Chapter Two, Part Three
“By the gods’ unthinkably conceited hands!” Rastorn is upon his feet as soon as the shout leaves his mouth. “They’re under attack from something unseen, fierce, and massive. Do we help, hoping for some type of reward, or watch and scavenge the remains? Men are being tossed around as though they were made of clay!” Color swirls then congeals into pupils in his now bulging eyes, causing Arturus to cringe and look away.
“I’m all for helping,” Arturus says, “but if what you say is true, what can we do? They have spellcasters and are still helpless. It seems to me if we jump in, we’d only become dessert.” Arturus lowers his head and steps away rubbing his own eyes.
“I don’t know what to advise,” Orjulun says, “I believe whatever that…that thing is, we are unprepared to fight it. I wonder if it was directed at the caravan, or if this was just a random creature attack? Perhaps we should move closer and let the Elves’ night-sight see what happens next but be prepared to make a quick exit if necessary.”
Arturus nods his head in agreement. “That sounds like a good plan. We should be prepared for flight or fight. It may have been directed at the caravan, or it may even now be searching for a new target.”
Melias takes the lead position, fifty yards ahead of Arturus and the Wizards. If Rastorn and Orjulun had hoped to follow him through the darkness by sound, they would have never found their way. The Elf is completely soundless as he walks through the lightly wooded area between the camps. Arturus pulls all the horses behind him, with the two Wizards holding onto their horses and attempting to finish packing and situating their bags in the dark as they move along. They evacuated quickly, but none of them left anything behind, in case they were unable to return to their own camp.
As Melias closes in on the trade company’s camp, he can make out the silhouettes of very large bi-pedal creatures stalking near the area. Many small fires are scattered throughout the area, so visibility would be sufficient for the Humans, if they were to get close enough. The light counters his night vision though, so he finds it difficult to see in either spectrum. He will have to move closer still, to identify the perpetrators of this crime.
Rastorn follows along and tethers the horses behind him in a train. He tries his damnedest to be silent, but there is no silence for a Wizard in unfamiliar, dark terrain without the use of magic. He didn’t see what Orjulun saw during their scrying, but he heard the cries of terror and agony as the caravan was set upon. The situation is interesting at the very least. He hopes to find some fresh, not too terribly torn, cadavers to study.
Melias returns to the group and relays what he saw. Since it looks as though all the men from the caravan are already dead, the group need not rush into any actions and can now take a minute to plan. The wind shifts and the smell of smoke, blood, and something like curdled milk fills their nostrils.
Rastorn’s posture jerks to attention. “Ogres,” is all he says.
Keeping his voice soft, Melias comments, “Stupid merchants, making all that noise. They were like a magnet to these creatures. I cannot tell you how many Ogres there are, but there’s no one to save. If we go in now, it’s simply to assure our own peaceful rest this evening.” He looks to the others, awaiting their decision. If it were up to him, he’d turn back to their own camp… but like it or not, they were allied in this endeavor. Whatever they decided, he will abide.
“I don’t care what we do. Damned if we do, damned if we don’t,” Arturus says. He robbed such caravans; no one died but they killed his three thieving partners anyhow. To him, justice was served swiftly and harshly.
“Arturus, how nimble are you? Can you sneak in without being seen or heard and take a count of the enemies? Either that, or make sure they’re far away,” Rastorn asks, while rubbing his hands together. “I don’t intend on letting this endeavor escape our clutches. There is too much at stake. We could become very wealthy if those mindless asses only took what they thought was pretty.” And why not? They practically robbed us! Eighty gold for some bloody rations.
