Herad had done as she said and organized the search that evening. By early the next morning practically everyone in the band was up and about looking for the cave where the slime had come from. Only a few of the bandits were left to guard the camp and watch the roads.
The entire operation was well planned and organized by both Saeter and Herad. The scouts went out first to make sure the area was safe. They knew the forest and its many dangers so they could locate them before the less skilled bandits stumbled into them unaware. They were also much less likely to get lost among the green maze of trees.
The rest of the men then followed behind the scouts and made up for their lack of skill with numbers. They worked together to thoroughly search the bush for caves. They had been carefully instructed to move in small groups and not wander around alone.
They had also been warned to look out for danger signs because it was more than likely that the scouts would miss something. It was a deep forest, and Herad’s rangers were skilled but still far from perfect.
After a few hours of searching the scouts were ordered to start doubling back to make sure the less skilled woodsmen hadn’t got themselves stuck in mud or fallen down a hole.
Saeter still thought there would be a few casualties. It was just to be expected with so many untrained men blindly wandering the woods. Thus, it would also be the scouts’ job to collect the lost and the bodies.
Saeter himself served as a scout and Blacknail went with his master. This was no trip to empty the snares; they would be ranging far outside the somewhat safe areas they normally frequented.
The old ranger had been assigned the area North of where Blacknail had fought the slime. It was not a direction Blacknail, or many other people, had travelled. As they walked North the terrain became rough. Hills and ravines sprung up out of nowhere to block their view.
Blacknail found the constant changes in elevation exhausting. Now he knew why humans stuck so close to their roads all the time. Having to scramble up muddy hills and rocky inclines was a lot of work for a goblin with stubby little legs!
“Don’t worry about being too quiet,” Saeter told Blacknail as they started their search. “Since we’re not hunting game today I’m more worried about running into a bear or something than attracting predators.”
“Yes, master,” the goblin replied automatically.
He knew what his master meant. Certain dangerous animals were likely to attack you if you surprised them but would normally avoid people if they heard them coming. Thus, moving stealthy wasn’t always the best idea.
The forest canopy that Blacknail was walking below blocked out most of the sun, but it wasn’t nearly as dark here as in the spider infested woods. Blacknail was very glad that they weren’t headed in that direction. He shuddered at just the memory of the creepy webs that blanketed those shadowy woods and their nasty residents.
The trees here were tall and thick. The ground was covered by short leafy plants where it wasn’t blanketed in dead leaves. Here and there, small white and blue flowers peeked out from behind other plants. Blacknail actually found it all very calm and nice looking.
The goblin had tried to eat a few of the flowers earlier but Saeter had pulled them out of his hand before he could taste them. Apparently, they were poisonous. Oh well, they had smelled a little off anyway.
As Blacknail followed his master he sniffed and examined the ground for signs of the slime’s trail. He hadn’t found anything yet though.
He darted around to check under bushes and around rocks for crevices or hollows. He wanted to be the one to find the cave and its treasures! He was sure that would earn him a reward.
Plus, he wanted to see the cave slimes came from. It sounded very interesting. He was a very brave and loyal goblin when Saeter was standing right behind him.
As they followed the ravine, a low area appeared in front of them and they walked cautiously down into it. Soon, the ground begun to get muddy and they had to watch where they stepped.
Blacknail’s short legs meant he had to hop from dry spot to dry spot to keep up with Saeter, who could simply step over the wet muddy areas. The goblin almost fell into the mud several times but managed to catch himself after some skillful wild flailing.
After a bit more walking, the pair stepped through a gap in the foliage and into a wide open area. There was a large break in the canopy above that let in light.
The leafy shrubs on the ground grew thick under the open sky. The few trees Blacknail saw were thin and seemed quite young. The drone of insects and cries of birds were louder here as well.
Saeter stepped forward into the sun, but stopped to survey the clearing before going any further in. Blacknail stepped up behind his master and looked around as well.
The goblin couldn’t see much, though. He was too short to see over a lot of the plants and bushes. He tried hopping as high as he could but that didn’t really help. He did however manage to spot several patches of tasty dew berries.
Blacknail licked his lips. Dew berries were so tasty! He was very tempted to go grab some but he knew his master would smack him if he ran ahead like that, also something might kill him.
“Hmm, something feels off”, the old grey haired scout muttered to himself as he looked around.
He apparently didn’t see anything though, because he tentatively started walking forward again into the clearing. Saeter trampled the long grass and shoved bushes aside as he moved inwards.
Saeter’s careful stride carried him towards a group of small trees that were surrounded by a large berry patch. He stared at it for a few seconds before turning and glowering at the rest of the clearing suspiciously.
The scout took another step forward. Suddenly, a sharp cracking sound assaulted Blacknail’s ears. The goblin whipped around in time to see a large branch break loose from a tree and slam into Saeter.
Saeter raised his arms in an attempt to shield himself. The branch knocked them aside as it smacked into him with a loud thud. Blood spattered across the ground as Saeter was battered.
