Backing toward the exit of the great hall Vantil hesitated allowing the last of the forest beast’s passage before turning to follow. As he entered the doorway a wave of energy washed over him. It was an evil energy that drained the strength in his muscles and made his bones ache. The centaur fought back the urge to vomit and willed his limbs forward, shakily they obeyed and he lurched on with a host of bloodthirsty goblins at his heels. “Just get outside.” He repeated to himself over and over again. A spear glanced off his shoulder and several other blows landed on his haunches some of them getting past his armored skin and inflicting small wounds. With sweeping back-handed swings of his empowered staff he attempted to beat back his tormentors but his diminished strength kept the blows mostly ineffective. Nearly halfway through the outer cave Vantil called out to Lantana, channeling his divine power to return strength to his body and leapt ahead of the goblin hoard which was spreading out wide behind him.
Just as he left the mouth of the cave and joined his friends on the narrow trail the light of his staff and his conjured globe of illumination were snuffed out. Their shaman was powerful indeed to dispel his magic. The goblins thought to blind them in the darkness of night. Vantil smiled at the thought, the beasts he had brought from the forest needed no light and neither did he. Without hesitation, the forest invaders charged up the trail back to the small plateau they had started from. They would force the goblins to attack them from the thin ledge where they could only stand two abreast.
When they reached the plateau the old druid took up position at the center of a semicircle in front of the ledge shoulder to shoulder with the bear and the two cougars while the various predatory birds circled above. Vantil noticed that one of the wolves and nearly half of the stags had not made it out of the cave. His friends were tired and afraid yet they were bound to him and would stay and fight as long as he desired. For many heartbeats they stood there and waited yet no goblin charge came. The druid and his troupe had surely stung them hard why were they not following?
Several more minutes passed on the rocky outcropping while the wind whistled about the mountain. It took Vantil’s full attention to keep the forest creatures still and somewhat quiet as the minutes crept by. Finally the moment came, long before the druid even saw the beady eyes of the monsters coming up the trail growls rose up from the wolves behind him, low and menacing. The hackles of the cougars raised and the bear rose up high on his rear legs pawing at the air in anticipation. As the first of the goblin clan came into view Vantil began casting a spell. He allowed the magical power to build inside him yet, he held on to the final phrase, waiting for the right time to strike.
When the goblins spotted the remaining intruders on the plateau just ahead of them they began whooping and chanting as they charged along the trail. The forest friends waited, holding their line. When the goblin force closed within striking distance a volley of spears flew out to the clearing eliciting many screams of pain from the wild beasts. Within seconds the goblins were upon them and a vicious melee ensued. Talons, fangs, and claws along with hoof and staff met the wicked goblin steel and for several heartbeats neither side moved. Slowly though, Vantil and his companions gave up ground their wounds mounting.
As the goblin force reached the lip of the plateau Vantil rose both his hands high into the air and shouted the final trigger of his spell while gesturing forcefully back down to the trail. Instantly a blinding blue-white bolt of lightning lanced down out of the clear night sky crashing into the center of the goblin line. One of the monsters was reduced to a dark spot on the stone while two others were blasted off of the ledge to fall on the icy rock below. Again and again the heavens rained down Lantana’s fury leaving the goblin ranks over a dozen less than when he had started casting. The whole mountain shuddered with the power of the strikes causing even the druid’s allies to tremble in fear.
Again the monsters hesitated, terror on their faces and, as before, the brutish Bloodfist pushed up behind, prodding them forward. Vantil took the small reprieve in battle to move behind his front line and began casting healing magic upon his companions who badly needed the help. The goblins surged forward seeing a hole in the opposing line but they were met by the large black form of a bear. In frenzy the bear charged ahead. Putting his head down and accepting several deep wounds in the process it bulled ahead taking the leading monsters and shoving them back. Vantil, noticing what was going, on shouted to his long time friend to stop but it was too late. Sharp claws dug long lines in the stone and the bear roared primordially as it continued to push forward slowly crushing the life out of many of the goblin warriors. When finally the pile of bodies became too heavy to push the bear stood back and rose up tall on its rear legs. With another roar the beast began swiping at the monsters in front of it, massive paws killing several instantly and throwing more than a few off of the mountain trail screaming the whole way down to their doom.
