Jack didn’t know whether to feel relieved or anxious. On the one hand, they weren’t dealing with a pack of Rockhide wolves, like he was afraid they would. They maybe could have won against that, but it wasn’t a sure bet. He and Mrk fought against their kind before and it wasn’t fun. On the other hand, he had no idea what kind of threat the lumbering figure presented. But the hulking monster didn’t look easy at all.
The ogre in question was bereft of clothes, with the exception of a patchy leather loincloth. It had swirling sigils painted over its chest and arms, covering skin that more closely resembles hide. A brutish head was set atop a huge body, seeming almost comical as how small it appeared in comparison. The ogre wasn’t fit, not exactly, but it clearly showed massive muscle underneath a layer of fat. Its face had a constantly frowning expression, courtesy of two fangs jutting out of its mouth. Atop its head was a single horn, but more thick than long.
The monster was ambling behind a decrepit stone fence. It was tall enough that it could be seen over it, standing at perhaps ten feet in height. It wasn’t armored, but it was armed, carrying a huge wooden club with it, easily the same length as Jack was tall.
“This is not the best situation we could have encountered.” Brom said.
“Yeah, no shit.” Ava laughed, a little hysterically.
“Alright, my memory’s not giving me much. What are we looking at?”
After receiving incredulous looks from those around him, Jack hurried to clarify his question.
“I mean, I can see the big ugly ogre. I meant how dangerous is it and can we take it?”
Brom hummed and stroked his beard before responding.
“Ogres are powerful and have thick hides, but they are not intelligent. Capable of speech and limited social reasoning, but no more than that. Quite aggressive by their nature and, as we can see here, possessive.”
“Possessive?” Mrk asked.
“Yes. It has clearly claimed the manor as his own and is now patrolling its grounds. Hence his slumbering around the wall.”
“Oh, so we’ve reached the manor?” Moran asked, afraid until now to get in on the group discussion.
They were still some distance from the wall, hiding behind a small hill.
“I believe the manor is over that hill, behind the wall. …we could try and sneak past him… that is also an adventurer tactic. But I’m not sure more monsters wouldn’t be waiting for us in the manor. Fighting on two fronts would be disadvantageous.”
“M- more?” asked Mrk.
“Ogres sometimes form packs around them. Like really ugly landlords.” Ava said.
“Right. So, we’ll still need some scouting. But. Can we take it?” Jack stressed.
Ava shrugged, as if to say ‘why’re you asking me, I just shoot things’.
Brom did the opposite thing. He sat down on the ground, cross-legged, and seemed to truly think about the issue for a minute. Jack used the time to peek at the ogre again. It didn’t seem to have spotted them, being content to walk slowly around the wall. It was just now starting to move away from them, following the lay of the land.
“The dwarfs in my freehold have not met many ogres. Those variants that live in caves or underground are rare. But what I know is this. Ogres are powerful and sturdy, but slow and unintelligent. They have a tradition of ripping the horns of any other ogre they defeat.”
“Wait.” Ava said, looking at the ogre in the distance. “Does that mean that guy is undefeated?”
“Not necessarily. That tradition is part of ogre clans. Society, for lack of a better term. This ogre seems to have left his group. Sometimes, ogres do that, to take hold of a location for themselves. This ogre may have simply been alone for enough time that his horn grew back.”
“Right. So, not the best of ogres, simply a lone wolf. And that thing with the pack of monsters around them?” Jack asked.
Ava started to respond, when Brom interrupted.
“About that. Mrk, I will ask you to scout while we wait and plan. The ogre is now circling the manor on the far side. Try and get close to the building and see if the are any other monsters roaming about.”
The ratling didn’t refuse, but neither did he move from the spot. Instead, he kept looking at the direction in which the ogre had left.
“It is necessary.” Brom continued. “It would mean the difference between us going in blind or prepared.”
Mrk hesitated, but nodded and with a feeble grin scurried off towards the manor.
