I - Arlen
The doe still
hadn’t caught his scent. Arlen felt almost as though it should have by now. He
was no hunter really, but he’d known the tracks when he’d seen them whilst
foraging, and he couldn’t pass up the chance for bringing back fresh meat.
He hadn’t a bow, he didn’t carry one. Instead he was empty-handed as he stalked lightly through the dense undergrowth, carefully stepping amongst the ferns and grass so as not to disturb them. Arlen’s right hand rested lightly on the scabbard at his back, steadying the length of the hand and a half sword sheathed there. A dagger was strapped alongside it, inverted to nestle in the small of his back.
He raised a leg to step over a dark tree root, black against the stark white of the snow underfoot, taking care not to let the chain skirts of his leather plated cuirass make a sound as the links flowed over each other with his every move.
The doe seemed to hear anyway, and its head shot up, cocked. All movement in it stopped completely, as it lifted its head a fraction more, eyes instantly fixed on the area the noise came from. Arlen knew before it even moved that he’d spooked it, and sure enough, after only the briefest of pauses the doe was in motion.
He flicked out a hand and, as it snapped to extension, a thin nimbus of crackling white energy blasted from his fingers and caught the doe just at the base of its head. With a quiet crack, the bolt struck and whipped the doe’s head to the side as it fell, quite dead.
Arlen trudged over to the fallen animal, drawing his cloak tighter around him in the cold morning air.
He’d nearly missed, he thought, peering at the small, faintly smoking hole in the animal that his spell had left. The doe was a smaller target than he was used to, and far more nimble. For such a quick snap cast, he was quietly pleased with his success.
Snow had begun to fall again when Arlen returned to the little camp they’d set up the night before, a little way into the woods from the great expanse of lake Tahmo. They’d chosen a small clearing, largely covered by the canopy of the trees all around, but still open to the first rays of light of the morning sun.
He’d left just before first light, early enough that Arcene was the only one awake to see him go. No doubt Renn would have gone out ranging too; he usually rose around the same time, and the two would often make sure to go in opposite directions to cover more ground between them.
Now though, as Arlen returned, the whole party were up and spread about the little camp. Renn was the first to notice him approaching, and gave him a nod. He’d clearly gone out himself and returned first, going by the brace of wild berries he was stringing to the saddle of his horse.
He was already clad in his armour; an elegant set of leathers, cut in the Elven style so that they hugged his broad shoulders and hid nothing of his broad, powerful physique. Snow had settled on his dark ash brown hair, tied into a messy ponytail and tucked into the hood of his winter cloak, and even he looked cold in the brisk morning air. The end of his crooked nose and the tips of his ears, slightly pointed on account of his mixed elf and human parentage, were pink with chill.
“Ah, and you brought us breakfast!” the old ranger remarked, noting the doe slung over Arlen’s shoulder.
“Fresh meat, at long last,” said Arcene with delight, turning to greet him. She was sat on her pack, her enormous greatsword resting against her leg as she ran a whetstone along its edge, as she did every morning. The polished steel shone the same shade of silver as her long hair in the morning sunlight, tied in a practical braid that spoke of her efficient manner - a holdover from her time spent as a royal guard.
“It’s been too long since we had anything other than trail rations,” she grumbled, looking darkly at the cloth-wrapped package of dried beef by her side.
Arcene was dressed simply, in just her plain grey tunic and without any kind of winter clothing. She was lucky enough to be completely unaffected by the cold, a useful gift of the ancient magic of dragons that filled her blood. It was this blessing, bestowed on her ancestors by a great winter dragon, that also gave such a bright silver colouring to her hair.
The others were all arranged in a rough circle, dotted around the remains of their campfire from the night before.
Mithelstan looked up from the book in his hands to give Arlen a nod of approval, sat delicately on a fallen tree that ran along the edge of their camp. His tawny brown hair was dusted with snow, having not been dislodged as he had clearly been reading so intently. The young man was slight but handsome, with striking green eyes and the tanned skin of someone born in a land that saw no snow.
