Sunday, 3 March 2013

The Ranger

A short story in celebration of the 17k+ people who looked at this blog: which features an interview by Amaymon. 

This is a story inspired by the long hours I spent playing Dungeons and Dragons Online. Try to guess my class. Hint: its in the title. Also I threw in there some Lord of the Rings. Bonus points if any of you can guess from where I got the direwolf's name. 


The Ranger

The deer was getting heavy on his shoulder. Living at the edge of the forest had its perks, but it was not without its difficulties. He had killed this deer perhaps a few hours’ stride from his usual hunting grounds, chasing after the large specimen.
Animals had gotten sparser in the past few weeks: he would have to head out again after he deposited his catch and restocked his quiver.

He had gotten to the edge of his hut when he suddenly heard the shriek of birds and saw a flock emerging from the west. That bode trouble. Animals in these woods lived comfortably alongside wild predators, man-eating flora and fauna and platoons of knights either brave or desperate enough to venture through these parts. Local wildlife was not easily intimidated and whoever, or whatever, had done so, had been new, unknown and terrifying. The Ranger checked his equipment and, setting the deer aside, he ran towards the disturbance.

It was the mark of a real hunter: stalk and observe your prey before taking any further action. He leaped over branches, bobbing and weaving amongst the trees. The movements were instinctive, his body and mind honed by years of living in the forest. Halfway through he saw a shadow emerging; a beast running alongside him. The direwolf was as large as a bear yet it moved with stealth and grace. It ran alongside the Ranger, fangs barred and spittle mottling random leaves. Man and beast got closer to the disturbance and the sounds escaped neither’s ears.

The Ranger slowed down, motioning with his hand to placate the direwolf. Garruk, the most faithful of companions, came to a halt, his slender legs still quivering. He crouched besides his companion, awaiting the signal to leap and rip out the throat of whatever dared instil fear in his beloved home. But the signal never came.

It was a small battalion of orcs and barbarians, men who long ago shed their honour and took up arms for the sake of baser desire. From his perch, the keen-eyed Ranger saw them escorting a wagon. He heard the familiar clink of metal, chucks of wooden flasks and the thump of powder barrels. It was a supply wagon and, judging from the direction of the tracks, it was headed for the Western Banks. A wagon of such size could support a legion of warriors. The Ranger saw the warriors surrounding it: most carried swords, cleavers, spears and axes. Two walked with only a staff and a small intricate club respectively; the weapons of magic-users. Scouts had already departed forward, their tracks too evident in the vegetation. Whoever these men were, they were not accustomed to the ways of the forest.

And that would be their downfall.

The Ranger motioned for Garruk to follow him. They ran through the forest, trying to keep their pace silent. The direwolf took the lead; his keen sense of smell serving as a compass. Ahead he could see the first of the scouts. Orcs, despite their mountaineering lifestyle, could navigate to forest better than most men. But they could not escape the Ranger and his companion.
Notching an arrow, the Ranger let loose the missile. It whistled softly for a split second before burying itself in the back of the orc’s neck. The monster lay dead before his mind could process another thought. Garruk growled softly and turned his head. The Ranger followed the direction with his bow and saw a small shadow. He let loose his arrow and heard the thump of another body.

Five men lay dead in total, an arrow in each of them. The Ranger searched for the wagon tracks in the soil. He was certain it would pass from here on its journey. Further along the tracks, he presumed, would be the camp but he had to deal with that later. First, he had a wagon to sabotage.

Their march through the forest was as loud as the beat of a drum and blow of a trumpet. Grunts, swear words, clanking of metal and stomping of boots were aplenty as the wagon passed by. The garrison was letting their guard down, confident in their numbers and blades. And an overconfident soldier is the best victim of a trap.

The first arrow struck a particularly large and ugly barbarian wielding a double-headed axe. The body slumped down with an arrow sticking out from its eye. The rest of the garrison heard a whistle and from the surrounding trees dozens of direwolves burst out, leaping on the first man or orc in sight. A mage leapt forward, his spell hitting a wolf on its flank. Beneath him the rock crumbled and he found himself falling in a pit. His waist was still above ground and a look of relief washed over his face as he made to hoist himself out of the pit. He heard slithering and hissing and saw a dozen serpents coiling around his boots. He screamed as the vipers sank their fangs in his flesh. He waved his wand around but no amount of magic could save him from his fate now. He soon ceased his flailing and fell motionless.

The Rangers notched another arrow and slew an orc. Garruk had left his side, eager to taste blood with his kin. The Ranger got down from the hill he was on and let go of his bow. Unsheathing a longsword, he struck down a barbarian before he could swing his axe at Garruk. He spun low, grabbed the handle of a long knife inside his boot, and thrust the blade inside an orc who snuck up behind him.
Soon the entire garrison lay dead.