Jack watched his friend go with unease, but couldn’t contradict Brom’s plan. It was one thing to fight an ogre, another to fight an ogre plus a pack of lesser monsters. Truly, it might mean the difference between going in or hightailing it back to Helmrest.
While they waited, they planned. Ava was of the opinion that should the manor be filled with other opponents, they should just call it a day. Brom was more keen of finding out what kind of other monsters where out there, if there were any at all. He thought it might be possible to have two smaller fights than one big one, should the secondary opponents not be too dangerous. Jack was split. He wanted to help Elia and Helmrest. He also wanted to grow and growing by adversity was the best kind of growing. Still, he didn’t want to place his friends in danger. Well, more danger.
Moran was silent, perhaps sensing that as the one who would stay behind, he had no real say in this.
While they waited for Mrk, they planned the fight with the ogre.
“A rapier will not go through an ogre, not without a Skill. Don’t fight him directly, but try to set fire to his face as soon as you can. Use your magic to trip him up, if you can, but don’t expect it to last very long.” Brom told Jack.
He turned to Ava next, but she seemed to already know what he wanted to tell her.
“You want me to cover you as you fight him, distract him when you go in for blows and cover your retreat, right?” she asked.
He looked surprised, but nodded.
“Some Satyrs hunt like that, when facing big game or monsters.”
“I see. Yes, that is what I want you to do. If you can use Skill shots to go for the kill, do so, but only when you are sure.”
“And what will you do, sir- er… I mean, Brom?” Moran asked.
“I will try to fight him directly. As I said, ogres are slow. If Jack and Ava can distract him long enough, I can whittle him down.”
“And, uh, should I do something too?”
Moran really looked like he wanted the answer to his question to be a resounding ‘no’, but Brom actually looked pensive for a moment.
“You have most of the healing potions. And a few other healing creams as well. I would propose we give them all to you and you can either run over to heal us when we are hurt or alternatively throw them to us.”
A scene of silence descended over them.
“What?” Ava asked. “You would give him -no offense, you seem alright, minus the rock bashing thing- all our potions? How do we know he’ll get to us in time?”
“It is something I have thought on the road here. We have healing, courtesy of Elia, but they are not adventurer material. More off, the containers in which they are held are not shatter proof. Such enchantments are what allow normal adventurers to keep them on their person. If we were to carry them with us, the same blow that might break your arms would shatter your potions as well.”
“Well… true. But what if Moran here gets scared and freaks out instead of coming to help us? Again, no offense.”
“Hmm. Yes. That is also a concern.”
The slow and temperate way that dwarfs talked seemed to clash with the fast and passionate way Satyrs did. It amused Jack a little, but that may have been just the situation. The way your body felt when you were too stressed out and every feeble joke turned into a way of letting of tension.
In the end, they decided on carrying a single healing potion each, with all the rest of their potions, creams and ointments to be carried by Moran. Jack was about to point out that nobody actually asked whether he was alright with it, before he saw the young man accept them and nod.
Right. At least we have the plan sorted out.
And it was just in time too, since Mrk came scurrying out of the bushes and crested their hill. He looked a little winded, but started speaking a second after he was near them.
“Ogre coming soon, Mrk had to run. I no sees any monsters. No monsters, except ogre. Mrk look around manor, look inside manor, no monsters. Did not go in manor. Think too risk.” The ratling spat out hurriedly.
“Thank you, Mrk.” Jack told him. “Then, I guess this is it. We’re fighting the ogre. Anyone wants to back out? Because this is the last time to do it.”
They all looked to be in various stages of worry, but no one said anything. Not even Moran.
“Nah, let’s do this. I always wanted to shoot an ogre.” Ava grinned.
“I will be the first dwarf of my dwarfhold to fight such an opponent. An opportunity not to be refused.” Brom said, standing up.
“Mrk goes where Jack goes.”
