Song of the Redcap
by Jeff Blomquist
Their blood sings to me in a seductive, charming chant. Beckoning to me, the scent of rich red liquid life gives forth a promise of slaughter, gifting me the power to cross the portals from the other worlds into Mid Eurda.
Others have arrived for the promise of a feast. Goblin folk and warlike Hobgoblins have gathered to prey upon the pitiful whomyns since the great reckoning has laid low their haughty so called civilization. Gold Claws, an old comrade in slaughter has also arrived, the hunt and the hint of bloodshed is simply too irresistible to refuse.
Solitary since time immortal, I head off, eager for the beauty of the butcherous death. The forest is full of blundering, boasting victims, haughty and incautious in their sense of superiority. Disdainful death lord hovers beyond the veil waiting for my swinging axe to signal his advance.
The whispering, grumbling axe is hot and anxious in my hands, pleading for the taste of blood. I forestall its protestations and impatient requests; the kill must be a work of art, a thing of beauty, the exquisite dance of death.
Creeping through the under brush, the arrogant ones become as thick as fleas on a mange ridden cur. The hobgoblins and their mawkish slaves surge forward, threatening and posturing for effect. I abandon stealth and stride forward, swaying on my broken bandy legs, crisscrossed with scars from battles too numerous to count.
One of a strange smelling blood approaches, demanding my name and origin. I deem him unworthy of any reply, for he has not yet earned it. He has an otherworldly taint to him, and I note that he will bear watching.
I limp off, using the brace faced double-handed axe of slaughter as a crutch, hidden beneath my voluminous cloak. The red cap of blood and death sits jauntily upon my skull urging me to soak it once more in the blood of fallen enemies and absorb their essence.
The creeping children of the dark now issue forth to play, eager in their quest for shiny objects and totems of status and victim. Harrumphing quietly I distain such weakness of character, although such items are useful as a lure or bait for a trap.
Overall the night raiding goblin folk are a nuisance, little more. Unsatisfying in the hunt, weak in spirit essence, they provide sustenance and nothing else. Only in greater numbers do they pose any type of threat, especially their hobgoblin masters. One must be cautious, but no to the point of timidity.
Crouching behind a clump of clustering scrub oak, I wait concealed in its branches. It takes but a brief flurry in the passage of time and I hear the clash of arms, the screams of anger, alarm and agony as combat commences. I feel an overpowering urge to rush forth to join the fray but my years of hunting lore hold my back. “Wait Redcap, wait in silence, soon they shall come.”
The tainted one seems solicitous towards the wounded female. A weakness perhaps? Screams and shouts attract their attention. I smell their fear fighting with anger and indignation, and soon the warriors rush off leaving the female completely unprotected. Her seeping blood sings my summoning! Foolish, foolish prey!
I rise up and issue forth down the hill, bounding in great ground eating leaps and cackling manically. My heart brims with a magnificent malignance and I can taste the feast all ready.
For a brief moment she freezes in surprise, fear and indecision. A Redcap charge is a fearsome thing to face, and I applaud silently her substantial yet impotent courage. The moment is all I need and suddenly the axe darts in twice, drinking deep and grumbling no longer.
She falls, blood gushing from her wounds. It was too easy, someone else had done most of the work, and I feel a vague dissatisfaction at the kill.
Her essence is ebbing and I prepare to let the hungry cap drink deep and soak up her bright red blood. I picture runes of power to sing the sacred songs of slaughter, which will claim her spirit essence and feed me by dream spirit, adding to my skills and powers.
Before I can begin the ritual songs, I hear the crash of underbrush and the anxious alarm in voices, aware that they had deserted their charge. “Too soon, too soon.” In almost physical agony, I flee the scene, biting my lip to prevent myself from howling in frustration.
They clustered about her soon-to-be-corpse, like carrion crows crowding for a feast. Yet, feast they not, for they apply the shunned and sacrilegious arts of healing, and they persuade her soul to tarry but a bit longer. I stomp iron-shod boots in an orgy of tantrumed violence, kicking and abusing the forgiving earth.
Furious I stalk away, wroth with anger having been cheated of my kill. Her soul interests me naught; it is a burdensome baggage, no small bother. It is the spirit essence, the binding force and ethereal ectoplasm that grants my sustenance and even greater power. The flashing axe gashes deep wounds in innocent trees as I move upward towards the mystical barrier.
What manner of beings are these? They give succor and aid to their own, bringing
them back out of the saddle on deaths’ pale horse and binding them back to
their bodies. Why do this?
