The tale of Gael: Effenaine

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Crouching, Bovos peered into the darkness. He narrowed his eyes and focused on his hearing, but all he noticed was the smell of the wet forest floor. The trees around him were only dark shadows.

'I can't see shit', Bomild said as she crouched next to him. Bovos did not respond, but Bomild continued:
‘That hrini is a nice one. We join her on the hunt and then she just runs of into the woods alone. I'm telling you. We should have brought horses. I prefer to hunt horned ones on horseback.'

Bovos sighed and said:

'Maybe the hrini left us because we make too much noise.'
'She just wants to hunt alone', said Bomild. She stood up again and tapped Bovos against his shoulder.
'But seriously, if we had horses with us, we would have found the vermin in no time. They may be fast, but not faster than a horse. And you have a clean shot at their backs.'

She gestured with her bow as if she is shooting. Bovos grabbed the handle of his sledgehammer and also stood up. Although his knee made a popping noise, the ease with which he lifted the overweight hammer betrayed that he was more than human.

'I don't know where she went. I think it's best if we stay here', Bovos said, adding:
'It wouldn't be right to go back without her.'

They stood in silence for a while, looking around. Then there was a rustle in the distance. Bovos held his hammer ready and Bomild aimed her bow at the darkness.

'Run!', a familiar voice sounded from the rustle's direction. Then they saw the two heads taller hrini running out of the dark.
'RUN!' she yelled again.

Bovos and Bomild ran away. Quickly they were overtaken by the hrini. Her long fur-covered legs moved quickly. She effortlessly took a small lead on two, much to Bovos' frustration. He was not easily jealous of the hrini, but they are lightning fast when they have to. Behind them, the rustle turned to thumping.

'What is it?!' Bomild shouted.
'Big!' the hrini called over her shoulder.

Horned ones aren't big Bovos thought and looked behind him. Bomild had trouble keeping up with the two gifted ones. The thumping became louder.

'Come on!' Bovos shouted to Bomild, the panic visible on her face.

Growls and pants were heard as the monstert approached. Bomild grabbed her bow with both hands and pulled the bowstring. A bright light appeared between her hands. She suddenly turned around and released the tension. The arrow of pure light shot forward. Trees lighted up one by one. The monster could be seen for a second. On all fours it ran with skin as if made of coal, black and angular. Its short neck ends in a beastly head with horns and sharp teeth. The arrow whizzes past the beast, causing it to be enveloped in darkness again. Only his silhouette could be seen when the arrow highlighted trees behind it. There was an irritated grunt over the growing stomping. Then Bomild sunk one knee into the forest floor and fired a second arrow. The arrow of light flew straight at the silhouette. A loud crash echoes through the forest as the light arrow sent a shower of sparks flying as it smashes through the monster. The monster let out a terrible scream and immediately ran away from them. Bomild got up slowly. Her face is pale. Bovos does not see this, but it is clearly visible to the hrini. With hairy hands she grabbed Bomild's face. The large yellow eyes of the hrini looked at her concerned.

'Are you okay?', she asked.
'I-I thought it was going to drop dead,' said Bomild.
'Come,' said Bovos, and grabbed Bomild's arm. 'The danger has not yet over.'

He pulled her along as he and the hrini ran.

---

The hrini bowed low to get through the opening of the tent. Bovos only reached upto her shoulder blades. Still, he estimated that she weighed much less. She was built for the hunt: small shoulders with long arms and legs. Her athletic but fine build gave the hrini something attractive, but her fur and large ears and eyes also made her repulsive. Bovos had the idea that they also thought this themselves, since there always was a sadness in the eyes of the hrini. He, Bomild and the hrini entered the big red tent. In the center of the room was a large table with a map on it. There stood their leader Miranda, an elderly woman with long gray curly hair, the warrior Maccadam and Garu, an old man with tusseld hair whose face is painted with blue and green lines. Miranda noticed the trio:

'Lai! Thank you for bringing my friends back in one piece', Miranda said to the hrini.
'It was my pleasure', said Lai, 'I will return to my family if it is okay with you.'

