By Brian Flood
Chapter 10 - Night Raiders
Twelve Leagues Southeast of Yarthrain
The Sword Coast Backlands
Late Night, 3rd Day of Marpenoth; Year of the Tankard (1370 DR)
It is late at night on the first day of travel out of Yarthrain. The small band of travelers has stopped and set up camp just off of the north side of the road. The animals have been tethered, a dinner of trail rations consumed, and now Rashid stands watch while his three companions sleep. The still forms of the slumbering travelers are highlighted ever so slightly by flickering, pale light provided by the glowing embers of the campfire.
The Bedine warrior yawns as he stares off into the night. He slowly works his line of sight around the perimeter of the small camp, gazing into the moonlit plains around him. As his eyes play over the northern flank - the direction in which the Hill of Lost Souls now lies - they detect a hint of movement.
Using the skills that he has honed over many months of survival in the harsh desert sands, Rashid's trained eyes scan back and forth across the area in which he spotted the faint movement. Seconds later, he detects it again. It would appear that there are several forms slowly creeping toward the campsite. They are forty to fifty yards away and slowly moving closer.
Judging that he has a sufficient time, Rashid elects to wake the others. He moves slowly around the campsite in a counter clockwise fashion, pausing to wordlessly nudge each of his companions awake and glance in each cardinal direction, before moving on to the next sleeper. He does not draw his twin scimitars but instead loosens them ever so slightly in their scabbards, preparing himself to draw them quickly, if needed.
After about a minute of this routine, the Bedine warrior has returned to his original position. Looking to the north - the only direction in which he has detected movement - he sees that the creatures or individuals stalking the campsite have closed to within about thirty yards. The illumination and intervening tall grass conspire to evade his identification of the slowly approaching band. Behind him, Rashid can hear his companions slowly discarding their blankets and readying their weapons.
Rashid moves back to where Aranor is slowly readying his sleek elven longbow. "They are about thirty yards away," the Bedine whispers, "I will flank them."
Even as Aranor nods a wordless reply, Rashid slips the few paces westward toward Aranor's tethered horse. Crouching behind the elf's mount, the Bedine slowly draws his scimitars from their scabbards, creating a barely audible hiss as he does so.
Keeping his blades low, so as not to reflect any of the pale moonlight, Rashid begins his flanking maneuver. Crouching so that he is near the top of the waist-high grasses, he silently pads westward and northward, seeking to find the unidentified creatures' right flank.
He has moved barely a dozen yards when voices pierce the night and shatter the silence. The first is a gasp from Aris, followed immediately by the elven word, "Rucha!"
Nearly simultaneously, a collective howl, promising violence and destruction, erupts from the throats of the heretofore-silent stalkers. Abandoning their stealth tactics, they charge. By the light of the moon, Rashid can see that he and his companions face more than a dozen short humanoids that seem very intent on eliminating the adventurers!
Thun! Aris looses an arrow at the charging humanoids. The missile flies over the head of her target. Her brother fires his own missile next.
Thud! The elven warrior's target pitches over, an arrow protruding from its chest.
Rashid begins a charge of his own. Brandishing his twin scimitars, her runs at the westernmost of the foes. Five of the onrushing rucha alter their course to intercept. As he closes on the enemy, Rashid now sees that they are flat faced, bandy-legged humanoids that stand about four feet tall. They are garbed in earthen colored, filthy garments and leather armor. They bear a variety of hand weapons - short swords, spears, and hand axes.
The Bedine's path is intercepted by one of the 'rucha', as the elves call them. The ruch's spear darts past Rashid's spinning body as the Bedine twists to dodge the attack. He follows through with a slashing attack from his enchanted scimitar that cleaves a path of destruction across the humanoid's chest. The creature screams in agony and drops to the earth.
Back in the campsite, the elves each send another arrow apiece at the rapidly closing foe. Both of the missiles of this second volley miss their targets.
Peering out from around the flank of a camel, Yassir fires his hand crossbow at one of the rucha on the eastern part of the enemy line. The small missile pierces his target's abdomen. The ruch starts to laugh at the feeble weapon but then ceases abruptly as it starts to violent convulse. Its screams of laughter turn to terror and torment as the fatal poison from the D'tarig's dart works its way through the creature's system.
"Tal!" shouts Aranor, reverting once again to his native tongue in the heat of battle. Instants later, with practiced movements gleaned from years of training, the two elves step slightly backward, holding their bows in their left hands. With a hiss of steel, two elven swords - a short blade for Aris and a long blade for Aranor - appear in the elves' hands as they prepare to meet the foe who are now just a stone's throw away.
Yassir also transfers his missile weapon to his off-hand as he draws a weapon more suited for hand to hand combat. The curved blade of the D'tarig's jambiya shimmers slightly in the pale moonlight.
Meanwhile, Rashid is rushed by his four remaining foes. The Bedine spins and slashes and manages to avoid harm from two of the rucha. His luck and skill fail him with the other two.
