Aegis sat quietly at the table. It was early in the morning, and she had not drank the evening before. The party had gotten back late to the Inn, and in quite a state. Currently she was nursing a cup of hot coffee, and wondering if she'd ever woken up this early before in her entire life.

Yesterday they'd set out to kill an Ogre and recover a belt.

The monster was huge, as big as Aegis remembered. She'd only ever seen Ogres once before in her life, and that had been the night that... the night that... Her body locked up. She stared in horror at the looming monstrosity, with its yellowed (jaundiced?) skin and its thick leather armor. It bellowed something in a language she didn't understand, and then Khalid and Jahiera were rushing past her, Jahiera with her staff, Khalid with sword and shield.

Aegis stood frozen. She awatched as the monster's heavy flail decended once with a masterful sweep. Khalid lifted his shield to take the blow, but it sent him flying back a good three feet. Jahiera swung her staff across the monster's midsection. It barely noticed, bringing its weapon around to backhand her out of the way. The flail connected with her shoulder, and Aegis saw blood fly in slow motion. Jahiera jerked so violently that it was a wonder her neck didn't snap. The blow sent her flying, and Khalid shouted her name.

Montaron had picked a bad time to wind up behind the ogre. It smelled him, smelled his breath, smelled the food he had just eaten. It whirled about, ignoring the arrows Imoen was firing off into its hide. It stiff armed him with its unoccupied forearm, almost at the same time it hit Jahiera. Montaron was a lot lighter than Jahiera, and when he slammed straight into a nearby rock it was clear he'd been stunned. Aegis stood, staring, as the ogre followed him, lifting its weapon.

She was going to watch him die.

She thought of her father, the blade running him through, his blood rippling through the air in slow motion. A strange part of her was fascinated. A strange part of her wanted to see this.

She heard the sounds of arcane magic, and then Xzar had slipped forward. He risked life and limb, for what purpose? It was odd. Xzar seemed selectively oblivious to fear. He reached out and grabbed at the ogre, sending his best Chill Touch through the monstrous frame. The ogre roared. Khalid leaped in to try and defend the caster. Imoen's arrows weren't getting through its hide and she'd dropped her bow. She must have been rummaging for her wand, but couldn't find it. The flail came down on Khalid's sword this time, tearing through the metal and nearly taking off the elf's head. He was battled away. Jahiera was trying to heal herself. Montaron was still down. Xzar reached out with another chill touch.

The ogre ignored the pain. He grabbed at the necromancer, seized his entire torso in one massive hand, and hoisted the frail man off the ground. A vicious grin, a grin that reminded her of Montaron but far more powerful, spread across the ogre's face. He began to squeeze.

Aegis was conscious of Xzar's not-so-ridiculous-or-girlish shrieking.

The next thing she knew, she was standing over the butchered corpse of the ogre, drenched from head to toe in blood, breathing heavily, with her left shoulder dislocated and thick lacerations up and down her left side. Her axe was squeezed tightly in one hand, and the remains of Khalid's sword were grasped in the other. Imoen was grabbing at her good arm. The ogre had been badly hamstrung on one leg, was missing the foot of the other, and had been eviscerated and cleaved belly to collarbone by a collection of axeblows. One arm was missing halfway up the forarm, the other was clearly dislocated and bruised.

"Aegis!" the violet girl was crying. "Aegis, it's dead!" Aegis stumbled slightly to the side, and Imoen clutched at her even tighter. She girl looked up at her face, and realized that her sister had just snapped back to reality. "Aegis!?"

The blonde looked around, breathing hard, numb to the pain in her body. Montaron must have been particularly close to the action- which surprised her, given his selfish disposition- because he was bloody and breathing hard. Jahiera and Khalid were together; perhaps he had shielded her while she struck with her staff. All of them were staring at her, the elves with wide eyes, the halfling with respectful distance. She turned her head in the other direction and noticed Xzar. He was seated on the ground where the ogre had dropped him, a curious expression on his face. He was clearly the only one present that she hadn't unnerved in some way. Actually, he seemed intrigued. And though he was wincing and clutching his side, he was- in Aegis's estimation- relatively unharmed.

She slowly looked back to Imoen, who searched her face in alarm. "Everyone's okay?" Aegis asked. Imoen nodded. "I'm sorry," the ranger muttered, and then promptly blacked out.

