By Carey Sauerbrun
The gold elf and the mage were examining the detritus of the village, still mounted, when the other three caught up to them. Deagan saw right away that whatever had hit the small hamlet had been organized and thorough. The scattered bodies that he could see sported wounds from sword, axe, crossbow and spear. He loosened his blade in its scabbard. This was no random orc raid.
"The attack came from the river," Corina said, pointing. The half-elf nodded. A number of bodies could be seen in that direction.
Rilladell dropped to the ground, pulling a wand from her belt. "This was well-planned. It looks like whoever did this set up a diversion out in the fields, killing the cattle." She pointed to where a few villagers lay, broken crossbow quarrels protruding from them at all angles. "Then, when the defenders responded, the main group attacked from the stream, taking them by surprise." The elf-maid shook her head. "The poor souls never had a chance."
Weber thumped down, pulling his axe from across his back. While Corina and Justin moved to see if any of the villagers still lived, he stomped, scowling, to where the largest pile of bodies lay. After pawing through the remains for a few seconds, the stout dwarf started loudly cursing.
"It were hobgoblins 'at did it," he called to the others. He held up a severed hand. "The bastards pulled off their dead ta hide it, but one of 'em forgot this." He tossed his prize toward the rest of the group, then headed for the stream.
The Cormyrean noble swung from his saddle, sabre in hand. Hobgoblins were competent orderly warriors, their tribes structured along military lines. They were not given to random acts of violence, but rather attacked for specific goals. If not for conquest or treasure, why would they attack this simple hamlet?
He caught the look on Rilladell's face. She too realized that this was not normal for the militant humanoids. "What do you think, Rill?"
The gold elf shrugged, absently fiddling with her wand. "I don't know. This just isn't right though. Usually Hobgoblins take and hold, or attack and pillage, but they just don't try to hide their presence." She tapped the wand against her chin. "Maybe they're serving as mercenaries for someone?" she speculated.
"It's possible. The few times I've faced them though, they were working as a squad, trying to secure territory for their tribe." Deagan headed for the stream, trailing after the grumbling dwarf.
The half-elf found his comrade kneeling at the edge of the small stream. Weber had his face only inches from the mud, grumbling under his breath. When Deagan stopped next to him, the dwarf looked up, saying, "the scum dragged off a few a 'dem poor bastards." He pointed to the mud, where the tell-tale marks were clearly visible. "Why woulda they done that?"
The dwarf grunted. "Makes sense ta me." He heaved himself to his feet. "Now what?"
Deagan turned. "Now we mount up and get out of here." He started walking back up the bank.
Still grumbling, the dwarf followed. He probably doesn't like the thought of missing an opportunity to swing his axe, Deagan thought, a grin beginning to appear on his face.
Suddenly, Justin came sprinting toward them, shouting and pointing back across the stream. The two adventurers spun, their weapons coming up, getting ready to face whatever had the priest yelling.
Almost immediately, a hissing bolt flew from the scrub on the far bank, hitting Deagan square in the chest and knocking him to the ground, but not penetrating his dragon-hide armor. The wind knocked out of him, the half-elf took a few seconds to climb back to his feet.
When he did, he saw that Justin was lost in prayer, holding his holy symbol of Mystra tightly in his hands. The dwarf was already in the creek, wading across, whipping his axe back and forth and bellowing, loudly.
"Web, you idiot, we don't know how many there are!" In spite of his warning, Deagan immediately ran after the dwarf.
"Scrubby big goblins is all they are! And I'm goin' ta get me some!" The dwarf bellowed even louder when another bolt slammed into his heavily muscled thigh. Deagan saw that he didn't slow down though.
Justin finished his prayer, sending magical bolts whipping past the dwarf to find the concealed crossbowman. The missiles slammed into the hobgoblin, throwing the six and a half-foot humanoid backward into the brush.
By then, Weber had reached the tree-line. A huge hobgoblin, snarling and wielding a studded mace, stood to meet him. Deagan watched as the two exchanged blows, trying to get there before the other hobgoblins came to the aid of the first.
The dwarf used his axe well, using it to block the humanoid's strikes as often as he used it to deal his own blows. Deagan saw the dwarf's weapon, to all appearances an double-headed axe forged from cold iron, begin to glow with a harsh reddish light, as if the blade were becoming increasingly hot.
Then, as the dwarf's foe over-reached and lost his balance, Weber whipped his axe up and back, bringing the glowing blade across in a mighty swipe.
At first, Deagan thought the dwarf had somehow missed. Then the huge hobgoblin howled, clutching it's smoldering chest. The half-elf saw that the creature's clothing was blackened, while the deep gash across it's torso looked cauterized.
The hobgoblin stumbled back, and Weber waded in again, burying his weapon in his foe's head, splitting it and setting the thing's hair ablaze. "How ya like that, ya big walking fur ball!"
Deagan arrived just in time to parry the strike of the second warrior, which tried to take the dwarf from behind. The half-elf used his agility to slip around to the side, forcing the brute he faced back against a tree. With a slide and a quick feint, he thrust his blade completely through the stunned fighter's neck. Deagan moved quickly, not waiting for the monster to realize it was dead.
Six other hobgoblins now appeared, and two held crossbows trained on the two fighters. "Crossbow!" Deagan called out, tumbling to the side. The bolt hissed by, narrowly missing the dodging half-elf. As he spun to face the crossbowman again, another set of magic missiles arrowed in, this time coming from Corina, who along with Rilladell was now in the fight. The bolts found a hobgoblin wielding a spear, slamming repeatedly into the doomed creature's skull. It slumped down, obviously never to arise again.
Deagan whipped his sabre about, stalking the crossbowman, who for some reason was not trying to reload. Then he saw that the creatures skin had turned to pale marble. Rilladell must have hit him with her wand, Deagan thought, turning to the others.
Weber had already finished off two more of the militant humanoids, his argent axe burning into their hapless bodies. The last two members of the patrol turned and scampered into the forest, sending one last crossbow quarrel the companions' way.
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