Nights of Fire
Part Five – Ambush
The search for a campsite for the night brought them to a ridge that jutted out into the forest from the foothills of the mountains they were headed towards. They clambered up it, out above the bulk of the forest, and there they sheltered for the night among a small stand of windswept trees. The night’s sky once more opened forth with the brilliant display of lights and colours that they had seen the previous night. The illuminance of the scintillating colours was, if anything, more intense than that of the night before.
The display of the night soon faded, unlike the one they had seen previous, and darkness fell thick and heavy upon them, the moon yet to rise and dark clouds skittering forward to veil the stars.
Late into the night, in the darkest hours, there came to Lakach’s ears, as he sat watch, the faint sound of what to him appeared to be stealthy feet approaching, the barest hint of soft hide scrapping across bare ground. There were few who could have matched Lakach’s hearing, and fewer still that could have picked out the sounds before the ambush was sprung. Quietly he slipped among the sleeping forms of his friends, shaking them to a rousing wakefulness.
Barely had he done so when out of the darkness and into the mute glow of their fire, there leapt short figures, bearing simple spears and wrapped in heavy, crude hides. They were hardy looking creatures, yet not human, and their dark eyes were cruel and empty. If anything they could have been said to be more dead than alive, their skin grey and lifeless and their hair lank.
Darts sprang out of the night from beyond their wild rush, whistling among the waking camp. Nhaqosa surged to his feet with a fearsome cry, one that shattered the silence of the night, lifting his tone maul from where it had lain at his side. He bounded forward to meet the assailants, his weapon transcribing a brutal arc through the air.
The first of the short figures was taken full in the side and lifted from his feet from the force of the blow, thrown backwards to lie crumpled and broken on the barren ground. Even at the impact of the blow not a sound did it make, remaining as silent in death as it did in life.
As he got a closer look at the assailants, in part they remained Nhaoqsa of the goblins of his home, being of similar stature and with the same broad, flat faces, yet the similarities ended there, for the complexion of the goblins was akin to copper tone skin, and they were very much alive, a curious and animated people.
The noise of shouts and clashing weapons sounded loud in the night’s air, the former gladiators meeting the threat as only they knew how; head on and with brutal efficiency. Even rudely awakened from their sleep, their edge had not been dulled and they fought hard.
Nhaqosa took a moment to step back and survey the scene in the faint glow of their dying fire, looking beyond the struggling forms locked in battle. As he did so, a wave of cold dread swept over him. A chill ran through his body, one that sapped his will and confidence. His maul felt far heavier than normal and his heard pounded as he struggled for breath.
Nhaqosa growled and shook his head in anger, trying to force the feeling aside. Out beyond the battle were dim shadows, the forms of robed and cloaked men. From these the unnamed dread emanated. Nhaqosa rushed forward, kicking aside with a cloven hoof one of the short assailants that tried to block his way.
The features of the men became sharper as he closed in on them. They had cruel appearances, haughty and proud, and each was wrapped in thick, dark robes to keep the chill of the night out. They focused their thoughts on him, and in their visages death blossomed, fear that caused the bravest of hearts to tremor before it, making limbs heavy with dread.
There were none among the company that had not already been to the depths of despair already, having seen horrors beyond recounting unfold before them, and though they were fell afflicted, the terror could not break them as it would have done so for most others. Lesser men, through no faults of their own, would have broken and fled, or fell cowering, unable to defend themselves adequately.
Nhaqosa forced himself to press forward, into the face of those fears, and his great stone headed maul rose and fell, crushing utterly the skull of the closest mindbender. If they had been shocked that Nhaqosa had resisted their torments, they did not show it, yet those dark men were not without other powers; fear was but one of their tricks.
They scattered, moving away from Nhaqosa and his great and terrible maul, focusing once more all their dark wills upon him, to the exclusion of all others. Fresh waves of doubt and terror wormed their way into his mind, and each step he made was an eternity of anguish, his great heart pounding like a wild thing.
Pain scored along his side as a weapon struck, glancing aside rather than biting deep. In his current predicament, with all those minds bearing down upon him, burning to ash his will to resist, he could not defend himself adequately.
Just as the despair threatened to overwhelm him, there sounded a hooting howl from out in the darkness beyond, a wild sound that echoed loud. A fresh figure rose up out of the night, a giant white furred creature; one of the yhara-te. It carried with it a crude club, one more like to a heavy branch torn from a tree than a weapon.
One of the dark robed men span around at the sudden appearance, raising up a hand as if to ward against the coming blow. It did little to stop the impact of the scything club that crashed into him, shattering bones.
Nhaqosa tossed back his head let forth a roar drawn from the very depths of his soul, one of defiance and anger. He forced himself onwards again as the iron wills of those that sought to impede his progress wavered in the face of the fresh, unexpected onslaught. The yhara-te crashed into the mindbenders, hooting and hollering as it flailed about with wild, wanton abandon, sweeping aside men. Nhaqosa joined the beast, his maul slamming down on one figure that had half turned to flee, the force of the blow shattering back and spine, leaving the man dead before he hit the ground.
The spell broke as the mindbenders took to their heels in flight, and their minions were soon following, driven off into the night by the blades of the former gladiators.
Nhaqosa look back to his companions, to check on them. None had fallen. Lakach held a hand over a bleeding cut on his arm, and a few others likewise bore wounds, though none of them were serious. Turning back to the yhara-te to thank the beast, he found that it too had disappeared into the dark of night with nary a sound.
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