Why waste skills and precious resources to tend an already apparent burden? At least the goblins, reprehensible as they are, have the decency to slay the wounded so that only the strong survive.
Would Redcap render aid to Redcap? Perhaps, but only to insure a great kill ratio. Direct interference muddles the timelines of fate and wyrd, and are best left untouched. I vaguely remember an essence sharing, to better approach a pack hunting in legendary proportions. The surround was a stunning success and over two score whomons stained our caps scarlet red.
Do we slaughter only to feed and grow? Hardly. Death has long been a faithful and constant friend and we hasten to expand his realm. We have spread stories older then the elf trees themselves that we slaughter in vengeance against the new races that invade and suppliant our dominance, but this is but a story. We hunt and slaughter because that is what we do, for we are agents of death and darkness. An exquisitely designed hunt with chosen prey, full of tricks and traps, is the paragon of virtuous standing of our kind. Building and feeding the fear, increasing the sense of despair and hopelessness as a bricklayer builds a wall is the sign of an accomplished master. Style, form and finesse must build to the climax of the kill.
Perhaps this is why the female near death was so unsatisfying. No form, no style. In holy eagerness at my openly offered banquet I gulped it down without taste or touch, the sign of an amateur. I will do better with the next, I promise this to myself.
I venture back to the barrier put in place to guard the entrances to the other worlds. No none-otherworldly creature may pass through without being protected by powerful enchantments.
“Whomon young bloods strong in flesh and steel, approach to do battle,” The goblin matriarch hiding in the bushes hisses that the warning must be given as the age-old law commands, giving power to that which holds the portal secure and open to our needs.
Striding forward I confront the leather clad warriors, one who stands as an oak and another with sun bright hair fair. Fair Hair smells of the tainted one and I suspect he is his comrade and shield brother. No matter, the words must be spoken, the warning given, thus speaks the eldritch vows of magic.
“Halt,” I boom. “Know that ye proceed further at thee own peril. This be the englamoured boundary before the portal to the other worlds, and should you cross it as you are, the glamour shall be invoked and your souls shall be forfeit!”
They glare at us, war brands bared and steel aloft, as we stand just beyond the boundaries curtain line. They take a few hesitant steps forward, like children testing the strength of an adults order.
“You have been warned, we speak of this no more! Your doom be upon you!” With this we withdraw beyond the boundaries veil and watch their reaction. They hesitate once more and then withdraw, eyes burning with hatred. I warm in this glowing malice.
The goblin matriarch hisses in appreciation as screams and bellows issue forth from the interlopers’ village. A desperate voice summons any and all back to defend the camp. “Golden Claws has reached the village!” she croons in anticipation. “Now we steal and plunder!”
The young bloods have proceeded at full speed on the wandering game trail to save the village if possible. I travel cross-country to the village outskirts; I peer cautiously over the barrier brush pile, which formed the protective walls of the village.
A dozen stand in the village proper. Large hulking warriors, the tainted one, a female dwarf, the female who was stolen from me, and a few magicians. They surround Golden Claws, who is spread out on the ground and wrapped in ropes.
The sky darkens in outrage and the Storm Giants tears plummet down, drenching one and all. It passes, but a glance to the sky confirms more is to follow.
A large contingent yanks the now conscious Golden Claws to his feet and demands that he lead them to his treasure. I laugh at this stupidity, they simply allow him time to heal and grow strong. Then he will burst his bonds and wreak his vengeance on such indignities. He leads them away on what I assume will be a wandering wild goose chase. One group drags him along, that being Fair Hair, the Tainted One and others.
All that remains in is the village is the dwarven female, the wounded female, and He Who Stands as an Oak. I rear up from out of cover, and move forward for combat and slaughter.
He Who Stands as an Oak strides down confidently to meet my advance. He is brave, this one with no smell of fear about him. His blood sings to me of the power of his limbs, the speed of his reflexes and the keenness of his narrowing eyes. I laugh in anticipation of his death, yet he wavers not. He ducks quickly under the barrier gate, and I berate myself for not acting on the opening he provided.
He rears up, ready for battle, two weapons flashing in the glint of approaching lightening. The Grumbling axe darts, feints and attacks again, seeking an opening. His two swords flash and block, creating a whirling barrier of sharpened steel. He is good, this one, he is very, very good.
More feints and ripostes provide no opening for either side. Met me my match? Perhaps, but I am not allowed to find this out. Thunder rips the heavens open and hail the size of acorns plummet down in a stinging, bruising flurry. He Who Stands as an Oak breaks free and runs for cover, heading for one of the village shelters.
