Campaign Logs

The Sunset Vale Saga

By Brian Flood

Chapter 47 - Ambush!

Along the Dusk Road

Between Asbravn and Hluthvar, The Sunset Vale

Mid-Afternoon, 4th Day of Marpenoth; Year of the Tankard (1370 DR)

Joined now by Simon, the small caravan continues on its journey northward. As the day progresses, the party members pass a handful of merchant caravans headed southward - no doubt taking goods from the northern Sunset Vale to the towns and cities in the south and vice versa.

So too, are other travelers using the road. Small groups of riders -- some resembling mercenaries or adventurers - and farmers' wagons move along road, most likely seeking to complete their business before the coming of winter.

The party spends the night in a campsite alongside the road next to a trickling stream. Before bedding down for the evening, Cyzicus keeps his promise and starts Simon on the rudiments of combat. The halfling warrior-priest describes how to best wear his armor and care for a blade. Then he demonstrates how to hold the short sword and allows Simon a few practice swings.

Just after sunrise, the small band sets off once again on their fourth day of travel since leaving Asbravn. This day brings no trace of rain, as had the days previous. Fortunately, the dust of the road remains settled and does not prove to be a problem for the travelers.

The sun has just passed its zenith when the adventurers notice something strange. Off to the west side of the road, at a distance of about fifty yards or so, is a single vulture. The carrion bird is circling something that lies hidden within the tall grass that blankets the nearby terrain for as far as the eye can see.

* * * * *

Darius and Soft Fang come out of the tall grasses on the left side of the road. Darius holds his hand up so the rest of the caravan stops, and then meets with Alani in the center of the road.

"Let's go investigate," the druid proposes. "But we need to take it slow. One vulture is not enough of the birds, and since it's still flying, either something larger is still there, or its prey is not dead yet."

Alani nods in agreement. The elven scout nocks an arrow to her bowstring and then nods again - signaling to Darius that she is ready.

* * * * *

The caravan rolls to a halt at Darius' signal. Those adventurers in the main body bring their mounts and pack animals under control and direct their attention at the scouts, who stand some two score paces or so northward along the road talking amongst themselves.

Dolak sees the druid and Alani conversing and pointing at the single vulture. Realizing what is coming, the dwarf groans and grumbles to himself, "Kruk, probably's just a near-dead rabbit."

He lets himself down from the saddle and unslings his axe from across his back, anticipating the order to march to the sight of the vulture.

Riding abreast of Corax at the front of the column, Cy ponders aloud, "Ye think there be someone we could help there?" The halfling looks to Lucas for instruction.

"If there is," replies Kjira from her position behind Tomar's wagon, "we will need to leave someone here to guard Tomar, Ori, and young Simon."

"Indeed," concurs Corax. He turns in his saddle to look at the others.

"What do you suppose those two are discussing?" the rogue asks with a gesture toward Darius and Alani.

Dolak looks to Corax and says, "Like as not, it's a near-dead rabbit. I dinna suspect anyone will want t' be makin' a stew from it, though." The dwarven warrior remains next to his pony with his axe in hand, ready for some signal from the scouts.

As the others discuss options, Lucas maneuvers his mount to the head of the main body, ending up next to Corax and his mount. He frowns upon seeing the scouts have elected not to wait to have the main body catch up to them before heading into the brush to the west. Frustrated, he turns to the others.

"Let's wait here initially to see if any further aid is needed as Alani and Darius seem to have this under control...I hope. If action is called for, Corax and Kjira, you two stay with the wagon and mounts and we shall rush to the aid should it be needed. Let's wait a moment and I shall try and discern what may be out there to the northwest."

The mage then appears to concentrate and enter a meditative state for a moment.

* * * * *

The two scouts and their wolf companion spread out abreast; Darius in the middle, Alani to his right and Soft Fang to his left. The three begin to cautiously make their way through the tall grass, heading toward the circling vulture.

As they get closer, Darius notices that the vulture is slightly smaller than others of its kind. The druid hypothesizes that this may be because the bird is malnourished, or is perhaps a youngster that has become separated from its flock.

Darius holds his hand up to stop Alani, and growls a quick <stop> to Soft Fang. "That bird is too small," the druid declares. "Perhaps it's a young one, or perhaps underfed. We need to be careful." He then starts forward again and waves to Soft Fang to continue.