A little way behind him was Helvard, securing the strapping of his bulky pack. The thickly built dwarf was already fully decked in his hulking plate armour, missing only the full faced helmet left strapped to the saddle of his horse. His auburn hair and intricately braided beard were both laced with frost, making them glitter in the light. At 5’8, Helvard was tall for a dwarf - even for a mountain dwarf, who could boast a good four or five inches on their Grassland and Fair dwarf brethren.
He hefted his pack up to his saddle seemingly without great effort, as Arlen dropped the doe by the fire pit.
His black mare trotted over to him, breath steaming in the cold, and greeted Arlen with a whinny. He gave her a tender pat on the muzzle and brushed her mane gently, getting a soft snort and an affectionate nudge in return before she returned to the other horses.
Arlen had packed his bedroll and saddlebags away before he’d set out at dawn, so he dropped lightly onto Selene’s pack instead, perching precariously beside the beautiful young elf girl. She gave him a playful push, and shuffled to the side to make room for him. Like Mithelstan, she had a book in hand.
With a gloved finger, she pushed a lock of her willowy hair behind her ear and snapped her book shut. Her fair skin and fine features were pinched and rosy with cold, but she still looked radiant as she chuckled at Arlen and flung her cloak over them both.
“Well, this is a fine catch indeed,” Renn said, coming over from his horse. He’d drawn a set of paring knives from his pack, and knelt beside the doe.
“Selene, if you would,” he asked politely, glancing up at her.
The elf delicately extended a hand, and with a slight flick of the wrist, a small fire burst into life in her palm. She tipped her hand and the ball of flame dropped onto the fire pit, crackling merrily as it lapped at the ash covered logs left over from the night before.
“I saw more goblin tracks to the south,” Arlen reported to Renn, drawing his dagger from its sheath at his hip and leaning to reach into Selene’s pack. “We shouldn’t linger.”
She fixed her rich brown eyes on him with a stern look as he rummaged through her things, but her disdain was promptly defused as Arlen drew out her whetstone with a ridiculous flourish and gave her a broad grin.
“I saw the same to the east,” replied Renn, beginning to skin the animal with a noticeably practised hand. “Hard to make a guess at a number, but I’m fairly sure there were golhound prints too.”
“We should move on,” came Helvard’s deep voice from behind them, as he secured the last strap of his pack atop his horse and came to stand behind Mithelstan.
The quiet grating sound of stone on metal stopped as Arcene halted sharpening.
“Only a large party would travel with hounds,” she reasoned, looking up at the others as she tentatively ran a finger along the edge of her blade.
“Yet it would be a great shame to come so close to such meat, and not taste of it,” Mithelstan added longingly, closing his book and turning his eyes hungrily to the butchered doe. His lilting accent always gave his words a distinctly poetic bent, no matter how mundane the subject matter.
“The tracks were moving away from us in far greater number than towards,” Arlen pointed out, casting a critical eye over his dagger with whetstone in hand.
“Yes, much the same east,” mused Renn, carefully placing the peeled doeskin next to the skinned carcass. “If we were going to find a full warband, we’d have run into them by now. We’ll eat a little now, and preserve the rest for the road,” he decided.
Helvard looked unimpressed, but dutifully returned to his horse for the group’s pack of food supplies. The group travelled fairly light, each carrying their own gear on their horses, but there was always an excess of communal equipment and assorted kit that couldn’t be spread amongst the horses without leaving them over-laden. Rather than do what most travelling groups did and bring a dedicated packhorse or a cart, Helvard rode a truly massive draft horse that could easily pick up the slack on its powerful frame. While not the fastest of mounts, the horse could still outrun a cart even fully laden, and that could make the difference between life and death in the wilds when hunting bandits and raiders.
He returned a moment later with a pot and a sack of vegetables, and took a knee next to Renn. Between them, they dutifully sliced up sections of meat while Selene took the pot to the lake’s edge to fill it.
She returned and placed it on the rudimentary metal frame they’d cooked on the night before, and Renn and Helvard dropped chunks of meat into the warming water. Mithelstan reached into the pack at his feet and retrieved a small dark wood chest, leaning forward to the pot. He flipped it open, revealing a neatly partitioned container filled with various spices and herbs.
Mithelstan always made a point of seeking out new additions to his collection whenever the party stopped in a town, and Renn often brought him back sprigs of various herbs he found out on his rangings to bolster the set. He knew how to best use them all, and could always put them to use livening up the stews and roasts they made in the wild.
