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True Surrender and a Fall From Grace

True Surrender and a Fall From Grace

Ogres are typically a cave dwelling, largely solitary race, though they have a history of getting on very well with orcs. They are highly social with one another and have rich cultural provisions for visitors to their ranges. Their communities, if such a term can be applied, are composed of dozens of small territories and a central neutral zone wherein they may come to gather and intermingle.

Ogres require precision and order in their lives. Any deviation in the normal ebb and flow of their territories is seen as a mortal offence, and they usually hate the clutter humans create. Nonetheless, if a mutt stumbles onto a range, it is often adopted and trained to properly exist within the culture.

Unlike other races, ogres are raised in an intricate manner, spending a little of their youth with each of the mature adults bordering the central neutral area. There is not so much a culture of dominance as a culture of rigid territorial rights. Banishment is normalized; if an ogre reaches adulthood and no territories are presently available and unclaimed, they are sent away. These individuals either gravitate to the city, find acceptance in another cluster of territories or begin their own cluster, if an area has space for this. It is usually from these new clusters and from the city dwelling ogres that mutts occur. Being highly social, they do not enjoy isolation and will take comfort in interacting with small homesteads and with clearly defined neighbors.

Additionally, ogres are inherently gifted with changing the flow of arcane energies, which makes them masters at crafting the arcane bombs favored by the kalutai. A proficient, older ogre can usually negate all arcana in an area surrounding it with nothing more than a burst of concentrations. Conversely, they can cause arcana to surge in a region, creating wild growth and genetic instability in local flora and fauna at will.

Feyaodaiazoyeeniesia d’Syvaeleyne didn’t so much get better as stabilize. Tieregre had her chains struck, as well as Bieyshiealelleinue’s bonds. The guardian stayed close to his ward, so Ptielieren wasn’t quite certain it counted as being truly unshackled. Traisyelianiel remained bound during the night but was let loose to wander outside under the sun. None of them were permitted to approach Ptielieren.

The elf had managed, somehow, to become a creature universally regarded as unsafe to handle. He had been beaten into the dirt almost every day with the little duels but his captors had learned his signal for acknowledging he was bested. They had also learned that, aside from a quick tackle and putting him back in chains, it was unwise to handle him even after he had given it.

The cubs, however, didn’t seem to understand that he was dangerous. They were always pawing at him and putting gross things in his hair. Luckily, he was of the X’Faineinzealeanii line, a line known for having hair that never betrayed hardship. It took no more than a flick of his hands through his locks to dislodge whatever slime or schmutz had been rubbed into it. The adults watched him warily when the youngsters were present but they were never given cause for worry and slowly they seemed to relax

Ptielieren looked up from a mess of the little things to see the biggest cub, though not the oldest, approach with keys. He felt his eyes watch them hungrily but showed restraint; the cub was holding them tightly enough that to yank them away would risk injuring the thing’s fingers. He inhaled slowly and set his features. The creature grabbed his arm roughly and Ptielieren relaxed his muscles somewhat as the cub worked a key into the lock. It unlocked the elf’s other hand and then turned its attention to Ptielieren’s ankles.

Yesterday’s bite wound hadn’t really healed properly but he ignored the deep-seated pain. The tonics the brutes shoved down his throat seemed to ward him from all types of infection, much though they caused more discomfort at the onset than the injuries they sought to mend. Healing naturally probably wouldn’t hurt nearly so much as feeling his marrow smolder as his blood congealed in his veins before becoming far too thin and spreading in extended bruising. Then again, keeping a broken bone wasn’t a viable option, either. He stood slowly and stretched his hands up and around. He’d never taken the time to stretch before a bout and the cub seemed uncertain enough to let him be while he did. He’d been in this den for just shy of a month and his body had grown harder and leaner than it had ever before been.

He stretched his spine and his legs briefly before nodding at the child. It was about a head shorter than he was and thick about the shoulders, almost chunky by appearance. He knew the beast to be called something like Prrifirri. He’d also picked up that bugbears weren’t given any sort of a name until they reached a certain age, like six. It made him worry somewhat over Ryerer, who was still so small but was called by a name. The evidence was stacked that the creature was a runt and always would be.

