1, by Tom K. Loney
The beast opened its near-human mouth to reveal
that it was full
of razor-sharp hair-thin teeth and let out a screech that could have
melted tin. The cavern surrounding it didn't help the adventurers'
ears either. Some things need to be dead, Cutter
The slime-coated, dodo-bodied thing with its serpent-like neck, oddly
humanoid head, and fold-filled white-as-the-driven-snow colored skin,
in front of the warrior, was one of those things.
What did not need to be dead was the dwarf axe-man
from a jagged outcrop onto which he had been tossed, not too far from
the monster that had just ambushed the party of four. The rock's tip
protruded from his stout chest. It had only taken a second for the
axe-wielder to stop trying to raise his head and move his fingers,
before he let go and started his journey into the afterlife.
"Farewell in the Stone Halls, Ragnark." Cutter
he quickly stepped backwards, trying to get out of the horrible
beast's striking range.
"Cutter, get down!" A female voice called from
Cutter, the swordsman, dropped to one knee to get
lower but wanted
to be ready to jump aside in case of another attack from the beast. A
half-elf female, wearing a green robe over her padded-silk armor and
carrying an ornately carved staff, leaned slightly forward over his
"Oaksbake!" She cried out in
the Voice used by
wizards and sorcerers through out the world of Elder.
A stream of flame shot out, almost like a stream
splashing along the monster's shoulders. This diminished the momentum
of its ambush attack, forcing it to take a couple of startled steps
backwards. With great speed and agility the white creature moved,
showing how the dwarf Ragnark had been so totally stunned when it had
leapt out from the shadows in front of the party. The flame wasn't
hurting the beast though, because of the thick slime covering it.
Given a second of pause, Cutter moved his lithe,
powerful body in
a duck-walk placing a stalagmite between him and the beast. "Looks
like we are going to have to do this the hard way!" he called
out to the sorceress.
She looked at the stream of flame and willed it a
than before, with a concerned look.
"You're too slow to go up against that thing,
"I was hoping you'd help me out there, Sash."
straightened and peeked out from the slippery rock, meekly.
"Mousehide!" the woman, Sash, called out. "You
From behind the dwarf's body, an elf raised his
black-leather armor and dark wool hood almost hid his dark
complexion. He would have been invisible were it not for the two
torches lying on the floor and the stream of fire illuminating the
cavern so brightly.
"I'm here!" The rogue called out over the
the fire and loud grunting of the beast.
"Thank the gods." Sash said. "I didn't see if the
creature had gotten both you and Ragnark. I need you to cover when I
drop this spell and drum up something for Cutter."
With out replying Mousehide slipped from behind
the outcrop and
picked up one of the dropped torches in a crouching run. He stood
beside the green-robed wizard with his glowing short-sword, torch in
one hand and the sword in the other.
"There," He said. "A nice big target for Mister
Slimy to lunge at, so we can keep your pretty red hair all neat."
"My stylist will thank you, Mousey." Sash replied.
you going to be able to get over here?"
The swordsman looked at the distance between him
and the two
delvers, and then at him and the monster. The beast was starting to
get over its initial fear of fire as it realized that it was only a
mild irritation on its skin. It started scanning between the dead
dwarf and the stalagmite, every now and then stopping where Mousehide
and Sash were standing. It was blind to normal light, but had some
sort of heat vision because the flames, the stream and the torches,
were confusing it.
"No." Cutter answered after a moment. "I'll buy
some time. I hope you can hit a moving target, witch."
The tall, dark-haired warrior stepped out. His
bare pale arms were
bright in the firelight against the black leather tunic and
chain-mail hood he wore.
"Yoo-Hoo, Pearly!" He called out to the monster.
Surely enough, the serpent-like neck snapped in
just as fast and as just silent as in its initial attack. Cutter,
already taking a step back behind the stalagmite, leapt upwards. This
bought him a second as neck and head whipped around the corner low
seeking his ankle as it had earlier in the successful attack on the
dwarf. The swordsman directed his boots directly onto the beast's
neck and swung his broadsword in downward arc. The slime prevented an
effective attack, though.
