Dark Interruptions

Title: Dark Interruptions
Time Period: May 15, 135 A.E.
Characters Appearing:

Summary: A special moment between two people is forced to an abrupt end.

Today's been a bit dryer. Although a chill hangs in the air, there hasn't been rain despite the sky being stuffed full of clouds, hiding the dimming light. It's all for the better, though, because Mariah couldn't possibly have carried an umbrella along with the blanket and basket she brought along when she stole Cas after work. Even if she had remembered to pick it up.

But for now, she sits on top of the blanket, her back resting against the thick trunk of the tree as she holds a book up in front of her. Her other hand idly, but affectionately fingers Cas' hair as she reads him a swashbuckling romance from times long since gone.

The comfort in her voice is all the more prevalent for the steady stream of words, the gentle strokes of her fingers matching. At least between page turns.

The whole situation is so oddly relaxing, that Cas might have thought to accuse her of using her voice to try and lull him into sleep, if he didn't think it was equal parts dimmed light, the fingers running over his hair, and the warmth of her lap. If the story itself wasn't so interesting, he might have fallen asleep already.

As it is, he closes his eyes, trying to picture the fair maiden princess and the swashbuckling pirate all in black. He reacts to the surprises, laughs and smiles when things are funny, and when she pauses, his eyes open and he looks up at her, smiling happily.

"Good thing we didn't bring Eclipse— he'd probably have ate all our food by now and we wouldn't have noticed."

Mariah looks down at him, her smile gentle as she slides her fingers down to brush his cheek instead. "It's a bit engaging, you're saying?" Her smile turns crooked as she looks from him to the book, eyeing it as if judging it for herself only just now. "I suppose I can agree with that." It does need some judgment, though, as it's a new addition to her small collection of books. Purchased from one of the merchants coming into town with the season. It isn't the usual fare she'd aim for, but then, it's possible she didn't only have herself in mind when she made her choice.

She looks down at him again, though, her smile warmer. "And we're lucky Masque likes hunting," she adds with a nod to the basket. He's not in view, her familiar, but lingering close enough. As he tends to lately.

"Do familiars have to eat?" Cas asks curiously, mind shifting away from the book and the contents of it a little as his eyes stay on her face. A hand reaches up to touch hers against his cheek gently, before reaching up to touch her own. It's obvious what he's trying to do, drawing her face down to his for a kiss. An extended one.

Could be he's not thinking as much about what her familiar may or may not have to eat really.

The story has already gotten him into a dreamy mood, even if it's hit soft spots here and there. The best stories do.

"I don't know about have to, but he likes to," Mariah says with a chuckle. When he reaches for her cheek, it pulls her smile wider and even though there's a teasing lift of an eyebrow, she leans down to kiss him. Her hand moves down to rest against his chest, while she lets the book close in her other hand, a thumb keeping their place by happenstance rather than design.

Even when she pulls back, she doesn't straighten up. Instead, she clears her throat and smiles down at him. "You're going to distract me from finding out what happens next," she accuses playfully. But she must not mind terribly, because she renews the kiss just a moment later.

Yeah, the eating habits of familiars just happened to be a short term thing. The next kiss later and he's likely forgotten that he even asked about it. Cas is as much distracted as she is, but he does shift his eyes away from her face, toward the direction that the book disappeared.

Only to get distracted again.

Not for too long, because he's smiling against her mouth as moves his hand away, to the one holding the book. "I want to know what happens too," he says, in a 'so you know' way. "And I'm not good enough to figure it out for myself, either— I can read the title, though." Barely. It took him a few tries to mull the words over before he got them. At least they were common ones. If it gets much darker, though, she won't be able to reach either.

His smile and the words that follow get a soft laugh from Mariah, and she opens her eyes to look at him. "Well, stop being so fun to kiss, then," she says, and for a moment, it seems like she's going to kiss him again, but she stops just short and leans back again. "Wait, no, I take that back," she says, another laugh on her words.

But she does sit up, flipping the book open again. "You'll get it, Cas. You'll see. One day, you're going to be reading to me." And her hand comes back up to his face, and from a gentle brush along his jaw, she goes back to his hair. "Alright… where was I?" She scans over the page a moment or two before a familiar line catches her eye and she's able to start up again.

