…the butter churn needs mending…
…does it look like rain? Better take down our linens…
…YOU CALL THAT A DEFENSIVE STANCE?! STRAIGHTEN UP OR NO LUNCH!
…fresh apples! Just picked!
…I told her: court fashions change. She’s stuck in the past, I tell you…
…WATCH YOUR STANCE, DAMMIT!
…soon they’ll see, but it will be too LATE! Hahaha…
Quinn lifted his head from the table and the voices quieted. He could still hear the dull buzz of the spirits’ conversations, overlapping and disjointed. Layleth was looking at him, her usual look of maternal worry on that she didn’t know she was making.
“I’m fine,” he said, trying to sound reassuring. He realized his fingers ached and relaxed his grip on the rusted sword hilt that lay upon the table.
Young Sire? The Elven Woods-Maiden asked if you’re ready to go after Dreus.
“Oh. Yes, I’m ready.”
“Good news everyone!” Allec hobbled in, liver-spotted and smelling like that funny old-people smell. “I’ve found a replacement for that ungrateful pile of rocks! Meet Dusty!”
“Ash” the man with him corrected.
“That’s what I said, dammit!”
…Witch o’ the Wode…
Ignoring the voices, Quinn looked closer at Ash. He looked human, and stood straight, but something in his features seemed…off. Feral. He wore traveler’s leathers and carried a tall spear. How could he replace Kuri?
“Hmph!” grumbled Mangre. “Can ye handle yerself in a fight, boy?” Belts and straps creaked as he crossed his arms over his chain-mailed barrel chest.
Ash looked over, confusion flitting across his features. “I-I think so?”
…He doesn’t remember?
…the Fey steal peoples’ memories. Dreams too, I hear.
Mangre barked a laugh. “Well, if’n that ain’t a funny answer to a simple question! You sure about this guy, old man?”
Allec scowled, shaking his finger reproachfully and scolding the empty chair to Mangre’s right. “I’m always sure about these things! He’ll do just fine! Now get out there and earn this company enough to pay back your bar tab.”
Quinn looked around at those gathered. “Where’s Gino?”
Mangre patted him on the back (always a little too hard) “Don’ worry lad. He’s off makin’ a fool of hisself in the arena. We ain’t waitin’ up.”
“That reminds me,” Allec interjected. “I need you all to stop by the North Bridge tower on your way. Calbrun Broadwell there gave me all the details on an important mission for you!”
“Is that so?” Layleth perked up. “What is it?”
Allec scratched his bald head. “Can’t imagine what. Oh well. Off you go!”
Two hours had passed on the road. The day was almost painfully bright. The four figures found themselves before a white stone gatehouse that guarded the northern end of the Stonebridge. A mile down the length of the bridge (at the far end of the great Silver River) stood the South Bridge tower, identical twin to the one before them.
Seeing their Guild pass (which Mangre would never again forget to bring), the guards let them in. Calbrun, captain of the guards of the tower, greeted them. He was an older man, still strong in body but with a face creased with worry lines. Once inside, he outlined his problem: the South Bridge tower had fallen to goblins. The party’s job was a simple one: clear out the infestation and report back. Quinn’s stomach turned with fright and his grip tightened painfully on the dull edge of the broken sword. His lip quivered as he held back tears. Goblins??
…it was goblins what stole my cousin’s baby right from the crib!
…little green curs, I’d slaughter the lot of ’em.
…bastards killed my uncle! Left him to die in the road, naked with a knife in his gut.
The voices fled as Layleth lay a comforting hand on Quinn’s shoulder. “Don’t worry, Quinn. We won’t let anything bad happen to you. Or any of us, for that matter.”
Off to the side, Mangre harrumphed. “As if goblins could even touch us. We defeated a brass dragon, for crap’s sake!”
He sniffled. “Promise?”
She smiled down at him. “I promise.”
The great Stonebridge was deserted. The guards barred any traffic from the north, and goblins prevented any from the south. This, combined with the low sides of the bridge, meant that the party had little chance of approaching undetected. Upon closer inspection it became evident that the South Bridge Tower was no longer an identical twin to its northern brother. The battlements at the peak had partially collapsed, leaving the top floor exposed to the elements on one side. Crude graffiti and littered stones marred the lower level. As they approached, two lookouts standing guard at the entrance ran inside to warn the others.