Cutter slipped backwards and the sword's tip only
fold-filled skin to release a splash of green ochre. The cavern's
illumination suddenly dimmed as Sash's flame attack ceased. She had
drawn her staff to her side and placed her free hand on her brow.
Cutter was scrambling backwards over a pile of
loose rocks and
soil, kicking madly with his feet into the beast's "face"
to keep it from biting at his boots. A harsh, disgusted grimace had
snuck over his features as the scent of the monster filled his
"Hurry Up!" Sash said in
gestured in the swordsman's direction with her casting hand .
Cutter was not sure if the spell was taking effect
or not, but
everything around him began to slow down. Pebbles kicked up from his
flailing kicks seemed to get lost on their way back down to the
ground and meander slowly downward as other pebbles struck them
almost casually. And the grunts of the beast became tangible
"...eat your mother and father and all of your
in a bowl of blood and intestines," The beast was saying, "for
that little scrape, you slow, ugly ape!"
Rolling from his shoulders into a crouched
fighting stance, the
swordsman was able to get his sword in between him and the beast.
"You had to bring my mother into this, didn't
Cutter said. "Hell-spoor, you are going to regret that."
It was the human's turn to strike. He slashed
upwards in the
direction of the beast's neck. The thing was able move its neck away
but its dodo torso was now within reach. With only a slight change in
his grasp of the sword, Cutter was able to change the sword's angle
for a jabbing motion outward and downward. And, to his glee, two hits
were scored. The first, just above where the wish-bone would be in a
chicken, caused a sudden buckling of the creature's knees. The
second, inspired by the visible pain of its target to the sword
blade, which had a mind of its own when the swordsman got rolling,
went just below the beast's collar bone, directly where a heart might
be, Cutter felt the sword slip just past a hard bone, probably a rib,
and ease its way in delightfully deep.
Cutter was buckled sideways by the thick slimy
neck, and though he
could neither hold on to the broadsword nor stop his own sideways
momentum, he could watch his step and dance deftly to avoid tripping
on the rocks and gravel below him. He came up abruptly against a wall
of the cavern, knocking some of the wind out of his chest. Even while
he was recovering, he was able to watch the beast crumple onto the
"Acccck!" The monster squawked. "Help me
The beast was drowning in its own ichor when the
Cutter started to speed up again. Mousehide was supporting Sash from
what appeared to be a faint caused by the exertion of the spell. A
wave of weariness was beginning to come over him as well.
A quick glance reassured him that the beast had
dispatched. With a final sputtering and, luckily,
now-incomprehensible noise, it suddenly relaxed and began decomposing
in front of them. A green mist began to rise.
"Oh, Firecrumbs!" Sash called
reflexively. A gentle nimbus of flame coated the beast and sped its
decomposition along, also vaporizing the slime and ichor that had
begun to turn into a mist.
"Damn it witch!" Cutter called out. "My sword is
still in there."
"Take it easy ruffian," Sash responded. "Unless
your little pear-slicer is worth all of us breathing poison."
Still mildly annoyed, the swordsman navigated a
towards the sorceress and the rogue. Sash composed herself, but sat
down to gather her breath. Mousehide opened a rucksack that she had
on her back and pulled out a miner's lamp. Though the area was once
again well-lit, he started to light it. Cutter decided that sitting
down was a good idea and plopped down next to his companion.
"I might as well get to work, seeing how you two
are taking a
break." Mousehide said, moving towards the walls and outcrops.
"You might want to check over there." Cutter
"There's an off-colored area on that wall."
As Mousehide headed in that direction, Cutter
opened a pouch on
his belt, pulled out a small water bladder, and took a swig before
handing it to Sash. "This will help, just don't over-exert
yourself for about a day."
"Ah, a little boosting potion." She accepted the
and took a gulp. After a second, both of them had brightened visibly.
"Quite a little healing elixir there, Cut." Sash said.
Looking at the fire that had been the beast,
Cutter saw the
outline of his sword. "Quite an expensive one, too." He
stated. "I am glad to see it was worth the silver."
