Narrunt crept silently through the murky forest, gold eyes alert for the tiniest movement or signs of trail. Two weeks he had spent hunting the most beautiful wolf he had ever seen, a paramount example of its species. It stood at least to his waist it its shoulder, and Narrunt was a particularly tall example of his own species, being born of an orcish mother and a half-orc father; he stood a head above most of his clan. It was the wolf's fur that had initially caught his eye. It was like the night sky, a glossy black flecked with silvery grey and a thick grey ruff the color of hematite that covered its neck and shoulders in an almost leonine mane. The pelt would make a magnificent gift to his mother, who was hunt-leader of their clan, and tale of his hunt would be proof of his coming of age as a hunter on his own.
He'd encountered the wolf drinking from a stream as he was tailing a herd of deer. It had looked up at him with curious green eyes, completely unafraid. What a trophy it would make for a first hunt, he'd thought! He'd nocked an arrow and raised his bow, slowly and carefully taking aim. With a derisive growl, the wolf had turned and bounded into the undergrowth, disappearing before he could even loose his shot. A few moments later, he heard a bark and the pound of hooves on swampy earth, as the herd he had been following was chased away. It was then he vowed to make that pelt a gift to his mother.
He had tracked the wolf for two weeks, but try as he might, he only glimpsed the beast when it seemed it wished to be seen, always watching him out of bow shot or from thick undergrowth. Always its expression seemed somehow smug and amused. A lesser hunter would have given up by now, he had thought to himself on more than one occasion. He, however, would see this through. He would learn the ways of this beast, learn to think like it, so that he could find a way to trap it and beat it at its own game.
This time, he was certain he was on the right track. His scent was masked, using a trick he'd observed the dogs of Clan Swamptusk employ on more than one occasion, substituting the musk of deer for his own. His clothes, light armor, and green-tinged brown skin were smeared with mud, his silhouette broken with bits of leaf and twig woven into his russet hair and the joints of his armor. Since he began using these tricks, he had not seen the wolf, yet he had been able to follow its track. He was certain that was because it could no longer find him to watch and taunt from a distance. He knelt down and studied a paw print smeared into the muddy forest floor. The prints were becoming fresher and fresher, this one had not yet filled with water. He was close.
As he closed in on the wolf, a feeling began to grow in his gut, an uneasy quavering combined with a prickling on the back of his neck, a feeling dread, of something completely and utterly wrong. He tried to shake it off, tell himself it was just nerves and the atmosphere of the deepening dank forest, with its hanging mosses, skeletal trees, and deep, black pools of fetid water, but to no avail. The feeling grew stronger, almost unbearably so, as he moved on.
After a half hour, he came to the edge of a small clearing and finally found the object of his hunt. The wolf circled the clearing slowly, nose to the ground, occasionally lifting its head to scent the air. Its hackles were raised, and occasionally it let out a soft growl, but it seemed baffled by whatever it was tracking.
Narrunt was thankful to have come into the clearing on the downwind side of that sharp nose, or his quarry would already have noticed him, scent masking or no. Careful to be silent, he drew an arrow and nocked it, slowly drawing the bow and taking aim. He took in a deep breath, silently praying to Balinor that his shot fly true.
The wolf's head jerked up and it turned away from the half-orc, letting out a vicious, bubbling growl and bearing its huge teeth. The feeling of wrongness grew suddenly stronger and without thinking, Narrunt shifted his aim from the wolf to the direction the beast was facing, and loosed his shot. His hand went back to his quiver of its own accord and another arrow was in the air, even as the wolf charged forward.
There was a meaty thunk and a pair of growling squeals as the first arrow found its mark. The second arrow drew a gasp and a stream of what could only be vile curses in a language Narrunt had not heard before. Then, the wolf was on the creature, a flurry of snapping jaws. There was the sound of tearing flesh as the wolf landed a solid bite. The creature's dual voices screamed in fury and the wolf let out a startled yelp and tumbled back into the clearing, the creature charging close behind.
Now that Narrunt could see the monster, there was no doubt it was what he had been sensing for so long; just seeing it, he knew it to be true. It was grey and misshapen, with four arms, two stubby legs, and one, huge, deformed head with one set of eyes and two gaping mouths. It was if someone had taken two goblins and smashed them together, knitting them with muscle and sinew. Both arrows protruded from one shoulder, dark blood oozing down its arm that now limply held a crossbow. The other set of arms held a spiked shield and a nasty hooked sword, the latter of which it swung in an arc at the fallen wolf.