* * * * *

(Back at the Main Body)

Their discussion apparently finished, the trio of scouts - Alani, Darius and Soft Fang - begin to make their way through the tall grass to where the vulture circles. The three move cautiously, spread out abreast with weapons readied.

And as those in the main body watch and wait, a speck on the northern horizon slowly begins to grow larger. Soon, it is obvious that this is some other type of avian and that it is approaching the scouts' intended destination from the north-northeast. This new arrival flies at an altitude about twice that of the vulture, allowing it a commanding view of the ground below.

When the scouts are about halfway between the road and circling vulture, they pause. After a few seconds, they begin moving again.

The bird arrives over the vulture's location less than a minute after the three scouts do. Its large wings spread out as it conducts a gliding pass over the site. Its proximity to the main body allows the party to identify it as a large breed of owl.

'Dead things', reports Grizzt through his emphatic link with his master, Lucas. 'Two-leg…Big four-leg,' it adds as it drifts over the distant locale.

* * * * *

The three scouts finally arrive at the area that the vulture has been circling. It appears to be recently abandoned travelers' campsite. A twenty-foot wide area of grass has been cleared or stomped down to make room for either a solitary traveler or perhaps a very small band.

A fire pit lies in the center of the circle. Next to the fire is the blood-covered body of a human male. His throat has been slit from ear to ear. A layer of blood coats the front of his well-made silk shirt and the ground around him. Across the circle from him lies the slain body of a riding horse. It too, has had its throat cut.

As the scouts stand in stunned silence of the grisly discovery, they catch a glimpse of movement. Looking up, they notice an owl gliding over the small clearing. The hunter passes over the vulture, as well - staying some twenty feet or so above the circling carrion bird.

Darius turns to Alani, "Get the others. Soft Fang and I will guard 'til you get back."

Alani nods silently and turns to head back to the main body, arrow still nocked. As she does, the circling vulture lets out a screeching cry. Oddly, the noise more resembles the call of a raven or a crow, more so than a vulture.

Alani pauses at the noise and is then surprised to see a robed figure appear in the grasses east of the road. The figure appears to be a human female who stands about fifty yards or so off the road. A heartbeat later, a green arrow flies from the woman's outstretched finger to strike Tomar.

* * * * *

(At the Main Body)

After a few more moments of concentration, Lucas turns to the others in the main body, "It appears to be a dead humanoid and a horse perhaps. I am not sure of the cause at this distance. Let's proceed forward cautiously I say. Corax, you stay with Tomar and the wagons once we depart the road. Any comments?"

Cy moves up with the rest of the group, telling Simon to stay with the wagons. Meanwhile, he keeps alert - especially for threats in the tall grass.

After waiting a moment for others to respond Lucas nods to start out and resumes his place in the marching order.

The party has not taken more than a few steps when suddenly, a greenish arrow flies at the arrow from the grass along the east side of road. Instantly thereafter, Tomar cries out in pain.

Glancing in the direction of the arrow's source, the party sees a robed human female standing amidst the waist high grasses some distance to their northeast. Her hands move in the intricate gestures of a spell casting.

* * * * *

"Help others!" Darius gasps, as he starts casting a spell.

Across the road in the grasses, the woman finishes her second incantation. A small band of bandy-legged dog-like humanoids suddenly appears about midway between the spellcaster and Tomar's wagon.

Darius finishes his spell and points to an area just west of the small clearing containing the dead bodies. A large area of grass then begins to wrap, twist and weave around itself. As it does so, it grows over and around the two corpses, binding them tightly to the earth.

Nearby to Darius, Alani doesn't hesitate to act on the new threat. As soon as the dog-men materialize, the slim elf woman fires two arrows at Tomar's attacker, employing her composite short bow at long range. Both arrows fly wide of their target and disappear into the grassy field east of the road.

The scouts can also see that the main body has started to act. A flurry of activity has ensued as those still with Tomar and the wagon maneuver to combat the spellcaster.

* * * * *

(At the Main Body)

Reacting to Tomar's plight, both Cyzicus and Lucas begin screaming at once.

"Attack…Ambush… spellcasters to…east…with me!" the two comrade's shouts intermingle in the chaos of the battle.

As the shouts ring out, the spellcaster finishes her next incantation. In the blink of an eye, a small band of dark brown bipedal dog-like creatures appears between the woman and the small caravan.

