After a few minutes of walking through the woods Saeter turned to Blacknail and gave him an appraising look. The goblin was nervously scanning the woods around him for threats. He couldn’t see any, but that didn’t mean they weren’t there…
“Well it’s obvious you’re no forest creature; you’re shaking like a leaf. I’ll have to start your training out slow then. Just follow me and be quiet unless you want a smack. You’ll get used to being out in the deep green, you’re a goblin after all,” Saeter explained to Blacknail.
“I follow master quiet like,” whispered the goblin in response. He could do that; he snuck around places all the time. Saeter grunted in affirmation before moving out. His long strides carried him quickly over the ground as he headed deeper into the emerald forest.
Blacknail hurried after him. He made his best effort to keep up and make as little noise as possible. He stepped gently, avoided twigs and leaves, crept over logs, and kept low to the ground. Just as he was about to congratulate himself on being so quiet he realized he had a problem.
His legs were too small and short! His master with his long strides was quickly leaving him behind. While Saeter could walk casually Blacknail had to jog. Where Saeter stepped over logs and mud he had to jump. He couldn’t do that and be sneaky at the same time! There was no way he was going to be left behind though so he pushed his pace.
Blacknail managed to keep up, but as they moved deeper into the woods a cloud of insects begun to gather. Soon a black buzzing swarm had formed around them. Well mostly around Blacknail. His master was protected by his thick long clothes. Meanwhile Blacknail’s loincloth did pretty much nothing. The flies and mosquitoes seemed to prefer the goblin for some reason as well. Probably because Saeter was kind of old and skinny so he probably didn’t taste very good.
Blacknail tried to swat the flying pests but there were far too many of them. As a goblin he had thick skin but the bites were still painful and annoying. His frantic motions failed to deter the swarm but they slowed him down and caused him to start to fall behind again. He had never seen, or felt, so many mosquitoes. He hissed angrily at the swarm but it apparently wasn’t very impressed because it just continued biting him.
“My blood, go away!” Blacknail barked angrily at them. Luckily he knew a way to protect himself. Looking around he spotted a muddy puddle.
The goblin then gleefully jumped in and started to roll around. The wet sludge was so cool and soothing as it enveloped his skin that he squealed in happiness. The stupid bugs wouldn’t be able to bite him through all the mud! After coating himself fully he got to his feet… and found his master staring down at him.
“By all the hells, what are you doing?” Saeter asked him sounding dumbfounded. A look of surprise and disgust was plastered on his face. Blacknail was pretty sure he was in trouble. He gave his master a begging look and his best puppy eyes.
“There were biting bugs…” he told his master in his most pitiful sounding voice. Saeter gave him a light smack on his head and pulled him out of the mud by his ear.
Blacknail had to lean into his master and hop rapidly to lessen the pain in his ear as Saeter pulled him. When he had been dragged well out of the mud Saeter looked him over angrily, but then sighed in resignation and let him go a second later.
The goblin winced at the pain in his ear and began to rub it carefully. It hadn’t really hurt him that much though and he expected further punishment. However his master didn’t seem that angry with him anymore. Instead of hitting him again Saeter reached into a pouch at his side and withdrew some plant leaves.
“This is Flybane,” he told Blacknail as he handed several leaves to the goblin. Blacknail sniffed them and sneezed as their strong bitter smell invaded his nostrils.
Luckily he managed to turn away before he had covered his master in green goblin snot, and it shot out onto the ground instead. He had once seen a goblin be beaten to death for doing that to a master. He wasn’t going to make that mistake!
“The smell chases bugs away. Get some of that mud off and then rub this on yourself instead.” Seter continued to explain.
Immediately Blacknail dropped to the ground and begun rolling on a patch of grass to remove the mud. As Saeter watched him the edges of his mouth twitched again. Why did his new master keep doing that?
When the goblin had removed most of the mud he sat up and begun to wipe the leaves against his skin. Soon he begun to smell like the plant and the swarm of bugs around him thinned out. The scent almost made him sneeze again but he stifled it and gave Saeter a big toothy smile.
“Thank you master,” he said gratefully in his high voice. Saeter shook his head in vexation as he regarded the grinning but still very dirty goblin.
“I’d throw you in a bath but I expect you’d just get dirty again right after,” he told the goblin as he started to walk away. Blacknail didn’t know what a bath was but he hoped it was a treat for being so smart. Maybe he could earn one later.