There was a clunking sound and a whoosh of air.
Mousehide's exclamation brought the two to their feet, if a little
shakily. "Good eye, man." Mousehide called to Cutter. "The
beast had its loot in this little hidey hole."
The other two began moving past the burning
creature to see the
plunder they had won. The three delvers looked at their loot in the
light of the rogue's lamp, a collection of brass and iron slug-coins,
some jewelry and pearl necklaces, a few tin chalices, and six silver
coins kept in a pile. An occasional silk scarf could be seen.
"Those farmers weren't kidding when they said that
poor." Sash said flatly. "We hack our way through a band of
kobalds, fight a jabberwocky, and this is our reward. What a way to
make a living."
"Barely more than thirty talents worth of junk
Mousehide continued examining the pile. "Unless we come across a
drunken bugbear on his way home from the marketplace, I am going to
have to live in a flop house over the winter."
Cutter moved back and looked back to the fire. "We
give the scarves to the village's priest as proof of the creature's
demise." He said. "They have lost four people and more than
a few sheep to it. And we need to pay for the dwarf's funeral."
Sash and Mousehide nodded. The rogue began to
divide the treasure
into roughly even piles, setting the scarves aside. Cutter placed a
leather glove on his sword-arm and moved toward the burning heap
where his sword was sticking out. He picked it up, examined it and
tried a couple of test swings.
"I am going to have to clean this thing for a
"Maybe you ought to keep it like that, Cut." Sash
helping the rogue place the divided loot into burlap sacks from her
pouch. "We can call you Cutter, the Burnt Sword. Or maybe Cut,
the Dingy Blade."
"I prefer Culthwaite the Ugly, White Thingy
Mousehide chimed in.
Cutter put his sword into its sheath, acting like
he was ignoring
them. He was quietly amused and irked at the same time. It was his
sword, after all, and he was a swordsman. "Mousehide you're
going to have to carry the rucksack and the treasure." He said
instead of responding. "Sash and I are going to have to drag the
dwarf on our shoulders. If we try to do too much right now, you'll
end up having to carry us."
"Hades!" Mousehide exclaimed. "I should just run
off with the loot and live big."
"Yeah with all those big bucks there." Sash
shoulder. "The way you spend, that stuff wouldn't last a week in
a slummy pub."
The three laughed a little, then the fire of the
began to die down. They all looked at the body of Ragnark the dwarf
without thinking. A quiet, unsettled feeling in their guts went
"Let's get out of this grotto and back out into
air." Cutter said, finally.
It was evening by the time the three made their
way out of the
cave. Though Mousehide was rather tired from carrying the loot a
quarter of a league - at least - up from the depths of the
jabberwocky's lair, he was first to smell the campfire. "We've
got company out here." he said, looking around as his eyes
adjusted from the torchlight on the cavern walls to the dimming
shadows of the glade in front of them.
"Probably not bandits." Cutter said looking around
"There they are." Sash saw the fire on the hill
past the glade they were walking into, but could not see anything
"Big enough fire." Mousehide said. "I don't smell
oxen or a team of horses, so it's probably just one or two
"And they're cooking!" Sash added, putting some
her voice. "I hope they don't mind company."
"I bet they are looking for us." Cutter replied.
else would be hanging out next to a cave full of kobalds... and a
"You have a point, Cut." Sash agreed.
The three adventurers moved through the glade to
find that the
fire was made by just one person, a knight or man-at-arms from the
looks of it, and he was expecting them. A large pheasant was roasting
on a spit over the fire and a pot of potatoes was steaming on the
stones next to it. They did not try to conceal their approach. The
knight stood when he saw them emerge from the dusky tree line. He saw
the limp body of the dwarf being carried and made the sign of the
Yeshan One God on his chest.
"Great, a single-minder." Sash whispered to her
"Hail and well-met." The man said loudly. "You are
Culthwaite, the swordsman; Salisha the Sorceress; and the rogue
Hidden Mouse I assume. I also see that Ragnark of the Axe Clan has
Following Cutter's lead, the party continued
forward a few steps
more. The swordsman laid the dwarf down and whistled loudly.
