The hobgoblin yelled out a command and the kobolds started running towards them, shrieking as they waved their weapons in the air.
One of them stumbled and fell when a crossbow bolt hit its leg, but the rest showed no sign of stopping. The coachman took several steps back and looked as if he'd soil himself, whilst Chris took a step forward to cover his sister with his large shield. Lane raised his spear in front of him like a pike and waited for the first kobold to approach. He didn't have to wait for long, as a kobold with a rusty axe came running at him without any care at all and impaled itself on his spear. The spear broke in two and the kobold staggered forward and fell down at his feet. Another kobold attacked him with a club, but he blocked it with his shield. With his right hand—that was now free because he threw away the broken spear—he grabbed hold of the club. The kobold bit at his arm like a crazed dog.
Lane screamed, using the shield's edge to bash its head in and kicking it away from him. His forearm was bleeding and hurting a lot, but he could still use it. He tightened his grip on the club that he'd stolen and took a step closer to the kobold. Before his opponent had a chance to recover, he raised his arm and swung down at the kobold's head. It went limp and collapsed to the ground.
When he looked up, he saw that three other kobolds lay dead on the ground next to Chris and his sister — however Rachel was kneeling on the ground with her hand to her side, her face an ashen white. The last kobold had chased after the coachman and was currently trying to cut at him with a small dagger.
The hobgoblin had stopped merely observing and was moving towards them with wide steps — its teeth showing in an even wider grin than earlier. Another bolt came flying from the woman's crossbow and hit the hobgoblin's left arm, but it only stopped for a second to pull the bolt out before glaring at the woman. Then it started running.
Chris moved forward to block its path. The hobgoblin brandished its war axe with both arms and swung at Chris from the side. He raised his shield but the blow carried such force that it bent the metal and threw him back. He rolled several feet on the ground before stopping, struggling to even stand.
Now, the only thing standing between the hobgoblin and them were Lane and the woman with the crossbow — not that she was much help now.
The hobgoblin still had its attention on Chris. Rachel now lay on the ground, trying her utmost to grab her weapons and stand, without success.
Lane looked at the injured twins and glanced into the forest where the man had disappeared earlier. It would be so easy to just...
The hobgoblin laughed as Chris made another attempt to rise to his knees but fell onto the ground again. This time, he didn't move again.
Lane let out an annoyed sigh.
He ran to the bodies of the kobolds that the twins had killed and grabbed a spear—he needed the extra reach if he were to stand a chance—and then took off in the direction of the hobgoblin. His mouth felt dry as he approached it from the side, hoping it hadn't noticed him yet. But it wasn't stupid. When he came close and thrust forward, it turned its head at him and took a step back to avoid his spear. Then it swung its axe at him from above.
Lane didn't expect it to react that fast and only barely managed to jump away and avoid the attack.
The hobgoblin glared at him with deep black eyes. Lane took a step back and glanced down at his shield. A shield made out of metal had trouble taking an attack from its axe. His wooden shield would break after a single blow. In the corner of his eyes, he saw Rachel still struggling to move with blood-stained hands and the coachman doing his utmost to avoid the stabs of the kobold half his size. Expecting help from them any time soon wasn't realistic.
He had to this by himself.
Tightening his wet grip on the spear, Lane glared back at the hobgoblin. The hobgoblin made the first move. It took a long step forward and raised both of its arms in a wide motion. The speed at which the distance between them shortened was unexpected. He underestimated his opponent. It wasn't fast, but it had long legs. He'd been thinking he would use his longer reach to slowly tire the hobgoblin out, but when the hobgoblin only had to take one step to close the distance he wouldn't get many chances to attack. Throwing himself to the side to dodge the attack, Lane softened his landing with his arms and hurried to stand up.
The hobgoblin was upon him again instantly, this time swinging its axe at him from the side. Stumbling back, he managed to avoid the sharp blade of the axe and landed on his butt. When the axe stormed at him once more he had to roll on the ground to escape. This continued, and the duel was less a fight and more a game of cat-and-mouse. Every time the axe moved, Lane was only a fingerbreadth away from death.
He clenched his teeth and sweat covered his forehead as he once again rolled away from the hobgoblin and staggered onto his legs. If he'd been only a little slower, he'd be dead a dozen times by now. He had no way of attacking and dropped his spear long ago. The hobgoblin had started growling as it swung its war axe more and more wildly — but if anything that only made it more dangerous. A few crossbow bolts were sticking out of its body but it didn't even bother looking at them. All of its attention was focused on killing the human in front of it.
