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  • Writer's pictureJames Finger

MKT018: Running the Gauntlet

Updated: May 30, 2023

6th of Eleint (The Fading) – Summer 1486

Location: The Stone Trail, Dessarin Valley

Smacky’s war horse reared and charged headlong into Sir Deakon’s detachment, thundering hooves churning the dirt road underneath him. The other laden animal beside him had no choice but to follow as the barbarian held its reins as well. A quick study, Seepage urged her own reluctant mount forward after him, keeping her friend squarely between her and the crossbows. Upon the launching of the anticipated volley of bolts, Smacky dropped low between the two horses under his control holding one saddle horn in each hand while still steering them directly towards the soldiers blocking the road. The thick chainmail of the armoured warhorse turned several quarrels while the loaded saddlebags absorbed a few of the others. Pinko’s poor mount which had been recruited for pack-horse duties did not fare as well, with several metal tips piercing its flank and chest. The animal cried in pain and collapsed forward mid-stride, rolling heavily into the first line of pikemen clearing a path as it crushed them under its weight. Smacky swung back up into the saddle, swiped at the archers with his hammer and thundered off down the road before they could reload.

As Seeps goaded her horse into following the barbarian, she heard the high-pitched synchronous commands issued from the redheaded twin knights simultaneously. “Kill the demon spawn!” they yelled. Cockseepage threw up her cloak and imbued it with a Shield spell, satisfied as the thin material then deflected every arrow that threatened to hit her. For a bunch of religious zealots, these idiot knights should really learn to tell the difference between devil-spawn and demon-spawn she thought as her horse leapt over its fallen brethren, trampling the wounded guards that had yet to pick themselves up off the floor. The cordon of well-drilled soldiers quickly closed ranks behind her and lined up for another volley, reloading their crossbows. Bunching up was perhaps not the best formation for them however as an ear-splitting Shatter spell launched from the fleeing warlock’s palm sent the group into a sprawling mess of bodies to add to those knocked down by Smacky's charge. Cockseepage’s caught up to Smacky and a flying high-5 was exchanged celebrating their daring escape as they sped down the road to hopefully catch up with Pinko and Moogs.

The boar was already lunch, it just didn’t know it yet. Dire wolf Pinko stalked through the shadows of the trees, keeping low and upwind. It was a fat hog, with an impressive set of tusks that he’d have to take care to avoid. Fifty feet, forty, thirty… sprint! Pinko lunged through the air just as the pig had finally heard the padding feet of his doom and squealed in surprise as powerful jaws were clamped around his neck. It kicked and raked, trotters painfully striking the druid’s furry ribs but he didn’t release his iron grip on his prey until the struggle finally subsided. He half lifted, half dragged the kill back to the road. The boar was half his size, it should keep even Moog’s enormous belly full for the day. Back at the roadside clearing the hill giant Moogs was still playing with the bag of Goodberries Pinks had left her to keep her occupied while he hunted. She’d toss them high into the air one by one and try to catch them in her gaping mouth. Fortunately, she was terribly uncoordinated and one berry could keep her feeling full for a good fifteen minutes or so, but still, Pinks was glad he’d found something more substantial and would be even happier when Smacky and Seeps returned so he didn’t have to babysit the unpredictable temperament of their new companion alone.

Only the three knights had been mounted as Smacky and Seepage broke the containment line in Westbridge and charged down the Stone Trail. On a slight rise about two miles out of town, Smacks stopped to look back for signs of pursuit. He didn’t have to look hard. The cloud of dust about halfway between the distant roofs of Westbridge and their current position told the story that most if not all of the company had now found a saddle and were closing the gap. “Da horseys are tired Seeps. Dese bags are heavy.” said Smacky as he wiped sweat and dust off the flank of his ride. “They’ll be dead if that rabble catches us.” replied Seepage. “We needz to dump da food and find Pinks.” continued the barbarian, already unloading the weighty saddle bags and chucking them to the side of the road. Reluctantly Seeps saw the sense in this. Better to deal with a cranky Moogs than take on a small army alone. “Look at dat!” called Smacky pointing east where even Seepage’s regular eyesight could clearly see the smoke from a small fire rising and drifting on the breeze. It was perhaps only slightly further away but in the opposite direction to the cloud of hoof dust the Order of the Gauntlet detachment was kicking up. “Pinko?” the warlock asked, an eyebrow raised. Smacky stared hard into the distance. “Hope soes!” he grunted, swinging back up onto his warhorse, patting her neck, and setting his heels into her side to see if they could reach the druid before the Gauntlet reached them.

