“This necromancer really isn’t messing around are they?” Stynn asked.

“They really have it in for this mage…” Gribb agreed, breathing heavily. “First the guild sends us to take care of business, and now some necromancer shows up unannounced. I’m starting to wonder if maybe we are on the wrong side.”

“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t having the same thoughts,” Stynn replied, sizing up the skeletons who were approaching slowly, bones creaking and armor clanking. “For now though, I think we just need to get out of here alive. Our revelations can come later.”

Gribb locked eyes with Stynn. Each found a grin on the other’s face. When it came to battle, the two companions always seemed to be of the same mind. 

“I don’t know about you,” Gribb grunted, “but I’m tired of just waiting for these creatures to come to us!” Stynn gave a slight nod and rushed forward towards the nearest skeleton as Gribb surged past to take on another. Three skeletons wouldn’t be too much of a threat to these two experienced warriors, even though they neither felt pain nor fatigue. Typically, you needed to be careful around a pack of skeletons. If they overwhelmed you and knocked you off your feet…well, you might just become an undead skeleton yourself! It was odd to only see three of these adversaries before them, but they would take the win all the same.

As Stynn approached his target, he quit accelerating causing his forward momentum to close the remaining distance as his feet skidded across the dirt. Both short swords reverberated as they glanced off of the skeleton’s rusted breastplate. Stynn cursed as the skeleton turned to face him, jaw opening and closing in silent laughter. That strike should have at least held enough power to knock the skeleton back and weaken its armor, but the breastplate showed no signs of damage other than its old, rusted shell. 

He began to raise his swords for another strike, but Stynn felt his arms grow lighter as he raised them. His own jaw dropped in disbelief as his swords began melting from their tips all the way to their handles. One quick look back at the skeleton’s armor revealed a slight haze outlining the entire breastplate…it was enchanted.

“Gribb!” Stynn shouted over his shoulder, refusing to let the approaching adversary out of his sight. 

“Yeah, I know!” Gribb shouted back as the two other skeletons surrounded the weaponless dwarf. Both swung their swords high, attempting to bring them down on top of the dwarf simultaneously. All it took was a quick sidestep for Gribb to evade the attack. Skeletons weren’t the most intelligent of creatures, but with the right equipment and enough time…Gribb and Stynn would grow tired. One mistake is all it would take to give the skeletons the upper hand they needed to fulfill their purpose.

Suddenly, all three skeletons paused their attack to look towards the pond. They sensed something…something that would fulfill their desires to an even greater extent than sinking their swords into Stynn and Gribb’s flesh. 

“They sense their true prey…” Stynn whispered under his breath. He tried to catch a glimpse of what approached through the treeline, but his line of sight remained clear for only a second. 

Stynn and Gribb immediately began to sweat as heat seared their skin through their clothing. Smoke filled the air as ring of fire roared to life around them, trapping them. The skeletons buckled in fear of the one thing meant to destroy them, yet they still had a job to do. With a little more hesitation, they trudged towards the pond towards their prey. They didn’t have to go far.

Through the fire came a plainly dressed figure, hood raised as to disguise their identity. They remained untouched by the flames and began chanting something under their breath. The circle of flame converged on the figure, then raced across the ground towards the nearest skeleton. It burst into flame immediately, as did the others as the fire subsequently jumped from one to the other. All that was left was a pile of ash where they once stood. The heat quickly subsided, yet the smokey haze remained.  

“What’s going on?” Gribb coughed, doubled over and unable to regain his composure quickly enough to see what was unfolding. Stynn on the other hand, had kept his eyes peeled despite how much they watered and burned. 

“I believe we have found our mage,” he said calmly.

“Quick…find…me…a…weapon!” Gribb shouted, coughing in between each word. 

“Just relax a little would ya,” Stynn replied, “Were you not just saying five minutes ago that you were having doubts about the motivation behind this mission? We are at the mercy of the mage now. Let’s just see what happens next.”

Gribb visibly relaxed, coming to terms with the fact that this was one situation of which they could not just fight their way out…as much as he really wanted to. The mage had a much greater power compared to their own. If they were to best the mage, Stynn and Gribb would need every advantage possible…and they no longer had any sort of advantage. Besides, Gribb agreed that something was amiss, and they might just be able to get to the truth of why the guild sent them after the mage.   

“Come,” the mage said in a soft, gentle voice who’s face remained dark beneath the hood. “Evil still lurks in the forest. You must follow me immediately and quickly. We have much to discuss, and I will not remain exposed out here.” 

Stynn acknowledged the instructions and began following the mage towards the pond at a quick trot. Gribb scanned the battlefield quickly trying to spot any more foes, but finally joined Stynn and the mage in their retreat. 

Through the smoky haze, the undead bird watched the trio leave before flying back to a hilltop just above the cabin. It sat resolutely on a branch next to a slender figure draped in dark robes. The necromancer began planning his next move.