YEAR: AG 1172, The Month of Sepu
Three Years Prior to Current Day
THE BUGBEAR, WITH ITS BULLDOG-LIKE HEAD, standing over seven feet tall, its arms and legs bulging, thick as logs, and armed with a huge spiked club, was intimidating as all hell. It looked more like a bear than a bug, thought Anthall Mixnor to himself. The bugbear began slowly sidestepping as if to encircle Anthall, looking for an opening to strike with its large club, dripping with blood, held high and ready to strike, waggling the end of the club behind its head, as if drawing imaginary circles in the air. Not seeing an opening develop, it bellowed a challenging and deafening roar as it towered above Anthall. But this was not a solitary conflict, the two combatants were in the midst of a great battle, and as the battle raged around them, one of Anthall's men appeared out of the surrounding fray and charged the bugbear. The bugbear saw the new threat out of the corner of its eye and, spinning, swung its club with deadly effect. The man didn't have a chance as the spike first punctured completely through and then, as the bugbear followed through, ripped out of the man's side, leaving a large, gaping gash. The stricken warrior was spun around and thrown back off his feet, landing in a groaning heap. But the bugbear had little time to celebrate its victory, and before it knew what had happened, Anthall closed the gap to the beast and with practiced fluidity first swung Slice, his bastard sword, in a downward motion, severing the bugbear's leg just above the knee, and then, continuing the swing, he spun on his heel and struck Slice deep into the beast's right arm. The bugbear howled as it toppled to the ground, writhing for the final moment of its life next to its last, and now motionless, victim.
The battle had been raging for some time now, and both sides were beginning to tire, but from what Anthall could see, the battle was not going well. Spying a large boulder twenty yards away, he gathered a dozen men and ordered them to follow him. Anthall moved quickly but limped slightly on his right leg as he made his way to the boulder. On arriving, Anthall rested for a moment by propping himself up against the large rock. He was wearing his full battle armor, which over time had become a dull and darkened shade of gray with each dent, scratch, stain, and imperfection belying a past conflict, and though it offered him excellent protection, it was also extremely heavy.
As the soldiers formed up around him, a soldier stepped forward and asked, "Sir, are you okay? Is your leg hurt?"
Anthall turned to face the soldier, and the young man backed up a step at the sight of his commander, whom he had never seen before in his battle armor. The helmet Anthall was wearing only covered the top half of his face, leaving his mouth and square, whiskered, jaw visible. The helm covering the rest of his head and face gave the deathly appearance of a skull and, as an added measure of dread, it also bore an enchantment that made the wearer’s eyes glow red from within its eye sockets. Anthall knew it struck fear into weaker men, an effect that he often used to his advantage. Leaning Slice against the boulder, Anthall reached up and removed his helmet and tucked it into the crook of his arm, revealing his brown hair and green eyes. Looking human once again, Anthall replied, "I am fine, soldier, my limp is from a battle long before this one. Today we have far greater things to worry about than my limp. You three," he said, pointing to a group of three soldiers, "help lift me up onto this damn boulder, I want to get a better look at what is going on."
The three soldiers jumped into action, and after Anthall set his helmet down on the ground, they heaved their commander up onto the boulder. Anthall climbed to his feet and surveyed the battlefield. He could see General Krugar two hundred yards back behind the main battle. 'The fool,' he thought to himself; the general had led them right into a trap, where they were surrounded on three sides by the hordes of this bugbear army. The men were fighting bravely, and thankfully had enough discipline not to run, which would have made the battle a route, but Anthall had seen many battles, and this one was well on its way to being lost. From his new vantage point, he could see the corpses of the mages that marshal Krugar had placed so much faith in -- they were the first casualties in the battle -- being killed by a pack of hellhounds that seemed to come out of nowhere when the battle began. 'That was a clever move... Too clever for a bugbear,' he thought to himself. "Where are you?" Anthall whispered into the wind, looking for the man or beast that was holding this wild band of bugbears together. Anthall waited patiently, scanning the battlefield for signs of...something. The field was relatively flat, though there were several rock outcroppings, like the one he was now standing on, with the grass that had covered the field just a few hours ago having been trampled out of existence by the thousands of feet. The flat trampled ground was littered with what looked like logs from a distance -- some stacked on top of each other, while others lay off on their own, alone -- but they weren't logs, and Anthall knew the wake of sorrow that each fallen man left behind. Anthall chided himself for letting his thoughts drift and refocused his mind on his search for the leader of the bugbears. "Where are you, you son of a bitch," Anthall whispered again, using his hand to shield his eyes from the sun, which was getting perilously low in the sky, and then he saw it. A huge ogre blinked into view, surrounded by a pocket of bugbears. It wasn't obvious before, but now, with the ogre appearing, he could see the protective ring of bugbears around it. The ogre was wielding a gigantic longbow, shooting huge javelin-like arrows. Each time the ogre unleashed an arrow, it broke the invisibility spell and became visible for just a moment, and then it would vanish again. An ogre with the power of invisibility could mean only one thing. "Ogre mage..." Anthall groaned to himself. During his travels, he had been in enough taverns to hear folks bragging about this or that, and so he had heard of them, but the blunt fact was that most people did not survive an encounter with an ogre, much less an ogre mage, so there were only a handful of people who would even know how to fight one. Looking down at the soldiers gathering around his boulder, he knew none of them had fought one, so he was going to have to go into this combat somewhat ignorant of his opponent; an opponent, unfortunately, that was fearsome enough to inspire myths.