“Gods damn it all, I didn’t know what I was signing up for.” Moran whined. “But yeah, damn it, let’s do it.”
“Good.” Jack grinned. “Well then, let’s go!”
They sprinted their way across the hill and hid behind the wall, crouching down. The sound of heavy footsteps was approaching and they knew their roles. Four of them would jump over as the ogre passed them, while Moran would remain behind cover.
Thuds approached them and just when they were heard most closely, they stopped.
Shit. He can… what, smell us? Damn it.
But they only stopped for a few second. Whatever the ogre had noticed, it was deemed unimportant.
They looked at each other and with a final nod of confirmation, they jumped over the wall shouting.
The ogre only had a moment to look confusedly at the pests appearing from thin air, before a yelling dwarf-sized battering ram crashed into its leg. The shock of it was enough to make the monster stumble and that was the moment Ava shot an arrow towards one of its eyes. It missed, but it still pricked the monster in the cheek, which elicited a bellow of anger.
It raised its club, but hesitated on which of the two targets to hit. The logical choice would have been the one next to its leg, but the ogre wasn’t feeling very logical, now or ever. That hesitation cost it, as Brom reared back his axe and shouted.
His axe cut through the thick hide and bounced of the ogre’s kneecap. The ogre roared again, while Brom drew back, but it was a win for the would-be adventurers. Not even a few seconds had passed and the ogre already had a mobility-limiting wound.
Except… it did nothing to its mobility. The ogre was slow, yes, but no slower than it normally was.
“They’re strong!” Brom shouted, as an explanation. “It takes more than that to take it down.”
“Again, no shit!” Ava yelled back, while letting loose another arrow.
The ogre, now seeing the two targets more or less in the same location, charged. It ran forward, one hand outstretched and the other raising its club. It looked like it couldn’t decide whether it wanted to grab them or smash them. But the possible hilarity of it did nothing to detract from its danger.
Jack chose that moment to use his spell.
The vines shot up from the ground and attached themselves to one of the ogre’s feet. They didn’t even last long enough to completely grow, being ripped out from the ground immediately.
Brom saw that and ran away from Ava, trying to get the ogre’s attention.
“|Target of Enmity|! Come after me, you dumb beast!”
The ogre charged after him and though Brom was quick for his size, the ogre’s massive limbs meant it gained ground quickly. Ava loosed arrows into its back and head, but the monster didn’t react like it was noticing them.
Sensing that he wouldn’t outdistance it, Brom turned around and braced himself. Just as he was about to strike, Ava yelled.
“|Foe on Sight|!”
Even Jack, from where he was felt the wave of hate washing over him. He had to cast his second spell on himself and Mrk, to keep them from being affected. Moran, thankfully, was either too far away or too scared to be affected. The ogre, however, was affected.
It stopped, as it was about to smash Brom and turned towards Ava. It didn’t run back, though. It looked… undecided, the expression curiously unnatural on the brutish face.
Oh! Of course!
“Brom!” Jack bellowed. “Turn off your Skill!”
The dwarf’s eyes widened, but he nodded.
The ogre flinched, focused his eyes on Ava and with a roar, ran towards her.
“Oh, come on!” she yelled, as she was now the one forced to run away from the enraged ogre.
However, Jack wasn’t done with his ideas.
“Brom, when I tell you to, use your Skill again.” Jack shouted.
Ava must have figured something was happening, because she stopped running. The ogre was almost halfway between her and Brom.
Almost there. Just a little more. Now!
“|Target of Enmity|!” Brom yelled out again.
And the ogre stopped. Again. Only now, it wasn’t running in the opposite direction. It was, instead, blocked. Caught between two similar, but opposing Skills. The monster snarled, smashing its club on the ground, while alternately looking between Ava on Brom, like it couldn’t decide which it wanted to kill more and that indecision was maddening to him.
