The Bell and the Bugbears (and the Ogre) (short story)

Three adventurers: Kin Dragonswell, a Mercenary; Soren Stormbox, a Wizard; Lyle Downhill, a Halfling rogue.

A seemingly simple quest: Find out why villagers never return from the forest and why travelers never reach the other side.

Chapter I

Our heroes arrive in the small village of Overhause, looking for shelter and sustenance. They are obviously seasoned adventurers, though everyone who saw them only noticed the Human Warrior and Wizard, seeing only at the last second, the Halfling rogue behind the other two (Lyle figured that if no one paid any mind to his existence, he was doing his job correctly). They went towards the nearest Inn, by the name of The Dancing Dragon, but were stopped before they could reach it by who looked like the Captain of the Town Guard. He asked if they were friendly adventures and, after their positive response, asked if they were up to a possibly dangerous challenge.
“I’ve been looking for something to keep me busy”, replied Kin, not unarrogantly. Soren nodded.
“If assistance is needed, let us have the honour”, he said.
Lyle said nothing, for he didn’t wish to cause an uproar of surprise, as the 10 men with swords still hadn’t noticed him.
“We accept your request! Now what are we to do?” asked Kin. “If it involves smashing heads and cutting throats (those of monsters of course), I’ll do it for cheap!”
“The problem that presents itself, Sir, is that we haven’t an idea as to what is happening”, replied the Captain. “We only know that the villagers and travelers going along the path through the forest are disappearing, as well the guards we send in to investigate. They never return!”
“This sounds serious! I say we don’t even stop to rest from our travel. What say you men (the Captain was confused at this seemingly unnecessary plural form of ‘man’)?” Soren agreed and, causing gasps and screams among the small crowd which had gathered, so did Lyle.

They made their assurances and headed through the forest, with Kin talking excitedly to the others about what might happen, and what he would do if it did. As they were walking Kin noticed a large double sided battle-axe embedded to the hilt in a rather tall tree.
“Hullo! What’s that?” Kin asked in surprise.
“It looks like a large battle-axe embedded in a rather tall tree”, answered Lyle. Soren wasn’t paying attention to any of this, as he had fallen under a light hypnosis while staring at the design on the back of Kin’s battle helmet. Kin carelessly ran towards the battle-axe to examine it, Lyle cautiously at his heel, breaking Soren’s trance.
“It seems it has been here a while, maybe months considering the amount of rust which has built up”, says Lyle, “I’m not sure it’s even worth trying to trade.”
“I don’t detect any magical presence”, Soren observed.
“It also appears a bit too big to be any weapon of man”, continues Lyle, as if Soren had never spoken.
“There are some prints over here, in the dirt!” exclaimed Kin, walking towards the sight.
“They look to be boot prints, perhaps man made, but I am no Ranger!” observed Lyle.
“We shall follow them and find what they bring us to!” Kin decided. A branch snapped. The Warrior and Wizard turned; the Rogue instinctively hid in the trees and shrubbery, rendering himself invisible to even the most cautious observer. As the two Humans watched, a bugbear, as tall as a man yet as bulky as a large bag of stones, steps from the trees at the side of the path, behind the adventurers. It spots only the two Humans and walks quickly and clumsily towards the Fighter, swinging its Morning Star naturally by its side. It just passes the spot where Lyle is concealed when Lyle jumps out as the oblivious bugbear is about to deal his blow to Kin. Lyle, bow at the ready, aims for the brutes skull, but as he fires the bugbear raises it Morning Star, intending to crush the Dirty Pinkskin’s face. The arrow pierces the pit of the bugbear’s arm, going through the artery and punching a hole into the right lung. The bugbear stops in pain and surprise, looks over to his right, and sees the sonofawhore, half-pint rogue that did him in. It fainted.

“You didn’t even give me a chance you damn kill stealer!” shouted Kin.
“I saw my opportunity and took it”, responds Lyle. “I had no intention of stealing your ‘kill’. I didn’t want you two to get injured.”
“Alas! I am so helpless a half-pint Thief had to save me from certain doom! O, the Fates must favour this poor infant Warrior!” bawled Kin facetiously. “To the gods you damned Halfling, just don’t take my kill again, I could’ve done him my self!”
“Shall we continue then?” asked Soren, a bit shaken by the ordeal.
“To the gods I say! Let’s go”, Kin grunted.

