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First Blood

It was two days out when the first delegation was attacked. Not quite at the border between Rundergrip and Rill and early in the morning, just as they were beginning to prepare to get underway, the Rundergrip delegation was set upon by a force on horseback. Fifty riders appeared on the hills and surrounding area. They wore black armor and shields and their faces were covered in masks that appeared to be made from hides of some sort and dyed with reds and yellows. The first to notice them was Rundergrip delegate, Fanoosh Monthaven. He had just finished his breakfast and sought to relieve himself on the edge of the clearing.

“Samork! Samork’ he shouted as he did his pants up. “There be antofibbens on gribbons prepardo for skinnings!”

All the others in the camp looked up and reacted in one of two ways. The Rundergrippans themselves quickly started gathering up their arms and taking up defensive positions. The members of Croakow Blinth’s ASG protection team, scratched their collective heads. They had no idea what Monthaven was shouting. Croakow came running into the camp.

“Quickly,’ he yelled. “To arms, to arms. ‘Riders approaching!’

The two apprentices came hurrying to the two great bears of men that were the heavy-weapons specialists. Each apprentice helped his own soldier strap on the special armors with the slings and arrangements that would help them carry the huge weapons that they would wield.

One man used a sort of winch to raise up before him a shield that was five feet across and contained a series of slots cut into it. After attaching this ungainly piece of metal to his chest, he used a cog-like gear to haul open the slots and from these openings serrated and barbed spear points, unattached from the spears themselves, came bristling in front of the man. He looked, after this maneuver like a fat, tall porcupine. He walked, slowly towards the opening to the camp and positioned himself there.

The other man had a device that looked like a side-ways wooden windmill on a large pole that was seated in a dark leather thong around his waist. The blades of the windmill were made of steel and were razor sharp. He put a metal helmet with a visor on and strode to the other end of the camp. The apprentices ran off to carry out other duties.

Meanwhile, the black clad riders were splitting into two groups. One group started a slow trot towards the delegation camp. The other group rode faster, out to the flanks, obviously intent on circling the camp and creating a two-pronged attack.

Croakow’s archers took up positions on top of the wagons and were quickly breaking out an assortment of arrows, each with different purposes. Savon the Far-sighted unfolded his beautiful cross-bow, Death Spray, and placing his feet against the side of wagon for support began to wind up the mechanism. When the holding latch fell into place he drew eight bolts from his sack and loaded them in the double-stacked magazine attached to the bow.

The young cleric, Waldentort, put down his bag of medicines near the fire pit they had built for cooking. He opened his bag and took out a number of bandages and ointments that he would soon have to use it seemed. Then looking up at the sky, he made a sign in front of his face, touched his head and shouted the words “Comdess Attikwer!” A soft green light arose from the ground where each of the delegation stood and encompassed them. They were filled with a strange sense of well-being and all traces of fear or hunger or tiredness were gone. They had been blessed.

Now the horsemen had stopped their mounts and there was a silence over the valley. Croakow Blinth strode forward, his great killing axe gripped between his two sinewed hands. The corded muscles in his arms twitched and a strange smile broke out over his craggy face.

“All briggy den! Vowsers! Come and fetch the hursle from your digguns! You’ll rue the morkow when you tandied up with Croakow Blinth!”

A great cry arose from the horsemen and as one they charged down the valley which now rang with their shouts.

With a grinding whir the man with the bladed windmill started the device in motion. Within seconds it was spinning so fast you could barely make out the blades. The archers prepared to let fly their first round of arrows and on Blinth’s hoarse command let loose. The first two horsemen in the charge fell from their mounts in a pile of dust and blood. Savon sighted down his cross-bow at the leading edge of the column that was attacking from the rear. Targeting the rider that he thought looked like he might be a leader of some sort, he pulled the trigger. Eight bolts whirred through the air and struck five of the riders who, falling from their mounts, caused two other horses to fly to the ground.

“Hmm,’ Savon whispered to himself. "Not going to win too many prizes with a shot like that. Five." And then he began to re-wind the bow.

The first of the riders was upon the encampment now and their horses bolted through into the clearing. The soldier with the bristling spear suit threw himself towards the first of the horses and one of them became ensnared on the blades. With a terrifying snort, the beast tried to extricate itself but to no effect, the barbs held him fast. With one motion the big soldier released the cage of spear tips, drew his long sword from its scabbard and decapitated the rider of the horse. But before he could turn to defend himself, another of the riders pierced him through his leather armor with a short-handled spike. With a groan the soldier fell to the ground, writhing in his agony.

From out of nowhere, Croakow appeared and sliced into the rider’s leg with his axe, severing the foot completely. The rider fell from his mount and died almost instantly. Well, very instantly when Croakow wound up again and buried his axe into the top of the man’s head. Then he grabbed the fallen team soldier and dragged him to the fire pit where Waldentort was waiting. The cleric ripped off the soldiers hide protection and began to tourniquet the bloody wound underneath.

The riders had all dismounted now, regrouped and were attacking on foot. There were now about thirty-five of them left and then there twenty-nine as Savon’s Death Spray was loosed upon them. One of the apprentices was trapped between two of the black riders and was impaled by them and lifted up and over the wagon and fell with a thud to the ground, dead.

Croakow was surrounded by three riders and fended them off looking for an opening. He dispatched one of them with a sliding blow that he then used to continue on to the neck of another. The third rider moved in quickly and thrust a dagger into Croakow’s shoulder. Croakow dropped his axe in pain and turned to raise an arm to defend himself from yet another thrust. But before the expected thrust came, the man stopped suddenly, and the long tip of a bronze-tipped arrow emerged through his throat. He fell to the ground gurgling, as Croakow regained his axe with his good arm and threw himself at the riders that had now reached the delegation members and were struggling with them.

A group of four riders ran towards the back of the wagon that the archers were on. Because of their position the archers couldn’t see the approach. However, before the riders could reach the wagon they were intercepted by the windmill bearing soldier. They turned as one and for the brief second before their heads were detached from their bodies must have been stunned by the sight and sound of the mechanical monster that had come for them.

Croakow attacked the riders that were upon the delegation and slew one of them before receiving a blow to his head that sent him spinning backwards. One of the delegation fell with a shriek, bleeding from a sword thrust to his chest. Then the hiss of arrows and the other two riders were struck down.

One of the archers fell from the wagon, a spear sticking out from his back. Death Spray sang again and now there were only ten riders left. The rider-less horses of the dead and wounded black riders were panicked and took to the road and ran off. The remaining black riders, on a command from their leader, remounted their horses and with a bitter cry galloped off up the road.

And so, the first attack by The Hand of the Night on the delegations was over. One delegation member lay dead and four of the ASG. Croakow was wounded but not irretrievably, however, it looked like the heavy weapons soldier that had fallen would not make it through the day. His compatriot, shed now of his windmill blades, was at his side and was bathing his face with water while Waldentort, having done all he could, started to put away his gear.

A member of the delegation approached Croakow who was seated by a wagon, drinking down water in long gulps.

“What dribbon noo? Will ussers gon to Rill?’ he asked, quietly hoping that he answer would be no.

Croakow put down his water flask. “Aye, gon tis, anywat dinna frear. In rerespeck wass am Croakow for? To doodle? Nane. To Rill gassa poon.”

The delegate turned and walked back to the others. They talked quietly to each other for a moment and then took out shovels and prepared to bury the dead. The mission would go on.

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