While Helvard cut thick chunks of carrot and potato into the simmering stew, Mithelstan carefully tossed in pinches of pepper and garlic, a handful of rosemary, finishing with a little salt from a jar that lived in the vegetable sack.
Selene held both hands to the fire, and with some concentration the flames rose and began to quietly roar with a renewed intensity. Satisfied, she returned to her book.
The stew quickly started to bubble and boil, and filled the air with the delicious aroma of meat and peppers.
“Helvard, I’ll leave the meat to you,” Renn said, rising and flicking gore from his hands and knives. Helvard nodded and Renn went to the shore of the lake to wash up.
“What are you reading?” Arlen asked Selene conversationally, turning to face her while he worked the whetstone along his blade.
“You won’t find it interesting,” she said with a wry smile, without looking up.
Arlen paused to lean forward, turning his head to read the script on the ornate leather cover. It read A Complete History of the Noble House of Elrainé, intricately lettered with silver thread stitched into the cover.
“You’re right, that doesn’t sound interesting at all,” he agreed, making a face. “What madness drove you to bring that for light reading?”
Selene sighed and looked up at Arlen, who was still grimacing at her.
“It’s not madness to be interested in history,” she laughed, flicking a blast of air at him with a wave of her hand.
He shook his head with a chuckle and returned to sharpening.
“It does sound a rather dry tome,” weighed in Renn from the water’s edge, crouched as he rinsed the knives. “The Elrainés were lucky enough to rule entirely through peacetime, no great battles or any grand stories to be found, by my recollection.”
“There’s a lot of interesting tales to tell besides war stories,” Selene replied exasperatedly, closing her book and laughing as Arlen pulled an even more disgusted face at her.
She opened her mouth to say something further, but stopped before uttering a word. She froze, silent, listening carefully. With a flick of the wrist, she killed the fire, cutting out the noise of it crackling as she strained to hear.
Arlen watched warily, hearing nothing, but trusting Selene’s elven senses. She had slightly better sight and hearing than any of them - even Renn, though only just. Arlen turned, and as if on cue, Renn’s expression shifted into full serious mode. He’d heard whatever it was too, it seemed.
Before he could say anything, a sound that everyone could hear rang out across the morning. The unmistakeable sound of a hunting horn blasted from the forest nearby, scattering countless birds from their perches with a cacophony of screeches.
“Goblins,” hissed Renn, dropping his knives and racing back to the group.
An answering horn rang out from a little way away, closer than the last, before a third blast sounded from the east.
“Hunting parties,” said Arlen gravely, jumping to his feet and stowing his dagger back in the sheath on his back.
“They must have smelled our cooking,” Arcene growled, grabbing her armour from her grey warhorse and frantically slipping on her gauntlets. Mithelstan, already garbed in his leathers, dashed to her side and began helping her get into her mail.
“And they have us surrounded, backs to the lake,” Renn spat angrily, cursing in Elven as he slipped both his shortbow and longbow from his back and hastily set to stringing them.
The sound of hunting horns cut through the air again, closer still as the three packs of goblins converged on them.
“Form up,” barked Renn, all business. “You know the drill, keep it tight; protect the caster!”
Dutifully, the others took their positions. Helvard and Arlen moved forward, sending the horses to Selene as they took up the frontline, facing the treeline before them expectantly. A moment later Arcene, now garbed in most of her armour, took up her position between them, the trio fanned out evenly to cover the others.
Mithelstan hurried back to Selene, shepherding the horses to the water’s edge and as far back from the front as possible. If they fell prey to the marauding goblins, it would be a long walk to the nearest town.
Renn unslung his quiver, propping it up against a log at his feet, and placed his shortbow next to it. Taking a handful of arrows, he stuck them firmly into the ground ready to grab on demand, and nocked one ready in his longbow.
Mithelstan took up position on his left, shortsword in hand, and Selene readied herself just behind them, positioned between them to have a full view of the clearing.
This was their usual battle formation; the three best fighters forming a frontline to hold back enemies while Renn and Mithelstan rained down arrows and magical attacks respectively to pick off targets as they approached. Selene, the most powerful caster of the group by a long way, was kept defended at the back to act as artillery and deal with anything that the others couldn’t.