Sir Deakon & Moogs (Image Element Credit: Ir'revrykal & Tbolling)

The snoring was enough to cut through even the potent relaxation Pinko’s pipeweed usually offered him. Moogs had been impressed with his Produce Flame BBQ of the wild boar and had consumed more than two-thirds of the pig, bones and all, before declaring it was now nap time and crawling into a small culvert near the road for an afternoon snooze. Pinks sat under a tree looking west trying to figure out what the haze starting to tint the falling sun was. He hoped his friends had not decided that setting the town on fire was part of keeping a low profile. Focused as he was, the snap of a branch somewhere behind him suddenly had him on edge. A strange animal call he could not identify rose from the trees above the culvert where Moogs snoozed. It was answered by a call on the south side of the road that was no birdsong that Pinko had ever heard… and there were not many birds he was unaware of. “Shit.” he thought as grey shadows flitted between the trees and he tried to slink down behind his own foliage and hide.

Smacky fired again and was satisfied to see a rider fall from their saddle and drop off the pursuit. The lead pack of riders were still out of ecky blast range, but the Barbarian was a decent shot even at long distance. It helped there were many targets and he didn’t have to say if he actually hit the one he was aiming for though Seeps mused. Rounding a bend through the hills the first indication they had finally caught up to Pinko was a tattooed human wearing an animal pelt flying through the air at high speed. As it crashed into a rock and slumped in a most unnatural way to the ground, Smacky identified him as a wildling, one of the native Uthgardt barbarian folk, though he had no time to stop and check the tribe. Just ahead half a dozen more tribal warriors with long spears were attempting to keep a very pissed off looking Moogs at bay while the giant tried to grab the hunters and bat away their pointy sticks. One barbarian scored a deep thrust into the giant’s side but then made the critical error of not letting go of her weapon when Moogs grasped the other end of it, snapped it off, and proceeded to pound its owner into the ground repetitively. Overhead the skies were swirling with ominous dark clouds of a most unnatural origin that Seeps could only attribute to some form of elemental magic.

Lightning crashed to earth via a spear tip and the fleshy bits of an Uthgardt warrior. The man was left blackened and smoking but still standing until Moogs swatted at him and sent a puff of dust-like body bits flying into the air. As Smacky rode up he could see despite her size and anger the wildlings had scored numerous cuts with their crude but effective spears and seemed to be willing to bravely stand against Moogs' onslaught. He respected this and was conflicted internally about who he should smash, but charged his warhorse forward nonetheless. Seepage scanned the roadside and spotted Pinko gesticulating and manipulating his storm clouds. The static the druid was generating was enough to make his filthy dreadlocks seem to float and separate from each other. Pinko reached high and called down another lightning bolt, swearing in elvish as it missed its target and blasted a rock instead, covering the combatants in a shower of pebbles. He was concentrating so much he hadn’t seen his friends arrive behind him and despite Smacky’s mount being well trained in battle, the blast spooked the horse which caused it to buck and rear, but Smacky skillfully held on. That was until four white fletched arrows pierced the exposed and unarmoured underside of the animal which meant as its hooves hit the ground, the rest of it quickly followed, half crushing Smacky underneath its bulk.

The Gauntlet outrider scouts were elven, led by a knight with flaming red hair and golden skin. After Smacky went down Pinko saw the knight turn and direct her squad to fire upon Moogs who recoiled at the barrage, allowing the remaining tribal warriors to press their attack. Seepage wasted no time in abandoning her horse and dashed into the trees where Pinko was bunkered down, diving in beside him. “What the hell is going on!” they both yelled at each other in a unison so perfect it would have been funny outside of mortal combat. Pinks replied first. “Uthgardt snuck up and attacked Moogs, musn’t like giants wandering through their territory. Let me guess, more Gauntlet friends of yours?” the wood elf accused without hiding his obvious belief this was all Seepage’s fault. “Hey it wasn’t me!” the tiefling protested. “We paid for the food and everything, they ambushed us in town so we had to split. That high elf bitch with the bow is Valna, which means her brother Varis can’t…” Pinko suddenly grabbed Seeps and pulled her roughly to the ground, grunting loudly as he landed on top of her. Seeps' automatic sexual sarcasm was about to take off when she first noticed three arrows now stuck fast into the tree trunk above them and one protruding from Pinko’s shoulder, blood weeping out and dripping onto her neck. “Yep, that’ll be him.” she concluded.

The Order of the Gauntlet Finally Corner the Mickale Trio & Moogs

Seepage didn’t often see Pinko get angry, that was Smacky’s job, the boy had a short fuse. But as the weight on top of her increased, the manky blood-soaked dreadlocks bristled and extended to cover his whole body, and the teeth gritted in pain from his wound extended and sharpened, the warlock could tell no amount of special pipe weed would be able to chill Pinks out right now. The swirling storm overhead unleashed an uncontrolled burst at each group of elves just before the wild shape completed transforming Pinko from a wood elf into an enormous brown bear. As he stood to his full nine feet tall the clouds began to fade and Bear-Pinks charged at the group of scouts led by Varis, Knight of the Gauntlet who had snuck up on their southern flank, with the primal desire to tear them limb from limb.

