Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Winding Road: A Compentent Guardsman

by Frank Gori


From the moment Lazeron opened Dab’s door and an alarm filled the building, Malleck had been scrambling. He gave orders while his mind wrestled with the situation. The group needed him to give orders, to keep the illusion of control. Panic was something they could ill afford.

Mal rattled orders instinctually: “Free every prisoner on the floor and gather any weapons and uniforms you can find. Capture any guardsmen that look like officers and kill the grunts.” The prison was the kind of trap you didn’t see coming until it was too late. Extra prisoners were extra bodies. Bodies that could provide the group with more force and bodies that in all honesty were expendable.

Dab was in the lowermost basement of the five in the facility. Access to each basement was secured with an iron-barred, reinforced door with stout braces. The ground floor had a portcullis, and the whole facility had about double the expected guardsmen.

The new guards proved to be a double edged sword to Mal’s plans.  The extra bodies employed by the enemy made getting in without opposition possible. New faces weren’t suspicious, and the honeypot trap set by Bellani the night before procured the team uniforms. Now however, those new faces were going to be trouble on the way out.

The liberated prisoners proved to be both a help and a hindrance in getting out. Several of the prisoners were prominent members of other guilds, or foreign visitors. There came a point where Malleck expected a scandal in every cell.

Malleck found and freed an elderly Orc Blacksmith who had been imprisoned for over a decade, a Kristog bard who had once filled taverns and concert halls in the city, a lizardwoman cleric, and they were even insane enough to have another Mage. Malleck had found at least half a dozen possible sparks for a guild war, which told him something else as he captured level by level: this was too easy.

Even the trap on the third basement which released over a hundred zombies and skeletons in relatively tight quarters wasn’t quite deadly enough. Of the seventy souls he liberated, about two dozen fell to that trap. Without Lazeron’s magic there would have been many more dead, but it was still too easy.

The guardsmen fell back too quickly and orderly. The men must have had orders to merely delay the escape. Aside from the trap the guards only seemed to commit to stopping the prison break at a couple bottleneck choke points. Zool and Bellany made those encounters costly to the guards, the design of the prison made those choke points costly to Mal.

When they reached the portcullis at the top Mal understood.

Perfect spot to set up archers or a magic user, or they could have rigged a deadfall to bury everyone. Instead Mal found a lone guardsmen with  resolved look on his face and his hand on a lever contained in an opened lock box.

“Listen, you don’t need to die today. Just let us out and you’re free to go or you can join us, but I warn you: Try to pull that lever or act against us, and I’m going to order Laz here to immolate you,” Mal stated in a calm voice.

The guard looked at Mal and smiled a half-hearted smile, “I pulled the short straw.”

Mal calculated the situation a little differently in the moment the guard spoke. Based on his posture, the man was holding the lever up. This was a mechanical trap of some sort, already triggered. Killing the guard would set it off.

The guard was also standing inside a circle half inscribed on the floor half up the wall. A simple act of will revealed strong warding magic.

“Whatever that is, I can tell that you will die as well. That doesn’t need to happen. I can prop that lever up,” said Mal, adding a touch of magic to his words. Alas, the guard’s eyes remained clear, and he seemed to shake off Mal’s words.

“I pulled the short straw: Make peace with your favorite god. We’re all going to die soon,” the guard replied.

Mal pressed forward, “I can tell you don’t want to die.”

The guard replied, “Of course I don’t! But I believe in something… I pulled the short straw so I’m going to do it.”

Mal queried, “Then why haven’t you?”

 Another alarm went off and the guard smiled as he replied, “I was waiting for my friends to get out.” He let go of the lever as a purple fire enveloped him. The mechanical noise of shifting gears strained and plates in the floor shifted breaking the circle.

A dagger darted through the air, jamming the lever, but the dagger snapped right out almost immediately. Magical missiles of force energy slammed into the guard to seemingly no effect.

“Run,” Mal shouted as he turned away and followed his own order.

The guard screamed, as his features began to rapidly shift. Bones cracked and flesh was torn, revealing scales the color of polished iron. The man’s body contorted grossly as he gained size and mass. Within a matter of seconds, the man was twisted into a rather large dragon.

Mal had spent those few moments running, as did his immediate companions. Some of his liberated prisoners had not, and were subsequently caught in the first blast of fire. A blast of cold soon followed, and then a hammering sound.

A quick surveying glance told Mal he had lost another seven or so men, but none of the folk he had come in with.

“Laz, tell me you can do something here,” Mal said in a pleading tone.

“I can buy us time,” Laz said, and began casting.

A wall of iron, a wall of stone and a wall of force followed.

Laz made the motions of casting something else, but twice seemed to fall into a violent and confused haze. Mal knew despair when he saw it; Laz had been pushed too far.

Laz bought them time, it was going to have to be enough. They’d have to find another way out.

Roughly forty pairs of eyes were on Mal. The dragon guard’s hammer-shaped tail was smashing away at the portcullis in a steady rhythm.

“I’m open to suggestions…”