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Hunt - Chapter Nine
~ 9 ~
18 Arodus, 4692 AR; Neathholm

Standing in front of the traitor's base, Shayliss wondered if ignoring 'herself' was such a great idea. The previous night had been hours of fun, laughter and play. They had tasted the exotic drinks the mongrelmen brewed from the biolucent fungus, which managed to give the drinks a strangely sweet taste. They danced the rather awkward and strange dances that the mongrelmen made look elegant and beautiful and they even learned a new card game the mongrelmen had created. Shayliss felt the corner of the massive box the mongrelmen handed her poking at her back through the backpack she had also been given for holding the game's collection of cards. Even Snaga came from his self-entrapment of a room and observed.

But seeing what the group would have to face to get home, she felt the sweat pouring down her face.

In front of them the base was not very impressive. Just a stone wall that had lines of wooden spikes in front of it. Barricades normally meant to keep out charging horses or other beasts during a siege. However, while they would not really kill people, they were still a good deterrent. Two mongrel guards paced back and forth in front of the simple wooden door that was the only thing other than two torches set into the stone wall. As bases go, it did not really strike a foreboding or horrible vibe. It was not the thing that made Shayliss sweat.

What made Shayliss sweat was what was behind the base. Or, more specifically, the unknown aspects of it. If Chief Sull was right, this was the last structure that stood between the group and Kenabres. They were about to find out what happened during the multiple days that they were underground. And she could see the fear on all of their faces. She was very tempted to just drop everything and run.

"What is the plan, Shayliss?" Strune asked.

Shayliss shook her head and actually studied the base. The others of the group were not going to just sit down here while their city was under attack. Both her conscience and memory of Val would hate her for just leaving them to their fate.

The guards moved back and forth in a straight line, occasionally looking into the darkness toward the tunnel. However, this must have been near the end of the shift. Both guards were very lazy in their motions and the occasional sigh. They were tired and ready to get back inside to rest. If the group was going to attack, now would be the best time.

"Anevia, Kaira and Snaga, you're on sniping duty. See if you can take them both down swiftly. The longer we keep them from ringing the alarm that they are certain to have, the better. Mordria and Strune, you are on the frontline. Keep them from pushing past to get to the archers and mage."

A sudden memory hit her. The memory of Snaga beating the dwarf mage down with the power of his eidolon backing him up. While part of her did not want to risk it, she decided to put her faith in his strength rather than his magic.

"Actually, Snaga, you are with Mordria." She turned to find the half-orc's face contort into surprise in the torchlight, "You took down that dwarf with your strength, not your magic. I need Strune and myself in the middle to rotate out if needed and to heal. So, I need you to fill the spot that Strune is not in." She hesitated, "If you think you can do it that is."

Snaga continued to stare at her with that surprised expression. Shayliss was worried that she had broken him somehow when, while holding that expression, he gave her a nod. She was not certain, but she thought that under its hood, Nephalim was smiling. It was strange to see that disconnect when they otherwise seem to be a single entity.

Shayliss nodded back and said, "Archers, get ready and fire!"

Anevia and Kaira both spun from around the tunnel's bend and opened fire. Each chose a different target and arrows sunk deep into each. Yet, both were still alive and standing. They were both about to let out a yell but just then Mordria and Snaga rushed forward. The half-orc was not as fast as the half-fiend, but they both managed to get to the guards before they were able to call out. Spiked gauntlets and claws met abyssal-altered flesh and seconds later both guards were down for the count.

"Go go!" Shayliss hissed, "Through the door before they get suspicious."

Mordria nodded and placed herself right at the door before throwing it open. Fast as lightning, she ducked to the side as a longsword thrusted through the doorway. She then twisted her body, reached a clawed hand out, and spun. The body of a mongrel guard was sent arcing through the air right for Snaga. It was obvious he had not been expecting it, but he managed to pull a fist back and slam it forward to meet the mogrelman. Bone snapped and the body crashed into the far wall.