"Just don't count the days til then," Cas says with a laugh, closing his eyes as he settles back down into place on her lap, shifting his hand down to toy with her leg instead of her hands. That may not help matters, but at least it's playful and not… other.

Her question of where they are earns a long pause, as if he's trying to remember. But he doesn't have to answer, because she starts reading again. A few lines in and he stops toying with her leg, looking at his hand instead. It could be some of the lines just fly through his mind, unheard unprocessed. Something must be very fascinating about his left hand, from the way he turns his palm around. The sleeve slips down enough that his most noticable scar is visible.

The hand drops and he speaks softly, not even waiting for her to pause between pages, or even sentances. "I think I love you."

His hand on her leg does not help matters and on several occasions, she has to back up and restart a sentence. But always with a bit of a laugh. He's a distraction, but always a welcome one.

And as he misses a few lines, she misses his examination of his hand, at least for the most part. Which is why she's still reading when his words slip into the ear and seem to cause her to forget how to read entirely. She's not just mid-page or mid-sentence, but mid-word when she stutters to a halt and stares at the page. And off a bit from the tree, a familiar badger head lifts up above a tall patch of grass. Masque knows better than to speak up in a moment like this, but it seems he can't resist the urge to watch. If a badger could look smugly satisfied…

But, it's just a moment before she looks down at him, her mouth opening to reply, but she seems to have forgotten how to speak as well. At least until she can manage to get out a quiet, "What?"

Any hope that she may have missed his words gets dashed by the sputtering stop to her reading. Against her leg, she can feel Cas' neck muscles tense up, and he shifts his own legs and sits up, pulling away from her comfortable lap and the warmth he'd had there and instead staring off at the bushes. Not the bushes with a badger head looking smuggly at them.

Or else he'd probably stumble even worse with his words. As it is, he doesn't get more than two out at a time.

"I— I just— I mean— I think— It— I— " His efforts to speak start and stop many times, never getting behind a few words, before his shoulders slouch a little and he rubs a hand through his hair. From the way the sky darkens, he may have been stumbling over his words more than he might think.

Mariah watches him sit up, forgetting to even close her book this time and looking a little wide-eyed. The proverbial deer in the headlights. But at least she doesn't look angry. Or like she's about to run away. Just sort of blindsided. Luckily, she seems to miss Masque watching them, too.

She seems to be letting him attempt to elaborate on the subject, because she's quiet through his false starts, right up until his posture slumps.

"You… mean that, don't you?" Her tone's a little strange, leaving it hard to say if she's wanting him to confirm it, or giving him a chance to backtrack. And it doesn't help to clear it up that her hand moves to grip onto his sleeve, while her brow furrows. "Cas…" Her voice softens there, but her expression lingers in the realm of uncertainty.

In the midst of the tender moment of awkward, comes the startling sound of a someone screaming. No, not someone. Some thing. The inhuman noise pierces the silence off from deeper in the surrounding wood in the direction of one of Dornie's outgoing dirt roads. Bloody murder incarnated into onomatopeia, the shrill cry at first is difficult to discern the source of the sound. A second whinny, when closer, determines the nature of the beast: a horse in alarming distress.

If anyone looks like they want to get away, it might well be Cas. As her hand touches his sleeve, he tenses up again, but doesn't pull away. "I did— I mean I do, but— " is as far as he gets in his explaination, but there's something about the way he says it that already screams he perhaps isn't sure what else to say on it.

The screams of a horse are likely the last thing he expected to hear to get him out of this awkwardness that could very well be the best chance he will get. Even if he sits upright and blinks at the sound for a few moments.

"That's a horse," he says, once he recognizes the sound, immediately getting to his feet and pulling out of the grasp on his sleeve. Without even thinking on it too long, he starts to move off toward the sound, not running, but certainly not walking.

