As the last rays of golden sunlight fell upon the thick forest canopy in southern Flatner, hundreds of feet below, small, sporadic fires raged unchecked as the occasional guttural, pain filled scream filled the air.
Although large-scale violence was not uncommon in the Huntsmen's territory, especially within the many diverse sentient species that called the ancient forest home, the past two days had turned this patch of the ancient woods into something akin to a war zone.
It was well known that the Huntsmen used these species as a buffer and early warning system so, due to the fact that not a single Huntsmen could be found in a twenty-mile radius, despite the devastation, many of the species evacuated the area believing it to be a culling for some offence. This theory went almost unquestioned because the area unofficially belonged to the trolls and they commonly challenged the rule of the Huntsmen, earning them similar punishments in the past.
The southern Flatner forest, due to its warmer climate and the runoff from the nearby mountains, was home to various tribes of trolls. Even though they mostly put up with being ruled over, every now and again, when their numbers were large enough, they would rebel. The only reason they had not been wiped out was that of how great a deterrent they were and the rebellions provided excellent experience for the Huntsmen's troops.
Even though they were heavy handed when they acted, it was not like the Huntsman policed their domination over the region of Flatner. They, or their leader, Verz, actually had no interest in ruling and thus allowed the natives to live in autonomy as long as they adhered to three rules.
The first was that any suspicious foreign intruder who approached the Huntsmen Fortress, commonly known as the Wolfs Den, excluding adventurers, nobles and merchants using the roads, were to be eliminated on sight.
The second was not to harm or interfere with any huntsmen, no matter what they were doing. This rule was commonly infringed upon, but after decades of oppression and vicious retaliation, the majority of sentient species had got the message.
The third was the easiest to follow for most species, and that was to keep the local monster population under control, reporting any variants or strong individuals to a huntsmen outpost if they could not dispose of them.
There was also an unofficial rule, one that stated that, for every foxkin killed and brought before the Huntsmen captain, the Bloodhound, they would receive their victim's weight in gold and immunity for one member of their tribe, as long as they did not break the aforementioned rules.
It was less than thirty minutes before darkness finally descended upon the forest, allowing the flames to fully illuminate their surroundings, casting grim shadows upon the devastated landscape, the surrounding foliage smashed and torn apart while horrifying; unnatural scars littered the massive tree trunks, a testament to the fierce battles that had taken place.
The eerie silence, one that was common when a predator was in the area, was shattered as sharp whistles and clicks resonated through the trees before another, guttural cry caused them to immediately silence.
Typically the strange noises would cause the surrounding wildlife to run in fear or hide, announcing the arrival of a troll hunting party, but recently, they had a new purpose. The noises were used by a troll to alert its comrades that the monster was closing in on it, giving them a chance to escape.
The barrage of whistles that erupted afterwards was the nearby trolls relaying their position and direction. A lone troll was formidable, but a hunting party would cause even seasoned adventurers to quake in their boots, their communication, camouflage and tactics in this type of terrain almost unmatched. Only the pack animals like wolf's and dogs had an advantage due to their extraordinary senses. Well, that was until recently.
Trolls were natural predators, having evolved over thousands of years to be perfectly at home in the dense, mana enriched forests that once covered accoria, however, in the last four weeks, the apex predators had fallen and became nothing more than prey to some unknown monster.
Not even half a second after the scream ended, several figures crashed through the dense undergrowth, not caring about the noise they made, as they avoided the areas illuminated by the crackling fires, and splintered tree trunks.
Little did the group know, that high above them, a single blood red, reptilian eye watched the group pass by with interest, instinctively analysing the groups for threats and weaknesses. Green, slimy blood dripped from its mouth and black, lizard-like claws, embedded into the tree, as a frown creased its brow.
As Mors watched the group crash into the distance, he jumped between the trees silently, his sharp claws and tail effortlessly embedding into the thick bark as he easily kept pace.
His speed, unhindered by the undergrowth and enhanced by the darkness around him was such that he soon passed the group and chuckled as he closed his open eye.
If only the vision was limited to heat, it would be just like the film in my old world.... well apart from naked trolls running about with swords.
Resisting an urge to shout the famous quote in an Austrian accent, Mors could only shake his head in amusement as he watched the group run.
Thank god for these memories, I probably would of gone insane otherwise. Well, not that I was a bundle of mental health, even in my own world but it definitely helps.
More whistles later, the group slid to a halt in a small, dark clearing and crouched down, using their almost naked bodies to camouflage themselves against their surroundings. Making them almost invisible as the gentle light of the moon, cast shadows through the gap above.
Only a single figure remained standing in the clearing, leaning on a wooden staff and due to the moonlight, his figure could be clearly seen.
Generally, trolls were extremely gaunt, 5,10 to 6 foot heigh, dark green creatures with a darker, leaf pattern crisscrossing their bodies, breaking up their silhouette and large, amber eyes with tiny, protruding bones and hardened skin. Due to their skin being better than standard adventure camouflage, most trolls ignored clothing completely although the females wore a dark green sash around their chests to reduce the discomfort from the rapid movements a hunt required.