Narrunt shuddered in revulsion and loosed a third arrow. It fell short, embedding itself in the dirt at the monster's feet. Even so, it was just enough of a distraction to give the wolf a fraction of a second to twist out of the way. It bounded around the monster, nipping at its heels, keeping it turning, seeking an opening to strike. Blood flowed from a wound in the wolf's shoulder, but it hardly seemed to notice.
With the wolf's tactics causing confusion and erratic movement, the half-orc was no longer certain he could get a clear shot at the creature without putting the wolf in danger as well. He set his bow down and drew his longsword, then charged in with a bellow, the hunter joining his quarry in battle.
The wolf let out a howl that ended in a snarl and dashed in at the creature's flank, causing it to turn and face its back to Narrunt. Battle singing in his veins, Narrunt acted on instinct more than on thought, and swung his sword at the back of the creature's head. One of the creature's arms shot up, the one that paired with the wounded shoulder that still loosely gripped the crossbow, and grabbed Narrunt's wrist, twisting and pulling down with surprising strength for its small size. The half-orc growled and kicked out, planting his foot in the small of the monster's back and pulling his arm away, sending the creature stumbling forward.
It let out a shriek of rage and spat a curse at once, and turned on Narrunt, swinging its sword in scything arcs. The wolf seized the opportunity and darted in, jaws snapping and finding purchase in the back of the creature's knee. It snarled and shook its head, coming away with a large chunk of grey-green meat and thick black blood. The creature stumbled and tried to turn again, wobbling on its hamstrung leg. It swung its sword at the wolf but too late, the wolf had already darted back and begun circling again.
One of the mouths began burbling incoherently in pain as the other growled and raged. The sound was maddening. Fear shivered down the back of Narrunt's neck, bristling the hairs, but he did not hesitate to fight on. He thrust his sword at the creature's gut, but was just too slow. It brought its shield around to block, and swung a hacking blow at Narrunt's midsection. The half-orc attempted to twist away, but took part of the blow to his hip. He hissed as the sword drew bright blood, the hooked end catching on the bone of his hip as it slid through.
He stumbled, and the creature found its opening. It bounded forward with two limping steps and leapt at its hulking opponent, driving its spiked shield into Narrunt's chest and forcing him back. The half-orc fell with a growl of pain. The monster cackled and snarled with ferocious glee, the free arm grasping at Narrunt's sword arm, pinning it to the ground. The spikes on its shield pierced the half-orc's flesh, and fought to find deadly places in which to embed themselves, as the two wrestled and fought.
The creature giggled and spoke in common, one voice high and mad, the other low and beastial, they alternated who spoke, butting in on the other's words. “Ooooh! Now – We gets you! - You die!- We eat- Orcflesh! Much- Orcflesh! Oh- Yes. You shoots us- We spit you!”
Narrunt swung his fist at the creature's head, but it ignored the blow, growling and snarling as it brought the hooked sword around to gut him. Suddenly, the weight on his chest doubled, and he screamed in pain as the shield tore into organs with the added pressure. There was snarling and snapping, and black blood rained down on him. He screamed again as the creature rolled off of him, pulling its shield with it. The world swam and threatened to go black.
He couldn't let the thing live, not while he had breath. He groaned and gathered his remaining strength and turned onto his side. The wolf was on top of the thing, bearing it to the ground. The creature hacked at the wolf, sword glancing blows off of its hide. The wolf's snarl took on a whining quality, but still it attacked, white teeth burying into the short, thick neck of the monster.
The monster screamed in pain and spit curses in raging fury, hacking and bashing at the wolf. Still the wolf held on, but how could it manage for much longer? Narrunt grasped his sword and crawled forward. The edges of his sight darkened. All he could see was his target, the monster's exposed flank. He drew himself up on his knees, wavering, and drove his longsword down with all his strength.
The last thing he heard was a pair of gibbering screams, and all went black.
Narrunt stirred and groaned, the mingling scent of dry grass and campfire smoke the first thing he noticed... after the dull throbbing pain in his ribs and stomach that seemed to come with every breath. He turned his head and cracked an eye open blearily.
Seated by the fire was a breathtaking orcish woman, with long, charcoal grey hair, and dark, olive green skin. She was built of thick, corded muscle and tough sinew, with broad shoulders and wide hips. Small, green-gold eyes peered at him around ivory tusks the curled up to nearly touch high cheekbones.
“You wake.” She grunted, leaning over to check a the contents of pot that hung over the fire. “I was almost ready to give up and leave you.”
