By Brian Flood
Chapter 38 - Farmer's Bane
Along the Dusk Road
North of Asbravn, The Sunset Vale
Mid-Afternoon, 2nd Day of Marpenoth; Year of the Tankard (1370 DR)
Darius and Soft Fang, at the head of the armed and wary party, have moved no more than half a dozen paces from the trail-road intersection when suddenly, Soft Fang utters a long growl and stops to look to his right. The other party members concentrate where the wolf is looking and are greeted by the sight of two long, quivering, fork-like antennae that were previously mistaken for just some more long blades of grass.
The ground beneath the antennae trembles slightly and then starts to erupt as something tunnels upward to the surface. Seeing the sudden danger, the party explodes into action.
Soft Fang, the closest to the hole, yelps in surprise. Then, his hackles raise, his ears fold back, and his lips curl back in a feral snarl as the wolf crouches defensively in preparation to attack.
Seeing that she has a clear firing line, Alani pulls her bowstring to her ear. The elven scout waits for the creature to emerge.
At the rear of the party, Corax spins on his heel, rapier and stiletto held ready. He scans the area behind the group for any more surprises.
Well away from the erupting dirt, Lucas starts to walk south to allow a clearer line of fire for any spell casting that may be necessary. While he moves, he yells, "It's cleaving time! I got you covered if more then one come out." With that said, the red-robed mage continues to scan for any other activity around the party.
Leaving Corax's side, Cyzicus flanks southward and then moves west. He soon passes Lucas as he approaches the hole, his twin short swords held at the ready. His eyes dart warily around his surroundings, keeping alert for more dangers.
Kjira sprints southward past Lucas with her staff ready in hand and comes to rest at a respectable distance from the creature's antennae. She makes no move to attack the creature, and instead waits to see what emerges before deciding on a course of action.
From his position next to Alani, Dolak charges toward the antennae, takes a position at Soft Fang's right side, and faces the hole with his two-handed battle-axe ready to swing. From this position, he assumes a guarded pose, ready to attack. Behind the dwarf, Alani softly curses - as the dwarf now stands in her line of fire.
Darius shifts slightly to his left and takes a few steps forward to stand at the eastern edge of the hole. He grasps his spear tightly in his hand as he watches for an opportunity to stab the yet-unseen threat.
The druid has barely skidded to a stop when the trembling ground erupts in a spray of dirt and sod. With an insectile clacking noise, a bizarre ant-like creature rises from the hole to tower over the party.
The monstrosity's thick, chitinous shell is brownish in color and covers its entire body save for its pink underside which looms exposed to its front as it rears upward out of the hole. Two glistening black eyes stare from its armored head as its deadly mandibles twitch threateningly, revealing a mouth lined with tiny, sharp teeth. Four legs, each over four feet in length and ending in sharp, jagged hooks are visible, although others surely remain below the surface along the unseen remaining length of the beast. Even though it is only partially unearthed, its visible portion is over nine feet in height - towering over even the tallest of the adventurers.
The creature has emerged facing north, directly at Soft Fang the wolf. Its long legs reach for Soft Fang and its head starts to move forward as if to attack. The wolf, undeterred by the threatening size of the monster, launches forward to attack its vulnerable exposed underbelly.
Unfortunately, the wolf's timing has been affected by the creature's sudden emergence. The canine attacker fails to cause any harm to the monster.
Seeing the monstrosity rip forth from the earth takes the breath from Lucas but those near him can still discern an audible curse that the mage mutters under his breath. The red robed mage regains his concentration and begins the motions of a spellcasting.
Kjira takes a few involuntary steps backward when she sees the shear size of the foe. Recovering her composure, she slides her backpack to the ground and kneels to rummage through it.
Back at the hole, Darius stabs with his spear as Alani - firing over Dolak's head at the towering creature - looses the first of her arrows from a mere three to four paces away from her target. The druid's spear merely glances off of the thing's hardened protective shell and, moments later, Alani's first arrow flies wide of its mark. The second missile, following close on the tail of the first, adjusts for the miss and strikes the creature in its underbelly, inciting the monster to emit a screeching cry of pain.
"Chakka shok! Chakka cor!" shouts Dolak as he swings his large axe. The dwarf's attack is misdirected however, and the monster manages to brush the axe aside with one of its long, taloned legs.
Lucas finishes his spellcasting and a wedge of vivid, undulating colors erupts from his hand. The spray of colors streaks over the heads of Cyzicus, Dolak and Soft Fang to strike the creature in the area of its head.
The monster reels from the effects of the spray. It totters somewhat incoherently in its hole. Corax sees his opportunity to exploit his unique skills while the creature struggles with the spray of color across its face.
Corax steps back from the melee and attempts to blend in with his surroundings. He keeps the creature on his left flank and move counter-clockwise toward the beast's rear.
Alani also seeks to take advantage of the beast's vulnerability. She reaches for another arrow and sets about readying to launch it, seeking to keep the thing distracted as the warriors engage it in melee.
yips at Soft Fang, "
Soft Fang leaps forward, his teeth aiming for the stunned monster's vulnerable underbelly. His jaws tear a ragged line in the thing's abdomen, causing a then line of blood to flow from the wound.
Seeing that the creature is reeling from his spell, Lucas drops his staff and reaches for the darts that rest in a sheath on his right hip. "Hit it quickly," the mage yells as he readies his small missiles, "my spell won't stun it for long!"
As if in response to Lucas' urging, Cyzicus closes the remaining distance between himself and the creature while lunging with his enchanted long knife. The magical blade passes easily through the thing's armored shell, sinking up to its hilt - and surely causing internal injuries - before the halfling withdraws the weapon.
A heartbeat later, Cyzicus second short sword pierces his foe's shell just beside the first wound. The halfling's arms shake as the insectile creature shudders in its death throes.
Darius attacks the monster from its opposite flank, oblivious of the mortal wounds already inflicted by Cyzicus. The druid's spear fails to pierce the armored shell, however, and merely leaves a long scratch along its surface.
Also following through on an attack that he had started, Dolak's axe cleaves into the abdomen of the already dead beast, releasing a spray of partially digested carrion that covers the dwarf.
Lucas' dart and an arrow from Alani's bow both pass harmlessly over the felled creature as it slips lifelessly downward into its hole. But then, when almost five feet of its body is still exposed, it stops sliding down and the portion of its corpse remaining above ground simply topples forward.
Soft Fang yips in surprise and barely manages to dodge the thing's corpse as it collapses with a thud onto the path. When the dust settles, five feet of the bizarre creature's body lies outside of the hole from which it burst forth. The remainder of the creature's length continues on unseen into the earthen tunnel below.
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