By Brian Flood
Chapter 18 - The Night Flyers
Along the East Way
Near Kendall Keep, Kingdom of Cormyr
Early Evening, 17th Day of Mirtul; Year of the Tankard (1370 DR)
It has been just over an hour since Baulin and Declan assumed camp watch duty when they discern a fluttering of wings. Glancing upward, they see nearly half a dozen flying creatures circling the campsite at treetop level and in a clockwise direction. By the light of the campfire, the two guards note that the creatures appear to be about one foot in length and have a wingspan about twice that. They also notice that the avians appear to have extremely long and narrow beaks.
Declan has just decided to move toward Alain, the nearest sleeping companion, when the avians suddenly begin to spiral downward into the clearing. As Declan and Baulin watch in horror, two of the diving creatures alight on the sleeping forms of Velgardrin and Malk and plunge their long beaks downward at their unsuspecting victims.
Uttering a warning shout, Declan’s hands move through the gestures of a spellcasting. A few seconds later, a fiery dart speeds from his outstretched finger to strike the avian attacking Velgardrin. The missile strikes the flyer in the head, and it immediately goes limp.
Baulin can only watch helplessly as the remaining flyers stay just out of reach of his axe. They level off at an altitude of about ten feet and continue their counterclockwise flight around the clearing.
As Declan deals with Velgardrin’s attacker, the dwarf and the other party members start to stir, awakened by Declan’s shout.
Malk rolls quickly to his left, two or three times. In doing so, he crushes his attacker beneath him and while also driving its proboscis deeper into his abdomen. With a cry of pain, the bard ends his roll in a fetal position, clutching his stomach. The pulped body of his attacker lies motionless on the ground next to him.
Velgardrin’s slain attacker rolls off his body as the dwarven priest grabs his axe and also leaps to his feet. A warning shout, spoken in dwarvish, roars from Vel’s throat.
Startled from his sleep, Alain flicks aside his blanket and snaps to his feet. Reaching to his weapons belt, Alain retrieves his favored weapon. His rapier whips out as the warrior settles into a defensive posture. Eyes darting back and forth, he tries to identify the source of danger. He ducks as one of the bird-like creatures flies by close to his head and then sees another is nearby, as well.
Tirondalin also evidently heard the cry disturb the night, and as is second nature to those of his ethos, he grasps for his bow that lies beside him, kneels and shoulders his quiver, all in one movement, while his half-elven infravision scans the surrounding forest. Unfortunately, the heat from the nearby campfire creates a hazy image and so he reverts back to his normal vision.
From her place between Baulin and Malk’s prostrate form, Amiel stands quickly, her hand reaching for her sheathed bastard sword. In a fluid motion, she rips off its sheath and looks wildly around, all sleep blinked rapidly from her eyes. She yells her companions, “Baulin! Declan! Anyone! What passes?”
“Birds!” Baulin answers. “Came outa nowhere and attacked!”
By the light of the campfire, the companions can now see what it is that assails them. Each creature has four small, pincer-like legs that hang from their short, stubby, reddish brown bodies. Long dangling proboscises protrude from their snouts, giving them the appearance of some sort of large, mutated mosquito. The three surviving creatures continue to circle the clearing, slowly descending to attack.
* * * * *
Salik leaps to his feet, immediately alert, as he hears the shouts originating from the camp. He calls over to Cob, shouting over his shoulder as he sprints full pelt into the undergrowth. “Follow me, and try to provide cover with that bow!” Muttering to himself as he ducks under branches and leaps over logs, he curses at the dense forest, praying that his reflexes don’t fail him.
The hunter follows Salik. Unfortunately, he is not nearly as agile. After going less than a score of yards, Cob tumbles to the forest floor with a muffled curse. He picks himself up and resumes following in the sprinting rogue’s wake as the two guards race back to the campsite to aid their friends.
* * * * *
“Back to back, Declan!” cries Alain as he watches the closest flying creature.
