The great, heavy hammer connected with a loud, rattling crack, and the skeleton was knocked backwards a good ten paces. Bignugly, the orc Shield-knight, charged forward, bellowing madly, attempting to get every skeleton in the room to focus on him. And he had his work cut out for him - there were quite a lot of them.
With a ferocious cry, the orc Shield-knight caught the attention of every skeleton. They turned away from TreeHugz, who had been swarmed by them and was trying to run away from them, and began rattling their way over to the heavily-armored orc instead.
"Take them to the corner!" Megryd shouted, stepping wide of the charging skeletons. He wasn't worried about getting hit by any direct attacks from the skeletons now - they were solely focused on the hollering orc - but some of them were shooting clustered fistfuls of arrows in a wide cone-shaped area, and he didn't want to take collateral damage.
Bignugly dashed to the back corner of the chamber, shouting and swinging his hammer in broad, reckless arcs as he went, and stood with his back to the wall. The skeletons closed in, swinging cobweb-covered silver swords and shooting ancient bows. Many of the blows landed heavily, piercing his armor and gashing his flesh, spilling an enormous amount of blood. An arrow pierced his cheek and another rammed through his knee. But he kept fighting, swinging the hammer and banging on his shield.
"K, I'm in position," he said mildly as another arrow - this one poisoned - zipped through his eyeball, and yet another skewered his liver. "Gonna need some heals, lol," he joked.
"Gotcha Bign," TreeHugz the Druid said cheerfully. "Lol."
Megryd the Warrior closed in on the skeletons, alongside MiNtYzGuRl - also a Warrior - and Charfonn the Shadowdagger. They crashed into the backs of the bony attackers, slashing with swords and jabbing with daggers. Megryd used a great two-handed sword - one which he had earned by wrenching it from the grasp of the dreaded Sorcerer King of Biozard himself - and MiNtYzGuRl used a matched pair of lighter one-handed swords, which had been crafted by an expert weaponsmith but bore no maker's marks. Charfonn's dagger was unfamiliar to Megryd, but it was of legendary quality - Megryd had simply never heard that particular legend.
TreeHugz stayed well back by the doorway, reciting the mysterious incantations that tapped into the raw power of Nature itself. He waved his hands in a small circular motion, then lifted his staff above his head, causing an aura of vivid green light to build up around him. There was a flash, and a beam of emerald shot from a point just over TreeHugz's head and zapped straight into Bignugly. A number of his arrow and sword wounds instantly closed up, and the arrows that had caused them simply vanished into the ether. The blood that had been spilled reversed its flow and jetted itself back into Bignugly's body. Not all of it, but a great deal of it.
"Thx," he said gratefully, following it up with a litany of insults about the skeletons' mothers, which made them terribly angry and more intent than ever on murdering the Shield-knight.
From the opposite corner, they all heard the click and creak of a locked treasure chest being opened, and no one was surprised to see that Charfonn, instead of fighting the skeletons, had decided to go a-looting.
"A hundred 'n' twelve silver coins each," Charfonn said, pulling out five identical pouches and tossing them in the air. The magic of the psychic conduit, which enabled them to speak directly to one anothers' minds and made them a "party" instead of a gang of five individuals, moved the coin pouches to the invisible backpacks worn or carried by every adventurer in the world.
"Plate of crunchy bacon and taters, Potion of Fecundity Plus Seven, Charm of Constancy Plus Six, Wand of Ghostly Perseverance usable only by Warlocks and bind-on-acquire," Charfonn said. "Need, greed, pass for each."
Megryd, who was still busily fighting the skeletons, groaned softly. They had asked Charfonn not to loot during combat a number of times now.
"Greed, greed, pass, pass" he muttered, knowing that he had some use for the first two items but none for the other two. Because he intended to try his luck on those two items, he was forced to switch his grip on his two-handed sword and reach one hand into his pocket. He pulled out a pair of weathered dice and held them ready.
"Greed on all," said TreeHugz and MiNtYzGuRl simultaneously. They also switched things up so they could pull out their own set of dice. MiNtYzGuRl had to leave one of her swords lodged in a skeleton's spine for a moment while she retrieved her dice set, popped the dice in her mouth for a quick spit-roll, and yanked her sword back out.
"Dammit... Pass on all," growled Bignugly, still fighting hard and taking damage. A skeleton sword slashed his face open from brow to chin and two arrows punched through his armor and found their way into his lungs. He growled angrily, blood foaming from his lips, and bashed a skeleton with his spiked shield, making it angrier than ever.
"Need on all of it," said Charfonn quietly, wrapping the plate of food and tucking it and the other items away in his invisible pack. Once it was packed away securely, he sauntered back over to the battle and continued stabbing at the skeletons with his daggers, somersaulting from one exposed back to the next.
When the battle was finally over, TreeHugz busied himself helping Bignugly re-attach a severed arm and stuff his innards back into his torso, then sealing it all up with Nature magic. He also purged the orc's body of the enormous quantity of deadly poison that had been injected into it via the tips of the skeletons' arrows, which had replaced most of Bignugly's blood with spider venom and had dissolved half of his internal organs.
It was a routine patch-up, really - nothing special.
While they were doing that, Megryd and MiNtYzGuRl looted each skeleton body, and Charfonn faded from sight in preparation for the next battle. Everyone still had their dice out.