The main goblin ranks were so decimated at this point that the Bloodfist troops along with their shaman and captain were not far from the spectacle of this large bear killing their people with such ease. Olrich was tiring of the incompetence of the lower ranked goblin warriors and decided that this battle needed to end.
“Bloodfist! Ready your crossbows!” The captain yelled. “Aim for the head of the beast, it will make a fine rug!”
Without hesitation a dozen crossbows were loaded and readied.
“Fire!” Olrich ordered.
A volley of bolts raced over the heads of the mass of goblins, nearly all of them biting hard into the face, neck and chest of the proud animal. A strange wheezing howl of pain escaped the throat of the bear as it reeled back on its heels. Blood bubbled out of its throat and mouth and it barely held on to consciousness. With renewed courage the goblin ranks howled and charged the badly wounded bear. Leaping up on the poor creature they hacked at him with axes and daggers bearing him down on his back. They slashed on like a school of frenzied piranha until the once powerful bear was reduced to a broken pile of flesh and shredded fur.
Back on the plateau Vantil watched on in helpless horror as the bear he had watched grow up from a cub was buried beneath a wave of goblins and butchered. Another spell came to him then, one that Vantil was loath to use but found necessary as he was quickly running out of spells and friends. Working as quickly as possible through the complex casting the druid scooped up a small stone off of the ground and threw it into the midst of the remaining goblin warriors. As the stone traveled the power of Vantil’s spell took hold. The stone turned fluid in flight and split into three pieces before falling to the narrow trail. Having already taken horrific losses at the hands of the powerful druid many goblin warriors scrambled to avoid the fast changing stones. When they finally came to rest among the goblin ranks the stones had fully transformed into a man shaped figures of solid rock. One of the forms stood a full eight feet tall and the other two seemed to be miniature copies of it yet, remained roughly the same size as the goblins. The newly conjured elementals wasted no time attacking their new enemy using their heavy, hammer like fists to decimate the monsters around them; the conflict ensued anew.
For nearly half an hour the battle on the ledge raged. Goblins fell by score and one by one the woodland band was killed in the bloody fray. The elementals had created chaos among the goblins but they had eventually fallen beneath the sheer number of goblins. Still Vantil’s force fought on, now desperate to survive while the goblins continued to grind against them. Out of healing magic, his elementals defeated, the distressed centaur stood and watched as the goblin troops regrouped. The mountain trail once empty now lay littered with the bodies of nearly a hundred goblins and up on the plateau only Vantil and three wolves remained, all were tired and injured. The odds were not in the druids favor as the majority of the Bloodfist troops still stood as well as the wilted shaman and not quite twenty more commoners. Still, he knew he could not concede defeat; the shame of giving up now would never leave him. So, he stood trying to catch his breath and prayed that the last spell he had would be all he would need.
Surprisingly, it was the goblin captain who marched at the head of the monsters’ line when they advanced. They marched up the trail confident that this would be the killing strike, the blow that would rid them of these unexpectedly deadly intruders. Vantil watched the line carefully as they advanced, paying particular attention to the fact that although Olrich was at the head of the line, the Bloodfist troops were at the back, with their troublesome priestess, readying their crossbows. He began scanning the surrounding mountain terrain looking for some way to use his only remaining spell to his advantage. His gaze fell upon the large outcropping above the trail and there was a moment of clarity within the old druids mind. Vantil smiled as he prepared casting, his plan crystallized and he felt Lantana’s hand guiding him.
As the centaur finished his spell the goblins broke into a charge. The now familiar sound and tremor made by goblin boots on the narrow stone trail made the druid smile all the wider. High above the trail the large rocky outcropping lost its stability. The supporting stone had been softened by Vantil’s magic and strained to hold back several tons of granite. With a sharp crack a massive section of stone broke away from the high ledge and slowly rotated away from the mountainside. Cries of alarm went up from the goblin ranks as stone crumbled above them and began to fall. Chaos ensued within the ranks, even the stoic Bloodfist troops, trained for battle from childhood, scrambled for their lives.