The cub grabbed his upper arm roughly and pushed Ptielieren forward. The elf stepped ahead with grace and turned back with a raised brow and a few little clicks of his tongue. “Little savage, if you’ve no need of manners, I’ve no need of civility.” Ptielieren turned and brusquely walked away. The cub tried to pounce on him and he simply pivoted. The creature overshot and all but ran into the cave wall.

Ptielieren smiled at the clumsy attempt. As a very young child, he’d done similar with his uncle. The memory surged back and he let himself fall into the old dance. He strode out of the cave and the cub tried again to grab him. He swirled with grace and precision and the little thing sailed past. He let his amusement color his violet eyes as he scowled with mixed approval.

After he finally relented and allowed Prrifirri to pin him, along with both a somewhat older cub by the name of Frarrar and the female cub Verrirrea, he realized he’d mentally slipped and let himself relax. Most of the den was gathered close and watching, and he knew some of them had learned from the play somewhat of how an elf could truly fight. Still, it was hardly reproachful that he educate the young.

The alpha approached. He’d learned well that the beast was called Karrurrahr and could spot him out even at a distance, although the original captives referred to him as simply The Boss. While blatant, the epithet fit. Ptielieren shifted, popped a joint out of socket, and pivoted his weight under the cubs to force the angles and leverage himself back to his feet. He had quite a few minor scratches where the little creatures had been a touch over-enthusiastic. Where the adults had mostly strong, dull claws, the cubs seemed to possess little shards of obsidian on the ends of their fingertips.

Ptielieren stepped forward, head held tall as the monster approached. It looked at the cubs and they scattered. It turned its attention back and Ptielieren stared it down. Finally, it spoke. “We will fight now. If you win, I will let you and the rest of your little friends have a three-day head start. If I win, you will beg for me.” The words sounded very idle, as though it was the most boring wager the bugbear had made in a good long while.

Ptielieren gave a formal bow. He had never given the gesture to any representative of a feral race before, but the stakes were worth the formality. He stood and waited for his opponent to offer an equivalent gesture. As none was forthcoming, he took a stance and smiled.

The Boss moved suddenly and struck. Ptielieren was already poised to dodge but he couldn’t quite get his body to move fast enough. He swirled with the blow, making it glancing instead of direct. He launched a counter and continued, implementing the thousand nuances of his forms. He was among the most elite combatants of his race, though martial prowess would always play second lyre to arcana and technology. With a pair of foils, he knew himself to be all but unstoppable. Bare handed against a much bigger, clearly much faster opponent he was less than amazing.

Each kick was followed by a fine spray of red as the slashes from the cubs released a fair stream of his most precious fluid. He ignored this, marking the red for a sign of his elemental arcana. He felt flame in the droplets. He couldn’t call it, not with the thrice damned collar about his neck, but he could certainly feel its heat.

His form shifted to the dance of ionized flame. He worked his angles and kept the bugbear from getting a proper blow in place. He landed quite a few little strikes but nothing significant. He smiled, confident his victory was swimming into view.

That was when his opponent stopped holding back. Ptielieren began stepping backward, his feet finding the boulder-strewn terrain somewhat treacherous. This was not a cultured hallway nor a ballroom floor nor even an open marketplace. He’d taken fierce opponents as they strove to cut his ward down in such environs with ease. Here, now, however, he suddenly realized he could not win.

He did not yield as he had in other matches. He pressed on as he felt his wrist crunch on a bad block. He refused to scream in pain as his arm was caught and broken sharply at the elbow. He swirled with a true form when the bugbear punched him in the collarbone and he felt it shatter. The bugbear shoved him away after each solid break. Ptielieren kept his form and swept his feet in steadying sweeps, keeping both hands up and ready until the collarbone snapped. After that, he switched which side he led with and let the heavily wounded arm stay back, wedging it into the rope tied around his pants to keep it out of the way.

The bugbear smiled and stepped forward again.

The fight ended when the bugbear twisted Ptielieren’s shattered wrist and moved to choke him out. Ptielieren awoke the sensation of warm liquid streaming down onto his face. He glared pure venom as myriad other sensations came to the fore. His broken bones were splinted but still the ache seemed to resonate deeper than his flesh seemed thick. The wet ceased on his blinking eyes, leaving him blinded only by rage.