The woman yips and growls in some sort of odd canine language. In response, the humanoids yelp challenges to the party and then ready their motley assortment of weapons.

"Kobolds!" cries Ori as he drops the reigns of the draft horses and leans over to tend to his master. At the same time, Simon's head emerges from the covered rear of the wagon.

"What's goin' on?" the boy asks in a frightened voice, taking in the blurs of motions around him.

At the rear of the caravan, Lucas wheels his mount around to the left, cuts behind Dolak's wagon, and then heads towards the right side of the robed female to close some distance - all the while scanning for further targets. Seeing the new group of foes, he pulls up short, just as his horse leaves the road's surface.

At the front, Cyzicus turns his pony to head back toward the wagon. At the same time, Corax kicks Doom in the flanks with his heels and spurs the riding horse forward, headed north along the road and away from the caravan.

Behind the two riders, Kjira yanks on her halter to bring her mule's head around so that it faces west. With a cry, she slaps the beast on its flank, causing it to bound forward toward the west side of the road - away from the humanoids and the mage.

Dolak dismounts his pony with a remarkable grace for one of his race. His gnarled hands reach over his back and rip his two-headed axe from its place. The dwarf holds the weapon ready and shouts a dwarven battle challenge at the kobolds as he makes a quick survey of the situation before deciding upon his next act.

Ignoring the kobolds for the time being, Cyzicus rides back along the column toward the wagon. As the halfling arrives next to wagon, Tomar cries out in agony. "Aaaargh! It's burning!" The merchant convulses in pain on the seat of the wagon, his fingers clutching the sizzling hole that the enchanted arrow has made in his side.

Meanwhile, Corax has turned his mount eastward and leaves the road. Riding into the tall grass, the rogue begins to make an attempt to flank the spellcaster.

* * * * *

Hoping that her missiles and the rest of the group take care of the woman, Alani looks up at the vulture overhead. 'What's wrong with this scene?' she asks herself, thinking about the bird's strange call.

On the other side of the road, the attacking mage begins another spellcasting. This time, a sparkling cloud of particles falls over the wagon and those nearby to it.

Sensing that all is not as it should be, Alani bends a knee to set her bow on the ground. Then her hands begin the motions of a spellcasting.

Darius leans forward and places his hands on the ground. With a rippling of blurred motion, the druid begins to transform into the large gray wolf with which the others are familiar.

As the druid finishes his shapechange, a single glowing dart races from Alani's outstretched finger to strike the retreating vulture. The bird shrieks in pain - again, the cry sounds more like that of a crow than of a vulture. It falters in flight and then begins to descend, coming down toward the tall grasses on the opposite side of the road.

The scouts then see that some of the kobolds are charging the wagon while others launch volleys of missiles in the same direction.

* * * * *

(At the Main Body)

With a chorus of barking and yelping warcries, over half of the diminutive humanoids charge the wagon. The remaining three remain in place as they set arrows onto the strings of their short bows.

Simultaneously, the spellcaster begins yet another casting.

At Tomar's side, Cyzicus holds his holy symbol with one hand and places the other over the merchant's wound. He then starts to pray softly but rapidly to his god, Arvoreen, for healing powers. Next to Tomar on the seat, Ori reaches down and retrieves his crossbow, preparing to engage the rapidly approaching yipping humanoids.

Before the halfling can complete his prayer, the mage finishes her spell. A cloud of sparkling gold particles appears in the air over the wagon and settles to the earth, blanketing those nearby.

Tomar, Ori and Simon all scream in surprise. "I can't see!" Simon squeals, identifying the trio's plight.

Beneath Cyzicus, his pony also suddenly snorts in fear. It bucks and kicks, unsaddling the halfling and ruining his spellcasting. The halfling lands on the ground next to the one of the draft horses.

As the howling band of kobolds continues to charge wagon, their companions' bows thrum in unison as three arrows streak from the archers toward the wagon. Two of the missiles hit the wagon with wooden 'thunk'. The third arrow hits Ori, however, who screams a gnomish curse.

Seeing the chaos ensuing at the wagon, Kjira runs to Cyzicus. She reaches down to help the halfling to his feet. Then, the two adventurers turn to direct their attention to the rapidly approaching kobolds.