"I would rather be called Sash, the Green, sir
Sash replied after a moment, with more than a little haughtiness in
her voice. "It seems you know us, but we do not know you. I
suppose the villagers of East Vale told you who we are and that we
would be here."
"I'm Mousehide, dammit!" the rogue chimed in
holy-warrior could reply.
Not taken aback at either Sash's cold tone or
correction, the paladin merely nodded.
"The villagers did tell me where you were, but I
looking for you four, excuse me, three, for a week now." He
said. "I am Nemodes Arcturus of Pholus. A servant of the Lord
and an agent of the Citadel of Tinkerology of the city of Agrip."
Three horses appeared on the rise in response to
and began to trot towards the campfire and their owners. A donkey
appeared a few moments later, looking more lost than the other
"Now that is a trick, sir Culthwaite." Nemodes
of Pholus said.
"I go by Cutter." The swordsman said, nodding at
other warrior. "Do you have a shorter nickname? I have been out
east too long to be so formal."
"I go by Nemo." The paladin answered.
The horses came to the fire and the party began to
draw some gear
from the bags that were on them. Cutter took a couple of blankets and
twine to dress the dwarf's body. Sash decided to act like she was
ignoring Nemo and began gathering fresh clothes from her packs, as
well as oats for her mount. Mousehide found a wineskin and took a
swig, once he had the booty on the ground and out of casual reach of
"So what do the wizards of the Citadel of
Agrip want with us?" Cutter asked, still busy with the body.
"That I can not tell you, but I am to offer you
each to attend a meeting at the College of Stargazers." Nemo
Mousehide had started feeding his horse some oats
that he had
carried. "A dozen talents to come and visit a bunch of magi?"
"I could get fourteen talents for visiting my aunt
Casgos." Sash stated.
Cutter had to smile to himself. Sash obviously did
not like the
paladin, but she never could resist a negotiation.
"Lady sorceress," Nemo said with a blunt tone.
wizards that sent me to retrieve you gave me one hundred and eighty
silvers total to bring you to the Citadel. I was supposed to bargain
with you and pay only eight talents to each of you tops. Nine was
only as a last resort."
He paused for effect. "As I am a man of action and
talk, I see only I can afford to pay you better to sweeten the deal.
I, my lady, cannot afford to pay you any more for your time. Twelve
talents. Take it or leave it."
Sash did not know the man well enough to pout, but
she did show a
little irritation at his crude lack of finesse. Mousehide looked at
Cutter. "I'll take ten talents, if you put the other two into
Ragnark's funeral." Cutter said, tying the twine now that the
dwarf was fully wrapped.
"Damn it, Cut!" Sash quipped. "Now I suppose I am
to accept the twelve and disrespect our fallen comrade's sacrifice?"
The swordsman shrugged. Sash and Mousehide looked
agreed to fifty slivers each. The rest of the money would go into the
funeral for the ax-wielding dwarf.
"You going to eat all that food by yourself?"
asked, once he had the remains tucked next to the loot bags.
The paladin smiled broadly at the swordsman.
Though of very
different ilks, they had some thoughts and priorities in common. "I
could use some help with it." Nemo answered.
"Have anything besides meat and potatoes?" Sash
"I have some lighter bread, only three days old."
"Great. Greasy meat and pasty taters with pasty
Sash said, to no one in particular. "Not a thought for a green
"I..." Nemo started.
"I know." She cut him off. "I know you are a holy
warrior, not a cook. Wouldn't know how to avoid scurvy if a green bit
you on the nose."
Once again, the paladin showed amazing patience.
up for the disappointing haggle he had provided, he smiled graciously
and shrugged his shoulders. The sorceress huffed again and sat down
by the fire. Cutter and Mousehide smiled at each other. The group sat
down to dinner.