They followed the footprints for 20 feet before noticing a pillar of smoke, obviously to them all, coming from a large fire. Soon after that they came to the top of a small slop, overlooking a campsite, and a medium sized bonfire. Two more bugbears were standing around the fire, like guards off duty; their Morning Stars leaning against chairs 10 feet from them. Behind the bugbears were three man-sized tents, and one unusually large tent.
“If we can distract them, we may be able to catch them by surprise, since they are weaponless!” observes Soren.
“Nay”, replies Lyle, “they have sheathed daggers at their sides.”
“We can still take them by surprise if I cast Ghost Sounds!” whispers Soren, a little indignantly.
“Perhaps”, retorts Lyle.
“Let us try and find out”, suggests Kin. “Cast away my friend.” Soren mutters some ancient spell under his breath and points to a spot behind the group of tents, in the trees. Sounds, as if a group of people trudging noisily through the woods, issue from the area where Soren pointed. The beastly guards snap their necks to the direction of the disturbance, and quickly speak in a harsh language unknown to the adventurers. One guard leaves to investigate, stupidly leaving his Morning Star by its companion. The remaining bugbear points its gaze towards the bonfire.
“Now, while the other is distracted by the fire!” Kin beckons.
“I’ll keep watch up here. I’ll do no good in a potentially open battle”, spoke Lyle as he readied his bow and arrow.
“Indeed!” hissed Kin.
Kin slowly stepped down the slop, careful to watch his stride, with Soren following behind. As the two neared the campsite, Kin stubbed his leather booted foot on a protruding rock causing his chain mail to rattle and produce a brief but audible clinking sound. Lyle fired an arrow at the guard as it turned quickly toward the new disturbance. The arrow struck the bugbear in the center of its chest while the beast was in the final stages of a clumsy about face, sending it of balance and into the roaring bonfire. An enormous, earsplitting screech issued from the mouth of the unfortunate bugbear, causing Kin and Soren to slap their hands to their ears. The screech also alerted the second guard who was still investigating the phantom noise, and who came racing back, stumbling on rocks and felled trees, to the scene. The last guard saw Kin, already going towards the Morning Stars. Kin saw the last bugbear staring at him. They both looked at the two Morning Stars an equal distance from them; they looked at each other. The bugbear made a desperate lunge for the closest Star while Kin drew his sword meaning to swing at the bugbear mid-leap. Instead he hit the Star, cutting the head off the weapon and leaving nothing but a sharp metal stick. The blow glanced off the hand of the bugbear making it scream in pain and anger. It lunged for the stick again in success. It swung the metal with all its might, only managing a glancing blow on Kin’s helmet, dazing him. Kin took another swing at the beast and cut its side and abdomen, making the insides of the beast visible. It screamed in agony and passed out from shock, dying seconds later. Kin gave into his newly acquired vertigo and plopped to the ground in a wildly swimming world of white spots and dazed thoughts.

A loud yawn issued from the largest tent on Kin’s left. Seconds later a monster of an ogre emerged from in between the flaps of the tent, carrying with it the midsection of a large tree, looking as if it was meant to be a club. It took in the bloody scene, finally resting its eyes on Soren, not 8 feet to its right. Soren readied himself to cast magic missile as the gargantuan, standing 10 feet tall, lumbered toward him. As the monster drew within close range, Soren released his incredibly accurate spell, hitting the ogre in its face. The beast stumbled a few feet backwards, grunting in fury. Soren realized his spell didn’t do much more than make the things eyes water in irritation and proceeded to run towards Kin, who was still on the ground trying to recollect himself. The hulking beast calmly went towards the bonfire, its tree in its right hand. It pushed the tree into the fire, twirling it as if it knew exactly how fire worked…Maybe it does, Soren thought and shuddered.

The tree caught and the ogre reeled it back to its side, vaguely trying to avoid contact with the burning end. It continued its course toward the Wizard, but this time looking at Kin, the most helpless looking of the two. Kin became aware of the thing seconds before it swung, mostly due to Soren’s shouted warning (Soren was now, of course, safely away from the two near the other end of the path) and the ever growing rumble in the ground. He dodged literally in the nick of time, feeling the flames brush past the chain mailed calf of his left leg. Kin manages to turn and face the beast, which was now turning to met him. The ogre lunged and tackled him, dropping the flaming tree in the process. The beast hung over Kin like a drooling wolf, ready to dine on its new prey. Kin could hardly breath, he was trapped. Soren cast Magic Missile, sending bits of the bonfires embers at the two struggling opponents.