Lucas leaps from his horse, landing on his feet. Immediately, one hand reaches into a belt pouch as he starts to chant the words to a spell.

"Chakka shok! Chakka cor!" Hollering his battle cry, Dolak moves to place himself between the charging kobolds and the wagon. He raises his axe in defiance at the yipping humanoids.

Lucas casts his spell at the approaching gang of foes. All five of the kobolds close their eyes and tumble to the ground.

Even as their companions fall into slumber, the three archers fire a second volley at the wagon.

Ori yells in pain as he receives another wound. Next to the gnome, Tomar groans as an arrow strikes him in the chest. The merchant's hands close around the missile and then he slumps in the seat, motionless.

* * * * *

As Alani watches, the wounded vulture glides down into the tall grasses on the opposite side of the road. In doing so, it disappears from her sight.

Darius yips at Soft Fang, <follow me>, and he sprints off to the road.

Left alone by the clearing, Alani judges the distance between her and the enemy magic-user. She decides to close the distance somewhat, in order to give herself a better chance of engaging the mage with her bow. Encumbered somewhat by her pack, the elven scout, begins to run toward the enemies who threaten the company.

* * * * *

(At the Main Body)

From her grassy position east of the road, the woman mage glances to her right, assessing the approaching threat of Corax. She barks a brief command in the yipping language of the kobolds and then her hands begin to weave in the patterns of another casting.

Realizing the situation is becoming critical, Lucas shouts towards the wagon, "Use water on Tomar's first wound!"

Seeing that his first spell was quite effective but that the arrow-slinging kobolds are out of range for any further spellcasting, Lucas decides to sprint forward to close the distance. As the red-robed mage breaks into a sprint, he yells at Dolak, "Dolak, charge the spellcaster!"

Dolak sees that the trio of humanoid archers blocks his path to the enemy mage. Seeing Lucas sprinting to his right, the dwarf elects to flank left around the intervening kobolds. The dwarf runs to the north, paralleling the road.

As Dolak begins his maneuver, Charger - Cyzicus' pony - snorts in fear and spins around in confusion. The beast shakes its head violently from side to side, obviously agitated by its inability to see and by the smell of blood nearby. Braying in fear, the small steed starts stampeding. Unfortunately, it is pointed north - directly at Cyzicus and Kjira - when it starts to run.

Cyzicus tries to dive out of the way of the charging pony, but is too slow. The halfling grunts in pain as his own mount tramples him under its hooves in its frightened flight.

Realizing her similar plight, Kjira also attempts moves out of the way of Charger's stampede. Unlike Cyzicus, however, the lady mage is successful and nimbly sidesteps out of the way of the scared pony.

The robed woman completes her spell and an instant later five orcs appear between her and Corax. She then screams a handful of words in the new arrivals' guttural tongue.

In reaction, Corax hauls on the reigns of Doom, his riding horse. The rogue guides the galloping steed to his left, taking him wide of the orcs and to the rear of the mage.

As Charger races north along the road, he barely avoids a collision with the speeding forms of two grey wolves that race across the road, coming from the west. They disappear into the grass on the eastern edge of the road, headed toward the attacking mage.

Amidst the chaos ensuing near the wagon, Lucas sprints forward through the tall grass, rapidly closing the distance to the kobold archers. As he does, the three archers launch a volley at him and his comrades. Three arrows whiz harmlessly by the adventurers as the conjurer dashes forward.

After running a dozen or so paces northward, Dolak angles to his right - or northeast. His path takes him to the archers' right flank as he orients himself on the enemy spellcaster.

"Kruk!" the dwarf bellows in frustration when he sees that the mage is now protected by a band of orcs.

Back at the wagon, Kjira reaches down once more to help Cyzicus to his feet. Nodding his thanks, the halfling moves back toward the wagon. The lady mage then returns her attention back to the foes to her east.

The orcs begin to spread out in a wide circle around the mage, facing outward. The position themselves about ten yards or so away from the mage with their backs to her. They hold their weapons ready and assume defensive postures.

One of the orcs, however, stands its ground. It brings its short bow into action, launching an arrow at the flanking Corax. The missile strikes the rider in his side, and he releases one hand from Doom's reigns to grasp the protruding shaft.

At the same time, the kobold archers fire a second volley. Two of the arrows miss their targets, at end up skidding through the grass or skipping across the road's surface.