As they trudged on the unfamiliar environment continued to make Blacknail anxious that something would sneak up or drop down on him from an overhead branch. He could just picture some monstrosity like a giant cat sitting up there hidden among the leaves ready to pounce. He didn’t think such a thing would be repelled by Flybane no matter how bad he smelled.
Peering up above he almost ran into Saeter before he realized his master had stopped moving. Saeter had crouched low to the ground and was examining something.
“Come here Blacknail and look,” Saeter called quietly. The goblin scampered over a fallen log and moved up beside his master to see what he was looking at. Several animal tracks decorated the patch of bare ground in front of them. They looked somewhat familiar to Blacknail, and smelled familiar as well.
“Wolves, avoid them they’re dangerous. These tracks are old though,” Saeter told Blacknail.
“Smells like doggies, master,” Blacknail replied.
“Yes, good goblin. Almost the same. Good nose,” Saeter told him with a pleased tone. He smiled at Blacknail before getting back up and continuing on. Blacknail felt a flash happiness at the praise. He had been called good again! He followed Saeter and felt a little less afraid of the forest.
If dog like things lived here than it couldn’t be so different from the sewers and alleys. Blacknail could deal with doggies. They couldn’t climb or squeeze into tight places like goblins could. His tribe had many good times luring doggies next to high places and then throwing stuff at them. Vicious biting doggies didn’t like bricks to their faces much.
They walked on for awhile when suddenly a whiff of scent drew Blacknail’s attention. It was a very familiar smell, the scent of a goblin. He took a deeper breath and realized it was a young male, a strange young male.
Blacknail felt the urge to track it down and show it who was dominant. This was his territory now! Then just like that the scent vanished. Saeter must have noticed something because he turned and regarded the goblin.
“What is it?” he asked.
“Smell goblin. Young,” Blacknail responded with a growl.
“Just one youngling? Then it’s nothing to worry about. Come on,” Saeter said as he started walking again. Blacknail waited a second and took another deep breath but he could smell only leaves, dirt, and his master. With a touch of regret he took off after Seater.
After awhile Saetar stopped moving and moved over into the bushes. There he reached over and pulled a dead rabbit from where it was hanging from a sapling by something wrapped around its neck.
Blacknail eyed the small tree suspiciously. He didn’t know the forest very well but he was pretty sure rabbits didn’t grow on trees.
“After you learn rope making I will teach you how to set and check these snares. It’s a lot easier to catch rabbits this way than by hand like feral goblins do,” Saeter explained as he hung the rabbit over his shoulder. Oh, it was a trap set by Saeter. He felt a little dumb.
Saeter then disassembled the trap and packed it into his bag. After he finished he turned and headed off in a new direction. After a brief walk he stopped to check another trap, but it was empty. He dissembled it as well before moving on to the next. This one did have a rabbit caught in it. Saeter handed it to Blacknail to carry.
“No eating,” he warned the goblin. Blacknail felt disappointment. For a second he had thought his master was giving him a treat. Maybe if he was very good he could taste the rabbit later, or maybe he could take some when Saeter was done with it.
All in all they checked over a dozen traps, and got seven rabbits, before heading back to camp. Blacknail ended up carrying four. Being given so many meant that his master thought he was strong! He hoped he could earn a treat this way, he was getting kind of hungry.
As they were on their way Saeter suddenly froze and drew his bow. Blacknail froze as well and scanned the woods for what his master had sensed. He had a sinking feeling that it would be dangerous. Pretty much everything was to a goblin.
The trees around them were a little thicker and let less light through than in the area they had just left. There were also fewer bushes and instead of grass short leafy plants grew.
Blacknail nervously looked up into the dense overhead tree branches, since there was little cover on the ground to hide anything approaching. Suddenly a flash of movement drew his attention up to a spot in the canopy.
His eyes widened in fright as he saw the creature. Perched on a branch up ahead of them was a… something. Blacknail had never seen anything like it.
It was hard to tell at this distance but it seemed to be slightly larger than a goblin but smaller than a human. It was however more than big enough to be dangerous to both goblins and humans though as it had knife sized talons jutting from the ends of its feet.
Large brown and tan feathers covered its body and the long wings that jutted from its shoulders. Unlike a bird though another set of dangerous looking claws grew from the tips of its wings. Its head was crowned by a black feathery crest that stretched down its back and almost looked like a woman’s long hair.
The creatures chilling visage was completed by intense intelligent eyes that stared down at them from a disturbingly human-like face instead of a bird-like beak. It noticed Blacknail’s attention and smiled down at him to reveal a mouth stuffed full of long sharp teeth obviously designed for tearing through flesh.