"Force them back!" Shayliss yelled. How had they known about the attack? She thought that the front two guards went down quietly enough, but the mongrelmen still knew an attack was underway. Maybe they were just paranoid by nature. "Archers, move forward but do not fire until you have a clear line of fire!"

At that, the rest of the group moved forward to stand behind Mordria and Snaga. This was the exact situation Shayliss wanted to avoid. If they had been able to throw open the door and rush an unexpectant foe, then they would not have to worry about being bottlenecked at the door where only one of them could attack at a time. It was the same theory with fighting that undead creature days ago. In fact, it was the exact same.

"Mordria! Remember the undead!"

There was a stunned second from the half-fiend, but then she understood. With two quick motions, she gripped the mongrelman's wrists with two hands. Other blades came in to slice at her shoulders, but she took the brunt of the attack well. Muscles tensed as she then shoved the mongrelman away in a show of pure strength. That shove gave her the opportunity she needed to move into the room. Which then allowed Snaga to move in and take another mongrelman.

Where Mordria used swift motions to get in close and reposition her foes, Snaga and Nephalim used power. One massive fist came crashing down like a runaway wagon and all the mongrelman could do was scream before mass and muscle collided. Surprisingly, the mongrelman still stood and he sliced left-right-left trying to cause some kind of injury. Instead, more of that magical liquid fell from the image of Nephalim and while Snaga showed no reaction, Nephalim snarled in pain.

With a yell of anger that was very familiar to Shayliss, he raised both fists clasped together and slammed it down at the mongrelman's head. The mongrel dodged, barely, and slashed upward. Wind whistled and magic liquid fell, but Snaga only turned the downward strike into a sideways swing, spiked gauntlets shining in the torchlight. Another attempted dodge, but this one did not succeed as well. Spikes left stripes of parted flesh on the mongrelman's face and he growled. The growl died abruptly when two arrows with different fletchings pierced the mongrelman's head.

By then, the other two mongrelmen became a force of four. The door to one of the hallways going deeper into the base was thrown open and four mongrelmen stood in a line in front of it. Strune, Shayliss and Mordria all fought them while the second door out started to fling open.

"Snaga!" Shayliss yelled, "Switch!"

The red-haired woman brought her longsword up to a guard. Metal clashed with metal and with ease managed to shove the mongrel's weapon aside. With a fling of her grappling hook, the mongrelman was stunned long enough for her to spin around with Snaga. He took her place and she ran for the door which was just fully opening.

Instead of a mongrelman, a human wearing large plate armor with the symbol of Baphomet on his chest appeared in the doorway with a greatsword. He held the weapon in two meaty hands and made it clear that she was not going to be allowed to get by him if he had anything to say about it. The thought that maybe she should have just let Snaga handle him flashed through her mind, but it was too late now. She would just have to deal with it on her own.

With a flick of her wrist, the grappling hook sailed forward and crashed against the heavy armor. She had meant for it to latch on the plate so she could pull but instead it left three small dents. The man was not even staggered as he reached and grabbed the rope of the hook. A small tug from him and she was flung from her feet and toward him. Gods was he strong!

Not wanting to meet the awaiting tip of the greatsword, she twisted her body mid-air and felt the blade slash against the imbedded armor in her coat. Yet, the force and mass of the blade was enough to slam the armor into her side. Air escaped her lungs in an explosion and she was stunned enough to not realize when the greatsword came down at her head. Greatswords were not meant for such close quarters fighting and because of that the greatsword missed.

With a growl, the man let go of the rope and pulled back the arm to punch. Shayliss recovered enough to duck under the punch. The joints of one knuckle scratched at her head and a thin line of blood quickly formed from her hair. She grunted but used the momentum of her rise to swing her longsword upward. Sparks flew as it scratched against the plate and the impact shook her arm to the core. Yet, she would not stop as she flung the hook again to try and wrap it around the punching arm.