Tirondalin, after hurriedly drawing back a notched arrow at the sight of the overgrown bugs, hears Alain’ shout. However, the half-elven ranger-priest immediately looks elsewhere as his archer’s mind is entirely focused on the search for a suitable target.
“Declan!” screams Amiel. “Cast that magic dart spell of yours at one of the birds! Tiron: Fire at will! The rest of you – ”
Before the ranger has even finished with her instructions, the surviving bird-like attackers have begun to swoop down into the clearing.
The nearest creature to Amiel swoops down directly at the ranger. Baulin swings his axe in an attempt to intercept the creature, but it is simply diving too fast. The creature plunges its proboscis into Amiel’s neck as its small, clawed feet grasp onto the upper portion of her leather armor. Baulin can only stand helplessly as the lady ranger screams in pain
The two remaining flyers continue their course counter-clockwise around the clearing. Then, they angle into an attack heading directed toward Baulin and Amiel.
Standing with his back to Alain, Declan watches in horror from across the campfire as Amiel struggles with the thing that has ravaged her neck. He frowns at the idea of not using his fire spells but follows the Amiel’s earlier orders and fires a fiery dart at the ranger’s assailant.
The missile flies true to its mark and strikes the thing in its small torso. The creature shudders from the impact, but does not withdraw its proboscis from Amiel’s neck.
Behind Amiel, Malk groans between gritted teeth, bent double and still clutching his wound. Velgardrin runs directly to the bard and lays a hand on him.
The dwarven priest quickly says a prayer in his native language and moments later, silvery radiance spills over Malk’s stomach wound.
“I be healin’ herm,” Velgardrin explains in Common.
“Baulin, behind you!” Tiron cries as he sees the two creatures swooping down at the dwarf’s back. The half-elf sees that he cannot safety attack the one closest to Baulin and instead takes aim and quickly fires at the creature for which his aim is unobstructed. The arrow strikes the beast full in the chest. The second missile, following closely on the heels of the first, also pierces the bird-like attacker. It falls from the sky like a dropped stone and lands with a thump on the floor of the clearing.
Velgardrin speaks strongly and clearly with no trace of accent, “I’m defending Malk since these be to far away for me to hit.” The dwarven priest stands guard next to Malk, ready to slay any bird in range of his axe.
On the ground at the Velgardrin’s feet, Malk realizes that although his stomach wound remains, the slow trickle of blood has stopped – thanks to the benefit of Velgardrin’s healing prayers. As his head starts to clear from the shock of his wounds, he slowly moves his right hand to pull the sling and a bullet from his belt, keeping his left hand clamped over his abdomen.
A few feet away from the bard, Amiel screams as she feels her attacker begin to siphon her blood. She drops her sword and claws furtively at the creature’s body, but cannot dislodge its hold.
Seeing the ranger’s mortal dilemma, Declan sends yet another burning missile into the creature. The enchanted dart strikes the thing in its bloated abdomen, spraying both its blood and Amiel’s across the ranger’s chest. It goes limp and falls to the ground. Amiel utters a gurgled gasp as proboscis is wrenched from her neck by the creature’s fall.
As the beast falls to the ground, Tiron runs toward Amiel. He spins the fellow ranger around and places on hand on her wounded throat, beginning the incantation of a healing spell.
An instant later, the sole surviving attacker crashes into Baulin’s back. The dwarf screams as the things’ beak penetrates the links of his chain mail and then pierces his upper back.
Alain charges across the clearing, coming to the dwarven warrior’s aid. Then he lunges, his back leg extending to propel his body forward. Hips squared, his front leg bends, absorbing the force of his forward momentum. Simultaneously, his weapons arm is locked and extending out. His rapier skewers the horrid creature attached to Baulin’s back. With a disgusted shake of the blade, Alain discards the corpse onto the forest floor.
