"There's a trapdoor opened beneath these stairs," said Venne, peering down a new flight. "I guess we've found out where the cells are."
"See if you can close it," said Lianna. "We need to get away before those hobgoblins get here."
Venne groped around in the partial darkness while Lianna led Mirko back through the ground-floor rooms to the entrance. They stepped outside the door and looked around just as a cry went up from across the clearing. Four hobgoblins stopped where they were and stared at the humans at the tower door. Two heart-beats passed, and then all four hobgoblins pulled short-swords out.
Mirko moved out to Lianna's side, swinging his staff one-handed, feeling his heart beating strongly in his chest suddenly. Lianna's lips curled back from her teeth in a wolfish grin, and she pulled the frostbane free from its scabbard. In the afternoon sunlight, Mirko realised, he couldn't see the blue glow about the blade.
The largest, and foremost, of the hobgoblins screamed a string of curses and charged at Lianna. She waited, slightly crouched, her sword held unwaveringly in front of her. Mirko waited as well, catching the free end of his staff with his other hand to grip it in a two-handed fashion.
The hobgoblin ducked, throwing himself forward and trying to roll underneath Lianna's blade to where he'd have the advantage of the shorter weapon. For a second it looked like his ruse was going to work, and then Lianna dropped her sword lightning-fast, the blade slicing through the boiled leathers that the hobgoblin was wearing like a hot knife through butter. Mirko thought he saw a breath of chilled air rise from the cut, but then the second hobgoblin lunged at him with unpleasant accuracy and only his reflexes pulled his staff up fast enough to block the blow. He retreated a step, knowing that it was two steps for the hobgoblin, and then released his grip on one end of the staff. The free end swung out, heavy and unstoppable, and cracked against the side of the hobgoblin's head as it tried to close the gap between them. It fell to the ground, the yellowish whites of its eyes showing, and Mirko stepped back in, lifting the staff and bringing it down in a vicious arc into the hobgoblin's face.
He could hear quiet grunts from Lianna, and glancing over he saw that the first hobgoblin lay dead and rimed near her feet, and that the other two were attacking from opposite sides. Lianna was keeping both of them at bay, and didn't look as though they were causing her any real trouble, but Mirko came in anyway.
He stepped almost silently across the grass and his staff snaked out again, scything the hobgoblin's legs from underneath it. It fell over backwards and Lianna's sword flashed in the sunlight, arcing down and beheading the fallen creature. As she pulled the sword free bright blood splashed across the grass and the last hobgoblin fell back, glancing quickly over its shoulder, looking for a clear route to retreat down. Lianna lunged, but missed as the hobgoblin twisted to the side, and it turned and ran.
For several moments Mirko thought that she was going to pursue it, despite knowing that it had to be running back to the large group, but then she stopped and shuddered. Mirko approached her, his pace faltering as he saw the frost and ice running up her sleeve and arm.
"Those dragon hunters," she said, a thin-lipped smile on her face, "had armour called frostguard. I think I might know why, now."
"Hah!" said Venne, coming out of the tower at last. "I bet the armour's no easier to come by than the sword."
"You missed another fight," said Lianna rubbing the frost from her sleeve. "You make me very glad the druid came along."
"I'll second that," said Venne, nodding. "But we need to be leaving now don't we?"
The three of them set off through the forest and back to the cleared fields, away from the approaching hobgoblins and toward civilisation.