Blacknail shivered violently as fear momentarily overcame him. Startled he instinctively looked around for a nice big bush or deep hole to hide in nearby. Much to his dismay the area around him was mostly full of tree trunks, roots, and tiny plants that only came up to his knees. There was no nearby shelter, so the goblin glanced back at the grinning creature.
The thing had obviously seen them and knew that they could see it. That was way more intelligence than the goblin was comfortable seeing in something that clearly wanted to eat him.
Their eyes met and the creature locked gazes with him. It tilted its head to the side with an almost delicate motion and begun to make soft cooing noises, as if it was inviting him closer. Blacknail felt a horrible urge to run screaming, whether he wanted to run towards or away from the thing he didn’t know. Before his fear overwhelmed him completely though Saeter interrupted and drew his attention.
“Come Blacknail. Come close to me,” Saeter commanded steadily and calmly as he took a step forward and interposed himself between the goblin and the creature.
Blacknail thought that was a great idea! With a flash of panic the goblin ducked down and scrambled up to his master’s feet, barely remembering to pull the rabbits he had been carrying behind him. They were dragged through the leaf litter as he moved.
Once he reached safety behind his master the goblin’s heartbeat begun to settle down a bit. True the terrible winged creature was terrifying but his master’s calm voice reassured him somewhat. After all Saeter was a giant and mighty warrior even among humans!
Blacknail peeked out from behind his master’s rough dark brown cloak. The winged thing’s eyes narrowed in annoyance as it regarded the now sheltered goblin. Blacknail stuck his tongue out at it and made a face. Ha, it was obviously too weak and afraid to come anywhere near Saeter!
Suddenly the thing tilted its head up and whistled sharply. The sound echoed around them as it bounced through the forest. Saeter went still.
“Look around Blacknail. Do you see any more?” Saeter suddenly asked.
The goblin’s heart beat sped up again. There was more than one of these freaks? He turned and furtively scanned the branches behind them for signs of another beast. He couldn’t see any more of the creatures anywhere though.
“You see any more? See any more?” cried the creature in shrill mocking version of Saeter’s voice. Blacknail shuddered again at the creepy mimicry. Could the thing actually talk?
“Nothing master,” he whispered to Saeter. Fear made his voice unsteady. Saeter nodded calmly in response.
“Off you go harpy. You’ll get no meat here, only arrows,” Saeter yelled in a roar like tone that echoed through the forest.
The creature tilted his head to the side as if in contemplation and regarded him for a few moments. Then it hissed angrily as it puffed itself up by fluffing its feathers and spreading its wings wide. It looked much bigger than a goblin now.
Saeter responded to the challenge quickly. He drew his bow back and let loose an arrow. The creature however was ready for it and hopped sideways along the branch to dodge the arrow and landed on all four limbs. The harpy was too far away for a good shot. The arrow flew off into the woods after it missed its target.
Suddenly a fluttering noise and the cracking of twigs was heard behind them and Blacknail twisted around just in time to see another harpy land on a branch on the opposite side of them. Saeter swore colourfully. The goblin gulped in fear and his stomach twisted. He definitely wasn’t feeling safe now.
“Only Arrows. Only Arrows,” the first harpy laughed in apparent amusement as it watched them with new anger in its eyes. It seemed quite happy to have reinforcements.
“Another harpy,” Blacknail whispered to his master. Saeter just grunted in response. He had already cast a quick glance over his shoulder and seen it.
The second harpy’s long claws dug into the branch it had landed on and shredded the bark. It eyed them then hissed hatefully at them as its feathers puffed up.
Both harpies begun to move with coordinated predatory grace. The first hopped along its branch then with a quick flap of its wings it flew to another tree.
The second dove down to a lower branch on a tree in the opposite direction. Its flight brought it slightly closer to Saeter and Blacknail. Like this they begun to circle the goblin and his master by hopping and gliding from branch to branch. Both of the harpies’ eyes never left Saeter’s bow.
Blacknail knew what they were doing and he really didn’t like it. No matter how he turned his head or shifted his body he couldn’t keep an eye on both harpies at the same time. One of them was always lurking out of sight behind him. He shook uncontrollably; not knowing what the beast behind him was doing caused him to fill with a suffocating cold dread. The harpies slowly circled closer.
“Fuck this,” Saeter suddenly exclaimed loudly in anger. He spun around and shot an arrow towards the harpy behind him just as it rose into the air to move again.