The Storm Giants are wroth with anger and I choose naught to attract their wrath by flaunting my metal linked armor in their presence. Darting deep into the underbrush the storm howls its fury in a primreview swath of destruction. Roofs shudder, buildings sway and bend almost horizontal, and branches snap and crash to the ground.
As sudden as the Storm Giants assault had started, it abruptly ends. I peer up to assess my standing, and decide to venture back to the englamoured barrier. Golden Claws should have lead the greedy fools into this vicinity and the hunting should be exquisite. Venturing near the portal, I hear a commotion below the hill upon which it sits. Snarls, growls and screams confirm that Golden Claws has made his move to escape.
Patient waiting confirms my assumptions. Soon Golden Claws begins climbing up the hill, chuckling with malicious glee. He reeks of blood and his claws are stained red up to his elbows. He spies my form and amends his course to meet me at the top. A powerful earth spirit of unprecedented evil, he and I enjoy boasting of our deeds and swapping hunting tales and war trail stories. I hunger for his story almost as eagerly as I hunger for the sweet scent of slaughter.
He disappoints me not in the least. “I took them in circles,” he snarls in his slobbering, nasal growl. “I hinted of treasure and took them deeper and deeper into the undergrowth. He Who Stands as an Oak was closest. I made my move and broke free. That one moved in with his brace of swords flashing. At that point, I wondered at the fool hardiness of my maneuver for by simple observation I could tell he is a master swordsman.”
Golden Claws resumed his narrative. “His weapons out distanced my talons, and his speed was superb. His movements were graceful, dancing in the air almost of their own accord.”
“He moved into the attack and I envisioned another bout of reattaching severed limbs when the unthinkable occurred. He stumbled and fell flat forward, sprawling completely prone. I leaped upon him as a forest cat, claws raised and flailing in my fury. The Elfling closed in and I withdrew and ran for cover. Whether or not He Who Stands as an Oak survived, I know not, they were tending him as I ran. I confess I find them a strange race.” He paused as I queried a question.
“You said Elfling?”
“I creep back through the forest, stalk whomons, eat flesh, drink blood. Maybe capture victim, then torture for hours. Screams are comforting, make claws happy, bring more victim.” He has reverted to normal speech patterns. He is done with talk for now.
“Good hunting, Old Blood Reaver.” I saluted him as an equal, and watched him with the closest thing to affection that a Redcap can feel. He’s a blood letter to be sure, and one of the few beings a Redcap respects.
Soon I heard voices and slunk towards the sound. Deep voices, meaning large whomon males. The clink and rustle of metal confirmed that some were armored and the whisper of eldritch ozone confirmed that one of them was skilled in the ways of magic.
“Hunt Redcap, Hunt.” I repeated, worming my way closer on my belly. Soon I was very close behind a bush above them on the hill. “Not yet, Redcap, not yet.” Time was my ally as death was my friend; I simply had to wait, and be ready.
Words drifted up to my ears, brimming with impatience. Soon a voice of pure power bellowed forth, shouting a challenge to one and all full of defiance and anger. That was all I needed, I had heard the rustling of armor dropping to the ground, and so I knew that they were not ready for an attack.
Rising to my full height I bounded forward down the hill roaring my challenge. Nothing can truly describe the expressions on the faces of the three as I closed in on them. Closest and in the center was he who I took for the leader. He was a giant of a man, a great grizzled veteran warrior more bear than man. He stood weaponless, shield held backwards with both hands on the rim, mouth agape and eyes wide with surprise. I could see that he had forgotten his own hard won rules of warfare, and I planned to make him pay for that folly. His blood was strong and plentiful.
With my headlong descent down hill a swipe at the legs is out of the question, although it would be an assured success. I smash repeatedly at the shield attempting to knock it to one side to create an opening. A mistake. Even surprised, he is a formidable opponent, catching the grumbling axe before it can drink his blood and cleave his flesh. This great bear is canny and wise in warfare.
A shadow closing in on my right warns me of approaching danger. I whirled to meet his attack. A hot-blooded young lion, sheathed head to toe in rustling chain and clanking armor plate is driving a long sword into my side. A searing pain alerts me that he has penetrated my splint-linked armor.
I smash at his shield and sneak past to shear into his armor. I cannot tell if flesh was reached or not. The young lion is valiant and loyal, clanking forward to push me away from the bear. I have no time for clever strategies or planned attacks.
