Revafour had always hated owlbears. Legend held they were created by some demented wizard or godling in ancient times using nature-perverting magic. Each of the provinces in his homeland of the Duchy of Tenh was named for the sacred animal or plant of the clan that ruled the province. Revafour’s clan was the People of the Bear, and he considered owlbears an insult to the animal his people revered. When the owlbears charged at him and Airk, he was more than willing to return their hostility.
Revafour met the owlbear that came at him with a powerful horizontal slash that turned its chest red with blood. The wound barely slowed the vicious creature, and it retaliated with a clawed paw swipe that tore into his already-injured ribs. Revafour staggered from the pain, and the owlbear tore at him with its beak, but he was fortunate that his armor blocked the owlbear’s strike. The owlbear struck at him with its other paw, but he managed to block it with his sword.
Off to the side, Airk was nearly bowled over by the other owlbear’s charge. He fended off its attacks with his shield, but he dropped his morning star as he stumbled back. He tried to draw his military pick, but he wasn’t sure if he could before the owlbear mauled him. The owlbear reared up to attack, but it suddenly stopped short. Its hooting growls suddenly became cries of pain as two of the badgers who’d come to the companions’ aid bit into its lower legs.
Airk smiled as he used the respite to pull out his military pick. Badgers fought fiercely in defense of their kin, including the gnomes who were like cousins to them. Airk quickly returned the favor, running at the owlbear and ripping a gash in its paw with his military pick. The owlbear tried to peck at one of the badgers as it scrambled away, but Airk struck again, tearing into its face.
Airk wasn’t afraid of the owlbear, and he was confident he could kill it. He wasn’t sure if he had enough time to do it, though. He could hear Sezion chanting behind him, and knew that the cleric could easily cripple or even kill him or any of his friends.
The voice he’d first heard at the Wizard’s Hat Inn began echoing in his mind again.
The other races of the Flanaess often assumed halflings preferred to use stealth or diplomacy to avoid direct conflict. That was true for most halflings, but the halflings of the Duchy of Urnst were famous for their daring and active nature. Amyalla took pride in combining the best traits of both her fellow Urnstian halflings and their kin in the rest of the Flanaess.
One of her favorite tricks was to hide her lockpicks and other tools on the garters she wore under her traveling gown, which few guards would ever think of searching. She used that technique to sneak her tools into Xavener’s mansion and open the box containing the Crown of Arumdina. Right now she needed direct action, as she worked quickly to ignite the bottle of absinthe she held. The companions had found many bottles of highly flammable liquor like absinthe and overproofed rum in the carriage they’d stolen from Xavener, bottles that could serve as flaming missiles when needed.
The cloth wick Amyalla stuffed into the bottle was soon alight, and she quickly placed it into her sling. Glancing around quickly, she saw Sezion down the hill casting a spell. With a whispered prayer to Arvoreen, Amyalla twirled the absinthe twice with her sling before she let fly. Arvoreen was apparently listening to Amyalla’s prayers, as the bottle of absinthe struck Sezion in the shoulder and splattered flaming liquor all over his chest and face. Screaming, the priest fell to his knees as he dropped his flail.
Amyalla pulled a dagger from her belt as she considered her path to Sezion. She hated to leave her friends struggling against the owlbears, but the last thing she wanted was for the priest to recover. She could only hope that Ma’non’go and Seline could handle Caradoc and Xeravho on their own-she knew she had to get to Sezion, and quickly.
Ma’non’go could do nothing to help his friends. He had all he could handle fighting for his life against Caradoc’s frenzied assault. Caradoc slashed back and forth with his sword, constantly forcing Ma’non’go back as his eyes burned with hatred. Ma’non’go’s eyes locked with Caradoc’s as he parried the Aerdi knight’s latest backhand slash. He was stunned how much the look in Caradoc’s eyes reminded him of the looks he saw in the eyes of his false friends, the men who’d destroyed his old life back in X’tandelexamenken.
The elf Vincenzeken twisting his words. His fellow soldier Zed’der’in falsely testifying against him. The bureaucrat Mez’darro ‘finding’ documents that supposedly proved his intent to betray their homeland. The magistrate and shaman Dix’an’aletettel condemning his family for falsely accused treason, even as he was the only one to escape.
Ma’non’go’s own eyes flared with rage as he recalled everything he’d lost, leaving him with nothing until Lord Roas found him. Faster than Caradoc could react, Ma’non’go used his trident to knock Caradoc’s sword aside and slashed him across the chest, but Caradoc felt no pain. He brought his sword back quickly and gashed Ma’non’go’s left forearm before Ma’non’go could parry, before bringing his sword up for a vicious overhead slash.