They waited anxiously, and once more the horns rang out, barely fifty feet away by the sound of it.
All of them scanned the treeline, watching for any sign of movement as the goblins drew ever closer. They were vile creatures, small and fast and seemingly endlessly bloodthirsty. Individually they were weak and unimpressive fighters, but in groups they could be disarmingly cunning and could often overcome travelling groups who wandered into their territory.
Hands twitched on hafts as the tension rose, the sound of the creatures crashing through the undergrowth drifting out of the forest even as they still went unseen.
The only one who hadn’t drawn their weapon yet was Arlen. He didn’t usually need it.
At last, the first of the hunters exploded out of the bushes with a feral cry that echoed around the clearing. Clad in deeply pitted leathers and crude furs, the goblin was practically frothing at its unevenly toothed mouth as it charged down the group, screaming shrilly all the way. It was followed by at least a dozen of its brethren, all wearing furs and brandishing crude swords and clubs, adding their warbling cries to that of the frontrunner.
The first got barely five paces before one of Renn’s arrows whistled past and buried itself in its neck, striking with such force that the creature was lifted bodily from the ground, tipping in the air to land heavily in a mess of flailing limbs and a spray of awful rust coloured blood.
With that the wave of goblins broke on them, and the fighting began proper.
A screaming goblin swung at Helvard, its club met by his enormous shield. The dwarf batted it aside easily, bringing his war-axe down heavily on the goblin that followed and hewing through it like paper.
On the other side of the frontline, Arcene launched herself forward into a mighty sweep of her greatsword, scattering the charging goblins as they darted away from the large reach of her blade.
Arlen took advantage of their sudden change in direction, springing forward to slash across the neck of the nearest creature with an empty hand. As his wrist passed its throat, a deep purple blade of burning shadow crackled briefly into life at the end of his fist, opening the goblin’s throat with a hiss as it effortlessly cut through flesh.
This was Arlen’s raven blade; a unique talent of his that used his innate magic to manifest a dagger-sized spectral blade at will, in any shape and at any point along the length of his arm, able to cut through steel and flesh with equal ease.
Spinning with the momentum of his opening slash, Arlen ducked under a swinging club and rose to drive his raven blade up into the soft palette of another screaming goblin, in a vicious uppercut that knocked the dead creature into a twisting somersault with a spray of rusty looking mist from the gaping hole where its jaw had just been.
Two more goblins came at him, more of them pouring out of the trees with each passing moment. He casually pirouetted on the spot, dodging a sword thrust at his chest, and in the same movement brought his elbow down in a swift strike on the lunging goblin’s overstretched arm.
The impact knocked the sword from its hand, and before it could react Arlen was in motion again. He slammed a hand into the chest of the disarmed goblin as he sidestepped the swing of another, his raven blade exploding out of the back of the creature with a grim hiss.
He rounded on the second goblin, letting his blade dematerialise once more to let the corpse on his arm slump to the ground. The goblin screamed its hideous high-pitched war cry, raised its sword, and made to charge him again.
Arcene’s greatsword struck it from behind before it took its first step, sending the little beast careering sideways with the impact and with most of its insides skidding across the snow as it slammed into the frozen ground.
“Draw that sword, deathwalker!” she growled, before dodging to the side to avoid the clubs of yet more goblins.
There were so many of them - scores of the creatures streamed from the forest in droves, all yelling their high-pitched war cries. For every one they killed, it seemed like another three rushed to take their place.
An arrow whistled past Arlen’s cheek and found a goblin’s eye socket, snapping its head back as it fell mid scream.
“There’s too many!” roared Helvard, swatting aside three goblins with one almighty cleave of his axe, bringing up his shield to catch a spear thrown from the treeline.
“Selene, now would be a good time for something spectacular!” Arlen called out tersely, snapping a bolt of crackling lightning at the goblin who’d thrown the spear. Another spear was flung at him in response, which he gracefully rolled under.
Mithelstan sent a fireball streaking into the forest from behind him, exploding with a soft whump and hurling a flaming spear-thrower tumbling through the air in a trail of smoke. The creature’s angry shrieking shifted from a war cry to a piercing scream as it burned, louder than even the charging goblins.