Orjulun is torn on what to do. The smart course would be to avoid the Ogres, period. However, there was the question of the behavior of the caravan guards… what were they guarding that was so important? The caravan master surely wouldn’t spend so much time and effort to hire competent guards for a routine delivery. It could all be solved if they could search the caravan encampment. That would mean waiting for the Ogres to leave, losing a bit of sleep, and hoping the monsters don’t return. Unless the monsters were hired to attack the caravan by someone else. Who would hire obviously unintelligent and destructive creatures to do this job? Could the Ogres even understand simple commands? Orjulun’s mind was wandering…. he just doesn’t have enough information to process everything clearly. “Let’s wait and see what the Ogres do,” Orjulun finally says, “If they’re only interested in destruction or food, they should leave quickly enough, and we can search the caravan… find out what they were up to. The actions of the guards were just too strange for me to stomach. It will mean losing some sleep, but maybe some questions could be answered. What say you all?”
“Oh, but they aren’t bent on destruction and food. They have families to support, and strangely a structure they uphold. We Humans and Demi-Humans tend to view them as unorganized and unintelligent. This is far from true. Of course, they could never match wits with a Wizard, such as yourself or me, or a spry, witty Elf filled with longevity such as you,” he nods to the others. “But they are not stupid or unprepared.”
Arturus scratches his head, as he listens to Rastorn, then tells him, “I’m not sure just how stealthy I am, but I sure can run like hell. Worse comes to worse I lead them away from you all and catch up with you in the morning. I’m fast, so I’m not too worried about Ogres.” As if to prove it, he sprints into the caravan camp. He stands there among the bits of Human remains, then whistles. In a voice loud enough for any nearby Ogre to hear he shouts, “Hey you ugly bastards! You forgot me!”
Rastorn freezes in place, his heart leaping into the back of his throat. He has no clue what to do at this point. His intentions were not for Arturus to risk his life just for them to have a bit of treasure. He never knew Elves were so brash, but assumes Arturus doesn’t realize Ogres eat other Humanoids, tending to find Elves particularly tasty. With a loud crash, five Ogres push their way out from behind smashed wagons and charge Arturus. Each Ogre is brandishing a hunk of wagon as a weapon. Arturus smiles, then runs toward the forest to the west. Two more Ogres join the chase; all are enraged!
Melias, Rastorn, and Orjulun all stand in shocked silence as the Ogres race into the forest after Arturus. Did he just do that? Melias hadn’t even thought to stop him. The Humans weren’t sure he had left their side until they heard him whistle, but now they all know what he had done.
After jogging straight west through the pitch-black forest, Arturus turns and runs south as fast as he can. His chain armor slows him slightly, but he is still far too quick for his adversaries. Sometimes you are not the smartest Elf in The Realms, he reminds himself. A wagon wheel smashes through the branches a few feet above his head, convincing him he does not have too great a lead and he needs to run in less of a straight line.
Back near the blood-strewn camp, Melias had strayed from the horses and located a clear view of the road. His superior infra-vision allows him to spot many more Ogres leaving the area and heading toward the sea. They carry twenty-foot poles, strapped logs that he believes to be repurposed walls from log cabins, chests, bags, crates, and Human remains. Towering twice Melias’ height, the tallest of the Ogres keeps glancing back toward where Arturus disappeared as it directs their work. All but one wear moldy furs. That one wears a horned helmet and is draped in beaded necklaces, bags, and dirty, formerly colorful, rags.
Rastorn and Orjulun stand alone in the dark with the horses. They haven’t been able to see or hear Melias since he walked away from them. Orjulun hears a weak cough coming from the camp. This complicates matters. If a Human is controlling the Ogres, he is likely powerful, perhaps an Arch-Mage or High Priest. This calls for a closer look. He ties the horses to a tree and signals for Rastorn to follow him into the camp.
The apprentice’s plan is not clear to Rastorn, but he had also heard the cough and believed it meant someone in the camp was still alive. Maybe his wish for a fresh cadaver would be granted after all.
Melias weighs his options. He is concerned Arturus’ bold and brash actions could be his undoing. He also heard the cough and believed someone was still alive and worth saving at the camp. With the Ogres split up, it might be the best time to attack a small portion of them. He could take two horses into the forest and try to rescue Arturus. Arturus chose his own fate. He will have to save himself. At least he had sense to head to the forest, where he has a distinct advantage. It looks to Melias like the two mages heard the cough and might be able to handle the rescue of whomever remained alive, seeing as how only two Ogres remain at the camp. The larger group of Ogres are taking their plunder south. If he doesn’t follow them now, they might lose the trail. He decides to follow them, sneaking along behind the cover of what sparse material was available on the beach.
