As the sun set over the group, crimson and burgundy shades dancing in the sky like the magic of the day and night grappling at each other in some cosmic wizard’s duel, Hidan couldn’t help but marvel at his own magical friend’s focus. His power had grown steadily over the past year – this was their third such excursion out of town and they had known that if they survived this one they would be full-fledged adventurers – that their power would only grow more extreme. Hidan watched Sol and Luna’s great duel in the sky and pondered if his friend would ever wield that kind of arcane might.
 
Seraphim sat next to him, her mind on simpler matters. Barely literate, the barbarian’s only smarts were street smarts – surviving the here and now, rarely a thought to the future. All she could think of was the anticipation of battle, and the hope that her and the man who always fought so bravely beside her would make it home. She thought of what he’d told the bard and blushed, glancing sideways at the wonder with which he contemplated the sky.

Finally, Hedge and Sliver emerged from an outcropping toward the bandit camp. Sliver was the first to speak. “We’ve got the high ground on them – and their lookout is bleeding out at the lookout point. The others, eighteen by my count, are all cleaning out a barrel of ale – bastards have a magically enhanced bottomless keg.” Seraphim leapt up. “Bottomless keg? We must have it!” Nerfidelle giggled at this. Hidan nodded. “Excellent. Same plan as with the gobs – Sliver snipes out a few of them until they notice, then Hedge goes full archmage on them while Seraphim and I rush in.” The wild elf nodded, hauling her axe over her shoulder. “Only difference is we hit much harder tonight.”

Hidan nodded. “I’ll be starting a few fires. Be sure to take advantage of the confusion.” The group all nodded as they embarked down the rocky path. As they walked, Sliver hesitated, prompting a concerned look from the others, including Nerfidelle, who had been uncharacteristically quiet. “There is one more thing,” she finally muttered, eyes downcast.
“Uh-oh.” Hidan knew what he was about to hear. He didn’t like it.
“There were tracks just north of the camp.”
“You can’t be serious, Sliver.”
“They could have belonged to a normal goat, but they don’t usually graze alone in this area.”
“Liches bones!” Seraphim roared as she punched one of the surrounding rocks. 
Hedge put a hand on her shoulder. “That goat only strikes in the day. We hit the bandits hard tonight and march straight back home. Forget about making camp.”
Seraphim nodded. “Of course that, that monster is here. Everything was going way too smoothly.”
Sliver sighed. “It’s ok. We make sure not to finish a couple of them off, travel south from when we leave – leave the smell of death and suffering directly between us and that… thing. Not much different to leaving an offering to Wee Jas.”
Hidan nodded. “Of course the dread goat would be pacified in the same way as the goddess of evil, death and necromancy!” Sliver shuddered at this. “Perhaps, but my goddess isn’t so… vicious.” 
 
It didn’t take them more than a few minutes to quietly make their way to the lookout point. They weren’t too worried about staying quiet – the bandit’s revelry would mask any footfalls or the like. Their only concern was the possibility that the goat tracks on the far side of the camp belonged to a creature more like a demon than livestock – though Hidan had kept telling himself that it was probably just some poor lost goat.
He didn’t believe himself, but he kept saying it anyway.
They had a good view of the camp. It wasn’t close – Even Sliver wasn’t sure she’d hit every shot at that distance, but it was a fantastic staging point. Hedge looked over the stone table, being less conspicuous at the camp. “I see large rocks on either side that will make good cover along the way. Sliver, you and I will stay further back, providing fire support. I’ll go left. You flank the right with Hidan. Seraphim, you’ll be ahead of me down the left.”
 
Everyone looked at him and nodded. Nerfidelle took a seat at the table, readying her various parchments and recording tools. This would be quite a good fight. Or so she thought.
Gnome writing in a book
Nerfidelle uses that fancy paper.

The four adventurers had taken up their positions in the rocks closer to the camp. The laughter and shouting was much clearer from there – Sliver wasn’t at all worried about hitting her targets, but she was worried about something else. She looked ahead at Hidan, and he had the same perplexed look on his face. He peered around the rock again, fingers fidgeting as if counting something. Finally he looked back at Sliver, questions in his eyes, who just shrugged. Finally he looked across the gap in the rocks at Seraphim. 

