Chapter 30 – Wednesday Night, June 11 – Once More Into the Mountains
Dorothy and Eastwood watched as Eek played at water’s edge. The sun was setting behind them, and was actually below the ridgeline, but the illumination on the bottoms of the growing cloud cover reflected an eerie yellow light on everything. Dorothy snuggled closer. “He seems to alternate between being happy and being sad.”
Eastwood twisted around. “Careful of my rifle there, little lady – I don’t know how I’ll ever find more bullets when they’re all shot off. Yep, I think he gets going, then suddenly remembers that he misses his mom.” Dorothy sighed and leaned closer.
Animus shook his head. “Eeek needs to go back to his mother – it’s for the best.”
“But how will you ever find her again?”
“Well, I’ve seen her right up there on the side of the mountain, watching us just a moment ago. I think she noticed the Asians heading up the mountainside – she’s pretty sharp. Saw me the other day in time to save me from the flying monkeys. Anyway, I signed for her to wait, and she’s just sitting up there, waiting patiently.”
Sapphire twisted around. “Where? I don’t see her.”
Animus pointed. “She’s probably hiding behind that rock outcrop so the Asians don’t see her. They’re on their way back down now.” He stood up and dusted sand off his leggings.
Animus gave a little bow. “Thank you. I hope you didn’t have too much trouble with the witch…?”
The lady assassin, Yuan, smiled and shook her head. “No. Your tactical advice worked perfectly. Darter doused her with water first, by surprise…”
Sapphire broke in. “Did she really melt?”
“No, not really. But she was too shocked to react when I stepped in and cut off her head. There were three flying monkeys that got away. We hauled all the rest of the bodies out of the cave and brought you the nets, as our master requested. I hope this meets with your satisfaction.”
Animus bowed again. “Perfectly. We must hurry now to rescue the children.”
“We bid you good evening, then.” The four Asians continued down the beach and entered their encampment by the castle wall.
Animus faced Monolith Mountain and cupped his hands to mouth. “Eeek, Eeek, Eeek!”
Sapphire turned to the few adventurers up the beach that had risen in alarm at the sound. “Don’t one of you draw a weapon, or I will freeze your blood where you stand.” She pointed her wand menacingly, and a number of hands dropped from their scabbards.
Eeek and his mama had a brief hugging reunion, then he climbed on her shoulder. As she started back up the mountain, Eeek turned his head and waved woefully at those he was leaving behind on the beach. All four of them waved back.
Animus turned to Sapphire. “Let’s go. Those two lovebirds can look after themselves.” He cocked his head at Eastwood and Dorothy.
Sapphire smirked. “Looks like they’re doing a good job of taking care of each other.”
Animus snorted. “Humans!”
Together they gathered up the nets and hurried to the Sorth Bridge Gate to meet their friends. Doug was nowhere to be seen.
Achilles and Cortez had their backs turned to each other, with their arms crossed. Both stared angrily at the clouds. The gate stood open, despite the oncoming dark. Achilles noticed their approach and gathered up his spear and shield. “We’re ready to go. I see you have the nets.”
Rufus noticed Sapphire anxiously looking around. “Grace is staying with Maude and the Charles’s. D-Stract is with Flummox, keeping the Bucs honest, so it’s just us. Achilles wanted come too, and I thought we might need him.”
Animus nodded. “So we’re four. This should be fine. Let’s go.”
They marched across the bridge, ignoring the loud clang as Cortez slammed the gate shut. They waved at the tin man as they passed the gate to the Withers, but hurried on in the growing darkness across the first creek. They stopped briefly at the Sky farmhouse to beg for two live chickens to use as bait, then hurried on.
Animus led the way up beside the second creek, making good use of his elf sight. The others followed back a ways, with their lanterns turned low. They were at the glade in front of the mouth of Cave 1 well before the moon rose.