A goblin clad in leathers ran screeching at Arlen, swinging a rusted longsword wildly in front of it. He dodged backwards then to the side, as the blade whipped back and forth across him with surprising ferocity. The goblin snarled angrily, twisting to face him again and lunging forward with a fierce overhead swing. Arlen spun away sideways once more, parrying the sword away from him with the thick steel bracer he wore on his left arm.
This one is becoming a nuisance, he thought, letting the momentum of his spin take him into the path of a goblin that had just darted out of the way of Arcene’s greatsword. He lashed out with his raven blade as he turned on the spot, slicing deep into the creature’s back before returning his attention to the goblin in the leathers.
Before he could send a bolt of lightning its way, the little monster was pressing the attack again, sweeping its sword in a high loop that Arlen ducked under. The reach of the longsword meant that he was too far away from it to make use of his raven blade each time he evaded.
Losing patience, Arlen drew his bastard sword at last from the sheath on his back, and in one fluid motion swept the goblin’s blade harmlessly aside and sliced the arm holding it clean off with a deft downturn.
The creature looked pathetically at the stump attached to its shoulder with surprise, before Arlen drove the full length of his hand and a half sword through its chest.
He slid the goblin off of his blade with a swift kick, leaving a grisly brown trail of gore along the steel. Another of the creatures scrambled over the corpse barely after it had hit the ground, brandishing a spear as it rushed forward.
That was when the entire treeline exploded.
A huge wall of fire burst into furious life with an earth-shattering roar and a blinding flash of searing orange light, sending a scouring blast of hot air into the clearing. The force of the shockwave was enough to floor the tide of goblins still charging forth from the forest, and the ones who were already close enough to fight stumbled as the air hit them.
There she is, thought Arlen, turning to Selene with a wild grin. It was clear the effort had taken a toll on her; she was hunched and her face looked even paler than her usual fair colouring, but she spotted Arlen’s gaze and gave him a tired smile in return.
He couldn’t spare any more thought towards her, though having seen the amount of effort she’d spent had given him cause for concern. Even as the forest glowed with the orange of the fire, already burning itself out, there were still a handful of goblins in the fight. Most had fled after Selene’s dramatic feat of magic, but the few remaining zealots took the explosion as a rallying cry.
Ahead of Arlen, Arcene caught a goblin’s axe on her greatsword, wrenching it from the creature’s hand with a twist of the blade. Taking a hand off of her sword, she drove a mailed fist into the unfortunate goblin’s face with a sickening crunch that shattered its jaw into a bloody mess of twisted bone and ragged flesh.
Arlen darted past her to deal with a pair of goblins charging Helvard from behind, his attention occupied by a goblin who had just sidestepped a swing of his axe.
An arrow felled one of them before he reached them, but Arlen’s bastard sword took the other’s head off shortly after.
Helvard hit his mark with his next swing, brutally smashing the head of his axe into the shoulder of the goblin, the metal biting all the way through the collarbone and deep into its chest. He followed up with a blow with the edge of his shield, knocking the dead creature to the ground with a sickening squelch.
Arlen cast his eyes quickly around the clearing; goblin corpses littered the snowy ground, and the crisp white blanket underfoot was stained all over with the dull rusty orange of the blood of the fallen creatures. The few that were still alive were all fleeing, their shrill nattering now a markedly different tone to their war-cries barely minutes ago.
Arcene and Helvard were panting either side of him, both of them sporting a few more scratches and dents to their armour but neither had been wounded. Arlen was barely even short of breath. His right hand was slick with blood - the result of using his raven blade, but he was otherwise entirely unmarked.
“I think that’s the last of them,” Helvard said warily, lowering his axe.
As if on cue, two golhounds tore out of the scorched treeline with a rabid intensity. The monsters were as large as lions, all sinewy muscle that bulged from underneath a leathery grey hide that was as tough as boiled leather. They barrelled forwards at an astounding pace, their jaws snapping ferociously and their wolf-like muzzles contorted in a grisly mask of feral rage.
Helvard barely had time to raise his shield before the first slammed into him, the force of huge creature’s weight at such speed easily knocking the armour plated dwarf off of his feet.
