Chapter Sixteen: Utir’s Bears
Utir watched carefully as Roland first scaled and then disappeared beyond the lip of the wall. Now came the waiting. If they got the timing right then in a minute… his train of thought was broken when Roland flashed the signal early. Quickly, he had his team catch the corpse Roland tossed down. His heart raced even as his ears listened for any sounds that suggested they had been caught.
Seconds stretched to minutes and still nothing. No cries of alarm or rushing footsteps. They were safe for now.
“That was lucky!” his son whispered. He nodded nervously in response.
Roland must have run into the scaffolding worker before he could get into position. He run through his mind what it would take to defeat an opponent that caught him unawares all while maintaining stealth and silence. How long had that taken, twelve seconds? As he ordered his men to stash the corpse, he took a moment to appreciate Roland’s skill and nerve. That rogue had balls of adamantine. One wrong move and they would have had to abandon today’s dungeon run.
‘A lot could still go wrong’, Utir told himself as he looked up at the walls of the hobgoblin fort. He had to keep himself in check. All who came before them had failed. This was a chance for Utir’s Bears to clinch their second first clear. ‘Killing the Bear Boss doesn’t count’, some snide part of him reminded. He ignored it. Everyone knew the Bloodsoaked Foxes only made it through the dungeon b hitching a ride on the Warden’s back. Even then, one of them died. At that stark reminder, Utir focused on the task at hand. This place was dangerous. It would not do to be cocky.
It took them a few tries and a fair number of injuries to catch on but eventually, they realised what the dungeon wanted of them. Every other floor thus far had been relatively straightforward except the fourth and fifth. Make your way to the boss room. Once there, kill everything. Standard fare for a dungeon. Then you got to the fourth floor and things got turned on their head.
As bizarre as the fourth floor had been, Utir did not even consider it a challenge. All you had to do was climb a short pyramid. He had been an adventurer for nearly twenty years, there was no way a simple test of willpower would shake him. When they came to it, he marched his troop up the steps and if anyone embarrassed themselves he made them start again, from the bottom.
This being a weird dungeon, the fifth floor did not disappoint. A small antechamber, a trap-riddled tunnel and a giant cavern with a half-built fort. No roaming monsters, no rooms, no decorations. Just two sentries and the world’s dumbest construction crew. It did not matter how long you gave them, the hobgoblins would never finish the fort. Every five hours, their progress reset but they just carried on working. They were less like living workers and more like golems. However, as soon as the alarm went off, they came alive, changing out of work clothes into armour and preparing themselves for whatever assault they faced.
There were twenty workers… Roland flashed the signal again, prompting them to catch and stow away another body… eighteen of them left. Each was a rank two hobgoblin grunt. They worked in teams of five under four rank three hobgoblin taskmasters. Besides them, you had four rank two hobgoblin sentries. One on each of the three battlements and since the fort was being built against the cavern wall, the fourth was posted in front of the barracks where the hobs kept their battle gear. If you added the two sentinels that used to guard the tunnel that made for thirty enemies, excluding, of course, the hobgoblin commander.
Incomplete or not, attacking a garrisoned fort on foot with no siege equipment was suicidal and foolish. Weak as hobgoblins were, their numbers made for a challenge and when fully geared and mustered they were a very credible threat. However, it was never their task to storm the fort. They simply had to infiltrate it.
Slowly, Utir and his bears crawled along the wall towards one of its weak points, a semi-finished wall and waited. A minute later, a series of loud earth-shaking booms shook the fort followed by screaming hobgoblin voices. A bloodthirsty grin split Utir’s face even as he sprang to his feet. Roland had succeeded in blowing up the Hobgoblin barracks. The time for skulking was over. Now that there was no equipment for the hobbes, it was time to show the filthy things what for.
“Charge!” he yelled.
They rushed in, yelling, seeking to scatter the grouping hobgoblins. This elite dungeon only allowed a maximum of fifteen adventurers per party and Utir had made sure to fill out his roster. In fact, he had a full muster of twenty-six adventurers courtesy of his newfound fame but only the best fifteen were accepted into his personal squad. The others he left farming the upper floors. By predetermined arrangement, they split into three teams.