He surged to his feet and wiped his face on his sleeve. The bugbear caught his face and broke his nose with a twist before shoving Ptielieren back to the ground. Ptielieren took the shove and rolled back to his feet, taking another combat stance. The beast laughed somewhat. “Ah, you xiezjiit, I really should just kill you, but it would sadden the cubs so. And you are a perfect elf.” Ptielieren held his silence like a coveted heirloom and began to slowly circle.

The bugbear gave a fresh assault and, this time, rather than allowing Ptielieren to rise, pulled a stone from one of the little evening fires and pressed it into Ptielieren’s back. The sparks in no way bothered him but the stone transmitted heat and the collar prevented him from taming the fire. It was almost novel, to feel his skin burn; he ground his teeth to bury the pain. He knew he would heal from this without any mark or lasting harm.

The bugbear dragged him to a new clearing then and beat him well past what his body could handle. He finally just curled into a fetal ball and snarled. The monster then hauled him up by his feet and dragged him behind the cave, tossing him on the ground. Ptielieren fought to regain his feet but too much of his body was broken. The beast rooted around in the dust until it seemed to find something.

When the bugbear returned it held a large wasp-like creature between the claws of its thumb and its index finger. Ptielieren put a hand up to steady himself and found he couldn’t. The bugbear knelt in front of him and one handed caught his hair and slammed his head down. Ptielieren gasped and tried to roll free but the grip held. His captor held him still with ease.

The bugbear dragged the elf’s face close and held the wasp up. It stung the bugbear once on the hand and the beast’s eyes narrowed. It then pressed the creature into Ptielieren’s chest. The pain was immediate and intense. Ptielieren forced himself to try for a roundhouse kick to his opponent’s face while the bugbear remained kneeling. He felt a solid connection and brought himself into a strong one-legged stance, still held by the hair. The bugbear laughed aloud and grinned. “Ah, you little piece of dung, I am impressed. I may even let you live this night. All right, you wish to fight some more? It is of no consequence to me.” The bugbear dropped the wasp and stood again, releasing the elf.

Ptielieren staggered and found his center again. He executed a heel pull and finished with a strong forward elbow. The connection was solid. Unfortunately, it was too solid and the abrupt stop changed his balance. The bugbear caught his foot and swung him in a circle. His bad side slammed into the ground and the bugbear was suddenly atop him and ripping his good arm back. The beast sank sharp fangs into the muscle and pulled enough to make the blood flow freely. Ptielieren screamed. He couldn’t not scream.

The creature pinned him with his stomach and chest smashed into the stone and dug claws into the small of his back, the grip indicative of a desire to pull free the elf’s spine at its base. Ptielieren prepared himself for a death that did not come.

The pressure was suddenly relieved as the bugbear grunted in surprise. Ptielieren glanced up against the backdrop of the sun and saw Tieregre was lifting a rock to try and smash into the bugbear’s head again. The beast snarled, grabbed the elf mutt and bit his hand - not at the wrist but over the thumb and all the way to the central tarsal. It bit through the bone and ripped the flesh free. Tieregre screamed and fell back, holding the wound with as much pressure as she was able as the sanguine flow cascaded to mix with the dust and stone.

The bugbear turned, blood gushing down its chin and a wild look to its eyes, as it glared pure violence on the interloper. Ptielieren saw his comrade bleeding out and put up a hand, pushing himself to his knees. The bugbear crouched and stalked toward him. Ptielieren changed his hand to more of a defensive angle and the beast grabbed it and hauled him up. The blood ran down the elf’s lower back and he knew he was grievously injured.

The creature looked him in the eye and growled. The sound was like thunder and Ptielieren felt the frequency in the very fiber of his being, strumming those primeval threads that ran the length of his soul. The creature then struck him with an open hand. Ptielieren struggled and watched Tieregre bleed. He forced his body to go limp and eventually was thrown to the ground. He put his hand up again and tried to lift his head, tilting his neck. His broken collarbone prevented his neck from moving overmuch and he found his eyes mostly rolled up to meet the creature’s gaze.