The four adventurers wasted no time charging in. Mangre dropped his shoulder and burst inside. The ill-kept hinges screamed in protest as the door impacted the wall. Nine pairs of yellow eyes turned to him.
Eight goblins dressed in various rags and scavenged pieces of armor stood around the room at the ready, and a much larger hobgoblin in well-kept scale armor with flail and shield waited at the far end of the room. As Ash and Layleth moved into the room and at dawned on Mangre that he was surrounded, the hobgoblin shouted “Kill them all!”
Half a dozen goblins set upon Mangre with wicked short swords and crude stabbing knives. Layleth spun through the room, dancing past a goblin and decapitating it with a smooth slice of her huge falchion. Ash fell to all fours and shimmered, form melting into a great cat as he pounced. He pulled down a nearby goblin and savaged it with fangs and claws.
The hobgoblin who led the goblins charged into Mangre with a howl. His black iron flail crashed into Mangre’s chest with a hollow thud that knocked the wind out of the dwarf and would have killed a lesser man. As Mangre doubled over in pain, the hobgoblin’s armored knee came up and met his face with a crunch.
The rest of the goblins set upon the party. One hopped astride Ash’s feline back and tried to bury an icepick between his shoulder blades as he snarled and snapped at it. Another sliced at Layleth, opening a gash in her forearm.
Quinn stood in the tower doorway and watched the carnage unfold. He was frozen in a panic, unsure of how to help, when Sir Brandt materialized. “What ho! To battle!” cried the knightly apparition as he blurred through the battlefield, cleaving the skull of a goblin with his broadsword. As Sir Brandt’s form passed through Mangre and Layleth, their wounds closed. Layleth’s bloody arm was restored. Mangre’s cracked ribs and bloody nose mended themselves with quiet pops.
Mangre stood up straight as the spirit’s magic revitalized him. He drove his hammer into the hobgoblin’s stomach and smiled a bloody grin at the goblins around him. As the hobgoblin doubled over, the curved steel blade of Layleth’s falchion passed through the space where its head was a moment before. Layleth didn’t curse her bad timing, but rode with the momentum of her swing, transferring the great weapon to one hand and drawing the silver dagger with her other. As she completed her revolution, the silver dagger buried itself low in the hobgoblin’s side, punching through the scales and drawing blood.
The shapeshifter Ash, tired of being a goblin’s unwilling mount, melted back to human form and drove it back with a sweep of his spear. He clenched his hand and opened it to reveal a small wisp of flame. He hurled it at the two goblins at the base of the stairs. It exploded with a whump into a ball of fire that incinerated them and set the area alight.
Angered and bloody from the twin assault, the hobgoblin lashed out with the flail and spun. The iron head clipped Layleth’s shoulder and the hobgoblin’s heavy shield absorbed Mangre’s retaliatory strike. Layleth spun with the force of the impact, which allowed her to notice the goblin creeping up behind her to finish her off with a filth-encrusted butcher’s knife. She sidestepped its clumsy slash.
Sir Brandt appeared next to the hobgoblin and lashed out with his sword. The hobgoblin blocked the attack, but his flail was fouled against the ghostly blade, leaving him open to attacks by Mangre and Layleth. Layleth’s attack went wide but Mangre’s hammer hit home, striking square in the middle of the hobgoblin’s shield. The shield, as well as the bones in the arm holding it, shattered under the impact with a loud crack. As the hobgoblin cried out in pain, Mangre’s own shield swept up into the throat of another goblin and crushed its windpipe.
Suddenly the maimed hobgoblin disengaged from the three assailants, avoiding their attacks. He struck an alarm gong sitting in the back corner and the room reverberated with the deep brassy note. He turned and swung his flail at Layleth as she danced up behind him, but his aim was off. The flail’s iron spikes buried themselves in the top of a nearby table and stuck, trapping the weapon.
Ash threw another wisp of candle-flame at the remaining goblin, but it had seen what happened to the others, and it dove under a chair to shield it from the fiery blast. Ash cursed and took aim.