The mountain shook violently feeling as if the entire thing would collapse beneath them and the rumble of falling stone became deafening. Dust and snow came down so thick that the massive stone outcropping couldn’t even be seen as it tumbled down the mountain. For several minutes after the mountain stopped shaking Vantil and his remaining friends stood at the far end of the plateau tucked in tight to the vertical stone of the mountain watching for signs of life. Ever so slowly the dust began to settle and the air cleared. Elation and dismay came to the druid in equal parts as he surveyed the destruction. Shattered stones lay everywhere and a few broken bodies were spotted among the rubble but a twenty foot section of the trail was completely gone. It looked as if they had won the battle but they would have to find a different way off of the mountain.
As he was about to turn away from the chasm that was once a stone path something caught his eye. A faint glint of starlight off of something metallic, something- moving! Vantil held his breath and brought his staff to the ready. A mound of dust shifted slowly and small stones rolled away from it as a figure crawled forward. Barely five strides from the lip of the rift emerged the goblin captain. He moved slowly, obviously injured and dazed. So shocked was Vantil that any creature had survived the falling monolith that he could only look on as Olrich reclaimed his falchion and unsteadily regained his feet. Blood oozed from many wounds and dripped steadily from creases in his armor forming puddles on the dusty ground.
Noticing that Vantil was standing before him the goblin locked his gaze on the druid slowly brushed some of the dust off of his tattered cloak and adjusted his armor. Once he seemed satisfied, Olrich spat a bloody glob of phlegm on the ground and gave the druid a toothy sneer. The pair locked gazes measuring each other and readying for their next move. The wolves behind Vantil began barking and growling at the new threat as they stalked forward. Neither the druid nor the goblin captain realized the danger at that moment but they soon would.
The noise was amplified and reverberated by the mountain. Like the one last straw which tips the balance of a scale the pitch and noise of the wolves bark was just enough to topple the already disturbed and precariously perched snow drifts far up the mountain. It started slowly at first, just one small pile of slushy snow breaking free of a rocky crag. Once started though it could not be reversed, the snow slide continued picking up material and momentum as it fell. The mountain began to shake again beneath the forces of gravity and mass. When they finally realized their peril it was too late.
At last the rumbling of the mountain caught the attention of the centaur and goblin causing them to break off their visual sparring. Without looking they both knew what the noise was, they knew what was coming. Vantil turned to point and shout to his remaining friends. “Go!” He screamed, imploring them to run up the trail for their lives. The wolves obeyed immediately breaking off at full speed. When he turned back, remembering that he had left himself open to his opponent he felt a strange, cold sensation in his midsection. Looking down he found Olrich standing right in front of him with that wicked smile upon his lips and holding the hilt of the sword that was buried in the centaurs’ torso. Instinctively Vantil wanted to pull the steel from his stomach but instead he reached forward with both hands and grabbed Olrich’s sword arm holding him fast. Confusion crossed the goblins ugly face for just an instant before realization dawned on the captain. As that light came to the goblin the avalanche embraced them both sweeping them off the plateau and down the mountainside.
The wall of snow blasted the tired old druid and wrenched the blade embedded in him bringing excruciating pain. He cried out once, but not in pain, his shout was one of hard fought and bitter-sweet victory. His sensation of falling changed smoothly to that of flight as his consciousness left him. Never did his vision go dark, instead the night sky lightened dramatically to him revealing the most perfect sunrise he had ever experienced. The cold and rugged mountains fell away and he was flying fast over the foothills then the open plains, he was on his way back to the forest. The old druid no longer felt the heavy burden of his age and steward responsibilities all he knew was the soft call of Lantana which fell upon his ears like the soothing sound of water rippling over stones in a stream. She was calling him to her side, back to the forest for the last time.
When the snow settled that cold night in the mountains all was quiet, the high stony trail and the plateau where such a large and deadly battle had just taken place was swept clean by the snow and falling stones leaving little trace that the event had ever taken place. Far below, scattered all about the jagged mountain were the discarded bodies. The snow would melt this spring and the scavengers would eat well. The long and mournful howl of a wolf rose up in the peaks, it was joined by a second voice and they sang their sorrow for many long moments. When the wolf-song ended the moaning wind returned as the only sound and the stars and moon above were the only witnesses to the passing of centaur and goblin.