A sting in my hamstring signals that the mage born Harrier Hound has darted in from behind and struck with his staff. I whirl, furious to the point of insanity. He, too, has starch in his spine, speaking the words of a spell to fling an eldritch bolt of power. I smile as they fade into nothingness before they reach my form. Redcaps fear little from all but the most powerful of mages. He turns and flees, shouting his disbelief and displeasure. The grumbling axe kisses him wetly from behind for his impertinence.
The roars of rage and clanking metal signal danger from the Lion and the Bear. It is time to flee. They are too strong and skilled, too brave and far to loyal to each other to cut one out alone. This is far more difficult.
I bound away into the underbrush cackling with merriment. My cap has drunk no blood, but their surprise and fear is a sip of sweet nectar to my lips. The Hound pursues, followed more slowly by the steel swathed Lion of virtue. High and lofty ideals mark this one and a noble cause can provide boundless amounts of courage. I begin to think of more cunning manners to separate and cut them down when a growling roar from the great horned Bear brings them up short and pulls them back into a protective formation. He is wise, the old bear. I doubt I will catch him off guard again!
I swerve out of sight and assess my wounds and damaged armor. I am wounded, but not gravely. I smile at the vision of the delicious exchange of blows and the sheer artistry of the conflict. No amateurs, any of this collection of lordly beasts. The Great Bear, the Lordly Lion, the mystic Harrier Hound. They are definitely a challenge. Excellent. It will make the hunt even more exhilarating!
A shout from afar brings me out of my crimson clad reflections and causes me to glance up. A fateful decision. The Tainted One; the elfling is approaching at fair speed on silent feet, blood in his eye and deadly resolve tightening his jaw. Fair Hair, his comrade, is within sight to one side, but not yet a threat. A flash in the sunlight above the line of bushes reveal the Bear, the Lion and the Harrier hound attempting to sweep around to one side to flank my position. Ah, the net is closing. My respect clicks up another notch.
He shouts for his comrade. I attempt a few taunts and insults. He be wroth already, perhaps more anger will spur him into a mistake that will allow me to get past his guard. A traitorous dead branch grabs at my ankles and throws me to the ground. I expect the worst but surprisingly he allows me to gain my feet! This Elfling is a true puzzle. His heart is dark but his head is full of noble intentions. They war within his body and tear at him, much like his mixed and tainted blood. Perhaps this is a weakness I can exploit.
No time, Fair Hair rushes up ready to engage. His heart, too, seems dark, but his intentions are clear and his sword is excessively quick. I do not have the luxury of accessing his skill, the situation is now grave. The two apart are more than my equal but together they are unconquerable. I keep moving deeper into the concealing underbrush. I cannot allow them to coordinate and box me in, for then I shall be overwhelmed.
I reach the edge of a steep brush clad hill. I whirl and flee at full speed, bounding headlong down the hill regardless of the danger. Their surprise grants me the time I need to gain a lead and then dart behind a grove of spreading scrub oak. A twist to the left and suddenly I collapse, lying completely flat and enveloping myself into my voluminous cloak. A risky strategy, but time tested. Part of the Redcap mystique of becoming invisible has been attributed to this tactic.
To them I have disappeared! The Elfling is furious, striking and slashing at the brush or so my ears tell me. He calls to me, tauntingly and warns that I cannot hide from him in his forest. I would laugh if I did not have my red cap stuffed into my mouth, as I am sucking wind with the force of a dwarf’s forge bellows. Even Redcaps become exhausted. Also, he is very close, I can see his feet!
I contemplate a sweeping a blow from my supine position but brush will hamper the swing and I will not slay him out right, nor allow any true advantage, I am certain Fair Hair lurks near, searching the forest with his eyes, waiting for me to break from cover. They are treacherous this pair, their own kind trusts them not, it speaks a valuable lesson to me.
The Tainted One move off, still shouting challenges and claiming me coward. Silent giggles shake my form. Elfling concepts of bravery seem contradictory in nature; from cover I have observed him fleeing foes. Besides his insults touch me naught, he is prey, nothing more. I am no more moved by the words of the rabbit or owl. I stay silent, and unmoving. I can feel them watching and waiting.
Soon howls of distant combat reach my ears. It will draw them off I am sure. To either give aid, appropriate treasure or turn on their own, I know not. I wait for the space of five hands worth a hundred heartbeats. I rise silently from the earth. I am alone.
I move towards the village. Moving in from the west, creeping on my belly like a snake worming its way through the matted grasses, soon I come to a small rise. I cover my red cap with my dark cloaks’ hood. I will not beacon my presence until necessary. Peering over the rise I spy upon who resides below.