Turning back to address his handful of soldiers, Anthall was surprised to see that many more soldiers were gathering around his boulder. Calculating that there were perhaps fifty men, his spirits rose a bit, as that would give their mission an added chance for success. Anthall, looking at the sergeant standing six feet below him, commanded, "Sergeant, hand me my helmet and sword."
The sergeant nodded, replying, "Yes, sir," as he first grabbed the helmet and handed it up to Anthall. Next, he fixed his eyes on the sword, reaching out to pick up the enormous weapon. Most men used two hands to wield such a heavy blade, but the sergeant's hand jerked up into the air with unexpected ease, his eyes widening in surprise to find that the sword was almost weightless.
"You...are...not...worthy," hissed a venomous, snake-like, voice that seemed so close it could have been a whisper in his ear. The startled sergeant, now holding the sword, whipped his head around, looking for the source of the voice, but saw no one close enough to have made the comment. The hair on the back of his neck stood on end, as he quickly handed the sword up to Anthall, who immediately took it.
Anthall could see the perplexed and anxious look on the sergeant's face. "Not what you were expecting, soldier?", Anthall asked with a mischievous tone.
The Sergeant shook his head, "N-No, sir. I ain't never held a sword like that one before. It be darn near light as the air."
Anthall studied the soldier's face and could see that Slice had shaken the man's will, wondering what sordid message the blade had delivered. Time was short, so Anthall gave the soldier a quick wink before putting his helmet back on and standing back up as tall as he could make himself, he addressed the assembled soldiers. "Men, we are facing defeat here today, and we will likely lose this battle." Anthall paused to let the statement settle in, and he could see it had an impact as the soldiers fidgeted nervously. "But," continued Anthall, "we have not lost it yet. The truth is, as much as you do not want to be here, right now, those damn bugbears," he pointed out into the battlefield, "want to be here less! But they are here because of one reason: they fear their master, and I have seen who that is." Pointing in the ogre mage's direction, Anthall continued, "There is an ogre, two hundred yards to our east. We have no way to win this battle other than killing that ogre, which will cause the remaining bugbears to scatter." Or so he hoped, Anthall thought to himself. "Who will go into the teeth of the enemy with me and bring this battle to an end...and a victory!" he shouted with all his might, his eyes glowing ferociously red behind his helmet. The soldiers cheered in unison, raising their swords high in salute.
It was difficult in his heavy battle armor, but Anthall managed to leap down from the boulder, landing on the hard ground with a loud thud and sinking to one knee to absorb the impact. Rising back up to his feet, he motioned with his sword to move forward, and the company of soldiers that had rallied around him charged into the bugbear lines like a human wedge, using their leverage to open a narrow path for Anthall to make his way to the ogre. The fighting was fierce and fanatical, with both bugbears and humans falling in the melee. Soon after penetrating the front line, the group of soldiers found themselves surrounded, but they fought on, forcing their way deeper into the bugbear ranks until at last they could see the protective pocket around the ogre.
Anthall reached the last layer of bugbears guarding the ogre with about twenty of his men still left standing, and as they neared the pocket, Anthall heard a deep growly laugh from behind the bugbears, which he knew would be the ogre, but due to its invisibility, it was nowhere to be seen. As he continued to fight his way closer, the ogre blinked back into sight, just fifteen feet in front of him with its huge arm outstretched in his direction. The ogre was bigger than he had thought it would be, the distance from which he had viewed the ogre, back on the boulder, having deceived his judgment. It towered over twelve feet tall, and while its arms and legs were not as thick as the bugbears, they were ripped with sinewy muscles that denoted a better mix of agility and strength. Its skin, light green, had a mottled look and bore a myriad of arcane tattoos. The ogre wore a fine suit of leather armor that was covered with intricate runes and carried a bow, now slung over its shoulder, freeing up its hands. Its two large, intelligent eyes, one being milky white, focused in on Anthall and his small band of remaining men.
"Ah, well met, little clever ones. You got close to Krykl," growled the ogre mage, tapping his chest gently with two of his huge fingers, "but that is as far as you fucking little maggots will get!" And then, with a savage grin, the ogre drew upon the depths of his arcane knowledge and, with no more effort than a simple extension of his index finger in Anthall's direction, uttered the vocal trigger. "Invoco un cono di morte gelata." The hurricane blast of cold air summoned by the ogre mage was nothing like Anthall had ever experienced; it was as if he had jumped into an icy lake from one hundred feet; first the crushing blow, the force of it knocking him backwards and the air out of his lungs, followed in the next instant by the hurricane sensation of extreme cold, like being stabbed by a thousand knives of ice that mingled with the sound of shattering ice echoing in his mind, and then finally, with his senses being overwhelmed...nothing.