"Six silver coins each," said MiNtYzGuRl, sifting through a pile of shattered bones. The silver-tipped arrows and pure silver swords were ignored - that silver was worthless.
"Five silver coins each, one bent knucklebone of no apparent use," Megryd announced from a different pile. "Perhaps a vendor will find value in it - a few copper coins."
"Five silver coins each, one strip of runed leather for leatherworking," MiNtYzGuRl announced, holding it aloft. "Greed."
"Greed," said Megryd, TreeHugz and Bignugly simultaneously.
"Need," said Charfonn absently, still obscured in the deep shadows. Megryd and Minty shared a knowing look, and minty tossed the leather strip to the Shadowdagger.
"Are you going to roll Need on everything, Charfonn?" Megryd asked, annoyed. "You're not even a leatherworker."
"Oh, sorry," Charfonn said dismissively with a wave of his hand. "I thought we were just rolling Need on everything. Sry, wasn't paying attention... I'm a little baked, lol"
"This guy's an asshole," MiNtYzGuRl whispered into Megryd's ear from across the room.
"Agreed," Megryd whispered back.
"Lol," MiNtYzGuRl assured him.
"Anyway, this was the last room," Bignugly said, looking around. "Next up: Demi-Lich."
"Yeah," said TreeHugz. "Hang on, I'll look it up, sec."
Once again, his face went slack and he stood stock-still against the wall, staring blankly ahead, while his spirit searched for answers. He entered a mediation so thorough and deep that even being stabbed to death and set on fire would not rouse him.
While he was on his spiritual journey for knowledge, Bignugly performed a series of comical pantomime gestures - pointing and laughing, performing amusing dance steps, juggling balls, breathing a blast of fire directly into TreeHugz's face and other such feats of silliness.
The Druid's spirit returned to his body in a rush. He took a deep breath and blinked, and began talking, interrupting Bignugly's handstand and almost knocking him over with the abruptness of his awakening. The sages had been instructive during TreeHugz's spiritual vision-quest, and he meant to put their mystic wisdom to good use.
"K, so," he said, "basically this fight has three phases. In phase one, it's pretty much normal. We hit the four pillars and Bign keeps the Demi-Lich faced away from us. Just watch out for the acid puddles and the smoke and move away from them when they spawn. They'll pop up every seven seconds. Phase two, once the pillars are smashed, he calls in ghoul adds - the guy says to kite them and don't let them near the tank, and DPS burns 'em. Phase three is when they're all down, the boss goes into heavy A.O.E.-damage mode, and it's a straight up tank-and-spank until the roof caves in. Then we just smash the phylactery and loot the altar."
"Alright, I'll kite the adds when they come in," Megryd said, his brow furrowed with concentration. He was not as able to withstand a long, sustained thrashing like Bignugly, but he knew a few good "Yo momma so fat" jokes, and could make a pack of ghouls angry enough to chase him instead of his allies.
"Yeah, just be ready when they come," TreeHugz said. "He'll say something like, 'your soul belongs to me,' or whatever, and then be ready to taunt."
I will not fail them, Megryd thought to himself. He nodded soberly to TreeHugz.
"Let's buff up now," he said, rummaging in his pack and pulling out a carefully-wrapped bowl of delicious corn chowder with bacon. He had a full stack of these pre-cooked, pre-wrapped meals in his packs - fifty bowls, all for situations exactly like this. He dug in and ate the soup quickly, even though he wasn't particularly hungry to begin with, and tossed the emptied ceramic bowl. He felt a rush of health surge through him - he felt stronger and sturdier, his muscles more taut and firm, empowered by the superlative quality of the soup.
He saw that the others were following suit - Bignugly was gnawing on a leg of lamb (and likely carried enough in his packs to build an entire flock), TreeHugz was drinking some beverage from a tall blue bottle, MiNtYzGuRl was polishing off a few Gnome-make crackers, and Charfonn was reading from a scroll. When he finished reading, the scroll vanished, and his skin took on the quality of old, polished wood. The whole party positively glowed with newly-bolstered health and vigour.
"K we rdy?" Charfonn asked, already sneaking out of the chamber and nearly invisible to the naked eye. The party filed out and headed down the dark corridor towards the central ritual chamber at the heart of the catacombs.
No one really knew what sort of rituals were meant to be performed in that chamber when the catacombs were originally built. Standard religious burial rites, for most respectable religions that called for the peaceful and permanent interment of their dead (thus necessitating the construction of underground catacombs), typically did not call for a cauldron full of blood, an obsidian altar lined with dragon fangs and human skulls, or a throne made of human bones. And while the throne may have been dragged in at some later point - possibly by the Demi-Lich himself - the cauldron and altar were clearly integral to the original design of the chamber.
As they neared the ritual chamber, they heard the unmistakable sounds of combat - clashing swords, shouted curses, resonating magical incantations, and the roaring of the demonic voice of the Demi-Lich.
"Goddamn public dungeons," MiNtYzGuRl muttered sourly.
"YOUR ETERNAL SOULS WILL BE MIIIIIIINE!" the Demi-Lich roared, his voice reverberating through the stone floor and walls like the rumble of thunder.
"They just entered phase two," TreeHugz said sagely.
To Be Continued...