Ma’non’go dodged to his left as Caradoc brought the sword down, and drove his trident into Caradoc’s hip. Caradoc turned towards Ma’non’go, leading with a vicious backhand slash, tearing himself off the trident. Ma’non’go ducked underneath Caradoc’s strike and stabbed into Caradoc’s calf. Caradoc cried out in pain as he stumbled, and only his heavy armor kept him from being hamstrung. He slashed down at Ma’non’go again, this time catching the Olman warrior across the back before Ma’non’go sprang off to the side.
Both men were drenched with blood and sweat, but they ignored it as they resumed their struggle. Caradoc seethed at the thought of the glory and treasure he stood to gain from invading the Iron League, gains that the companions threatened. Ma’non’go felt the rage he’d been carrying for nearly a decade rise up again, rage at losing his family, his honor and his home due to lies and betrayal. Their eyes locked again, and they both saw the anger and hate in each others’ souls.
Caradoc sprang forward, seeming to thrust his sword before he turned it into a slash aimed at Ma’non’go’s wrist. He tried to sever Ma’non’go’s hand, but Manon’go slid his hand back along his trident’s handle and Caradoc’s sword clanged harmlessly off it. Ma’non’go knocked Caradoc’s sword off to the side and thrust straight at the Aerdi knight’s chest. Caradoc smiled evilly as he moved his shield to block Ma’non’go’s straight thrust. The trident skidded harmlessly off the shield, and Caradoc tried to bring his sword back to strike at Ma’non’go.
It never came to that. Ma’non’go kicked at Caradoc’s injured thigh while the Aerdi warrior was distracted and struck it head-on. Caradoc cried out as pain lanced through his side and he fell off balance. He dropped his sword and lowered his shield, and couldn’t use either one to block Ma’non’go’s next attack. Ma’non’go drove his trident deep into Caradoc’s chest just below the first wound he’d inflicted there, and the blood along Caradoc’s torso became a torrent. Caradoc opened his mouth to scream, but blood poured from it as well.
Caradoc’s death was slow and agonizing. Seconds seemed like minutes as he slid off Ma’non’go’s trident and slumped to the ground.
The last thing he ever saw were Ma’non’go’s eyes, somehow seeming to stare into his soul and into the past at the very same time.
Seline’s mind raced as she considered what spell to cast at Xeravho first. She knew he was more powerful, and decided she had to take out his sight. She started casting a spell of darkness, intending to cover Xeravho with it, but he was faster. He cast a lightning bolt at Seline, blasting her before she could finish her own dweomer. Seline’s chant turned into a scream as she nearly collapsed from the blast, her own spell utterly ruined.
Even as pain lanced through her body, Seline knew she was done for if she lost her focus. Reaching into her pocket, she pulled out the wand she carried, one that allowed her to cast clouds of warm steam and fog. The fog suddenly engulfed both of the wizards just before Seline used the magic of her ring to fade from sight.
Seline prayed silently to Pelor as she moved off to the side, expending another charge from her wand to expand the fog cloud. She reached into her pockets and retrieved some pieces of tallow, sulphur and powdered iron, this time chanting out loud as she began chanting the spell that created a flaming sphere she could control. To her relief, she heard her voice coming from where she’d previously been. Seline had cast a ventriloquism spell shortly before she’d first attacked with her lightning bolt. Just as she’d planned, her spell tricked Xeravho into thinking that was where she still stood.
As Seline finished the spell and her flaming sphere came to life, she strained to hear Xeravho’s footsteps as he walked towards where her voice was coming from. Tossing her flaming sphere towards the ground, Seline gestured it towards Xeravho’s feet, knowing she had to time the sphere’s placing just right.
Airk cursed as the owlbear dodged his strike. He’d heard Sezion’s scream as the priest was burned by the absinthe Amyalla shot at him, but he didn’t know how long Sezion would be delayed. He ducked as the owlbear swiped its claws at him again, and they deflected harmlessly off his helmet.
The owlbear tried to press its advantage, but it cried out as a badger lunged in from the side and bit hard into its paw. The owlbear turned to peck at the badger with its beak, but Airk raked it in the chest as another badger bit into its footpaw. Screeching in pain, the owlbear collapsed as two more badgers leapt on top of it. All four of the badgers began biting and tearing at the owlbear, and the monster howled as one of the badgers tore open its throat.
Turning away from the monster, Airk charged at Sezion, who’d recovered his flail and swung it at him. Airk easily blocked Sezion’s blow with his shield, and retaliated with a vicious strike that pierced the priest’s mail and gouged his chest. Sezion screamed in pain, but his cries were cut off abruptly as Airk struck him again, this time crushing his ribcage.