Carefully, he pushed himself up on an elbow and took stock of himself. The worst of his wounds had been healed, and those that were not, were packed with an herbal smelling poultice and wrapped with clean bandages. His shirt and the upper part of his armor lay not far away from the makeshift bed of dry leaves and grasses he had woken upon.
“You saved me?” he asked, voice hoarse.
She nodded once and gave a small shrug as she brought a spoon of whatever was in the pot to her lips and slurped it around her tusks.
“Thank you.” His brow furrowed. “The monster. It was dead?”
She nodded again and stirred a handful of some dried herbs into the mixture, her expression bland.
“The wolf? Wait... How'd you find me? I don't know any tribes or clans close to here.”
The orc turned green-gold eyes to meet his and gave him a broad grin. “The wolf lives. It thinks you a brave, if clumsy, hunter.” She wrinkled her short, piggish nose. “It also thinks you stink of deer dung. Good trick when hunting. Not so good to be around after.” She gathered up a small pack and tossed it to him. “Wash. There is a stream that way. Be careful of bandages, and do not come back if you still stink.”
Narrunt took the pack and slowly heaved himself to his feet, wincing as recently reknit muscle objected to being stretched. He eyed the orc thoughtfully as he made his way in the direction she had indicated. Sure enough, he found a shallow, spring fed stream meandering its way through the wood not far away. Inside the pack were some dried, rough mosses, and an oily paste that smelled strongly of herbs. He knelt by the stream and bathed, replaying the day's events in his head. What had that thing been? And how had he felt it?
He returned to the camp a short time later to find the woman ladling the concoction over the fire into two wooden bowls. She sniffed the air and then nodded to him, looking satisfied, and held out the bowl. Narrunt took it with a nod of thanks and handed her the pack in return.
Gingerly, he took a seat on the ground across the fire from the woman and sniffed the contents of the bowl. His stomach rumbled eagerly at the scent. With practiced skill, he lifted the bowl between his short, stout tusks, and hungrily sipped at the venison stew. It had to be the best he had tasted in his life.
The woman watched him from across the fire with an expression of dry amusement, before picking up a spoon and beginning on her own bowl.
After the worst of the hunger pangs subsided, Narrunt spoke. “You were the wolf I have been hunting. You are a druid then?”
One corner of the woman's mouth turned up in a grin. “I am. And you were hunting badly. You hunted like a pup.”
“You did not know I was there when that... thing attacked.” He grumbled defensively.
Her eyes darkened at the mention of the monster and she nodded once. “I had been tracking it. I did not have time to play with a clumsy pup.”
“What was it? I could feel it much of the last day I was tracking you. It felt... wrong. Like it was out of place with the forest. I can not explain better. Just wrong.” He shuddered at the remembrance of the feeling. “I have never felt anything like it before.”
The orc quirked one eyebrow at him in surprise. “You felt it?”
“Yes... You said you were tracking it. Couldn't you?”
“No.” Her tone was flat. “I have not heard of many who can. Not unless... tainted. But that is different, I hear. You would know it was there, what it was, but it would not feel wrong.” She frowned.
He shrugged, unsure what to say to that. “What was it?”
“It is called a dolgrim. It is a corrupt thing. Not of nature. They are to be hunted and destroyed.” She let out a low growl, similar to that of the wolf. After a moment she turned to him. “You fought well, pup. Thank you. It would be one of us dead if our paths did not cross.”
He nodded in return and stared into the flames, silent a few moments. He had always been aware of the stories of the monsters from the Demon Wastes, though he'd never seen anything like them for himself. The idea that he could sense the things was unnerving. His next words came to his lips almost unbidden. “If you hunt them, I ask you to teach me how. Let me destroy them also.”
“I do not have time to play nurse mother to a pup.” She replied flatly.
“A pup who can sense when they are near, when you have lost the scent. I have hunted since I could draw a bow. I know these swamps and forests. You will not be slowed by this pup.”
She studied him a moment, appraisingly. “Fine. I wish to see this for myself.” She said finally, tone grudging. “You may follow. Watch, and you will learn. Slow me, and you will be left behind. ”
He nodded once, giving her a broad grin. “You will not regret.”
She grunted. “That will be seen. What is your name, pup?”
“Narrunt, of Clan Swamptusk.”
“ 'Runt.” She chuckled. “Good name for pup. I am Hrraan.” The name came from her throat like a growl. “First order, 'Runt, we sleep. There are more like that one not far. We hunt at first light.”