Below the canopy of the trees, the sparks struggled through the kindling. Growgash snorted in frustration at the mercenaries’ attempts to light a blaze large enough to roast their dinner. They had refused help from her and the priest and apprentice, not that their employers had really offered any. Jaxom spurned their company as he did not trust the look of them.
With the blaze finally lit and the small game they’d caught eagerly devoured, the company settled for the night. Growgash drew first watch and Jaxom stayed with her as he was next. As she unsheathed her sword for cleaning, she noticed the blonde man inching towards her.
“You’re a brave one, to approach me when I have my sword out,” she eyed him.
“You think I wouldn’t notice you staring at me earlier. You orcs have curious taste in mates…” her ears pricked at his hot breath. “But you’re attractive enough, and a good fighter.”
“Unlike some I could mention…” she looked across into his dark eyes. Very few human men were equal to her height, let alone taller than her. The canopy of the dense forest trapped the heat from the day and her leathers were chafing badly. A bead of sweat dropped from the man’s chin onto her hand. On the other side of the fire there was movement.
The priest and his apprentice awoke and took up positions on opposite sides of the fire. Then steepling their fingers they began to mutter in unison. The younger mercenary peered from under his blankets nervously while his companions buried themselves in irritation. Abruptly the chanting stopped but the two worshipers remained at their posts. From the corner of her eye, Growgash saw a spider’s silken web stretch and billow outward without aid of a breeze. Indeed, the air all about them seemed deathly still and the fire seemed dimmer by the moment.
Beyond the ring of protection black shapes formed and lumbered closer. Growgash and Jaxom lept up, swords ready as the older men rubbed sleep from their eyes and crawled to their weapons. No matter how tightly the younger man held his sword, the blade quivered in his grip. Now the shadow figures towered over them, still obscured by the darkness despite the rapidly dwindling fire.
Simultaneously the priest and his charge jumped to their feet.
“Leave! Now! We cannot hope to fight these beasts!” and they did so, dashing away from the fire. For a moment the shadowy figures arched over the blaze, then swallowed it in pursuit. There was still light, however. Ahead of the soldiers, Growgash saw the bag slung over the priest’s shoulder. It glowed brightly with the same blue light from before. What’s more, it was moving, as if a knot of snakes were writhing inside.