Aegis woke up to find a temporary camp had been made. She was laid out on a grassy patch some distance from the ogre, and Jahiera was kneeling by her side. She had a bowl of fruit- berries- in her hand, and had apparently been feeding them to the unconscious ranger. When Aegis first opened her eyes, the older woman leaned forward and had a good look at her, studying her pupils and feeling over her forehead. "She's awake," Jahiera announced.

A murmur of voices answered her, and to Aegis it seemed they were expressing a tone of relief. She tried to remember why that should reassure her. It took a moment. Then she recalled the ogre and tried to sit up. She only half succeeded. Every part of her body protested the motion. Her shoulder screamed in discomfort, her leg felt like it was on fire. Aegis grimaced and fell backwards again. Jahiera caught her and eased her back onto the grass. "Lie still," the druid recommended. "You are still badly injured, and must give us a moment to repair you. We exhausted most of our resources fighting the ogre.

Aegis grunted, teeth clenched, and tried to focus on how blue the sky was. Blue blue blue- ow holy fucking shit- ow-blue-ow-blue-blue-blue...

Imoen's face appeared in her field of view. "Aegis!" she cooed softly, respectful of the fact that Aegis might (and usually did) have a headache on top of her wounds. "Aegis, are you okay?"

The ranger gave another grunt, and opened her mouth when Jahiera tried to feed her the rest of the berries. They were bitter, but Aegis could tell they were helping, bit by bit. Still, it was an effort to swallow them.

"Everyone's okay," Imoen reassured her. "We thought we'd lost you for a second when you blacked out. You weren't breathing. Xzar had one potion left and he and Jahiera had to force feed it to you. You almost died! Don't do that to me again! What am I supposed to do if you die?" She waggled her arms in the air.

Aegis smiled through pain. Jahiera fed her another few berries and then gave the bowl to Khalid, who knelt down to take up the duty in her stead. Then there was some more pain as the Druid presumably began to apply more bandages, or maybe check ones that were already in place. Khalid looked just as worried. Even Montaron came over after a bit to have a look at her. When she'd eaten all of the berries, Khalid gently patted her cheek.

"H-how are you f-feeling?" he asked her.

Aegis swallowed and winced as Jahiera splinted something. "Worse than when I got mauled by a bear," the ranger muttered hoarsely. "What happened?"

Khalid and presumably Jahiera shared a look (Aegis couldn't tell for sure because Jahiera was outside her field of view- but she wagered Khalid wasn't sharing that kind of look with Xzar). "We were hoping you could tell us."

Aegis groaned, "Dun remember," she told him. "Just... mph. I remember it picking up Xzar."

"You froze," Imoen said worridly, brows furrowed together. "And then you went crazy!"

Aegis grimaced. "Crazy?"

"Like you were all, RAAAAWWWW and then you JUMPED on it and you were hacking it and wrestling and oh my GOD it was terrifying! We thought you were going to die."

Aegis tried looking around. She saw Jahiera again, and more of Montaron. But no wizard. She let her head sink back, and closed her eyes. "L'st time ah saw 'n ogre, G'rion died," she mumbled. And then, quite suddenly, she had a pretty good idea why when watching the ogre throw Khalid, Jahiera, and Montaron around had produced no effect on her paralysis... but seeing it attack Xzar, a wizard, had apparently sent her into overdrive. She took in a sharp breath that made her ribs ache, and then couldn't help but utter something between a wheeze and a sob.

Khalid gave her uninjured shoulder a tight squeeze. Imoen gently touched her hair. Montaron attributed it more to pain than grief, and let it slide.

"Where's Urso?" she mumbled.

"He bit out one of the ogre's eyes!" Imoen made a funny face that Aeigis couldn't see. "And scrambled all over the place as crazy as you! He's okay, though. And you're not. He's sitting by your feet, eating some raisins."


"We need to get her back to the Inn," Jahiera announced.

"It's gettin' mighty late," The halfling growled. "Wolves roam about after dark. Without a fire, with her leg snapped, we'll be easy pickin's. Should be makin' camp, not travelin'."

"That ogre had rolled its flail in Gibberling feces. The wounds are infected, and I no longer have the magic to cleanse them. If we wait till morning she will be fevered and delusional, and our trip back will be even slower and more dangerous. Worse, depending on the severity of the infection, she could pass from us before reaching the Inn in such a state. There isn't time to spare."