'Of course! We are extremely grateful to you and your family', Miranda said. Lai bowed slightly and left the tent. With a serious tone Miranda focused on Bovos and Bomild:

'And? Have you found the horned one?'

'Unfortunately not', Bovos answered defeated.

'Brack', she said as she studied Bovos and Bomild, 'And what else happened?'
'We saw a child of the red god', aswered Bovos.
'Are you sure?' Maccadam asked sternly. Maccadam was also a child of the red god, though he controlled himself not to receive more gifts, of curses, from the red god.
'Yes, one of your crazy brothers, skin like coal, angry, growling and stuff', Bomild replied coldly.

'Please tell me you left him alone?', he asked.

'I shot right through it but it just kept walking!', Bomild said as she mimicked shooting an arrow. Maccadam's eyes widened.
'Idiot!', he shouted.
'What are you afraid of? Are we making your crazy brothers mad?'
'Fighting him can ask for the attention of others', he sneered.

Miranda made a soothing gesture.

'Just because you find what was hidden doesn't mean it wanted to be found', said old Garu.

Although this caused a frown to some, it remained silent. Miranda sighed once.

'But so far west already. That is sooner than we expected', she said.
'She became weak if the children of destruction are able to come this close', said Garu.
'Then we need to act quickly', Miranda said.
'Can't we just let all the refugees flee into the beacon at once?', Bovos said.

'I'll give them a week before they're all rounded up by the beacon knights. That's not an option', Said Miranda, 'We maintain this position, on the edge of the beacon. Then we can accommodate as many people as possible. Should it fall, we'll escort them through the portals into Grosseron', Miranda said, turning to Garu. 'We'll have to get in touch with her if we want to buy time. Maybe you and your friends should start looking.' Garu rubbed his chin and said: 'Then I'll leave tomorrow', said Garu 'Okay fine', said Miranda, leaning over the map of Grosseron, 'I hope we're not too late.'

---

Maarten couldn't run that fast three days ago. But his legs had changed. They were bigger and his muscles were hard. His shoulders and neck were as wide as a wrestler's. But especially his head had changed: He could smell and see better. His jaw was thicker and so strong it could bite through bones. On top of his head, he felt two hard points growing under his skin. He knew very well what was going on. He turned into a horned one.

He used to work as a cattle herder for a respectable family. He had even managed to catch the eye of the kitchen helper. But three days ago he had nightmares of him biting her on the neck in a moment of barbaric violence. He woke up with a hunger for meat. He imagined going to the kitchen to pull meat out of the cupboard, but he never got further than the room opposite him, where the farmhand and his wife slept. The harder he tried to focus on the kitchen, the more he saw himself bending over the sleeping couple. In a brief moment of clarity, he thought of screams, candles in the night, torches and pitchforks. He pulled open the window, jumped out and ran into the night in his pajamas.

His body asked for more and more food. He had caught a hare and pulled some meat from a goat's carcass. Slowly but surely he went mad with hunger. In his mind he drifted back to the neck of the kitchen helper and what it would feel like to sink his teeth into it. Suddenly two other horned ones stood in front of him. Muscled, pale and naked. They had hunted a deer and laid it at his feet. Under the watchful eye of the two, Maarten tore pieces of meat from the animal and ate it greedily. They had been watching him intently, observing. Like a wild animal, ready to spring into action at any moment. After Maarten had been eating for some time, they pulled a leg off the deer, broke it in two and ate some themselves. After Maarten had stopped eating, the two seemed to want to leave. They stood up without wiping the blood from their chins and looked sternly at him again. He had followed them. They traveled one day and one night. During the day as much as possible in forests, but at night they ran across fields on the edges of villages. Maarten even had the idea that they had been seen, but that no longer interested him.