The Great Bear, the Noble Lion, and the Harrier Hound stand in conversation with the Dwarven female. I assume some mercantile exchange is ensuing due to the passing of silver between hands. I see the female human alive and tending to the wounds of another. Words of conversation drift down to my ears. Of what I can gather shocks me to my inner core of being. By my bloody axe, the sacrilegious witch is a healer! As a craft! What an unnatural atrocity! It is bad enough to nurture and heal as a parental duty, but to wander the world healing for coin, barter or even worse- charity is an absolute horror! It is no wonder the hunt has not had its culling effect. We issue forth for blood shed and to slaughter the unfit and infirm, only to have them sneak in behind saving lives. How rude! No wonder the cosmic balance is so skewed a kilter.
I see one who parades forth in rainbow armor. A strange one, this Rainbow Warrior, and I instinctively avoid him as unfit prey. Something is wrong with this one, and I wish not to offend those who may have prior claim on him. He Who Stands as an Oak is also in residence, looking shredded and much the worse for wear.
I tire of waiting. I stand, trying to give the impression of appearing out of nowhere, but no one is gazing in my direction. Finally, the Rainbow Warrior notices my form and I wave my axe to appear as insulting as possible. I then turn and as casually as possible amble down the hill out of sight. I then dart into the scrub oak and lay supine next to a spreading clump. I wait. One or two should scout forth to investigate.
I am not disappointed. In a brace of a hundred heartbeats I hear voices approaching. Good! Closer my prey, closer. Two voices? No, three. No, four! Curses! No paltry pair of scouts, a patrol in force! Well, wait and watch Redcap, wait and watch!
Now my luck truly sours. The mystic Harrier Hound has taken a different path, and bears down on me in a direct collision course! I have no choice. I struggle to my feet, the supine position having been a poor choice. I give the hound warning and he shouts an alarm, alerting the Lion and the Bear. I turn and rush towards my only possible escape, to find the She-Dwarf blocking it, sword in hand.
Swaddled in gray, defiant, belligerent and unafraid, she appears as a two-legged badger. Final curses spew from my lips. A badger! I don’t need no stinking badgers right now! I hurl myself forward, screaming with rage. I snake forth a flurry of four blows, designed to cut her down and make good my escape.
Her sword flicks up; block, parry, parry, block! She moved not one step either way, and stopped all of my blows! I am thunderstruck. To late I recognize the pounding of armored feet approaching fast. My luck has run out. They are upon me!
I whirl around, axe swinging, determined to go down fighting. The hound darts in, I slash wildly and the two armored warrior’s strike, weapons biting deep. I whirl again, strike shields held tight and firm, and fall beneath the speed blurred weapons.
I fall prone, screaming in agony. They close in hacking and clubbing like butchers chopping and tenderizing meat rather than seasoned warriors. I am spread across the small clearing as two ells worth of bull rush flooring. Death smiles in recognition and welcome, as my spirit leaves my bloody and battered form.
I am not defeated as of yet. My spirit hovers, waiting as they strip and loot my mortal body. All of value is taken, the axe, the armor, my bag of coins for bait, and even my cloak and blood stained hat. But they know not the secret words of warding to strip my spirit of power, they do not sing the sacred songs, which force it into the otherworld, and they know not my secret name to be spoken in ritual to allow death to claim me.
Death hovers, uncertain and displeased. He has much work to do, many souls to carry back to the netherworld and he cannot abide this time consuming blundering by untrained amateurs. With a flick of his reins, the cloaked figure on his pale horse salutes once and rides off to his next rendezvous. The four shudder as the unseen shade passes. My spirit is now free to reform, if possible and fate and wyrd is kind.
My spirit flies in the ether, seeking those who are dying. I need the spirit essence that they shed as they pass onward to give me power, the life essence that heals and binds me back into my body. They no longer need such an essence, yet my occult spirit does.
First off, I find a dying goblin, sprawled and bloody, his spirit shows the last image held in his mind is that of a beautiful butterfly. Curious. I draw his essence forth. It is meager, a mere fraction of what I need, but enough to give me more time to seek more victims. I sail onward through the ether, seeking more.
The next one I reach as the Bear, the Lion and the Harrier Hound cut him down. They have been busy, indeed, these three. It is a Hobgoblin, a large, militant leader type. He is clad in armor and wears a fur cap and vest of fine quality, usually a sign of statue within the clans. Even as they take his armor and furs, turning then to leave, I pounce. His essence is stronger, darker, richer. It is also fresh and almost at full strength. Delicious, much better, but still not enough.