The third arrow, however, finds its mark and pierces Lucas' chest. The conjurer grunts in pain but continues moving even as the blood from the wound seeps through his immaculately clean robes.

The orcish archer launches a second arrow in Corax's direction. Again, the rogue is hit. Crying out in pain, Corax surrenders his attempt to flank the mage and the orcs. Instead, he turns his mount to the east in order to increase the range between himself and his attacker.

* * * * *

Alani skids to a stop, surprised to see that a band of orcs has materialized around the adversary mage. As Alani nocks an arrow to her string and takes aim, she sees the woman cast two glowing darts from her fingers that fly unerringly to strike the two charging wolves. In the wake of the magical missiles, two of the orcs step between the wolves and the woman, battle axes in hand.

As the wolves and orcs tear into one another, Alani launches an arrow. The elf curses as the arrow flies wide of its mark. She hurriedly reaches over her shoulder for another.

Alani can only watch helplessly as volleys of arrows from three of the kobolds slam into her companions. Swearing vengeance, she fires a second arrow. She curses again as this missile also misses her target.

* * * * *

(At the Main Body)

The attacking magic-user yells a few brief words in the orcs' tongue, indicating the pair of rapidly approaching wolves. She then begins chanting, invoking yet another spell.

Lucas comes to a stop near the slumbering bodies of the kobolds, ending up about a dozen yards or so away from the kobold archers. Quickly assessing the situation, he grabs a pinch of something from his pouch and begins casting another spell

The Company's tormentor finishes her invocation and points at the charging wolves. Two glowing darts hurtle unerringly from her finger toward her targets. One missile strikes each of the wolves that, in turn, howl in pain but continue on their paths.

In the darts' wake, the orc guards move to intercept the pair of charging canines. They grip their battle-axes menacingly in their hands as the wolves close the distance between the antagonists. A third orc, gripping a broad sword, moves forward to block Dolak's path to the mage.

The kobold archers also continue their assault. Three bowstrings thrum in unison as three more arrows are launched at the party.

Dolak grunts in pain as arrow imbeds itself in his right shoulder. Ignoring the pain, the dwarf continues to run toward the protective cordon of orcs surrounding the mage.

Kjira and Lucas also cry out in pain as arrows strike each of the mages. Both mages then curse in frustration as the pain of their wounds spoils their spellcasting attempts.

The orc archer launches a third arrow in Corax's direction. Fortunately for the rogue, this missile flies harmlessly by him.

The near miss inspires Corax to lean forward in his saddle in an attempt to make himself a smaller target. He snaps the reigns in his hands, urging Doom to increase the distance between himself and the mage's guards. In the back of his mind, he hopes that his efforts are at least distracting some of the orcs from attacking his friends.

Cyzicus climbs up into the front portion of the wagon. After uttering a few soothing words to Simon, the halfling immediately moves to Tomar who lies motionless on the bench, a growing puddle of blood forming around him. Cy lays his hands over Tomar's wounds and begins to beseech his god for magical healing powers to forestall the merchant's demise.

Meanwhile, in the eastern grasslands, the two wolves collide with a pair of orc bodyguards in a chorus of snarls and orcish battlecries. One of the orcs scores a glancing blow on the smaller of the two wolves eliciting another yelp of pain from the animal. The orc's companion then emits a gurgling cry of terror as the sandy-colored wolf's teeth tear into its throat.

As the orcs and wolves fight each other, Dolak continues to close the distance between him and a third orc. The dwarf's face is a mask of dwarven rage as his short legs continue to churn beneath him.

Then the kobold archers fire again; one of them actually turning in place as it continues to fire at Dolak. This time, however, Lady Tymora smiles on the companions as all three arrows miss their targets.

On the front seat of the wagon, Cyzicus finishes his prayer to Arvoreen. A shimmering aura surrounds Tomar's wounds as the deity grants the priest healing powers. Cyzicus sighs in relief when he sees that some of the color has returned to the merchant's face, even though the man remains unconscious.

As the companions struggle with the mage, the orcs, and the kobolds, a pair of arrows streaks overhead. Although they plunge harmlessly into the earth near the attacking magic-user, the company is reassured to see that Alani is supporting their efforts from her position in the grasslands to the west of the road.