She arrived deep in a forest. There, in the midst of dozens of other horned men and women, he met the leaders of the family. A couple, Vinna and Markus, wife and husband, whose greatness of gifts betrayed their many years of life. They were almost twice as tall as the rest of the pack. Markus had horns and a neck like a bull, and his eyes were full of wild aggression. Vinna had long curved horns that reached down to her back. He was both shocked by her naked beauty and terrified by the threat of the bloodthirsty pack around her. She walked over to Maarten and crouched in front of him. She spoke in a voice that sounded both powerful and seductive.

'You'll have to do something for us first.'

---

Maarten suddenly stopped at the agreed place. He hadn't heard from his pursuer for some time. His Pajamas were torn but he didn't feel comfortable enough to take them off yet. He still knew who he was, but slowly he began to forget details of his past life. Maarten looked around wildly. The sky had changed. The wet forest air had smoke that looked like fire. Although his eyes had gotten better at seeing at night, he couldn't see a single point of light. Steel, he thought, what he smelled was the smell of a forge when sparks flew. But everything around him was so dark. Leaves were gray, trees were a darker gray, stones were black as... coal. Out of nowhere, what looked like a rock sprang toward him. Before he could dodge it, the monster slammed into Maarten with two clenched fists, crushing his hips. With what sounded like both a human and a wild beast, Maarten cried out. But the monster struck again and again until no more sound came from Maarten. The monster grunted low as it sank to the ground next to Maar's remains. A small plume of smoke came out of the hole through the middle of the beast's body.

But then dozens of horns came rushing at the beast. They pounced on it and grabbed its arms. With a thunderous roar, he tried to intimidate his attackers and whip himself into a frenzy. This worked and he shook off a few. He grabbed around with his claws. Although the horns sprang around him at lightning speed, he got a hold of some, which he immediately crushed. Yet, one by one, they grabbed his arms and pushed him to the ground. Vinna and Markus came running followed by a quietly walking woman in a blood red hat. A dozen horneds sat on the monster's back and tried to keep his head down. The beast shook its neck violently, sending the horns flying about. Again the monster roared loudly and tried to scramble to its feet. A horned man had not been able to jump away in time and his leg broke under the beast's chew.

'Markus do something!' Vinna snapped. There was panic in her voice. Markus charged at the beast and with aggressive force grabbed the head of the beast and smashed it into the ground. Vinna focused on the woman in the red robe. “What are you waiting for?!” Vinna said to the much smaller woman. "It doesn't look like he's going to die, does it?" the woman said calmly. Vinna bared her teeth. “Kill it!” she yelled. Markus grabbed the monster around his neck. The sharp corners in the monster's skin cut into its flesh. He pulled the monster's neck with all his strength. With the loud creak of the hard body, the head of the monster turned further and further. The monster let out an angry but painful cry. The monster's rocky skin began to smoke. The deepest cracks of his skin lit up like embers.

“Almost,” said the woman in red. Flames started in the monster's eyes and mouth. It burned Markus but he only became more aggressive and put even more power. The horns jumped off the monster. His body seemed to burn up and the flames climbed up through the trees as if they were being sucked in. Then the woman in red stepped forward. With her hand she motioned the flames to a red crystal. Although the beast's body was sucked into the portal, the flames in the crystal disappeared. When there was nothing left of the monster, the portal disappeared, and the forest was silent again. The floor is littered with a dozen pale bodies. Vinna crouches by the dead horned ones.

"Satisfied!?" Vinna snapped at the woman in red. The woman looked fascinated at the red crystal through which the fire raged. "Oh I sure am. It went even better than expected," she said. Vinna got up and stroked Markus's face. He calmed down, though his eyes were still full of aggression.

“What happens now?” Vinna asked without taking her eyes off her partner. “Your part of the agreement has been fulfilled. I will lead you west when the beacon falls," said the woman in red. Markus let out a loud victory roar and was joined by the other horned ones who still had the strength to do so.



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