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    Yeoldebard
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The Troll Hunter - 7. An Old Enemy

CASSIEL

 

The day went surprisingly well, no sign of bandits on their way down the Thorn River. It wasn’t until they reached the Narlmarches, just outside the barony’s borders, that they ran into trouble. Exhausted from a day’s journey through the woods, Cassiel had to act regardless, his mind working overtime to compensate for his fatigue.

Their first warning was the screaming, followed by loud explosions and the crackle of flames. The group dismounted quickly, heading toward the screams like any good adventurers would do.

“Amiri, take point, but don’t charge in until we can read the situation,” Cassiel said as they moved through a clump of trees.

Amiri snorted, but hung back as they emerged on the battlefield.

A trio of trolls were fighting nearly ten bandits, and it was immediately obvious the trolls were winning. Scorch marks and burning bushes covered the area, an alchemist in the back hurling vials of fire at one of the trolls, but the troll stayed on its feet no matter how much fire was used, the famed regeneration not affected by the burns it received.

A group of armoured fighters held back the trolls, one of the humans flying back from a sudden blow. She hit a tree with a sickening crunch and remained motionless, Cassiel wincing at the fatal strike.

“Amiri, Valerie, hold the trolls as long as you can,” he said as Tristian started chanting a blessing.

Linzi plucked a tune on her lute, pulling out a crossbow as the instrument floated in the air repeating the tune over and over. Amiri and Valerie charged in as Theofrid sent a bolt of ice at the trolls, the bolt bouncing between two of the thick skinned creatures.

“Theofrid, target that alchemist, he’s panicking,” Cassiel said, conjuring a bead of acid on the tip of his arrow.

He sent the missile at the human, catching the man’s hand and causing him to drop a vial of fire meant to erupt in the middle of both trolls and fighters. Turning, the half elf aimed briefly, releasing a second arrow at a troll. It pierced the troll’s throat, but the beast remained standing, taking a swipe at Amiri. The barbarian took the blow to her chest, screaming in rage as her blade bounced off the troll’s skin.

“Uvelucal!”

Another bead of acid dripped over Cassiel’s next missile, the magus sending it to the fire immune troll. The beast bellowed in rage as he was struck, Amiri’s blade finally bringing him down for good.

The other two trolls paused in shock, then pressed their attack, Cassiel launching another assault. As long as his arrows held acid, the trolls would drop. He was thankful that a simple cantrip could be enough to finish the beasts off, but after seeing their fire resistance himself, the baron was worried. It was hard enough to fight trolls normally. To fight trolls that required acid to kill… that was just making things unnecessarily complicated.

The fighters ganged up on the remaining trolls, Cassiel making sure to hit them with acid while keeping most of his attention on the bandits. The alchemist dropped first, and then the cleric that was sending healing energies toward the other bandits. A troll dropped from Cassiel’s next arrow, acid dissolving its flesh and bones as the last troll snapped a fighter’s body in half. Valerie stabbed the other fighter in the back, before raising her shield to block an attack that allowed Amiri to hack through the troll’s arm, and Cassiel sent one last missile into the troll’s eye, his acid cutting off its regeneration as a bolt from Linzi finished it off.

“Is… Is everyone okay?” Tristan called uncertainly, a blast of warm healing energy striking them all as he murmured a prayer.

“Mere scratches,” Amiri brushed off, spitting on the fallen trolls.

Cassiel and Theofrid knelt beside the fire resistant troll, the two mages frowning as they poked at the corpse. The rest of the party began the process of setting up camp nearby, Linzi taking the opportunity to loot the dead.

“I’m not seeing anything unusual about it,” Theofrid said. “Its skin is normal for a troll.”

“There’s a type of abjuration magic in effect, like an energy spell, but different,” Cassiel added, leaning over the gnome as he scanned the troll. “Like… it’s clearly magic, it’s clearly abjuration, but… it’s not fading like a normal spell would upon death. And it’s only on this one troll. Was he enchanted?”

“That’s impossible, I’ve looked at enchantments and they can’t affect living creatures like this,” Theofrid denied. “Maybe a potion of fire resistance? If it was made by someone who knew how to squeeze the last drop of magic from the components, it could last for over three hours. It would make sense for only one of them to have the resistance too; such a potion would be outrageously expensive.”

“So who’s out here making potions for trolls? And why?” Cassiel frowned. “It’s a lot of money and work just to destabilize a new barony.”

“Maybe it’s not about the barony?” Theofrid suggested. “We are in the Narlmarches, outside the barony borders.”

