A Rangers Tale
Part Two
By: Jeff R. Young

Between the misty forest surrounding him and the sensation of floating in the air, the Ranger figured he was either dead or dreaming. Hoping for the latter but resigned to the former, he wondered if he had been accepted by the goddess Nyrarae and had been allowed entrance into her realm, the mystical forest of Dyn'ran. As his eyes wandered the woodland landscape, he found he didn't much mind the idea of death; the woodland realm seemed peaceful, like a place he would not mind spending eternity in, under the gentle caress of his goddess.

However, moving around created something of a dilemma, as his feet hovered a meter off the ground. The Ranger tried swimming forward, to no avail. He even tried flapping his arms like a bird before testing the idea that blowing air from his lips would help. His last attempt was a furious and desperate pumping of his legs as he tried to run.

Damn, his thoughts echoed around him. I come all the way to Dyn'ran only to be stuck floating in the air like a turd in the water!

A soft and strange crackle sound suddenly sounded below him, and as he bent over, he saw what looked like greenish roots begin to grow from the ground under his feet. He felt more curious than confused as the vines snaked up towards him but was quickly overcome with panic as they twirled around his feel and grabbed hold. His arms began to flail in a frantic attempt to swim away, but the grip of the vines was absolute as they began to pull him down. And as the ground around the roots started to shift like quicksand, fear overtook panic. All he could imagine was the idea he was being dragged into the planes of the underworld, to become a slave to some demon prince.

He tried to thrash his legs around in his futile bid for freedom and would have screamed if he had a voice to do so, which a problem he overlooked around the real terror he felt. As creepy as it was, knowing the forest seemed to want to swallow him whole, the guttural sounds of muted words suddenly made things even worse. The Ranger recognized the words spoken in the goblin-kin's language, which spoke of stealing his boots before tying him to a spit and cooking him over a fire.

The world around him started to blur, even as he continued to free his feet from the grip. That blur became a blinding white light as he felt his eyes flutter open with the realization it was all just a dream. But the frustrated growl of something even more real sent panic through him again. As his eyes come into focus, he saw the real to life goblin trying to yank the boot off his right foot.

The Ranger yelped, startling the creature. But to his absolute horror, the goblin quickly gathered its wits as his right hand flashed quickly to draw a rusty dagger from its side.

"Get away!" The Ranger cried, kicking out at his attacker. The weak counter-attack did little to help and only seem to anger the little beast all the more.

"You's be enough foods to feeds me and me five wifes," The goblin spit out in broken common. It raised its dagger, determined to get the killing blow just as a flash of grey sped past from left to right, leaving the Ranger more than a little confused when he noticed the goblin was no longer there. Finally catching on to the fact he had been lying on the forest floor, he rolled to his right and saw a massive ball of fur smother the goblin beneath its mass.

The new creature spun over the top of the goblin, landing on all fours, claws digging into the dirt as it slid to a stop. The giant animal, known as a dire wolf, lowered it's head and issued a low, terrifying growl as it stared down the goblin-kin, who was visibly shaken as it raised its dagger in a desperate attempt to defend its self. Whether the wolf cared for the fact that he was facing an armed opponent seemed irrelevant as it burst forth with a ferocious bark, landing once again on the goblin. With massive paws and long sharp teeth, the dire wolf tore the goblin to pieces. The Ranger watched on in horror as the bloody spectacle played out and would have felt a sense of pity for the now deceased creature had it not promised to eat him.

When the attack was finally over, the beastly wolf raised it's gaze to the Ranger, who crawled backward a bit.

"Easy now, friend,"The Ranger said as calmly as he could, "There's no need to eat me when you have such a fine meal right next to you.”

The wolf tilted its head to the side, then looked at the mangled mess that was the goblin, almost as if it understood the words. But as it's gaze came back up, the creature stalked forward, stopping in front of the Ranger, it's nose only a handspan from his.

"Uh…I…oh crap!"The Ranger muttered in fear, "Please don't eat me!”