While he stops to catch his breath and get his bearings, Arturus considers a different tactic. If he runs into anything dangerous in the forest in addition to the Ogres, the situation could go from bad to disastrous in moments. He looks over his shoulder when he hears the Ogres closing in. The chase must resume. He pulls an arrow from his quiver and fires it at the closest Ogre. Even if he misses, they’ll know where he is. After he let the arrow fly, he slings his bow over his shoulder, draws his sword, and starts running again, this time switching to a south-east direction.
At the road there is no cover, so Melias stops. Now he sees where the Ogres are going. They are entering the ocean on rafts. The ‘walls’ are Ogre rafts and the poles are for steering the rafts. Ten Ogres are now floating out into the Eastern Ocean on rafts filled with treasure from the caravan. How can they be tracked back to their lair now? The largest Ogre, the fancy Ogre, and one other remain on the road thirty yards south of Melias. There are many rafts and poles scattered around them, but no treasure. Melias shakes his head in disbelief. Sea-traveling Ogres? Unreal. Tracking them would be impossible without magical means. He decides to sneak back to Rastorn and Orjulun to see if they need his help. The Ogres at the road don’t seem to be going anywhere and aren’t looking in his direction, so sneaking back to the camp is easy. He pauses for a moment when he detects the sound of many horses whinnying to the south.
In the forest, Arturus bumps his head on a snake which hung in his path, then leaps over what is very likely a giant spider. If he were bitten by either he would likely die alone in the forest without anyone to give him aid. Breaking through low hanging branches, he enters the edge of a small clearing. One step in, he tumbles to the ground in excruciating pain. He’d stepped into a bear trap! Behind him, he can hear the Ogres, still hot on his trail.
Trudging toward the camp, Rastorn worries about the group’s three way split with no arrangements made for a rendezvous. When they enter the camp, Orjulun carefully sidesteps Human remains. Looking down he is barely able to hold the contents of his stomach. It is a terrifying reminder of what could happen to him if he loses a battle with the Ogres or their powerful Wizard leader. When Rastorn looks down and his eyes adjust to the poor lighting the embers grant, he smiles wide. From body to body he scampers, almost giddy with the possibilities and barely containing the excitement he feels for such a find. It is a wonderful reminder to him of how effective Ogres are at creating specimens ripe for study and experimentation. Upon hearing the cough again, Rastorn freezes in place and they both look for the source. They spot a young Half-Elf man wearing armor beneath a tan cloak. This is the second man in robes they spotted earlier. He’s trying to dig his way out from under the overturned carriage using a small, ornamental scepter. The carriage lifts off the ground and is tossed to the side! Standing over the Half-Elf are two very large Ogres. They are nearly ten feet tall and their sickly, burnt-orange colored hides almost match the colors of the nearby flames. Their violet-hued giant warts cause odd shadows to dance over their massive chests and arms. Behind their stringy green hair, their purple eyes with white pupils dart around in their sockets as they decide who looks tastiest. The blood of their latest victims drips from their black teeth and talons, but Ogres are known to have huge appetites.
Not happy with the party split, especially since there are no warriors on the front line to defend the two mages while they fling spells, Rastorn backs away slowly. He prepares the components for casting an area of effect version of Protection from Evil, which will guard them somewhat against attacks from the Ogres. Their odds of survival, he knows, are low. “I will cast protective first, then I’ll spring to offensive,” he tells Orjulun.
Fear jolts Orjulun into action as he prepares his offensive spell, Magic Missile.
The teeth of the trap bite deeper into Arturus’ left ankle as struggles to free himself. In a frantic move, he chops at the trap with his sword. The Ogres close in on him. Just as it looks most grim, all six Ogres halt and stare just behind and above Arturus. Although he is frightened to know what might scare so many Ogres at once, Arturus tips his head back and looks up.