Which was the perfect situation for Jack to do his part. The monster had been moving too fast before. Too fast to aim properly. But now…
“Hey, ugly!” Jack yelled.
The ogre turned its head to face him.
“|A Fire a Day|!”
What happened… wasn’t what Jack expected. He expected for his Skill to set the ogre’s face on fire. Only, it didn’t catch fire, not exactly.
The ogre’s face detonated.
A blossoming plume of fire went up and the ogre gave out such a loud bellow of fury and pain it hurt Jack’s ears. It dropped to its knees, club forgotten, while it clumsily tried to pat the remaining fire out. The ground in front of him was stained red and its hands were now stained as well.
Shocked, Jack looked to Mrk for a second opinion and saw the ratling holding one of the clay spheres given to them by Elia. The green one.
“Mrk… Mrk thew red ball. Red mushroom ball. Mrk thinks it good choice.”
“Yeah, buddy. Best choice. I didn’t think it did that though.”
That explosion would have killed any one of them should they have been near to the blast site.
What was Elia thinking?
“Mrk not think it was only ball. Remember, Elia said red mushroom oil flammable. So… ball plus Jack Skill makes… boom?”
“Big boom.” Jack nodded.
The ogre had managed to put the fire out. It now rested on its knees, one hand on the ground for support, with the other pressed against its face. Ava and Brom were tentatively approaching it, smelling both real and metaphorical blood in the air.
“You guys are all mad, did I tell you that?” Moran shouted at them, but his voice was full of glee. “Mad like everyone says-“
Jack turned to Moran, curious by the sudden stop. He saw him looking out, eyes wide with freshly renewed terror. Following his gaze, Jack noticed what he did. And it made his blood run cold as well.
The ogre had gotten up, club firmly grasped in both its hands. Its face was a blackened ruin, with only one eye remaining. The other was a scorched mess, ichor dripping down its cheek like a stream of tears. Its expression was pure rage. And when it bellowed, the party felt the tremor in their bones.
It charged towards Mrk and Jack, club held high.
“|Target of Enmity|!”
“|Foe in Sight|!”
The ogre barely flinched. It was furious enough that the two Skills did nothing, its steps never slowing while it ran towards them. Neither Jack, nor Mrk were strong enough to tank even a single hit from the ogre, so they split. Jack ran right, while Mrk ran left.
The ogre technically had an equal decision to make. Only, he didn’t. Jack ran normally, while Mrk had |Scurried Steps|. In his haste to flee, the ratling used his Skill to gain distance, leaving Jack as the only feasible target. The ogre pursued him and Jack could hear it gaining ground with every thunderous footstep.
“Run Jack!” Brom yelled, while hurrying to catch the ogre.
Ava wasted no breath, simply loosing arrow after arrow at the ogre’s head. It swayed too much to use a Skill on it. And if she did and it fell… it could kill Jack by weight alone. So she tried to slow it down, annoy it enough to change targets.
It didn’t work.
The ogre was just steps away from Jack. He heard Mrk yell out a Skill, but nothing happened.
“Noooooo!” the ratling screamed.
This is how I die.
Jack turned around and witnessed the ogre rearing its club back, for an arching swing.
He felt something drain out of him, the spell activating. And then nothing.
A moment of nothing. It may have lasted seconds, minutes or hours. Jack didn’t know. He wasn’t really aware of himself, really, just sensations. Pressure against his chest and abdomen. Then on his hands. A liquid being brought to his lips. Being forced to drink. Choking. Being forced to drink again.
When he came about, he felt fuzzy. Like waking up from a dream.
A really painful one.
He saw Moran, looking worried and gently slapping his face.
“You’re alive!” he said, in visible relief.
“That ogre punted you across the wall.”
Jack sat up half-way, which increased his headache and noticed that, yes, he was laying down some distance away from the wall. Over it he could see the ogre moving from place to place, no doubt still fighting his friends.
“Is everyone alright?”