Ember and smoldering wood flew toward them, missing Kin, save for the few that hit his helmet, but one of the bigger pieces struck the creatures eye. The ogre screamed in agony and backed away. Kin now saw his chance. He swings his sword with all his strength, aiming at the face, but in his lingering daze, slashing through its right arm, under the armpit and through the shoulder blade. The arm along with the flaming club went down with a sickening thud as the ogre screamed in fury and agony. The screaming stopped as suddenly as it started as the beast bleed to death standing up. It lost consciousness, yet stood there for a few seconds, as if held up by struts. Kin glanced at Soren in amazed shock at what just happened, when he saw his shadow behind him grow taller. He shot his head back to the beast, and dodged its dropping body. Mostly dodged it. Kins leg was caught under the ogre’s sweaty chest and in a shot of pain Kin felt his ankle give way with a sickening crackle. He grunted in surprised agony, feeling relief wash over him all the same. Just an ankle, he thought, pretty damn lucky.

Soren and Lyle reset and reinforce the splintered ankle as best they could, seeing as neither of them were great healers, and proceeded to search the rest of the campsite. Most of it was junk, except for one particular stone chest, which was almost too heavy for the combined efforts of the slight framed
Wizard and the shin-high Halfling. They managed to heave it back towards Kin, and proceeded to study it further.
“Simple.”, says Lyle as he produces two slim metal tools. For picking locks, I suppose, Soren observes. Lyle looks at the simple chest, composing of only the body, lid, and built in lock. Metal workings are what Lyle supposed. He carefully inserts the two lock picking tools and does no more then twitch as the lock surprisingly clicks in affirmation of success. Lyle pauses, wondering if he’s better then he realized, before proceeding to heave the lid open. They all three looked inside only to see a simple golden bell. Kin picks it up and observes it.
“Not even a tongue in this thing!”, he says, irritated at the supposed drop in value.
“Can you feel that…”, Lyle asks Soren slowly, quietly.
“Indeed, I can”, says Soren in a similar manner.
“What are you two on about?”, Kin demands, quite a bit more irritated at the inferred secrecy.
“There is a strong magical aura resonating from that bell, Kin, can you not feel it? Even Lyle notices…”, replies Soren.
“Yeah…Yeah I feel it now”, says Kin truthfully.
“Kinda tingly and calming, right?”
Soren nods. “It doesn’t seem all that dangerous…Indeed, it is probably just the opposite.”
“We should head back, now. Report this to the Guard.”, suggests Lyle.
“Hold on now! There’s a bit of gold in here too!”, exclaims Kin as he looks inside the chest.
“Grab it, then, and let us get back”, Lyle demands.

The three make it back safely, yet difficultly. Kin, being the ever independent warrior he is, tried to walk the path back to the town without assistance. He made it 10 feet, surprisingly, before falling flat on his face with a yelp of pain, his ankle now even worse. So Soren helped Kin the best he could with his slender stature and Lyle carried bell behind them, holding it mouth-up. It was almost comical, Soren thought, if you imagined him in a cleric’s robe. Holy Halfling!, Soren thought, trying to keep his sudden urge to giggle contained.
As they exited the forest back into town the Captain of the Guard haled them.
“Welcome back, adventurers. Did you acquire any information of the disappearances?”
“We believe it was due to a small enemy encampment”, responded Soren. “Consisting of three bugbears and an ogre. How they managed to set up a camp is beyond me.”
“We took care of ’em! Roasted one, bashed another, that sorta thing.”, boasted Kin, looking rather foolish after saying as much with his broken ankle.
“Indeed!”, chided Lyle quietly. “Nearly took your leg off, that ogre.”
“Quiet, you!”, Kin retorted, failing to hide his embarrassment.
Dismissing this interruption quickly, the guard asks, “Any survivors? Or…Remains?”
“All we found were the monsters and this bit of treasure, Captain. No trace of anything else.”, replied Soren rather casually.
“May I see it, the treasure?”, asked the Captain, slightly suspiciously.
Lyle brings it forth and hands it to the Captain of the Guard, who takes it and examines it.
“You’re sure this is all? Nothing else?”
“Oh! Right, this bit of gold!”, Kin suddenly exclaimed, making the passing villagers flinch and scurry. He offers it to the Captain, who motions for him to keep it and hands the bell back to Lyle.
“We’re lucky to have a cleric passing through who can heal your friends’ wounds. I’ll escort him there, and you two can get yourselves a room at the tavern. Tell Morena at the desk that Jarrod sent you, and he’d like a pint later, she’ll catch your meaning and give you free room and board for the duration of your visit.”
The Captain offers his shoulder to Kin, who takes it reluctantly.
“I’ll meet ya back there. Don’t go scurrying off and leavin’ me now, or I’ll cut out your livers!”, said Kin casually. Lyle immediately realized this was a joke. Soren, however, suddenly seemed a little pale.

To Be Continued

The Bell and the Bugbears (and the Ogre) (short story)

Crimson King Mythos, and Other Stories LyleDraconis