Blacknail gasped in shock, but was relieved to see that his master had managed to stay on his feet. He was just tangled up in the fallen tree limb.
The goblin rushed forward to help his master disentangle himself. He really hoped his wonderful master wasn’t injured. He wouldn’t be able to get back to camp without him!
As he ran, Blacknail was abruptly struck by a strong sense of wrongness. Something wasn’t right here; something was bad. The goblin scrutinized the scene in front of himself carefully.
The branch was wrong he realized. It hadn’t come loose from the tree at all, it was still attached to it. In fact, it had stopped falling and had even risen a bit as Saeter began to struggle to free himself from its clutches.
Much to the goblins confusion Saeter seemed to be having a lot of trouble untangling himself. His eyes were also wide and showed a hint of fear. That was wrong, his master shouldn’t be afraid of a tree branch.
Blacknail had a sudden unwelcome thought. Was this a trap? Had someone or something made the branch break on purpose?
Blacknail had no clue what was going on but he knew what he was going to do. He drew his knife. It was time to find something to stab, until it was time to start running away.
Saeter began flailing and yelling in earnest as he tried to pull himself free from the tree branch. The old scout also pulled out his own knife and stabbed at the branch with his free hand.
Then, the entire tree quivered as Saeter was abruptly yanked towards it by something unseen. Blacknail had used this time to reach his master. Sprinting, he scurried around to get at the branch and then sprang atop it with a quick leap.
The goblin had thought he would find some rope or something to cut but he didn’t see anything like that. So, as soon as he landed, he stabbed the branch wildly with his knife. The blade hit the bark and skidded across it without penetrating. What, that wasn’t right! This was very weird wood…
Saeter was also hacking at the branch with his knife. However, his longer blade didn’t seem to penetrate the wood any better than Blacknail’s did.
In fact, the wood seemed very strange in general to Blacknail. It was warm and weirdly segmented.
Looking at where his master was stuck to the branch, it almost seemed like it had grabbed him, as if it had claws. Trees didn’t have claws. Blacknail was pretty sure Saeter would have mentioned it if they did.
“Behind you, Blacknail. Down!” Saeter yelled at the goblin suddenly.
Instantly, Blacknail obeyed and rolled off the branch. He was just in time. With a loud whooshing sound like leaves in the wind another branch swept through the space he had been occupying a moment ago.
The tree quivered again and then tilted wildly towards them, knocking leaves free and sending them spiraling down to earth in a green storm.
Blacknail yelped in surprise as the tree-like creature rose up and twisted around to rearrange itself into a horrible new shape. Uh oh, it was time to run!
As the alarmed goblin watched, the tough looking tree trunk cracked and split to become two long segmented legs. Branches then shifted to become a pair of armored arms. The top of the tree also divided itself to reveal two more long twisted arms and a monstrous insect like head that was crowned by two short stalks that ended in small black eyes.
The twisted thing’s vicious mandible adorned maw opened as it screeched hungrily down at them. Blacknail winced as the disturbingly high sound drilled painfully into his ears.
As the terrible armored monstrosity rose, it pulled the struggling Saeter under itself and pinned him there against the ground with one long arm.
The strange creature was taller than a man even though it was hunched over and balancing on four long legs. One free claw had Saeter firmly in its grasp and the other was swinging around again to grab at Blacknail. It most resembled a giant predatory stick insect or some sort of horribly stretched out leafy crab.
What the goblin had taken to be bark was actually camouflaged carapace with lichen and moss growing on it. The weirdest part however was the smaller branches and leaves. They poked out randomly up from its back and limbs, and as far as Blacknail could tell they seemed to be real plants that had sprouted from the creature’s carapace.
The terrified goblin rolled out of the way again as one of the creature’s limbs descended down at him. The claw missed him, hitting the ground instead and scarring the forest floor.
“Eep, run away! We’ve angered the trees!” Blacknail shrieked as sprang back to his feet and started running around in little circles through the grass.
The goblin didn’t know where to go and wailed fearfully. There were trees in every direction. He was doomed!
Just then Saeter stabbed the arm holding him again. This time he seemed to have found a weak spot because the creature hissed and shook in pain. The leafy claw that had been going after Blacknail pinned Saeter’s other arm instead.
“Damnation and misery, that wasn’t the plan,” Saeter screamed in anger and pain as he struggled to escape from beneath the claws that held him firm against the ground.
Blacknail knew he needed to come up with a plan of his own very quickly or his master was going to die, leaving him all alone and very far from the camp. There was no way he was heading back by himself now that he knew the trees would try to eat him! He wouldn’t last a second.
He had to think! He had somehow beaten the slime. With the right plan he could beat this thing to. So again, what tools did he have? Right!
Blacknail drew his sling and slipped a stone into it. He twirled it to build momentum and sighted on the target his master had told him to aim for first, the eyes.