Layleth took two quick swipes at the hobgoblin but he interposed the taut-stretched chain of his flail each time, striking sparks off the curved blade. With masterful footwork (and despite his injuries) the hobgoblin blocked and evaded the attacks of Layleth and Sir Brandt. Mangre ended the hobgoblin’s footwork by diving for his legs and punching the back spike of his hammer through the top of an armored foot. The hobgoblin howled in agony and rage. He abandoned the pinned flail, opting instead to smash the armored elbow of his good arm onto the back of Mangre’s unguarded head. They met with a a hollow thock and Mangre fell to the ground dazed. The hobgoblin pulled the dwarf’s spiked hammer out of his foot, grunting with the pain, and raised it to smash in Mangre’s face. Before he could complete his murderous swing there was a gust of wind and a whisper of steel. The hobgoblin’s head neatly parted from his shoulders. It landed on the table with a crash as Layleth sheathed her falchion.
Ash’s next fireball blew over the chair and carried the goblin beneath it into a wall, knocking it out cold.
Mangre stood back up, wobbling and unsteady. As he shook his head and tried to get his eyes to uncross, the dwarf remarked “Well! That weren’t so bad, ey?”
The group wasted no time in looting weapons and gear from the bodies. They decided to bind the unconscious goblin to a chair and made plans to interrogate it on their way out. Mangre, of course, was the one to discover that a cauldron sitting over a fire in the corner was being used by the goblins to mull wine. The drink was obviously of the poorest quality. Still, Mangre was not a picky dwarf; he filled a wineskin as a souvenir.
Layleth was the first to scout up the stairs and assess their next battle. The second floor, much like the first, was a single large room. In the opposite corner to the northwest stood a spiral staircase leading up. Along the wall beside it was a great wooden scaffolding ten feet high. In the northeast corner were several piles of bones and refuse, and a low wall covered in a tapestry stuck out towards the center of the room to the north. Wooden stakes were wedged into the floor at various points around the room. All were inset roughly ten feet from the outer walls and formed a large ring in the center, twenty feet in diameter. This center ring, with the exception of a few bones and loose bits of flooring, was an empty expanse.
Layleth scanned for threats from her concealed vantage point. Her keen elven senses detected shadows on the scaffolding, noticed red eyes peering out from the bone piles, and spotted arrowheads of drawn bows peeking from behind the tapestry. With a series of hand gestures she tried to communicate the locations of the threats.
Mangre, who had already been sampling the goblin wine (which only enhanced his characteristic impatience), gave up trying to understand it and gave her a hand gesture of his own. “Here’s what I think of yer elfy finger-talkin‘! Les’ just go up there and kill what moves at us funny!”
He bulled up the stairs with hammer and shield at the ready. “OY! C’mout and fight!”
At this, the bone piles to the north rattled and formed into a trio of skeletons armed with swords and bows. Three goblins peeked their heads out from the top of the scaffolding, two brandishing crossbows and one with a bone headdress and rattling totem. The one with the headdress (Hexer! Foul goblin witch! whispered Brandt) pointed the totem at the dwarf and shrieked in anger. The other goblins answered the cry with leveled crossbows. Layleth burst into action and beelined for the scaffolding with falchion drawn, but as she set foot inside the circle in the center a grinning goblin pulled a rope attached to a nearby stake in the floor. With a deep grumbling creak the entire center of the room shifted and fell away, plummeting thirty feet and crashing into the floor below. A yawning chasm of empty space now filled the center of the room. A ten foot wide ledge still protruded from the walls around the edges. Dust billowed up in a great gray cloud, obscuring the room.
Layleth, having seen the trap at the last instant, stopped and performed a backwards handspring to the edge of the pit. Upon landing back at the edge she had already switched to her longbow and drawn an arrow. She released the missile at the hexer on the scaffolding, but the shot was low and embedded itself harmlessly in a support beam.
Ash formed a seed of flame and hurled it at the skeletons ahead of them, but the projectile slipped between the ribs of the center skeleton, flew ten feet too far past them, and detonated harmlessly against the back wall.
The first skeleton stepped forward to hack at Mangre with its sword while the other two drew and fired arrows at Layleth. She ducked and weaved in desperation, turning hits into mere grazes.
Two goblin snipers on the scaffolding (and a third that had been hiding behind the low wall) opened fire on the party. Bolts converged on Layleth and she barely avoided the first. The second sunk deep into her hip and pain shot up and down her side. A third bolt ricocheted off Mangre’s shield with a spang and flipped end-over-end into the pit. The hexer waved her totem and shouted goblin obscenities. The dust in the center of the room began to swirl and buffet the party, fouling their aim further and obscuring their vision.
