To Bring Home A Trophy
by Sergor Salamandus
The cold mist wets my face as I stare out into the gloom of the early morning. The world awaits the activity of the new day to begin. No sounds escape the almost oppressive silence of the town. No merchant is scurrying through the empty streets in the hope of getting a good spot in the town square. Not even the ragged form of a young street urchin is to be found about. Their nights work of thieving at an end an hour or so ago. All await the rising of the sun before beginning the day's drudgery.
I sigh as the sun's flame lights the sky and some pale light enters the town from over the wall, like a fugitive from the insanity of the wilderness. Though my days as an aspiring empath were fulfilling, I sought the adrenaline surge of combat and the glory to be had in returning to town laden with hides of many different beasts. So I carefully went through my inventory to see that I was fully prepared for the day's events. I made sure that my armor was fitted well to me, that my shield was in good repair, and that my sword was sharp and clean.
Then I open my herb pouch, making sure I had all that I would need to take care of that which my magic could not handle. In my backpack I check on foodstuffs and water as well as some bandages, just in case. Finding myself ready, I set off intent on war.
I walk through the streets in a northerly direction, leaving the Inn behind. The sounds of a town coming to life begin to flow about me. A father's cursing, a dog's barking, a child's crying, all reach my ears. I think ahead to the silence of the woods with a longing I did not expect. I suppose I had become so familiar with the cacophony of noise that assails my ears every day that I had forgotten the silence that I had taken for granted in my youth. As I approach the gates, I see others like me. All of us were preparing to enter into the wilds for fun and profit.
Some were like me, solitary and removed from the activity around them. Others laughed and joked with friends and companions. None of us knew whether we would be successful or wind up being dragged to the town and the ministrations of one like myself. I shook off the cold feeling that thought brought and drew my sword and readied my shield.
As I went through the gates, I realized the relative safety of the town was denied me and that my survival was in my own hands. With a cautious step and a wary eye, I started down a trail running to the southwest. As I move along the path, I can see the wall of the town on my left. Feeling relatively safe, being this close to town, I pick up the pace. As the town begins to fall away to the north, I come to a crossroads. Taking the southwest fork, I warily enter some open grasslands.
Before going too far, I spot a rolton. Though the carnivorous sheep is not a difficult target, I held a personal grudge against them. While still new to the town and very inexperienced, I left the safety of the walls to go foraging for herbs. While kneeling, a rolton sneaked up behind me and began to devour me. Being weak and lightly armored it killed me. It also ingrained a deep hatred for the beasts in me. With a shout of mingled rage and glee, I charged the foul creature and slew it with but five mighty swings of my trusty sword. I hoped it was the brother to the cowardly beast that killed me. Elated with the victory, I did not consider that it had taken me five swings to kill something more closely related to a sheep than a dragon. So on a high of enthusiasm I set forth to clean the land of all the monsters and unnatural beasts that plagued our fair land.
Still heading in a southerly direction, I entered a part of our small world that I had never seen before. As the road began to bend to the southeast, a large turkey flew right at my face. I was so startled that I fell to the ground instead of taking its head off in one fell swoop of my sword. After rolling back to my feet, I took a closer look at the bird. It was an eerie hybrid of lizard, rooster, and bat. Though the size of a large turkey, it had the head and body of a rooster, with two bat-like wings and the tail of a lizard tipped with a few feathers. The feathers were a golden brown, its beak yellow, its tail green, and its wings gray. The wattles, combs, and eyes were all bright red. I was facing no mere insane turkey, but instead a cockatrice filled with malice. I decided that the best course of action was a tactical retreat. So I spun about and ran as fast up the trail as I could. As the trail turned back to the northeast, I told myself that I couldn't let that one incident to deter my hunting trip. There was plenty of small, ferocious game to be had in the area and all of it couldn't be as bad as something that could turn you into a statue fit to decorate the Temple in a half of a second. Feeling a little better about the incident, I resolved to do better in my next encounter.
