Rudi's Story 09 - The Work of the Living
Rudi’s feet pounded up the flag stone steps.
I saw them! Up top, at least two . . .
He gripped his trident tighter, the knuckles of his small fist white as he bounded towards the origin of the two arrows fired at Hydrastis.The party had just snuck through the tunnels, inside the walls of the Stag Lord and his men. He was one of the first up, but the other two, Pirec and Faderean, had gone off on their own.
He could hear the ring of steel, the thrum of bows, the droning of incantations. Hurry! He screamed inwardly.
Lights flared behind him, the kaleidoscope of colors cutting off the braying laugh of that ass with the club that had jumped down behind Glod. The lights washed over the scraggly looking archers – red, green, yellow, violet – giving Rudi a good view of their shocked faces as they scrambled to draw their weapons. Rudi sprinted forward, swinging his trident in an upwards arc, knocking the hilt into the wielder’s jaw as he drew his sword.
Wear them down he heard Cassius telling him. Not every blow should be one that kills… Buy time.
The man stumbled back, shaking his head and spitting out a cracked tooth. It was time enough.
Rudi skipped aside as his friend tried to split him from forehead to groin. “Dealanach, Sparradh!” He shouted in his piping voice, the arcane energy coursing from his hand, racing up the haft of his weapon, jumping between the tines and arcing to the man’s sword before it disappeared into the man’s gut. He convulsed, muscles taut as he stood on the tips of his toes as his eyes popped and oozed from his head. With a simple flourish, he whipped the weapon from the body, drew from the arcane well again, and finished his friend.
He turned back to the larger fight, and saw the ungainly brute swinging his club and stein in simultaneous arcs, ready to stave in the skull of anyone that was unlucky to find themselves caught under it. But Cassius, Sear, and Glod had avoided his flailing arms so far, and were slowly wearing him down. He started to smirk, until something caught his eye through the ruins on the behind them. Men in tattered clothes and jagged weapons were starting to pour around the corner, with only Hydrastis to guard their backs. They were about to get caught between that maniac, and a horde of bloodthirsty bandits.
No time-! He thought, leapt over the stairs and onto the crumbling wall along their side. An arrow carved a furrow across his face as it sliced past, nearly causing him to crash to his death on the flagstones below. He watched the stone and mortar tumble away, laying on his belly only as long as it took to make he wasn’t going to fall.
Glancing in the direction it came from, he caught sight of a bare chested man wearing a stag’s skull on top of his head. It’s antlers branched from the skull, reaching towards the heavens like grasping fingers. The bow he held still vibrated from the recoil from the shot, face impassive as he watched the arrow barely avoid a killing blow.
Rudi scrambled the rest of the way, pulling himself to his feet twenty feet above his elven friend as she stemmed the tide. Giving his best warcry, Rudi leapt, arching his back as he clutched the trident over his head in both hands. The weapon sank between the man’s rib cage and collar bone, right before Rudi crashed into him too. His world spun as he rolled once, twice, tangled up in the limbs of the corpse. When he finally came to a stop he lay there, breath wheezing from his battered body.
Get up! Gritting his teeth, the halfling lurched to his feet, using the shaft of the trident for support.
Then, surprisingly, he was falling again, carried forward by the sudden pain erupting in his back. It carried him up to the ground, even as the world faded away.
The clash of metal. The screams of the dying. They were haunting him from somewhere far away.
Was it that far though?
He heard the screech of some beastly bird, but it was mostly the pain the caught his attention. The pain that wracked every part of his diminutive body.
The screech cut short, overwhelmed by the the clang of a hammer striking an anvil.
“Get the fuck up, halfling!”
What the- Rudi’s eyes fluttered open to see a craggy face looming over him, beard tickling at his face. “Glod?”
“Hey buddy-,” it was punctuated by a grunt as a man shoved him away. A sword bore down on the halfling ripping at his thigh as he rolled out from under it.
His hands desperately searched for the trident, eyes fixated on the rising sword, blood, his blood, coursing across is notched edge. His fingers brushed the worn haft, then closed around it, stabbing upwards frantically before the swordsman..
The man stared, clutching at the trident with his free hand before bearing down on Rudi with all of his dead weight.
Buried under the body, Rudi panted in relief. He was in pain, a lot of pain, but he was alive. The fight didn’t sound like it was over, though. Grunting and heaving, he wormed his way out from underneath the man until he was breathing freely and stumbled towards his friends. He must have only been out for seconds, since it looked like they were only just closing with the Stag Lord. That, or they really are lost without me.
