Sir Masnin drew his sword and spun towards Herad’s voice. Behind him, the remaining knights reeled in shock from the fiery explosion that had torn through their ranks. They had to fight to keep their terrified mounts under control.
The knights were now leaderless and it showed. Several of them looked like they wanted to try and charge Herad’s mage before he could strike again, while others were pulling back towards their militia at the entrance to the camp.
“That was not necessary,” sir Masnin growled at the bandit chieftain.
The paladin had one hand firmly planted on his sword hilt and looked ready to draw it at any second. His usually calm face betrayed barely contained rage.
“Of course it was; the leader of those men just publicly announced his intent to attack me from behind when I tried to deal with the beast in our midst,” Herad replied scornfully. “There’s no reasoning with a man like that and I don’t have the time to try.”
“I’m not without mercy though, so I’ll let the others live if they’re out of my camp within the next minute,” the bandit chieftain added a second later in a louder voice that was clearly meant for more than just sir Masnin’s ears.
The knights were certainly close enough to hear her. They had managed to form back up but had yet to attack or retreat. Herad’s words washed over them and were apparently enough to make up their mind; they broke and retreated. Leaving their dead behind, they swiftly rode towards the road and the men they had left there.
“Now, shall we deal with the latest horror the Deep Green has spat up? I believe it’s your holy duty,” Herad told the paladin smugly.
“You expect me to fight by your side?” he remarked with indignant surprise.
“That’s up to you, but I’m sure that if this serpent escapes from here it’s going to kill a lot of innocent peasants and such, not to mention any wounded knights left behind,” the bandit chief pointed out.
“Very well, as long as you allow all Lord Strachen’s men to retreat unharmed,” the paladin replied as he ground his teeth in frustration.
Herad nodded and then yelled, “Mage, the beast now. This headache is getting very annoying.”
Immediately, Mahedium turned and unleashed another shimmering blast. This time it was aimed at the serpent. It was snapping at a squad of sluggish looking spearmen when the magic slammed into its side.
Flame washed over the monster’s emerald scales and all around it. The serpent’s head twisted around under the impact, but a second later it righted itself and turned towards the mage. Curls of flame still hung in the air, but the monster lunged through them with lightning speed.
“Sissiruss,” the massive serpent screeched as it blasted through the few spearmen between itself and the mage.
Mahedium face went white with terror but he dropped to one knee and tried to line up another shot. The monster was speeding towards him far too fast for him to be able to run.
Another gout of flame burst from his staff just as the creature was about to hit him. The serpent saw it coming and tried to dodge aside. The blast glanced off the side of its head.
Again, the beast was knocked backwards and this time its momentum was lost. It was now only two dozen feet from the terrified mage though, and it recovered almost instantly.
That was all the time Herad needed. At full sprint, she leaped under the beast and stabbed upwards towards its exposed throat with a spear. The tip of the weapon sank several inches into flesh and then she rolled away without it.
Behind her, a squad of bandit spearmen moved up to help. Their movements still looked slow but they rushed into the gap between the serpent and the kneeling mage. The serpent hissed again and Herad had to dodge a lash of its tail.
The monster slithered backwards slightly and tried to focus on Herad, but then sir Masnin attacked. He stepped forward and slashed at the side of the gigantic snake’s neck.
True to his word, the paladin had joined the fight. The armored warrior’s blade parted the scales on the beast’s neck and drew blood, but only barely.
Surrounded by enemies and with its target out of reach, the serpent began to flail about madly. One unlucky bandit was sent flying by a wild lash of its tail. The others quickly fell back.
Meanwhile beside Blacknail, Red Dog decided on a course of action and started running towards Mahedium. The hobgoblin followed him. It seemed like a good way to look busy without putting himself in danger.
Together, the hobgoblin and the man helped the mage to his feet. His face was still pale but he seemed steadier than most of the other bandits. The mutant’s magic was still squeezing everyone’s brains.
“Can you finish the thing off? The boss is cutting it up but it doesn’t seem to be bleeding much,” Red Dog asked Mahedium.
The mage shook his head and gripped his staff tightly.
“No, I don’t have enough crystals to do much more. That thing’s scales are too tough for any of the spells I have,” he replied.
“Hells, I don’t like our odds then. If the boss doesn’t get in a lucky blow then we might have to abandon the base,” Red Dog cursed.
“...including my lab,” Mahedium muttered darkly.
“Are you sure you don’t have anything in reserve?” the bandit lieutenant asked.
The mage frowned and his brow creased as he fell deep into thought.
“Nothing that would work from the outside,” Mahedium mused aloud. “But if we targeted a weak spot... maybe poison? No wait, the flawed gems. If they detonated inside its mouth that would definitely kill it. The timing would be unpredictable, though. A mage would have to get very close...”
“I suppose you’re going to walk right up in front of it and throw the stones in its mouth?” Red Dog asked the mage with obvious sarcasm.
