the cathedral. The situation was getting worse by the minute. Ross was also getting reports around the city that long oppressed clansmen of the lower ranks were uniting to overthrow the city thane. Glenwathen would soon be engulfed by huge riots.
Ross could identify the conspirators Branden and Grzegorz had seen in the cathedral’s tower: Belenus mac Torr, Briallen, Caitlin magh Eirc, Findley and Owain. How this “Master” had managed to acquire or corrupt so many important people, Ross could not tell.
At that moment one of Ross’ men rushed in to report the latest developments: the riots were spreading like wildfire. The mobs were hanging members of the rich clans in the streets. Several dangerous fires had claimed many parts of the city’s northern quarters as the rioters had made the cathedral their base of operations. The worst news were yet to come: Bryg magh Brona, the visiting thane of Manaaw, had been murdered. Apparently the assassins had set the tavern he was staying in on fire and slaughtered him along his bodyguards as they tried to get out of the burning building. Branden could see the lines on Ross’ face deepen noticeably.
Ross started to organize his remaining men to launch rescue parties to save the remaining thanes before they would share the fate of their murdered colleagues. Branden was getting more nervous by the minute – none of this was helping him rescuing his friends. Ross simply stated he simply didn’t have the manpower to directly assaulting the cathedral. If Branden would help him secure the remaining thanes he promised to do his utmost to return the favour. Hopefully Branden’s companions would be alive at that time. If they were taken as prisoners they would most likely be questioned so Ross declared all rescue parties would gather at a different building as the location of the current one would most likely be compromised. Branden didn’t like the cards he was dealt but saw little choice. He needed the forces of Ross and unwillingly agreed to help him
There were three thanes that needed to be saved from the assassinations. Scotaidh magh Tàileach – the ruler of Glenwathen, Gawor magh Laagen the thane of Froth and Devin magh Keeth the thane of Gorgath. Ross took the task of retrieving Scotaidh, hopefully it was a bloodless task as the man was at the time secretly visiting his mistress. Branden would have to tag along a task force designated for one of the the thanes. Both of them were some of the most famous people in the realm: Gawor was considered probably the greatest military commander of Aenoria and was a controversial figure as he openly criticizes the high king and the rulers of the southern provinces. Devin on the other hand was said to be the wisest man in the land, a brilliant politician who acted as an important mediator between the northern and southern provinces, preaching about unity. Both of them were vital to the kingdom.
Branden chose to go take part in the rescue of Devin, for he was sure that one of the country’s finest generals must be the kind of man who could take care of himself. He and ten of the secret service’s men headed towards the tavern where the thane was staying at.
As the rescuers left for their assigned objectives, they could smell the smoke in the air. The darkness of the night was broken by the flames of burning buildings. Mobs were marauding the streets and distributing their brutal judgement to anyone who were against them. Anarchy was escalating fast. The rescue party avoided the mobs by travelling through narrow alleyways, finally reaching their destination – a large two-storey tavern built of stone.
Branden noticed movement on the roof of a building next to the tavern and informed the others. They saw several dark figures wearing strange masks shaped in the image of a raven and carrying weapons in both hands. Somehow these dark figures had managed sever the whole chimney from the building and were pushing it towards the inn where Devin was lodging. The chimney crashed down, creating a huge hole in the attic and second floor of the inn. Branden quickly let loose two arrows at the first dark figure that were jumping on the roof of the tavern. Both arrows hit true and one figure fell down screaming in pain. The street below finished both of them: the man and the scream.
The rest of the assassins disappeared into the hole they had created. Ross’ men had already begun to run towards the inn and started to brake down the locked front door. Branden took the route obvious to himself: he climbed nimbly atop the tavern and entered via the same hole the assassins did. Entering the second floor he could see dark figures quickly disappearing down the stairway into the first floor where the sounds of combat could be heard starting.