The creature stood and crossed its arms for a moment, then began to approach. Ptielieren stumbled backward. His body and the back of his mind had taken over and now, as the creature bent down with a fist raised, he put one arm over his face and flinched, his whole body straining away. The blow never landed, but he felt the creature hovering directly over him.

“Little elf, do you have something you wish to say?” The growl was omnipresent and transcended the normal laws of sound. Ptielieren felt a part of his spirit snap.

He kept his face down and whispered the words in Elvish. “Syaleavies troilleaneal d’srovienx.” It was not quite an unconditional surrender but it was a kind of heavy yield. The bugbear’s growl intensified and Ptielieren began stuttering the words to a more complete form of yielding. “Cyreanoils doi’esselait cresciel. Syaleaciallenae... god just stop Tieregre’s bleeding and stop hitting me! I yield, I’m begging you to just stop this. You win, gods but you win, all right?” The Nieltre was harsh on his tongue but desperation goaded the use of the neutral tongue.

His body suddenly began to shake and he felt the presence withdraw. He was aware of Tieregre’s wound being smeared with something and then heard screaming. He lost time and found himself alone, his back sun scorched. He staggered back to his feet. His broken body protested every step and he fell quite a few times as he staggered off. He found himself back in front of the cave and he started to collapse again.

His weight was caught by the mouse-haired human lass. He glanced at her from the side of his eyes and chuckled. He knew how to treat women properly, how to entertain them even when he was beyond the normal range of injury. He, reaching his somewhat good arm over her shoulders and leaning back with a quick pivot, had her suddenly leaning against a rock beside himself.

She blushed like mad and tried to shove him off. He released her as she scurried back a touch and stared. He gave a faint bow. “Hey, sweetheart. Keep your step up, right?” His mind heard the words and knew a part of his psyche had shattered. The girl both glared and giggled, then fled, letting the elf slump against a small boulder. Ptielieren gave his head a faint toss and his hair fell neatly into place. He waited until the spasms this caused settled before walking back toward the cave.

He managed to get all the way to the back of the cave by his empty shackles before his body decided to quit on him. He fell into the dirt as he tried to kneel and his body took a good running leap at everlasting oblivion. As the air whistled past his descent, he wondered if he’d dreamed returning to the cave. Everything had seemed disjointed and surreal, like gazing into starlight at high noon.

When Ptielieren came back to consciousness, it was to a sensation akin to drowning. He struggled and felt rather than heard the tension mount in the air. He relaxed and tried to just let go but the fire in his stomach wouldn’t let him free. He was finally allowed to draw breath and found his body sputtered as it tried to gasp for air. He caught his breath seeing the sandstone flicker beneath his head and then the vision before him narrowed and faded to a purple black and then nothing. He was aware of his heartbeat slowing and a part of him smiled. It seemed he would not live as a slave.

When he awoke, he being spooned by a very large, furry body. He scrambled quickly and regained his knees. His leg hurt like it had healed wrong but at least it held his weight. The creature that had been holding him turned out to be Dirrorz. It sat up and studied the elf as Ptielieren felt his thighs waver and collapse underneath him. The mercenary was clothed, thank heavens, and did not seem the least intersted in anything more than sleep. When it spoke, it’s voice drifted in perfectly relaxed candor.

“It was a soft patter inside for a while, elf. Welcome back.” The bugbear spoke with surprisingly little accent, as though it put the overt growl between syllables only for show during the day. Ptielieren pushed himself backward and noticed with rising panic that he was nude. He gave a little scream and pushed himself further away. There were bugbear bodies everywhere, rousing and watching him. He scrabbled, grabbed a bit of leather to cover himself, and managed to get outside before his body just stopped responding. He blinked his eyes, fighting oblivion with everything he had. He would not be a pleasure slave; that was lower than low. The small boulder that held his weight was cold in the night air, offering no acclaim to this silent declaration.

He looked back the way he had come and saw by the starlight that the bugbear was walking calmly after him. It held a large leather skin and watched him for a few moments before tossing this like a net. Ptielieren tried to fight as the skin enveloped him but he couldn’t even lift the leather, let alone strike with any particular degree of force.