Finally, I reach a dying mage, her purple robes spread out on the ground as she lays face up, her life force ebbing as her red blood seeps into the thirsty earth. Her spirit essence is enormous and completely useless to her at this point. I drink it in greedily, sucking it completely from her cooling corpse to be. I wave gratefully in farewell, as her spirit exits her body.
This is more than enough now, and I hurl back through the ether to my now cold corpse. I examine the damage, extensive, but not impossible, anymore. My spirit sings the songs, which seduces the spirits of the earth to heal my wounds and knit my flesh. I chant the ritual phrases, which commands the water spirits to replenish the life bearing liquid in my veins. I speak the words that incite the fiery salamanders to rekindle the spark of life in my body. Finally I beg with exquisite etiquette of the airy sylphs to breath life giving air back into my lungs.
It works! My body lives. My spirit plunges in as a cormorant diving for a herring. I utter the final words of power and speak my secret name to bind the spirit essence to this body as the tightest glue ever conceived.
My eyelids flutter open. I have awakened. Life once more flows through my veins, but I am hungry, ever so hungry. I have spent much to come back, and I desperately need a victim. Yet, I have no hat, no axe, no armor, no cloak. I must do murder, but first I must play thief. I spy upon the village and I am in luck. It is deserted. I creep in and find my weapon, armor and possessions. I spy the Elfling’s armor, consider pilfering it but decide not to. The hunger gnaws at me, clawing at my concentration, pulling it away. Besides, taking back my own possessions is one thing, but I am a slaughter lord and murderer, not a thief. I have my pride, of course.
I stomp back towards the barrier and portal, for passing through and back again will ease my hunger pains and give me temporary strength and fortitude. It will be fleeting, but useful. I dart off of the path and move cross country. It will do me great ill if I encounter the Elfling and Fair Hair; disastrous if the Bear, the Lion and the Harrier Hound cross my path. I dodge past Fair Hair, I believe he may have spied me, for his shoulders slumped and his chin banged his chest. I once more melted into the underbrush, and he stares, shaking his head and rubbing his eyes. Finally he moves on, and I proceed with greater caution.
Topping the hill, I stride past the barrier and into the portal. In the otherworld I seek out a dryads oak and hew into it as a lumberjack. A scream and a sizzling bolt of power burn past my ear. I turn and butcher the enraged hamadryad whose oak this was as she rushes me with an oaken cudgel. I dip my hat in her sappy blood, and speak the words which claim her essence. I chop down her oak and repeat the ritual on it, sealing her doom.
Not my proudest moment, but necessary. Flush with power I now return through the portal and back into Mid Eurde. The Goblin matriarch and a Hobgoblin shamaness observe my entrance with a silent sense of approval. They point far down the path, and an exceedingly bizarre sight meets my incredulous eyes. An upright, moldering, walking corpse is in the path, his undead spirit burning bright within his corrupted shell. The Elfling and the fate skewing witch accompany it and rather than attack, they seem to converse with it.
The healer’s reactions are even more confusing; her body language and tone to her words are those spoken to a paramour, not an adversary! The waves of longing and unrelinquished love that pour forth from her are nauseating and down right painful to endure. I shudder; suddenly chilled, undead spirits and this thing called love have similar effects upon me, making me want to avoid them at all costs.
Meanwhile, the vast majority of remaining warriors and mages are scouring the countryside, their cries confirming a search for goblins. I look questioningly at the matriarch and the shamaness and they shrug uncertain.
“Something about brains,” they say. I look in horror at them, but stay silent. “By my bloody axe, they are feeding that thing! Are they mad?”
Moving back across country to the wilding western edge of the middling marches as I dare without getting bog bound, I make good time. By observing the activities with the undead I conclude that I will have plenty of time for my actions. I take time to observe the nature and interactions of the whomons with others, for a good hunter and slaughter lord knows that understanding how your prey thinks and acts is halfway to its blood adorning your crust stained cap.
The Tainted One, the Elfling, seems intent on guarding the Fate Skewing Healer/Witch. Hmm…definitely a weakness. Some deep guilt shames him, it radiates from him like the odor of a skunk sprayed cur on a hot summer day. It seems to concern the ambulatory corpse as well. Oh, so strange!
Fair Hair is with. His attention seems to be drawn back to the heavy purse, which sags at the Tainted One’s belt.