Mariah looks in the direction of the scream, too, but her attention is pretty quickly back on Cas. But he's already getting to his feet by the time she gets her attention shifted. And really, is it any surprise? Her hand falls away from his sleeve, and for a moment, she sits there while he starts off in an effort to shift gears. She doesn't manage it quite as quickly.

But with a heavy exhale, she stands to her feet, sliding the book into a deep pocket as she goes. Masque runs ahead of her, settling into a pace between the two people he's deemed it his business to look after, but Mariah runs a bit to catch up.

She doesn't take his hand when she reaches him like she normally might, but she looks his way to give him a nod. She's there, at least.

With their pace is quick enough to dictate urgency, the clip at which the trio arrive to the horse's vicinity is swift and in a matter of seconds. In the darkness of the wood, it is difficult to tell what lies beyond the thicker brush. When Cas finally locates the animal, he sees the rather distressed liver colored mare tossing her head and flax mane wildly in vain efforts to pull a snagged set of reins from the dumb grasp of a tree's branches. She's riderless, but upon her is a saddle with a monogram stamped into the leather. 'R'. And without the direction of her rider, the horse is quite alarmed.

But that's not what is the source of the alarm.

A trio of shadows circles the trapped beast, snapping and snarling with toothy jaws. Black Dogs, they're called. Harbingers of doom.

Of all the things Cas expected to see when he rounded the top of the hill, Black Dogs probably weren't among them. It doesn't look the same as the mastiff that he saw, but it looks undoglike, for sure. His breath catches and he quickly looks at Mariah, who followed him, and flinches. This is one time he probably wishes she didn't.

"Go, get help," he tries to tell her, whether he thinks she will listen or not, as he looks around for something—

And finds what he wanted. Running forward, he bends down and comes up with a heavy moss covered rock in hand, throwing it at the dogs in an attempt to make them scatter.

If it wasn't possibly a Rowntree horse would he have done the same? Very likely. Even without an R stamped saddle, he would have tried. It's a horse.

Mariah all but skids to a halt when she spots those Dogs in front of them. No wonder the horse is freaking out. If there were anything that would get her mind off the declaration from moments ago… well, this is just overkill, really.

No pun intended.

"What? I'm not leaving you here," she says back in a whisper, as if that would make them less noticeable. So while he goes for the rock, she turns her attention to the horse, whispering her voice's natural comfort into its ear, even if it'll be difficult to get the beast down from this particular fear-driven frenzy. But while she whispers, her fingers work to try to untangle the reins from the tree. That's difficult, too, on account of shaking fingers. She must know she won't be getting Cas away from here without the horse getting to safety, too, with the way she keeps looking over his way.

At least the odds are in Cas' favor, with Mariah and Masque. The moss covered rock strikes one of the circling canines, but doesn't do much by way of actually deterring the creature. No, it turns its slavering attention from the horse… to Cas and Mariah. In the moonlight, the black dog's fangs glint with a supernatural brightness, only bringing out the promise of sharpness in each edge. A deep growl rumbles from its throat into the air, joined by those of its packmates. It is the rock-struck dog that lunges forward at the stablehand with a full body, fangs-first tackle.

The reins are tight, but not impossible to unknot from the branch. With Mariah's calming voice slipping its way into the mare's ears, the equine stills with her ears pinned back, sides still heaving and flecked in foamy sweat. The reins come loose after some effort, but is it too late?

Sometimes, Cas doesn't think before he acts. By the look on his face he didn't think it through much beyond finding something to throw. The dog turns on him, a all-too familiar set of dangerous teeth and deadly jaws. And he remembers a certain guard and a young teen. A season ago, but not very far away at all.

There's a startled sound and his eyes dart toward Mariah and the horse once, before the dog hits him, arms raising up to guard his body as much as he can. His shirt isn't armor, but at least it was cool enough to still wear leather jackets. The leather won't offer much, but—

It's better than bare skin, perhaps.

There's a reason Masque likes to linger in the form of a badger. Small, but known to be deadly even to animals bigger than them. And this particular badger's protective hackles are well and truly up. So it may be of little surprise when the familiar launches from the foliage to sink teeth into the neck of the dog lunging for Cas.