Meanwhile, Moogs had pulled a small tree out of the ground to use as a club and Smacky had managed to extricate himself from under his dead horse. The half-orc too now felt the rage that was flowing through Pinko at the constant shitfuckery caused by these shiny armoured gits and seeing red, he launched himself bodily in to assist Moogs against her assailants, crushing the spine of the closest wildling. He was rewarded with a solid wallop to the side of the face that sent him sprawling to the dirt for the second time in as many minutes as Moogs struck out at all and sundry around her with her new tree-club. “Ya stoopid oafs! I is helpen yous!” Smacky spat out along with a mouthful of blood and dirt. Unsure of who to assist, Cockseepage hid behind her tree and sent an Eldritch Blast in direction of each of the twin Knights, smiling with pleasure as Varis, distracted by the massive bear rampaging towards him, failed to dodge the bolt. Displeased with missing Valna, the warlock decided she needed to get closer to unleash a new trick she had been practising, and sprinted uncharacteristically towards the conflict to back up Smacky.

Sir Deakon and his retinue kept up their steady pace. Already he could hear the sounds of battle ahead, the twins and their forward scouts had found their quarry, but he was concerned with the report from the runner that the murderous scum had recruited a filthy hill giant to their cause. Still, he had three wagons of men-at-arms, several of which were his veteran soldiers who’d fought by his side for years. The giant would be no issue, stopping himself from killing the fugitive tiefling on sight instead of returning her to Lady Darathra as ordered, however, might be. He stopped the forced march and ordered his troops into position just around the bend in the road from the scuffle. Half expecting a dead giant and three bound and gagged prisoners to be awaiting his triumphant entrance as second-in-command of the Twelve of Triboar, instead, he was greeted by a scene of carnage and madness.

First Varis fell as a gore-covered brown bear with dreadlocks knocked him to the ground, placed one paw on his leg and literally tore the high elf in half by wrenching him from the shoulder with its powerful maw embedded through his shining scale armour. Deakon sent in his pikemen led by a dwarven veteran to surround and subdue the heavily wounded creature. Next, the mission's primary objective unexpectedly presented itself as he spotted the tiefling break from the treeline and dash into the middle of the road surrounded by a sickly green and black aura which she gathered into a cloudy orb and launched bodily with two hands at Valna. Deakon had seen his share of horrors and atrocities, but as the Blight spell took effect and the once beautiful red and golden features of the knight rotted and corrupted he felt pride and righteousness overtake his revolution as despite her pain Valna managed to reflexively turn her attention from the giant and in one fluid motion notched two arrows and sent them both deep into her attacker's chest. Cockseepage and Valna simultaneously collapsed to their knees in grizzly mimicry of each other, but the warlock got the last laugh as she grasped the arrow shafts embedded in her armour and called up a ring of hellfire around the tortured knight. When the flames cleared moments later, only ash remained. Before succumbing to blissful unconsciousness, Seeps had just enough time to turn and see the pommel of Deakon’s great sword crashing down onto her head as his horse trotted up behind her.

Smacky was confused. Between the Uthgardt warriors, the Order of the Gauntlet scouts, and Moogs who was supposed to be on his side, there were just too many clobbering options and he was unsure which to bash on next. He launched himself out of the dirt up towards the wildings but already they were retreating. They hurled their spears at Moogs in a last desperate effort and were fading into the trees. He turned to face the Scouts, only to witness their leader’s red hair and golden skin turn black and necrotic and felt the heat of Seepage’s Hellish Rebuke as the elf’s longbow punctured his friend’s torso. Behind him, the roars of Bear-Pinko intensified in pain as he was swamped by a swarm of soldiers. The druid’s shapeshifting visibly failing as the unrelenting attack forced him back to humanoid form before Smacky lost sight of him in a sea of armoured bodies. Lastly, he heard the sickening crunch as Deakon’s blow landed on Seepage’s skull and his choice was settled. Smacky lived with his primal rage, and usually had a working control over his abilities, but the red mist that descended at that moment unlocked something even more savage and wild than he had ever experienced. He flew at Deakon, feet barely touching the ground. The two veteran bodyguards with tower shields protecting the knight may as well have been holding glass as Bluntrosethorn obliterated the defenders and cleared a way to the unconscious body of Cockseepage the Tormented bleeding out on the roadway.

Sir Deakon was not a large man, but he was unflinching despite the raging half-orc charging towards him. He dismounted and planted his feet ready to take on the threat as his guards were brushed aside. He could see behind the savagery there was a practised routine behind his enemy's onslaught and used this observation to anticipate and counter several of the blows when they began to rain down upon him. Despite landing a number of his own counter-attacks exploiting the wide openings his foe was leaving with his reckless swings, after only a few seconds Deakon knew he was losing this battle. Tiring quickly, he was incredibly grateful as the war of attrition against the hill giant finally ended with the result being the lumbering beast slowly collapsing towards him, filled with bolts and arrows, dead by a hundred small wounds. The knight smiled, parried the barbarian’s warhammer once more, and took two steps back.

Smacky had just enough time to smirk at his opponent's perceived cowardness in disengaging from the fight before the full weight of Moogs came crashing down on top of him from behind and enveloped him in stinky, bloody darkness.


Next Episode: Now What?!


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