As he approaches the camp, Melias assesses the situation and considers a distance attack with arrows. This is usually his first choice and, in this case, certainly promises more safety than anything up close. Yet, he knows Wizards are no good if they are being pummeled about. He is glad he is not in the Wizard’s shoes. Drawing his sword, he creeps nearer the overturned carriage hoping to score a sneaky attack at the rear flank of one the hulking beasts. The one closest to the forest tears the driver’s seat from the carriage and charges forward, intent on using it to club one of the Wizards. The other Ogre rips off a wagon wheel and is intent on shoving it through the Half-Elf, who is injured and unable to stand. The Half-Elf pulls a mace from his belt and holds it up to block the blow. The Ogre eyes the mace, then looks at the much larger wagon wheel and smiles.
In the clearing, a massive scorpion-like tail darts just over Arturus’ head and sticks deep into the chest of the Ogre closest to him with so much force it lifts the Ogre off the ground! The tail is connected to a forty-foot winged dragon-like monster that coasts down to land over Arturus. The Ogre grunts, spasms, and collapses onto the tail. When the stinger is jerked out, the Ogre falls flat on its back, poison bubbling from a massive hole in its chest. The other Ogres turn and run. The giant, reptilian creature steps back and peers down at Arturus.
At the trade company’s camp site, Orjulun says a magical word of power and points his finger at the Ogre stomping toward him. Three flashes of light shoot from his fingertip and strike the Ogre hard in the chest. The Ogre grunts loudly, halts its attack, bends over slightly with its arms curled over his midsection, and runs out of the encampment, toward the ocean. The Half-Elf swings with all his might at the Ogre standing over him, but his mace bounces harmlessly off the monster’s tough hide. Seconds later, a wagon wheel crashes down next to him, glancing slightly off the armor on his back. Crouched behind the shambles of a wagon, Melias watches the Ogre runs past. There is little time to think, but what goes through Melias’ mind is if this one gets away it could bring a dozen back. Longsword in hand, Melias leaps onto the wagon, then lunges onto the Ogres’ back, attempting to stab an area he believes might be vital to the hulking creature. Orjulun hears an odd grunt and thud when the escaping Ogre is behind the wagon wreckage. Then he hears Ogres screaming in their own language quite a distance to the south and the panicked horses Melias had heard earlier.
Sword in hand, Arturus, struggles painfully to his knees and stares back at the creature. First in Sylvan, then in every language he knows, he says, “Thank you. You saved my life! Is there something I can do for you in return?” The creature flares its fifty-foot bat-like wings out to full length, cocks its long neck back, and stabs its head forward. Inches from Arturus’ face it lets out a loud and horrifying hiss. Its huge mouth is packed with long, sharp teeth and it looks very much like a Dragon breathing onto a victim, but no poisoned gas, flame, or other weapon of Dragon-kind streams out to envelope Arturus. Instead, the monster uses its agile twenty-foot-long scorpion tail to knock Arturus twenty feet aside, then snatches the dead Ogre in its claws. With a single strong wing flap, it jettisons above the treetops where it rotates to face west and flies out of site. When the monster appeared, the woods went silent. For now, they remain that way. After letting out a huge sigh of relief, Arturus studies the trap and figures out how it reopens. He reflects on what he had just gone through and decides he had learned an important lesson the hard way. That lesson: never leave the safety of numbers. After freeing himself, he runs back toward the camp, wincing with every step.
Summoning his courage, Orjulun again casts Magic Missile, this time at the second Ogre. Rastorn hesitates, listening to what the Ogres to the south are screaming. “Orjulun,” he says, “our foes cry of Dragon attack. I suggest we snatch up that wounded fellow and flee ourselves to a safe distance to watch.” The Ogre with the wagon wheel is struck with three magic missiles from Orjulun, rocking it back a step. Just like the last Ogre, this one grimaces in pain and runs toward the road. Orjulun feels jubilation as the second Ogre runs away. It is short-lived as Rastorn’s words of a possible Dragon finally registers. He glances around the campsite, and the surrounding woods for anything moving, or out of the ordinary. Seeing no imminent danger, he approaches the injured Half-Elf, offering aid.
