Part 1 of 2
by ZF Sigurdson
Scarlette Leaf Review publication ‘Treasure Hunt‘
Angela C. Hebert
Other stories on Tall Tale TV by ZF Sigurdson
The breeze touched the branches just enough to make the leaves shutter. The sun bled through the canopy of dark green overgrowth. Magnificently ancient twisted and gnarled trees populated the Deepwood. Trees and glades so old that they remembered time before men or axes. Ancient spirits lived here. Life beyond the span of common people, beyond the conception of mortal creatures.
Leon knew this. He crept across the wide branch of an ancient oak. He knew every tree and every spirit. His face darkened hidden under his hood. He was nothing but a shadow in the trees. He could smell the sap and fungus, the leaves and the earth. He could hear the birds sing for miles. The insects buzzing. The dance between the wind and the trees.
He could feel the spirits of the ancients here.
Leon stopped at the spot he judged the most prudent for his purpose. With slow and silent movements, he drew his bow. The string ran up and down the arch of the bow to a pair of pulleys. He hated this new bows, but he couldn’t deny their effectiveness. Sometimes mortals do have innovation, thought Leon.
The Elders and Sages of his clans had become too stagnant, too traditional. They lived as they had a thousand years ago. None of them would do what needed to be done. Cowards.
He selected a black arrow from the quiver on his back and knocked it against the synthetic string. He never once took his eyes off his target. A century of practice and discipline had turned every one of Leon’s actions into an art.
His eyes narrowed on a group of invaders.
May they find pain and punishment on the other side. Monsters.
A pack of seven or eight large orcs marched through the undergrowth of the forest. Large and wide chested. They wore simple clothes of leather and wool. They carried packs of supplies and weapons. A few even had plates of armor painted dark colours. Their bright green skin mixed with the dense greens of the forest. They were almost invisible.
Not to Leon.
He had found blackened rot among the trees and branches the last few days. A sickening fungus attacked this realm. An infection. It had only gotten worse. Invaders had infected the Deepwood. His pointed ears and black almond-shaped eyes scanned for every detail and feature. He was beyond these monsters in ability and mortality. He must defend the forest.
These invaders must die.
He quickly identified the ideal target. Two had firearms. The L11 Machine Guns looked childishly small in their immense green hands Thieving creatures. One had a yew bow. They dare try to compete with the Elder race? HA! The rest carried cleavers and axes.
Leon could feel the forest itself shudder at the presence of an axe in its domain.
The largest one, a huge brute who wore little more than a vest and trousers, carried a huge double-handed axe. Its wide chest was bare and glistened with sweat. On its back was bundles of supplies and bedrolls.
Leon straightened his back and with a sadistic grin, he pulled the arrow to his cheek. His arm and chest taking the weight of the bow. The pulley-system turned silently, compounding his draw strength. He would enjoy seeing this.
The titan-sized orc’s ears twitched.
Too late, Monster.
He released the arrow. In a black blur, the arrow slammed into the huge orc’s chest, right in the heart. Time froze. The huge orc’s face twisted in pain. It touched the black arrow before collapsing on the ground with a heavy crash.
Leon enjoyed it too much and lingered too long.
Another beast roared an order in some primitive language. The entire pack closed ranks. The pair with machine guns raised their weapons and fired in Leon’s direction. He burst from his position, launching himself to the next huge tree. The leaves and overgrowth were torn to pieces from the barrage. They will die for that! His bare feet, calloused from decades in the hunt, gripped the branches.
He plucked a fresh arrow.
“There!” barked one of the beasts in a booming voice. The one who had given the first order. It wore a tunic and vest, green plates covered its chest and shoulders. In one hand was a tooth-shaped sword.
The gunfire followed Leon and he was forced to continue running along the branches. He cursed himself. I should have slain the gunners. How could he? They had brought axes. An insult and threat to the forest. To the spirits.
His pounding heart raged.
I have to kill them. All of them.
He nocked the arrow before launching himself to the next tree. He landed, twisted around and took aim.
One of the gunners died with a black arrow through his neck. Red-Purple blood splattered across the ground. May the worms feed on his corpse.
The other gunner roared and broke ranks, firing from the hip at the trees. Stupid creature. Letting his rage guide him. Leon nocked another arrow and aimed. His eyes went wide and he ducked. A huge grey arrow stuck into the tree where his head had been.
Leon smiled. Clever brutes.
It was the archer he should have slain.
Two of the brutes with daggers began to climb the gnarled trees. They were smaller and lither than their brethren. They could never catch him, but they would make this more difficult. The gunner and the archer were the real threat.
He knew he should retreat. Establish a new ambush. Draw them in.
He drew the arrow to his cheek. One for the road. He aimed at the archer and released. Leon waited through the eternal millisecond for the wet slap. The Leader jumped into the arrow’s path. The arrow bit into the beast’s armor. No! The archer roared and let his own arrow loose. The yew bow snapped with a loud crack.
The orc’s arrow glanced off Leon’s shoulder.
