Shadow of Hope 40

Kurn’s howl of pain as the creature clamped its mandibles with full intent of severing his leg at the knee was bitten off into his own fierce snarl of determination.  His knuckles blanched white with the force of his grip upon his embedded sword.  His neck corded as the rain pouring down his face mingled with sharp sweat; with a chitinous crack he wrested the sword free from the creature and lifted it to his full reach.  That the creature had firm hold of him had one advantage — it couldn’t dodge.  Kurn slammed his sword point-first into the creature’s back with full intent of taking its head off.

The fighter’s blade knifed down into the intricate overlay of chitin just behind the creature’s head with a visceral squish, emerging from the underside of the neck covered in a thick paste.  With a savage twist of his longsword, Kurn popped the Ankheg’s head cleanly off of its torso.  The menacing jaws continued to squeeze his leg in a violent grip while the body rattled in the spasms of death.

With his shield hand he grabbed and tried to wrench the nearest mandible back upon itself or at least lessen the grip, using his newly-buried weapon in his other hand for leverage against the insect’s head.

The mandibles offered little resistance after the initial torque was breached, and the disembodied head fell to the ground with a wet thud, one antenna twitching.

“Help Zulian!” he yelled to Rôhn, aware enough of the battle around him to know the charring flash and smell meant the demise of one creature, and that one insect had skittered off in Zulian’s direction.

Cheskith’s voice raised itself over the din as the eerie whisperchant poured forth from his lips and wove itself into the party’s consciousness.  He advanced as he did, skirting along the edge of the bushes to draw nearer Kurn’s adversary, though the poor footing meant that his assistance would have to wait a few moments longer.

Knifing bolts of energy again originated from near Erellia’s position and streaked forth into the melee.  One set of energy bolts slammed into the Ankheg squaring off with Borlak, knocking the creature backwards and sapping the last of its will to fight.  The giant insect collapsed in a broken heap, steaming with arcane burns.

A second set of projectiles once again vanished in the direction of the fourth Ankheg and the lone Zulian.

Taking Kurn’s shouted orders to heart, Rôhn darted off at a full run in pursuit of the last creature, following a similar path taken by the streaking bolts of power.  His voice could be heard over the sounds of battle as it rose in a warlike crescendo.

As the armored body of the last insect came into sight, the barreling Dwarf took notice that the great beast had Zulian clutched around the waist in its fierce mandibles and had lifted her some eight feet into the air.  Without a moment’s pause, Rôhn completed his furious charge by slamming the head of his warhammer into the thorax of the Ankheg as Zulian hit the insect in the head with the hilt of her scimitar.

The great Dwarven blow nearly snapped the creature in half, and the scimitar’s impact caused the jaws to release as both Zulian and the insect dropped to the ground.  The Ankheg squirmed, a shattered wreck, while Zulian managed to roll to one knee, blades at the ready.

The trio of Ankheg were felled only moments apart, and a sudden quiet descended over the field of battle.

Marcus moved a few steps closer to the actual site of the carnage, his fingertips still smoldering from the lethal blast of flames which had gutted one Ankheg only moments before.  Eyeing the situation carefully, he readied himself should another of the creatures burst forth from the ground.  Moments later, he sensed the dissipation of his protective arcane armor.

No sound was forthcoming other than the inspiring thrum of Cheskith’s whisperchant and the soft nickering and whinnies of the horses nearby, still agitated by the stinging smell in the air.

Erellia advanced on her mount. “All able and accounted for?” she asked with just enough timbre to be heard above the whisperchant.

Cheskith’s whisperchant faded out over the next few syllables, brought to a natural end that still seemed to leave quiet hanging over the area like a shroud with its waning.

“Three are wounded, I think?” he stated, his central position giving him ample view of the rest.  “But these things, these insects, do they always attack together, or are more tunnelling beneath us even now? Hsst…they would make short work of the horses.”

“Accounted for, yes.  Able?  That remains to be seen,” Marcus said as he walked toward the dead creatures.  “This is a good time to camp.  I suggest you find a place to set up.  Send Haron back with a few horses to transport any wounded we have and to lead us back to you.  As long as all the bugs are dead, I think we will be safe.  I doubt anything else shared their territory.”

With this, Marcus goes to see how the other fighters have fared.

Cheskith paused, straining his ears for any sound of further danger.  “I will go to check on Haron and the horses, I think.  If they are needed here, then one will be needed to lead them.  I would rather that be doing than riding one again, I think.”  Not just for the sake of avoiding the awkwardness, either; with the excitement of the moment passing, only the lingering effects of his spell and his whisperchant were holding the soreness in his legs at bay; better to stretch them while he still could.

So saying, Cheskith circled the bushes to do as he stated, keeping alert for any sound or tremor that might indicate the presence of another one of the bugs.

Kurn accepted Cheskith’s and Marcus’ quick inventories that everyone was present.  He was within sight of Erellia, so didn’t speak for himself.  His first attention went to his thigh where the pinchers had held him, checking the wound for blood loss — the bug had clamped far too close to an artery, and with the thrill of battle, the persistent wet of rain, and the lingering throbbing pain from the mandibles it would be far too easy to not notice a wound that could bleed out and prove fatal.

He threw a look towards Haron and the horses, taking Cheskith’s observation of the likely tactics of the insects to heart and not willing to think the lull was actually the conclusion to the battle. Not yet.

Kurn wiped his sword clean in the brush nearby and sheathed it, then gave the severed insect’s head a healthy kick that sent it flying off and away.  He walked near enough Borlak to spot-check his wounds for a pace away; Borlak was on his feet, so Kurn only spent the time to check for any severe wounds Borlak couldn’t identify himself.  He then stalked off, shield on his arm, to find Zulian and Rôhn and ensure they were okay.


Shadow of Hope 41

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