A Tall Task
I was able to quickly regroup with the rest of my impromptu hunting party easy enough after returning from the village. Over my shoulder I held a rather large sack jangling around with it's metal contents. Glad to have finally arrived on the ridge we found that almost perfectly overlooked the gnoll encampment, I finally dropped my burden down, grateful to be free of it's weight, announcing, "Got some goodies to play with."
By this point, it wasn't surprising to me that the Pandaren was the first to spin around and sprint over in glee. She most certainly seemed the ever-curious, adventurous type, always looking for the next new and exciting thing. Sadly, she wouldn't find it here as I opened the sack up, revealing the various bear traps within. As if to confirm my point, she frowned.
"I don't really see how these are goodies," The mage stated, picking one up, examining it. Of course, they were all closed though it seemed that she couldn't see what made them special. "Or how they'll be super useful against all those gnolls."
The bearded warrior scoffed, looking over his own trap. However, based on the harder look he had as he looked over the trap, I bet he was seeing what made them special. "Forget the gnolls, I was hopin' for somethin' a little more substantial for our 'taller task,' if you catch my drift."
I smirked. "What? The stout and strong dwarf who helped slay dragons and demons is afraid of taking on an ettin without any extra firepower?" To be honest with myself though, I wasn't even sure what I'd be doing. I've dealt with skirmishes with people my size, maybe a head or two bigger. Never anything this big.
My plate-armored compatriot – Gods, if I was really going to give this guild thing a try, I needed to get better at remembering names…Borreck, I think his was? – gave a sound of annoyance. "That's the problem with all you newbies, thinkin' adventurin's as simple as 'Oh ya stand there and smack the big bad 'til it drops then steal what ain't attached to it's body!' Well, it isn't, boyo! A hit from any ol' ettin, even the smaller ones, with just their fists to boot, can pack a massive wallop!"
Dun let the giant slap me, I thought to myself. Or slam whatever it may be using as a weapon onto me. Noted.
"However, I can see the use in this against the gnolls down there," he continued. "These're specially made hunter's traps, aren't they? With a special ice whats-it from a mage built into it to freeze victims in place. Or for this one," he showed us another trap, pointing to the faintly glowing, orange-red piece near the activation plate. "a fire gewgaw for explodin' and immolatin' the target."
"Quite technical terms you use there," I responded with. "But yes, these are all some Freezing and Explosive traps I managed to scrounge together from the village." This earned me a look from the elf – Velythia, I think.
"How exactly did you 'scrounge' these all up?" she asked.
"Oh, you know," I started, deciding it best to leave out how I had returned to the fighting ring in the village tavern's basement and used the gold I picked from the patrons there to buy whatever they had that could be used against an ettin. "I asked around for some traps at a cheap price." While not fully convinced, she seemed to at least drop the subject.
"Sooooo," the sorceress started. I believe her name was Min…bao? Mingao? Gah, I'm just going to stick with Min. "What's the plan with all these, then?"
Borreck seemed to come up with the answer after glancing around our vicinity. "We use the terrain to our advantages with our new toys," He then pointed to the nearby decline between the ridge we were situated on and the one not too far from it. "We place the Freezin' Traps throughout this bottleneck here to catch what gnolls we can that come after us after we do something to draw their ire."
Motioning to the ridges on either side of the decline, he continued. "Min and Vel, you two should be situated there to pick 'em off as they come. It'll probably be best for you to focus on the frozen ones," He then turned to me. "You and I will take care of any that break through. Behind us, we'll keep the Explosive Traps ready for the ettin. With any luck, that should weaken it enough for us to finish it off."
Our voidmancer nodded. "Sounds like the best plan, though we'll see if we can't pick off any extras you can't handle."
I guess it was the best plan we were going to get. "Alright, then…when and how do we start?"
A couple hours of placing traps and getting into position, I got my answer as I saw Velythia begin to conjure up a concentrated ball of shadowy energy before slinging it out in to the middle of the encampment. A few seconds later, I heard more of a muffled explosion and angry gnolls arguing.
Ready or not, here they come, I thought, taking one of my sabers in my right hand and drawing it, giving it a quick spin to more or less psyche myself up, I'll admit. I would have drawn my other sword as well had this just been more of a one on one, or even one or a few brawl, but I wanted my hand ready to launch for my pistol if needed. It didn't take long for them to notice the ladies waiting on the ridge, though they quickly backed up out of sight.
Soon after plenty came flooding into the "bottleneck," as Borreck had aptly put it. I could see two or three getting frozen in place, being then picked off by a fireball from Mindao or a shadow bolt from Velythia. A couple managed to avoid our minefield however and made it to Borreck and I. There was three of them, all in shabby, most likely scrounged together or crudely made armor. Two of them went for Borreck, who was closer, the last for me.
