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    The Silver Wolf-Behind The Mask: Theater Of Pain
    Posted on Sun, August 13, 2023 by LordCeb
    CruelSummerLord writes "She hated the slaughter all around her, hated that she had to use Pelor’s gifts to contribute to it. Her mind filled with rage at the masked ones who’d started all this, wishing it would all just end.

    Chapter Twenty-Two

     Theater Of Pain


    As she ran down the hill, Luna tried to push her disturbing thoughts out of her mind. Her thoughts whirled at how true Pelor’s divination about the ‘masked ones’ and smiling faces.

    The Council of Crippled Helplessness had originally pretended it served the Horned Society to focus the Knights’ attention to the east. Hurrarin Westward masked himself as Thayvin Willowsky to derail the talks between the Knights and their allies. The assassins who targeted the Knights of Furyondy in Grabford said only that they were hired by a mysterious masked man. The brigands who’d abducted Jolene in Vala Real never even knew who their supposed master was.

    Given Jolene’s reaction to the letters the companions found in the Spine Breakers’ lair, Luna suspected she knew who was really behind all those plots. Luna also realized that Jolene didn’t like what unmasking that person had shown her.

    She forced all of those thoughts to the back of her mind as she started casting a spell, holding up the mace in her hand. It wasn’t her own magical mace, just an ordinary one she’d bought in Highfolk Town, but it still had its uses. Luna tossed it into the air as part of her spell, causing it to glow a bright gold as Pelor filled it with his power. The mace expanded in size and started floating in the air. The mace would vanish when the spell expired, consumed by the spell’s power, but until then it would strike at Luna’s command.

    She ran to catch up with Ma’non’go as he charged into the Council’s midst.

    The Council’s members were some of the finest warriors among the Spine Breakers. Revafour learned that when he charged at one of them, bringing his sword down in a powerful slash. The burly, well-muscled hobgoblin he attacked blocked the blow with his shield, barely reacting despite the force Revafour put behind the blow. As Revafour moved to strike again, surprised at the hobgoblin’s resilience, the hobgoblin struck with his spear, tearing into Revafour’s hip and down his left leg. He cried out in pain as another hobgoblin came at him, swinging a large two-handed broadsword.

    Revafour moved as if to strike at the spear-wielding hobgoblin, but his original blow was just a feint. Shifting his stance, Revafour parried the second hobgoblin’s sword blow, pulling the sword off to the side. The sword-wielder’s defenses were wide open, and Revafour cleaved into the hobgoblin’s torso with a titanic swing that shredded his banded armor as if it were made of paper.

    The hobgoblin collapsed in a torrent of blood, but Revafour screamed in pain as the spear-wielding hobgoblin stabbed him in the back. His heavy plate armor protected him from the worst of the blow, but his body still flared with pain. He turned back to confront the spear-wielder, even as a third hobgoblin came charging up, wielding a large, spiked morning star.

    Revafour parried the spear-wielder’s latest thrust, even as he heard the third hobgoblin coming up behind him. Fortunately, he also heard Seline’s voice as she chanted another magical spell, and the crackling of the magical bolts she released. They all struck the morning star-wielding hobgoblin, killing him instantly.

    Seline moved closer to Revafour as she tightly gripped her staff and reached into a robe pocket with her free hand. Another pair of hobgoblins charged at her with raised swords, but she pulled a pinch of red, yellow and blue sand out of her pocket as she cast her next spell. A flurry of multicolored lights appeared in her free hand, and she cast them in a wave at the hobgoblins. The hobgoblins collapsed, stunned by the light, as Seline walked over to them. Raising her staff, she swung it down viciously on their heads, her expression showing dismay and resolve all at once.

    Revafour’s own expression was that of anger as he blocked another thrust from the spear-wielding hobgoblin. The battle lust took full hold of him as he swung straight at the hobgoblin’s head. The hobgoblin raised his shield again, sneering at Revafour repeating his first attack, but Revafour suddenly changed the angle of his attack. He swung his sword down to the right, before bringing it back towards the left, cutting a crescent-shaped arc through the air.

    The hobgoblin didn’t expect Revafour to move his large sword so quickly. Caught off guard at Revafour’s speed, the hobgoblin couldn’t react before Revafour slashed his abdomen, cutting him nearly in two from the sheer force of the blow.

    The hobgoblin fell screaming, but Revafour hardly noticed it.

    He and Seline exchanged glances and nodded to one another.

    Airk was surprised at the hobgoblin’s speed when the monster parried his military pick with his morning star before slamming it square into Airk’s shoulder. Airk’s armor absorbed most of the blow, but his shoulder still stung painfully. Scowling in anger, Airk shield-rushed the monster, but the hobgoblin barely moved from his strike. Undeterred, Airk struck at the hobgoblin’s leg with his pick. He drew a line of blood along the hobgoblin’s shin, but the hobgoblin brought his morning star right down on top of Airk’s back.

