A Brave New World
The elf stalked through the trees, bow strung and ready. The full, bright moon rose just over the tree tops, providing plenty of light for his keen eyes to see with. He was following a small game track that had recently been used by a small group of deer.
Ahead was a small clearing in the woods. A low, faint growl came from the clearing causing the elf to pause. He hadn’t heard any howls from wolves on the prowl, so whatever had made the noise was a solo killer. He cautiously crept to the edge of the clearing. On the far side was the body of a deer. Steam slowly rose from it in the cool autumn night.
Even as the elf watched, a small black and grey mound of fur rose from behind the deer. He had mistaken it for a small boulder in the night, but could now see the wolf-like face, two fur covered arms and hands and the torso of what could only be a werewolf. The ears on top of the head twitched in different directions, listening to the night. The black nose at the end of the blood-covered snout sniffed the air, taking in the scents of its surroundings.
The werewolf slowly turned its head left and right as if trying to locate the source of whatever it had picked up. The elf realized that it suspected that it was no longer alone. The elf knocked an arrow to his bow and slowly, trying to make no noise, gracefully pulled back on the string and sighted down the shaft of the arrow. When the werewolf stood up further, almost fully upright, he loosed the arrow. Its flight was true, and yet it failed to connect at the last moment. The arrow flitted off into the bushes to one side of the creature.
The werewolf dropped back down to the ground, using the body of the deer for cover. The elf reloaded and waited for another shot. His chance came when the werewolf, ears scanning the far side of the clearing, slowly rose up again a few moments later, a low growl emanating from its throat. The bow twanged as the elf loosed his second shot. Again the shaft flew true, but was almost completely deflected as it arrived at its target. Instead, the arrow nicked the outside of the werewolf’s right arm. The wolf let out a faint whimper that was barely audible to the keen ears of the elf.
The elf crept forward into the clearing to get a better shot at his opponent. The wolf’s head snapped around without warning and it let loose a horrific howl. The sound visibly washed over the elf, deafening and disorienting him even as the howl bludgeoned his body. The werewolf stopped howling and the elf was left with a ringing in his ears. He shook his head and recovered his balance then turned towards the creature. He raised his bow, which he had kept hold of throughout the sonic onslaught, and fired towards the blurry black and grey shape. The arrow, again, missed the target and yet the werewolf didn’t seem to be moving out of its path.
As rapidly as he could, the elf fired off his bow without bothering to truly aim. Most of the shots missed at the last second, but a few managed to scratch the skin of the creature even as it dodged and scrambled around the clearing. For some reason it seemed reluctant to close with him or leave the clearing. Hoping his friends back at camp were still in earshot, the elf pulled out a special arrow from his quiver and fired it into the air back in the direction from which he had come. The scream of an eagle pierced the night air, emanating from the arrow as it flew into the darkness. With any luck it will draw my friends here, the elf thought to himself.
The elf loaded his bow with a normal arrow, turned, and couldn’t find the creature anywhere. He stalked across the clearing, ears listening intently for his opponent as he searched the ground for clues of its whereabouts. He came to the spot in the clearing where he last had seen the werewolf. Without any warning, grey tentacles shot up from the ground all around him. He tried to dodge out of the way, but they quickly enveloped his arms and legs, sending him crashing to the ground for his efforts.
Above him stood the werewolf, right where he had been standing the last time the elf had seen him. He seemed to be laughing as the fibrous strands fully wrapped themselves around the elf, leaving him totally cocooned on the ground.
The werewolf moved back to his kill. He could hear the not so silent approach of the others, but didn’t concern himself with it. Breaking off the antlers that had adorned the buck’s head; he shoved them down into the cocoon near the head of the captured elf. Then, picking up a staff and bag that had been hidden in the brush, he grabbed the body of the deer and faded into the night.
* * * * *
The rest of the party, three elves and a dwarf, came crashing into the clearing with weapons at the ready. One of the elves, a female, crossed the clearing to where the grey-white cocoon lay on the ground. She was dressed in a long form-fitting robe of dark purple with silver markings stitched into the surface. Her silver tresses were plaited down her back nearly to her knees. Small bags hung from various places along the sash that held the robe closed. A shortbow was in her hand and a small quiver hung from her back. She stared down at the cocoon with a confused look on her face. She called out to one of the other elves that had spread around the clearing.
“Brother. Take a look at this.”
An elf with a calm quiet about him crossed over to where she stood and looked down at the odd sight. His head was shaved except for a long knot of hair left at the back of his head. He was dressed in a light leather outfit colored to fade in to the forest backdrop. He was the only member of the party not seeming to openly wield a weapon. After a few seconds he bent down and poked at something protruding from the cocoon.