The enemy mage turns her head to bark a curt command to the two orcs that stand behind her. Then, returning her attention to the wolves and dwarf that are drawing dangerously near, she begins to cast yet another spell.

Fighting back the pain from the cursed kobold arrows, Lucas whispers a prayer to Mystara as he once again grabs a pinch of something from his belt pouch and also begins the motions of a spellcasting.

Still standing near the wagon, Kjira also starts the motions requisite to the casting of a spell.

The larger of the two wolves finishes ripping out the throat of the orc that he attacked a moment ago. The piggish brute dies without even uttering a sound as a fountain of blood erupts from its neck to shower its comrade and the wolves alike. Then, the humanoid oddly vanishes, leaving only a smear of blood in the grass where it died.

The slain orc's companion, however, manages to block the second wolf's attack by thrusting the handle of its axe between the wolf and itself. The smaller wolf recoils from the failed attack and crouches low, preparing to strike again.

Alani drops her bow to the ground. "I've got to get some archery lessons," she thinks ruefully as she prepares to cast a spell at the female mage.

The opposing sorceress finishes her spell next and two more glowing darts leap from her fingers. With uncanny accuracy, the enchanted missiles strike the two wolves.

The third orc, takes a small side step to its right, further blocking Dolak's straight-line approach to the enemy mage. As it does, the two orcs from the far side of the protective cordon turn toward the ensuing melee and move to join in the defense of their master.

The orc archer that had previously been firing arrows at Corax drops its bow to the earth and draws a hand-axe from its belt before moving to reinforce the orcs that are engaged in combat with the pair of wolves. The last orc, broadsword in hand, advances to join forces with its comrade that is blocking Dolak's path.

As the orcs maneuver on the wolves and Dolak, Lucas casts a spell at the centermost of the kobold archers. Instantly, the three diminutive dog-like humanoids drop their bows and fall forward, fast asleep before they even hit the ground.

A few heartbeats later, a glowing green dart flashes from Alani's outstretched hand towards the woman. The missile fades from existence, however, about ten yards short of its target. Stunned, Alani realizes that the mage is out of range of her spell.

Kjira finishes her spellcasting by pointing at the orc that is moving from the far side of the cordon to engage Dolak. Suddenly, the orc comes to a halt and lowers its broadsword slightly as it looks in Kjira's direction.

Although he realizes that an orc now blocks his path to the enemy sorceress, Dolak's eyes alight at this unforeseen opportunity to engage an ancient foe. The dwarf charges straight into the orc and raises his great axe over his head, preparing to strike the creature down.

The orc maintains its defensive stance and manages to open a wound in the dwarf's abdomen with its axe before Dolak's own weapon cleaves into its leg. The mighty two-handed blow from the dwarven axe severs the orc's leg at the hip, spraying blood and gore across Dolak's armor. The dwarven warrior's foe drops to the ground, convulsing in shock from the massive, and ultimately fatal, trauma.

"Chakka shok! Chakka cor!" cries Dolak elatedly.

Back on the front seat of the wagon, Cyzicus grasps the frantic Simon by the shoulders. "Calm down, Simon!" he implores. "I am here." The halfling priest now notices that tiny, shimmering golden particles cover the wagon and all of its occupants.

With a start, Simon blinks his eyes rapidly and then rubs them with his hands. "I - I - I - I can see now!" the boy announces, obviously relieved.

"Aye," affirms Ori, shaking his head, "as can I." The gnome then notices his master lying motionless on the seat next to him, his robes stained with blood.

"Tomar!" the gnome cries in agony as he shoves his way past Cyzicus to see to the merchant.

Meanwhile, within the embroiled melee occurring in the eastern grasses, the larger of the two wolves springs away from its slain foe and charges at the woman, its lips pulled back in a feral snarl. Unfortunately, the wolf is only able to close about half the distance to the mage before the orc archer steps in front of it. The humanoid roars a challenge to the wolf, its hand-axe held menacingly in its meaty fist.

The orc fighting the smaller of the two wolves aims a swing of this battle-axe at the canine. The wolf nimbly dodges the blow and then crouches as it looks for another opening to attack.

Looking toward her targeted orc, Kjira screams, "Attack that woman behind you!" The brute turns in place to look behind him at the enemy mage.

Apparently deciding that her situation is becoming slightly less than secure, the robed woman takes a handful of steps backward, wisely increasing the distance between herself and her attackers.