The second made straight for Arlen, bounding towards him with a snarl.
He reacted completely on instinct, diving to the side just quick enough to dodge the golhound’s charge. It wheeled about, black eyes swivelling to find him again. Spotting him as he scrambled back to his feet, it tipped its ugly head back and roared - a horrible strangled sound that was more like a vulture’s cry than a hound’s.
Helvard was still struggling with the creature on his chest, barely managing to hold it back with his shield as it snapped furiously at his exposed face, spittle flying everywhere as its jaws worked madly in the air above his head.
Renn loosed an arrow that whistled into the side of its neck, knocking it sideways enough to stagger it. The momentary loss of balance was just the window Helvard needed, managing to throw it off of him with a grunt. A fireball caught the golhound square in the face as it rolled back to its feet, then another as Selene and Mithelstan added their efforts to the fray.
The creature shrugged off the flames with irritation, like a horse would with flies, seemingly unhurt by them.
The second hound took the opportunity to charge once more, aiming for Arlen again. This time he was ready for it, and tensed himself ready to spring aside. As it was about to hit him, he rolled away, trailing his hand to let his raven blade slice along the length of the creature’s side as it passed.
It howled with a mixture of pain and fury, skidding in the snow as it turned about with a string of gore dripping from the gash in its flank.
Arcene saw an opening and pounced, driving her greatsword down into the monster’s skull with all of her tremendous strength. The blade burst out of the underside of its jaw with a steaming spray of reddish-grey blood, but the golhound refused to quit even with several feet of steel through its head. With another strangled roar it rolled over, yanking Arcene off of her feet and throwing her sprawling in the snow.
With Helvard back on his feet and keeping the other hound at bay with his axe and shield, Renn switched targets and released an arrow at the wounded creature. His shot caught it in the eye, making it squeal once more and stagger blindly to the side.
Arcene jumped onto its back with the dagger from her hip drawn, stabbing wildly into whatever flesh of its head she could get her blade to. The hound flailed, struggling desperately to unseat her but the greatsword, still lodged firmly through its skull, was the perfect handhold as she drove her dagger repeatedly into the eyes and forehead of the golhound.
As if sensing that its companion was doomed, the other monster dived at Helvard with a renewed vigour, knocking him effortlessly aside and bounding towards Selene.
With only Mithelstan between it and the elf, it closed the ground quickly, even as another of Renn’s arrows buried itself in its flank. Mithelstan loosed a snap-casted lightning bolt straight into the maw of the creature, but it had little effect and he too was shunted unceremoniously aside by the charging beast.
In a panic, Selene hurled another fireball at it, slowing it a little with the impact, but still the golhound relentless thundered forward.
With an angry roar, Arlen staked his sword into the ground and extended both hands. His face contorted as he composed himself, and through a great force of will a churning ball of electricity crackled between his spread fingers. With an almighty effort, he thrust the miasma forward to send a thick lance of searing blue lightning streaking into the monster with immense force as it leaped forward at Selene.
The crackling energy bolt caught it mid-air, blowing a ragged hole through the midriff of the golhound and slamming it forcefully to the side. Its lifeless body tumbled through the air, still on a trajectory that saw it hit Selene, but diverted enough to strike her only a glancing blow. The heavy corpse still hit her with force enough to knock her down.
Arlen collapsed heavily as Arcene finally managed to bring the other beast down, the golhound shuddering to the ground as the last of the fight in the beast left it. Helvard skidded over to her side and brought his axe down into the neck of the corpse, making completely sure it was dead.
Mithelstan was just getting to his feet as Renn approached the smoking body of the other hound, arrow nocked as he checked it was also truly dead.
Satisfied, he pulled Selene gently to her feet. She was badly shaken, but thankfully unharmed after Arlen’s intervention.
Panic flooded her as she noticed him lying in the snow.
“Arlen!” she called, running to his side.
He was motionless, lying face down where he’d fallen. Channelling so much magic had stripped him of a huge amount of energy, and trying to do too much could kill.
Selene frantically rolled him over, her face fearful as she got him onto his back. He was ashen faced, but his eyes were open as he looked blearily up at her.