He paused to look at the bloodied body of a feathered beast the size of a bear, and decided maybe not so much, before continuing on.
A stranger swung wildly at one of his lieutenants, the others firing their bows and bogging them down. Cassius led the way, drawing their fire, the arrows shattering against the metal of his shield and armor.
“Staglord! It is long past due that we finish this!” Cassius bellowed, his challenge ringing through the fort. “It is long past due that you were brought to justice!”
Rudi had shambled up behind the cavalier, joining the ranks of his friends. With a burst of energy, he darted past. The look on the archer’s face said he didn’t see the halfling or his trident coming. As the man fell, and before he could turn to face a new opponent, a searing pain erupted in his back once more. He could feel his skin blister and boil as some fluid seeped through his chain shirt and to his skin. He turned to look, and saw Glod staring at him.
He shouted something, but Rudi wasn’t sure what it was over the hiss of the acid, and the sounds of battle. Time for that later, he thought, but it was too late. The lieutenant had run away, and the Stag Lord had been chased further into the camp by the rest of his party, leaving Rudi face to face with the stranger that had been fighting.
“I’m on your side,” he said. Sweat and blood ran down his face, collecting in his beard shot through with gray. Rudi stared at him, chest heaving, and shrugged.
“Best we get on with it then,” the halfling said. If one of his own party was already trying to kill him, what’s one more? The stranger ran one way, and Rudi shuffled the other, going after the lieutenant. All he saw when he got to the front of the fort though was an open gate.
There’s still the Stag Lord. He doubled back, limping after the others one last time. Blood wept from his wounds that had torn open, the little healing Glod had given him unraveling as the battle wore on. The ruined stonework rose around the party as they cornered their quarry, crumbling from ill effects of past battles and the ravages of time. Newer timber propped up what it could, the reconstruction at the hands of its most recent inhabitants left unfinished as they were now ghosts joining those that came before.
In the middle of it all he saw his friends, ground down almost as much as the fort they stood in. Cassius was being helped up by Sear, arrows protruding from chinks in his armor. Hydrastis stood off to one side, eyes slit in concentration, lips moving as she chanted to herself. Near here was Glod, beseeching his God for aid and support in these times. Faderean had finally reappeared on a platform above. His clothing, normally pressed and clean, were now rent and torn and stained with blood. Pale and drawn, he loomed over the courtyard, holding a longbow awkwardly in shaking hands.
Lastly, there was the Stranger whose bulk filled a concealed doorway from the courtyard, fighting the Staglord. Rudi stood, eyes fixed on the fight, as he joined the others and looked for an opening.
He heard the thrum of a bow. The stranger staggered into the doorframe. A falcon materialized on the other side of the wall, the result of Hydrastis’s efforts, swooping down to strike her prey.
Now. Go! He spurred himself forward, just as Cassius shouldered him out of the way, no doubt just as eager to put an end to this fight. He crawled over the prone stranger, muttering to himself about being small, and stood shoulder to hip with his friends Cassius and Sear. Hydrastis’s summoned beast was with them, beating it’s wings as it would swoop with outstretched talons. Even as Rudi made another feeble stab at the bandit leader, he could see Faderean above as he tried lining up his next shot in the melee, and could still hear Glod’s prayers to his God above. He had no idea where Pirec was, and feared the worst. But together they had wiped out the bandits, and cornered their leader. Together, with each exhausted strike they were that much closer to ending it and restoring balance to the Stolen Lands.
Bruised and bloodied, the Stag Lord raised his sword aloft, teeth bared behind the yellowed jaw of the stag skull he wore on his head. Cassius reach up and gripped his wrist in a gauntleted fist, stepping forwards, and plunging his sword into the bandit’s gut with a squelch.
He coughed, sputtered, blood spattering across Cassius’s armor pitted and marred from the fight.
“Fuck you, father,” He muttered through the blood pooling in his mouth, then went limp. Cassius let him slide free, smearing gore across his breastplate before his bare chest slapped against the flagstones. Rudi’s heart still pounded in his ears, each breath accompanied by different twinges, different pains, as reality sank in.
The Stag Lord was dead.
And I’m alive he thought, looking around at his friends with a grin. As his pulse slowed, and the beating of his heart stilled, the moaning of the wounded and dying filtered through. He let the grin slip from his face, and leaned heavily on his trident.
There was still work for the living.