From the scent I had caught earlier, I assume that it is full of the round silver disks they seem to value so much. This especially seems to fascinate Fair Hair. Perhaps he is part goblin. Whomon breeding habits are a mystery to me, so this would not take me completely by surprise. Either way, the way his eyes keep being drawn to the purse and how they gaze speculatively at his comrades back suggests that his loyalty as a comrade to the Elfling is inversely proportional to his growing greed. Interesting.
Letting go such observations, I reach the village and circle around wide. It has two main gates, the Caravan Gate and the Wilderness Gate, which is the one on the side closest to the portal. I come around and step onto the road, which travels to the Caravan Gate. I approach the gate and gaze into the village. The only ones who remain are He Who Stands as an Oak, still sorely wounded and the Rainbow Warrior.
They spy my form with alarm and dread. They seek no conflict. I do. The Rainbow Warrior offers up the village as payment for their lives. I laugh in scorn and wonder. Do I look like a Dwarf? A peddler? A land tiller and crop husband? I be Redcap! Slaughter Lord, Blood Hunter and Murderer!
Suddenly they turn and flee at great speed, being at least three score of paces away from my form. Curses! I cannot afford an energy draining pursuit; my dryad spirit essence is fleeting at best in this world. Well, then, let them go. I proceed towards the Wilderness Gate, and then glance back. Brush conceals the view so I cannot see them, therefore they cannot see me. I dart to a low spot of high rushes and grass and settle down, prepared for a long wait. I am still inside the village proper, so any and all who pass the gate will perceive themselves as safe and drop their guard. With cunning and patience I can surprise the rear most and perhaps cut them down. At the same time while not moving I husband my fleeting and ebbing powers.
The waiting is tedious. “Soon Redcap, soon.” I tell myself. I can hear the Rainbow Warriors’ insane chatter like a gaggle of scolding blue jays. Does this one ever stay silent?
Spirit powers have grasped firm his mind with spectral hands and squeezed tight. He has been chosen by other entities and it is best not to interfere until I know more.
I have chosen the ambush site carefully, well concealed but close to the main thoroughfare. A quick leap up, three bounds and I will have them. An attack from the rear, surprise, speed and careful choice of victims will be what I will need for success. Luck would help, but on this day she has been a fickle and traitorous companion. No matter, one must always press onward in the face of adversity.
The stampeding echo of heavily burdened feet approaching at a run signals my ears the first arrival. The rustle of chain mail and clanking armor combined with the time between the lengths of the strides confirm it in my mind that the Young Lion approaches. He thunders by, breathing heavily. He calls out to the Rainbow Warrior and He Who Stands as an Oak that they come with Galen. Galen? Who be Galen?
Regardless, I settle back down, peering over the sedge grass. The scent of carrion in its final stages of rot alerts me that the walking corpse approaches. It plods by slowly with the whomon witch and the Elfling hovering protectively nearby. The Dwarven She-Badger comes in behind, protecting the witches back.
My ears tell me that a group of three approaches. By my count this should be the last of the arrivals. “Wait for it, wait for it Redcap.” I tell myself. The Mageborn Harrier Hound skips by at a run. Following behind is Fair Hair and finally the lumbering Great Bear. He is weary, the great one, and his back beckons invitingly. It will be like tossing pebbles at the side of a hut. Perfect.
At precisely the right moment I spring to my feet and prepare to rush forward. It is not to be. Once more mistress luck has daggered me in the small of my back. My traitorous cloak has snagged on brush and holding me tight, yanks me back down to my knees. I have to abandon it to break free. By this time the Great Horned Bear has whirled, hearing the crashing commotion and creative curses. I may not have surprised him anyways; the distance is farther than I thought. Fair Hair and the Young Lion rush up and the Bear rolls in from behind them. Once more success has been denied me and there are just too many to handle. Almost sobbing with fury, I flee down a side path and then dart into the bushes waiting for the pursuit. I hear voices approach and then fade; clearly they do not wish to press further the chase.
Hearing nothing after a score fold of heartbeats, I venture out of the bushes and dart down the path past the Wilderness Gate. Moving off the path and into some scrubby hillocks, I spy a goblin bearing an amulet being pursued or at least followed by two more ambulatory corpses. An eldritch scream of primordial despair and agony rips the air. It unnerves me to my very core. Undead spirits disturb me greatly.
I allow them to pass, they are moving into the village proper, but slowly, very slowly. Shouts of alarm ensue from many people. A very busy day to be sure. The screams continue. Soon I spy a sight that does my black heart good. Golden Claws the Troll is heading down the path in a near berserker fury. He is slashing the air in fury and his claws glisten in the sunlight. Ichor and foam drips from his mouth and he is loping straight into the village, with no thought of strategy or diversion.
