A strange sight met Thane, Brun, and Simon as they came up the hill. Baroness Nubine was at the top of the hill, weaving and jumping about in a weaselly war dance. She paused a second to gulp down more of the cursed wine. She hadn’t seen the wolves and bear behind her yet. They ducked low to hide in the grass, watching.
Rusty, Zeke, and the cubs were over the hill, backs to a sheer spire of stones they hadn’t seen on the way in. They were throwing rocks at the baroness, except for Naomi, who whipped them out of Zeke’s bird-hunting sling.
She’s not a bad shot, either, thought Thane. She knows how to lead her target!
One shot looked like it would land for certain, blurring straight for the ferret, right between her eyes. But a foot or so before it landed, green shimmering light flashed in the inferno-lit night, and the rock ricocheted off it.
“A shield,” said Brun. “Wyld magic.”
“Can’t you do something about it?” asked Thane.
The bear held up his blistered paws. Thane winced.
“It’s been a long night, pup. I am only good for biting, now.”
“Don’t!” said Simon. “The Rot will infect—”
“I know, squire. I fight the Rot with the Wyld. Which is why I can tell you her spell is close to wearing off. Be ready.”
Thane pulled out his sword. Simon readied his staff. They crept up the side of the hill, continuing to stay out of sight.
The baroness threw an emptied bottle at Rusty. The fox ducked, but there was no need; the throw was short, and the bottle bounced on the grass at her feet.
“Have a swig, Foxy-Loxy! It just may even your odds, Has-been!”
“I’ll even my odds all right!” said Rusty. She stooped down and grabbed the bottle by the neck. She smashed the body of the bottle hard against the rock wall at their back. The glass shattered, jagged edges sparkling in the fire of Houndsmouth.
“Whoa,” said the raccoon cub.
“Whoa,” said Thane.
Thane took a step back. He’d seen Rusty in a few bar brawls. He might not have to do anything.
Simon’s ears flattened. “Um, Thane?”
Thane glanced back at Brun. Brun did nothing.
“Hold,” said the wolf.
A shock of fear had lit the ferret’s face, almost comically. But remembering her shield, she began scurrying side to side.
Rusty reached her, but the magical shield was like a wall of glass. She pounded a dark paw against it. Green light sparkled between her and the ferret.
“I’ll cut you down, you little menace!” said the fox.
The baroness swigged from a new bottle. “Ah. So close, yet so far away!”
Rusty dug her feet into the grass—tricky, when she still didn’t have the high ground—and pushed her shoulder against the invisible barrier.
The baroness found herself slowly sliding across the top of the hill. Rusty was no closer, but the ferret had been moved to the center of the hill. The ferret laughed at her.
Rusty shook the bottle. “I’m going to roll you down this hill, and when this bubble pops, I’m gonna—”
“No thanks, not interested!” The baroness stretched her neck to the side. “There you are, cubs! Come to me—looks like I’ll be needing a new army. I’ll keep it painless. You can join too, possum!”
“Don’t you touch them!” Rusty punched the shield. The ferret giggled and continued her war dance. Thane could see the streaks of corruption darkening her sable and white fur.
“She’s cracking up right in front of us!” he said.
Rusty ran against the shield. The green glowed brighter and brighter, until you could see the once-invisible bubble she fought with.
“Get ready!” said Brun.
The substance Rusty had been leaning upon gave out.
She fell forward, right into the ferret’s path. Nubine squeaked and they collided onto the ground.
Rusty landed oddly and the broken bottle flew out of her reach.
“Now!” said Thane. The wolves rushed in.
Rusty snarled at the ferret beneath her.
“RUSTY, NO!” cried Thane. “Don’t bite her, she’s gone corrupt!”
Rusty gasped and rolled back.
The ferret’s eyes burned—Rusty swore they were glowing an evil violet color, just like a bane’s eyes. Nubine dove for the fox, teeth gnashing. Rusty pushed herself away, curling her beautiful tail out of reach as she crabbed backwards in the grass.
The baroness’ teeth clamped down on Rusty’s skirt just as Thane reached them. He chopped his sword at the ferret’s neck, but she jumped out of the way, tearing a strip of Rusty’s skirt with her.
The baroness whirled down the hill, towards the stone spire.
“The cubs! Zeke, look out!” said Simon, racing with Thane to the far side of the hill.
They hadn’t gone far before the ferret began screeching. Nubine had fallen to her knees.
Zeke and the cubs were gone. She faced bare rock.
Rusty popped to her feet next to the wolves.
“YEAH, WITCH! I’M THE CLEVER FOX—AND PROUD OF IT!” Rusty screamed down at her.
The baroness whipped around to face her and hissed.
“Rusty, go hide,” said Thane. “We’ll handle this! Stilts, let’s away!”
The wolves closed in on the ferret.
See you tomorrow at noon (Pacific Standard Time) for chapter 14! The game Armello and its characters are property League of Geeks. Buy it today!
Need to catch up? For previous chapters, click the tag “Heroes of Houndsmouth“; older chapters are towards the bottom.
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