“But what else would it be? Unless the trolls were trying to protect something, but I don’t really think they have an actual society to protect.”

“That… depends,” Theofrid frowned, stepping around the troll.

The gnome used a branch to poke at the troll’s loincloth, gagging as a large green cock fell out of the fabric. Cassiel shuddered and looked away as Theofrid repeated his inspection on the other trolls.

“A breeding trio,” the gnome pointed out. “These two are female. They could be guarding young, but with the male still present, that is… unlikely. With all three present, there would be a need for a lot of food, so they could have been on the hunt. But it still doesn’t answer who provided the potion.”

“You… know a lot about them,” Cassiel frowned.

“I studied them up north, toward the lands of the Linnorm kings,” Theofrid shrugged. “I like to be well informed. A stupid gnome is a dead gnome, especially in these lands.”

“That’s a good point,” Cassiel shrugged.

The gnome seemed to realise who he was talking to, Theofrid withdrawing into himself. Cassiel set a hand on his shoulder, trying to give him a reassuring smile. He thought he did pretty well, despite the giant troll cock that kept flashing through his mind. That was an image he was not going to forget anytime soon.

“Why don’t we get started on dinner? I don’t want a fire tonight. If there are any more trolls out there, they’ll be drawn to the smell of cooking,” he added, looking around at the rest of the party. “Linzi, do the thing.”

“Done!” the bard grinned, pointing toward blinds that were hiding the camp from sight. “Though perhaps we could have camped further away from the bodies?”

“Don’t worry about the bodies,” Valerie said. “If they have been thoroughly examined, Amiri and I will drag them away.”

“I believe we are finished,” Cassiel nodded, fishing out a bag of rations to mix with berries.

“Try throwing the blackberries with the venison, my lord,” Theofrid suggested, already working on a wooden plate himself.

“Theofrid, I said no titles,” Cassiel said sternly, the gnome flinching.

“Forgive me my-”

“Cassiel. My name is Cassiel,” the half elf said in exasperation. “Theofrid, what do I have to do to get you to stop acting like I’m going to have you beheaded? It’s getting ridiculous. Do you really think so little of me that you expect me to hold little things against you?”

The gnome lowered his head, staring at the plate full of berries and meat.

“I am sorry… Cassiel. I will strive to do better,” he said quietly.

“Please. We’re all friends here, we have fought side by side. There is no reason for any of you to think you cannot come to me. About anything,” Cassiel added, looking at the group. “If I can’t help the people working beside me, how can I expect to help the people that need me?”

“You are my chief. You provide already,” Amiri said, sharpening her sword. “Killing trolls, now that was a good fight. More of that would be good.”

Cassiel nodded, hiding an inward cringe.

“I have the feeling there will be more of that to come,” he said neutrally.

“So long as you continue to help the people around you, I am content,” Tristian added. “While I am… less than enthused about the killing that lays ahead of us, I would follow you to any end.”

“How could I not help the hero of our story?” Linzi said. “A dead hero is a tragedy, and those aren’t as fun to read for a lot of people.”

“I hope that our journey does not end in death,” Cassiel sighed quietly.

“Oh, no fear. If you do fall in battle, I will tell everyone of your heroic demise,” Linzi beamed, holding up a ring on her finger. “Shelyn won’t have it any other way.”

“Thanks. That is… very comforting,” Cassiel frowned. “But doesn’t that count as plot armour, if Shelyn is keeping you alive through teleportation when you near death? If you fall, you are rescued by your god so you can record your near death. If I die, that’s it, end of the story. It feels like the wrong character is wearing the plot armour here.”

“Well, not the end. I’m sure I could write all about your legacy. You are getting rather famous, if you haven’t noticed,” Linzi smirked. “But I agree, it would be rather sad in the end. So we’ll work on keeping you alive, all of us.”

“And to do that, we all need our rest. We’ve been walking a long time,” Cassiel sighed. “Eat up. Amiri, Valerie, you split watches tonight.”

 

THEOFRID

 

Another day’s march brought them mere miles away from Ismenia, walking along the Skunk River in search of a ford. It wasn’t hard to find a shallow spot, but the sight that greeted them caused a major pause, Theofrid’s brow furrowing.

A veritable horde of kobolds were fighting a trio of gnomes, the group boldly fighting as they struggled for life. A purple kobold stood on a cliff, barking orders in Draconic, but he paused when he saw the newcomers.