Quinn hid back behind the cover of the staircase’s rim, paralyzed with fright. He didn’t know what to do! How was he supposed to be brave now? He was only eight! Luckily, once again the sword in his grip had the answer. It hummed and grew cold and from it sprang a beam of wraith light. As the light traveled towards the skeletal warriors it morphed and coalesced into a ghostly knight, broad sword held high. “WHAT HO, THOU FOUL DEAD THING!” Sir Brandt bellowed and brought down the sword. It crashed through a skeletal archer and bone fragments exploded into the air.
“I love that guy!” Mangre whooped as he bashed the sword-wielding skeleton. With a crunch he crushed it between his shield and the wall, destroying it.
Layleth danced along the edge as she tried to avoid the deadly hail of crossbow bolts. She grunted and attempted to leap across an expanse of chasm to the ledge beyond, but the pain in her hip fouled the jump. With the greatest of efforts she managed to land a foot on the very edge of the far walkway. Her exhilaration at making the difficult jump was short-lived, however, as the stone she landed on gave way and fell into the pit, taking her with it. Her fall was broken by a table. It had miraculously survived the collapse of tons of stone and timber only to be reduced to splinters by a slim elf woman crashing through it.
With their favored target gone, the goblins turned their malice upon Mangre and Ash. Mangre grunted at the impact of a sniper’s bolt in his shoulder and Ash barely avoided taking one in the chest. The hexer spat in her hand and gestured over it with a hand curled into a gnarled claw. A blood red light erupted in her hand and lashed across the room at Ash. Before he could avoid it, the light crashed into him and crackled over his body. Pain wracked Ash and a red rune appeared on his chest.
A witch’s Stinging Hex?
He moves, he dies.
Warn him, child!
“Don’t move, Ash! You’ll die if you do!” Quinn cried out.
Ash looked down at the bleeding rune on his chest and cursed. He began to murmur words of dispelling, gingerly waving his hands over the mark.
Sir Brandt lashed out at the last skeleton, shattering its fragile skull. The knight’s other hand passed through Mangre’s shoulder and the crossbow bolt fell away, pushed out by the rapidly mending flesh.
“Thanks,” Mangre barked. He took several steps back from the edge and then sprang forward. “THIS is how you do it!” he shouted down to Layleth. His short, powerful legs pumped furiously and with a grunt he leapt the divide.
Still reeling from the fall, the elf looked up from her makeshift bed of table wreckage and rubble just in time to see the dwarf soaring overhead. Making the jump she had missed. “Mangre, your MOTHER was— oh, wow.” Layleth’s words abandoned her. Her vantage point had just shown her Mangre from the most unfortunate angle possible.
The dwarf hit the other side hard. He continued his rush and jumped into a roll over the low wall. His hammer lashed out, driving back the sniper on the other side with a glancing strike to the head.
Meanwhile Ash stood vulnerable to the snipers, afraid to leave his spot lest the curse trigger. He hurled another flame seed at the goblins atop the scaffolding to buy himself time to break the hex. Goblins scattered to avoid the hungry flames.
Layleth was back on her feet and nimbly traversing the rubble to get back to the stairs. A goblin saw her moving below and took a shot. She grunted from the pain of the bolt burying itself in the leather on her back. She did not slow.
With a shout of triumph, Ash broke the hex placed on him. His victory was short-lived. Another bolt caught him in the leg. The hexer waved her arms and another red bolt slammed into Ash. He looked down in dismay: the rune was back.
“Ash!” Quinn cried. “Don’t—”
“Yeah, kid. I KNOW. THANKS.”
Mangre slammed his shield into the goblin before him and knocked the wind of of it. Before the goblin could recover, his hammer stove in its skull and it dropped like a rag doll. Mangre continued his advance toward the scaffolding. “Come on down, ye cowards!” he cried and lashed out at a support strut with a powerful kick. It splintered and broke in half under his armored boot.
Yes, the other beam.
I’ll bet the dwarf doesn’t even see it, though.
