They had all seen the last remaining drake-rider land heavily in the reddish dirt, bounce high and then finally come to rest. It’s death was an effort in two parts – first, Storm’s strike, sending him flying from the harness; the second, simple gravity, which had dragged it down to the ground with emotionless purpose. It was an ugly death, for an ugly creature, and no one there mourned it for a second. But there was still a half-mile to go to get to the villa, and the riderless drake was still strapped with eight large bombs, designed to do gods-knew-what. And that drake was still coming.
They ran. Some swifter, some slower, some tried to somehow edge sideways toward the place, out of sight of the creatures that awaiting them. But ultimately, they were all running into the teeth of a fortified position and their one opportunity, upon which they had staked everything, was that the small terrace they spotted from the air. One small possible rent in Jaronicka’s defenses. It was thin, Ohm had acknowledged, thin as a mayfly’s ass. But the cat was out of the bag now, and it as their best and only plan.
Overhead, the riderless drake bore down on them, overflying the foremost attackers and making a beeline for the most obvious target: Fflasheart, It was his own fault, as he’d been waving Radiance around, jumping and hollering as he made his serpentine way toward the villa. But he was still a capable warrior, and was well aware of the eight gourds filled with gods-knew-what, strapped to the sides of a dragonette that would likely die ignorant that it was carrying the alchemical seeds of its own demise. It arced forward, a flying bomb that hadn’t yet realized that it was a bomb.
Then an arrow passed through one of the gourds. Amazingly, it passed clean through the gourd, leaving nearly perfect punched holes to fore and aft. A second later, clear liquid began pouring out of the arrow holes, igniting a few feet below the drake in a stream of fire that began contiguous but broke apart in the face of air resistance. It turned into an orange rain, hissing and pregnant with incendiary purpose. The flames threatened to land on Ohm and Otto, who were passing underneath, but they dodged a bit and the height dispersed most of the danger.
Farina screamed the words into the sky even as he ran, and an immense raptor materialized above her. It screeched at Farina as it circled. “The beast,” she commanded, jerking her thumb upward. The eagle screeched again and flew away, arcing upward in a steep climb.
The dwarf captain Ohm saw the cricket-thing charging toward him, it’s wings sawing against each other and making a disconcerting creeee creeee noise as it came. It’s scorpion stinger twitched from side to side as the thing scuttled towards Ohm and Otto. The dwarf whirled his long hammer around, just as the creature slung it’s stinger forward and down. As vicious as the clash was, on both sides, it swiftly became a chess match – both dwarf and demon circled each other, trading feints and attacks at distance. Otto, for his part, ran behind the creature, nipping at it’s heels and distracting it so that Ohm could deliver punishing blows to the demon’s thorax. Most concerning to Ohm, however, wasn’t the demons’s stinger, or talons, fangs – it was the supporting lesions that covered its body, oozing yellowish pus.
Another arrow pierced the gourds attached to the descending drake’s harness, and in this instance, it had a very different effect: the arrow shattered the lead gourd of four, and it exploded, slamming the drake sideways and eliciting a high screech from the creature. In succession, the remaining gourds on that side reacted to the liquid fire covering them, and exploded themselves. The sudden shock drove the drake downward, blew holes in its left wing and blasting shards of gourd deep into it’s musculature. The drake plummeted from the sky and crashed into the dusty oerth, and the impact knocked Fflasheart backward to crash heavily several meteres away.
Despite the grievous nature of its injuries – broken wing, shattered bones, a sheen of fire across it’s entire left side – it still tried to attack Fflasheart who, by this time, was scrambling backwards trying to regain his feet. The drake moved heavily forward, crackling like a broken umbrella, Fflasheart finally stood, backing away with Radiance on guard while his eyes never elft the remainign three bombs attached to the drake’s right side.
“Farina,” Fflasheart said matter-of-factly. “Please do shoot those bombs.”
“I can’t!” the elvish huntress said from replied, her eye locked onto the drake along a taut bowstring. “Wrong side!”
Fflasheart, covered in dust and with a single runnel of blood flowing from one nostril, sighted heavily and charged the drake. Radiance shone golden in the particulate air, but Fflash’s eyes never left the gourds yet tied to the drake’s harness. Fletcher and Farina withdrew, knowing what might befall Fflasheart. “The beast is yours!” yelled Farina. Fflasheart grimaced, yet strode forward. The drake sceeched again, a hoarse and ragged thing, as it slung its claws at the Iomedean, who lurched sideways from the impact.
“I thought you had it,” whispered Farina as she watched Fflasheart thrust Radiance upward, drawing a thin slash across the drake’s neck. Farina’s eyes narrowed and her bowstring tightened. Fflasheart groaned as the drake dragged a talon across his chest, tossing him backward.
“Enough,” she said, and she loosed the string. The arrow threw itself at the drake, as if guided by laser. It took the creature in the left eye, immediately silencing it’s squeals. The drake shuddered, the arrowshaft protruding horribly from its eye socket, staggered sideways, and collapsed onto its right side, crushing the remaining gourds. The exploded, driving the drake upward into the air, almost as if it had bounced, and fire splashed towards Fflasheart. The Iomedaen was thrown backward again.
“Medic,” he breathed.”
A quarter mile away from this conflagration, the charnel house sight of th hooded men, dangling from the gallows, took on an even more nightmarish turn. The leftermost hanged man, the first to be dropped and therefore the deadest, began to… twitch. Twitching feet are not uncommon among the hanged, but typically it occurs immediately after the drop, not minutes later. Even worse, the twitching feet soon became twitching arms, and the dead man’s hands soon rose to it’s throat and began trying to dislodge it’s twisted neck from the coarse rope that encircled it. Soon, it had wrenched and torn at the hemp until it gave way, and the dead man, still hooded, fell to the ground at the base of the stone wall with a sickening crunch. After a moment, it began to get to its feet… and a second hanged man began to twitch. Soon it was on the ground as well, leveraging its broken body upright and seeming to look around despite yet wearing it’s hood.
Now that the insect-demon had teleported away, Ohm’s eyes narrowed as he saw the herky-jerky hanged-man stagger forward toward him, somehow managing to pick him out as a target despite the hood still being on his head. Grimly, Ohm stepped forward, planted his feet, and swung his heavy warhammer in an upward arc, aiming for where he guessed was the creature’s chin. ‘A zombie with no teeth,’ Ohm thought, ‘… can’t bite anything.’
His hammer passed through the creature’s head, hitting nothing, and Ohm nearly wrenched his elbows when his expectation of impact turned out to be a sham. “It’s an phantom,” he said aloud. “They’re phantoms!” he yelled, even as he passed by the first and began moving toward the wall.
Next to the emptying gallows, the column of smoke lashed outward toward the advancing dwarf (now accompanied by the fast moving Otto). The column shot upward into the ruddy sky,, spinning upward like a rifled shot.
Otto leaped past two more of the hanged-men and jumped lightly up to the hidden terrace. Ohm quickly followed, clambering heavily up the broken stones. Below them, down a thin flight a step, lay a pristine courtyard with manicured grass and small decorative stones studded here and there.
Gato and Farina approached the wall, Fletcher a few feet behind them, and Gato loosed an arrows. “Don’t waste your arrows,” said Farina, watching the shaft pass through a staggering hanged-man. “They are illusions, it seems.” They reached the wall quickly, and Ohm reached down to lend a hand and lift them up to the terrace. Fletcher leaped up to the secondary battlement, and immediately regretted it: on the other side, the nimble insect demon chittered swiftly up the wall, and stung the elf with it’s scorpion-like tail.
Fletcher fell backwards, turned and leaped back onto the ground.