Jack woke to the cold morning air and a hand covering her mouth.

"Stay down," hissed Brien. "Stay quiet." He slid a long dagger under her hand and slipped back around the camp.

Across the dying coals of the fire, Jen was still curled up against the tree. The longbow in his hands, an arrow lying against the bowstring attested to his wakefulness. Off to one side, Rasien's hands were wrapped around the hilt of the greatsword tucked under his shoulder. Feeling Jack's gaze, he slit open his eyes and gave her a reassuring smile. Past him the big warhorse stood unnaturally still and silent.

Jack held her breath and listened, her heart thudding in her ears. Each moment seemed to stretch into eternity before she heard it – a rustling in the brush, then a grunt. More rustling, the creak of a twig, and then a muttered voice, quickly hushed. Jen's finger's worked the arrow around and knocked it, then stilled.

What are they waiting for! She thought wildly. Then they charged with guttural roars and high-pitched shrieks. Jack had an impression of green and tusks before Rasien came to his feet, bringing the greatsword over his should and opening the first attacker's head. The ranger straightened, pulled the arrow back, and released in one smooth movement, burying an arrow to its fletchings in the throat of another. Jack scrambled to her feet, long dagger in hand, as two smaller green things came at her screaming.


Rasien turned smoothly and beheaded an orc armed with a crude spiked club. Off to one side, he could hear Mandier chanting. He couldn't see Jen or Brien, but the arrows attested that the ranger, at least, was still up. A pitted sword bit into his bicep, and another traced a line of fire down his leg. He slashed at one orc, and ended impaling it when it lunged. The paladin nearly dropped the sword as the sheer weight of the orc dragged it down.

A flash out of the corner of his eye, and an axe was coming at his head. He ducked, knowing it wasn't enough, trying to get the sword up.

A flash of blue light and the orc staggered back, smoke rising from several holes in his chest. Hietech's hooves caved in the monster's head, and he crumpled.

Rasien tugged his sword free and spun to see Jack, pale but determined, fending off a goblin with a bloody dagger, a second goblin on the ground at her feet. There was Brien, running up behind the goblin to help. One second too slow.

Unknowing of his death approaching from the rear, the goblin lunged, screaming gibberish. Jack tried to twist out of the way, but the spear caught her in the side, driving deep.

A quick glance around the campsite showed the only enemies still standing were fleeing into the forest, pursued by arrows and one annoyed warhorse.

"Rasien! Get over here, the wench is hurt!"

Hopping an orc corpse, he dropped to one knee next to Jack. Brien hauled the dead goblin off her legs, its throat slit from ear to ear. Rasien gave the wound a cursory examination, then took hold of the spear still stuck in her side. Glancing up at the mage, curiously pale, he ordered, "Hold her down. I can't push this through, so it's got to be pulled out." Setting one knee on her ribcage just above the wound, he took a firm hold off the spear, and pulled, gritting his teeth as Jack screamed.

Chucking the crude spear – thankfully intact- aside, he noticed with a detached curiosity Mandier expression. Flinched a bit at that, my friend. Huzzah, I knew you had a soft spot, no matter what you pretend. He spread his hands over the wound, murmuring a prayer to Torm, the blue glow of healing surrounding his hands.

A thunk announced Jen's presence as the ranger booted part of an orc out of his way. "Clean up would be easier if you'd leave them in one piece." He stopped at Rasien's shoulder. "How's she?" No sign of emotion, be it concern or otherwise, colored his voice.

"She's fine. Soon as she finishes coughing up the blood in her throat, at least."

The ranger looked down at him for a moment. "You save any of that for you?"

"What?" Startled, he realized his arm and thigh were bleeding. "Doesn't really hurt yet."

Rasien sat quietly and concentrated, the cold tingling of magical healing sending a shiver down his arm, watching Mandier dote on Jack until the mage realized what he was doing, and worse, someone had been looking, and scurried off to wash his hands. Edbrien was, predictably, looting the corpses.

Jack sat up, feeling her side with a disbelieving expression. She turned to stare at Rasien for a long moment. Standing on unsteady legs, she shot a beseeching look at Mandier, silently asking for an explanation. The mage stopped in his attempt to straighten his hair to give her a superior look.

"Still don't believe in magic, eh?"