Nearly the entire group stared in horror at the kobold, Theofrid missing the significance of the moment. The way they acted, they knew this kobold, but staring at him was not going to save the gnomes fighting through the ford. The arcanist called up a spark of flames, sending them at the horde, where they bounced from kobold to kobold, frying them one by one.

It was enough to tear Cassiel from his stupor, the half elf instantly calling out commands. Amiri charged forward, her bastard sword obliterating an archer before she spun to face several kobolds now at her back. Valerie struggled with armour and shield, moving forward rapidly, but not rapidly enough. Rocks rose in the air, crushing down on the horde as Cassiel added his own magic to the battle. A song rang out, Linzi moving into a better sniping position as Tristian called down Sarenrae’s blessing, and the battle was on.

“That fucking ‘King Tartuk’ was talking our ears off while these kobolds tried stealing our cart,” one of the gnomes scowled, a vial of fire sending death to a group of kobolds. “What do you say to a bit of regicide?”

“I say well met,” Cassiel smirked. “We’ve killed him once, and we’re happy to do it again.”

There was the sound of muffled chanting and the purple kobold vanished, a fresh contingent of draconian creatures charging down a slope into the water. Theofrid turned to face the newcomers, fire dancing in his hand as he studied this new group for choice targets.

There, in the back with the crossbow. His scales were marked with trophies, a line for every life taken. Theofrid aimed a finger, nodding to Cassiel as the halfelf set acid to an arrow.

“Jedark nil'gnos.”

Their missiles flew together, two orbs of force weaving around an acidic arrow to guide it into the kobold’s chest. He erupted like an overripe berry, blood spraying over the other archers around him and sending them into a stunned silence.

That stupor was all it took for Amiri and Valerie to close with the creatures, their swords singing with the gnomes’ arrows and bombs, making mincemeat of the kobold army.

“My cart! It’s sinking!” the gnome yelped as the last kobold fell.

The gnomes raced for the wagon in the water, Theofrid frowning as the group followed.

“Don’t just stand there! Help!” the gnome leader snapped.

Amiri and Valerie grabbed the wagon, the enraged barbarian pulling with all her strength as the cart began moving.

“Yes yes ye- NO!”

The rapids of the Skunk River, deciding they had toyed with the cart long enough, suddenly poured all their fury upon the cart, tipping it back into the water, where it landed on its side, quickly being swept away.

“Oh thank you so much for your valuable help,” the gnome snapped. “Jubilost Narthropple, servant to none. It would have been so nice if you had managed to actually save my cart, but I suppose the baron of the lands wouldn’t have the wits to help himself. That’s why he has all his lackeys sitting around to work for him. At least some of my servants are still alive, but I would have expected someone to at least greet us properly when we entered your land. And do you even know how expensive it is to train a proper servant? Besides, your roads are in horrible condition. I mean really, have none of you even thought of setting up proper transportation? Clearly not, travellers have to seek out fords to cross rivers, fords where kobolds lay in wait to steal what they have no right to! What are these lands even called? Oh never mind, when I write about them, I shall label them the end of all roads, here be kobolds.”

Finally he seemed to run out of steam, his rage momentarily spent in a rapid staccato of complaints. Theofrid could hardly fault him, they were currently dripping wet and nursing wounds from a kobold ambush.

“You think too highly of yourself, ser gnome,” Valerie scowled.

“No, he is correct, these are errors that should have been corrected, and would have been if we had the means,” Cassiel frowned. “But how in Shelyn’s name did you know I was the baron?”

“Oh it must have been the lordly bearing! Certainly it had nothing to do with the Aldori praising your name from Restov throughout Brevoy,” Jubilost said, his eyes rolling. “Besides, I already visited your capital, but when no one greeted me, I figured I was unwelcome and decided to take my business elsewhere. Officials tend to want to be on my good side, but I suppose you don’t care about that sort of thing.”

“I had no idea you were there,” Cassiel frowned. “Theofrid, remind me to discuss Keston’s screening when we return to Ismenia.”

“Of course… Cassiel…”

It felt wrong, not using a title, but Theofrid tried not to think about it. He knew Jubilost; he had a copy of one of the gnome’s cookbooks in his pack. While it served him well, Theofrid couldn’t say he had ever wanted to meet the writer. Jubilost’s words, even in writing, were dripping with sarcasm and biting wit, a sense of heightened importance making the intros to the recipes unbearable to read, and even making the recipes themselves exceedingly tedious to work through.