Montaron spit on the ground. "Tough. I ain't wolf bait."

Jahiera pursed her lips. "So you shall prefer to wait and play it safe this evening and permit me to extract my pound of flesh from you later should she die?"

Montaron tensed. "Watch it, elf."

"Can I have her liver if she dies?!" came an excited coo. Aegis sighed. There he was. Not in an ogre's belly, but somewhere north of her.

Khalid pursed his lips. "Absolutely Not!"

Imoen frowned at all of them, worried that Team Elf and Team Mad might decide to have a showdown right there in the forest while her sister was in dire need of healing.

"I ain't responsible for her jest chargin' in like a drunken wildebeest!"

"You may not have anyone's liver!"

"Lies! Nonsense! Why, I could have your liver right now! Want me to sssshooowww you?"

"She saved your life you ungrateful whoreson!"

Aegis took a deep, slow breath. Then, with every fiber of her body grit to bear the pain, she grasped hold of the earth with her good hand and pushed herself up into a seated position. Khalid and Jahiera both jumped to steady her, but she didn't waver. "Lie down," Jahiera commanded. Aegis ignored her. She saw that her right arm and leg were almost useless; the leg was splinted from knee to heel and the ankle was held motionless. She glanced up at Montaron, recalling her father and the deep breathing exercises he had taught her. The halfling was watching her uncertainly, wondering if she actually had it in her.

Oh did she have it in her. By will alone (okay, Imoen frantically rushed forward to help her) she stood up on her one remaining leg, and let the other drag uselessly beside it. She looked from Jahiera, who simultaneously looked impressed and annoyed, to Khalid, and then to Xzar. The wizard was seated some distance away, still favoring his side, watching her curiously. Her eyes lingered on him a moment and then moved to Montaron. "Let's go," she said specifically to him, because in this moment he needed her to show her strength, to be heavy handed. He snorted, but then nodded. "Just try to hobble along quickly, girly," he told her, "or I'll leave you to the doggies."

Aegis nodded without protest. She eased an arm around Imoen, and they headed off.

Jahiera would later explain that the wolf packs were behaving unusually these days. The marauding bandits, ogres, and monsters had agitated them, eaten their usual food sources, and in turn forced the wolves to 'eat back.' Coupled with the addition of several worgs to the local wolf populace, and suddenly the animals were bolder and more vicious than at any other time in the half elf's memory.

The party had to fend off attacks by two wolfpacks. A third, Jahiera was able to deter through druidic means and sheer desperation; a fight at that point might have killed off half of them.

The first attack was the worst. A wolf pulled Aegis's good leg out from under her, and brought her down hard on her bad one. The Friendly Arm Inn Healer would later tell her that this fall- had it been an iota worse- would have destroyed her leg. Imoen, her crutch, had been helpless to defend her for a few seconds as she pulled out her short sword. Then the girl almost dived onto her, hacking at the wolves to keep them from dragging her out into the night. Urso jumped on another wolf right as it leaped for the violet thief. He landed on its face, biting its eyes and nose. He was vicious. This was a life or death matter, and he was a warrior raccoon.

Khalid, armed with Aegis's axe, and Jahiera with her staff, were the only two combatants capable of protecting the greater party, and Khalid's shield was almost useless against such agile opponents. Xzar had exhausted his spells and still sported an injured rib. He was a larger target than Montaron, and barely managed to keep himself alive using a simple dagger. The thief was totally indifferent to the danger his party members were in. He kept close enough to Xzar to knock a wolf off should the wizard become seriously threatened. Aside from that it was clear he would make no move to help anyone else, even to stop one of them from being dragged away.

As the wolves retreated for a second strike, Imoen scrambled to get Aegis back on her feet. She had barely gotten behind the ranger, however, when Xzar suddenly shoved her out of the way. "Don't be all bubbleheaded!" he squealed in gross mockery of Imoen's voice, and then seized up her bow from where it had fallen in all the chaos and threw it to her. Imoen made to protest but hesitated when Xzar knelt down and seized Aegis under the shoulders, hauling her to her feet. She moaned as he stood her upright, and Imoen tried to move forward again. Xzar slapped at her. "Stoooooppp ittt, STOOOP ITTTTT!" he grated in a painfully nasal way.

