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    The Silver Wolf-For Crown Or Country: A Hill To Die On
    Posted on Tue, March 10, 2020 by LordCeb
    CruelSummerLord writes "

    Ma’non’go knew that Caradoc would be a much more dangerous opponent than he was when they fought at the cabal’s manor. Caradoc was dressed in heavy plate armor, and carried a large broadsword and shield a bearing the crowned boar’s head of South Province. Caradoc also had a murderous look in his eyes, one that promised the Olman warrior a slow, painful death for his previous humiliation. Ma’non’go realized he’d offended Caradoc’s warrior pride, and their clash would only end with one of them dead.

    Chapter Twenty-Two

    A Hill To Die On

    Revafour saw the first four attackers coming up the hill, and was surprised to see that they were orcs. Weimar didn’t mention the cabal having any of the pig-faced monsters with them when he’d viewed them with his spyglass, but Revafour suspected the cabal’s wizard had summoned them. It didn’t matter anyway, as Revafour raised his bow and fired at the approaching orcs. His aim was true and he dropped two of the orcs immediately. They screamed in agony as they died, before their bodies tumbled down the hill.

    The two surviving orcs fired their own bows at Revafour, but he stood in the midst of a group of cedar trees. The orcs’ arrows stuck harmlessly into the trees on either side of Revafour, and they cursed as they tried to reload their bows. Revafour was quicker on the draw, though, and soon the two orcs suffered the same fates as their kin.

    Revafour heard orcish screams and curses coming from elsewhere on the hill, and he smiled. Weimar and Amyalla were covering those other parts of their hill with their bow and sling, and Ma’non’go and Airk waited to support either of them if any of the orcs managed to get past the companions’ missiles. Luna and Seline were waiting in reserve in case of an emergency, or if the cabal tried something unexpected. They didn’t dare unleash their magic too soon, and the companions had to do with non-magical solutions until then.

    Revafour nocked another arrow to his bow. He knew the orcs were just fodder to show the cabal the companions’ defenses, and that the battle was just beginning.

    Amyalla cursed as she saw the four men approaching where she was concealed. Three of them were likely warriors, dressed in plate armor and carrying dangerous-looking swords or axes along with shields decorated with the crowned boar’s head heraldry of South Province. The fourth was dressed in banded armor and carried a spiked flail on a chain, and his shield bore the image of six arrows, all pointing downwards in a fan.

    The halfling realized to her dismay that the man with the flail was obviously a priest of Hextor. For some reason, the sling bullets she’d flung at them after slaying the orcs always seemed to miss. She suspected that the priest had cast some sort of protection spell on the warriors to guard them against attacks as they approached.

    Amyalla thought about what to do next. The cabal no doubt knew that she was concealed in the bushes, given that her sling stones came from there. She couldn’t fight them on her own, so she knew she had to run. That would draw the warriors after her...and hopefully into the tripwires she’d put together with the silken cords the companions found in the wagon. Of course, the priest might have cast a spell to detect those tripwires.

    That was the point, after all.

    “The tripwires are between the bushes,” Sezion, the Hextorian cleric, said to the armed knights that surrounded him as they watched the halfling flee. “All we need to do is go straight through the shrubs,” he continued, before gesturing with his flail. The knights nodded as one, running up the hill in formation. They were using a classic Hextorian tactic, where a cleric cast a spell that gave an aura of protection from goodly foes to everyone in its radius. The warriors then all charged together, staying within the radius of the cleric’s spell.

    A series of angry growls were the only warning Sezion and the knights received before a group of angry badgers suddenly set on them. The badgers were hidden in the bushes along with Amyalla, and they caught the knights completely by surprise. The badgers weren’t the only things that caught the knights by surprise, as Airk suddenly materialized out of nowhere and viciously attacked them to help his animal kin. Seline had cast an invisibility spell on him before the battle began, while the badgers dug tunnels to hide in. When the knights moved to avoid the tripwires Amyalla had set up, they stepped into a perfect point for Airk and the badgers to ambush them.

    One of the knights, howling in pain as a badger tore into the back of his ankle, stumbled off to the side and into one of the tripwires Amyalla had set up. His yell grew even louder as the ground gave way into a shallow pit and he landed in a cluster of wooden stakes. He was killed instantly as one of the stakes pierced his eye.

    Placing heated and sharpened wooden stakes in concealed shallow pits was a common halfling’s trick, one that Amyalla recommended to her friends. The badgers Airk recruited were a valuable help in quickly digging the pits Amyalla needed.

