Light green eyes the half elven Ranger scanned the darkened path ahead of her, only a few spot of light dappled the well beaten Ranger path through the thick canopy of the forest. There was the softest rustling of underbrush to her right and those eyes of her pinpointed on the stirring of leaves that fell near chest level; Sneaky, he was not. Holding her position still, breathing softer than flight of a feather much like the movements of her hand as she pulled a piece of well-worn parchment from her scarred and weather beaten leather armor. A smirk toyed her lips as she felt the wind shift, putting her downwind of the rustling. Perfect. Holding the folded parchment away from her body between two fingers, letting the scent carry on the breeze. The smirk toying at her lips turn on full as the rustling grew into a scramble and the mammoth of wolf burst out from the thick underbrush in an explosion of leaves, twigs and flower petals. The tan, grey and brown wolf with is sharp markings came forth with no teeth bared, but rather a near romp to his step as he stiffed the air.
Irlana Liadon, Ranger to the Liadon Village of Wood elves, strolled casually up the beast that nearly stood to her five foot five stature. As she went to pass the wolf, she bopped him lightly on his dark nose, above his graying muzzle. “Tag. You’re it Jaeger.” The wolf gave a slight huff before nuzzling the hand that contained the letter from Nitala, heralding her return to the region, and Jaeger couldn’t be more excited than to see their old friend.
“Come on ya goof. The weather was fair and that means she should have arrived yesterday or today.” The old wolf took to trotting next her; Looking the part of intimidating but really, nothing but a big sweetpea. It had been both of the girls that had found the adorable wolf pup abandoned in the forest, and it hadn’t taken more than the little furball to toddle after them for more than ten feet before they decided he was theirs. Of course, Irlana trained him and Nitala gave him all the treats. They had thought he was a regular wolf pup, until he kept growing. And growing. It was then they realized they had found a rare Dire Wolf pup. And the rest is thirty years of history. Even though he stayed with Irlana; Hunting, ranging, patrolling and grumpy old wolf napping, he was as much Nitala’s friend as hers.
The day was warm, near too warm when adorned with armor and weapons, but there were rules to traversing the forest; Never unprepared, never unarmed. The forest gave life and took it just as fast. The Light occasionally fit to treat them to a breeze would drift by the pair, cooling the beads of sweat on her sun-bronzed skin and lifting the thick black braid so the back of her neck could enjoy the effect. But it was one of those breeze shifts that put her and Jaeger downwind of something foul. Jaeger picked up first and just as his hackles began to rise, she picked up the non-too subtle metallic scent of blood. It was like a wall of decay and horror that caused her to be taken aback for a moment as her gentle Jaeger snarled fiercely in the direction it came from… Skullfort.
“What did Briaré do…” She murmured with a bit of horror as she grabbed onto Jaeger and swung herself on to the wolf with ease and no saddle. He didn’t even have to be told where he was going, the wolf knew as he tore off the beaten path and through the forest with a speed that could near rival the forest cats. And as they drew closer and closer, the scent could now be felt as much as smelled. It clung to the air, and worse, it drew no scavengers. Then when Skullfort came in sight, she gasped. What did they do…?
The Mayor of Briaré had made the suggestion that the Elven Rangers ought to get rid of the Skullfort Goblins, but it had been Irlana and her father, Ellunan’s, opinion to leave well enough alone and if the human town stopped expansion, the Goblins would calm their attacks. Goblins were vile creatures, but had a purpose. And Briaré could expand the other way because the Wood Elves were not going to take to kindly to expanding into the forest either. But it appeared the Mayor went against that advice, and the heads of the people lining Skullfort proved it as the pair came a stop before the essence of death itself.
“Jaeger. I’m going in. You need to get to Briaré.” Pulling a ribbon of red from her pouch, she tied it into the coarse fur, a signal to Briaré and other rangers that something was terribly wrong. They’d follow the wolf back to Irlana. Jaeger growled as she slid off his back in one motion, drawing the elkhorn long bow and three arrows, before her leather boots squelched into the blood soaked mud that seemed to leak entrance. There was a hesitation to Jaeger, not a trait that her companion had, as her word or order was law. “Jaeger. Now.” She hissed. As much as she wanted him with her, people needed to know. His light grey eyes held hers before he dashed off as she ordered him. Good boy.
Nocking one arrow, the others laced between her fingers for ease of reload, she entered the tribes grounds and felt the bile rise in her throat. She had dressed animals for butchering, had even done so herself, but this… The dismemberment, the blood and something that smelled just… Wrong. Unnatural. Swallowing painfully, she moved forward training the point of the arrow everywhere her sharp eyes fell. This wasn’t normal. Goblins, even with overwhelming numbers, simply did not do this. They killed small animals in frenzy, pissed off humans and elves alike with their angry antics, but they couldn’t take on trained soldiers. The weapons and armor, too big for the goblins, told her that much. It was her focus on one of those weapons that drew her attention to the dot of black ichor that floated in the middle of a puddle of scarlet. It was darker than night. And then it seemed to be sucked down into the small pool and disappear, causing her jump back.
“What in the name of-” She mouthed the words but stopped as the sound of living movement drew her attention. Carefully, and as quietly as the mud covered ground allowed, she moved to the noise until she saw a man, kneeling and back to her. Covered as he was in mud and viscera, she could hardly discern any details of his race, origin or sigil. But she did know one thing; He was breathing, and by quick judge of her path in, the only survivor.
“Hold still stranger,” came her elven accented common from behind him, the bowstring creaked as it was pulled taunt, “I am Ranger Liadon, one of the protectors of this forest, and I demand to know who you are and what has happened here.” Her voice was stern, holding the hint of authority that all rangers possessed. The draw of the arrow was for safety. If this were a mad man, she didn’t have Jaeger for back up.
… And as she descended into the chaos that was Skullfort, Jaeger was tearing up the distance between him and the one person he knew always helped Irlana...