It was hard for Imoen to admit, but he was right. Imoen needed to be on sniping duty, and Xzar had nothing to offer the party. It was better that he support Aegis. She swallowed hard and then nodded. Her wand of Magic Missile had gone missing in the fight with the ogre. It turned out that Montaron had stolen it the previous morning. Imoen had successfully repatriated it, not by calling the halfling out, but by stealing it back while Aegis was unconcious. She had it now, and she pulled it out of her bag and tossed it to the wizard. Xzar held Aegis upright with one arm, grabbed the wand, and then pulled her arm over his shoulder. "Wakey wakey," he cooed to the nearly delirious woman. Aegis dropped her head on his shoulder. In truth she needed someone on either side of her. Khalid would end up discarding his shield on the ground just to take up that position.

By the time they reached the Inn, Aegis was only partially conscious, and Khalid and Xzar were carrying her more than they were helping her walk; quite a feat given the fact that Xzar had injured ribs, and Khalid was fighting with an unfamiliar weapon. The party was beat, not a single member unscathed, and the only thing that had stood between them and death just twenty minutes past was an absolutely terrifying Jahiera whose maternal instincts and adrenaline combined were something awesome to behold. They stumbled as one unit into the temple. Aegis had been the first tended too, simply because she'd been in the worst condition.

She wasn't lucid again till morning- about four AM to be exact. She found her party bunking not in the inn, but in the temple around her. None of them were expressly in medical beds, but straw mattresses had been found for them, and all of them were sleeping hard and sporting bandages.

It was getting closer to five in the morning now. Aegis was nursing a cup of coffee; the temple priests had brought it for her when they saw she was up and awake and far from sleep. She sat at a small table, watching over her sleeping party members- raccoon included- sprawled all over the room. The stiffness was easing out of her limbs as she slowly extended and retracted her previously injured leg. She'd be good to go come morning. Well, that wasn't true. She'd be good to go after getting her armor fixed. That was going to take a day, she wagered. And to be honest, she had a pretty bad headache.

She sipped her drink, not really thinking anything at all. After a bit she wondered if she had made a bad call going after the hobgoblins and ogre all in one day. She reasoned the ogre might not have been able to take them all on if she hadn't frozen. So perhaps that fight had been her fault. But on the other hand, maybe it would have killed all of them if she hadn't flipped out.

She supposed she could neither blame nor commend herself. Her only clue that she'd done a proper job was that Montaron had been standing closest to her when she'd come to after killing the ogre, indicating that he'd held the biggest hand in helping her bring it down. And if that was the case, then she had more of his loyalty than he let on. And he was the hardest sell of the group.

Aegis reached under her shirt and clutched at a lock of silver gray hair. She wanted her father's strength and guidance. She wanted to hug him. Obviously she couldn't. She closed her eyes and took many deep breaths, trying not to sob, not to wake anyone. The act made her head hurt worse. She sat down her coffee and pinched the bridge of her nose.

Blankets ruffled. Aegis looked up. Xzar was sitting up rather stiffly. He yawned and rubbed his face, and reached out blindly for his spellbook. It wasn't where he expected to be, so he looked around with sleepy eyes. He caught sight of her and paused, staring at her with suddenly veiled eyes, as if he knew something she didn't. Aegis frowned, and could not help the creepy sensation that the man currently looking at her was only slightly Xzar- and far more sinister than crazy. The smile that spread over his lips was undeniably saccharine and cruel.


"Yeeesss, 'mistressss'?" his voice was languid, smooth, and deeper than usual. It seemed very wrong in the temple all of a sudden. "Have fuuuun with the ogre yesterdaaaay?"

"About that. Thank you for carrying me. And for feeding me your last potion, actually."

The smile dripped off his face, replaced with something of a frown. His eyes opened further, more curious than malicious. Aegis settled her elbows on her table and rubbed at her temples. Headaches. They were the bane of her existence. Only usually they were from hangovers, not from nearly dying. Through the increased pounding she heard the blankets shuffle, and then something glass was settled onto the table top in front of her. Aegis opened her eyes. Xzar pushed a vial into her field of view. It took her a moment to realize what she was looking at. Then she recognized it as a headache potion. She looked over it at him, at where he settled down on the ground on the other side of her table, pale green eyes watching her almost innocently.

After a moment, she thanked him, picked up the vial, and downed it. Relief was instantaneous and heavenly. She could only hope it hadn't involved any livers.