Though the group, most vocally Cutter and Sash,
wanted to stay
overnight at the campfire that Nemo had built, the bands of kobalds
that were still prevalent in the area, despite their warren's
defilement by the adventurers just that day, made the site rather
impractical as a rest spot. They decided to ride the day-long journey
back to the village of East Vale because the moons Mulro and Afy were
both visible, and provided enough illumination for the party and
their horses to avoid pitfalls.
In the morning, the villagers awoke to find the
watering at the well outside of their Shrine To Many Gods. Quickly,
the holy man within the shrine arose to find out what was causing
such commotion outside and, seeing them with proof of their victory
over the dreaded horror that had plagued their county for nearly two
seasons, declared that the afternoon would be one of celebration,
feasting, and reflective prayers to commemorate the group's victory
over the jabberwocky.
To his credit, the paladin moved himself away from
the center of
attention and merely pointed to Cutter, or Sash, or Mousehide -
whomever was closest - whenever a local would inquire about the
heroics involved. Mousehide stayed awake to elaborate the ordeal for
the villagers while Cutter and Sash slipped into the Shrine to find a
quieter spot to sleep until the afternoon. Before her nap, Sash and
the priest conducted the negotiations for the dwarf's funeral, which
was not a hard thing as the priest had not expected the group's
return, let alone any profit from their endeavors.
When the afternoon came, Cutter, Sash, and
Mousehide were the
guests of honor at a village-wide feast table after the dwarf's body
was laid to rest in the ground, as all followers of Drurl, the First
Stone, were. The villagers, a mixture of pale-skinned Sea Peoples and
olive-skinned Western kindred that made up the emerging Isun human
population, thought the burial quite exotic. Both Sea Peoples and the
Western cultures found cremation more to their liking.
Nemo busied himself with his horse and provisions
but did not sulk
or remain conspicuously absent from the proceedings. He was present
at Ragnark's funeral and showed up as a regular guest at the early
supper feast afterwards. Cutter had to grudgingly acknowledge that
the pale easterner's demonstrated patience uncharacteristic of his
people and religion. He was half-easterner himself and knew something
of the brusque mannerisms that were typical of the city-state of
Pholus, often called the West Colony, and its growing sphere of
influence. He credited it to Nemo's long-term affiliation with the
wizard citadel in Agrip, the largest city-state of the area known to
the rest of the world as Vast Barbaria, or the Wilder East Lands, as
the rest of the Known World called this edge of its map.
In the afternoon sun of the Springtime, the
festive dancing and
discrete alcoholic drinking of the village of East Vale (and more
than a few farming families scattered not too far away) wound itself
chastely to conclusion at the rise of the first moon. Nemo could not
have asked for better tidings. They would be able to get an early
start on their ride to Agrip some four days' ride to the south. He
posed the suggestion as unobtrusively as he could as the group
started to make camp in a travelers' hovel, a roofed-over area with a
water pump where horses and people alike could rest out of the rain
or harsh sun but still not inside the homes and temple.
"Why can't we just rest a full day here?" Sash
"There is a sense of urgency as to when we get to
The paladin answered smoothly.
"Easy for you too say." Sash continued undeterred.
haven't been facing the fierce monsters that have been terrorizing
your precious Citadel's taxpayers."
Nemo, obviously a seasoned warrior and probably an
some time, almost snapped but caught himself. "What about you
two?" He asked Mousehide and Cutter, deciding not to let his
temper be fully hidden by ignoring the obstinate magus.
Mousehide looked at Cutter for a second. The
nodded. "I am a bit bored myself." The rogue said. "I
am with Nemo about leaving tomorrow."
Sash huffed and wrapped herself in her wool poncho
and laid down a
"You bastards." She took a drink of wine from a
skin, left over from the party. "Men! Always in a hurry."
With that she rolled over.
Sunrise found the four on their horses. Most
until the sun was high enough to remove the chill of the night before
having a breakfast of porridge at the side of the road. Sash and
Cutter rode in front. Mousehide kept his horse at a slower pace and
coughed to catch Nemo's attention. Though the paladin's proud mount
did not like the slower pace, she obliged her rider just the same.
"Looks like decent weather will be with us for
most of the
day." Nemo said, awkwardly starting the conversation.