Amiel’s neck is surrounded by the liquid radiance that pours forth from Tiron’s outstretched hand that lies gently on the ranger’s wounds. His other hand continues to keep a tight hold on the blessed silver arrow. When the glow fades, Amiel’s neck wound has healed completely.
The relief felt at the defeat of the vanquished flyers is short lived, however. Only a few heartbeats pass before there is a tremendous commotion to the south, as if something was coming at great speed through the forest. The pounding of footsteps and breaking branches heralds this new possible threat that comes from the direction of the lookout post.
Tirondalin, offering Amiel a steadying hand, looks up toward the source of the crashing sound. Again, his instinct brings a hand over his shoulder to grasp an arrow, which he quickly nocks to his bow. Drawing back the string in readiness, the archer-priest waits with sharp eyes searching the forest.
Across the fire from Tiron, Declan moves so that the fire is between him and whatever is coming through the forest. He grabs a brand form the fire, and holds it as an impromptu club.
Hearing the commotion coming from the south, Alain moves into a defensive position placing himself between the possible approaching danger and his wounded compatriots. Not having a second weapon, Alain places his left hand on his hip, elbow pointing away from his body, bending his knees he goes into a fighting crouch. As the sounds get closer, Alain gives a quick salute with his rapier, then drops the business end of his favored weapon back in line and waits for the unknown to reveal itself.
Amiel kneels quickly and retrieves her fallen sword. In front of her, Baulin spins to face the new threat. The dwarf widens his stance, ignoring the blood that pours down his back as he readies for further action.
Behind Amiel, Malk struggles to his feet. The bard holds his loaded sling in his right hand and clutches his wounded stomach with his left.
Still guarding bard, Velgardrin turns towards the noise and calls out, “Salik! Cob! Be that you?”
A few heartbeats later, the dwarven priest is answered as a human form hurls into the clearing. Adjusting his fall, Salik turns the failure in footing into a graceful somersault. The rogue comes up on one knee, looking down the length of Alain’s readied and blood-smeared rapier.
Salik glances around the clearing and can see that some sort of fight has transpired. Velgardrin, Malk, and Baulin all show signs of having been recently wounded. And, scattered on the ground about the clearing, are the bodies of five strange, winged creatures. Each of the dead flyers is about a foot in length and possesses a long, pointed proboscis that nearly matches the length of its body.
A rustling in the bushes behind Salik draws the others’ attention. Skidding to a halt, Cob comes into the verges of the fire’s light. The hunter holds his bow in hand and is breathing heavily – most likely the result of stress and physical exertion.
Salik glances down at one of the creatures and gives it a little poke with his boot. “What in Tymora are those things and where did they come from?” He brushes the twigs from his hair as he catches his breath. “What now Amiel? Do we continue as we were or do we try and find a nest of these foul flying things?”
On the far side of clearing from Salik, Tirondalin levels his bow to the ground and with a small utterance of relief, eases the tension from his bow. He unshoulders both his bow and his quiver before hurrying over to the severely wounded Malk to assess the bard’s wounds.
“If you give no aid through my hands, Solonor, care for this man through your own,” he pleads.
The half-elf spends little time speaking, however, before he has grabs his pack and rifled through it to produce a small cloth bag. Upon opening it, the companions see that it contains various healing items. Tiron unravels a roll of bandages and applies them to Malk’s abdomen as he works to stop the blood flow from the wound.
“Is everyone alright?” Amiel asks shakily. Her dark hair is tousled and her face is pale, but she holds her sword steady in two hands. “Did anyone see what direction those things came from? Baulin, Declan – how many of those things were there to begin with?”
Declan grimaces and says, “I noticed them as they started flyin’ overhead. There were eight of the nasty buggers. Yer know, evry place says they ‘ave the biggest mosquitoes. Right, I think we found the bloomin’ biggest!” Declan smiles hesitantly.
Salik looks around the clearing nervously. “Right, so if there were eight of them, where’s the other three?” He draws a dagger from his sash as his eyes search the nearby vicinity for any sign of them. “I hope there is just eight and not a whole nest of them or we might be in trouble.”