    Another knight took the head off one of the badgers attacking him, but he barely got his shield up in time to block a furious Airk’s morning star. He stumbled back from the force of the blow, lowering his shield. Airk swung at the knight again, this time hitting him in the face and striking him dead. Finally, he advanced on the third knight, blocking the knight’s axe blow with his shield before the knight did the same to Airk’s morning star strike.

    As Airk and the knight fought, Sezion gripped his holy symbol and began a spell, one that would make the gnome’s armor so hot it would burn him alive. He’d barely begun the spell when he felt pain lance all through his body, and his chant ended in a pained scream. Whirling around, leading with his flail, Sezion clipped Amyalla on the shoulder as she backed away from him, the dagger she’d stabbed him with dripping with blood.

    Sezion might have killed Amyalla, especially with Airk still battling the last knight, but he stopped short as Revafour came between them. Revafour swung his sword down a vicious slash that might have cut Sezion in two, but the priest still carried Hextor’s evil blessings. He dodged Revafour’s slash and retaliated with a vicious flail strike that caught Revafour in the ribs, making him cry out in pain.

    Weimar covered Ma’non’go with his bow as his Olman friend advanced toward Caradoc and the three knights flanking him. One of the knights, dodging Weimar’s arrow, hit the silken tripwire Amyalla had prepared and landed in the spiked pit the halfling and the badgers had prepared. The stakes tore into the knight’s throat, and he died in an instant. A second knight was hamstrung by the stakes, and Weimar put an arrow into his throat. The third knight blocked Weimar’s attack with his shield and charged forward, screaming a war cry, and Weimar quickly set down his bow.

    He’d just picked up his axe and shield when he felt a sting in his arm that forced him to drop his axe. Glancing down in alarm, he saw a small dart protruding from just above his wrist. Weimar grabbed the dart out with his teeth and pulled it out, before spitting it out as he picked up his axe again. He came down to meet the knight, who blocked his first axe strike with his shield.

    The knight cut Weimar in the shin, and he felt pain from the blow. That pain, however, was nothing compared to the agony that coursed through his body as the venom that was on the dart took effect.

    As Weimar cried out, convulsing from the venom’s effects, he saw another man in a black cloak approaching him. The man had a face crisscrossed with jigsaw-like scars, and he held a dagger in one hand and a dart in the other. Both weapons dripped with a viscous, sickly dark-green liquid.

    Weimar regained control of himself and blocked the knight’s next sword thrust with his shield, but he knew he was in serious trouble.

    Ma’non’go knew that Caradoc would be a much more dangerous opponent than he was when they fought at the cabal’s manor. Caradoc was dressed in heavy plate armor, and carried a large broadsword and shield a bearing the crowned boar’s head of South Province. Caradoc also had a murderous look in his eyes, one that promised the Olman warrior a slow, painful death for his previous humiliation. Ma’non’go realized he’d offended Caradoc’s warrior pride, and their clash would only end with one of them dead.

    Caradoc screamed a battle cry as he swung his sword in a slash that would have taken Ma’non’go’s leg off if he hadn’t dodged in time. Deflecting Caradoc’s sword with his trident, Ma’non’go brought his weapon back the other way before thrusting it at Caradoc, who easily blocked it with his shield. The two men broke off and circled each other before attacking again, and the sounds of their weapons clashing tore through the air.

    Their battle carried Ma’non’go and Caradoc back up the hill to more even ground, and they took a moment to regain their footing before coming at each other again. Ma’non’go caught Caradoc’s sword in between the prongs of his trident, forcing his blade up and back. Too late, Ma’non’go realized that Caradoc planned that exact maneuver, as he kicked out with his armored leg and slammed Ma’non’go in the knee. The blow caused Ma’non’go to lose his balance, and his grip on his trident weakened. Caradoc tore his sword free and slashed Ma’non’go across the chest, causing a well of blood to rise up along his torso.

    Ma’non’go reeled from the blow, and he was fortunate that he managed to parry Caradoc’s next strike and keep the Aerdi noble from severing his head. His own eyes flared with anger as he used the butt of his trident as a lever to push Caradoc’s shield aside. Faster than Caradoc could react, Ma’non’go turned his trident around and tore it into Caradoc’s side and thigh. Caradoc’s thick armor kept Ma’non’go from piercing too deeply, but soon Caradoc had a well of blood all along his leg. It was suddenly his turn to reel from the blow, but he stubbornly came back at Ma’non’go, swinging his sword viciously.

    Sweat and blood poured from both men, but if they felt any pain or fatigue they did not show it.