Not wanting to spend too much time worrying about the veteran warrior and instead worry about my own skin, I focused up on the gnoll. It had some dirty looking leather armor and a single, spiked mace. It took a giant swing at me, easy enough for my to sidestep. My opponent was quite as slow as I initially thought he'd be with that mace as he quickly swung it up and around to get me. With more a jump to the side, I was able find a clear window to slash at his legs, eliciting a groan from the hyena-like bandit.
Clearly annoyed at my now, it gripped both hands on the mace and got ready to swing again. Having noticed, I took another sidestep followed up by a slash across it's body, this time catching it off-guard and faltering. Seeing my opportunity, I quickly followed up, hand reaching for and grasping my pistol, and in one fluid motion like I've done it a million times brought it up and shot it, finishing it off.
Finding a moment of a peace, I took a quick glance to check on Borreck. Not only had he already decapitated one of the gnolls, he had just stabbed through the other gnolls before throwing it at the several others charging him. Guess he wasn't all talk.
Not wanting to waste much time on the next one, I blasted it between the eyes. That's two shots, I made sure to remind myself. Firearms had come quite a ways in development and most pistols now had a rotating barrel that held up to six shots. Speaking of shots, I saw plenty of void, fire, and ice flying all over the place back at the ridge, and it seemed like the spellcasters had their end under control.
Two more shots took down the next one that came up to me. One to the leg since he had since what had happened to his friend and he was covering his face, and then one to his face since he had clutched his leg in pain. I was starting to think that this might actually go rather easily.
Then again, I hadn't expected none of us to see the ettin literally charge through, knocking over any gnolls in it's way. Novice move on my part, I'm sure, to not notice the incredibly large, two-headed giant in slipshod sheets of wood and rope armor come barreling over. Needless to say, whether it was me and dwarf getting knocked aside as we tried jumping out of the way, or the girls stumbling and falling over form the earth trembling as it ran, we were all surprised.
Luckily however, life sometimes has a way of working itself out.
Our brutish quarry had charged straight into our explosive minefield. As soon as it stepped on what looked to be two or three of them, they all tried to engage and entrap their foe, ultimately proving to be more of an annoyance than for the giant, but the explosive still went off, blasting it's feet, causing it to stumble and fall into more, setting them to go off as well.
Once I had seen the first few go off, I did my best to yell "Duck and take cover!" as I rolled over, bundling up my cloak to hide my face from the dust blown all around the area. A good decision as I could still feel and hear the wind rushing past me as my ears were assaulted with the sounds of blasts going off.
Once things seemed to have calmed down, I tentatively unraveled myself and sat up, looking around. Most of the dust had cleared away. The gnolls had become more of a hesitant audience, encircling, and watching us. I could barely make out murmurs of "Took down Squasher?" and "Boss dead?" through the ringing in my ears. I saw Borreck up again, using the massive sword for his frame as a way of helping to hold him up as he most likely wasn't able to brace himself in some capacity. Velythia and Mindao, in theory, would have been the least affected, so I instead turned my gaze to the unmoving ettin.
Did we win? I wondered. I quickly got my answer as the ettin groaned, slowly rising. It's body was certainly battered and bleeding in certain places, but it was still ready to put the hurt on us, it seemed.
All around me I could hear the gnolls chanting "Squasher squash! Squasher squash! Squasher squash!" Easy enough to guess that "Squasher" is the ettin and that they want him to squash us. Lovely.
"Borreck?" I called over. "What's plan B?"
I kept my eyes on the ettin as it beat it's chest and roared. I could hear the dwarf spit. "This yer first botched plan or what? We improvise, lad." With that, the dwarf charged ahead, sword at the ready.
No, but I'd rather not improvise against something that could easily turn me into a fine paste.
I followed behind, watching Borreck somehow easily flip over an arm it swung at it, slashing through the thick wood but seemingly not finding flesh. Once close enough, it's attention still on Borreck, I shot at the ettin's eye, hoping to at least take out an eye. Thankfully, my mark hit true as the ettin howled in pain, holding up one massive hand to covered the face of the head I hit. Sadly, however, my plan backfired as it blindly swung it's other arm, catching Borreck and I off guard, sending us flying and tumbling.
"Any chance we got our own ettin or dragon we could throw at it?!" I yelled to the others, groaning as I brought my back up. Velythia actually responded after running up, throwing a void bolt which hit the ettin in the other head, furthering it's rage. "Sadly, no! Just us, buddy!"
"Going to feel foolish for asking this again, but either of you got a plan?" I asked.
"Gimme some time," Borreck stated, having readied himself again.