“No, I don’t think I’ll be doing that. It probably wouldn’t work anyway,” Mahedium responded carefully.
“Then we need something else,” Red Dog pointed out.
Blacknail had an idea. He scratched his nose and tilted his head to the side as he thought it through. Yep, it would probably work and it would remove a thorn in his side as a bonus.
“Use Scamp,” Blacknail interjected.
Both the men turned towards him with questioning looks. The hobgoblin sighed and then clarified his response for the two slow humans.
“Give-ss Scamp the crystals and throw him-ss at the snake. When he gets-ss swallowed by the thing he’ll get scared and then boom!” Blacknail explained with all the appropriate sound effects and hand gestures.
“That might just work... I’ll lose a valuable sample though, and Varhs might get upset,” Mahedium said thoughtfully.
“I’ll buy him a dog. Just do it,” Red Dog countered.
The mage nodded in agreement and then turned to the hobgoblin.
“Blacknail, you’re the fastest runner. Get Scamp and bring him here. I already have several flawed stones on me so he’s all we need for this to work,” Mahedium explained.
“Go now,” Red Dog commanded him.
The hobgoblin gave the man a messy salute, turned around, rolled his eyes, and then ran off to find himself a goblin. He had a good idea where Scamp could be found. After Mahedium’s demonstration the goblin had been led away by Varhs to be tied up.
Blacknail raced through the camp. He passed scores of trampled tents, corpses, and moaning bandits. Some were injured from fighting but most seemed to just have terrible headaches. The serpent’s hostile magic was still slowly crushing everyone nearby.
When he got to Varhs’ tent, it only took the hobgoblin a few seconds to find Scamp. All the unexpected noises from the battle had frightened the goblin, but not enough to make him bite through his leash. Instead, he had just been hiding under a nearby scrap of cloth.
“What’s happening?” the terrified goblin blathered as Blacknail pulled him out from his hiding spot and cut the rope that was tying him down.
The hobgoblin ignored the question, picked Scamp up, and started running back to Mahedium. The surprised goblin was momentarily limp in his arms.
Up ahead, Herad and the others were still struggling to keep the serpent at bay. It twisted and writhed across the ground as it struck out at any nearby humans. It hadn’t managed to hit Herad nor sir Masnin yet but the bodies of several other bandits littered the ground.
“I’ve got him!” Blacknail announced as he reached the mage and brandished the goblin up above his head for everyone to see.
“Let me down!” Scamp wailed as the hobgoblin held him tight.
“Here, Scamp. Take these, they’ll um... protect you. You just need to make them glow,” Mahedium told the goblin as he pressed several large crystals into his hands.
Scamp gave the two men and the hobgoblin an uncomprehending look as he stared in surprise at the crystals in his hands. His eyes were wide with confusion and he looked overwhelmed.
“What now?” Blacknail asked.
The mage gave the goblin a wary look and then leaned close to Blacknail so he could whisper into his ear.
“Throw him at the snake’s head and then run for it,” Mahedium told him quietly as Scamp’s long ears twitched.
“Ah, I heard that! Stop!” the goblin wailed, but Blacknail was already running.
He dashed towards where his chieftain was fighting the serpent with a struggling goblin held above his head. As he whipped past sir Masnin, the man froze and did a quick double take.
Herad twisted through the air as she dodged a snap of the mutant’s jaws. The snake pulled back and coiled itself up in preparation to strike again. Herad brought her blade up into a guard as she readied herself for another strike. Her spearmen leapt forward to help.
The serpent ignored the Vessels for a second and turned towards the bandits supporting them. Its eyes drifted across the spearmen, and those unwise enough to meet its searing gaze fell screaming.
One man curled up on the ground and started weeping while cradling his head. A wailing woman began to gouge her own eyes out with her fingers, until a pale faced man beside her knocked her out with a blow to the back of the head. Even the bandits that were still standing flinched and their charge was broken.
“Sissiruss,” the serpentine monster growled smugly as it turned back to face Herad again.
That was when Blacknail got close enough to throw Scamp. He held the goblin by one leg and gave him a good twirl. Then he let go and Scamp sailed through air, smacked into the serpent’s snout, and fell to the ground with a muted grunt of pain.
The mutant snake reared backwards in surprise and eyed the goblin on the ground in front of it suspiciously. There was a second of silence as it titled its head to the side and tried to figure out what had just happened.
“Sissiruss?” the beast hissed in apparent confusion.
“Did he just throw a goblin?” sir Masnin asked in startled disbelief.
Scamp quickly rolled to his feet and looked around. His gaze met that of the curious serpent and he seemed to notice it for the first time. He froze and as they stared at each other the goblin’s eyes slowly grew so wide they seemed to fill his face.
“Ahhh! monster! run!” Scamp suddenly shrieked in terror as he turned tail and tried to flee.