    Luna emerged from the trees where she and Seline were hiding, waiting to reinforce their friends with their magic when they needed to. She saw that Weimar was in serious trouble, and he’d likely be killed if she didn’t intervene soon. She wasn’t carrying the magical mace she normally used in combat, which still hung from her belt. Instead, she carried another, smaller mace, which vanished into nothing as she cast a spell. Another mace, this one glowing gold, appeared in midair as Luna’s spell took effect. The mace was Pelor’s answer to Luna’s prayers, and it would follow her commands as long as her spell lasted.

    Luna drew her own magical mace and ran towards where Weimar was struggling with the knight he was fighting. The golden mace followed her obediently, flying through the air beside her, until she gestured with her own mace. The golden mace suddenly flew ahead of her and struck the dagger-wielding man coming at Weimar from behind. The man cried out in pain and dropped his dagger before drawing a second one from his belt. He thrust up at the golden mace, but his dagger passed harmlessly through it before Luna hit him with it again. Glancing around, the man realized that Luna was the one controlling the mace, and he threw the dart in his hand at her.

    Luna raised her shield, and the man’s dart bounced harmlessly off it before falling to the ground. She gestured with the mace she held, and the golden one viciously slammed the man in the side of the head. Crying out in pain, the man fell to his knees as Luna made the golden mace hit him one more time.

    Luna winced at the sickening crunch the man’s skull made when the golden mace hit it for the last time. She hated doing that to anyone, even someone who was likely a trained assassin, but she knew she didn’t have much choice. She comforted herself with the fact that she’d likely saved Weimar’s life, as he beat back the knight he was fighting. Weimar finally slew the knight by driving his axe into the man’s chest, and gratefully accepted the healing spell Luna cast on him.

    Amyalla came up to join them as Luna finished her spell. They saw Ma’non’go locked in a fierce battle with Caradoc on one side of the hill, and saw Revafour and Airk attacking Sezion on the other side. Before they could decide which of their friends to help, their hearts sank as they heard a series of loud noises that resembled a cross between owl hoots and bear roars. The companions’ worst fears were confirmed, as five of the horrific creatures seemed to come out of nowhere.

    Luna and Amyalla only heard of the creatures secondhand through listening to Weimar’s tales, but that was more than enough to make them never want to meet the things. The owlbears lived up to their names, having the builds, furs and paws of bears and the eyes, feathers, beaks and talons of owls. They were a beautiful deep brown in color, but that beauty was marred by the sheer viciousness the creatures emanated. Three of the owlbears charged Luna, Amyalla and Weimar, while two more ran down to attack Revafour and Airk.

    Luna realized the owlbears must have been magically summoned, and she realized the wizard they’d fought at the cabal’s manor was likely their master. She and her friends prepared to defend themselves against the owlbears, but the monsters were the least of the companions’ problems.

    A loud squelching sound filled the air as nearly a dozen thick black appendages suddenly burst from the ground. They resembled gruesome tentacles, which might have been found on a particularly large octopus or squid. They immediately lashed out at the companions, even as the owlbears adeptly kept their distance. One of the tentacles ensnared Amyalla, making her scream as it began to crush her. Weimar and Luna freed her by breaking the monstrous thing with their weapons. Unfortunately, they were soon surrounded, with the remaining tentacles on one side and the owlbears lunging at them from the other.

    Seline saw Xeravho materialize in the midst of the tentacles, his invisibility spell wearing off as he cast the magic to summon them. She was still concealed by her own invisibility ring, but she knew she had to act. She already had a small glass rod and a pinch of rabbit fur to hand, but she almost had to force herself to chant the words to her spell.

    Rationally, Seline knew she was doing the right thing, that her friends needed her help, and that the Iron League didn’t deserve the suffering that Chelor and the cabal had planned for it. Despite what she told herself, a small voice at the back of her mind told her she was disgracing her heritage, that she was betraying her family and her ancestors, that she wasn’t a true Aerdi.

    The voice grew louder as she finished her spell, and louder still as her lightning bolt ripped through the tentacles. Her spell vaporized the tentacles, and she caught one of Xeravho’s conjured owlbears in the blast. Her invisibility faded as the creature screamed and died, and Xeravho turned to face her.

    The voice continued to speak in Seline’s mind, but its words quickly faded as she locked eyes with Xeravho. Soon, all Seline could think of was how the older wizard threatened to kill her friends, the people she’d bonded with after she’d been forced to flee South Province with Luna and Ma’non’go.

    You’re going to pay for threatening them, she thought. The voice that tormented her was gone, and her vow was the only set of words passing through her mind.

    Xeravho’s eyes narrowed, as if he knew what she was thinking. His eyes were cold and pitiless, the eyes of a predator who wanted its prey to know that it wasn’t long for this world.

    Seline’s eyes were blazing with passion, the eyes of someone who would fight to the last for the friends who were all she had left.  

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