He felt himself lifted and slung over a shoulder as he, still swaddled, was gently placed on the cave floor again. The bugbear lay down next to him and kept him bound in the blanket. He struggled as much as he was able, trying to throw elbows but knowing himself weak as a kitten. The night passed like this, although it was interrupted once when Dirrorz pulled the blankets off his head and, his arms still pinned down, held a skin to his mouth until, too weak to struggle, he just choked down a few mouthfuls of the liquid. After that, the blanket was put back in place and he was kept lying prone and mostly still.

In the morning, he was given a fresh set of pants and a long sleeve shirt before being released to join the rest of his compatriots, finding they had likewise been released from their shackles. Tieregre had survived, but most of her hand was beyond salvage. Apparently, the Boss had applied some kind of salve that had instantly cauterized the wound as soon as Ptielieren had felt him withdraw.

His fellow oath-sworn guardian patted the stone beside himself and smiled. “It is good to see you waking, Ptailierensylvcois. Look, we are unshackled!” He sat beside his companion as Bieyshiealelleinue explained that seeing him so broken had inspired the rest of the bugbears to become more trusting. Ptielieren smiled at his formal name’s proper utterance and shrugged.

“So, I suppose you have looked into means of escape that may have more feasibility than going hand to hand with all thirty odd adults here, yes? And use my informal name. We’ve shared enough already”

“Ptailierensylvcois, there are no roads leading away from here. After that big bugbear with his flighty little traitor got everything unpacked, the den dismantled the wagon and ate the horse. I mean, there are some trails about but I don’t even see the bullies hunt. They seem to have a pantry or something. The local captives refuse to go anywhere near it. They really hate you, by the way.”

“They are inferior creatures. Their thoughts are as the flitting of butterflies. And do call me Ptielieren. If we’ve not found enough common ground to drop formalities, it is a thing we will never share.”

“Heh, butterflies? That’s probably why. Do you ever wonder if the rest of the world fails to see the genius of our race? I mean, we’re naturally good with magic and precise with our weaponry and all sorts of fine crafts and scholarly pursuits, but maybe they don’t give a toss about those sorts of things. Maybe we have to learn about their sorts of things.”

Ptielieren studied his fellow guard. Bieyshiealelleinue was an odd duck. He was good at his job, but he tended to sympathize too much with the lesser species. His ward, granted, enjoyed slumming it, but that was no real excuse. So he’d spoken with a few orc mutts in his time. Ptielieren had interrogated enough criminals working with the watch to know there was no such thing as a properly civilized Feral code of ethics.

The red-haired human walked over and stuck her hand out suddenly. The motion was inordinately jerky and Ptielieren immediately interpreted it as an attack. He caught her wrist and pivoted, still seated, to sweep her legs and pin her to the ground. His wrist and shoulders screamed at him, but he could live with the pain.

The creature went completely limp. Ptielieren released her arm and moved back quickly. The little thing was shaking. He looked helplessly at Bieyshiealelleinue. “What is wrong with it?”

“It? Really, Ptailierensylvcois, have you no decorum? You’ve clearly startled the creature.”

“It moved with intent to assault.”

“That was a human gesture of acquaintance.”

“She doesn’t have mine.”

“I believe that is the point.”

Bieyshiealelleinue knelt down and wasted a fair display of courtly grace on the lowly creature. Ptielieren rolled his eyes as his fellow guard helped the lass to rise before guiding her to sit with them. She did not seem the least amused but had the decency to accept the chivalrous gesture.

Ptielieren sighed and looked down at her as he relinquished his grip and spoke in Nieltre, the nation’s legal common. “And I suppose you have a name?”


“Mmm. An exercise in ironic wordplay. It’s pretty.” Ptielieren spared the lass a smile and turned to walk away. A small stone struck him in the back. He paused, then turned with a brow raised. “Yes? My ears are not so ill-formed as those adorning your cute little face. Does the pebble speak for you now?”

The lass glared, raised a hand in some kind of gesture and stormed away, her skirt flouncing with ill grace.

“Ptailierensylvcois, you are absolutely useless.” Ptielieren glared his fellow guardian and everyone around him for the space of several breaths. Feyaodaiazoyeeniesia d’Syvaeleyne began coughing and Bieyshiealelleinu turned to tend to her, ignoring him. Traisyelianiel was helping Tieregre eat. Ptielieren stalked over to Natia, feeling a sudden and inexplicable sense of exclusion. She was braiding the mouse-haired female’s hair with a more intricate weave, causing it to almost look good. Ptielieren studied it for a moment and scoffed, turning his gaze away.