“Looks like Anthiel’s bow.” He said as he moved up towards the head. He reached up and pulled on the antlers. They moved and the point where they disappeared into the cocoon flexed, but they didn’t come loose.
“Let me try something” said the female. She waved her hands and spoke unintelligible phrases. Power built and then dissipated out from her hands into the cocoon as she finished. Nothing; The cocoon remained intact.
“I don’t understand. That should have removed the cocoon.” She frowned down at the obstinate object.
“I found a track leading out from here” said the remaining elf as he approached the group. His long light brown hair hung loose around his head. He was dressed in a chain shirt with the links blackened and leather strips strung in it to reduce the noise of the links while moving. He had a strung longbow held loosely in his left hand with an arrow knocked and held by a finger to the rest.
“Looks like a heavy individual took off into the woods.” He glanced down towards the cocoon and chuckled. “Guess Anthiel bit off more than he could chew.” He reached down and poked at the cocoon with a small dagger that he drew from his boot. “It isn’t sticky at all. I wonder what created it.”
Saleel, the female elf, continued to stare at the cocoon, trying to figure out how to free her lover from the cocoon. “It isn’t spider silk. It looks and feels more like ethereal plasm. But whatever brought it here isn’t affected by my attempts to dispel it.”
The dwarf, who had been hanging back till now stepped forward. He was unarmored, but was dressed in the light leathers and wool that would normally be worn under heavy metal plates. A metal skullcap adorned his skull and his beard was plaited into two long parts that hung down his torso to his waist. A massive warhammer was clutched in his hand with silver-like runes etched into the surface of the head that gave off a faint glow.
“Just cut him free and let’s be on our way” he said with a gruff deep voice. He put action to words and drew an oversized knife and began sawing at the cocoon. Several strands snapped at once and then, without warning, the whole cocoon disintegrated, freeing Anthiel from its grasp. It left behind a faint layer of a mucous-like slime on its victim, but even that began to dissolve and disappear.
Before anyone could ask, Anthiel blurted out “WEREWOLF!!!” His hand tightened around his bow as he quickly shot to his feet. Saleel grabbed his arm before he could take off into the woods.
“What do you mean werewolf?”
* * * * *
He staggered under the weight of the carcass as his enhanced strength began to flag after several hours of running. He stumbled as he tried to get over a fallen tree and was finally forced to put down the deer carcass. His lungs were heaving and his arms and legs shook from holding up the deer longer than he could have without the enhancement. He went back to enjoying his interrupted breakfast and listened to his surroundings as night fully settled onto the forest. The trees were unfamiliar to him as was the night sky that he could see through the canopy. He thought back to the last time he could remember the terrain looking and feeling like home.
Several days had passed since he woke in this strange forest. The trees stayed put and only just waved around when the wind blew. The sun rose and set in a regular fashion and the stream he crossed earlier in the day stayed put in its river bed and didn’t try to chase him or drown him. If he didn’t know better he would swear he was in the southern lands of his home where the accursed elves lived.
He was a Guartaug, a wolf-man. Millennia ago his people had been chased into the northern reaches of his world. It was an area wracked by magic run wild. The gods took pity on them and to aid their survival merged them with a wolf. This left his people in their current form, permanently looking like a wolf’s head on a humanoid body.
His fur was a mixture of black and grey and covered him from head to toe. Small claws extended from the tips of his fingers and from the toes on his feet. Thick, callused pads protected the bottom of his feet from wear and tear. His snout gave him an enhanced sense of smell and his hearing was more sensitive than a humans. He pulled out a lightweight robe from the pack he had been carrying and wrapped himself in it. It had a hood that he could pull over his head with slits for his ears to stick up through, and cut in the back for his tail.
He lit a small fire by stacking up some dry twigs and focusing his mind on them, causing the molecules to vibrate faster and faster until they ignited. Pulling a small knife from his pack, he began cutting strips from the carcass and placing them over the fire to cook. Some of the strips he stuffed into his mouth raw, enjoying the taste of the juices of the meat as he swallowed them nearly whole.
After carving up the carcass as much as he could and getting it over the fire, he found a nice grassy spot on the ground. He sat with his legs crossed and folded his hands in his lap. Closing his eyes he focused his mind inward towards the source of his pain, his exhaustion. Slowly the pain from his injuries faded and over just a few hours he felt completely rested and ready to face the rest of the night.
He doused the fire with his mind by stealing the heat from it and then placed the cooked meat into a few leather food bags from his pack. The rest of the carcass he buried in the ground then grabbed his gear and headed off. With any luck he would find his way home without running into any more of those stinking elves.
* * * * *
“I’ve never known of a werewolf being able to conjure up webs like those that grabbed you” Saleel said as she sat next to her betrothed. “Most are just too lost in the hunt to be able to remember anything they could do as a human.”
