By Brian Flood
Chapter 19 - A Friend Falls
Along the East Way
Near Kendall Keep, Kingdom of Cormyr
Mid-Evening, 17th Day of Mirtul; Year of the Tankard (1370 DR)
Amiel, Salik and Alain are about an hour from the end of their turn on camp guard when they hear a rustling in the forest to the northeast of the clearing. In the darkness, the three adventurers hold their breath and silently grip their readied weapons as the wait to see what this new threat will bring.
A few heartbeats later, the pale light of the moon illuminates a large creature that has wandered near to the campsite. The thing is definitely larger than a man and appears to be standing on all four legs. Positioned as it is within the forest, it is difficult to make out exactly what it is. It has the general appearance of a bear. Whatever it is, it has stopped and stands still, apparently startled by what it sees in the clearing.
“Alain, Salik, flanking positions beside me.... right now!” Amiel says in a tense voice. When they move to comply, she yells, “EVERYONE UP! SOMEONE LIGHT A TORCH!”
Salik shakes his head at his leader’s impulsiveness and clicks his tongue in annoyance.
“You've alerted it now,” he mutters before runnings off to the east, trying to catch a better look at the creature.
Springing forward, Alain runs across the clearing. He assumes a flanking position on Amiel [OOC: Grid O7]. Squinting into the darkness, he asks, “Amiel, what is it?”
To Amiel’s other side, Baulin rolls out of his cloak and reaches for his battle-axe. Coming to his feet, he grunts, “Now what?”
When he sees the large, hulking shape in the nearby forest, he simply says, “Oh, Kruk.”
Across the clearing from the readied adventurers, Declan opens his eyes and looks about. Standing, he grabs his staff and prepares move out of the way of anything that is coming near him.
A slight groan escapes from Malk’s clenched jaw. He struggles to his feet with his back supported against the tree by which he was resting. As he stands, he grabs his sword and peers into the darkness. He listens, ready to use his blind-fighting skills to face whatever comes.
Velgardrin grabs his battleaxe and stands, blinking his eyes awake. Then, he scans the area with his infravision before a torch is lit. He instantly detects the large, warm signature of a creature that stands only a score or so feet away. Frowning, the dwarf tries unsuccessfully to identify the creature by its shape alone.
A heartbeat later, there is a muffled curse and a rustle of leaves as Salik hits the darkened forest floor after tripping over an exposed root.
The creature turns its head toward this new noise. In doing so, it silouettes itself partially in the moonlight. The adventurers in the clearing are startled to see that the thing has the head and beak of a giant owl but the body – and rending claws – of a huge bear.
“Owlbear!” Tiron gasps in terrified recognition. The half-elf has made it to his feet and stands with his feet spread, bow in hand.
In response the thing directs its red-rimmed eyes back toward the band of readied adventurers. Raising its head into the air, it emits a high pitched, predatory shriek that chills the very blood of the companions.
Amiel’s face is pale and tense and she winces as the owlbear shrieks its challenge. ‘Tyr help us if Salik is right,’ she thinks to herself. ‘Should I have just waited? Would it have walked away and left us alone?’
She shakes the doubts away, resolving to think about it later. “If there is a later…” she mutters to herself.
“Arrows….back! The shouts of Velgardrin and Tiron intermingle in the confusion. Velgardrin begins to shift his position toward Alain’s left flank. Nearby, Tiron tries desperately to find a clear line of fire.
Next, in a crisp voice that betrays little of her self-doubts, Amiel calls out to her companions, “Dec, cast your fire spell!”
As the words leave the ranger’s lips, some of the other companions are already moving to act.
Seeing that he lacks a clear line of sight, Tiron runs to take up a position at Baulin’s right flank. The ranger raises his bow and lines up a nearly flanking shot at the creature.
Salik mutters quiet curses to various gods as he picks himself off the forest floor. Thankful that the creature didn’t attack him while he was on the ground, he takes cover behind a nearby tree and takes aim with a dagger.
A fleeting thought flashes through Malk’s mind. ‘What do you have to do to get a night’s rest around this cursed place?’ Keeping his back to the tree against which he was resting, he adjusts so he can watch the creature.
Declan moves across the clearing to stand behind the line of defenders. He frantically looks to his left and right for a place from which to launch his remaining spell without unduly exposing himself to direct combat. He selects the area directly behind Baulin, hoping to be able to cast over the dwarf’s head.