Amyalla came running up to Airk as he pulled his pick free from the dying Sezion’s chest, but she realized the gnome didn’t need her help. They turned to help Revafour fight the last owlbear, but the Flan warrior didn’t need their help either. Revafour swung his sword in full battle lust, taking the owlbear’s head off in a single stroke.
Revafour smiled at his smaller friends. He bled from several wounds, but if he felt any pain he didn’t show it.
The owlbear’s claws raked across Weimar’s shield, and he ducked under the monster’s snapping beak as it tried to bite at him. He wasn’t deterred, though, and responded by chopping at the owlbear’s beak. His axe sheared off a large chunk of the beak, and it reeled back, hooting and growling in agony. Weimar didn’t let up, as he cleaved into the side of the owlbear’s skull, causing it to fall dead.
He turned to aid Luna, but he saw that she was holding her own. There was blood along her side from where the owlbear she fought had cut her in the side, but her chain mail had taken most of the blow. The owlbear growled in frustration as she blocked its beak with her shield and slammed her mace into its left paw. Weimar heard the satisfying crunch of the bones in the owlbear’s paw breaking, and knew that Luna had her situation well in hand.
Turning back towards the other battles on the hill, Weimar looked to see if any of his friends needed his aid. Most of them appeared to be holding their own, but Weimar saw a hooded man approaching Seline from behind as she emerged from a cloud of fog. The man carried a discolored dagger, and Weimar didn’t need to be told what he planned to do to Seline. Dropping his axe and shield, Weimar quickly snatched up his bow. In one quick motion, he’d nocked and fired an arrow, one that caught the dagger-wielding man square in the side of his face.
The assassin died never knowing what hit him.
Weimar turned back to help Luna again, but he saw the owlbear slumped on the ground before her, its head caked with blood as Luna pounded it mercilessly with her mace.
Within the fog cloud, Xeravho raised his wand, which was enchanted with frost magic. The look on his face was utterly cold and expressionless, showing no mercy to the younger wizard he’d chosen as his prey. He was unconcerned with her retaliating, as he’d cast protections on himself that would nullify almost anything she could cast at him.
Xeravho felt that same confidence as he heard the crackling of Seline’s flaming sphere as it rolled towards him. He didn’t think about why the sphere was coming from the side, or why it passed just in front of his feet. He knew his protections would shield him from Seline’s magical flames.
Xeravho’s spells protected him from Seline’s magical flames, but they didn’t protect him from the mundane flames that erupted when Seline’s spell made contact with the nearly buried bottles of absinthe and rum he was standing over.
As part of the companions’ preparations for the battle, Seline had gotten the badgers Airk recruited to conceal several of the bottles of flammable absinthe and rum at strategic points around where she planned to fight. Those bottles could be set alight by Seline’s flaming sphere, exploding into mundane flames that protections against magic couldn’t block.
As Xeravho collapsed, screaming, Seline chanted another spell. One of the new spells she’d learned from the scrolls the companions found in Kalrek Burunne’s lair allowed the caster to conjure a thick wall of ice. She targeted the spell to land on Xeravho, planning to put the older wizard out of his misery.
Xeravho was just as skilled at keeping his focus as Seline, though. Forcing himself to focus through the pain, he began chanting a teleportation spell. He heard Sezion’s agonized screaming and the pained cries of the owlbears he’d conjured to bolster the cabal’s forces as Seline’s friends tore into them. He couldn’t hear the sound of Caradoc fighting with the Olman man, though, and instinctively knew that Caradoc was dead. Xeravho knew the rest of the cabal’s members who’d come with them were likely dead too, all at the hands of Seline’s friends.
The cabal’s cause was lost, but Xeravho didn’t intend to lose his life along with it. His spell took effect just before Seline’s did, teleporting him away as the wall of ice appeared above him. The wall landed with a loud crunching sound, but there was no one underneath it.
Taking a deep breath, Seline looked around the battlefield. There were corpses all around her, her eyes were stung by smoke from the still-burning fires, and the entire hill seemed to be stained with blood.
Normally, Seline would have congratulated herself on her planning and her choice of spells, and how she’d outsmarted Xeravho. She’d always enjoyed these types of challenges, including creative ways she could use her magic. All she felt now, though, was exhaustion and shame. The voice tormenting her returned, reminding her once again that she’d betrayed her heritage.
She knew she could never go home again, never again attend the balls, perform in the plays, or enjoy the company of other young noblewomen.
Then she saw her friends. They were battered and exhausted too, but they were all still alive.
The voice in her mind faded again, as a smile crossed her face.