"The only storms we'll have will be among us, I
Nemo was relieved by the elf's directness. He
looked at the
dark-skinned, somewhat flappy-eared other's silver eyes. "I do
not know how not to get the sorceress angry." He said.
"It's not really you, sir paladin." Mousehide's
veneer dropped to reveal some of his race's maturity about things, as
their longevity aged them much slower than humans. "It's what
you are and what she is."
"She is an elf, like you." Nemo stated. "I know
that the elves do not take to the One God's religion but I have never
known them to be averse to it."
Mousehide smiled at that. "Close but not accurate
"Then what is the problem?" The human asked.
"She is a half-elf, and I doubt that your religion
is half of
what she doesn't like about you." the rogue answered. "Her
father was of the Sea People and her mother an elf from the southern
lands of Athebes. Specifically, her father was Gisgos Hamilarch"
"Oh my." Nemo said, surprise showing.
Gisgos Hamilarch of Atyr, the Queen of Cities of
Salima-worshipping countries, was the admiral of that city-state's
naval forces, versus the Yeshan forces of the One God that besieged
her for nearly five years when expanding Pholus's merchant routes
into the ancient west. One of the Yeshans' sworn enemies from a war
almost a century ago, Gisgos capitulated when the city had lost
almost all of its fleet and the ground forces were smitten by the
Black Death in numbers no physicians or magi could treat effectively.
The city's citizens were happy at the end of the siege but Sea People
tradition demanded the execution of their armies' top commanders.
Admiral Gisgos was aware of this as he negotiated Atyr's surrender
and, though he saw to it that most of his subordinates fled into the
far east and south, he himself stayed behind and faced his city's
"Our Lord's knights had nothing to do the war
Nemo pointed out. "It was the dictates of the unenlightened King
Marius that drove Pholus's might into the west. She cannot hold where
I am born against me."
"But the Singulars," Mousehide answered, using the
too flattering term for the followers of the Yeshan One God. "Did
almost burn Atyr down to the ground a generation later establishing
their religion as her new official religion. And the Holy Order were
the shook troops of that movement."
"My dead father was a young man when that
Nemo retorted more than a bit defensively. "And the Latter
Church of Pholus has never condoned violence."
"And Salisha of Atyr was only thirty summers old,
teenager by my kin's standards." The elf spoke evenly. "Her
travels to the Wilder East were to get away from all traces of Pholus
and its new religion."
Nemo was silent.
"Now, I don't expect you to make amends for the
wrongs of the
past." Mousehide continued. "But I thought that you might
like to know."
Nemo rode for a time without speaking then asked,
"So she is
over a century old?"
"An adult in her summer years as I reckon most
"And you are?"
"Just under a century."
"Which explains your youthful appearance but wise
things." Nemo observed.
"Humans can be just as wise and full of experience
of age." The elf brought his horse's pace up a touch. "Elves
just have had a few more conversations."
Nemo thought on this.
"She is not very elf-like." He added. "I mean she
doesn't seem very patient."
"Perhaps that's because she spent most of her time
the ways of magic and not watching the world." Mousehide
shrugged his shoulders. "Maybe it's the human half of her."
Nemo smiled at the humor and let his horse walk at
a pace more
pleasing to her. His own thoughts were a bit confused, so he felt the
discussion could be ended. The pace of his horse would soon overtake
the swordsman's and sorceress's and he almost held in the bit. Damn
the witch, he thought, catching his uncharacteristic
timidness. Let her get over it while staring at my back.
"Chah." he said to his horse.
* * *
The gnolls laying in the meadow were arrayed as
they had fallen.
From the dropped weapons and tracks, it seemed that they had been in
a circle, defensively, when whatever attacked them started to
dispatch them without too much effort. Nemo and Mousehide read the
tracks while Cutter and Sash scanned the nearby tree lines for the
signs of the culprits. The swordsman and the magus stayed mounted in
case a quick retreat was needed, while the other two examined the
field next to the road.
"Bugbears." Nemo said after a few moments. "Looks
like two of them.
