The air outside of the inn was hot and thick with acrid smoke. My eyes started to tear up immediately. Max let out a low, unhappy growl and laid his ears back down on his head.
Some of the villagers had formed a bucket line from the well to the blaze destroying a set of houses. Beyond them, several villagers, armed with whatever they had grabbed on the way out of their homes, tried desperately to fend off a group of bandits. Lluc and Kaius must have noticed them too. We all moved to join the melee.
Three of the armed villagers were down before we could reach them. One of the women in the group managed to land a blow with a frying pan directly into the side of a bandit’s head. He slumped to the ground as she turned and used the pan to parry a swing from a short sword. The bandit raised his sword for an overhand attack. Lluc crashed into the bandit’s side in a headlong rush before he had a chance to finish the swing. Kaius slammed his morning star into the bandit as he tried to rise up.
Max and I charged past to the nearest group of unmaimed bandits. The fear in their eyes when they saw Max was very, very satisfying. Any seasoned traveller knows the danger of wolves. They don’t usually attack people unless they are too hard pressed to find other meals, but even a villager has heard tales of desperate wolves attacking people on the road.
I saw the familiar blue glow of magic surrounding Greg’s hands out of the corner of my eye. To my right, a few bandits dropped awkwardly to the ground, fast asleep. Lluc joined Max and me with the last few bandits. A vicious upward slice from Lluc’s longsword nearly separated one man’s arm from his torso. We all turned to see a green flare streaming up toward the clouds, its bright light cutting through the smoke from the fire.
The rest of the bandits turned and ran.
“Grab one!” shouted Lluc. He reached out and caught a tunic, but the fabric tore and the man got away from him.
I sicced Max on another, but the wolf was a little too eager and finished off the already weak foe with a leaping tackle from behind.
We chased them out to the eastern limits of the village. Dozens—maybe even scores—of bandits were waiting there. Archers manned the hill further up the road. Bows, quivers, and arrows clinked together as the men drew and notched, ready to loose.
At the base of the hill, a tall, built man with a completely shaved head held a dagger to the throat of a very large, very round, and very well-dressed man with a ruddy complexion.
“That’s enough,” the bald man said. “We’re making our exit here, no need for any further bloodshed tonight.” He waved the dagger in his hand for emphasis before replacing to his hostage’s throat.
“Help me!” the large man begged. Tears started to roll down his cheeks and he let out a sob.
Barry bolted in between two houses and disappeared.
The bald man chuckled. “Smart man. He knows when he’s beat.”
Kaius sighed. “He’s probably run off to join them.”
I didn’t want to believe that, but it was hard to ignore the obvious. We were facing down an army of bandits. Maybe Barry thought he stood a better chance at getting rich with them than adventuring.
Lluc took a step forward and a few arrows sunk into the ground ahead of him. He eyed the arrows warily.
“Let him go,” I said. “What does that man matter to you, anyway?”
“Ransom,” the bald man answered. “He kept blathering on about how powerful his family’s house was. I hope, for his sake, they’re willing to part with some gold.” He gave us a broad, slimy smile.
A bandit came out of a house further down the road holding Barry up by his collar. “I found him whipping a sling around,” the newcomer said. “Tried to sneak up on us.”
The bald man tsked. “What a shame, looks like we have another hostage you’ll have to pay us for. A big, fat lord and a tiny little assassin.” I was just glad to know Barry hadn’t abandoned us.
“I’m not an assassin,” Barry spat. “Brute force is uncivilized.”
I saw Lluc and Kaius gave each other a solemn look before they started walking toward the bald man and his hostages.
“Loose!” the bald man shouted. The twang of a multitude of released bowstrings filled the air. I grabbed Max and put myself in front of him, shield up. Arrows thudded into the ground all around us.
Greg had taken shelter in an alley. I lowered my shield and saw Kaius standing defiantly in a field of arrows, fletching reaching up to the sky like flower pedals. Lluc was down on the ground next to him.
“Not one step further,” the bald man commanded. He took a half step back. His confidence was dwindling.
Kaius continued toward him, and another volley of arrows flew his way. This time, one arrow managed to find its mark—one out of what seemed like hundreds—and sunk into his armor’s shoulder joint. Kaius casually snapped the shaft and tossed the debris at the bald man’s feet.
The bald man was awestruck, as was his friend holding Barry—at that point everyone there was in total disbelief. Barry took the opportunity to kick his captor in the knee, then slammed the back of his head into the bandit’s chin when he doubled over. The man lost his grip on the halfling. Barry rolled away from him, ripped his dagger free, and sunk it into the bald man’s foot.
The bald man cursed and dropped his knife. The rotund villager didn’t waste any more time blubbering, running straight for Kaius. The bandits and their hairless leader were done taking ineffective shots at Kaius. The bald man half-limped and half-ran away, and took his lackeys with him.
Kaius and I turned our attention to Lluc. He was still breathing, but he was barely conscious. Even after both of our attempts to heal him, it was pretty obvious that he would need some time to recover. But he was alive.