Calix made his way carefully to the top of the ridge and squinted down at the assembled force below. He put his hand on Signey’s back and the ranger handed Calix the spyglass.
“What do you make of it?” Calix asked as he squinted through the lens.
“Orcs. But they have a lot more goods than you would expect. If I had to guess, I’d say this was a supply detachment.”
“A supply detachment? That seems a little . . . organized, for orcs.”
“There are no tribal banners, no war-standards. It doesn’t make sense,” Signey complained.
“It’s unusual, to say the least, but if they are orcs then they’re up to no good. If we can clear them out, maybe we can find out what they are doing here and why.”
“Is that . . . wise?” Signey asked. Calix grinned. “No, of course it isn’t. What was I thinking,” the ranger muttered and rolled his eyes.
“Have I gotten us killed yet?” Calix asked. “Come on, let’s go back and get the others.” Signey followed morosely while he re-wrapped the spyglass and placed it carefully back in its box. Justus, Isaic and Wayland were waiting at the bottom of the ridge. They observed Calix’s grin silently for a while.
“Well?!” Isaic demanded.
“Orcs,” Calix announced cheerfully.
“LOTS of orcs,” Signey added.
“Oh, don’t be so defeatest!” Calix told him, clapping the ranger on the shoulder. Isaic rolled his eyes and pulled a book out of his backpack.
“I don’t think I’m ready for us to tackle an army today, brother,” the wizard said, flipping through his pages of spells. Justus nodded.
“We may be able to harass and delay them, but there are only five of us.”
Wayland fingered his holy symbol. “How many are there?”
“Just under twenty,” Signey announced before Calix could open his mouth. “They have wagons, horses . . .”
“Draft horses. We have the advantage of speed and agility . . . not to mention surprise. Do you really want to let them go? What are you going to say to the villagers they kill? Sorry, we thought it might be a little risky?” Calix snapped.
“He’s right,” Wayland said.
“Yes, but you always think that, Wayland,” Justus said, smiling faintly. “If we’re going to do this, let’s do it. No more discussion.”
The five friends climbed onto their horses and settled themselves, going through last-minute checks of weapons and armor. Isaic put his spellbook away and began mumbling under his breath, bringing his spells up to the forefront of his mind. Wayland bowed his head and said a quick prayer, and they nudged their horses into a fast walk.
As the rounded the foot of the ridge, Justus urged his horse into a charge. Signey let arrows fly, quickly bringing down several orcs while Isaic waved his arms and chanted. Sticky lines sprang into existence, entangling several of their enemies and preventing them from closing. Calix, Justus, and Wayland were in their element, hacking down the surprised and confused orcs.
Isaic wasn’t quite sure what happened next. It felt like a soundless explosion, an invisible violence that sent his head ringing. His mind screamed in agony as he tried to regain control over his limbs. Calix’s horse collapsed and Isaic’s brother fell to the ground, stunned. Justus managed to keep his beast upright, but it was a near thing and the fighter dropped his weapon. The orcs swarmed in.
Isaic saw a goblin emerge from behind one of the wagons, waving its arms and shouting. Its skin looked strangely blue as it grinned and shot a line of crackling power from its finger straight at Wayland, dropping the cleric like a stone.
One of the orcs near Signey held up a hand and a glowing red blade formed seemingly out of nothing. Isaic tried to call out a warning, but the orc threw the blade and Signey fell off his horse. Isaic began chanting again, desperately, pointing his own finger at the blue goblin. A great rush of fire exploded into being, then Isaic was on the ground, struggling with a snarling orc. He felt a hideous pain in his shoulder and then the weight was abruptly removed.
“Look after Wayland!” Calix yelled, blood streaming from a cut on his forehead. Isaic crawled to the fallen priest and crouched over him. He looked around, cautiously. Signey had dispatched his assailant and was once more sending arrows into the crowd of orcs. The blue goblin was a charred corpse . . . it looked like Isaic had accomplished that much at least. He frowned and chanted again, sending a few small missiles arcing through the combat. It didn’t appear to do much good, but even a distraction could be a valuable ally in the melee.
It seemed almost like the orcs all heard the same signal, for as one they turned and fled. Justus began to pursue but Calix shouted him back. It was rapidly growing dark, and the orcs could see better at night than humans could.
“What was that thing?” Calix demanded as they surveyed the damage.
“I don’t know. It looked like a little blue goblin.”
“I saw you fry it, little brother, good job. It might have been the end of us.”
Signey was badly hurt and Wayland was unconscious. Calix, Justus, and Isaic had all sustained injuries that would need treatment. Isaic, being the least hurt, took over the task of gathering up their horses. Miraculously, the animals had escaped with little more than bruises and small cuts. Calix searched the remains and loaded what they could on the wagons.
“So where do we take all this stuff?” Calix asked. Signey pulled a map out of his pack and looked it over.
“There’s a village nearby . . . Rumero, I think. It’s that way,” the ranger said, holding up a shaking arm. Calix nodded.
“Let’s go. We can figure this all out in the morning. A good night’s sleep in a tavern is just what we need.”
* * *
“Are you sure this is the place?” Calix asked incredulously, staring down at the ruins of a small farming village. “It’s a wreck.”
“I know,” Signey murmured, “but this is the right place. It looks like an army came through.”
“I think I see movement,” Calix whispered. “Hand me that spyglass.” They waited patiently while Calix scrutinized the ruins. “It’s not orcs . . . looks like humans. Survivors, maybe?”
“They may be hostile . . .” Isaic began.
“You stay here, little brother, I’ll go check it out,” Calix said and nudged his tired horse forward again. Isaic looked over at Justus, who shrugged.
“We’d better hope they’re not hostile,” the fighter said tiredly. “We’re in no shape to fight again.”
Calix was gone for some time, but when he returned he seemed in good spirits. “You have to meet these people to believe them. They’re really . . . strange.” He announced.
“Strange how?” Isaic demanded.
“It’s hard to explain. You’ll see.”
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