A Rangers Tale
Part Seven
By: Jeff R. Young

The storm that raged throughout the night ended sometime before dawn. Draven, having awoke not too long after the morning light broke through the dense canopy of the forest, crawled out through the entrance to the dire wolves' den and stood uneasily. He felt horrible, unable to entirely focus his thoughts through what he figured was a hangover effect from that glowing mushroom he attempted to eat. He put all his effort into remembering what happened while under the influence of the plant but thinking made his brain hurt. He also realized the small lump on his forehead he obtained as he collided with the rock, subsequently knocking himself unconscious, was not helping the situation.

Despite his current condition, Draven could not help but notice the calm and soothing atmosphere emanating from the woods around him. The storm, as violent as it might have been, had left the forest smelling fresh and clean. He noticed the various small animals running from one place or another, as well as birds, soaring from limb to limb with an energy that brought a smile to Draven's face and even seemed to lessen the throbbing he felt inside his head. Fighting against the amnesia he suffered, he wondered if this was how the forest always made him feel.

Draven turned back and crawled as quietly as possible back into the den, careful to not wake any of the pack as he grabbed up one of the bows and a quiver of arrows he had confiscated from the hunters. He paused before slipping back out into the open air, considering the idea of taking the sword he obtained as well but decided against it. He had no idea how good he was with a weapon like that but knew the bow felt comfortable in his hands, giving him the sense, he's shot one before.

He walked a meandering path to the east with the bow in hand towards the stream he knew flowed through the forest floor, eager for a cool and crisp drink of water. He wished to not only quench his thirst but hoped the fresh liquid might cleanse the leftover toxins from his body. As he walked, he tried to take the time to appreciate the vibrant sense of life that percolated through the air around him and felt almost as if he could literally tap into that vitality, though Draven couldn't figure what he could do if he did.

Draven found himself smiling again as he watched the various animals going about their routines. All manner of mammals, rodents, and insects seem as if they are relishing the sense of cleanliness the storm left in its wake. Everything seemed so peaceful, except for the massive flock of sparrows that flew from one tree to another. If it weren't for their obnoxious squawking and chirping, which was loud considering there had to be more than four dozen of the pesky birds, Draven would have marveled at how fluid their motions were. Somehow each knew precisely when to turn when to land, and when to fly again.

Delighted to have finally reached the creek, Draven knelt at its edge and greedily scooped up one hand full of water after another, savoring each mouthful despite the slightly bitter taste of sand and soil. After finally getting a belly full, he washed down his face, hair, and arms. He chuckled as he realized this was no proper bath, and it did little to improve his appearance, which brought to mind a current dilemma.

Because of the claw wounds on his chest, he had to rip his shirt to use as a sort of bandage, so now he wandered the woods naked from the waist up. And after a quick inspection of his pants, he knew they wouldn't last much longer either, given they were pretty well shredded. He figured it wouldn't be much longer before he had to make some sort of britches out of leaves to retain what he could of his dignity. Though the thought of running through the trees naked as the day he was born gave him a chuckle, more so when he contemplated running into those hunters again.

Draven sat and stretched out his legs, taking note of the last pieces of his dying wardrobe, his boots. With a soft snort, he shook his head ruefully, knowing that the extensive damage done to his footwear was the fault of the dire wolf pups he housed with. Though he had to give the little beasts credit for their craftiness. They always waited for him to fall asleep before they tried to devour the leather. Every morning, he awoke to new holes and teeth marks marring his boots, but he couldn't find a way to convince them to stop. Just two nights back, he wore the boots as he slept and was awaken by one of the pups eagerly pulling at one as if trying to get it off his foot. At that point, he just gave in to the fact that soon, he'd be barefoot as well.

Draven looked up to watch the flock of sparrows soar around and contemplated the freedom of life they must experience given the ability to fly. He could imagine speeding through the trees or shooting straight up to the clouds before flipping over in a furious dive towards the earth. But, he lamented, knowing his luck something would find and eat him.

The Ranger sat there next to the creek for a few hours, letting his mind wander as he randomly scooped up water with the hope of rehydrating and clearing his head. With a silent prayer to Nyrarae, his beloved goddess of nature, Draven held faith he'd be fine soon enough; in fact, he could tell his situation was improving already. It wasn't much longer before he felt strong enough to rise from the ground and begin his real mission for the day.