Rufus summoned an air sprite to keep watch on the cave mouth while Animus and Achilles set the traps. Sapphire watched for wildlife in the woods around them.
They bent down two tree branches near the edge of the glade to spring back up and lift the nets that they had spread out below. An irate chicken was staked out on each net. Pull-ropes were rigged to spring the nets individually, and these were brought together to a single point from which Animus would be able to watch the traps and trigger them when the time came.
They put out all the lanterns, and sat, listening to the birds. After a long time, Sapphire pointed in the dark. “Look! Up on the ridge.” The others caught a glimpse of twin lightning flashes jumping from the nearest outcropping of rock, to the next rocky shoulder to the north, then they were gone. “They were dogs. All angles and points, but dogs – made out of lightning.”
Rufus clicked his tounge. “Just like Flummox was telling us. They’re pretty far from the dam.”
Animus shushed them. “Let’s just hope they don’t come back and bring their elemental friends with them. The moon is coming up over the lake now.”
Rufus sniffed. “Don’t worry, I’m keeping watch. Oh, wait. They’re starting to come out now. No regular wolves, just the two adults walking and two kids scrambling. Get ready.”
The chickens were quiet, so Sapphire threw a stick at one of them. It squawked indigently, and it’s partner joined in the chorus. The youngsters clearly heard, and started racing for the nearest chicken. With perfect timing, Animus tugged the first rope – and nothing happened.
Together the two werewolves devoured most of the first chicken, and then one turned towards the other chicken, which was beating its wings and trying frantically to get away. The first wolf made the kill, and was starting to eat it when the second wolf caught up and tried for a share. Animus pulled the second rope, and this time the net sprung skyward, catching both werewolf children in a single net. They barked, yelped, and struggled, but the nets held firm.
Achilles whirled, spear at the ready, as the two upright werewolves approached slowly.
Achilles lowered his spear, and pointed it towards the thrashing net. “Can you talk to those two? Calm them down? I’m not confident that Animus’s net will hold the weight of both, struggling like that.”
Animus glared. “It was your slip knot that failed.”
Rudy hurried forward. “Chap! Gray! Calm down. We’ll get you something to eat if you’ll just wait a minute.” They snapped at his outreaching fingers, but quieted down somewhat.
Delft looked at the rescuers. “You did bring some food, didn’t you? For the journey back?” He licked his lips and looked from one to another.
Sapphire reached for her pack. “Of course. Here you go.” It was a bit un-nerving watching the four werewolves scarf down a ham apiece, and Rudy got bit at least once, trying to poke bits through the net, but eventually they were all satisfied.
The adventurers discussed finding two poles to rig a cross-support, so that all four could lift and carry the weight of the loaded net together, and whether that would even work, navigating between the trees.
Delft reached out and snapped a finger against Achilles’s spear shaft. “That shaft ought to be strong enough to support them. Rudy and I can carry those two, no problem.” Achilles jerked his spear away. Delft continued smoothly. “And, with Rudy and I carrying the net, you’ll be less worried about what we’re going to do. I really want us to get off this mountain before any of the other werewolves come back.”
In this they were agreed, so they slipped the spear shaft through the top of the second net, loosed it from the tree, gathered up the first net and spare ropes, and headed back down the mountain. Delft and Rudy made carrying the squirming net look easy.
Sapphire chuckled. “Nurse Scrubs is going to faint when you lot walk in her door.”
As they crossed back over the first creek, Rufus held up a hand. “Listen.” The sounds of panpipes and a hooting horn drifted down to them from the woods. “That’s probably Pan and Tootsie. I really must investigate. You don’t need me to get back to town.”
The others nodded, and continued onwards.
Rufus got out his flute, checked it carefully, and summoned a new air sprite to scout ahead. Slowly he crept forward, until he was almost to the unicorn’s glade. Then, he sent the sprite ahead to see what he could see.