“It ‘appened pretty fast,” Declan says. “There may ‘ave been only five. But yor right, let’s not let dahn us guard. There may be more in the bloomin’ bushes.”
Velgardrin gets his healer’s bag from his pack and bandages Baulin before doing the same for himself. When he is finished, he and Baulin can already feel the healing salve beginning to take effect. Then Velgardrin turns to Amiel.
“Our combat planning is getting better,” he says, “but we still needs ter know better what each is best at and use it well. Also Cob and Tiron, what be yer arrow supply? Runnin’ out at ther wrong time mights be sendin’ us to serve the zombie maker.”
Then Velgardrin quietly speaks to Amiel. “The lovely Jadale – ” he grins and adds with a wink, “you be lovely too – wanted us to report our progress. Be you thinkern we might need to do this afore we actually enter the caves?” As the conversation continues, he stores his bag back in its place in his pack.
As Amiel considers Velgardrin’s suggestion, Cob answers the dwarf’s query. “I got eight arrows left,” the hunter replies. “And I ain’t in no hurry to get killed either!”
Listening to all, Alain moves back to his bedding and retrieves a polishing rag from his weapons kit. Squatting down, he continues listening while he sets to his weapon cleaning and polishing. When he is satisfied with its cleanliness, he makes a visual inspection for nicks or burrs on its edge. Completed, Alain slips his weapons belt on, cinches it tight, and waits for Amiel to make a decision on the group’s next actions.
Still clutching his stomach wound, and between gritted teeth, Malk essays a weak smile. “I don’t think I’ll use that method of killing enemies again.” He turns to Velgardrin and tries unsuccessfully to bow. “And I particularly thank you, Master Dwarf, for your healing and protection.”
The bard props himself gingerly against a tree. When he is settled, he looks across at Amiel. “I know that you care for people who you feel are vulnerable, but I really don’t think that with this gnat bite irritating me like this that I will sleep much tonight. There is nothing wrong with my eyes and throat; though I probably won’t feel like singing. If you will allow me, I will stand – or at least sit – a turn at guard with one of the company.”
Walking over to Malk, Alain puts a hand to his shoulder. “I don’t think that is a good idea, my friend. You are wounded and need your sleep to recover your strength. Amiel, I am unhurt and would be willing to stand an extra tour of guard duty if needed.”
“I agree Alain,” replies Amiel. Besides Malk, I’d prefer it if all guards were fit.”
“I’m also concerned about the three ‘missing’ insect-things and the noise a fight attracts,” the ranger continues. “We could be in for more trouble tonight. Let’s add an extra guard to the next shifts. Tiron, I think I’ll put you on duty for the remainder of Dec’s and Baulin’s shift. Hopefully, you’ll still get enough rest to meditate in the morning.
“Alain, thanks for the offer...you’ll join Salik and I tonight. And then Cob, Alain and I will take the final shift to dawn. My appologies if some of the warrior-types don’t get a lot of sleep...but I have to ensure the mages and priests do!”
Pausing to rub her neck, the ranger continues, “I don’t think we can afford the luxury of a fire anymore. Seems to attract all the baddies. Sorry Declan.”
With that, she kicks dirt into the embers until they are extinguished. Immediately, the campsite is plunged into darkness. Fortunately, the half-moon bestows some, faint light into the clearing.
“I need to think about what we do in the morning as we seem to be running low on supplies,” Amiel announces. “However, we’ll discuss all this in the morning. Everyone – save Baulin, Dec and Tiron – turn in please.”
The leader’s desires having been declared, the party members set about following Amiel’s instructions. Soon, Baulin, Declan, and Tiron stand an uneasy guard watch while the other six companions lie down to resume their slumber – but not without first lying their weapons within easy reach.
The content of Company of the Silver Claws is the property and copyright of Brian Flood, and are not to be published or redistributed without permission.
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