Fland let the dice roll across the table. They danced about, crashing into each other and the surrounding tankards. One came up with five pips, and the other with four. “Nine means I win this round boys,” Fland said with a big smile as he collected the small pile of coppers from the grumbling men.
They had been playing the game for well over an hour with the flow of luck sliding from one man to the other. Most of the men were only up or down a few coppers from what they had started until Fland hit a streak of good rolls.
Fland was a young man of twenty-six summers. His chestnut hair was kept somewhat shaggy and gave him a carefree air. His skin was weathered from days spent deep in the wilderness. Stubble spread along his face, a few days had past since he last shaved. He wore hardened leather breastplate with leather pauldrons and cuisse to protect his shoulders and thighs. Hanging from his belt were a pair of elven light maces. The slender, but sturdy shafts were topped with flanged heads smaller than a man’s fist.
As the men started to ante up for the next round, Fland turned towards the far corner of the room where his companion sat reading a small tome. “Hey, Elarr! How about you jump in and up the ante. I’d like to win a few silver to add some shine to all of this copper.”
Elarr had flowing raven hair that ran down past his shoulders. His long, pointed ears were the only break in the flow of his locks. While he had the fine, handsome features possessed by all elves, his expression seemed to naturally settle into a grim countenance. He wore a long, loose tunic of elven make. It was sky blue except for the light green trim. Arcane sigils sewn in gold circled the cuffs and collar. Resting beside him was a short walking stick made of crystal. It was topped with a multifaceted sphere at the top and tapered to a point at the end.
The elf marked his page with his index finger as he looked up with disdain in his eyes. “If you wish to toss away your coin gambling, that is your own mistake. I will not waste my time with such plebeian vices.” With that he turned back to his reading.
“What he means, fellows, is that he is afraid he’ll lose that pretty set of cloths of his and that we’ll send him to his room in his undergarments,” Fland told the others and received a hearty laugh from them all. He tossed a look back at the elf to see if he had managed to get his eyebrow to twitch, no luck this time, then cast the dice again.
Before the cubes stopped spinning the calm night was interrupted by screams of “Fire!” and “Help!” Everyone leapt to their feet as the warning bells started to echo through the air. All of the other men, local villagers, immediately dashed for the door. Fland took a moment to scoop a handful of coppers into his purse before heading towards the door. Before he turned away, he looked to see what the dice had landed on.
Both had come up with only one pip. Bad luck.
Fland stepped out into the cool spring air with Elarr following a step behind. Their eyes were quickly drawn to the multiple fires that burned throughout the village. At least a dozen buildings were lit from the inside or had their roofs on fire. This was no case of a knocked over candle. While shouts about the fire had been the first to reach the tavern, they could also hear alarms of an attack.
Fland scanned down the street and picked out the real threat. Running about in the dancing shadows caused by the fire were goblins. The wicked little humanoids stood only as tall as his waist. Their skin was a putrid yellow like an aged bruise and their too wide mouths showed off rows of sharp, pointy teeth when they made evil little grins. They cackled with glee at the chaos they had sewn into the peaceful village. As the confused villagers tried to put out the fires, goblins would swarm onto them, hack and stabbing with crude swords and axes. In every group, at least one waved about a torch.
“I will start on the goblins, you see about the fires,” Fland said to Elarr as he targeted a mob of five goblins coming down the street.
Fland was glad that he had not retired yet and doffed his leather armor for the night. He drew his twin light maces as he dashed towards the nearest mob of goblins. He jumped over the lead one to land in the center of the group. He kicked out hard, slamming his booted toe into the nose of the torch bearer, knocking the goblin to the ground. His maces worked like like lightning as they struck each goblin in turn he smashed them across their heads and faces at a rapid tempo. Any goblin that did not drop at the first blow, or that simply did not fall fast enough, received a second and even a third blow as he rolled his wrists to rain down more strikes.
He did not pause after dispatching the goblins. Instead he hurried on to another target between two buildings. After bashing the skulls the goblin trio he was off again. He could see that the villagers had begun to organize as the realized the threat. Some of the men were arming themselves, but still found themselves outnumbered by the goblins. Farther down, Fland could see a group of men with swords, village guards most likely, fighting together to hack their way through the goblins.