And Mariah watches as the pair of them enter the fray, fingers a bit frantic to get the horse free now. And when it comes free, she tucks the reins into the bridle in the hopes that they won't get caught anywhere else. It, perhaps, isn't entirely bright of her to give the horse a smack on the rear end to get it to run off, considering they could have probably gotten away much faster on its back, but her mind is rather in a similar place as Masque's.

So she doesn't run off, either, but searches around the area, hunting for a branch thick enough to be a decent weapon.

The riderless mare need no further encouraging outside that quick smack on the rear, and off goes the fastest retreat method down through the forest, leaving the three behind to face the pack of black dogs. The first dog tackles Cas down to the dirt, teeth snapping onto his leather jacketed arms and savaging the tough tanned 'skin'. The beast is heavy, being larger than a wolf as it is, and its fangs catch hold of his jacket to tear the sleeves with a terrible ripping sound. But yes, it is better than the bare skin. More terrible than the sound of ripped jacket is the nigh-rabid snarl that comes out of the creature when Masque leaps into the fray and latches on. Immediately the black dog shifts its attention to the badger instead of Cas, but the fight happens right atop the stablehand. It leaves the other two black dogs free though, circling for a place, and opportunity. One of them finds it, jumping in with its maw clamping onto Cas' left leg at the lower calf and ankle, breaking skin to draw blood.

Branches are a dime a dozen in the area, the easiest within reach being those already broken by the mare when she panicked and crashed around in the wood. Though she gets a sturdy weapon, Mariah doesn't have much time to think about how to use it as the third black dog paces forward towards her. Its glowing red eyes widen into blood-colored rounds, the sentience in them almost too villainous to be that of a mere bloodthirsty beast's.

"Masque!" Cas cries out as the badger leaps into the fray, protecting his arms, but otherwise causing him to look shocked and wishing that the animal wasn't there in the first place. What happens to a mage if a familiar is injured or killed? He thinks he heard things about that, and…

There's a hoarse sound in his throat, a protest, that turns into a yell of pain as teeth grasp through his pant leg and into his skin, instinctively he kicks, trying to get free, trying to pull himself away, but with the burden on his chest the most he can really do is… flail a little.

And the flailing no doubt tears more skin against the teeth.

Masque is focused. Cas' call of his name only seems to spur the creature onward. Claws dig into flesh as his teeth holding onto the dog's neck and clenching down as he whips his head back and forth in an attempt to cause more damage. And in hopes of ending the fight quickly, considering their perch atop Cas.

Mariah seems pretty confident in Masque's ability to take care of himself, because she doesn't turn to look. But maybe she's also a little distracted by the hunt for a weapon. And when she gets one, she straightens just in time to see the third one coming her way. She freezes at first, just sort of staring at its strides forward. But Cas' yell is what snaps her out of it and she grips her branch and takes a swing at the side of its head before she turns and bolts in Cas' direction. To the rescue?

The badger and the black dog don't stay atop Cas' prone body long as the frenzy of their fight rolls into the dirt beside the man. The alpha dog snaps wildly at Masque like a bucking bronco, rearing and writhing. The badger's teeth hang on and it's almost like the black dog is doing all the work in tearing its flesh against the familiar's fangs. What the badger doesn't have at the moment is the weight advantage, though, and so is hauled around like a striped furry tumor clinging to the side of the black dog's neck being whipped back and forth and backend being flung against thorny bushes, hard dirt, and firm tree roots.

The second dog with Cas' leg in its mouth pulls back hard at the stablehand's pained yell, dragging the man a couple of inches away from the fight between Masque and the black dog, but all the closer to it. Its glowing eyes shift the creature's gaze sideways to eye the wounded man. Even in its savage, bloody mawed expression, it's like he could see it debating what to do with him next.

When Mariah swings the branch at the third advancing black dog, the canine ducks to avoid the strike. The smaller fingers of the branch's side sprouts catch it in the face, momentarily blinding the dog and stopping its intended attack. But as Mariah bolts, it turns with her and snaps for her heels, latching on to a portion of her dress hem and causing it to tear as well. Unlike the unfortunate Cas, though, she gets away from those menacing jaws for now.