Draven headed northwest of the creek with the bow in hand, moving with a bit of uncertainty that he was traveling in the right direction. Events had transpired quickly when he awoke that day. Not only was he lying on the forest floor, but he also had no memory of any kind before that moment. But in ways he could not describe, he felt that connection to the forest that drew him instinctively in that direction.

One thought kept his mind focused and senses alert, that being he had obviously been in goblin territory and knew there was a risk of running into some again. However, this time, he was armed, which allowed him a slight sense of security, but he began to regret not taking Arun along with him as he traveled deeper. With each step, he scanned the woods for any signs of danger. But he also studied the forest floor for any signs of animal or humanoid footprints.

During his diligent searching, he found traces of life he expected to see. He discovered tracks of two good size deer that had wandered through as well as the hoof prints of a wild boar. Everything seemed normal enough, except for the flock of pesky sparrows that appeared to be following him.

After walking for over an hour, Draven was delighted and confident he had found the area where he first awoke. With the giddiness of a child, he began searching the site for signs left from that day but realized with slight disappointment that anything he might have possibly have found would have been washed away during the storm. That hardly bothered him, though, because the actual reason the Ranger was here was to find the item from his mushroom-induced vision. Draven held hope that it had simply fallen off or the cord had broken and was determined to find it.

As excited as he was, it didn't take long for his optimism to wane. Draven had kept a keen eye on the ground as he worked the area, moving outward in a tight spiral from the tree he had been lying next to. He let loose a low grunt when he finally gave in and accepted that it wasn't here. He felt disappointed, of course, but there was a stronger feeling of embarrassment around the delusion he'd even find the pendant. With another frustrated grunt, he turned to begin the walk back. But Draven had only gone a few steps when he heard the snap of a strick breaking from somewhere off to his left, deeper into the woods.

Instinct took over as he darted behind a large tree trunk, where he dared to lean out slowly to examine the area, but Draven's eyes couldn't see what his ears could hear. Voices were floating on the wind somewhere in the distance, and his gut turned when he realized the words were spoken in the goblin tongue. And there was little doubt the beasts were headed his way.

The Ranger did his best to steady his nerves as he slowly pulled an arrow from his quiver and notched it. Once again, he risked a careful peek around the tree, and his heart dropped when he saw seven goblinoids moving in his general direction. Slipping back behind the tree trunk, he calmed his mind enough to consider his predicament. Even armed as he was, there was no way he could fight them all, so he contemplated the idea of running. Goblin were strong and fierce fighters but were not considered the best runners. Their bodies were often deformed, making their movements clumsy, making the act of running or sprinting more than a little complicated.

He took a deep calming breath as he decided that his dash for safety was the best action. His plan was to head west, deeper into the woods until he gained a vast amount of distance before turning south and making a wide circle back towards the wolf den. Draven was a heartbeat away from making his move when he heard one of the creatures speak.

"All of you's stop," The voice demanded. It spoke in the common tongue, and its voice was gurgly like its throat was filled with phlegm. "Somethings about."

"What's is it?" one of the others asked.

"I smells the stench of man!" came the reply.

"If it is man-flesh yous say," said yet another, this one's tone was higher pitched and sounded confused, "then he smells like a wheel of rotting cheese!"

Draven wrinkled his nose at the comment as he took a deep whiff of himself. He cringed at the scent he gave off and vowed to take a healthy bath if he survived this.

Knowing now that they were alerted to his presence, Draven decided to change tactics a bit. He still held the element of surprise, but as he snuck yet another look around the tree, he saw the group was in striking distance of the bow. If his aim was true, killing one would only add to the shock of the moment.

He closed his eyes as he readied his grip on the bow and steadied the hold on the notched arrow. He took a deep breath in and let it out slowly before spinning around the tree to his right. He picked his target within the span of a heartbeat and let the arrow fly. Had he not already been sprinting off to the west, he would have been rewarded with the sight of the arrow piercing his target directly between the eyes.

Draven's legs pumped furiously in his mad dash to escape, and he was rewarded for a moment by the yelps and screams of surprise and fear that erupted from the goblin party.

One of them, presumably the group leader, barked out something in the goblin language that sounded like a command. Draven glanced over his shoulder as he sprinted west and was delighted to see he was already creating a healthy amount of distance between him and the group. However, he then realized one of the barbaric beasts was sprinting after him but seemed to gain ground. He cursed his luck once again, knowing only he would happen to find the one goblin that could not only run but run fast.

The Ranger entertained the thought of turning around to fire a shot at the beast but knew the others would be coming up from behind, and if any others could run quickly, he'd be in trouble. Giving it all he had, he pumped his legs a furiously as he could, often dodging around the more immense tree trunks to throw off the aim of any goblin that might try to take a shot at him with a bow.

