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That's what three long weeks of chopping, hauling and carving heavy lumber does to a man, Al thought to himself. Not that it wasn't worth it. Al mused over the amazing massive wall that now surrounded Moonglow, a town that for so long had made due just fine with naught but an old fence. That new wall was his though, and he took some pride in it, as he did all his work. Yes, other men had helped, many other men, and he never could have moved all that lumber without the assistance of old Pyrram's work horses. But there was no doubt in anyone's mind that Al had led the project, that Al had put every ounce of his energy into the project, and kept it going when the other men were all ready to give up. Fourteen hours a day he had put into the job, sometimes more.
Even so, construction on the wall had been completed only four days ago, and they still had pikes to carve and mount around the north side of town. Yet the construction had given some townspeople a goal to keep their mind off the loss, had given them a renewed sense of purpose which they so desperately needed. Just the sight of the wall seemed to inspire some hope and peace of mind in the townsfolk on whom the recent attack had taken the heaviest toll. Yet it would be a while before the town could truly rest, truly feel safe.
As Al donned his clothes, he was struck with the feeling he was forgetting something. He slid on his boots, trying to think what it was that kept tugging at the back of his mind. He grabbed the heavy lumbering axe that was propped against the wall and strapped it to his back. As he reached for the door handle, the thought struck him like a hammer.
A bell. That's what I heard, the town bell! Oh no! Al raced out of his bedroom and towards the small guest room at the end of the short hall to wake Annalise.
He found her already awake and in her leather armor, with bow in hand and a quiver of arrows strapped to her back. Together they dashed out the back door of the cabin and east, away from the main road but straight toward the smaller, secondary path which split off of the main road closer to town. If Malic had done as planned, two very large oaks would be lying across the main road right past the split, and they hoped any large group coming up the road would decide to avoid the blockade of trees and backtrack to the secondary path, which also led to the south gate of town, but through much denser forest most of the way. I only hope we aren't too late.
Al sprinted through the familiar woods of Moonglow with ease, Anna right behind him, and they ran north parallel to the secondary path, but far enough away to remain unseen by anyone traveling it. They came at last to their destination, a mammoth old tree that stood alongside the path about a quarter mile outside of town. The base of the tree had been chopped almost all the way through days ago, and the only thing keeping a strong gust of wind from toppling it over was a pair of thick ropes tied firmly around it, connecting it to another large tree a little further off the path. Both ropes were hidden fairly well among the branches, and they sat on the side opposite the road where they would be tough to spot unless one knew where to look.
Al scanned up and down the path, with no sign of an attack party anywhere. His eyes fell on the dirt road itself, and found no recent tracks.
"Either they haven't passed through here yet, or the detour on the main road didn't work," Al noted to Anna.
"Oh, I think it worked," she responded, and pulled Al back away from the road at the same time she pointed down the path to the south. A dust cloud moved up the road, and in moments Al could make out some humanoid shapes traveling north at a quick pace. Al and Anna found their cover under some nearby foliage, and waited.
As the party came closer, Al couldn't help but gawk at what he saw from his hiding place in the bushes. At least twenty ogres marched up the path ahead of ten trolls, and the lot was led by two men on horseback wearing matching sets of blood red platemail armor. At the tail of the party was another mounted figure, this one cloaked in a black mage's robe. This was more of a force than they had expected to attack one gate, even the large south gate. Anna glanced nervously at Al.
"The plan will still work," he whispered to her, unsure whether or not even he believed his own words. She nodded, though her eyes betrayed her own lack of faith in what he said. But what choice did they have?
Anna silently notched an arrow to her bow and steadied her position on her knees for a more balanced shot. Al pulled his axe from his back and prepared himself for the moment to come. There would only be one shot at this.
The sound of an eagle's call brought Al out of his tense, frozen state. There were friends in the woods nearby; perhaps the plan would work after all. He brought his attention back to the party coming down the road. So close now, the trotting hooves of both horse and troll could be made out. Their timing had to be just right. Anna pulled back on her bowstring, aiming high up and slightly forward toward the road. Al's grip on his axe tightened, and he crouched on his haunches ready to pounce.
Just as the red knights passed by the tree, Anna let loose her arrow, and it flew upward in a perfectly straight line, intercepting both ropes before sailing out of the treetop. Before any member of the party could notice the arrow or react, Al charged forward out of the foliage straight toward the huge tree, axe held behind him to his right in both hands. In a mighty sweep using all his might, Al swung the axe forward and planted it right in the weak area of the trunk where the tree had been prepared earlier.
A thunderous cracking sound shot through the tree, drawing the attention of the ogres now just ten paces from him, stumbling their march to a stop and swinging their heads toward the forest. Acting quickly, before any of them could react, Al slammed the whole of his weight into the side of the creaking tree, and with the impact he could feel it move, feel it slide forward.
The tree toppled down onto the path, falling with surprising speed that the stunned ogres could not match. The immense trunk landed squarely on a trio of the creatures, crushing them under its sheer weight. The tree's huge, thick branches struck and crushed four or five more ogres, and knocked as many to the ground. The trunk met the ground with a tremendous, deafeningly-loud thud that rang through the forest, and that sound was immediately followed by the cracking and snapping of both bones and branches alike. Bellows of pure pain and terror came from the crowd of ogres trapped and crushed amid the tree and its branches. But the tree had certainly not stopped the whole group, and one nearby ogre had managed to dodge the falling tree and was charging straight for Al.
An arrow from Anna took the beast right in the chest, dropping it to the ground and giving Al a chance to scramble back toward the foliage, which he bounded over and through with a big leap. Another ogre and a pair of trolls followed just a moment behind the one that had been shot, and Anna knew she couldn't stop them all in time. She let loose a second arrow at one of the trolls, then circled around and ran with Al into the forest at full speed, without even waiting to see if her shot struck its target.
Behind them as they ran, Al and Anna could hear the party on the road recovering from the chaos, and the unharmed members screaming and howling with bloodlust. Surely they followed, but neither of the chased dared take time to look back. Instead, they broke north and followed the familiar route through the forest up to town. When Al finally worked up the courage to glance behind him, he found the nearby trees empty, and noticed the sounds of the beasts were farther off than he expected. The monsters had broken off chase!
Then Al remembered the eagle call and wondered if perhaps whoever it was had managed to draw the party's attention from the fleeing Al and Anna. Whether or not that was the case, Al didn't stop, but continued to town at full speed to take his place at the gate, and to let the people know what to expect.
The pair of them broke out of the trees and into an open field of dirt and patchy grass littered with stumps. They ran up to the town gate, swinging arms in the air to signal the men at the gate to let them in. Once through the wall, they could see the town already in an uproar, not with battle yet, but with preparations. The watch had managed to warn of the attack long before Al arrived, and people were already gathering at their places behind the wall, weapons in hand. Spread every few paces down the wall there were steps leading up to small one-man platforms that let the town defenders fire arrows and swing weapons from the top of the tall wall.
Al helped the men at the gate - Malic and Jonathan it turned out - swing the gate shut again, and then informed them of the encounter before taking his place at a platform nearby. He noticed Anna climbing up onto the roof of Samuel's smithy, from which she could rain arrows down upon the attackers. Al was told a pair of green-clad Council mages had just shown up at the town square, and that Caine had already called for his mercenary mage contact through a communication crystal the man had left after negotiations last week. Al was also informed that a second watch patrol had just moments ago reported another large enemy approaching the east gate.
I can feel it Al thought to himself. This is going to be bad. Very, very bad. He looked up at Anna behind him on the smithy roof, and could see the same realization in her eyes. With all our preparations, with all our work, it still might not be enough.