As he's dragged, Cas tries to grab onto the ground, but the magical creature is much larger than him, and stronger. And the most he could have hoped for to get away is likely his foot coming off.

With heavy labored breaths, he looks around, only realizing he's no longer being dragged when is hands dig into slightly clumpy damp earth. The mud is strong enough to come away in chunks, but damp enough to make it easy to pull apart.

And as the Dog stops, to try and decide what to do with him, Cas does the only thing he can think of…

Throw the fistfull of mud at the creature. Perhaps not the best idea, but he's hoping the distraction will let him crawl away some, as he twists and pushes. Unfortunately with his ankle. There's a pained sound, and he falters. Maybe he won't get very far after all.

Masque flails a bit as he's swung around and into rather uncomfortable things, but those jaws don't budge, which often leaves the dog with the badger's weight hanging from its neck. But he scratches and claws, both to wound and to find purchase for the more ominous turn of bucking broncos he's taking.

And while Mariah narrowly avoids her own leg getting munched on, but she's not doing anything sensible like running to safety. Even with the dog on her heels, she runs toward the one on Cas, trying to aim a bit better this time when she swings at this one, trying to knock it off him.

Slowing down to do so isn't such a great idea, either, but there's this whole matter of not wanting them to actually be able to kill Cas. Especially considering his sighting earlier in the year, and… double-especially considering they have a love elephant in the room to get around to discussing.

Masque's stubbornness keeps the badger locked on the alpha dog and the big canid otherwise out of inflicting harm's way. Thrashing slowed by the loss of blood and pain, the pack leader tires to the point that it limp-jogs deeper into the forest with the badger, tossing the familiar this way and that in more or less half-hearted attempts to dislodge the other magic animal.

Meanwhile, the pair of dogs left to deal with Cas and Mariah are less gung-ho, notably, without their leader in the midst of them. The fistful of mud smacks soundly (and wetly) against the dog, blinding it to the incoming branch from Mariah. Mariah's aiming smacks the beast's neck hard, eliciting a yelp and causing it to let go of Cas to back off from range of the big stick. The third sees the fate of its packmate against the woman carrying said big stick and man, and stops to rethink strategy. Circling, the third dog comes alongside the second. Chops are licked, lips are pulled back to reveal those oh so threatening fangs.

With his ankle out of the grasp of the large Dog, Cas still tries to struggle away, but fails to get far without the ability to put much weight on his ankle and calf. The blood running down into his shoe has a lot to do with that, though it could feel worse than it is.

"…thanks…" he says quietly toward Mariah, after he looks between her and the creature she hit with a big stick. But he doesn't see Masque at this moment. And there's still Dogs to worry about. As he fumbles at his belt, he finds the knife he tends to use to clean fish or cut ropes and holds it out. But any attempts to get to his feet are met with winces and the decision to just stay seated on the ground. For the moment.

Even though she hits the creature away, Mariah looks a bit more upset in the wake of her act of bravery, or possibly stupidity. She stands there with the tip of her branch resting against the ground, shaking and taking in short, shallow gulps of air as she watches those dogs. Fear for herself, fear for Masque, fear for Cas in the face of creatures she doesn't truly understand.

His thanks gets a nod, but she doesn't actually say anything, she just stands there near him, unsteady guard. That show of fang doesn't help her confidence much, given that this time, she's not rushing in for the attack, either. But, she's also not running. So that's something.

To Mariah's and Cas' credit, they seem to have created a standoff as the two black dogs pace and circle, but don't chance themselves just yet against the knife and against the bludgeon. Yet, maybe it is an ominous sign rather than a hopeful one that they just seem to be biding their time, waiting for the next move. Hackles raise and growls rumble from the beasts as they seem conflicted, choosy on their next victim.

The snap of twigs and rustle of bushes nearby indicate that something else is lurking in the shadows as well, behind and around the couple. From the corners of their night-heightened vision, they can catch glimpses of movement and hear quiet chattering, voices like small children mixed with impish tones trying to be stealthy but now failing to be so. The rustling can be heard in the surrounding bush, but also up in nearby trees. With the frenetic activity that came of the black dog pack's attack, Cas and Mariah seem to have missed the approach of other creatures to the area. And their woes with the dogs aren't even over yet.

