Thursday, August 31, 2006

The Ranger

Two cloaked merchants, closely followed by a warrior, a barbarian, and a ranger, walked swiftly northwards along the narrow dirt road. The ranger thought it odd that the merchants had no caravan or even a small, ox-driven cart to carry their trade goods, but when he inquired about this, the taller of the two men stated that their wares were small, yet none-the-less valuable, and they would be held concealed on their person at all times. That was the last the ranger heard on the subject.

The three strong men-at-arms that accompanied the merchants had been recently hired to escort the tradesmen north, and they were told nothing more, not even the final destination. This didn’t, for the most part, bother the men, as the pay had been significant enough to waylay most of their suspicions before nervous doubt could set in. The ranger seemed to be the only one of the three that suspected the merchants to be more than they claimed, but he kept his uncertainties to himself. He wanted the final compensation promised to him, nothing more.

On this particular evening, several weeks into the journey, the party decided to take their nights rest in a small cave. The cave looked safe enough; it was sturdy and would provide ample shelter, and while they could see only blackness as the chamber descended into the mountain, they saw no signs of any inhabitants that should threaten them in the night. The group readied for sleep, with the barbarian and warrior at the sides of the merchants, and the ranger a few yards off, closer to the cave’s opening. The barbarian volunteered for watch duty, but the short merchant waved him off, explaining that he and his partner had used these very same caverns many times, and that no watch was necessary. The barbarian, satisfied, shrugged his massive shoulders and laid down, but the ranger was not so easily convinced. Nevertheless, they all shut their eyes and drifted into slumber. The pace of the journey had been swift indeed.

The ranger was the first to awaken to what sounded like heavily thumping feet. He continued to lay motionless, and, with his hands resting on the twin blades clasped to his belt, he waited.

The barbarian and warrior jumped to their feet just in time to meet the three ogres that had come charging at them from the blackness at the rear of the cave. Fortunately, while the two fighters weren’t the brightest, they had been trained and seasoned well enough to greet the ogres charge without facing too much of a disadvantage, dodging the initial charge. Then too the ranger sprang to his feet, immediately noticing that the two merchants were nowhere to be seen. A small matter, for now, as there was a bigger problem at hand. The odds didn’t seem all that bad to the ambushed men, trained fighters against a few dimwitted ogres, and they each quickly engaged the nearest ogre.

Moonlight spilled into the cavern’s entrance, causing the ranger’s slightly curved blades to shine bright as he gracefully ducked under another brutal sweep of the ogres hard wooden club. With one quick motion, he brought both swords across the ogres receding arm, drawing blood but doing no serious damage. The ranger’s strikes were not ferocious and powerful, but rather fast and accurate. He knew he could not hope to easily take down this massive beast with his small weapons, but if he could stay in the fight long enough he would do enough harm to prevail.

The ogre raised his club and the ranger sidestepped around to the beasts back, all the while slashing at any visible opening. Trickles of blood spilled down the ogre’s body from a dozen small gashes, yet it still fought with full ferocity. The ogre turned, but the downswing flew wildly and missed the ranger, who then took the opportunity to thrust one sword deep into the savage’s ribs. Blood gushed out around the imbedded sword’s hilt, and the ogre roared and jerked away, leaving the ranger with just one weapon. The ranger saw his opportunity, and lunged forward to deliver the killing blow. The ogre met him with unexpected quickness, however, and with one motion it brought the club across the ranger’s shoulder, sending him sprawling. The ranger struggled to his feet, angered that he allowed himself to be so careless. Searing pain coursed through his left arm, but in the heat of the battle he hardly noticed.

The ogre grinned as he eyed his seemingly broken prey. He thought the fun was over; his shrewd strike had been more than the pitiful little humanoid could handle. He slowly raised the massive club above his head, gathering enough strength to completely squash the little vermin in front of him. He overestimated his own power, however, and the ranger was not nearly as finished he had assumed. Watching the ogre mockingly raise his club, the ranger suddenly burned with a hideous and intense rage. He had let his guard down, and he had paid the price. Never again would he allow that to happen. With the sure agility of his mother’s heritage he leapt at the ogre with blinding speed and drove his remaining sword deep into the monster’s belly, spilling bloody bile all over his weary hands. Clenching his teeth he choked the sword, his muscles pulsed with anger, and with the strength of his father he slit the beast nearly in half, spilling it’s putrid organs and covering himself in fleshy gore. The monster fell to the ground, unreservedly lifeless. The ranger ripped his blade from the contorted beast and, surveying the battleground, readied himself for the rest of the fight.

The warrior’s mangled body fell limp to the cavern floor, and the bloody barbarian slowly faced off against the two remaining ogres. They came at him gradually, as if intimidated by the barbarian’s unyielding strength. The ranger began to creep towards the barbarian’s side, but just as he did so the true reason for the ogre’s strange delay burst forth. No fewer than five more ogres rushed to aide their comrades in battle, their faces distorted with cruel and repulsive sneers. The ranger was not about to charge in and die for some strange merchants and a barbarian he hardly knew. Instead, he quietly snuck out of the cave and fled into the comfort and familiarity of the surrounding wilderness.

The ranger heard the uproarious shouts of the ogres along with the muffled shrieks of the dying barbarian, but he felt no sympathy for the foolishly brave man. Tuning out the now distant commotion, the ranger examined his wounds. Thankfully, his shoulder wasn’t broken, only badly bruised. It would heal.

Utterly exhausted and yet still covered in the grotesque filth of the dead ogre, the ranger slumped to the ground near a large, dying tree. He closed his eyes, and there, battered but still very much alive, the ranger slept.


scott said...

Well-done, sir. Once you get your character sheet made, add +100xp for yourself.

Degolar said...

Very nice.

Degolar said...

The story is nice, I mean. But I'm not so sure about taking on a dancing, dainty half-breed who runs at the first sign of trouble and leaves his companions to die. Sounds like a pansy to me. :-)

Jason said...

Says the dainty half breed who spends his nights daintily tapping a beat on a drum for profit? :)

Degolar said...

Hey, it takes one to know one.

Leelu said...

A man after Leelu's heart. Jeral, on the other hand, won't like the details of this story. . . if he ever actually learns them. ;)

Jason said...

Ok, so do we like find him under the tree or did the ogres catch up to him and we find him a prisoner in this mini-ziggraut that we were at?