'Let's add magic lessons to the archery tutorial,' Alani thinks, furious with herself for such a simple error as misjudging the distance to her target based on her spellcasting ability.

Completely ticked-off now, and seeing that the woman is backing away even further, Alani sprints about fifteen yards or so toward the mage, ending up at the western edge of the main road. The elven scout then abruptly halts as she begins to cast a spell.

Lucas quickly tries to stop the flow of blood from his wounds and prepares to move forward to assist Dolak against the orcs and enemy sorceress. Seeing that Dolak and the wolves are closely engaged with the orcs, the conjurer elects to slowly edge toward the melee.

The sandy-haired wolf then attacks the former orc archer. The piggish humanoid dodges the attack and looks for an opening to land a blow with its hand-axe.

At the same time, the smaller, gray wolf leaps up at its orcish opponent and bears the creature to the ground. With a snarl and a snap of its powerful jaws, the wolf slays the humanoid. Like its companions, the orc fades from existence as death claims it.

Kjira moves to the wagon and yells to Cyzicus, "I can watch Simon. You should help the others!"

Cyzicus nods wordlessly in agreement. "Stay here!" the halfling orders Simon before he leaps off the side of the wagon and begins to cautiously make his way toward the embroiled melee.

Meanwhile, in the midst of the chaotic fray ongoing in the grassy fields to the east of the road, Dolak steps over the bloodstain that marks the vanished body of his opponent and charges at the mage. At the same time, Kjira's ensorcelled orc also rushes toward the woman, raising its broadsword to strike her down.

The woman nimbly dodges the strike of Dolak's axe and then spins out of the way of the orc's blade, as well. Then, she begins to cast yet another of her seemingly endless arsenal of spells.

Before she can finish it, however, a glowing green dart from Alani strikes the woman in the directly in the chest. With a cry of pain, the sorceress abruptly ceases her casting.

Without mercy, Dolak launches another attack at the woman. The axe strikes the woman's robes with a noticeable 'clang' but fails to do any visible damage.

Behind the dwarf, the graying wolf leaps away from where it slew his opponent. Bounding through the grass, it ends up flanking its fellow canine.

Even as the gray wolf arrives, its sandy-haired companion's foe attacks. The orc's hand-axe smashes the larger wolf in the rib cage. With a pained yelp, the wolf collapses to the earth, stunned.

With a vicious sneer at the orc and dwarf that confront her, the wicked wizardess starts to cast yet another of her spells. Her lips move in rapid unison with her hands, speaking words that Dolak can hear but can neither repeat nor understand.

Before either the orc or Dolak can react, enchanted darts fly from the sorceress's fingers and strike the two aggressors. The orc snorts in pain from the magical attack and falls backward, disappearing before it hits the ground.

The sole surviving orc attacks its canine opponents. Because the sandy-haired wolf lies helpless in the dirt at its feet, the creature elects to attack the gray wolf. Its hand-axe delivers a blow to the canine's midsection.

The wolf yelps in pain as it receives yet another wound. Despite its near-mortal injuries, however, the wolf stands its ground, heroically defending its stunned and helpless comrade.

Kjira looks mildly pleased at the apparent success of her first charm spell, though she is somewhat dismayed by the orc's inability to hit the sorceress. Looking out onto the battlefield she prepares to cast another spell.

With a vicious snarl, the gray wolf then leaps at the orc that wounded it. Again, the orc manages to escape injury; this time, it does so by twisting itself out of the way of the enraged canine's assault.

Back at the wagon, Kjira finishes her spellcasting and points at the orc that battles the wolf. In response, the orc turns from its canine opponent to look at the lady mage.

"Come here!" Kjira orders the orc in common.

Seeing that one of the wolves is in need of assistance, Lucas runs forward to assist in dispatching the orc attacking the two wolves.

Also taking note of his comrades' distress, Cyzicus begins running through the high grass. The halfling slips between the two groups of sleeping kobolds and continues on into the eastern grasses.

Alani bends down to pick up her bow. Then, she realizes that she dropped the enchanted weapon not where she currently stands, but about a score or so yards behind her before she cast her failed magical missile spell and then ran forward to close the range her target. The elven scout utters a brief but vindictive curse in her native tongue.