He hissed, “No!” He clutched his arm as he retreated into the Deepwood. He cursed himself and all of the creatures of existence. He cursed this pack of invading monsters. He would see them all dead. He groaned at each hard landing. Pain shot up his shoulder. Bright red blood seeped into his dark tunic.
He would find a way to slay them all.
It was a promise.
A promise he had always kept.
Leon grunted as he pulled the tourniquet tight around the wound on his shoulder. He had to pull it with his teeth and his free arm. He was currently hidden in one of his many burrows. Tiny lean-tos or hunting screens throughout the forests, many of them far older than Leon.
He was several miles from the site of his initial clash with the orc invaders. He had applied human-made antibiotic salient on the wound. The synthetic chemicals burned and the reek of manufactured healing made him want to puke. He knew it had its utility, he just wished he didn’t have to rely on mortal technology.
He refilled his quiver before giving his knives a quick sharpening. It was unnecessary, but he wanted to see those orcs bleed. That red-purple ichor would water the ancient oaks and elms. They would suffer. His face felt hot. His heart hadn’t stopped pounding, even as he tended to his wounds. His rage would not be satiated until all invaders were dead. How could they come here? Surely they knew this was an ancient realm. A defended realm. Stupid creatures.
He left the tiny hunting screen in the branches of a mighty oak. Leon placed his hand on the thick branches that held the hunter’s refuge. “Spirits, watch over me. Allow me to defeat your enemies. Let me kill them.”
He looked up and saw a leaf fall. A single green blade splotched with blackened infection. It danced before crumbling on the ground, curling around the edges as if burned.
Leon’s eyes narrowed. They will know my rage. Leon knew it was unbefitting of his station as a guardian, but he had a white-hot hatred for those who would do the forest harm.
He hurried to establish a new ambush against the orcs.
He found them by a stream to the north. The pack rested in a circle, while two others guarded the perimeter. The gunner and the archer. One of the others now carried the machine gun, but was preoccupied with eating.
The Leader scratched at his chest. Red-Purple blood stained the front of his tunic. Leon smiled, his face hidden behind a layer of leaves. His arrow had wounded the leader. They were eating a meal of nuts, jerkies and bowls of cold beans. Leon could almost smell the lard and grease in the beans. It turned his stomach.
Leon’s pointed ear’s twitched to hear the conversation.
The Leader rubbed his chin. “We gotta keep moving.” His voice was deep but quiet.
“We should’a never come here, boss,” said another, this one had scars over his face. His voice was rough and dry. As if he’d never taken a drink of water. “We could’a taken the long way around.”
“We’d been caught and killed. This was the only way.”
“And now we got a crazy fookin’ elf huntin’ us.”
“Yeah, and we might still get out. You wanna let the humies catch us for sure? Or maybe this elfling gets us, but maybe we also get out.” He pushed his chest out, making him larger than the others. “Got a better plan, Zass? Anyone else wanna be the boss?”
They all fell silent. They knew it was their only option. Orcs only responded to force.
Leon shook his head, Foolish brutes. They rolled the dice with the wrong plan. He nocked a fresh arrow.
One of the creatures, a smaller one with daggers on his waist twirled one of Leon’s black arrows in his green hand, “We got a Guardian huntin’ us. This one is a black hearted bastard.”
“We just need to keep moving,” said the Boss. He got to his feet, his huge mass towered over them. His shoulders were easily three feet wide. Only the hunch of his shoulders stopped him from being six-feet tall. “If we get to the pass. We’re free. We can rejoin the clan.”
Leon drew his boy, Then you shouldn’t have come here. He aimed for the Leader’s throat. Leon blinked. There had been one more?
Leon’s ears twitched. He dropped from his hiding spot on to the lower branch. An orc with a hatchet and hunting knife burst through the branches of a nearby tree. Red eyes wild, jagged teeth barred in an animalistic threat. The monster dove for him. Leon launched backwards off his feet, ignoring everything he had ever learned about fighting. He drew the bow to his chin and released. The arrow struck the orc under the clavicle, but its heavy body still fell. Its eyes wild and angry.
They both tumbled through the branches. Leon felt each blow as a crash against his spine and ribs. They stopped abruptly. Light and pain overwhelmed him. Leon groaned, everything hurt. He felt his side, he had fractured two ribs. There was a heavy weight on his leg and a deep throaty groan.
Leon opened his eyes and saw the runt laying on his legs. The orc pushed himself up, his eyes dazed. Leon felt nothing but revulsion and anger. He pulled his dagger. Before the orc could react, Leon had him pinned against the ground.
“How dare you come here!?” Leon brought the knife down on the orc’s chest. “How dare you invade this realm!? You are filth! You are monsters!” He brought the knife down again and again and again. Blood painted the leaves and ground. Flecks of Red-Purple splattered Leon’s face. He lost himself in his fury. He destroyed the runt’s face. Leaving a punctured and wrecked mess of Red-Purple and green. Justice. He spat at the corpse and left the knife sticking out of the monster’s face.