“Are you alright?” he mumbled weakly, reaching out to her.
Selene breathed a sigh of huge relief as she took his hand in hers, pulling his head and shoulders into her lap as she leaned down to hug him.
“It’s you that you should be worried about,” she said quietly, smiling warmly. “Don’t you ever do that again, you scared us half to death.”
Helvard and Renn helped lift Arlen to his feet, carefully setting him down again on a log as Helvard took his head in his hands and began concentrating with closed eyes.
“Don’t let him hum at me,” Arlen managed weakly, glancing up at the dwarf. “I didn’t overdo it that much.”
“You be quiet and let him do his work,” Selene chided, giving his hand a squeeze.
“Hell of a cast,” said Renn, looming over him with an appreciative smile.
“Had to bring it down,” Arlen rasped, feebly reaching up to try to remove Helvard’s hands as the dwarf began to quietly hum. “Oh gods, it’s starting.”
Selene took his other hand and pulled it back down, laughing.
“Let him help you,” she said affectionately, but firmly.
Arlen sighed pointedly, but stopped resisting.
As Helvard hummed softly, he felt the dwarf’s strength ebb into his body like the warmth from a fire. Slowly he felt the fatigue his lightning had caused recede, the fogginess in his mind giving way to the clarity he was used to.
Though Helvard wasn’t a caster and had no link to magic, he still possessed the skills of a healer. Such individuals were able to use their own body’s energy to aid in the recovery of others, in a unique kind of magic separate from traditional casting. It was a rare gift and one that required an individual of great strength to make use of it, but Helvard was skilled at the art and his mighty figure offered a deep well of strength to tap. He served as the party healer, dealing with the injuries that the life of a sell-sword inevitably led to.
While he could help treat the wounds from battle, a healer could only aid the subject’s own bodily processes. That meant that at best, a healer could keep a wound from festering by working their magic at intervals, but to fully recover from serious injuries still took days of sessions adding to the strength of the wounded. It was a gift that sped up the healing process and could hold sickness at bay, but no healer could knit flesh back together in moments.
As he felt his strength returning, Arlen steeled himself and sat up. The effort making his head spin for a moment, but he forced his mind to focus. Selene was immediately there to steady him, all sweetness and concern, bless her.
“I’m fine,” he reassured her gently, his hands still in hers. He glanced at Helvard, and nodded his thanks. The dwarf bowed his head solemnly and stood up from the log.
“We shouldn’t stay,” he reminded them, retrieving his axe and shield. “It’s only a matter of time before the rest of the warband decides to investigate why none of their hunters came back.”
“Agreed,” replied Renn, already gathering any salvageable arrows from the goblin corpses that littered the snowy ground. “Gather your gear. Mithelstan, ready the horses. We’re moving as soon as Arlen is able.”
“I’m fine,” Arlen repeated loudly.
“Seems a shame to waste our stew,” Arcene said sadly, folding down the cooking stand from the fire pit. Helvard tossed her the lid of the pan they’d cooked it in from a bag on his saddle.
“Seal it. There’ll be time enough on the road,” he suggested.
Arlen rose unsteadily to his feet, Selene still at his side.
“Truly, I’m just fine,” he insisted, taking a step forward.
He was caught off guard as she pulled him into a tight hug, resting her head on his shoulder as she squeezed him about the waist.
“Thank you,” she said quietly, holding him tight.
Arlen gently wrapped his arms around her, hugging her back affectionately.
“I wasn’t going to let that thing get to you,” he said softly, smiling down at her. “You know that, mei-mei. Although maybe next time you could just make it explode, save me you know, potentially killing myself or something.”
She laughed and pushed him away, as Mithelstan brought Arlen his horse. The huge black mare nuzzled her long head against him, and Arlen patted her tenderly.
“Get on your horse,” Selene chuckled, helping him up to the saddle.
“I can manage,” he fussed, waving her away. “Honestly, I only threw some lightning. It’s not like I actually nearly died or anything.”
Selene sighed and placed her hands on her hips exasperatedly, but her expression immediately softened again as Arlen gave her a mischievous grin.
“To think I was worried about you,” she chided, laughing as he bowed in his saddle, before wheeling his great courser and trotting away, still grinning back at her.