The remnant of the assault team made their way across the battlement. The feint and its discovery had bought them time, but they needed to be quick. Senior Trooper Hij took command being the senior surviving warrior following the ascent and initial encounters, but he quickly asserted authority over his nine remaining comrades.
“This is the tower,” he said in a whisper. He and Trooper Ama were just try the entry door when it suddenly opened.
There was a prolonged moment in which the young guard from within, carrying a pot of hot tea to the defenders on the battlements, stared in shock at the assault team. The just has he began to call out, Ama severed his throat with a single stroke of his dagger.
“We’re in then,” Hij said in a low voice, and he and his men entered the dimly lit passageway. The passed two closed doors and then stood at a stairwell.
“If this map is right, we need to go down two flights and then we will be next to the Royal Chamber,” Hij said, and weapons in hand they made their way downwards, leaving Ama to watch their escape route.
Hij and the others passed the next landing and a sailor named Ali was left to watch for any unwanted interruption from that level.
Hij’s team then came to the floor where the Royal Chamber was. Hij used a small hand mirror to peer around the corner. There, outside an intricately carved doorway, were two sentries in the livery of the Sultan’s Guard.
Hij turned to his remaining squad and held up two fingers. Three members of the assault team returned their blades to their sheaths and took small crossbows from their backs. His then pointed to one of the men and mouthed the word “right,” and then to another, mouthing “left.” He then mouthed “misses,” indicating that the third man should reserve his shaft to complete the task.
“On three,” Hij mouthed and began a countdown on his fingers.
At the indicated moment the three crossbowmen rounded the corner and first two loosed their shafts. Both struck home expertly. But just as access to the chamber seemed assured, the sound of several sets of feet could be heard coming up the stairs from below.
Hij and the five men with him on the stairway turned to meet the threat, and the crossbowman who had yet to loose stepped back into the landing in time to shoot the lead newcomer in the forehead as he mounted the stairs. Six other men in the uniform of the Sultan’s Guard immediately rushed forward, while a seventh scurried downwards to sound the alarm.
A melee soon ensued on the stairs, and as the original two crossbowmen struggled to reload, the door to the Royal Chamber opened and three additional Guardsmen emerged scimitars in hand. The first bowman loosed a partially cranked charge into the first of these, and then swung at another with the weapon. This was easily knocked aside, and the Guard cleft into the archer with an overhand cut.
The second crossbowman dropped his weapon, and drew a dagger which he managed to drive into the belly of the Guard who had dispatched his comrade. He then rolled and snatched the scimitar of the Guard he had just gutted. In a brief encounter, both the remaining Guard and the crossbowman collapsed with mortal wounds which they had inflicted on each other.
On the stairway, Hij noted the outcome of the engagement outside the Royal Chamber and then ordered his men to make a fighting retreat up the stairs in the direction they had come. On reaching the next floor they found that Seaman Ali had managed to close the door to that level and then use some pitons from his pouch to hold the door shut. He joined them in the retreat as they passed, dropping one of the pursuing Guards himself with a thrown knife.
By the time Hij reached Ama’s position only three of his other men remained.
“Run to the ropes,” Hij shouted.
Only he, Ali, and Ama managed to repel to the ground. The others being either killed, or captured and later executed.
The mission to assonate the Pretender had failed.