I cannot pass up this opportunity for slaughter and bloodletting. I hurry to catch up with Golden Claws, calling forth his name. He turns, sights me and pauses, allowing me to catch up. Together we start up to the village, our bloodlust rising to the point that the world is seen in a red haze and the sweet iron laced scent of blood twinges in our nostrils.
The undead corpses have reached the village square and are being mowed down by multiple weapon blows. Their shouts of excitement and victory turn to dismay and terror as we have finally been spotted. Some still tend to the healer and her walking corpse patient, all other issue forth to do battle.
It is a grand and glorious battle. We stand together, my red axe singing, his Golden Claws ripping and tearing metal and flesh. Again and again we score, but there are to many and no killing blows are landed. They have a great power these whomons; together working in concert and coordinated tactics they are far greater than their simple sum total. Goblins together make a passable whole, one is the brain, one acts as the sword, others do the legwork, and so forth. Whomons together become greater and greater. Ten men working as a skilled unit are worth at least fifty goblins simply attacking in waves.
So many dart into strike and then away that I am hard pressed to identify those who draw my blood. Golden Claws and I are separated. He is forced into the center of the village and slowly cut apart, with a methodical surgical precision. Their weapons outreach his claws, and they puncture his tough hide again and again. Most are wounded and their armor is in tatters, but he does go down.
I have moved over towards the edge of the village, the one escape path through the barrier brush piles. The Bear and the Dwarven She-Badger press me the hardest, with others close behind. I draw blood, but cannot land a killing blow.
A sickening metal snap shakes the shaft of my axe. One of the two heads of the axe has cracked, but thankfully not on the head around the shaft of the axe, so it is still secure. The She-Badger steps us as I contemplate my shattered blade, sticks a sword into my side and demands my surrender. I gap at her and then whirl and flee, reaching the edge of the ridge.
I turn, they do not follow. In fact they act as if it was a normal day of craftwork. “Ho-hum, slaughter troll, drive off Redcap, feed the animated corpse.”
My rage reaches now unheralded boundaries. Arrogant insects! Because they out number and like ants enslave themselves to an all consuming, all constricting society they think themselves superior. I snap off the shattered blade and stomp down, heavy-footed iron boots sparking on the gravel.
So now I attack with a one headed axe. Finally they deign to notice my furious approach. The Bear, the Lion, the Hound and the Badger move in to attack. The Tainted One and the Witch Healer tend to the primary animated corpse, now lying prone. Fair hair and He who Stands as an Oak guard Golden Claws. The Rainbow warrior mills uncertainly.
I rain blows upon all who approach. The grumbling axe caresses the She-Badger, battles the Great Bears shield, glances off of the young Lions helmet and feints at the mystic Harrier Hound. It is a fruitless venture though. Shear defiance and blood rage have gotten me this far, but they are easily overwhelming me now. This will achieve me nothing but an intentional demise, and I have overtaxed my powers already today.
I beat an orderly retreat, keeping them at bay with darting strikes of the grumbling axe. I get away and move beyond the village proper. Again, I have been thwarted, and it tastes sour in my mouth.
I turn and walked away. No one dare to follow, or perhaps I am truly not worth the bother? I am bleeding and weaker now. They are strong, very strong. This demands new strategies. New ways to hunt. I need to think long on this.
Yet, I cannot simply walk away, ignored and discarded like an old bone. I am safely beyond the Barrier walls of brush. I turn and bellow a taunt at the Elfling, the Tainted One. “What is the matter, Elfling? Do you not want to play in your forest?” I pause and then shout again. “You were not very good the first time!!”
I turn and spy the elfling only a score of paces behind me! He has tripped and fallen; otherwise he would have had me! Does he have strong enough enchantments for the sylphs of the air to carry him beyond the barriers peak? Scaling it in such a short time is unthinkable. He has tricks this one. Or perhaps his anger sustains and fuels his power. It be an older and far stronger magic than that possessed by many of his ilk.
I turn and flee. I cannot face him in such a mood, even at full strength. I run and then once more hide, hearing the voices that call him away from the chase. He has earned more of my respect. His split heritage is a strength as well as a weakness. It gives him power yet forces him to walk alone. I know this well. I now name him Two Bloods, and refer to him as such henceforth.
Beware you of Shadowvale1. Out in the darkness, out in the Wild Woods, I am watching and waiting! Beware!
<<< Go Back | Go Forward >>>
1 Shadowvale is actually referring to the village of Shadowgrove.