“Look, you insensitive jerk, if you’re here to judge like usual you can go stuff it.” Natia’s face darkened with rage and Ptielieren put both hands up in a modified version of the human gesture for surrender. He took two steps back and arched his brow as Natia’s hands fumbled the locks.

A high pitched scream brought Ptielieren back to the immediacy of his surroundings. He whirled, a hand brushing where his rapier should have been. It was the little five-year-old heir. He bolted in the direction of the screams. About seven bugbears stood and started giving chase.

He didn’t care.

The lass was being shoved about by the goblin and the three biggest cubs. Ptielieren assessed the scenario and immediately put himself in pace with the child, his form dancing to take the blows from the cubs and his feet snaking out to specifically disable the goblin. He felt his lungs begin to collapse and his heart begin to stutter but determined these background sensations irrelevant.

Said goblin was easy enough to dissuade. The cubs, however, seemed to renew their interest in the game. Ptielieren moved carefully and positioned the little girl to sit so he could dance above her. She did as bid and curled into a tight little ball. Ptielieren smiled and began his forms, shielding the lass perfectly without once striking the children.

From the edge of his vision, he noted that one of Jaioeyaollaieraineilyen’s eyes was swollen almost shut and she held her left arm at a bad angle. It was like looking at a wren struggling to sleep after flying through the wrong end of a twister. He moved and let his mind and body blur. He still caused no harm to the young but there was no longer any reason to mistake his intent for play.

When the cubs finally backed off, he stood still. There was a sound like clapping and he turned. The gnome and halfling, along with about half of the den, were watching. The gnome’s slow clap ended as he spoke again. “Oh no, don’t stop on our account.” It gave an insufferable grin and Ptielieren glared pure hatred at the little creature.

The bugbear that seemed to most enjoy forcing him to eat took a step forward, the goblin close at its heel. “You’d best continue, you marrowless xiezjiit, or we’ll think you meant just to interfere with our cubs as they went about their learning.” It looked to the Boss and Ptielieren noted the faint nod. The creature began to advance and Ptielieren smiled and gave a faint bow. He mentally formalized his Nieltre and looked up, wishing he was more fluent with Vexra, the common tongue of this and other Feral races.

“If you’ll allow the lass some time to mend, I’d be happy to practice my forms.” He gave an elegant bow, the sort for such amusements as a Fete of Starshine. It was extravagant and meant to be mocking, though he doubted any present would understand it for the insult it was.

The bugbear, Trerrarc he now recalled, hesitated. The goblin scampered over and gently touched its leg with a hand, rounding at the shoulders and falling to its knees, pressing the top of its head to the bugbear’s shin. Ptielieren tilted his head at this display, then raised his brows and looked away and up with a slight shake of his head. His hair fell back and he smiled. The Boss stepped forward then and he felt himself grow a little bit afraid.

“That will not occur. Our pet will heal or suffer by our whim and not your own. You, however, you we will hurt. And who will come dance her to safety then?” The creature seemed completely relaxed, as though the conversation meant nothing. Ptielieren inclined his head, accepting.

He looked about and noted a relatively straight stick. He walked over and picked it up. It was too long and horrendously balanced, so he snapped a bit off of the tip and tried it with a few passes. It would suffice. His heart was truly struggling now but Ptielieren resolved that, so long as it continued to beat, he would hold himself proud.

He began a form and the bugbears watched calmly. He finished it and flowed smoothly to another. At his fifth form some half of those gathered had settled down to watch and more were filing in close. The two complacent human lasses came to sit in the laps of two of the bugbears and the halfling was dragged into the lap of an ancient brute. The goblin rested the side of its head on Trerrarc’s lap and made small noises.

Between fast pirouettes, Ptielieren noted that when the bugbear began stroking the goblin both seemed to relax. The worry eased away from the mein of the mercenary and the goblin’s pale green skin shifted a light grayish tan.