After a short hike down the trail, I came upon a bridge. Seeing nothing of note on this side of the expanse, other than a malicious turkey, I crossed the bridge to find better game. After a sharp bend in the road where it headed back to the west, I began to see bits of cast off armor and clothing. Wondering who would get rid of their armor, better than what I was wearing, I resolved to hide in the brush and see who came down the path. As soon as I had become settled in the scrubs and undergrowth of the area, I heard a great commotion heading my way. As my curiosity grew to a fevered pitch, a large humanoid creature burst into view. It had gray-green skin and was covered head to toe in coarse hair. It had a slightly stooping posture, a low jutting forehead, and a snout instead of a nose. It had well-developed canine teeth and the small, pointed ears of a wolf. The eyes, though human, had a reddish tint and a maniacal edge of intelligence that glared through. It was wearing some moldy double leather armor and a creased shield. In its right hand it held a flail at the ready.
Seeing a foe that was worthy of my attention, I sprang forth with a war cry erupting from my throat. Surprised by my presence and sudden appearance, the creature dropped its guard. Not wasting an opportunity, I lunged forward, slicing at his abdomen. My headlong charge was my undoing on that assault, as I miss-timed the swing and it went wide. Now prepared for the presence of an impulsive human, the orc came about to face me. As I prepared for another charge, the orc planted himself to await me. Headless of my own well-being I lumbered toward the large figure, intending to do it bodily harm. With surprising agility, the orc took one well-placed blow with his rusty flail. As my now lifeless body crumpled at its feet, it bounded after my head that it had removed from my shoulders with little effort. As I lay there, my soul still attached to my corpse, I wonder what place Lorminstra would have for such a witless fool as I. I hovered over my body, watching as the orc sat down to roll my head around on the ground. I thought that was an ironic end to my short life. I, who keep such a level head while healing in the central square, would surrender my head to an orc to use as a ball. I did take some measure of comfort in the fact that it would not roll smoothly along the ground, which did annoy the orc somewhat.
As the little time that remained to me in this world seeped slowly by, I heard a startled gasp as two beautiful women enter the scene. They charged the orc as he sat playing with my head, and in two mighty blows did leave a second corpse on the ground. One of the women, whose hair was the color of a sunset, rushed to my side as the other searched the body for anything of worth. With a few powerful incantations and impressive gestures, she reconnected my head with my body. Realizing that she was an empath of remarkable talents, I felt joyous that she had come along when she did.
Now I just need the services of a cleric of equally vaunted skills. As the other woman gained her feet, she also came to examine my body. Never before had I experienced such elation, as when I saw her remove a holy symbol from her person and begin to chant. A blinding bolt of light streaked from the heavens to bathed my body in its glow. I felt my spirit pulled back into my corpse and bound firmly in place. Then did my lungs fill with the sweet taste of air, a taste that I thought would never again pass my lips. Never before had a blood drenched glade smell so sweet as did that one, at that moment.
I sat up, somewhat dazed and confused. I looked to my saviors and expressed my most heartfelt thanks. Appraising me with a practiced eye, the cleric asked me what someone of my obvious inexperience was doing in the upper trollfang hunting greater orcs. Upon hearing the lame reasons for my hunting trip, she gently but firmly began to scold me in the proper areas it would be safe for me to hunt in. After she finished chiding me, I expressed my desire to remunerate them with coins but that I had none with me. They told me that it was unnecessary to do so, that the only payment she needed was to see me alive and the knowledge that I would follow her advice. I vowed to her that I would live by her gentle guidance and would not become another corpse she would need to pry from the cold grip of death. After expressing my thanks again, I hugged each, bowed deeply to both and gathered up my sword and shield.
Leaving them to their interrupted hunting trip, I fled toward the town. I let nothing slow my pace and kept my guard at the ready. I didn't see the wild turkey that had given me such a fright previously or another sheep with a bad attitude. I did not relax, nor did I slacken my pace until the gate of town did appear before me. I made haste to enter into the safety and the familiarities of town. I stopped only long enough to sheathe my sword and sling my shield before I once again set off. I made my way to the comforts of Helga's Tavern, via the bank, and the brew that would wash the events of the day away. I drank as fast as Helga could pour the ale and as the night progressed, I began to find some solace at the bottom of my cup. Then as a different, but just as insistent, darkness began to swallow me, I found myself grateful for the one trophy that I managed to bring back to town with me. My head!
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