Branden rushed to the stairs. The battle was commenced. Several assassins were fighting with the thane’s bodyguards as Ross’ men were just kicking the door down. Devin was trapped in the corner, having but two of his bodyguards between him and the attackers. Branden sent two arrows at the back of nearest assassin, hoping to put him down before rest of the assassins found out someone was behind them.
Unfortunately these arrows didn’t have the deadly effect Branden was hoping for. The assassin turned around and charged at the archer. Branden quickly understood that he was in trouble as the blades of the assassin begun penetrating his leather armour again and again. He tried to escape the accurate strikes by stepping back and sending arrows at the raven masked assassin. Still the blades kept hitting no matter how he tried to dodge them. Both warriors were bleeding bad. Branden was barely standing from all stabs and cuts, but his arrows had done their job as well: the assassin’s strength was fainting. It was clear that next hit would decide the outcome of the battle between them.
The assassin raised his weapons for the final blow as Branden fired his bow without an aim. The blades were coming down towards Branden’s throat just as the arrow pierced the chest of the assassin. The arrow had took the strength out of the assassin’s the last attack and the archer managed to avoid the deadly hit before they both collapsed to the floor, the assassin stone cold dead.
Sounds of clashing metal and screams of pain from the downstairs indicated that the battle was far from over. Branden forced himself up from the floor and started limping back to the stairs. The situation in downstairs was critical. The thane’s bodyguards were almost all dead and thane himself was being attacked by one of the assassins. Few of the Ross’s men where still in the fight and were trying to overtake the last of the raven masks. Branden took a sharp aim at assassin that was attacking the thane. Two arrows flew across the room and hit the assassin in the back. It was enough to finish already wounded assassin. Ross’s men finished the rest of the assassins.
The thane was startled but uninjured. After quickly bandaging their wounds Branden and Ross’ men started to escort him to the new safe house.
Ross was relieved to see Devin in good health. Things were not so good with Gawor magh Laagen. He had been struck with a poisoned blade and was fighting for his life. At least the city’s thane was safe, sheepishly hiding in the corner. Ross told Branden they needed to rest for a while and regroup the rest of their remaining forces before assaulting cathedral. Again frustration begun to seize the rangers mind. He had to wait for Ross, while his friends were in the hands of a madman.
A few of healing potions were made available for the archer. Fortunately for Branden it was adequate to bring him back to fighting condition. He had no choice but to try to rest and wait for the others.
After a few hours he was summoned to be briefed of the upcoming battle. Apparently Ross and Devin had taken control of the remaining loyal troops: surviving bodyguards of the thanes, guards of the secret police and desperate clansmen. Ross informed a former mercenary of the conspirators had sold his services to them. Branden felt his blood rushing as he saw who walked in. It was Ronald, the arrogant wizard that he and his friends had left to face the justice of brownies. Somehow he was here, standing across the room smirking.
Branden begun touching one of his arrows in manner that it could soon be lodged in the head of Ronald at any moment. With a pesky smile Ronald told of what he know of the Master’s doings. Apparently some magical ritual was being performed atop the cathedral’s tower. Magical currents were flowing to it across the lands, most likely from various mystical stone formations such as the one in Glwyliadwrus. What was the goal of this ritual Ronald couldn’t tell. He had researched the history of the cathedral while in the service of the thieves guild: it was erected atop an ancient pagan stone formation by the Ellysians centuries ago and was at some ruled by a ruthless magician who used it’s catacombs as torture chambers on countless rebels.
Ronald could only slow down the ritual outside the cathedral as it was wrapped in a field of magical forces (“You puny blockheads probably couldn’t fathom to understand such delicate arcane terms”), he would have to get inside it to really cause problems for the Master. Ross had devised a plan: he would lead an attack force straight forward against the cathedral while Branden would have to accompany Ronald in from the back while the defenders’ attention was elsewhere. Frustration in massive form begun build in rangers mind. After re-arming himself in the base’s armoury Branded readied himself to bear the presence of the arrogant runt of a mage who seemed concentrated in some arcane ritual – probably disrupting whatever was going on in the cathedral. At one point Branden could swear he felt the ground shaking slightly. Whatever the mage was doing it had some strange side-effects.