The harpy twisted in the air but shrieked in pain as the arrow grazed it anyway. Wounded it careened off into the woods.
The first harpy instantly took flight and dove down at Blacknail, who was now cowering at his master’s feet. Saeter however was ready for it and spun around again even as he drew another arrow.
Seeing this the harpy quickly aborted its attack, shifted its flight, and swiftly glided down behind a tree out of sight
From its cover behind the tree the harpy let loose another shrill bird like cry that echoed through the woods. The wounded harpy quickly joined in from wherever it was hiding off in the bush.
Both Blacknail and his master winced at the loud grating sound. The goblin’s large ears began to twitch as the sound wore on them.
“Damn,” Saeter swore as he nocked another arrow and got ready to shoot again.
Suddenly an answering harpy call echoed from off to the side. It sounded fairly far away but it was hard to tell through the thick bush.
Upon hearing the reply the first harpy peeked out from behind the tree and gave them a hateful look. It looked like it was preparing to attack them again. Saeter grimaced and began to line up another shot with his bow.
With an angry sounding cry the winged beast suddenly hopped onto the tree trunk, using both sets of claws to climb, and scrambled up the tree and out of sight.
Blacknail gazed up into the dark green foliage above them but couldn’t see anything. Saeter sighed in frustrated relief and let his bow go loose.
“If it was going to attack again it would have called more of its ilk. It was just looking to snatch a rabbit or two from us when its friend showed up and they decided to mess with our heads. Bloody harpies,” Saeter explained half to himself and half to Blacknail.
Blacknail just stared at his master. He was still more than a little stunned but he was glad his master had prevented the harpies from ‘messing with his head’. That sounded bad. He needed his head. Saeter met Blacknail’s trembling gaze.
“Harpies rarely attack men or even goblins but sometimes they will if a flock gets hungry enough. They can be dangerous though. The clever ones use their voices to lure prey into traps or falls. Don’t believe everything you hear out in the forest” Saeter explained to a still shaking Blacknail. He then gave the goblin an appraising look.
“Calm down Blacknail. Fear will only get you killed out here,” Saeter told the goblin. Blacknail blinked in confusion and concern. His master obviously wasn’t very good at calming people down.
Saeter then shrugged and resumed walking while keeping an eye on the trees above them. Blacknail shadowed him very closely.
The green maze of the forest around him suddenly seemed far more sinister after their encounter with the harpies. Even the joyful birdsong sounded hollow and sinister to the goblin. Maybe what he thought was birdsong was actually harpies calling to each other as they gathered. Blacknail could imagine their vicious toothy smiles as they took dark joy in fooling his master and him with such a simple trick.
“We need to get going before something actually dangerous decides to investigate all the noise,” Saeter remarked casually to Blacknail as they moved.
Blacknail’s eyes widened in alarm at his master’s comment; there were things more dangerous than harpies and wolf dogs? Blacknail didn’t even want to think about it. Why did the humans live out here if the forest was stuffed full of murder beasts? More importantly why did he have to serve humans who lived in a forest stuffed full of murder beasts? Blacknail really wanted to go home.
As they made the journey back to camp through the forest Blacknail’s imagination begun to run wild and fill his head with an endless stream of images of menacing creatures. Every shadow cast by a bush or tree they passed contained a worse monster than the last.
What was worse than giant clawed birds and dogs? Was he right about the giant tree cats? No that was stupid; cats wouldn’t be more dangerous than dogs.
“Doggies chase cats who eat birdies,” mumbled Blacknail as he gave a nervous giggle.
Saeter turned around for a second and gave him an odd look before raising his finger to his mouth and hushing him. Blacknail shut up. He wasn’t sure what the finger gesture meant but it seemed like a painful threat.
They soon arrived in an area that Blacknail remembered passing through before on their way out. That meant they were close to the camp, and Blacknail had come to the conclusion that he was far less likely to die in the camp than in the forest.
A few minute later Blacknail followed Saeter as they passed through the bushes at the forest’s edge and stepped out into the clearing which they had started from.
With a squeal of joy Blacknail dashed out into the camp and ecstatically ran a few circles around an amused looking Saeter before collapsing happily onto the grass.
Safety at last! He had never been so happy to see so many hostile looking heavily armed human giants! He almost felt like hugging some of them but he was sure they wouldn’t like it, and might even kill him for it.
With a content sigh the goblin relaxed among the tall trampled grass and let the warm sun shine down on him. He was happy to be back.
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