The Ranger cut the horse loose, sending the scared beast running. He pried open crates and barrels with his knife, spilling their contents. The direwolves assaulted any food and provisions the Ranger threw away, their hunger rarely satisfied. The powders were buried in the soil, forever ruining them. He opened a crate of weapons and inspected them. The arrows he took for himself, having nearly exhausted his own. Some knifes he traded, discarding his own for better ones. The weapons were not of superior quality, which was better for a Ranger’s lifestyle. A weapon too finely crafted would be too expensive for the Ranger to trade for pelts and meats. And even the best of blades atrophied over time and use. Besides, a princely weapon would be a waste in such a wild environment. But a poor weapon would not do either. Durability was the key element of a Ranger’s equipment: a finely crafted weapon with a durable blade and nothing else was what suited the Ranger best.

He took what he needed and motioned at Garruk. The direwolf growled once and trotted back amongst the trees, his pack following him. The Ranger retrieved his bow and followed suit. Garruk led them to the main camp. It was Spartan as camps went: a small clearing, with a tent at the side and a fire in the middle. Two empty wagons lay uselessly at the edge of the camp. A large reindeer spun on a spit. A small pile of dead animals sat on a side, with the occasional orc ripping out a leg and eating it raw. The Ranger felt enraged and disgusted at such barbaric behavior  He notched an arrow, took a breath and observed.
There were far fewer warriors here but they could still overrun himself and Garruk’s pack. Stealth and cover were key here.

On the Ranger’s signal, Garruk and his pack leapt at the camp, assaulting warriors and barbarians alike. The Ranger remained hidden at the surroundings, thinning down their numbers with arrows. Before they knew it, the campers found themselves short in numbers and courage. Some tried to flee but none could escape the direwolves’ fangs or the Ranger’s arrows. Just when the last of the camp warriors were killed, a mighty roar emerged from the small tent and the canvas was ripped apart.

An orc emerged wearing a headdress of feathers, pieces of leather around his chest with symbols drawn in blood and paint and carrying a club with what looked like a skull on top of it. The orc shaman had piercings and bolts of metal in various parts if his body. When he moved the necklace of bones clattered against the metal on his chest and other ornaments. He roared and swung his club. A flash of fire shot at a direwolf, incinerating it to the bone. The beast kicked another wolf, throwing it away, as if the large direwolf weighed nothing more than a pebble. The Ranger shot arrow after arrow at the orc shaman but to no effect. Most fell away harmlessly and those that pierced through his magic could not penetrate deep enough through the thick, leathery hide.
The orc threw a lance of fire at the Ranger who ducked and rolled. Reaching across his chest, the Ranger let loose two throwing daggers in quick succession. One fell short of its target; the other embedded itself in the monster’s thigh. The beast roared in pain and fell to one knee. Garruk leapt and sank its large fangs into the orc’s shoulder, trying to drive it into the ground. The orc raised its club and brought it down on the direwolf’s head.

The Ranger’s sword slid in between the club and Garruk’s skull, deflecting the lethal blow. The Ranger swung his sword, carrying the club away from his companion, and plunged his long knife into the orc’s throat. The shaman swung his club once more and the Ranger lost the grip on his sword, leaving it embedded on the ground. He wrestled against the orc’s arm and managed to grab hold of the massive forearm. Pulling out a skinning knife, he sunk the blade inside the orc’s arm and sliced along the beast’s forearm, splitting it wide. The orc dropped his club.
The Ranger let go of the knife, leaving it inside the orc’s elbow, and spun, grabbing the hilt of his sword in one sweeping motion. Using the momentum, he slammed the pommel of his sword against the hilt of his long knife, thrusting the blade even deeper inside the shaman’s neck. Sensing what would follow, Garruk relinquished his grip and backed away.
The Ranger grabbed the handle of his knife in reverse grip and wrenched it to one side savagely before pulling it out. The orc’s head fell lopsided, nearly cut cleanly off save for a small patch from where it dangled. Not taking any chances, the Ranger yelled and brought his longsword down on the severed neck, cutting the beast in half along the chest.

Wiping the blood away, the Ranger sheathed his weapons and made towards one of the empty wagons. He loaded the shaman’s body on the cart along with any weapons he found. He would take the road back and load the rest of the other wagon too, the one left in the middle of the path.
He walked inside the tent and found a small altar there. Beside it was a small chest and, with his skinning knife, he pried it open. Inside were a few jewels, handfuls of gold and silver coins and a robe of fine silk. Clearly this was a treasure meant for a prince or a warlord. The barbarians must have stolen it and planned to exchange it for whatever suited their fancy. This treasure would supply the Ranger with weapons and food.

It took a few hours but finally the Ranger was on his way. He had found the horse again: the poor beast returned to the camp of its own volition, only to find the camp had been set ablaze and was now in ashes. The Ranger tied the wagon to it and rode it towards the nearest town. Garruk accompanied him towards the edge of the forest before trotting back amongst the trees.
The Ranger made for the village, intent on showing the world his find. He had to alert the High Council to the threat; the enemy was rising in the North.

A storm was coming.

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