The uprising outside was getting out off control. If this wouldn’t destroy the town, this unruly mob certainly would do the job. Part by luck, part by risking Branden and Ronald managed to avoid murderous mobs and reached the courtyard of the cathedral. They quickly crept to it’s backyard as the attack force led by Ross could be seen closing on the front.
Branden noticed that Ronald was started speaking in some wizard gibberish. Then suddenly Ronald started climbing the cathedral wall effortlessly like a spider while Branden watched in awe. “Are you coming?” Ronald asked arrogantly. Branden touched the wall: it was like he could grab hold on to the wall with his fingertips. He begun climbing eagerly, all of his tension and frustration was gone. It was almost like he was having fun.
The two men climbed halfway up the tower until they came to a window blocked by heavy iron bars. Once again Ronald started muttering arcane words, then simply touched the bars which melted away in seconds before their eyes. Branden readied his longbow as the wizard was leading the ranger in a dark hallway. Ronald seemed to know precisely where to go.
They entered the room that wizard thought would do the job. Then Ronald told the ranger arrogantly to leave and let him do his part of this business. Being inside the building he now could cause some serious problems for the Master but he wasn’t sure what side-effects this would have – most likely something quite drastic could happen. Branden wasn’t sure if he needed wizard any more, but the ranger was not willing to gamble with lives of his friends. If matters were different the archer would have finished the job he started in Glwyliadwrus,.
Branden started walking silently away as Ronald shut the door. He needed to find the old dungeons beneath the cathedral.
For a while he wandered the hallways of the cathedral before hearing two bandits near him. They were talking about some prisoners. They were hurrying to defend the cathedral from the attackers but one of them had received orders to check if the prisoners were still alive. This is the man the ranger would follow.
Branden followed the bandit in the hallway full of doors. The man entered the third door on the left. Branden listened carefully through the door and heard something that sounded like a heavy rock was dragged against another. The ranger patiently waited for a moment until he heard the same once sound again, then footsteps. Branden swiftly hid in a room across the hallway and waited. As soon as the footsteps in the hallway begun fading Branden entered to room where he suspected the way to the catacombs was located.
It was a study without doors save the one Branden had just used. The solid rock walls were beautifully carved with historical figures and depictions of past events. Although no historian Branden guessed these were made by the Ellysians. Branden begun studying the carved walls – the only reasonable place to have a secret door. It didn’t take long to find a handle cleverly hidden behind a statue that unlocked a stone door hidden in the wall.
Behind the door was a spiral staircase carved into the solid rock. Branden began descending as silently as possibly. Suddenly a quake shook the ground, this time violently. Branden saw fractures starting to appear in the walls as the whole roof began to collapse. Branden had only time to curse Ronald as he plunged downstairs to avoid being crushed in the rubble. The spiral staircase started to crack behind him. Huge parts of once strong stonewall begun to crumble.
The quake was such that Branden had hard time even staying upright at the speed he was descending.
Finally the stairs came to an end and the ranger jumped to a musty old room as the spiral staircase behind entirely collapsed, filling Branden’s lungs with dust. After a while the earthquake ceased and Branden could see he was in a room which probably was part of the catacombs he had been told of.
There were one doorway on each of the walls. The one on the north wall was a huge double door with arcane symbols. Carvings of nightmarish fiends leered at him beneath the sinister looking door. The eastern door would have led to another larger room but it seemed like it’s roof had collapsed entirely in the quake – some poor devil could be seen half-buried in the rubble. Branden noticed a tiny trail of blood leading to a sturdy barred door to the south. As this door seemed the least sinister option at the moment Branden had little choice but to remove the wooden beam barring it. He readied himself for anything and stepped through the door.