"Why is it still hunting? The light has fallen." whispered one of the trolls in their guttural language, letting out a faint whistle from the small hole at the top of his nose, accenting the words.
A female troll, carrying a much younger troll on her back crawled towards a tree, putting her body at odd angles breaking up her outline, almost perfectly hiding her against its bark. "It has to be enraged by the hunting party that stumbled upon it. I heard reports that they nearly cornered it in a cave a few nights back and it has been overly aggressive ever since."
"Shut it! You put the little chief at risk by bringing her here," spat another female troll, her bow string taut as she continued to survey the surroundings. "Anyway, that hunting party was destroyed days ago. The Alpha's group only caught up to it today."
A quiet clicking noise resonated from the little troll on her back. "If you value your life, you will not speak to Mayka like that. Without father and mother here, I am in charge."
The archer did not even flinch at the threat. "We will not survive this dark so what makes you think I care? We are being played with... little chief."
A larger troll, large scars littering his body nodded as he played with the sword on his lap. "The monster wiped out the Alpha's hunting party in minutes, yet it has been forcing us in this direction, picking off any who move away. I wonder if it has young and want's to use us as their first hunt?"
"Ha, it's nothing so noble." The old troll that was leaning on his staff in the middle of the clearing finally spoke, not bothering to conceal his location. "We merely have piped its interest. We are the honour guard for our little chief. We cannot engage in the hunt and have to protect her at all costs, entirely different from our brethren. Any troll that succumbed to his desire to fight or flee has been killed. This is like no monster we have ever faced. No wonder those white masks are keeping their distance."
"What's the difference between a monster and a beast? At the start, father called it a beast but now everyone keeps saying monster?" The small girl wriggled from her protector's back and stretched her legs, seemingly ignorant of the danger that she was in, but for a troll, especially one as gifted as her, every day was a struggle for survival and so the meaning of impending death had greatly diminished.
The old man sighed. "It seem's we are being allowed a brief rest so might as well talk, it will help keep our minds out of darkness."
"A monster is a being that has a mana core and can use mana internally, externally, and at a distance or a mixture of the three. A beast is a monster that absorbs mana directly into its body, it is incredibly strong, but that is its limit, it can't commune with the spirits and borrow their strength."
The old troll cleared his throat. "When the attacks started, they were purely physical however over time, these changed showing the monster is capable of manipulating fire spirits. Some of the sightings even hint at darkness. However, that is unlikely, seeing as it was avoiding hunting in the dark."
"So that is why we avoided the flames earlier? Because if it can use fire, it would be a trap or put at as a disadvantage?" responded the girl.
"Not really, we didn't want to hinder our night vision," chuckled the old man. "The way-"
"What do you mean we are being allowed to rest?" Mayka, the young troll's protector interrupted, moving closer to the child as soon as she had regained her breath and comprehended the meaning behind his words. "Did we not stop because we are safe?"
The old man looked at the larger troll and let out a faint clicking noise from his throat. "The scouts in front and our vanguard are dead. It seem's it is tired of chasing us or we have reached our destination. The fact that it did not immediately attack means something. What, though, I do not know."
Only Mayka and the child seemed shocked by this, the others too busy trying to recover as much as possible, unwilling to die without a fight.
They had sensed the deaths of their comrades, and after everything they witnessed, especially the complete annihilation of their most powerful hunting party, they knew they would not be able to escape. They were, after all, glorified babysitters, too weak to hinder the little chiefs growth but strong enough to provide reasonable protection.
Mayka picked up the child, wrapping her arms protectively around it. "We have to protect Kia, she is the next chief. We have to get away or kill it."
The bushes rustled behind them causing them to jump and turn around, only to see a large pool of green blood and a troll's foot disappear into the undergrowth.
Seeing this, the trolls that had been resting wearily got up and prepped their swords and long spears. They had been running for hours and even though they had more stamina than other species, they were at their limit.
Surrounding the two archers, Mayka and Kia, the group got ready for battle, letting out small whistles, communicating that it had been a pleasure hunting with the rest of the group and of the honour of dying in the hunt.
The old man only sighed. "Looks like it's time. Kia, whatever you do, do not us-"
"I see, so you are protecting the child." A cheerful, human voice resonated around them. "Hmm, well that's kind of boring. It was so obvious I was sure it was a bluff to hide something else. Even though I managed to try out some new tactics, I am regretting wasting so much time."
Even though they could not understand the language, the trolls unconsciously shuddered, knowing that the game was over and whatever it was in the darkness was coming.
"COWARD! IF YOU CAN TALK, YOU CAN FIGHT LIKE A SENTIENT BEING, NOT SOME COMMON BEAST." screamed Kia, turning around in Mayka's arms as she opened her arms wide, thinking that they might have a chance if she taunted him into the open. The victor consumes the fallen. There is no such thing as a fair fight when it comes to survival
What started off as a small flaming circle, surrounded the group, exploded outwards scorching everything withing a hundred meters and clearing the area around them.
A sinister laugh echoed above the crackling fire as the old man stepped in front of the young troll, dropping his staff as two fiery orbs appeared in his hands. "It's sentient... this is worse than I ever imagined. Protect the little chief... this monster enjoys hunting spirit walkers and taking their cores."