Chapter Four

There were well over a dozen of the little green dog men. They had come out from the trees on the west side of the road. It would have been a pretty good ambush if they hadn’t started barking and yelping a full minute before they got to the road.

As soon as Chase heard the yelping he dismounted and indicated that the others should do the same. He peered into the woods and could make out some movement headed in their direction.

“Take the horses, head into the woods, “Chase said handing the reigns of his horse to Jin. Nunzio did likewise, passing his horse off to SoQue.

“Back that way,” Chase said indicating the trees on the other side of the road. Jin and SoQue started off into the trees on the opposite side of the road, leading the horses. “If things go to hell, mount up and get back to HillRock.”

Nunzio had drawn his long sword and was moving quickly down the road. Chase was a step behind him drawing his own weapons. After a few moments Nunzio darted into the woods with Chase right behind him. They cut through the trees angling back toward the attackers.

“Got to cut into ‘em now,” Nunzio said. Chase nodded. They couldn’t let the kobolds get to the other side of the road or Jin and SoQue would be in serious jeopardy.

Nunzio picked up the pace and suddenly they were in the midst of battle.

Chase dodged to the right away from Nunzio to make sure the two fighters were clear of each other blades. He saw two kobolds approaching and moved in to engage them.

The kobolds spotted Chase at about the same time and started barking while they threw their spears. Others sounded answering barks and moved back from the road toward the fray.

The spears flew high, as Chase thought they would, the range was too close for spears. Spinning toward the nearest one he cut into the creatures arm with his short sword. It let out a painful yelp and was quickly silenced as Chase followed the first slash with a strike to the creature’s chest. He drove the dagger in deep and the kobold crumpled beneath him.

Pulling the dagger free as the creature fell, Chase rolled over the body in the direction of the other one. The roll saved him a cut to the head, but he smashed his shoulder on a rock or sharp limb as he rolled into the next one.

Chase grunted but continued bowling into the little dog-like creature, knocking it to the ground. Its short blade flew off into the bushes. Chase didn’t wait, but quickly impaled the creature through the chest and looked around to find some others.

Three lay dead where Nunzio used to be. Chase was suddenly glad SoQue had insisted that Nunzio come with them. The man was as dangerous with a blade as anyone Chase knew.

Chase heard some fighting nearby and made his way toward it quickly. Nunzio was in the midst of it all. He was standing over one of the kobolds with his foot on its neck. Chase couldn’t tell if it was dead or not, but it looked like if it wasn’t dead, it would be shortly. There were four others surrounding him, but he seemed to be holding his own. Chase moved around the ring of the fight to pick one off, when he spotted more movement out of the corner of his eye.

About forty paces from Chase another small group of the little beasts were up to no good. Two kobolds were standing in front of a third. It was the third one that Chase was concerned with. It was taller than the others and wearing robes instead of the tattered armor that the others had on.

Chase feigned focus on the fight in front of him while moving laterally toward the kobold Shaman and his guards. While moving he deftly flipped his dagger over and held the blade, preparing to throw it. He got as close as he could to the triumvirate without drawing their attention, then he turned quickly toward them.

Instantly they were aware of his deception, but Chase was moving quickly. The two guards reared back and hurled their spears at him. In the same instant Chase threw his dagger at the Shaman.

Luck intervened at that moment. Chase couldn’t decide if it was good or bad as his face hit the turf in front of him. When he had planted his feet underneath him to throw the dagger his front foot had landed on something at a bad angle and his rear foot slipped out from underneath him completely.

The result of it all was a spectacular plunge into the ground and a dagger spinning high into the branches above him. The spears aimed at him also missed badly, and Chase heard a yelp as one of the spears flew into the melee behind him.

But he didn’t take time to check on the damage. Chase quickly regained his feet and unsheathed another dagger. The two kobold guards were moving towards him, snarling. They both had long, rusty swords and were wearing tattered leather armor. They looked to be much better equipped, and trained than the riffraff they had been fighting with so far.

Chase threw again, this time his feet found solid ground. He knew this was his last chance for an attack at the Shaman before the two guards started cutting at him with their swords.

This throw was truer than the last. The knife cut through the air, spinning toward the chest of the Shaman. Chase hesitated a moment to watch. The dagger spun in and then seemed to hit an invisible barrier, just inches from the chest of the Shaman and bounce away.

Chase swore loudly and then ducked. What he had thought was a simple ambush was turning into a very bad situation. Kobolds roamed these woods in small bands, seeking out groups of travelers to rob and kill. Larger, organized groups were pretty much unheard of this far north. And the fact that this band had a fairly skilled spell-crafter with them did not bode well for them.

Chase dropped down low as the kobold guards approached him. He tried to slash at one of their legs but couldn’t get close enough.  Both of the little guards pursued him quickly, and for the first time in quite a while Chase considered running away with reckless abandon.

But the guards were fast, trying to cut off his retreat.

Chase backed away, fighting completely defensively. Fortunately, he didn’t see anymore of the other kobolds around. However, with all his rolling and tumbling he’d lost his orientation and had no idea where Nunzio was.