"You should've gone to get help," Cas says with a wince, even if he knows her branch helped keep his leg from getting actually mauled. Right now he might get away with calling it a really painful scratch, but a few more seconds of that…

"You could've got on the horse," he adds as he moves closer to her, more or less sliding across the ground, free hand going out to grasp the branch, as if to take it. "Get out of here— I'll catch up." With his leg, that may take some doing. And he doesn't realize they're about to get more company.

"That might be true," Mariah says back to him, voice sounding just as shaky as her hands appear at the moment, "But I don't think I could have gotten back very fast." Fast enough to be of any help, she means, even if she's saying it more delicately.

Unfortunately, she notices the chattering first, and the twigs and movements follow, and she closes her eyes, which squeezes out a tear or two. She doesn't, as a result, fight him taking the branch, but she shakes her head at his words all the same. "We'll get out of here together. Aye?" She looks down at him there, her hand reaching over to brush a piece of his hair back.

Meanwhile, further into the trees, Masque suddenly realizes how far the dog has gotten him from his pair of wards, and with a final swipe of claws aimed eyeward at the alpha, he leaps off to dash back in Mariah and Cas' direction.

The rustles get closer, and the pair of black dogs slip back as if their attack is 'called off'. They don't run away, though, instead hanging in limbo to see what is in fact to come from around them in the bush. The first of the hobs appears with a burst of chatter from the brush, holding up what looks like a riding crop in its grubby hand-like paw and an 'R' monogramed kerchief tied to its right arm holding up said crop. That appears to be a signal, as suddenly a rain of rocks pelts the pair from above and around them. A particularly large, moss-covered one strikes Mariah square upside her skull, causing a burst of stars in her vision. The rest of the hobs, a good number of them coming forth but still some behind and above, swarm in soon after with an eager cacophony.

As the badger makes its mad dash back towards the pair, the familiar too encounters a number of hobs blocking easy passage to his mage and her companion. Though these creatures are not nearly as strong as the black dog and more towards his current size, there are a good number of them standing between him and his intended goal.

The little monsters look like nothing that Cas has ever seen before, and he looks worriedly between them and Mariah. Who is refusing to just go. And gets clocked in the head for it. "Mariah!" he yells, ending up beside her, then taking up the stick whether she wanted him to have it or not. Using it to push himself up, to take the weight off his left leg, he raises up the knife at the many creatures.

And he's put himself firmly between them and the woman who they made see stars. "What do you want?" he asks, as if he thinks they might understand him. It could be he's trying to buy time, but…

There's a wince and a grunt as he steps on his ankle too much, but the branch helps him stay upright.

Mariah didn't see that one coming. The rock hits her before she even really registers what they're doing, and she stumbles a step before hitting the ground herself. She's not unconscious, but most definitely dazed as she sits there with an arm propping her up there in the muddy earth. It's okay, the dress was ruined already. While Cas gets up to face the swarm, she sits behind him, just trying not to black out. She hasn't noticed the cut where it hit or the blood mixing with her hair and running down her skin. Head wounds.

Masque pauses a moment, eyeing them all before he makes his move. While it's true he could just turn into something with wings and fly over them, it's equally true that he's too angry for such a passive route. Instead, he bulks up into the shape of a large boar, tusks and all, and charges through head first, swinging his muzzle this way and that to make use of the tusks while he has them.

For all of Cas' questions, the hobs don't answer in any coherent string. He may be much larger than they are, but they appear emboldened by their numbers, and the appearance of his injuries. He uses the branch to hold himself up, while the R-kerchief'd hob holds the riding crop high. With Mariah knocked down, they've just one more to take care of.