Sure enough, the tiny faun and huge ogre were playing music under the moonlight. The faun used panpipes, but Tootsie was blowing air through the hollow horn on her head. A large axe rested close by her hand. Softly, Rufus began to play his own flute, intertwining with their music, and growing in volume. When he was sure they heard him, without reacting badly, he started moving carefully towards the glen.
The moment he came into view, the music stopped. The ogre bellowed, grabbed her axe, and ran into the trees on the opposite side of the glade. Pan stopped at the edge of the woods and turned back to look at the intruder.
Rufus lowered his flute. “I’m sorry to disturb your music. It was beautiful. I’ll be back to play some more another day, I promise.”
Pan nodded, turned and slipped into the woods. Rufus turned and headed for town. “Well, that was a start.” He summoned a tiny fire sprite to light his way back, and quickened his pace.
Cleo sat up and checked her weapons. “So what’s the plan?”
“You are to stick with me, because I speak your language, and we two are the most nimble of the raiding party. Also, we have the only ranged weapons.”
Cleo nodded. “Okay, Sniper.”
Sniper grimaced. “Your name, it’s no good.”
Cleo looked puzzled. “Cleo?”
“Too long, too many syllables to use in battle. I will call you Elf. You call me Snipe. It is what they call me anyway, when they are not being formal.”
Cleo nodded slowly. “Okay, Snipe. What’s the plan?”
“You and I are to run high scout along the ridges above the path between cave mouths. We need to look for ambushes, and provide cover fire. The rest will be moving single file on the narrow path below us. Chief will lead, followed by Lucifer.”
“How many Trogs?”
Snipe looked thoughtful. “Leather Mama will stay with the alchemists. They’re pulling back the guardposts to just Cave 4. Strong and Woosey have the guard.” He grinned. “Don’t worry, Leather Mama will keep Woosey awake. So that leaves Mohawk & Bandolier, the goblin, the orc, and Stoner. So five plus the Chief, the Shaman, and us. Nine against what – three, four good fighters? We get to the open, and we win.”
Cleo frowned. “I still don’t like those odds. Wait a sec.” She sat down on her pallet and spread out her arrows. She pulled the little jar from Animus out of her pack and opened it.
Snipe squatted down and sniffed. “What do you have there?”
Cleo began dipping a few arrowheads in the paste. “Paralytic agent. On a werewolf, it knocks ‘em down for less than a minute, but that’s long enough to slit a throat.”
“Okay, but there’s not a lot left. I’ve got four kinds of arrows here – regular, silver, paralytic, and both. The trick is to keep track of which is which. You don’t have any silver arrows, do you?”
Snipe smiled. “All mine are silver tipped tonight.” He began dipping a few of his bolts in the paste.
Cleo nodded. “Very good. I only have eight silvers left. So 10 regular, 4 silver, 4 poison, and 4 both.”
The jar was now empty. Snipe stood up. “Let’s go.”
The moon was rising over the lake, and the raiding party could see well enough. Cleo’s elf sight was not great, but it sufficed. She and Snipe scrabbled up on the ridges above the path that the seven Trogs below were following. It was rough going, but the little kobold knew the path well, and they were able to pull ahead of the raiding party, which was going along slowly and cautiously.
The air was humid, and a few scatterd clouds passed over the moon. Cleo had to pay close attention to her footing. And so, she almost bumped into Snipe when he stopped and held up a hand. “Look there.” He pointed at a bit of a ravine ahead, that dipped down toward the main path, hidden between two rocky outcrops. At the top of the ravine, they could see the backs of several wolves, waiting quietly shoulder to shoulder. “That’s the ambush.”
In the middle of the group, one wolf’s back rose higher than the others. It was the Dire wolf. Cleo put a hand on Snipe’s sleeve. “The big one. That one’s infected. The others might just be regular wolves. I wish I could get a shot at him, but the others are sort of in the way.”
Snipe peered carefully. “He seems to be third of four in line. The near one, the black, is a little elevated from the rest, which is why he’s screening the rest. If we were just a little higher, I could try and take out the black one, to give you a better shot over the top of the gray, to get at the big one.”