The forms were too slow for his state of mind. He froze for a moment in the midst of a series of whorls, his hair flaring before settling again as he prepared himself to begin the form casually known as the ’Hurrock’s Death Spiral.’ He moved as fast as the lightning that coursed just beneath his collar. He lost himself in the movements and knew himself beautiful.

His concentration was skewered when he heard a shout. The creatures, as one, rose to their feet to dart in in the sound’s direction. Ptielieren slowed his form and looked for the source of the commotion. The Boss made a gesture and Dirrorz came striding right toward him. “Lay down on the dirt, little elf, or things will go very badly for you.”

Ptielieren stepped backward quickly, raising the stick defensively. The bugbear paused and arched a single brow, raising a shaking hand and wavering on its feet as though drunk. “Little elf, this is how you look. Come, no peacocking.”

Ptielieren checked his raised arm and noted his muscles couldn’t seem to steady. He mentally cursed the weakness of his flesh and took a different stance, one that favored a more planted position. The bugbear threw its head back and laughed. Ptielieren struck.

Though the stick did manage to strike the exposed neck, it didn’t pierce the skin and the angle wasn’t right to do lethal damage with flat bludgeoning. Ptielieren found himself suddenly in a great deal of pain as a fist smashed into his ribs. He knew at least three of them were broken on the contact and he fell hard. The bugbear hauled him up by the hair at a speed dizzyingly fast enough to leave him both disoriented and winded. The beast then cuffed his head and abdomen with an open set of hands.

The beating was not terrible, as such things went, but neither was it particularly fun to endure. Ptielieren finally just curled into a tight ball and waited for a chance to strike that never came. The bugbear reached down and hauled him along, keeping the elf’s head low enough that it was nearly impossible to actually walk. He managed a kind of squatted shuffle and reached out for an ankle knife after only a few paces.

This netted his body being pinned beneath the full weight of the bugbear as the beast shoved him down, pinned him with a knee between his shoulders, plucked the knife away and yanked his still-mending arms behind his back. Ptielieren struggled somewhat but his heart started burning and his lungs began to contract. It was with a sudden influx of fear that he realized his heart had truly seized. He tuned his soul that he might last a little longer, letting his body fall limp and waiting. The bugbear grabbed his head and slammed the side of his face into the ground, not seeing that the fight was already out of him. As the beast hauled him upright, he struggled for breath and staggered, his body falling out from under him.

The creature didn’t seem to notice his rising panic and just dragged him along. Ptielieren found himself thrown hard into the ground and saw a few bugbears stalking back through the woods. Five of them had his fellow captives in tow. The baby elf came and sat by his side as he wheezed and clawed at his chest, desperately trying to will his heart to stop stuttering. When his mind finally got his body in working order again, at least for the moment, he looked up and saw all five of his fellow captives being cuffed and shaken out in the open area between the mouth of the cave and the sparsely wooded forest.

Traisyelianiel was weeping openly and trying to get away, making absolutely no effort to shield himself. Ptielieren felt a fair bit of rage at the undignified display even as his mind applauded his ward’s efforts to not be summarily executed. Bieyshiealelleinue was all but snarling, his full range of training and three centuries of experience keeping all of his assailants at bay once he was dropped into the loam. He fought to reach Feyaodaiazoyeeniesia d’Syvaeleyne. The bugbear who had dropped him was joined by three others and the four of them easily kept the two separated. Tieregre was curled in a ball, being kicked over and over while Natia tried to shield the wounded mutt with her own body. The thugs pounding on them seemed to be using somewhat less force than they did with the rest of the group, though, which bore remembering.

Feyaodaiazoyeeniesia d’Syvaeleyne was shoved in the direction of Trerrarc as she landed a clever elbow. The cold-eyed bugbear caught her by her moonsilver locks, lifted her up, and shook her once, sharply.

Even with his heart pounding only once every ten seconds, over the distance and above the sounds of violence, Ptielieren heard the sickening sound of a neck snapping. The woman became as limp as a rope toy and the bugbears beating on Bieyshiealelleinue ceased, turning to look. Trerrarc tossed her limp body to the ground a few feet away as her guardian skidded on his knees to catch her head and stroke her face, crying and shouting her name. The rest of the beatings stopped and the prisoners were simply left to their shock.