    That blow sent a surge of pain along Airk’s torso, and he cried out as he raised his shield to block the next blow. His shield’s powerful enchantments served him well as it easily absorbed yet another of the hobgoblin’s blows, but his counter was easily absorbed by the hobgoblin’s mail.

    Airk could scarcely believe it, certain that he’d hit the hobgoblin harder than that. He heard Weimar cry off to the side, as he was slashed in his left arm and right leg by the two hobgoblins he was fighting. Weimar struggled to defend himself, and none of their other friends seemed able to help him.

    The hobgoblin parried Airk’s next strike, filling him with anger. He struck again, this time at the hobgoblin’s arm, and smiled wickedly at the crack he heard when his pick struck bone. The creature reeled for the first time, and Airk struck again, this time at the hobgoblin’s abdomen. Although the blow didn’t seem to pain the creature as much as Airk expected, it forced the hobgoblin to let up his attack. Getting a second wind, Airk struck the hobgoblin in his abdomen a second time, before driving his pick into the monster’s skull, piercing right through his helmet.

    Planting a foot to pull his pick free, Airk glanced towards Weimar. He saw Amyalla ducking a blow from one of the hobgoblins Weimar had been fighting. Blood ran down the hobgoblin’s leg from one of the halfling’s daggers, which was sunk up to its hilt in his hip. Airk realized that Amyalla had stabbed the hobgoblin to help Weimar, but if the hobgoblin felt any pain he didn’t show it.

    That was enough for Airk. Glancing around, he tried to find the hobgoblin most likely to be helping his fellows. It took him only a few moments to spot the hobgoblin he expected. The hobgoblin was dressed in splint mail like many of his fellows, but Airk saw the tattoo on his hand that marked him as a priest of Maglubiyet. Another hobgoblin near the priest advanced on Airk, but this time Airk was prepared. Holding his shield out in front of him, Airk used it to heave the hobgoblin over his shoulder. The hobgoblin landed on his back, the wind knocked out of him, as Airk reached the priest.

    The priest had been chanting a spell as Airk fought his guard. He finished it as Airk got within striking range, and swung his morning star at the gnome. Airk got his shield up to block the blow, but he felt a sickening feeling as the priest’s morning star struck his shield. His muscles started to seize up with a crippling tension, as he realized just what kind of spells the priest was casting.

    The priest’s first spell imbued his allies with Maglubiyet’s divine power, helping them fight the companions. Airk became suspicious when he saw how well the first hobgoblin he fought stood against his attacks. Now the priest was casting a magical curse on Airk, one that could be cast through any kind of physical contact.

    Airk’s eyes gleamed as he steeled himself against the curse’s power. Gnomes had a powerful resistance to magical attacks, and Airk was no exception. Stubbornly refusing to give into the curse, which threatened to drain away his strength, Airk drove his pick into the hobgoblin’s chest. The hobgoblin retaliated with a blow that caught Airk square on the head, but his helmet absorbed the impact. The hobgoblin tried to strike again, but Airk deflected it with his shield before he raked the hobgoblin across the ribs with his pick. The hobgoblin cried out in pain, nearly losing his grip on his morning star, but Airk wasn’t done. He hooked the priest’s ankle with his military pick, pulling the monster onto his back. As the hobgoblin landed with a heavy crash, Airk hammered him over and over again with his pick, crushing his ribcage before piercing his heart.

    He heard hobgoblin screams behind him as Weimar and Amyalla turned the tide on their opponents.

    One large hobgoblin raised a spear to throw at Ma’non’go, but Luna struck him hard on the head with her golden mace. The hobgoblin dropped his spear and staggered back in a daze before Luna struck him again. She winced at the loud crack she heard as the hobgoblin’s neck snapped and he fell dead. Glancing around, she searched for another target, but she was forced to raise her shield as another hobgoblin threw a spear at her.

    Luna winced as the spear bounced off her shield. As she lowered it, she directed her golden mace to strike at the hobgoblin who’d attacked her. The hobgoblin was drawing his morning star, but he dropped it as he was forced to dodge the mace. As he knelt to retrieve it, Luna struck him hard across the back, knocking him forward to the ground. As he tried to rise, Luna hit him over and over again until he stopped moving.

    She hated the slaughter all around her, hated that she had to use Pelor’s gifts to contribute to it. Her mind filled with rage at the masked ones who’d started all this, wishing it would all just end.