“I know what I saw. It had killed a deer and was feeding like the animal that it is” He said with disgust clear in his voice.
Athriel came out of the trees at the edge of the clearing and approached the group sitting around the small fire they had built up. Crevor, the dwarf, was now fully dressed up in a suit of plate and the group’s gear was packed up beside each member.
“Looks like it took off in a hurry. I found some fur snagged on a bush and the stride of the tracks in the dirt suggests that it was trying to run with a burden.” He held out his right hand to display a small amount of grey and black fur. “I also found some blood spots on the ground and in the brush. If it had a deer carcass it must be what I was seeing since you didn’t hit it.” He smirked as he said “Not like you could hit the broad side of a human barn to begin with.”
“Very funny, little brother” Anthiel retorted. He stood up and helped Saleel to her feet before dumping a few handfuls of dirt onto the small fire to douse it. He brushed off his hands and put on his pack. Crevor’s armor clanked as he climbed to his feet and shouldered on his pack. The five of them headed back into the woods with Athriel in the lead following the path marked out by the rapid movement of a large creature.
The sun was just below the horizon when Athriel called a halt to their slow march. He crept forward then dropped to his knees as he got further into the brush. He crawled under a bush and found himself near a large tree. He could smell the remains of a fire pit in the air in front of him, but saw no signs of active flames. He waited and watched the area around the tree looking for signs of movement.
After a bit he crawled out of the bushes and rose to a crouch under the spreading branches of the large pine. He found the cold fire pit and after a bit more searching found where bones and other animal parts had been buried.
Athriel took another look around and then whistled the rest of the group forward. “It looks like the werewolf camped here for the night and cooked the deer.”
“Cooked the deer?” Crevor asked. “You sure that beastie cooked the meat and was still a beastie?”
“I didn’t find any other marks around the campsite but the clawed prints we’ve been following.” Athriel said.
“This fire is too cold to have been used last night” Anthiel said as he sifted through the ashes and coals of the shallow fire pit with his hands. He wiped them off on the dew covered grass a few feet away from the pit before moving out towards the perimeter of the apparent campsite. Athriel moved to the opposite edge and they each slowly circled the camp looking at the ground and plants for signs of passage.
“Looks like fresh tracks leave this area to the north.” Anthiel was crouched down near some bushes at the edge of the tree’s underbrush. He brushed his fingers in a shallow footprint at the edge of the bush in the soft loam of the forest floor. “Looks like it isn’t loaded down or in a hurry anymore.”
“How old are the tracks?” Athriel asked as he came over to join his brother.
“Looks like a few hours old.” Anthiel crept forward through the brush to find more tracks.
The other members of the group gathered around and followed Anthiel as he headed out into the woods heading north after the creature. They spent most of the day following the not so subtle signs of broken branches, bent grass and clawed prints. They stopped for a late meal of cold trail rations as the sun was setting.
“Is it just me or is it odd that we’ve been following footprints all day that end in clawed toes?” Athriel asked of the party.
“So, we aren’t chasing a werewolf.” Crevor grumped. “That don’t mean this thing with fangs an’ fur shouldn’ be tracked down.”
“Well, it did have time to play with my brother before we came along judging by the antlers stuck in the cocoon.” Athriel took a handful of trail mix and chewed on it as he wandered around their resting site looking for more of the tracks. They continued on into the dark, letting their improved night vision aide them in the twilight.
* * * * *
He awoke from his nap as the sun passed below the horizon. Rummaging through his pack he pulled out the cloak and some of the venison which he chewed on contentedly as he watched the stars come out. Just as they had for the past week they all appeared exactly where they had the night before. They also didn’t form any patterns that he was familiar with from the lands of the south below where his people lived.
He waited patiently for full dark before choosing his path onward. He took his time, relying on his nose and ears more than his sight to find his way and avoid obstacles like annoying vines hanging off the trees. He moved along silently, letting his instincts guide him without disturbing any prey or alerting predators to his existence.
Most of the night had passed before he realized that he was no longer alone in these woods. He could hear the faint clink and soon the occasional thump of a heavy foot tread that seemed to be coming from behind him. He wrapped his cloak about him and found a nook in a nearby tree that he could hide in and see back the way he had come.
A faint smell came to him on the light night breeze. It took him a moment, but he recognized it. The Elf…maybe I should have finished him off.
It didn’t take long before he spotted the first one coming out from the trees. Its tread was silent, graceful and well measured. It was too dark to see more than a humanoid with a bow in its hands, but the movement and scent were enough to convince him this was the elf he’d run into the night before. He waited until the elf had turned away from his hiding place and then stepped out.