Leon’s heard crashes near him. He retrieved his bow and knocked a fresh arrow. An orc burst through the undergrowth with a jagged sword. Leon jumped back trying to make room. The orc pressed. Leon knew he couldn’t kite back forever, especially when he could hear the rest of the pack charging through the forest.
The orc swung wildly with powerful blows that would cleave Leon in half. He took the arrow in one hand and his bow in the other. He stepped backwards over a root. The orc pushed forward too hard too quickly. The dumb beast tripped over the root, losing its balance.
Leon jumped at the opportunity. He slammed his bow against the flat of the blade, a mock parry. The jolt sent pain exploding throughout Leon’s torso. Despite the pain he slid into the beast’s guard and slammed the arrow into its eye. It screeched, but did not die. It dropped its huge blade and slammed a massive fist against Leon’s wounded shoulder.
Leon crumpled against the ground at the force. Spirits, these monsters are strong. His whole torso and shoulder was ripped with a throbbing pain. The orc stumbled back, clutching the arrow in its eye. Leon pushed through the pain. He took his other knife, his last, and pounced at the creature. He slid the long knife straight up into the creature’s chin and into his brain. Leon felt its whole body shudder, before it collapsed lifelessly to the ground.
He picked up his bow and sheathed his knife. He needed to finish them off. No. Everything instinct told him to run. Retreat, reengage later, when he was healed. He was too injured to fight now. The pain of his broken rib. His heart pounded, telling him to finish them off. Fight them. Kill them! How dare they come here!
He nocked an arrow and turned to face the crashes coming through the forest. He raised his bow, his side throbbed and his muscles whined as they stretched to hold the bow. The next crash came through the trees. He prepared to release the arrow and the pain in his side.
Just as the remaining three orcs charged through the forest. The archer and two gunners. No. there was fourth! The leader!
Something moved on his right. A huge fist smashed into Leon’s face. He tasted metal in his mouth. His cheek and jaw throbbed. He felt himself hit the ground. He fell into the furthest reaches of his brain to hide from the pain. This was happening to someone else. Not me. Leon, the Guardian, would destroy them. He would not be beaten by filth.
Leon opened his eyes, his vision flashing white. He refocused, remembering his situation. He jumped to his feet. His eyes wild at the four green monsters surrounding him. He searched for an escape, but he was pinned against the nook of an oak. He felt his back against its ancient and gnarled bark.
The Leader gripped his crooked sabre, its huge maw filled with jagged fangs. “Finally got you, slippery bastard!”
Leon drew his knife and swung it wildly to keep them back. He hissed at them. He could feel the blood dripping down his nose and face. His broken ribs kept him from moving more. I’ve lost. He cursed them. He cursed them all!
“Why?” hissed the leader.
Leon paused, confused.
“Why!? We didn’t do anything! We were passing through you pointy-eared prick.”
“You defile this forest! You are filth! You invade this peaceful realm!” barked Leon. They could never understand. They were animals.
“Those boys you killed. They had just spent a week on the march. They were escaping the humans. They found our burrow and burned. Our clan ain’t done any harm in years! No boy alive ever touched a man village or elf glade. We were escaping, you slippery prick.”
Leon spat. They were lying. They were just dumb beasts. They had no beliefs, no faith nothing to protect. Leon was the Guardian of the Deepwood. He was a protector. They were invaders. Nothing more mattered. Nothing more needed to legitimize his burning hate. I hate them. I hate them. His mind searched for an escape. His body coiled for a final suicidal attempt.
“Let’s just kill him already, boss,” snarled the one with scars. He lifted his machine gun.
“Not like that,” The Boss grunted. “Sorry, lad. You ain’t gonna harm another boy just trying to escape.” The huge orc raised his arms, lifting his blade into the air. The low light of the evening sun glinted off the metal.
Leon gripped the bark of the tree, he could feel its rage. He glanced down. The bark of the root was blackened and infected. A fungal rot of poison. Leon gripped his knife. He would slay these beasts to protect the forest. He had one chance. He locked his legs to launch himself at the Boss’s stomach. The right spot could kill the immense beast.
Leon could. And I must.
The leader brought down his blade.
In a cascade of white light they were all sent flying. Leon hit the ground hard. His pain spiked. Through his dazed vision and the blinding light, he saw the orcs were equally stunned. All of them lay on the forest floor. Dazed, groaning, but largely uninjured.
Leon glanced at the source of the explosion, but the light was too intense. He felt his mind drifting. The pain was too much. Everything hurt. His eyes began to flutter closed. His head lay against the ground. Just as he nodded off, he saw someone approach. A pair of bare ivory-white feet stepped across the forest floor. With each step, tiny green shoots of grass and flowers erupted from the earth in an instant. As the foot left the ground, the tiny plants withered and died. Leaving nothing but tiny brown footprints.
He looked up.
A small youthful face looked down at him disapprovingly. “Dumbass.”
He passed out.