"Three." Mousehide added. "One was hiding in the
ditch over here. It took a dump while waiting."
"Must've been carrying a large prize from a hunt."
picked up a long stick from one of the gnolls with torn rope on
either end. "A really big stag or cow, I'm betting." he
continued. "And their hunger got the better of them, as they
didn't drop it and run."
"What is getting me," Mousehide was thinking
that there are none of the bones of the game. Bugbears wouldn't think
to carry their prize off to eat it. It's not like them."
"Or the fact that there isn't a bite taken out of
one or two
of the gnolls. Just to taste test you know." Nemo agreed.
"Unless, of course, they caught our scent before they had a
chance to get down to eating."
By the end of this statement, both the rogue and
the paladin were
in a semi-crouch and looking over their shoulders. Before they could
warn the other two, a large stick, or smaller tree trunk, flew from
the trees end over end, right at Cutter and Sash. Sash, ever the
lucky one, saw it first and mouthed a surprised gasp before the
wooden projectile took Cutter on his left abdominal flank, knocking
him from his horse and into the sorceress. Both of them ended up on
the ground on the far side of their horses, who had decided that
someplace about a league up the road would be better for their equine
interests. In classic bugbear ambush pattern, two shapes emerged from
the tree line after the hurled trunk, and another appeared at the far
edge of the clearing where Nemo and Mousehide were crouching. The
battle was ensued.
Despite their weakened conditions, Cutter and Sash
did not dally
too long on the ground. The swordsman drew his long-bladed sword and
presented as threatening a stance as he could muster for the two
advancing bugbears. The sorceress moved quickly behind him and
started mentally researching a spell that would be helpful without
spending too much essential strength. The bugbears instinctively
moved to the left and right of the swordsman.
"Do you have your dagger, Sash?" Cutter asked
"You don't expect me to get into a knife fight
with an ogre,
do you?" Sash asked, fumbling along her belt for her dagger.
"Dammit witch! Just give it to me!" He waved his
left hand impatiently.
In that moment of hesitation, the bugbear to the
swung his taloned hand, and the one to the right moved forward, just
shy of the long steel blade. Cutter did not leap forward as the
carrion-eating hulks were hoping for, because that would have
separated the two, leaving Sash easy pickings. Instead, he moved his
left shoulder into the woman, knocking her backwards and the dagger
from her uncertain hands onto the ground by the bugbear on the left's
feet. Before the customary indignation could issue from Sash's mouth,
Cutter's long-blade moved in a semi-circle and caught the bugbear on
the right in his forearm.
Mister Right-Bugbear growled a loud snarl as he
steps, holding his left arm. Sash hurrumphed but decided to leave the
insult to her pride unspoken as she got up, quickly. Cutter moved his
left leg backwards, brushing the sorceress to assess her proximity to
him as well as give him some leverage for the right-handed swing of
his sword, which he brought around at Lefty the Bugbear. This sent
the ogre-kin reeling backwards and into a tree, causing a fatal
stumble. Cutter dared two steps away from Sash to go for a strike at
the off-balance beast. The blade moved for a vital area just below
its thick neck and bulging shoulder, but the swordsman's weakened
condition made the blow superficial, causing a rush of dark blood but
not the hoped-for bright red spout. A whine-snarl and an
over-balanced swat at his sword, which set him busy regaining his
fighting stance, were Cutter's reward for his efforts. On top of
that, the swordsman had to regain his bearings as to where Sash was.
That would require him to look over his shoulder, away from the two
Mousehide and Nemo were not having nearly as hard
of a time as
their companions. The paladin and thief-warrior moved to the left and
right of their single opponent. The bugbear's martial instinct
brought on the species's uncanny knack for survival and sent him
ducking back into the shrubbery. Nemo could tell in an instant that
this bugbear wished to disengage from the on-going melee, which meant
he should turn his attention to Cutter and Sash and their opponents.
A movement from the dun-skinned elf next to him caught his attention,
Mousehide was following the monster, his
silver-red eyes angry.