“I’m sorry, but I have no idea who you are,” Cassiel frowned, Theofrid flinching as the words left the half elf’s lips.

“That was either a stupid and horribly offensive joke, or the epitome of ignorance, and I do hope it is the latter,” Jubilost scowled. “I’m renown from Andoran to Brevoy as an alchemist, explorer, and journalist. My atlases are studied in every major university and my words bring wisdom to all who read them.”

“Blessed Shelyn! You’re that Jubilost?!” Linzi exclaimed. “Author of the Fourteen Eulogies of Pitax, tried by King Irovetti in absentia and sentenced to death? Everyone in the Royal Academy read your books, especially after your death sentence!”

“Well at least someone in this barony has a rudimentary education, even if it is from Pitax,” Jubilost scoffed.

“I was expelled for irreverence,” Linzi laughed.

“Huh, there might be hope for you yet.”

“How did you lose your cart?” Theofrid frowned.

“Oh, well we had just settled down for the night when that purple bastard showed up, proclaiming himself king of the kobolds. He had the gall to demand our clothes, claiming he needed them to dress his subjects now that they had established a kingdom of their own. As if I’d let a kobold be caught dead wearing my clothes! Naturally I protested, rather eloquently I might add, suggesting he could go throw himself in the nearest sinkhole. He didn’t take too kindly to that, and the fighting started. Our ponies decided it was the perfect time to drag the wagon into the water, such smart beasts. They’re probably drowned by now, and I have no way to find this dwarven outpost I need to complete my map of the Stolen Lands for my readers.”

“Dwarven outpost? Where is that?” Cassiel frowned.

“A baron who doesn’t even know his lands! Imagine that! I suppose you have yet to pay for your subjects to map the area. Allow me to enlighten you. Your lands lie along an old dwarven trade route to the Five Finger Mountains far to the north-”

“Yes, I am aware-”

“DO NOT INTERRUPT!” the gnome nearly screamed. “The dwarves created outposts to protect their interests, and I have mapped out regular intervals between them but I have yet to find the one around here. It seems to be missing.”

Cassiel ground his teeth, taking a deep breath before posing his next question.

“Are these outposts abandoned? Could they possibly be a lair for trolls at this point?”

“I don’t see why not. Dwarves like to be underground, trolls like to be underground, after the dwarves left their cozy abodes, it wouldn’t be unreasonable for them to become home to… less attractive creatures…”

“Then perhaps we should pool our resources and search together,” Cassiel suggested.

“As… tempting… as your offer is, I’ll have to pass. I still have to count my losses and figure out where to go from here, as someone was incapable of saving my wagon,” Jubilost scoffed.

“Well… if I find the outpost, I suppose I’ll let you know. Assuming I can find you in my capital,” Cassiel shrugged.

“Oh no, I’m going to be far too busy trying to salvage materials from my wagon. You know, the wagon that you were supposed to save?”

The gnome growled in frustration, wandering off to yell at his underlings as Cassiel gave Theofrid a bemused look.

“No, not all gnomes,” the arcanist sighed. “Shall we find a place to set up camp?”

Copyright © 2021 Yeoldebard; All Rights Reserved.

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Chapter Comments

Off with the self-important, delusional A-hole's head I say!!!

“A baron who doesn’t even know his lands! Imagine that! I suppose you have yet to pay for your subjects to map the area. Allow me to enlighten you. Your lands lie along an old dwarven trade route to the Five Finger Mountains far to the north-”

“Yes, I am aware-”

“DO NOT INTERRUPT!” the gnome nearly screamed. “The dwarves created outposts to protect their interests, and I have mapped out regular intervals between them but I have yet to find the one around here. It seems to be missing.”

Cassiel ground his teeth, taking a deep breath before posing his next question.

  • Haha 1
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1 hour ago, drsawzall said:

Off with the self-important, delusional A-hole's head I say!!!

“A baron who doesn’t even know his lands! Imagine that! I suppose you have yet to pay for your subjects to map the area. Allow me to enlighten you. Your lands lie along an old dwarven trade route to the Five Finger Mountains far to the north-”

“Yes, I am aware-”

“DO NOT INTERRUPT!” the gnome nearly screamed. “The dwarves created outposts to protect their interests, and I have mapped out regular intervals between them but I have yet to find the one around here. It seems to be missing.”

Cassiel ground his teeth, taking a deep breath before posing his next question.

I'm not going to lie, Jubilost is one of my favourite voiced characters in the game. Abe Goldfarb did an amazing job with him.

  • Haha 1
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