Fland grabbed a man that had just smashed the head of a goblin with a club. It turned out to be one of the men he had been dicing with. “Come with me, we’ll work our way to the guards.” The man nodded and followed along. As they moved, Fland grabbed a second, then a third man, each armed with farming implements. Soon their numbers swelled as they fought their way down the street, pinning the goblins between themselves and the guardsmen.
While Fland fought the goblins, Elarr ran towards one of the buildings with a burning roof. He was no conjurer so summoning a ball of water was beyond him. He had never studied much of fire magics, seeing them as having little practical application outside of war. What he could do, however, was command the winds. He chanted and made a gesture with one hand the pointed the top of his crystalline walking staff at the flames.
The air around the fire condensed into a tightly packed sphere that centered itself in the flames. The dense orb suddenly expanded with the force of a cyclone. The explosion of air caused the flames to flare up and then sputter out like a candle that was blow on to hard.
It was a good start, but Elarr knew that he needed more. He watched as villagers bailed water from rain barrels to put out the flames. A burly man picked up one next to the tavern and emptied it directly inside of a burning house. The flood from the barrel inspired an idea in his keen mind. Elarr dashed between two buildings with the intent of reaching the next street where the town well was located.
Fland’s rag-tag group held the line as they forced the goblins to retrete. Some fled down alleys or climbed buildings. Most were fleeing towards the town square. The guardsmen hacked apart any goblin they could from their own position. Soon the two forces were meeting at the center.
“Those things are still in half the town,” Fland shouted as he turned down the intersection to the town square.
“We had to retreat this way,” one of the guards said as he took position next to Fland, “They burst through the gate with so many that we had to regroup. And there were other things with them, big and terrifying. They cut through the captain and headed straight towards the square.”
“Damnit!” Fland cursed as he turned towards the man, “Were they hairy with heads like a bear?”
“Yea, how did y-”
“Bugbears,” he replied, cutting the guardsman off. “I’ve ran into them before. Tough, ugly, and wholly unnatural.”
As they marched down the street they could see the village square ahead. A mass of disorganized goblins could be seen in the flickering firelight. There were a few bugbears mixed among them. The large brutes stood as tall as man, and would likely be taller if they did not hunch forward. Sitting atop broad shoulders was a large, ursine head with a short snout and big ears. When the monstrous creatures opened their mouths in violent roars, they revealed that their lower mandibles split open to reveal that it was lined with teeth that led into a spiked gullet. They radiated an unnerving presence, and when they got closer, Fland new the men would falter under the fear aura.
“Everyone keep together!” Fland shouted as he started towards the goblins, “They’ll scatter as soon as they know we won’t stop.” Fland charged and the rest followed behind him. The guardsmen raised their swords and spears. The villagers shook their pitchforks, clubs, and kitchen knives.
The goblins hooted and shouted obscenities in their debased tongue. The bugbears gave them strength, not to mention intimidated them into staying in place. The cowardly creatures’ resolve fell apart as the villagers fell on them. The front rank broke as the villagers attacked with savage ferocity, determined to save their homes.
The goblins might have been routed then and there if the bugbears had not stepped forward. The monstrous creatures strode through their smaller brethren, kicking aside any that did not part the way for them, crushing the dying under heel as they engaged their prey. They chopped and slashed with their weapons, cleaving into villagers with ease. Their unsettling presence sapped the rage from the villagers, dashing their momentum like a wave against a cliff. As a bugbear hacked off an arm or leg, opportunistic goblins would follow behind, delivering a cruel killing blow to the wounded or attacking someone that was put off balance by the death of a friend.
Fland could feel the unnerving aura that the bugbears generated. It left him, and everyone else within range, shaken. It stirred the instincts to flee not fight. He would not let that stop him. He knew that most of the villagers were not trained warriors. Some of the guardsmen seemed like they might have been soldiers in the army in years past, but even they were faltering. It was up to him to take down the bugbears.
That damn elf had better do something soon.
Fland spun and ducked under the swing of a bugbear’s ax and brought both of his maces hard into its side. He sidestepped behind it as he came up and rolled his maces to bring them down hard on the bugbear’s head. He spun one around to crack its neck for a final blow as the he brought the other around to block the attack of another bugbear. One of the men he had been dicing with stabbed a sickle into the bugbear to finish it off.