Quinn cocked his head as he listened to the whispered instructions. Layleth was running up the stairs, longbow drawn and murderous intent in her eyes as she took aim at a goblin atop the scaffolding. The broken sword thrummed and grew cold in his hand. He didn’t quite understand, but ignoring the spirits would only make things worse. He threw out his hand at Layleth as she prepared to fire. “Wait!”
She blinked at him in surprise, but stayed her hand for an instant.
“On my target!” he cried, and extended the arm with the sword. Frost whirled and formed. A bolt of deadly cold lanced from the hilt and screamed out across the room, slamming into and flash-freezing the other support beam at the edge of the pit. Layleth did not hesitate. Her aim corrected in a blink and she let the arrow fly. The broadhead connected with the frozen, brittle beam and the support shattered.
The scaffolding was now entirely unsupported on the side facing the pit. With a creak and a groan like a ship dashing itself against rocks, it tipped into the pit. The sniper atop the structure was lucky enough to fall to the floor on the second floor. The hexer was not so lucky. With a scream she plummeted forty feet, crashing with the scaffolding to the floor below.
Sir Brandt appeared next to Layleth and Ash. “Powerfully struck, milady!” he declared as his healing energy washed over the two battered heroes.
On the other side of the chasm, Mangre was admiring their handiwork. “Huh. Shoulda thoughta that,” he mused as he looked out over the edge at the carnage below. A pair of crossbow bolts buried themselves in his side, reminding him of the still-present threat to his right. He reached down with a big gauntleted fist and ripped the bolts out. He glanced at the bloody points on them before casting them aside. He turned, a gleam in his eyes, to the two goblins as they frantically backpedaled and tried to reload. “Oh, yer gonna pay for THAT.”
Quinn surveyed the wreckage for signs that the hexer had survived. A whispered warning in his head made him look down the stairs to his left. He was just in time to see the witch creeping up the stairs toward him with a curved dagger in her hand. His sword raised and another bolt of screaming cold lanced out, freezing the hexer’s hand with the dagger solid. She howled in agony as the hand shattered. The witch cradled the stump and turned to flee, but Sir Brandt had appeared behind her and was blocking the way. She snarled and cast another stinging hex up the stairs, but hit only wall. Quinn raised the sword again and Sir Brandt clamped his gauntleted hands around the hexer’s shoulders. This time the blast of cold hit true. Sir Brandt grunted and squeezed. The frozen goblin hexer shattered into hundreds of pieces. They tinkled like glass as they bounced down the stairs.
Mangre looked over the mess he had made of the two remaining goblins. He wiped his gory hammer on a corner of the tapestry. “Did we get em all now?”
Quinn’s hand was numb with the cold of the sword. His heart was racing a mile a minute as Sir Brandt looked up at him and faded from sight. He was having trouble putting his arm down.
With trepidation the adventurers crept up the spiral staircase to the top level of the tower. The room was brightly lit, primarily due this level missing a huge section of wall on one side. Wind whistled and blue sky shone through the cavity. Despite this, the room still managed to hold the dank stench of goblin. Across the room, a goblin in chainmail several sizes too large for him whirled at the sight of intruders. “How dare you enter our tower?!” he squeaked.
Mangre irritably snapped back, “Why did you build a tower we could break into so easily?”
“We didn’t build it you fool,” the goblin snarled. He gestured with a short blade and declared, “We took it by force!”
The dwarf smirked and hefted his hammer. “Well then. Maybe we’ll do the same.”
“Raah! You can try!” the goblin shrieked. From a pile of soiled and reeking blankets nearby, a hulking figure emerged. The fur-covered brute lifted a heavy iron morningstar and grinned at the intruders with a mouth full of sharp teeth.
A bugbear! Be careful, child.
It is as fast as it is strong, make no mistake.
Quinn cried out, “It’s a bugbear, Mangre! Be careful!”
“Pah! I know what it is, boy,” Mangre snapped as he advanced. “Question is: does it know what I — whoa!” Mangre stumbled and reeled as a section of floor in front of him collapsed and tumbled away into darkness. The sound of stones crashing to the ground two stories below was muted and faint. “Wha’s wrong with this damn tower! Human construction is for crap!” Mangre shouted as he sidestepped the gap and advanced on the bugbear. His hammer swung in low and was batted aside almost playfully by the brute’s morningstar.