It was all he could do to keep the two wily little kobolds from scoring a hit. He dodged from tree to bush, dropping, jumping and sometimes diving out of the way. He knew something would have to come to a head soon, as he was getting tired and sore.

Finally Chase found a position that was more easily defensible. He wasn’t sure where exactly he was in relation to the road, but he thought he was closer to it than he had been before he and Nunzio had engaged the kobolds. He had gained a small rise in the terrain and it was surrounded and filled with saplings.

Chase deftly flipped his short sword over to his left hand and drew a dagger with his right. In this kind of environment he knew the dagger would be a much more effective weapon, while at the same time he could use the sword should the chance arrive.

Again, before he could get too familiar with his surrounding the two kobolds were on him. Coming straight in, Chase dodged around the saplings.

The kobolds chose a brute force tactic and just swung wildly at him. The beasts were little but strong and saplings began to fall around them.

Chase continued to defend, wondering how much longer he could hold out. He blocked, moved, blocked, and ducked. Finally he was able to turn himself away from one of the armored guards and get close to the other one. He scored a hit on its head but the blow just seemed to enrage it and it came on, straight for him.

Peeling away from it he caught a glimpse of the Shaman lumbering up. The sorcerer had something in his hands and was chanting. Chase briefly considered throwing his dagger at him but realized he was running low on daggers and didn’t want to be fighting with only one blade.

Continuing to angle away from the guards, Chase caught a foot on a limb and cursed as he went down. One of the kobolds, the one he had hit before, slashed at his head. Chase rolled to the left as the guard’s sword cut into the ground inches from his head.

Chase drove up with both his blades. His sword glanced off the armor of the kobold but the dagger found purchase in its chest. The kobold spun away, ripping the dagger from Chase’s hand.

Chase watched as it spun away. He tried to regain his footing but couldn’t seem to get his feet underneath him in the slippery underbrush.

The wounded kobold let out a yell and turned back toward Chase, the other guard was right behind the first. They both took a step toward Chase when an arrow took the wounded one in the side of the neck. It spun to the ground just as Chase was finally able to get his feet on solid ground and stand up.

Hoping the kobold that had just been hit by the arrow as dead, Chase drew his final dagger from his boot. Chase moved toward the other guard. He felt much more confident in a one to one engagement, but as he closed on the beast, Nunzio appeared behind it and hollered at it.

The kobold turned to attack Nunzio, who feigned an attack, and fought defensively. Nunzio and Chase had been in combat before and had quickly learned how to compliment each other’s fighting style.

Chase moved in quickly and cut the final guard down from the rear.

“Where’s the Shaman?” Chase yelled out as the beast crumpled at his feet.

Chase spun around trying to pinpoint him.

“He was just over there,” Nunzio said.

Chase continued to scan the woods trying to spot the Shaman, but he was unable to see anything.

“I got him,” a female voice said from the distance.

Nunzio and Chase turned to see SoQue and Jin approaching.

“Sorry,” Jin said. “It was a little boring on the other side of the road and. . .”

“I told her we should stay over there,” SoQue interrupted.

“. . .and so we secured the horses and came back to see if you could use some help,” Jin finished.

Chase glanced over at Nunzio.

“I think we got ‘em all,” he said. “Unless I miscounted, this lot,” he continued indicated the two guards. “was the last of ‘em if she got the wizard.”

“You’re sure you got the Shaman?” Chase asked, turning back toward Jin.

“Over there,” Jin nodded indicating a position behind Nunzio and Chase.

“It was trying to cast a spell or something,” she went on, drawing herself closer to Chase and Nunzio. SoQue followed behind.

Jin started moving toward where she had indicated the Shaman was when Chase called everyone to him.

“Okay. Wait. Stop. Everyone,” Chase declared and all three sets of eyes turned toward him.

“Nunzio, Que, go get the horses back to the road,” he said.

They started to move away and Chase stopped them.

“Wait, the road is that way?” Chase asked.

Nunzio nodded.

“Shit, I’m all turned around.” Chase said looking around the woods trying to regain his bearings. “Okay, go.”

Chase turned toward Jin, but then noticed Nunzio was limping a bit as he and SoQue walked back toward the road.

“Nunzio!” Chase yelled out, stopping the two again. “You hurt?”

“Nothing,” was all Nunzio said.

“It better not be,” Chase replied. “Go.”

Chase turned back to Jin.

“Find the Shaman, see if he’s got anything,” he said.

Jin danced off into the woods and Chase quickly riffled through the kobold guard’s belongings.

Chase found some silver pieces, got one of his daggers back and was able replenish his other empty sheaths with daggers from the guards.

Jin reappeared. Even in the woods she seemed to walk on air, her long dark hair flowing behind her dark blue cloak.

“Anything?” Chase asked.

“A couple of silver, some spell components, nice staff,” she said, tossing the quarterstaff to Chase.

Chase spun it around and leveled it. It was a very nice quarterstaff, possibly even magically enhanced.

Tossing the staff back to Jin, Chase pointed toward the road.

“Let’s go,” he said.

Jin moved off ahead off him and Chase followed behind. Three days out of HillRock, two weeks or more to go until Cár Lagondale and they’d already been pressed almost beyond their limits.

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