He flung the stone towards one of the small black targets but the projectile missed and whooshed past the creature. The creature flinched away and hissed in alarm, though. It apparently didn’t like having rocks thrown at it, which meant Blacknail should do it again.
Blacknail launched another stone, this time it hit the creature on the head just under the a eye stalk. The tree thing didn’t seem hurt but it flinched again and brought an arm up to protect its fragile looking eye stalks. However, in order to do that it had to let go of Saeter with one hand.
“Let go, you bloody overgrown bush bug!” Saeter shouted as he wasted no time and immediately started stabbing again with his newly freed hand.
Blacknail continued to throw stones at the twisted creature until it turned away from him in an attempt to shield its head from the small projectiles. Ha, his plan was working! He was a genius.
Then, with a cry of victory Saeter rolled free from under his captor. He had managed to stab the knife almost all the way into the limb holding him by aiming for a joint.
The pain had caused the creature to hiss and let go of its prey for a second. However, it quickly recovered and immediately tried to grab Saeter again.
Saeter obviously had other ideas. He sprung up onto his feet with a grunt of pain and dashed towards the goblin as Blacknail covered him by slinging more stones at the now advancing monstrosity.
The thing skittered towards its escaping prey on all six of its legs now. Its body and leaves shaking as it gave chase through the long grass of the clearing.
“Run,” yelled Saeter as he grimaced painfully and dashed past the goblin.
Blacknail did. As fast as he could he spun around and scrambled away from the thing trying to eat him. His master sure liked stating the obvious sometimes.
They both ran through the woods at full sprint, with fear and pure survival instinct driving them forward. Blacknail had no illusions about what would happen if the creature managed to get a hold of him with its long branch like claws.
Soon, the sound of pursuit and shaking leaves stopped. Blacknail risked a glance backwards and saw the creature turn and begin to wander away back to the clearing it had come from. Thankfully, it hadn’t been a very fast runner.
Ahead of him, Saeter came to a stop and leaned against a tree. He was clearly in pain and exhausted. Blood leaked through gashes on both his arms where the creature had grabbed him.
In their haste to escape the man and the goblin had run into the deeper part of the bush away from the sunlight.
“Unbegotten mimics,” Saeter growled between two heavy breaths as he rested.
Blacknail remembered his master mentioning forest mimics once. He had told the goblin that they hid among trees and grabbed prey that wandered too close. He had also said to run from them if he saw one because they were slow.
Blacknail was pretty sure his master had missed some important information in there somewhere. He had certainly not been expecting something like the thing that had attacked them!
“Are we safe now? There are trees everywhere!” the goblin sobbed in terror as he spun around in circles. No matter how fast he turned he couldn’t look in every direction at once.
“We’re good. I should have seen it. I knew something was off. That was a perfect mimic hunting ground. They can only mimic smaller trees and they like lots of sun,” Saeter groaned regretfully.
He then turned to the goblin beside him who was swaying unsteadily on his feet from too much spinning.
“I’m getting you a bigger and sharper knife,” Saeter told him.
“Yes, please,” Blacknail replied with an exuberant nod of agreement.
He liked that idea. This was the second time his knife had failed him. Just think of all the things he could stab with a bigger knife!
After taking a few minutes to suck down air and recover as much as possible, Saeter pushed himself up off the tree with a wince and turned to the goblin.
“We need to head back. I’m wounded and the blood will attract predators,” he explained.
The old scout then hesitated for a second before grumbling and adding, “Thanks Blacknail. You’re a good goblin.”
Caught by surprise, Blacknail broke out into a huge smile. His master had never complimented him other then the occasional ‘good job’ before. He felt fierce pride rise in his chest. He had been very brave!
“Thank you, master. I so happy you no dead,” he gushed as he strode forward and hugged his master around the waist.
This caused Saeter to blanch, look uncomfortable, and then try to squirm away.
“We need to head back. Let go and help me with my arms, Blacknail,” he told the goblin awkwardly.
He clearly wanted to push the goblin away but couldn’t manage it with his wounds. Blacknail waited a few second before letting go. He enjoyed the hug and had to put back the pouch his naughty fingers had instinctively borrowed by mistake when they had first hugged.
“Yes, master,” he acknowledged when he was done and had let go.
Saeter crouched down and had Blacknail go through his pouches until he found one that contained some strong herbal smelling paste and another that contained some clean rags.
Saeter then had him take out a rag and apply the paste to his wounds using the cloth. Finally he had the goblin tie one rag tightly around the largest cut to stop the bleeding, and then use another one to tie his arm up to his chest to support it and prevent it from moving.
“That will do. Let’s go,” Saeter grunted as Blacknail finished.
The goblin stepped away and Saeter rose to his feet. The two of them then began the long walk back to the camp. Saeter was wounded but could still walk without too much difficulty. Much to Blacknail’s surprise, Saeter signaled that he should take the lead.
Excitedly, the goblin took point and began to lead his master home. If they both survived he was sure to have earned a huge treat! Hopefully, it would be better than the berries the stupid mimic had chased them away from.
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