    Luna let up her focus for only a moment, but it nearly cost the priestess her life as she felt a hobgoblin slash her across the back with his sword. Her chain mail absorbed some of the blow, but the anger she felt turned to agony as she turned to face her latest attacker. Her golden mace faded away as she lost her focus on it, but it was the last thing on her mind as she blocked the hobgoblin’s next attack with her shield. She countered by slamming the hobgoblin in his ribs with her magical mace. As the hobgoblin reeled from Luna’s blow, she tossed her mace into the air and pulled a small piece of iron from a pocket of her robe. Catching her mace, she held the piece of iron in between it and her palm as she cast another spell.

    The hobgoblin struck at her again, but she stopped his attack with her shield as she chanted. He feinted, trying to get Luna to raise her shield before he struck at her lower body. Before he could lower his blade, he suddenly froze in place, restrained by Luna’s spell.

    Tears filled Luna’s eyes as she hit the now-defenseless hobgoblin in the side of the head. He was powerless to block her attack, powerless to strike back, powerless even to scream as Luna’s mace hit his skull with a sickening crunch.

    Luna felt despair and anger all at once, as she prayed to Pelor for this to end.

    If Luna felt despair and anger, all Ma’non’go felt was pure rage. Luna’s divination about the masked ones reminded him of his false friends and everything he’d suffered in Hepmonaland. The rage he felt at those memories drove him to instantly kill the first hobgoblin he encountered, driving his trident into the monster’s face before hurling the suddenly lifeless corpse down the hillside.

    Ma’non’go’s friends had engaged the rest of the Council, but he hardly noticed them. His eyes were fixed on one hobgoblin dressed in plate mail, who gestured with the large sword he held to emphasize the orders he was giving. Ma’non’go realized the hobgoblin had to be Ugtharn, the leading member of the Council of Crippled Helplessness.

    Ugtharn glanced to the side as Ma’non’go shouted at him, and their eyes locked.

    Nothing needed to be said between them.

    Ma’non’go caught Ugtharn’s first sword slash in the tines of his trident. He pushed back, trying to get Ugtharn off balance, but the hobgoblin equalled even his incredible strength. Ugtharn held his sword in place, refusing to give ground to Ma’non’go. He then slammed Ma’non’go’s arm with his shield, briefly making Ma’non’go lose his grip on his trident. Ugtharn freed his sword from Ma’non’go’s trident before slashing him across the chest. As Ma’non’go fell back screaming, Ugtharn struck again with a backhand slash that cut deep into Ma’non’go’s left shoulder.

    Gritting his teeth in pain, Ma’non’go quickly raised his trident horizontally, using its handle to push Ugtharn’s arm up. Quickly, he brought his trident back down and into line, thrusting into Ugtharn’s abdomen. Ugtharn blocked Ma’non’go’s second thrust with his shield, but Ma’non’go deflected the hobgoblin’s next sword strike with his trident’s handle. They broke off and moved around in a circle, never taking their eyes off each other, before they ran at each other again. The sound of clashing steel filled the air as they thrust and cut at each other, dodging and parrying their opponent’s attacks.

    Infuriated at Ma’non’go’s skilled defenses, Ugtharn dropped his shield. Gripping his sword with both hands, he slashed at Ma’non’go in a frenzy, trying to overwhelm his defenses with sheer fury. Ma’non’go stopped attacking altogether, focusing solely on blocking Ugtharn’s blows. Ugtharn became even angrier as Ma’non’go deflected every one of his attacks, as he started to scream incoherently.

    Ma’non’go just held on, waiting for his moment.

    Finally, Ugtharn came at him with a vicious left to right slash, leaving the entire left side of his body exposed. Ma’non’go didn’t waste the opportunity, plunging his trident deep into Ugtharn’s chest. The trident’s tines punched right through Ugtharn’s plate armor and into his ribcage, causing a well of blood to pour down his left leg.

    Ugtharn cried out in pain as Ma’non’go pulled out his trident. Before Ugtharn could react, Ma’non’go drove his trident into Ugtharn’s chest again, skewering him right through the center of his torso. Blood suddenly poured from Ugtharn’s mouth as Ma’non’go’s trident crushed his ribcage and tore into his lungs.

    Ma’non’go stared hard at Ugtharn as the dying monster screamed hatefully at him. The look in Ugtharn’s eyes reminded Ma’non’go of one he saw in Zed’der’rin’s eyes more than once, a look of hatred that bordered on madness.

    The light finally faded from Ugtharn’s eyes as he died. Ma’non’go set Ugtharn’s body down, planting a foot to pull his trident out of the hobgoblin’s body. Taking a deep breath, he looked around him.

    His friends had all survived, although they were all injured. Furduch survived as well, although nearly a score of his troops had fallen. Airk went to join Furduch as the gnomes prayed to Segojan Oerthcaller to honor their fallen kin.

    Ma’non’go gave the gnomes a salute and a silent prayer of his own, before he turned back to Ugtharn’s corpse.

    He remembered Zed’der’rin and the rest of his false friends, and felt a weight lift off his shoulders.

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