Fighting the pain from the multiple wounds, Dolak continues to employ his axe in the two-handed style against the mage. The huge blade of the axe cleaves into the woman's robed torso with a yet another curious metallic 'clang'. The sorceress screams in agony as the blood flows freely from the wound.

"Cyric take your soul!" she hisses, cursing at the dwarven warrior.

Upon coming to a stop a short distance away from the orc, Lucas sees that the humanoid has turned away from the wolf and now faces in the conjurer's direction. Unaware of the spell that Kjira - who stands well behind the running conjurer - has cast upon the creature, Lucas naturally assumes that the orc has noticed his rapid approach and is turning to meet this new threat.

The red-robed mage quickly grabs a brace of darts, takes quick aim, and releases one at his target. With almost unbelievable accuracy, the missile pierces the orc's eye. The humanoid stops in its tracks, shudders briefly and then collapses to the ground. Again, the dead body vanishes within a few heartbeats.

Meanwhile, Ori stands up on the seat of the wagon, his loaded crossbow now back in his hands. The gnome turns toward the west and directs his attention on the endless expanse of grassland, looking for any more unseen dangers.

The robed enemy sorceress begins making arcane patterns in the air and intoning the words to what may be her final spell.

Surrounded by the bloodstains that mark the former locations of the bodies of slain orcs, the sandy-haired wolf still lies motionless but alive on the ground. Its gray-haired companion stands protectively over the incapacitated canine, its fur bristling and teeth bared as it growls at all that come close.

A long cry of frustration escapes Kjira's lips as she witnesses Lucas' ill-timed attack on her newly charmed orc. Seeing the creature fall lifeless to the ground and then disappear, she throws her hands in the air and looks around the battlefield. With the sorceress finally wounded, she decides to take care of the kobolds instead.

Before Dolak can bring his axe to bear, the sorceress completes her invocation. Two of the familiar glowing darts leap from her hand to strike the dwarf in the chest. The impacts of the missiles nearly fell the stout warrior, but Dolak manages to cling to desperately to life despite his near-mortal wounds.

"Why won't you die?" screams the sorceress in pained frustration.

Alani turns on her heel and runs back to where she dropped her bow. The elf leaps through the grass, her instincts guiding her to the weapon's position.

Kjira realizes that the items she needs to secure the kobolds are in her pack, which is strapped securely to her mule's flanks. She moves across the front of the hitched wagon and turns toward the west, where Bartholomule moved after the lady mage slapped its hindquarters to get it out of danger earlier in the fight.

Seeing that his darts are so effective, Lucas allows himself a sly smile before deciding to sprint to Dolak's aid against the lady conjurer. Holding his two remaining darts in hand, the mage sprints to the east.

Following somewhat behind the conjurer, Cyzicus also continues to run toward the east. Keeping an eye on the mage, the halfling begins to move toward the enemy's left flank.

Meanwhile, having felt the satisfying sensation of metal armor parting before his axe, Dolak renews his efforts to cut the mage in half. He swings his mighty two-handed weapon at the sorceress. This time, there is no metallic resonance when the blade hits, and it easily cleaves into the woman's chest, smashing through ribs and destroying her black heart.

The woman shudders as death comes to claim her. With her last effort, she twists her lips into a sadistic grin as blood flows from her mouth and down her robes.

"At least the merchant died," she mutters, choking on the river of blood. Then, her eyes close as she topples over lifeless to the earth.

To Dolak's right flank, Lucas comes to a halt, his darts held ready. Seeing the sorceress fall to the dwarf's axe, he holds his fire.

In the grasslands to the west of the road, Alani skids to a halt. She immediately finds her bow and bends to pick it up. Then she turns around, reaching for an arrow. When she sees that the opposing mage has been killed, she pauses.

A strange silence falls over the grassy battlefield. The adventurers' ragged breathing is the only sound as the victors take a moment to appreciate their narrow victory.

Then, without warning, all the sleeping kobolds suddenly begin to shimmer and fade. Before anyone can react, the eight slumbering humanoids vanish into thin air.

Less than a minute later, Darius' form also shimmers. Instead of disappearing, however, the druid regains his human form. He winces his many wounds and then, cued by a soft whimper to his left, he notices that Soft Fang has suffered even worse.

The content of The Sunset Vale Saga are the property and copyright of Brian Flood, and are not to be published or redistributed without permission.

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