Somehow, she managed to do so. The hook latched onto its own rope and Shayliss yanked. Not expecting it, the man stumbled to one side and struggled to remain upright. She then used that moment to take a stab at a bare spot between two armor plates on his other arm. Her accuracy was nearly perfect and the blade slid between the plates to stab.

Blood flowed and the man howled. The greatsword fell from limp fingers, but he did not hesitate to swing his arm at her. Armor crashed into her head and she was flung to the side. She did not realize it when her body hit the stone floor and the man raised a foot to come stomping on her head.

Snaga saved her.

The fused half-orc barreled into the man like a runaway wagon sending both into one of the sturdy walls. His gauntlets flashed as they pulled back to swing. The guard ducked under the punches and sent one of his own into the half-orc. He stepped backward from the blow and more of that magic liquid fell from him. Now that Shayliss was sort of recovered, she could see that Nephalim was much fainter than she was before. There was not much left covering the half-orc and she felt that if Nephalim disappeared, that the man would not have as much strength as he does now.

Shayliss slowly rose to her feet to find that her worry was unnecessary. The guard was just slumping to the ground as three arrows pierced him. Two stuck out of his breastplate and one was in his shoulder. None of them were fatal, but with those plus the blood loss from the arm and some additional dents from punches, he had not had of a chance.

Snaga stood there, breathing heavily for a second, before leaning against the wall and muttering under his breath. As Shayliss watched, the outline around Snaga filled and solidified. More and more of Nephalim's features returned and while it was not completely filled, it was better than it was before.

The others were moving to the doors of the room, making sure no other mongrelmen or cultists entered. After a minute, none did, and Strune took that time to examine Shayliss.

"You really know how to take a beating, don't you?" The strix asked with a small smile.

Shayliss sighed, "I guess I learned from the best."

"At least it is not as bad as it could have been." Warmth flooded through Shayliss's body with Stune's hands as the source, "I won't be able to get you healed completely, but you should be able to last through this mission." She hesitated, "Assuming you have had enough of taking on men obviously stronger than you."

"No promises." Shayliss answered and stepped toward the door on the right from where they entered, "We need to do a full sweep of this base. Since the mongrelmen almost solely came from the other door, this must not lead out. Let's search it quickly then move on."

The rest of the group nodded and positioned themselves at the door. It had swung back, only remaining open by a small crack. Shayliss counted down from three and Mordria swung the door back out to slam against stone. No one was in the next room which was some kind of dining room or meeting room. A table stood in the center of the room with chairs lined around it. Cabinets were placed against the walls and the only other feature of the room was a hole in the ground with a rope ladder hanging down.

Shayliss motioned for the group to climb down the ladder with Mordria and Snaga first. They did so with those in the back keeping an eye out for reinforcements. It was a slow process getting everyone down the ladder, especially since it hung loose and threatened to break from its holdings with each step,

It led to a hallway similar to the entrance of the base. Walls of spiked wood lay out in front of the entrance of some kind of room. Yet, no guards stood within the hall. Shayliss blinked at that. Why were there no guards here, a perfectly reasonable defensible position? Were they afraid? Or was there something waiting for them on the other side of that door?

She motioned for everyone to move forward. When they arrived at the door, she placed an ear on it. The wooden door must have been thick, because she could not hear anything behind it. Yet, she backed up and muttered, "Open it carefully."

Mordria nodded and braced herself. She then started pushing the door slowly open. On the other side was a definite meeting room. A long table ran the center of the rectangular room with chairs spaced all along its length and heads. Sheets of paper and parchment lay scattered carelessly on top of the table and candles stood in holders at every fourth section of it.

Behind the table were four forms. Two were mongrelmen, one wielding two rapiers and one holding a bow with its string pulled and arrow nocked. A third was a tiefling with a longsword and dagger. The fourth was a human woman wearing the armor of the cultists and a glaive gripped tightly in one hand.

"So," the woman said, "you are the intruders."
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