“Alain, Baulin, Vel – stay with me and be ready…” Amiel continues, voicing her orders.
Vel arrests his flanking movement. Seeing that Malk is already anchoring Alain’s left, the dwarf stands to Malk’s left, thereby extending the party’s defensive frontage to almost thirty feet.
Hearing his leader’s commands, Alain holds fast. A tight smile lights his face as he prepares to meet a foe worthy of his utmost respect.
Directly opposite Alain, the beast rears up onto its hind legs, allowing it to tower even ove the tallest of the party members. Emiting another shriek of defiance, it begins to amble forward toward Alain.
Sensing his leader’s vulnerability, Baulin takes one step forward and one to the side, blocking the beast’s line of attack to Amiel.
Thun! Tiron’s bowstring thrums as his arrow hurtles toward its target. The arrow sails across the space in front of the owlbear and then disappears into the dark forest.
An instant later, Cob – having moved to a position to also fire on the beast – fires an arrow from his own bow. The hunter’s arrow flies wide of its target, as well.
Malk stabs his short sword into the ground and reaches for his sling. His eyes grow wide as he watches the creature close the distance to Alain.
“Tiron, Cob get a clear line and fire!” Amiel’s voice rings out in the clearing as Baulin swings his battle-axe at the approaching owlbear. The attack draws a line of blood along the beast’s flank as it moves past the dwarf to attack Alain.
Shrieking in pain, the creature turns to face its dwarven attacker.
An instant later, Alain’s twin blades stab forward to block the path between the charging creature and himself. The warrior’s dagger strikes the beast a glancing blow, laying open a long cut along its back. Unfortunately, Alain is unable to bring his rapier to draw blood.
Behind the dwarf, Salik throws first one, then another dagger is rapid succession. Both daggers sail wide of their target and into the dark woods.
“Salik, flank and try for a rear attack...”
Towering over Baulin, the beast swings at the unarmored dwarf with its powerful claws even as Amiel continues to holler orders. Baulin screams as the beast’s claws rips across his unprotected chest. The scream is abruptly cut off as the second claw attack tears across the dwarf’s face, whipping his head violently to the side. A heartbeat later, the creature snatches the dwarf up his beak with a sickening crunch of bone. With a merciless shakes of its head, it discards Baulin’s limp form to its left, where the dwarf lands in a crumpled heap like some child’s discarded ragdoll.
“Malk stay out of the way…” Amiel final instructions fade into the stunned silence that befalls the adventurers at the sight of their fallen comrade.
“Attack!” the ranger screams in vengeance, breaking the momentary lapse.
Darting forward with all possible speed, Alain all but throws himself at his opponents. Leading with his rapier, the warrior lunges with a war cry to his beloved country. “FOR CORMYR!”
The long, slim blade of Alain’s rapier pierces the owlbear’s thick torso. The beast shrieks in pain as it turns to face the warrior, fresh blood dripping from its claws and beak. The warrior’s follow-up strike with his dagger scrapes along the owlbear’s thick hide, but fails to do damage.
Amiel’s attacks the beast with her sword, using a strong, two-handed grip. The creature’s abrupt spin and the unnatural lighting of the moon cause her to miss her mark, however.
Unnerved by the beast’s proximity, especially given his weakened condition, Malk backpeddals a few steps to put some distance between himself and the owlbear. Simultaneously, Velgardrin hurtles forward to close the ranks and avenge his fellow dwarf.
Thun! Tiron’s bowstring hums again as the half-elven archer tries to target the creature that is partially obstructed by the intervening warriors. The ranger-priest winces as the arrow flies wide of his target – he has obviously over-compensated again.
A moment later, Cob’s arrow also misses. Both archers then hold their next arrows without firing, as they see Velgardrin approaching the owlbear from the beast’s rear.
Salik also notes the poor angle of attack he now has and holds his two daggers in lieu of throwing them. The rogue flanks out wide to his right, bringing himself onto a course that aims him at the beast’s back.
A dwarven oath of vengeance on his lips, the stout priest of Clangeddin delivers a one-handed blow at the creature’s flank. With a meaty thunk, the battle-axe cleaves into the beast, smashing its ribs and chest cavity in a powerful deathblow. Uttering a final, weak shriek, the monstrosity collapses to the ground and dies.
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