They locked eyes for a moment, and the terrified young man realized this must be his last moments and hoped he would genuinely be allowed into the forest of Dyn'ran. The wolf inched its muzzle forward just a bit more as the Ranger prepared to get his face chewed on when to his surprise, the wolf did nothing more than lick his face.

"Alright, alright…"The Ranger groaned and wrinkled his nose as the beast's large tongue slip over his face again and again. It backed up a couple of meters and stood with a cocked head as if trying to convey some thought to the man.

"I guess I owe you a thank you,"He said, looking at the torn body of the goblin. He tried to stand, only then noticing the sharp pain the shot through his chest. He cringed as he looked down at himself and saw what looked like four claw marks torn into the plain brown shirt he wore. Around the tears were what looked like blood stains soaked into the fabric. With a gentle tug of the shirt, he confirmed what he already physically felt; his flesh had been torn as well.

"I don't suppose you did this, did you?"he asked the wolf with a bit of sarcasm. He figured if the dire wolf had been the source of his wounds, he would be dead. Something else had attacked him, but he couldn't remember what. In fact, he realized he could not remember anything.

He tried in vain to recall events past when he awoke to find the goblin's attempt to steal his boots, but nothing came to him. It was like looking into an inky black abyss as he fought to grab hold of any memories. He couldn't remember where he was or how he got there. When he suddenly realized he couldn't even remember his name, the weight of the whole situation came down on him.

The wolf whined softly as it looked off into the distance. The young man followed its gaze to see then that the sun was setting, and that gave him a sense of direction he needed to get his bearings. But it also put into mind a new problem. His instinct warned that spending time in the area after dark was not a wise idea. The goblin-kin patrolled this area of the forest at night, but how he knew that he didn't know. His lack of memory left him feeling cold inside, but that was something he'd have to consider later after he found a safe place to wait out the night.

"I don't suppose you know of a good place to dig in for the night, huh?"He asked the wolf even as he knew he wouldn't get a response. The canine issued a short bark as it turned around and started to head to the west, following the fading light. Even though he felt the acute pain through his chest and his back and limbs' stiffness, the Ranger followed the creature with a surprised look on his face. He couldn't understand the how of it, but he sensed the wolf understood his words and felt its, and his, trust in each other. After all, if the beast wanted to eat him, it probably would have already.

They made their way west as fast as the Ranger was capable of moving. His wounds made it difficult to breathe comfortably, causing him to hesitate to move quickly. He soon saw a mound of rocks in the distance, under what little light the forest had left to offer. They were meters from the rocks when he saw where the wolf was leading him. Like that of a small cave mouth, the opening spat out a few more dire wolves, who seemed more interested in him than alarmed.

Four had exited the cave, all of whom came to inspect and sniff the strange human that had been brought home. Between the animals' yips and grunts, the Ranger came to feel secure and relieved that he had been accepted for the most part by the pack. In unison, the group moved toward, then into the den. He followed hesitantly, kneeling at the entrance before carefully crawling in.

Mild surprise flashed over his features as he entered and saw that the inside was much larger than he expected. Not only could he stand upright comfortably, but he could also see reasonably well, thanks to the glowing fungi that cast a soft bluish light around the cave.

"Wow,"he startled as he did a quick headcount of the wolves. There were fifteen, including the curious pups that darted towards him. The four younglings showed no fear as they sniffed and inspected the Ranger.

"Whoa, alright,"he chuckled as he tried to dodge one youngling pup's attempt to sniff his more private areas. "Don't expect the same hello from me though, I prefer a handshake or a salute to how you butt sniffers do it."He knelt gingerly and gave the young wolves some vigorous and friendly scratching and head pats.

He looked to the older wolf, the one who saved him from the gruesome fate of becoming goblin food, and nodded, "Thank you, I owe you a drink at the next tavern I find,"He sat near a large stalagmite that protruded from the floor and leaned back to rest himself against it. "Though if I had any idea of where I was, finding that tavern would be a lot easier. Hell, if I knew how I got here might help even more.”

His guardian wolf came close and whined as it sat down. The Ranger knew it was trying to communicate with him, and he knew deep down he should be able to understand, but he couldn't. His mind was still swirling with the fog of amnesia, and it frustrated him profoundly.