It swung its axe again and like before Lane tried taking a step back — but his luck had finally run out. Stepping on a protruding rock, he lost his footing and couldn't avoid the axe that came at him. His eyes shot open as he raised his shield in front of him with both arms. The blade of the axe dug into the wood and cracked it into two, the force of the blow sending him flying into a tree behind him. Pain radiated through his back as it slammed into the tree, making him see double. The world darkened and a chilling frost spread inside his body.
He was about to die. Just like when he'd been hunted by the devourers, he'd become too arrogant without anything to back it up. The Summoned hadn't done anything for him. He could have chosen to leave when the others were busy fighting the hobgoblin. Or even better, he could have chosen not to enter the second test. Then he would've been on his way back to his hometown right now. He'd get to see his mother and sister again — maybe even his father.
Once again he threw it all away for some idiotic dream.
He really had been too arrogant...?
Why did this feel familiar? The cold feeling covered his entire body and his head felt like an ice cube. But it wasn't uncomfortable. It was like when you forgot the contents of a dream, but you still knew it. What happened it that dream?
His eyes shot open. The hobgoblin stood in front of him. It was grunting with heavy breaths, a mad smile on its face as it raised its axe.
Lane observed its movements. They were slow. Its only advantage was strength and its size. He was faster than it was. There were a million ways to use that. If he wanted to survive, all he had to do was kill this monster. Why did he have a problem with that before?
The axe fell. Lane pushed away from the tree and rolled away as the axe cleaved into the tree's bark. The pain he had felt was gone. All that was left was a cold numbness. He ignored the hobgoblin's roar and retrieved the spear that he had dropped earlier in the fight. Spinning it around a few times, he turned around and looked at his foe. There was no emotion in his eyes.
The hobgoblin put one leg against the tree and pulled the axe out with a heave. It glared at Lane, its eyes filled with murder. With another roar that stung the ears, it ran at him as it swung its weapon. He raised his spear. When the axe came flying towards him, Lane used his spear to push the axe upwards and ducked under it. Letting his spear move with the axe, he spun it over his head swung it like a pendulum. The hobgoblin didn't have time to react before the spearhead struck its head and left a long cut across its ear and cheek. It stumbled a few steps back with its left hand pressed against its head before it regained its footing. With shocked eyes, it stared at the blood that covered its fingers.
Lane looked at his spear with a disappointed expression. That attack was meant to cut its neck and finish the hobgoblin in one go. But his body didn't move like expected. It also should have been more than a mere cut, but there wasn't enough mass behind the spearhead. This spear was more fit for thrusting than these heavy swings.
He didn't like it.
Recovering from its shock, the hobgoblin looked at him with a much more wary expression. When it attacked again, its swing was much more controlled than earlier. Earlier, Lane had trouble dodging the attacks. Now, he confidently backed away as the axe swung past him, shooting forward immediately and thrusting the spear into his foe's thigh. The hobgoblin's cry was followed by its axe cutting where Lane stood, but he had already moved a safe distance away.
What followed were several attempts from the hobgoblin to land a blow on Lane, but not a single one came close to hitting. Instead, the hobgoblin built up more and more injuries, to the point where its body was now covered in blood and it was struggling to keep itself standing.
It roared like a madman, its scream echoing throughout the forest. Its bloodshot eyes centered on Lane as it staggered forward, gathering its last strength into another attack. It raised its axe above its shoulder and swung it at him with its whole weight behind the cut. When the axe came closing in on Lane, instead of backing away, he took a step forward and thrust his spear into the hobgoblin's stomach. Ducking under the shaft of the axe, he pressed his own weight onto the spear, breaking it in two and forcing it to tear up the innards. Then he backed away.
The hobgoblin had no way of stopping him. It had used up the last remnants of its strength and its innards were mauled. With its last breath, it dropped onto its knees and let go of the war axe, grabbing onto the spear sticking out of its stomach. Like that, it fell on its side and stopped moving.
Lane looked at the dead hobgoblin for a few seconds as he calmed himself down — or rather, as his emotions inflamed. The numb feeling that had ruled over him faded away and he was left shocked by the reality of the situation. All the fatigue and pain that he had built up also came flushing in all at once. He fell onto his knees. His arm was bleeding profusely, his spine felt like it was on fire, and his head spun even worse than it had before. He could see the dark-haired woman running towards him, and the coachman who was limping with his right arm held close to his body. For a second, he thought of asking if there were any more enemies nearby, but that thought left his mind as quickly as it had entered it when darkness covered his vision once more.