A final war-chitter command pipes out of the Head Hob, who charges forth with a gang behind him. Hobs drop from the trees, landing on Cas' shoulders before grabbing on to him. Little fingers grasp at him, one hob actually piggy-backing on the stablehand with a hand clamped over his nose and the other whacking away at his skull. Others go after the stunned Mariah, grabbing her hair, limbs, dress, all with the intentions of man(or hob)handling her away into the darkness. Except, that darkness is impeded upon by the Masque'd Boar, who charges into the outer edges of the group and crashes bodily through a pair of hobs blocking his path before coming upon the sheer press of small bodies.

"Ow!" Cas cries out as the hob begins to wack him in the head. With his knife holding hand, he catches a few of the blows with his arm and the stick helping him stay upright slips, causing him to fall down, hitting the slightly muddy soil with his side as he lands, still trying to protect his already sore head. There will be knots, if not spots of blood under his dark hair. Assuming he sees tomorrow.

No longer needing the support of the stick, he now swings that around. Weakly. His vision is going out, his head's spinning. He feels sick— But he manages a gasping, "Get off her!" at the hobs.

Mariah tries pushing away the little beasts when they tug and pull with her one free arm, a leg kicking at the ones grabbing her dress. But all the same, she seems to notice through the haze when Cas falls, too, and her second hand joins her first in the mud as she blinks hard and focuses over at him. "Cas," she even manages his name before she tries to get herself over toward him, impeded by little hobs pulling at her, a head wound making her see double and fall over herself, and mud just generally complicating the whole mess.

And as she tries, Masque comes onto the fray and this time, given that there's his human companions to worry about, he doesn't just charge in, but shifts again to a big cat, using its natural agility to pick off the hobs trying to drag off his mage. She may be more concerned about Cas than herself at the moment, but for Masque, there's no question of which one of them he'll get safe first.

A squeal of pain cries out of the hob latched on the stablehand's head as Cas' knife sinks into the leathery skin of the creature. It topples off and lands not far from where Cas himself slips and tumbles. The mass attack falls on Cas with many a fist and leveled kick trying to pummel him further into the mud at first, the seething bunch filling most of what he can immediately see. Even as his vision starts to black out and that odd sensation of almost being apart of one's body comes knocking at the back of his mind, he can see himself swinging the branch Mariah had used to fight off the black dogs minutes earlier batting away several hobs who didn't have the good fortune nor presence of mind to duck those wild swings. The impact lays out several from the end of Mariah's dress.

Masque's newly clawed form leaps onto the hobs and causes panic amidst the group trying to take Mariah away. The familiar's efforts are rewarded as they drop the woman, but keep him and her from running away just yet. The fight between the familiar and the gang of impish beings is much more primal, tooth versus claw as they battle. The ferocity of Masque eventually creates a decent circle around him as he hovers over Mariah.

At some point, Cas' branch and knife are wrested from him though, and in the fray he can spot the Head Hob take up the moss-covered rock so well traveled on this unfortunate night. And it is that same rock that eventually comes sailing out of the Head Hob's hand towards Cas' head, and is brought down square on his skull, thoroughly knocking him out cold. Once he's out, the hobs start to drag him away into the woods, helped along by the pack of black dogs soon joined by their semi-blinded leader.

When Cas gets knocked over the head and starts to get dragged off, Mariah scrambles, apparently not noticing the circle of them around her and Masque in her attempts to get over there. But Masque all but knocks her back down, physically putting himself in her way.

"Masque, move," she says, panic-fueled anger making her tone harsh as she shoves against his side.

He would want me to stay, comes the reply, which is quite sensible all things considered. But she isn't in a sensible mindset, even without the rock's help. So from under her familiar, she stretches a hand out in the direction they're taking him, tears coming more freely just now.

"Cas!" She shouts his name, as if it might help rouse him somehow. Or do anything useful, but it seems the magic isn't quite clicking in for her just now. "CAS!"

Chattering continues amidst the hobs as they back away from the familiar and his mage, focused instead on the burden of carrying the unconscious stablehand off deeper into the woods. From the rumors of what malicious hobs can do, it may not be the best fate in store for Cas. On the otherhand, they haven't been rumored to butcher adults. Yet. Masque might prevent Mariah from catching up immediately, but it is for the better. The stress, the strain, and eventually the pain from the rock strike give away to the blissful ignorance of unconsciousness.