"Well,"he sighed, looking around at how the pack situated themselves. Several of the adults had moved to lay close to the den's entrance, conveniently between it and him. He marveled at the quick acceptance and protectiveness they were showing. "What do I call you?”

Of course, he didn't expect a response, but after risking a glance under his savior's belly, he confirmed what he suspected, the wolf was male and more than likely the alpha of the pack.

With his eyes fully adjusted to the soft light, he inspected the den once again, letting his senses speak of the surrounding. It was close to five meters high, and perhaps 17 meters or so wide. Looking back, all he could see was darkness, allowing him to assume it went back quite aways. Off in that darkness, he could hear the faint plops of water droplets landing in what could be the pack's possible water source. And as he sniffed the air, he caught the musty air scents with a strong smell of wet fur. There was also the faint odor he could never forget if he wanted to, that sickly aroma of rotting flesh.

"Well, if you're not going to tell me your name,"He frowned, "something I can't apparently offer in return, I'm going to go get a drink if it's all the same to you."He stood with a pain-filled grunt, finding himself more than a bit unsteady. But before he could start towards the sound of dripping water, the wolf before him darted in front to lead him to his destination. The Ranger wondered then if these wolves were more skeptical of him than he thought.

The water pool was a ways deeper into the cave, and the further in, the mustier the air became. He began to understand he wasn't a fan of being underground, thinking it would be a horrible fate should the ceiling collapse.

At least he was safe, he figured. He couldn't imagine even the goblin being foolish enough to try and fight an entire pack of dire wolves. Unless, of course, they didn't mind being the feast afterward.

He knelt at the pool's edge and reached in to splash the cold water over his face, letting the freezing liquid revitalize his senses, which grew even sharper. He became hyper-aware of everything around him. The air became thick, and the scent of dead flesh almost overwhelmed him. He saw then, in what seemed to be a brighter light, a pile of bones and old meat just a ways off to his left. He marveled over the sanitary actions of the pack. Their food plot was out of the main den, yet far enough away to not taint the water source.

He looked down, moving to dip his hands into the water once again, but hesitated as he caught a glimpse of his reflection. What he saw sent a flash of what he hoped were memories through his mind. But even as he focused on the image in the pool, he could not force his mind into a cohesive thought. It was all a jumbled mess.

He studied his features in the mirror of water. He could see dark patches around his right eye and across his left cheek. Raising his hands to his face, he pushed on tender skin, realizing his face was a patchwork of bruises. His messy hair, which showed a faint blondish color in the low light, also seemed to reflect the fungus's bluish light. His eyes glowed faintly in the light as well, reflecting a cold shade of blue.

He pulled off his shirt with ginger movements, revealing the entire mess of wounds that cut through the left side of his upper chest. He dropped the shirt next to him and carefully leaned in to break off a mushroom cap to use the light it gave off to study his torso. Four gouges made a line from the center of his ribs down to just under his left breast. It was clear something raked its claws and tore his flesh, but his memory denied him the ability to remember what it was. At least he was able to determine the cuts didn't look infected. He gave a deep sniff and was able to confirm there wasn't that distinct scent of infection. He frowned, wondering how he knew of these things.

The Ranger inspected the rest of his upper body. He found more than a handful of dark bruises and abrasions in several areas. Whatever happened. Something or someone had worked him over good, then left him to die in the forest.

Scooping up his torn shirt, he dipped it in the water letting the fabric suck up as much liquid as it could. He ran the wet rag over his chest, cringing against the sting even as the freezing water numbed his skin. As he carefully washed himself down, he tried desperately to make sense of those flashing images he had experienced. The memories, if that's what they were, made no sense. He concentrated harder, willing his mind to answer, and as he did, he thought he heard a voice coming from deep inside his sub-conscience. It was just a single noun, but that single word echoed with force as he focused on that sound.

Leaning forward, he cast the light on the ground by his knees and saw physically what he heard mentally. He had absently drawn out that one word into the muddy dust at the edge of the pool and felt a chill of joy course through his veins.

Looking down, he read the word Draven.

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