Spinning maces blocked the attacks of the new bugbear and slipped in one hit after another. The light maces were fast and let him put up a wall of steel to batter aside the unskilled, but powerful, attacks by the bugbear and any sneaky goblins that were feeling brave. Unfortunately, they lacked the power to kill such brutish creatures in a single blow. Each attack built on the next in a rapid succession that collectively pulverized the target. The tactic was working, but to slowly for such a mass battle. Matters only became worse as Fland saw another bugbear coming at him. It appeared that they had determined him to be the most worthy target.
That damn elf had better do something really soon.
Elarr blasted a goblin with a bolt of eldritch energy. The little sneak had been lurking in the shadows, hoping to catch someone from behind. Keen elven ears heard the patter of feet, though, and where human eyes might have missed it lurking in the shadows, he saw it as plain as day.
He watched the pitched battle as he prepared his spell. This was not going to be easy and would drain most of his aether. He drew a circle around himself and chanted the words to a barrier spell. Pale runes began to hover in the air around him as the ward formed.
From a pouch he drew forth a vial that contained pale smoke that swirled about as he shook it. He planted the base of his staff in the ground as he began to chant. It stood there, unwavering as though his hand had not left it. His free hand traced patterns through the air as he shaped his fingers into elaborate seals. Aether coalesced around him as he drew the strands of power in. He shaped them and weaved them together with his will.
His thumb and index finger deftly unscrewed the lid on the vial without dropping it from his palm. The smoke wafted out, but did not dissipate. Instead it was drawn into the strands of aether and Elarr willed it into a swirling orb. Sweat formed on his brow from the exertion and his vision blurred slightly. He dropped the empty vial and directed the swirling sphere to move away from him, towards the town well. He took his staff again and lifted it above his head. He used it to focus and draw in more aether.
He centered the orb over the town well and let it extend outward. Then, with intense focus, he reshaped it. He stretched it out and sent on end snaking down the well. The column of wind sucked up water, funneling it up into the air. To anyone that looked, and many villagers and goblins did, it looked like an elemental serpent breaking out of the earth.
He directed the top of his creation to swing towards one of the worst fires. It drove into the burning building with a great hiss of steam. Elarr relaxed his control on the end of the churning mass of air for a moment and it sprayed its water about. Not all of the flames were put out, but it most were smoldering now and the villagers with buckets could finish the rest. Elarr turned to the next building, dousing its roof.
Soon he had put out most of the nearby fires. Elarr turned his attention to the battle in the square. He was almost completely drained. While putting out more fires would be nice, he knew he could not last much longer. With his final effort, he was determined to make a difference in the battle, which did not seem to be going in the village’s favor.
With a white knuckle grip on his staff, Elarr commanded the mass of water and wind to lash against the goblins and bugbears. It sent the goblins scattering and smashed one of the bugbears to the ground. It swept across the horde, battering them about before Elarr’s power finally failed. The binding wind dissipated as it aimed at an ax wielding bugbear, sending a wave of water to soak the monster. Elarr stood there panting from the exertion. He leaned on the crystalline staff as he watched the fight resume.
Fland brought his maces down hard on the heads of two goblins as lead everyone forward. Elarr’s show of power had sent the goblins into retreat. Only one bugbear remained. He was the largest Fland had seen and he appeared to be the only thing keeping the goblins from fleeing.
Fland rushed at the bugbear. It was armed with an ax that was too good for goblin make. It must have been scavenged from another raid. It bore a hefty shield that was painted with a wired design, some kind of goblin rune Fland figured. The bugbear swung its ax in a horizontal arc, intending to cleave the charging ranger.
Fland did not try to block or change his stride. Instead, he dropped low and slid feet first into the bugbear’s shins. The towering creature was caught off guard by the surprising maneuver. Fland rolled to the side so as not to be pinned under the larger humanoid’s bulk. He came came up to to a knee and hammered his maces down in rapid blows on the bugbear’s head.
CRA-CRACK! CRA-CRACK! CRA-CRACK!
The rapid succession of pair blows beat the bugbear’s head into a bloody pulp. The goblins saw this and turned to run. The villagers chased after them, but only to the village gate. Fland stood, and surveyed the destruction. Buildings were still on fire, but the worst were out and villagers were quickly getting back to work extinguishing the flames. Fland headed over to Elarr to see how he had faired through the ordeal.