“Mmmy turrnn,” it bellowed as it swung the cruelly-spiked club at Mangre. The dwarf ducked low and the weapon whistled overhead. Too late did Mangre see the trap: while his attention was on the bugbear’s high attack, the runt of an under-boss was stabbing low. His shield barely turned the attack aside in time. It was then that a third attacker revealed himself: in an explosion of bedding, a goblin in camouflaged leathers lunged at Mangre from behind. A wickedly thin dagger held in both the sneak’s hands came down on Mangre’s unguarded back and stabbed through the chainmail. Mangre howled in pain and twisted at this new attacker. The dark-clothed goblin sprang away, its weapon coated in dwarven blood.
Layleth sprang into the air and tucked into a roll, tumbling past the under-boss to flank him. He silver dagger flashed and darted out at the goblin’s throat, but he raised his arm to block the attack and sparks flew as the blade shrieked across chain links. Ash snarled and lunged at the bugbear, changing form in midair. The bugbear yelped in surprise as a great snarling cat sank its fangs into his meaty arm, kicking and tearing at him with its clawed hind legs.
Sir Brandt’s voice resonated in Quinn’s ears: We must help or your friends may die, boy! Bring out the others!
“But how?” Quinn asked aloud. “I don’t know how I did it before!” But Sir Brandt was already moving, fading in and out of the skirmish with his ghostly blade flashing and looking for openings.
Quinn looked down and saw that the blade was starting to hum and glow. Scales of rust shook loose from the sword and floated to the ground as the humming rose in pitch and intensity. The blade was growing colder, shaking so hard in Quinn’s hands that it was all he could do to hold onto it. More flakes of rust fell away, revealing a cold white blade beneath. The hum became a scream, now so loud and piercing that it was all he could hear. The light intensified until Quinn was blinded by the radiance. The cold and the vibration numbed his fingers and arms and shoulders…
All at once the ringing stopped. The sword grew still. Quinn blinked and the ringing in his ears faded. Everything was silent and still for a moment. It was then that he noticed the wisps of light hanging in the air: hundreds of them hung about the place. Their whispering voices came to him and he knew them. Quinn’s knees gave out and he fell to the ground as a wave of exhaustion hit him. All at once time started again and the combatants noticed the spirits. It was then that they descended in a swirling cloud of cold light. The hobgoblin howled and batted at the insubstantial motes and the assassin dove for cover. The under-boss was thrown to the ground in the maelstrom of howling apparitions, his arms feebly trying to cover his face from the onslaught. All at once the spirit cloud broke and converged on the three adventurers within it, to this point untouched by the ghosts flying through their bodies. As each spirit collided with a hero it splashed and dissipated, leaving behind an aura of soft white light.
“Huh,” quipped Mangre as he inspected a faintly glowing hand. “That’s a new trick.”
The goblin underboss, bleeding from a thousand tiny cuts on his face and arms, sprang back to his feet and stabbed at the dwarf. The short sword was angled at his mailed stomach but slowed as it hit the glowing aura. The goblin grunted with effort as he forced the blade through the light, which had thickened like mud at the point of impact. Mangre turned to the underboss to retaliate, forgetting momentarily about the bugbear. The huge morningstar arcing in also slowed before it hit, but not enough. With a crack Mangre was knocked sprawling as the bugbear’s swing connected.
At this, Quinn thrust out the broken sword like a holy symbol. With a crack of thunder an invisible force lifted up the bugbear and knocked him sprawling. The brute grunted in pain as he struck the ground hard, only inches from the hole on the floor. Quinn looked up from under his hair, still pale from the exertion. “You shouldn’t have done thaaat,” came an unfamiliar voice in a mocking singsong. It wouldn’t be until much later that Quinn realized the voice had come from his mouth.
Layleth danced behind the goblin leader and her falchion sliced across his side in a screech of metal against metal. Ash, still in cat form, yowled and swiped a razored paw at the under-boss. His claws found flesh and blood ran from a slash in the goblin’s leg. Sir Brandt blinked into existence behind the goblin and swung his mighty sword, but the goblin’s short sword blocked the strike. Taking advantage of the distraction, Mangre stepped in swinging, landing a glancing blow to the shoulder. The under-boss pivoted away from his attackers and slashed again at Mangre. The disemboweling swipe was slowed again by the light, and Mangre suffered only a deep scratch instead.