Right on time, the hobgoblin commander came leaping off the second floor into the courtyard. Utir rushed to meet him. This was their second time getting this far and so he knew that the confusion caused by the explosions was only temporary. Soon, the hobgoblin taskmasters would whip them into shape and join the fray. His priority was preventing them from linking up with their commander.
He leapt with his axe, hoping to catch the hob before he had a chance to orient himself but it raised its hand getting its gauntlet in the way. Bright gold light sprang from it, forming a shield between them. Utir threw his weight into the clench, nearly forcing the hob to its knees but it was not to be. Regaining its balance, it drew its sword and thrust at him, forcing him back. He cursed. Already the sound of hurried footfalls sounded around him. The reinforcements were here. Worse, one group came obliquely at them, rushing to their leader. He checked. There were six of them including the taskmaster. He was the only one geared properly. The others came in simple linens and improvised weapons like hammers, pans and wooden planks.
Sparing a quick glance backwards, he saw that the other teams were also engaged. His team of three having failed, also rushed to his side.
“Ficadon?” he called.
“I’m ready!” the mage yelled back and not too soon.
The hobgoblin commander had fallen back, relying on his men to keep them busy whilst he chanted a spell. It only took a few breaths to get ready and once it was, it thrust its gauntleted hand skyward with a yell. Strange scarlet flames leapt from his hand and descended on the six hobbes around him.
“Ficadon? What the…” Utir yelled only to find his mage stumbling backwards with blood coming from his ears. Obviously, the counterspell had failed. What rotten luck! The last time, Ficadon had noticed the hobgoblin commanders chant and quickly interrupted it causing a backlash. This time the mage had suffered the backlash instead. Already, he could see flame marks forming on the foreheads of the now red-eyed hobbes.
One charged at him, forcing him to awkwardly parry a blow he was ill-prepared for. Whatever spell the commander had used, it had made the hobbes much faster and stronger. More came his way but Utir refused to move. Planting himself in front of the listless mage, he did his best to stave off the attackers. The other two warriors with him had their hands full. No help was coming that way. Ahead, he could see the hobgoblin commander take up another chant, an ominous ball of fire building in his raised hands.
“SHIT!” he cursed. This was going to be difficult.
Just then, a small orb clattered to the ground in front of the hobgoblin commander. An instant later it erupted, sending tendrils of dark lightning coursing halfway to Utir’s position.
“FATHER!” came a worried cry.
Who else was coming but his son, Argoth. The rest of the men ran with him. Roland was with them, their only blight bow in his hands. With single pull. Two of the remaining hobbes fell over, their heads having sprouted arrows. With a sharp yell, Utir cut down the last hobgoblin standing against him before turning on his son.
“Fool boy!” he shouted. “What happened to guarding our retreat?”
If there was anything Utir owed his success to, it was his wits and caution. Always have an out, especially in a place like this. His son had the temerity to look sheepish. That was worse. It meant he had not thought this through. Sure, they had eliminated the hobbes but who knew if there were other dangers about? Not to mention the fact that he had wasted one of their Wisp Orbs.
“Don’t give me that look boy! You better…”
“Gods! It’s still alive!” someone yelled, interrupting him.
Shooting his son one more angry glare, Utir turned back to the battlefront if it could be called that. All he could see was two of his men stabbing the hobgoblin commander as it twitched on the ground. It quickly and probably gratefully gave up the ghost. All that was left now was tabulating the loot.
Roland walked up to the body of one of the hobgoblin warriors. Like all dead dungeon creatures, it was currently dissolving into motes of light. As expected, it left nothing behind. That was the problem with commander and legion type dungeon bosses. Even though there were more enemies there was usually only one loot pool.
“It’s a shame”, he said softly. “Their gear actually looked serviceable. If I wasn’t carrying bombs in my ring, I would have tried grabbing a few.”
Argoth clapped a hand to his face as his father gained a contemplative look at the rogue’s words. He could already predict how the next run would go.
“Boss! You need to see this!”, one of the mages exclaimed. “It dropped its battle enhancement skill!”
I changed the shortened plural of hobgoblin to hobbes as a joke/reference.
Thomas Hobbes was a very influential social and political philosopher. The phrase most associated with him is, “the life of man [is] solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” It led, of course, to later philosopher’s referring to any lawless/anarchic society (real or theoretical) as Hobbesian in nature.
Personally, I think it fits hobgoblins quite well.