Rashid grits his teeth in pain as a spear, propelled forward by a charging ruch drills through his left arm. He barely manages to hold on to his left-hand scimitar and is slow in avoiding a hand-axe blow that removes a chunk of flesh from his right leg.
Furious, the Bedine strikes back with his scimitar. His first attack misses wildly, but in a spray of blood, his second attack removes the head the ruch that damaged his arm. That same wound conspires to cause him to miss yet another attempt to wound one of his enemies a few seconds later.
A short distance away, the charging rucha continue to close in on the elves and Yassir. One of Rashid's camels, however, has apparently had quite enough of this racket. With a great hacking noise, it spits a glob of camel phlegm and spittle directly into the eyes of a passing ruch. The short creature screams in confusion and disgust as the putrid missile blinds it. It stops, drops its weapon to the ground, and starts to furtively rub its eyes with its fists.
Aranor parries the attack of one charging ruch, but his second foe manages to jab the elf with a spear. Aranor grunts as the ruch withdraws the weapon and blood pours from the wound in the elf's chest. The elf's attempt to return the favor is poorly aimed for such a trained warrior.
With swift but intricate movements, strangely similar to the dance moves she showed earlier, Aris dodges the attacks of her three ruchen foes. She then jabs her short blade forward, drawing blood from one the attacking rucha.
Yassir is also charged three rucha. As they pass, Rashid's second camel imitates its mate but fails to connect with its phlegm missile. Yassir nimbly avoids the weapons of the attacking humanoids and then uses his jambiya to slash open the throat of one of them.
Meanwhile, Rashid continues to battle with his three remaining foes. His scimitars deflect two attacks but he then suffers yet another wound to his right leg.
Now suffering from serious wounds, the Bedine fights back. First, he slays one ruch by slashing through its chest cavity with his enchanted blade. Then, seconds later, he decapitates another with the scimitar held in his wounded arm.
On the opposite flank of the campsite, Yassir finishes off the ruch he had wounded. Without mercy for the choking creature, he plunges his jambiya into its abdomen and then tears his blade free as the ruch jerks in its death throes. The action does not deter the dying ruch's late-arriving comrade from stepping over the corpse to ram its spear into the D'tarig's leg, however.
Aris misses her foe with her own attack and then gracefully avoids the attacks of her three enemies. Her brother also avoids harm but likewise fails to wound any of his own foes.
The ruch earlier blinded by the phlegm glob continues to growl and rub its eyes. The camel responsible for the humanoid's plight shows its continued distaste by kicking the defenseless creature in the head. The mount is rewarded by a resounding crack and then the ruch lies still.
Seeing the carnage that has been visited upon their number, a guttural cry rises from the throats of a few of the rucha. In response, the surviving humanoids begin to back away. The remaining creature facing Rashid turns its back to run.
Rashid's magical scimitar cuts down the fleeing ruch from behind before it can run more than a two steps. Even as the creature falls to the earth, Rashid's hands return his scimitars to their sheaths and start to reach for his bow.
The five remaining rucha in the center of the campsite continue to back away, one of them stumbles over the fire and scorches itself in its haste to do so. To encourage them, Aranor takes a few steps forward, brandishing his long sword menacingly before him. Stepping behind her brother, Aris returns her blade to its scabbard and draws an arrow from her quiver.
On the far side of the campsite from Rashid, Yassir watches his two surviving foes back away. The D'tarig takes a knee to set his hand crossbow down and then rises again, snapping his left wrist as he does so. In an instant, a throwing knife appears in the desert dweller's formerly empty left hand.
The surviving rucha all continue to slowly back away, brandishing their weapons before them. The wave the small hand weapons in front of them, trying to deter pursuit.
The show of force does not impress Rashid. The Bedine draws an arrow and fires at the closest humanoid. The arrow flies wide.
The pair of rucha closest to Rashid turn to look in his direction as the arrow speeds by them. One of them is rewarded by receiving the Bedine's second arrow in one of its eye sockets. The creature lets out a quick yelp of pain before death claims it.
On the far side of the campsite, Yassir takes similar action. Watching the two rucha withdrawing away from him, he switches hands with his jambiya and the throwing knife. Then, with a flick of his wrist, he sends the knife spinning through the air.
The small knife sinks into its target's gut. A few seconds later, tremors shake the ruch's body and spittle flies from its mouth as the D'tarig's deadly poison takes its toll.
The surviving rucha have seen enough. Screams of wild terror rip from their throats as all of the remaining foes turn to flee at top speed toward the north.
Again, showing no mercy toward his routed enemy, Rashid draws back his bow and fires. His arrow flies wide of its mark and heads off into the dark prairie.
Before the ranger can fire a second missile, the fleeing humanoids have all but disappeared into the tall grasses. Concealed by the night and the vegetation, they are now visible only as brief shadows and cannot be successfully engaged with missile weapons.
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of Brian Flood,
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