“I think so. I hurried after you, after you flew over the wall.”
Jack remembered using his Spell on the club and it taking hold. He only just remembered it snagging, slowing down a little, before ripping through the vines. That must have been what saved him. Well, that and Moran.
“Thank you.” He muttered.
“Thank Brom! Your healing potion got smashed when you got hit. I had to use all the healing potions you guys gave me and a some of the other stuff.”
Jack managed to sit up, swaying a little. He couldn’t waste time, but it still hurt like nothing else.
“That bad, huh?”
“I mean, maybe I don’t know how to use them… and I sort of panicked. But yeah. It was bad. I think you tried to shield yourself with your hands and they were in rough shape. Your chest and stomach too. I took care of that with the healing ointments, but you were vomiting blood and were hardly breathing, so I just made you drink healing potions, until you stopped. And… maybe one or two more just to be safe. …I kind of wasted the entire stock.” Moran complained.
“No. You… you did good. Saved my life. It was the right thing to do.”
“I hope so. But, if any of them get hurt, I won’t be able to save their lives.”
“Yeah, about that.”
Jack stood up and started walking to the wall, Moran close behind him. When he reached it, he turned to him.
“We’ve gone too far to go away now. Not that the ogre would let us. Stay behind this wall. Help us if you can.”
“Will do. But uh… you’re sure you’re up for this?”
“…no. But I’m not leaving them.”
Jack jumped over the wall and took in what happened while he was out. Ava and Brom were fighting, which was normal. Mrk being in the middle of the melee was not. The ratling was close to the ogre, closer than Brom even. And unlike Brom, the ratling was never retreating. Every time the ogre turned toward him, Mrk would hide behind his legs, slashing wildly with his dagger. The ogre couldn’t hurt Mrk, since it was too distracted to entirely focus on the quick ratling, but Mrk couldn’t hurt the ogre either, his knife and dagger only leaving ‘papercuts’ on the ogre.
Still, that was what Brom was for.
“|Shield Guard|” he said, managing to turn a crushing blow from the club into a glancing one.
The impact still made him kneel, yet he was up in the next moment, raising his axe.
The axe bit deep in the ogre’s knee. The same place where it hit before. It was limping now, Jack noticed. He didn’t know for how much time he had blacked out, but it seems his friends had at this for some time.
Mrk distracted the ogre and Brom used that gap to target the ogre’s knee. It worked too. It was much less mobile than before. It wasn’t capable of running anymore, only lumbering from place to place.
Still, that didn’t mean that they could kill it. Only hamper it from killing them.
Before Jack call out to them, Ava yelled.
Her arrow flew and embedded itself in the ogre’s head. Only, not too deep. Not enough. Jack noticed the broken shaft of two other arrows in the same location.
So that’s what they are doing.
The ogre’s skull was too thick to be shot through and Ava probably couldn’t pinpoint its eye, even boosted by a Skill. But with enough arrows...
“Need a few minutes before I can use it again.” Ava called out, confirming Jack’s suspicion.
“Guys!” Jack called out. “Regr-“
“Jack!” Mrk called out, already running towards him.
Brom and Ava did as well. They complimented him on his exemplary feat of not dying, while Mrk huffed and grinned.
The ogre seemed reluctant to go after them, only roaring and huffing itself. It was more likely, however, that it was simply rebuilding its strength.
“Guys, we’ll talk about how good it is that I’m alive later. Right now, we need to talk about what we’re doing. That thing with the arrow… could it really take him down?”
“In time… perhaps.” Brom answered. “But I do not think it a good plan. It was only what I could think of, in the heat of battle. I am sorry.”
“Don’t be. It was a good plan, just… not enough. Ava, you got any better Skills?”
“Would have used them if I got them.” She replied, testily. “Sorry… but no. Just this and it needs time between uses.”
“Thought so. Look, I have an idea. It was the red clay ball which bombed its head the first time around. We still have one. And a couple of green ones. We should use them.”