They climbed a little higher up the slope, and Cleo nodded in grim satisfaction. She readied a poison silver arrow, and nodded to Snipe.
Snipe’s crossbow thudded, and the black wolf tumbled down out of sight. Cleo’s bow sang and her arrow plunged into the Dire Wolf’s shoulder. It yelped in pain and whirled in their direction. The smaller gray wolf had the misfortune of being the first thing in reach, and the Dire wolf snapped and clawed at it. The gray in turn cried and fled back over the rocky shoulders, even as the Dire wolf slumped in place. This left only the brown wolf standing, which turned and charged at them. Snipe fumbled with his crossbow, trying to reload. Cleo’s bow sang again, and the brown wolf collapsed as well.
As quick as they could, they scrambled over the rocks to where the Dire Wolf lay. It was beginning to stir, so Snipe put another bolt in it from his crossbow. Cleo drew her dagger and slit it’s shaggy throat. Then, for good measure, she took out her mallet and smashed it’s skull as she had done with Bloody. She found the other two wolves, who were in a bad way, and made sure to end them as well.
She then looked up. Snipe was scurrying away, following the path of the gray wolf. “Let me see if I can catch it. It might have been infected.” He disappeared among the rocks.
Cleo nodded, and moved out onto the right-hand outcropping, to see if she could see the party below. Suddenly there were yells and a clash of arms. Creeping to the edge of the rocks, she saw the melee below. The Trogs had run into an armed party on the narrow path, single-file.
In the front of the Trog column, the Chief was facing the big werewolf with a scimitar, Slasher, that had threatened the kobolds on their last encounter. Two other werewolves backed him up, one with a metal axe, one with a stone hammer.
Slasher and the Chief were cautiously trading feints with their sword tips, while sneering at each other and trading insults. Cleo wished she understood goblin tongue.
Slasher looked up to the ridge and called out a signal, then turned back to the Chief and laughed. The rest of the party looked up the slope, worried, but nothing happened. Slowly, the smile on Slasher’s face faded as the one on the Chief’s grew. The ambush had been foiled.
The Chief became more aggressive, and Slasher began to fall back. The Chief lunged, and Slasher parried. But instead of reposting, Slasher leapt forward and tried to bite the Chief’s ear off. He pushed Slasher away, and brushed his ear with the back of his hand. It came away bloody. Slasher laughed and pointed. The Chief lunged again, and Slasher parried, backing away.
A rush of gravel by Cleo’s side caused her to whirl around. It was Snipe.
The kobold peered over the edge. “What’s going on?”
“Some sort of duel. I think Slasher just bit the Chief.”
“Why didn’t you shoot him?”
Cleo looked offended. “They were talking and I can’t understand. I didn’t know if they were trying for a fair fight, or what…”
Snipe glared at her. “Fair fight?” He turned and shot a crossbow bolt at Slasher, that glanced off his helmet. Snipe swore, then threw his crossbow at him.
Slasher tried to beat off the crossbow as it fell on him. It hung for a moment on his scimitar, and he had to flip it off. That was all the opening the Chief needed. Another quick lunge, and Slasher’s head departed from his shoulders.
The Chief leaned against the rocky slope, and dabbed at his bleeding ear.
Lucifer, next in line, leveled his staff at the other two werewolves and snapped out something hoarse and guttural. They looked scared, dropped their weapons on the ground, and raised their hands. Shortly they were being lead at spear point into the open glade beyond, their hands tied, and bags put over their heads.
Cleo beamed the good news to the others, and learned of their success as well. The war was over, and no humans had been killed.
Cleo turned to Snipe. “Did you catch the gray wolf?”
Snipe shook his head. “No. I found some blood spatter along its tracks, but it got away.”
Cleo shook her head. Maybe the werewolf problem was not completely over, after all.