Blacknail was already turning to run back to Mahedium, but out of the corner of his eye he thought he saw the crystals in Scamp’s hands flicker.
“Run and take cover; he’s going to detonate!” Mahedium yelled.
Instinctively, the serpent targeted the fleeing prey. Any traces of confusion disappeared as it lunged towards the little goblin with jaws open wide enough to swallow him in one bite.
Scamp wasn’t completely stupid, though. He had survived in the woods for years before being taken in by Varhs. He knew better than to run in a straight line and luck favored him. The goblin happened to change direction just at the right moment.
The beast’s attack missed and caught empty air. Its scaled bulk whipped past Scamp without harming him. The serpent hit the ground, turned one yellow eye towards the goblin, glared at it in annoyance, and then shifted its weight to strike again.
Scamp turned to see what had happened. He met the serpent’s gaze, shrieked again, panicked, and then threw the contents of both his hands at its closest eye before turning to run again.
One of the flickering crystals caught the serpent’s eye. Its long forked tongue flicked out and grabbed it. A second later, the mana stone disappeared into its mouth.
Blacknail kept running. Behind him, all the slow humans were starting to do the same.
Several long seconds went by as everyone fled from the serpent. The beast had pulled itself up to its maximum height and was hissing in triumph. No one was fighting it anymore.
Mahedium and Red Dog were already sheltering behind a small pile of crates. The mage was peering out around the side to see what was happening. A few more seconds went by. The hobgoblin raced past them without slowing down.
Mahedium began to look confused when nothing happened.
“Huh, I thought that would work,” the mage commented with obvious disappointment.
“The goblin must have fucked things up, he didn’t even get eaten right,” Red Dog muttered darkly beside him.
Blacknail tentatively slowed down. He was probably safe from any blast at this distance, if there was even going to be one. Blacknail suspected Mahedium wasn’t very good at magic. He was always whining about not hav...
Crack! The air ruptured. Mahedium was thrown against the ground as the world was consumed by violence. Dust and debris rushed forward in an unstoppable wave that issued forth from the blast zone.
“Aaaahhh,” Blacknail yelled as the wind caught his cloak and threw him up into the air.
A shocked flailing Scamp flew past him, and was swiftly followed by a rain of bloody snake parts.
Several seconds later, the fun abruptly ended and the hobgoblin hit the ground with a heavy thud. Blacknail tucked his head in and rolled to protect himself. He bounced across the ground until he was lucky enough to hit a tent. Unfortunately, it felt like the tent had been full of frying pans.
The hobgoblin groaned as he slowly disentangled himself from the canvas and rope. His head was ringing like a bell and his ears had popped, but Blacknail got unsteadily to his feet and looked around.
No one else nearby was still standing. An eerie silence filled the camp, or the blast had deafened the hobgoblin, he wasn’t sure which.
A crater now dominated the space the mutant serpent had filled. A scattering of scaly meat bits littered the ground around it, several of the pieces were on fire. The last dozen feet of the snake’s tail lay to one side of the crater. It was a burnt and blasted wreck.
“Did we kill it?” Red Dog asked from behind the barrel, or at least that’s what Blacknail read from his lips.
“I think-ss it’s dead,” the hobgoblin yelled in reply as he surveyed the blast zone.
Bandits lay strewn across the ground. Most of them seemed alive though, judging by all the feeble movements they were making. The blast had simply knocked them off their feet.
Red Dog peeked out from his hiding spot. A second later he got to his feet and brushed himself off. Mahedium copied him a few moments later.
“The damned headache is gone, that’s for sure. Where’s Herad?” Red Dog asked cautiously.
“Right here!” the bandit chieftain growled as she stalked over to him.
She looked mad enough to chew nails, and a little worse for wear. Her armor was scratched and covered in dust and grime. Red Dog cringed away from the furious expression on her face.
Behind her, Blacknail noticed Scamp’s small form pick itself off the ground and dash madly away deeper into camp. Huh, the little thief was tougher than he looked.
“What in the name of all the gods was that?” the bandit chieftain growled.
“Mahedium came up with a way to kill the beast, and it worked,” her lieutenant quickly answered as the mage gave him an annoyed look.
“The hells, regardless of whether or not it worked, I dislike it when people start throwing around magical explosives. Especially when all the warning I get is a last second heads up,” she responded with a snarl.
“We were planning to tell you, boss," Red Dog explained hurriedly. “The hobgoblin just sort of ran ahead without asking.”
“Hey, I-ss just did was I was told. They made-ss me do it!” Blacknail quickly told Herad as he pointed towards Red Dog and Mahedium.
The hobgoblin and Red Dog locked hateful stares, while the mage tried to distance himself from the other two. The chieftain scowled at all three of them and gritted her teeth.
Blacknail didn’t like where this was going. How dare Mahedium come up with such a terrible plan, and how dare Red Dog order him to do it! Now they had made Herad angry and they were trying to pin it on him!