“But we don’t know what the green ones do.” Brom said. “And we need fire for the red one.”
“That kid still has our camping supplies, including tinder. I can start a fire quick and light an arrow with it. And I can tie the green clay balls to my arrow. Probably.” Ava said.
“Good. That takes care of one problem. As for the other… do we really care? It will hurt it and that’s enough. If it makes the explosion bigger or… I don’t know, makes the fire green, who cares. What other option have we got?”
The dwarf looked around, at the tired and partially bruised group and nodded.
“It’s not much of a plan. But neither do we have much time to make a better one.”
“Mrk says no not much time. No time.” The ratling said, pointing.
While they talked, the ogre got up, breathing heavily and was now grasping its club firmly.
“Right. I’ll get started on the fire. Hey, kid!” Ava yelled, hurrying towards Moran.
“Mrk, you and Brom distract it. Give me the red ball. When I get a clear shot, I’ll aim for its face.”
They ran for it. Sensing the pests about to give battle, the ogre raised its club and roared. They did as before. Mrk annoyed it, dashing round using his Skill and generally being a nuisance. Brom took advantage of the ogre’s limited mobility and placed cuts, both aided and unaided by Skill to its legs.
Jack used his Spell, wherever he could, but it wasn’t doing much. Mainly, it was causing the ogre to stumble and allowed Brom and Mrk to slash more than once. It may have taken under a minute, but it still felt like it lasted hours until Ava called out.
“Ready and nocked!”
Both Mrk and Brom drew back as Jack took aim.
Here’s hoping this works.
Jack threw the red ball straight at the ogre’s face, while Ava shot her arrow. Though, having felt the pain of this unusual weapon, the ogre did something which it had never done before in the fight. It dodged.
It was just a step back, but for a creature its size, it meant its head moved out of the arrow’s path by quite a few feet. Jack’s sphere still hit the ogre in the chin, instead of the forehead, splashing read liquid everywhere, even as Ava cried out in dismay.
The monster gagged, swinging around wildly as the splashing liquid rendered his one remaining eye temporarily blind. But without fire, the EmberCap essence simply stinged, not damaged.
“Ava, reload!” Jack called out.
And that was what it took. The ogre couldn’t see, but it could still listen. Perhaps it dodging before gave it a taste of thinking creatively or perhaps it was just desperate. But the ogre threw his Jack-sized club at Ava’s location. She didn’t see it, as she was already bent down over the fire, but Moran did. He jumped for her, pulling her down with him and that was what it saved her from suffering the same fate Jack did.
Yet, she was still clipped by the massive club. And being clipped by a club the size of a log still resulted in being knocked out. Moran hurried to her side, trying to help her, but the three were on their own.
Facing a very pissed, gradually clear eyed, ogre.
The ogre advanced towards them, tired as well, but with the upper hand. Jack and Brom couldn’t kill it. And Jack’s wound coupled with Brom’s fighting meant they were too tired to run. Not that they would, since that meant abandoning Ava and Moran.
Jack raised his rapier ineffectually, wishing he still had his shield.
“Jack, get behind me. Please.” Brom pleaded.
“Not a chance I’m letting you take the hit.”
The dwarf sighed audibly.
“No… I didn’t think you would. Then don’t die, Jack.”
“You neither, Brom.”
The ogre was now mere feet away from them, hands clenched into fists. It looked ready to charge. It would have.
If the ratling hadn’t used his Skill to dash into existence, between them and it.
He was holding Ava’s arrow, comically large for his frame, but with the tip still on fire.
“You no hurt Jack. You. No. HURT. ANYONE!” the ratling bellowed. “|Backstab|!”
Mrk disappeared from view. The two only had a second to wonder where he disappeared to when, with a screaming lunge, the ratling propelled himself over the ogre’s back and plunged the flaming arrow into its mouth.
The explosion that followed blinded everyone watching.