* * * * *
They had been hiking for hours when Athriel brought the group to a halt. “Something isn’t right” he said and then crept forward a little farther. Anthiel moved up next to his brother. “What do you think is wrong?”
“I don’t hear any night creatures moving around here.” Athriel shifted his position to keep staring out into the woods and also to see his brother. “We must be close because even Crevor isn’t close enough to make the animals skittish.”
“Alright. Try to circle around and we’ll continue up the trail in a few minutes.” Anthiel moved back to the group and sat down next to Saleel.
“What’s going on?” Sarthir asked.
Anthiel filled them in quietly while waiting for the time to pass. After a few minutes they got to their feet and continued along the small trail that the creature seemed to have been following for the last several miles. Anthiel strung his bow while they were walking and set his quiver to make the arrows more accessible. He moved around a few trees while scanning for a target when he caught a motion out of the corner of his eye. He started to turn and bring his bow up when he got caught in the blast of a howl louder than a banshee’s wail. He felt disoriented and nearly dropped his bow when he brought his hands up to cover his ears.
Saleel stepped around a different tree and pointed at the creature. “Kalith karan, tobanis-kar” She muttered and several bolts of light burst out from her hand and struck the beast along his side knocking him back. A whimper escaped from its lips and it dragged itself around the tree it had come out from. Crevor let out a roar of challenge and charged after him around the tree, but went flying back to crash into the ground a few dozen feet away. Sarthir stalked up around the other side of the tree and lashed out with his three-piece staff. A grunt of pain followed by a whimper rose up from behind the tree. He started to move forward, but suddenly shifted to dive back as grey-white tentacles whipped out of the ground trying to envelop him.
Anthiel recovered from the shock of the noise and raised his bow towards his assailant and fired. The arrow flew out the far side of the tree spinning before it snapped apart in the tree branches. He quickly drew another from his quiver and took aim but was enveloped by tentacles rising up out of the ground. He was pulled down to the ground unmoving.
Saleel moved around the tree to get a line of sight and started to cast a spell. Before she could finish two small creatures of some odd ooze appeared from nowhere and flew out and attacked her, ruining the spell.
Sarthir stepped forward and lashed out again with his staff, but it seemed to slide off the creature that turned and raised its good arm out towards him. He stepped back to avoid the claws, but found himself flying through the air as an invisible force launched him into the air. He twisted like a cat and got his feet up between himself and the tree trunk that he was hurtling towards allowing him to gracefully come to a halt against the trunk and step down on the branch below him. He stepped off the branch and landed gently on the ground, then charged back towards the fight.
Saleel recovered her focus and blasted the two small creatures away with a blast of fire from her hands. She turned back towards the creature in time to find herself face-to-face with its snarling visage. It lashed out with its clawed hand, but was deflected by her mage armor. She stepped back and started to cast another spell when more tentacles reached up out of the ground and pulled her down even as they wrapped around her from head to toe. Sarthir launched a flying kick at the back of the creature’s skull, but felt his foot slip around its head instead of connecting solidly. He collided bodily with it and they both went down in a heap. Sarthir launched back to his feet, but was unable to avoid the gooey white tentacles that appeared in the air around him. The world faded to white and then black as the cocoon thickened and he fell to the ground.
* * * * *
He limped around the trees checking on those who had attacked him. He found the dwarf out cold at the base of a large tree and wrapped him up in the same kind of cocoon that held his other assailants. The fight had lasted but a few minutes, but he had injuries that would take time to mend and he wasn’t moving as fast anymore. He wandered back to the tree with his gear hidden in it and let out a whimper of pain as he pulled the bag onto his shoulders. He turned to continue down the path and found himself staring down a long, sharp arrow aimed directly at him. He was too tired to continue the fight and so just stood there with his hands at his sides. The elf said something and gestured with the bow for him to sit down. He shrugged off the bag from his shoulders and slowly sank to his knees while trying to hold back a new whimper from the pain. The elf moved around and out of his peripheral vision and seemed to stay there for a bit and then returned from his other side. Slowly the bow was lowered until it was relaxed and pointed at the ground and then the elf crouched down out of reach in front of him.
The elf spoke something unintelligible and then seemed to be waiting for a response. He thought for a second and then tried a question in the trade tongue that he knows. “What do you want?”
The elf seemed surprised and then responded in a dialect similar to the same tongue. “What are you?”
Cast of Characters:
Anthiel: Male elf. Betrothed to Saleel. Brother to Athriel
Saleel: Female elf. Betrothed to Anthiel. Sister to Sarthir
Sarthir: Male elf. Brother to Saleel
Athriel: Male elf. Brother to Anthiel
Crevor: Male dwarf
Segsegrayjanra: Male guartaug.