“How many did you say there were?” He thought to her.
She held up her hands, signalling eighteen.
Hidan shook his head, holding up nine fingers and motioning towards the camp.
“Blight,” she thought, taking a second look. There was one in her allies’ blind spot, but that only accounted for ten.
“Maybe the others went out on a raid already?” she suggested, hopefully.
“Hopefully. That gives us an advantage, but if we hit them now, the others will definitely know something is up.”
Seraphim cradled her forehead in her hand. “The target’s still there. The job isn’t to clear the place, just to take him out.”
Hidan nodded. He looked back up behind him to signal to Sliver that they would attack anyway. When he did, all Sliver saw was the shocked expression on his face. She barely had time to turn around before she heard the whizzing of arrows. The missing eight bandits had lined up behind them at the lookout point to form a firing squad. All four of them each took two arrows to the torso, knocking them from their cover and leaving them tumbling or sliding down the cliff. The exception was Seraphim – she’d seen Hidan react to something and ducked out from her cover just in time – she took one arrow to the arm but it was but a flesh wound. Charging up the steep cliff, she threw two small axes into two of the archer’s heads. They had been so confident in their ambush that it hadn’t occurred to them to dodge. As they fell, their six companions nocked and fired a second volley of arrows at the furious barbarian. Even with her reflexes, she only managed to avoid getting hit by two of them. She heard her friends’ broken bodies falling along the rocks over her roars of anger, a sound she would never forget. Her body was covered in cuts, three arrows were lodged into her shoulder, her left arm had stopped moving, but still she charged. Another axe, another felled bandit, they were almost close enough to cut now, but the remaining five had all nocked more arrows. This time none of them missed.

Sword fallen in a field.
Nerfidelle kept drawing as Seraphim’s body slid down to the camp with the rest. She had just figured out why the pig-pen was on this end of the bandit’s camp – this probably wasn’t the first, or even the fifth time they’d been attacked from the lookout. This was just the easiest way to dispose of the bodies – let them slide straight to the pigs. She’d noticed it as the bandits all stormed past her – even the bandits understood bardic immunity – that they couldn’t interfere at times like this – and her role was clear even to a fool from her blatant position – drawing the battle, not even attempting to hide, walking right past her to perform their ambush, no, their execution. 
 
“That Barbarian was really something, wasn’t she,” she casually commented to the bandits. One looked down at her with a smile, extending a hand, which she took. “Yeah. Haven’t seen someone take a beating like that since Harkin took on my brother down at Ranger’s fall.” Nerfidelle raised an eyebrow. “You saw that? Were you guys in that rediculous-” 
“Yellow Willow tree, yes. Our Cleric foresees attacks on other camps and we all go and take bets.” Nerfidelle laughed, remembering how conspicuously the tree shook. Especially given that the tree had arrived earlier that morning. “So your cleric. You’re not concerned about the deaths of three of your comrades?”
“Nah. They’ll be up and about within the hour. And they owe everyone else in the camp five monarchs.” The cheerful bandit, dirty hair wandering about his face, regarded the gnome as she packed away a few magical pictures, one of which portraying him as slightly more rugged that he had pictured himself, moved to help her. “Thanks. Speaking of rezzes, would you mind saving a finger off each of my friends? Royal bounty and all, I’m required to send them to the court for resurrection.” One of the other, younger bandits chimed in. “What, so they can come at us again? Don’t be crazy, Barna.” 
Barna, Nerfidelle’s new friend, shook his head. “We TPK’d them, Jorrel. They aren’t permitted to do anything related to that bounty after they get ressed. Something about terms and conditions. Sure, I’m sure Brother Gallywig’s already taken the samples you’ll need.”
Nerfidelle beamed, hopping to her feet. “Brother Gallywig, your Cleric? He sounds like quite a character!” Barna nodded.
“He’s a gnome, just like you. Most bandit clerics worship the gnome god, Garl Glittergold, but I suspect you both are disciples of-“
“Flarlaghn! God of the open road!” she finished, hopping onto the table.
 
As the other bandits were already most of the way down the hill, Barna looked behind him, eager to head back to the camp himself. As the light caught his other ear, his one pointy ear, Nerfidelle realised he was half-elven. “Want a drink,” He offered, lifting the gnommish bardess to his shoulders. “Sure,” she said, grateful for the ride. “And maybe in the morning you can come with me to town to deliver the remains?”
Barna thought about it for a second and smiled. “Sure. I could use the walk.” 
“Great,” Nerfidelle said. She liked this guy – he wasn’t as much of a pig as most bandits. She wanted him to be out of the camp when the smell of pigs feeding got to a certain goat’s nose. And she knew it would – she knew that goat well. She felt in her pocket, and stroked a finger over the onyx statuette in her pocket. A small figure of a goat’s head.
 
She had no doubt that he’d feast well come the morning.

Dylan Beckbessinger

App developer by day, Chaotic Neutral dungeon master by night, Dylan has been a DM for 10 years, and an avid fan of all things geekdom for far, far longer than that. Favorite class is eldritch theurge, because raw power doesn't need any limits.

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