Nemo saw why the elf was indeed a dungeon delver and not a part of a
regular adventurer guild: he embodied the racial hatred of
monster-kin that elves were privately mocked for by more pragmatic
humans and humanoids. He held his step for a breath to observe the
rogue pursuing his passion.
As Mousehide moved into the brush, not bothering
to avoid the
thorns and tangling vines, the bugbear had no choice but to lunge at
him. With gravity-defying agility, the elf moved with the magical
grace of his species and leapt upwards, slightly hindered by the
shrubbery around him. The bugbear ended up in a tumbling mass which
Mousehide landed atop with his two long daggers landing after the
balls of his feet. This sent the dying monster and the elf into a
Despite the messiness of the rogue's combat style,
Nemo decided it
best not to piss off Mousehide in the future. With that he moved his
attention back to Cuter and Sash some hundred paces away.
The swordsman was having a time of it, Nemo saw.
against the jabberwocky must have taken a lot out of him. Cutter's
chest was heaving as he scooped up a dagger from the ground, but to
his credit the two bugbears were injured and acting very wary. The
half-elf looked as useless as any magic-wielder, busy primming
herself into a more attractive pose while seemingly distracted from
the urgent chaos around her. She did look good with a bit of dust on
her purple-clad rump though. Nemo heard Mousehide begin to
disentangle himself from the vines and the dead bugbear behind him.
He began moving forward.
The scene ahead of the paladin began to play
itself out again.
Both bugbears were on their feet, while Cutter and Sash moved close
to each other again. The two monsters could sense the swordsman's
weariness and were somewhat heartened. Their feints and swoops became
more aggressive as they saw the swordsman noticeably slow. Nemo began
running, fearing that Cutter or Sash would end up in a bugbear's
grasp and carried off in a hasty retreat that the unhorsed pursuers
could not hope to follow.
Sash suddenly looked energized with purpose and
struck a pose as
she spoke loudly in a language that Nemo did not recognize. With a
hand gesture one of the bugbears stopped his probing lunges to claw
at the bright lights and mist that had appeared in front of his
dog-like eyes. Distracted by his partner's dilemma, the unaffected
bugbear paused to look. That was all Cutter needed. With a war cry,
energized but still somewhat wavering, the swordsman drove his long
blade into the bugbear's torso – just below the first injury.
If at first you don't succeed...
Nemo thought dryly.
He was about change his direction to charge at the
beast, but two arrows appeared suddenly in its throat. Halting his
run immediately, Nemo turned to see Mousehide holding a small bow.
The elf spat as he put down the weapon to pull his waterskin from his
belt. The paladin could see why this group of mere delvers was so
successful. Talents they had in handfuls, and somehow they worked
together well despite their weaknesses, more so than half a brigade
of men-at-arms. And all necessary in the up-coming mission. Probably
just lucky, Nemo reminded himself.
The four adventurers came together where Cutter
was busy rifling
over the bugbears' bodies. "There isn't anything."
Mousehide told the swordsman. "I already checked the smart one
of the batch."
Cutter continued to search. "I didn't get knocked
off a horse
and have my butt busted for nothing." he replied stubbornly.
"Hope you like fetid cheese and moldy bread." The
Sash was looking pale.
"You okay sorceress?" Nemo asked her as he
broad sword in its sheath.
Sash looked at the man and almost griped, but
to be patient. "Yeah. Yeah, I'm okay." She gathered herself
and some fallen items. "I really should not have cast that last
Cutter stood up, finally giving up his search. "No
not have." He said with some strength in his voice.
"Oh stop being the hero, you jerk." the Red
replied quickly. "You had played out your tricks, the brutes had
the upper hand."
The swordsman's pride was not put aside so
lightly. "I am not
sure if killing two giants is harder than breathing into your lungs
for half a day after one of your little magical tantrums." he
"Oh don't do me any favors hack-master." Sash
shortly, then addressed no one in particular. "Damn barbarians
think they know something every now and then."
Nemo looked at Mousehide who was quietly amused by
"Sooo, we should gather our horses before it gets to be dark."
He said. "We're not too far from the Citadel."