The Ranger was running for his life and kept his focus on the forest ahead, desperately hoping to find something to help his situation. Then, to his amazed delight, he saw what looked like a cabin straight ahead of him. He tried to pick up more speed as he barreled toward the house, hoping against hope that whoever lived there would join the fight and save his skin. Unfortunately, however, his bad luck played its hand again as he was forced to come to a sliding stop at the edge of a broad, deep chasm.

The cabin had been built on a large plot of land at the base of a tall rock wall. But, like a moat around a castle, the deep rift cut it off from the mainland, and there was no bridge to cross. Draven had run into a dead-end, and the fast-running goblin was closing in.

He considered running to the south but knew his legs were reaching their breaking point, and his breathing was labored. So he quickly notched another arrow and spun to face his pursuer. He took aim and let loose with shaking, exhausted arms, but the shot missed as the creature dodged to the left. Draven reloaded and fired again, but the goblin managed to avoid that arrow too. There was no time for a third try.

The goblin barreled in, swinging a crude, rusty sword in a downward chop. In desperation, Draven raised the bow in an attempt to block the attack, but the sword smashed right through the wood, splitting the weapon in two. To the Ranger's surprise, the goblin pulled back and ceased its attack.

"Yous a fast runner!" The beast grunted, then laughed. "But nots so fast for Krukzot, hu?"

The goblin raised its sword and pointed it at Draven. "I not kills you I thinks. King Wrutlulb the Rich would be happies if Krukzot brings back human alive!"

A somewhat crazy and desperate plan started to form when Draven realized he would be taken alive. As he listened to the goblin talk, he slowly began to circle around.

"Krukzot be rewarded with many wives!" he announced with excitement. So excited was he by the idea of multiple wives, he seemed to not realize that Draven was moving around to place the goblin between him and the edge of the ravine.

"Then there is no point in my trying to fight," Draven said calmly as he raised his arms high into the air. "Krukzot is clearly better than I am!"

The goblin started to beam at the compliment but quickly furrowed his brow. "Whys you do that?"

"Do what?"

"Yous hands, why you do that?"

"I don't understand," Draven lied.

Krukzot grunted in frustration before raising his own hand high above his head, sword and all. "You do this!"

"So I could do this!" Draven shouted, and he stepped forward, launching his right foot up in a furious kick that blasted the poor goblin right in the groin. Krukzot's eyes went wide, and he let loose a strange but painful sounding squeal as he fell to his knees. The goblin had dropped the sword to wrap his arms around his lower waist, which Draven bent to scoop up.

Looking off into the distance behind him, he could make out the rest of the goblin party coming his way and knew he had little time. Draven turned to face Krukzot, who was less than a meter from the edge of the cliff. He was angry, knowing he was about to either be captured or killed and released that anger with another vicious kick, this time to the goblin's face, which sent it tumbling backward and over the edge.

With the crude sword at the ready, he turned to face the other six with dignity, faithfully ready and hopeful he would be excepted into Dyn'ran. He laughed a little to himself as he saw that large flock of sparrows soar into the area. Perhaps they wanted to watch what was most likely going to be a very one-sided fight when something strange happened.

Instead of landing on tree branches, they began to swirl in a clockwise motion between Draven and the goblin charging in, who also seemed to notice the behavior and stopped their charge in confusion.

The flock swirled around and around, tightening their formation until all one could see is an almost solid flock of birds. The swarm started to lower towards the ground, and when it was just a meter from the forest floor, the mass began to pull together, melting into what Draven suddenly realized was a man.

The man, dressed in a simple tan robe, and holding a quarterstaff, glanced back and smiled at the Ranger before looking back at the goblin.

"You all are trespassing and unwanted here; I ask that you leave and return to your village at once." The man bellowed. The only response from the goblins was the trading of confused looks. "I will not ask again."

"I thinks we kills you too," One decided to respond as it raised its sword.

Before the group could charge in, the stranger raised his arms, staff in hand, and uttered words Draven couldn't understand. But their meaning was clear enough when a bolt of blinding lightning lanced down through the canopy, striking the abstinent goblin with full force, then shot out to encompass the others.

The lightning stopped as quickly as it started, leaving six piles of ash where the goblins had been standing. After the thunderous sound of the attack faded, the man lowered his hands and turned to face Draven.

"You can stop running now. I assure you, you are safe." He said with a slight smile.

-

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