Melias spies another wounded Ogre running off, and smirks. Easy pickings, he thinks. He steps out from behind the destroyed wagon and chops the Ogre’s leg with a glancing blow. The attack struck meat, but the creature’s leg is tougher than he hoped. In the Goblinoid language, Melias scorns the wounded Ogre, “You’d best turn around before my Dragon comes down upon you, too!” He makes a swinging attack through the air that cuts through with a whistle but does not strike his opponent. “Look, here it comes now!”, he says while looking over the Ogre’s shoulder and pointing with his off hand. The Ogre follows through with a swing at Melias, which Melias deftly dodges, then, grumbling something in Goblinoid about ‘Elf meat’, glances over his shoulder at the sky. This gives Melias just enough time to tumble under the shelter of the nearest wagon.
Arturus limps quickly through the still silent woods, following the trail of the Ogres. All the way, the sensation of the winged monster’s hot breath and glowing red eyes keeps flashing into his thoughts. When he nears the edge of the forest, he sees the Ogres running past a heard of loosely tied horses and toward the road. He is mere steps from the lightly wooded area between the forest and the road, but likely quite a way south of everyone else. Arturus knows now is not the time to go running out there. He slips behind a tree and silently waits for the Ogres and horses to pass.
As soon as the Ogre was out of sight, Rastorn had ran to the Half-Elf, whose leg is bent in an odd position and likely severely sprained – if not broken. He squats down next to the man and slides his arm under the man’s armpit reaching across his back to grip his far shoulder. Then he lifts. Then he falls. The Half-Elf squeals in pain and signals he does not want to be moved. He starts praying and moving his hands over his wounded leg. A light glow appears on his leg and moments later he is standing up, still in pain, but much less so than before. Rastorn assists him out of the area and to their horses.
Orjulun runs to the west end of the camp and peers out toward the forest. In the dark he can make out very little by sight, but he can hear horses trotting toward him. Running along the far side of the destroyed wagons surrounding them, he hears the distant grunts of Ogres somewhere on the beach. At the east end of camp, he can hear battle sounds. “We should hide,” he tells Rastorn, “It sounds like horsemen approaching from the west and I don’t know if they’re friend or foe. I say we go north, since the Ogres ran south, and there’s still some sort of skirmish over there.” He points east.
“Come on healer,” Rastorn says, as he assists the wounded Half-Elf to the horses. “We have to find cover. Those stupid Ogres are blabbing about Dragons, there’s a battle somewhere to the east, and horses are plunging at us from the west. What in the Abyss happened to my nice and restful evening? I haven’t even studied my books!”
When he pops up on the other side of the wagon, Melias sees Orjulun running around from behind another wagon at the west end of camp and catches the end of his sentence – something about heading north. As he silently saunters through the camp, his acute hearing also picks up the footfalls of the Ogre he had just battled, abandoning combat, and scrambling south.
Rastorn and the Half-Elf are startled when Melias suddenly appears a few feet from them. The sound of horses to the south – not the west, as Orjulun believed – is now audible to everyone and there is still no sign of a Dragon or other Ogres.
Melias is uninjured and can see well in the dark, so he readies their horses.
“I’m not a Healer, I’m a Priest of Kubri, Fifth Rank. Wrong god,” the Half-Elf tells Rastorn, “but I can heal.” He closes his eyes and calls on his god once more to further repair his leg. “I am not sure what you are all doing here but I am glad you are.” He smiles wearily.
Nearly all the small fires have burned out and the Humans are having a more difficult time seeing.
Melias hands the reins of Rastorn’s horse to him and looks toward the forest, wondering where Arturus is and if he is still alive. As if in answer, he hears wolves howling in the distance.
To be continued . . .
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