"You two could probably rush in and attack," Velythia offered. "Presuming that Mindao and I can bring…" It was at this moment the void elf realized Min wasn't with us. However, we found out where and what she was doing right as a bright purple bolt of pure arcana energy arced forward and hit the ettin square in the chest, knocking it down to it's hand and knees.
In almost comedic unison, all three of us whipped our heads around to find Min astride some sort of arcane body. The thing was almost as large as an ettin, made entirely out of pulsing, arcane energy. I can see Min holding onto what would be it's head as it charged the giant, screaming "Hellll yeah! What did I say?! Arcane giant, baby!"
Borreck groaned. "She's absolutely her mother's daughter."
"I'd say that's not a bad thing this time!" Velythia said, grinning and readying some more magic to throw at the ettin.
The ettin and Min's arcane elemental, for a lack of a better world, collided, hands grasped together, pushing against each other, trying to overpower the other. The elemental got a hand as a bolt of fiery green and black energy thrown by Velythia smashed into the ettin, causing it groan in pain, making it let go, allowing Min's elemental to get a good punch in across it's face. However, the ettin roared as it grabbed a nearby tree and swung it around, getting Min's elemental good, causing her to fall off. However, it was quick to grab it's master.
Seeing it distracted, Borreck ran up, stabbing down into the ettin's foot, causing another roar of pain to erupt from it. Hoping to live up to his name, Squasher went to slam down the dead tree trunk on Borreck, who managed to roll out of the way. It was then we heard the giant speak for the first time, merely letting out a bellow that sounded like, "Squash squishies!"
"As if!" I heard Min retorted. Looking to her, I now her standing up, arms crossed, defiantly staring down the giant. "Before you stands two heroes who have survived slain horrendous evils across the planet, the hopes and dreams of those they fight for and couldn't follow them pinned to their backs! To my back! Along with all the heroic aspirations I hope to exceed set by my father! Just who the hell do you think I am?!"
I wasn't really sure where the outburst came from, and while I understand while I wasn't included, I did still feel a little insulted and left out since she didn't mention me. Despite her heroic proclamation, the ettin still roared and went to rise and strike Min and the elemental.
However, having been slowly moving up this entire time, I had other plans.
Raising up my pistol with it's one last shot, I found the angle and pulled the trigger. I smirked as the head I aimed for flinched somewhat from the shot, distracting it long enough for Min and her elemental to react. I wasn't sure what was happening at first as it reeled an arm back, crackling with arcane energy. However, it then made sense as I saw what looked like the lightning spiral around the arm. It's arm had become pointed and was now spinning akin to a drill. A drill that was thrust forward, piercing right through Squasher.
The gnolls weren't quite sure what to make of what had happened in the last few minutes. That changed once they saw their once leader fall backward, now lifeless. In mere seconds afterwards, they all yelped and squealed in fear, scattering and running away. All I could really think to do was shrug, not really caring.
Still whooping and exclaiming over her victory, I could see Min standing atop the elemental still, dancing along with it in celebration. Obviously tired of and ready for a rest, Borreck decided to be the one to butt in on her party. "Good job and all, lass, but tell yer friend g'bye and get down already!"
"I don't know how!" was all Min replied with.
After about an hour of furious arguments between Min and Velythia, she finally figured out how to dispel her new creation. When questioned how she even made it by the void elf, she merely replied with "Dragon tooth." This earned what sounded like a groan of regret for some reason from her.
We then went about checking to make sure of what we already suspected; that the livestock was sadly gone and having either escaped or been consumed. Having found no sign of a single chicken even being alive and near, we decided to head back to the old man. Weirdly however, once we finally made it back to the farm, he was gone, no sign of life anywhere on the property. When we went and questioned the villagers, all we got were strange looks, saying that McGerkin had apparently been long dead. So, not only were we unable to get the job done, but we were apparently tricked into some fool's errand by some old man. Though it didn't explain why the villagers had seemed to believe he was still alive earlier in the day, we were ready to chalk it up to possibly a village wide prank and just head back.
Which brings us to here and now, back at the adventurer's guild after a long day's work. Looking around, I could see Borreck, now devoid of his armor, enjoying an after-job drink with some of his other buddies. The aspiring hero mage and elven voidmancer were in a heated argument over something about magic, I'm sure. Even without them, though, I could see plenty more colorful characters throughout the tavern, interacting with each other and generally having fun.
While we didn't get paid by the client, Borreck did give us each some cash to make up for the waste of a day. Plus, it…it felt good. Being around such interesting people again. Being in action like that. Maybe Lucassion was completely right and this was exactly what I needed. It certainly wouldn't hurt to stick around a little longer to see what may happen. If there was one thing I could at least be certain of while looking at the denizens of the guild, it was that a day here would never be mundane.
~End of Book One~