By now the bugbear had regained his feet and lumbered back into the fight, but his swing at Mangre was clumsy and instead cracked the stone of the floor to his right. The goblin black-blade was also lunging back into battle in an effort to save his chief. His darting dagger barely missed Ash’s right eye and the cat snarled in warning.
Layleth disengaged from the melee with a series of rolls and handsprings. As she moved she stowed her falchion and drew her bow. As she came out of the tumble an arrow was already in flight from her bow. It hit the under-boss in the side with a meaty thunk and he dropped his sword as he cried out in pain.
It was at this point that Ash went into a savage frenzy. In a cloud of fur and claws and fangs he lashed out at the two goblins and the bugbear. The under-boss’s cry of pain cut off abruptly in a wet gurgle. Black blood fountained from a gash where his throat had been and the goblin chief collapsed. As Ash spun about in his frenzy, his form melted and suddenly he was himself again. His blood-soaked hands were still formed into claws and goblin gore ran down his chin from his gritted teeth.
Layleth quick-stowed her longbow and her falchion came ringing back out. She laid open the bugbear’s back with a leaping slash and he howled. The morningstar came around in a backhand swing, but the ranger was already dancing away and nimbly leapt over it. Ash clenched and opened a bloody hand. A wisp of flame darted at the bugbear. It impacted the brute’s chest with a whump and set his fur and the nearby bedding alight.
Roaring in fury and pain and half-blind from being wreathed in flames, the bugbear looked for an enemy to crush. His predatory eyes fell upon Mangre and the huge morningstar lifted back over his head in a two-handed grip. Flames and smoke danced across the fur of his heaving chest as massive muscles coiled and tensed. The brute roared and tried to swing, but suddenly the weapon would not move. Peering over his shoulder, the bugbear finally noticed Sir Brandt, his gauntled fist holding the morningstar’s haft tightly to prevent the deadly swing.
Mangre charged. His hobnailed boots stirred and blew away cinders in the bugbear’s fur as he ran up the giant’s chest. At the peak of his ascent, Mangre’s hammer came up. Only then did the bugbear think to look forward again. The dwarven steel craghammer rang as it came down on his forehead. Quickly the hammer rose and fell twice more. Slowly the brute tipped backward and crashed in a swirl of smoke, the dwarf riding the corpse down.
“Now THAT is how ya do it! Did ye see that, Elfy?! That’s how real men fight,” Mangre boasted.
“Dwarf. Arms up,” Layleth snapped. In a flash she raised her longbow and launched an arrow. The shaft zipped just beneath his armpit and slammed with a thunk into the goblin black-blade’s right eye. As the assassin’s lifeless body dropped and its dagger clattered to the floor, Layleth sighed at the sheepish dwarf with his hands in the air.
“Moron. Please learn to count.”
The stench of goblin bedding had now expanded to include the reek of burning bugbear fur. The party covered their noses to block it out as they looted the bodies. Quinn was put to work counting coins from the goblin chief’s stash as Layleth inspected the goblin’s chain-mail. Mangre had wrestled a heavy belt from the bugbear’s waist (only mildly scorched) and was admiring the metalwork on the buckle.
It was at this point that the heroes remembered they had tied an unconscious goblin to a chair downstairs with plans to interrogate it later. This had been their plan, at least, before they dropped several tons of ceiling on its head. Without a surviving goblin to question, the heroes would never know how the goblins had overrun the tower or where they’d come from. Mangre was personally more unhappy about the amount of mortar dust that had gotten in the cauldron of goblin wine, but later justified it as a passable thickener.
On the bridge back to the North tower, Quinn lagged behind the group. He stared at his feet as he navigated the cobblestones. The sword, as always, was clutched to his chest.
You pick up the sword’s tricks quickly, Sire. See how your kingdom’s subjects responded to your command?
“Yeah, but I don’t know how I did it, though.”
That doesn’t matter. What matters is you did it when it counted.
Quinn walked in silence as he thought about Sir Brandt’s words.
“Does this mean I can put down the sword for a bit? My fingers do hurt real bad from holding it all the time.”
Go right ahead, my King.
Quinn paled. He ran to catch up with the others. The knuckles of his right hand were white on the sword.
His left hand reached up to clutch the material of Layleth’s pant leg. She absently tousled his hair.