Phoebe’s POV, in game Illyora
I took in a deep breath, still amazed at the amount of scents I was able to discern. I sorted them rapidly, though this was more from practice than dire need. The coming storm, it would be strong but wouldn’t hit until near midnight. The coppery tang of blood, from the wound Hidek had slashed in the antelope’s side. The woodsy sent of sap, from the broken branch as the prey tore through the bushes. The deep scent of loam, as the forest was thriving. The sour stench of fear sweat from two sources.
“Huntsmaster.” Jojek, one of my scouts, returned.
“The younger took a bad fall and broke his neck, Hidek stayed with the body. The wounded one continued on, but was attacked. Killed.”
Jojek wasn’t one to hold back, so something was wrong with his report. “What killed it?”
Damn, saberlions were tough. And exactly what I thought of when I heard the name. Fiercely territorial, with the strength to back it up, they were the apex predators of this forest. Heck, they even preyed on the grizzly bears that could give a hunting party a rough fight.
“I tracked it a bit, being cautious. A half mile away is its lair. It dragged the carcass back with it.”
“Hmmm, describe the location and give options. I trust you.”
Nodding, he continued, “Open area in front, his cave is more just a shallow overhang from the hill behind. Opening will be upwind of us as we cross the clearing. No way to get close.”
“Can one of us sneak up onto that hill?” I asked, plan forming in my head. I was so close to maximum level I could taste it. I had held back most of this hunt, letting the others get the kills. I wanted blood, to feel flesh part beneath my short spear.
“Possible. Probable.” He corrected.
“Excellent. I’ll loop around and climb the hill. You’re in charge, lead the team to the edge of the clearing. Let him smell you. When you see me signal from the hilltop, I want the pack to spread in a crescent and take two steps into the clearing. Maintain a safe distance, I just need you to draw him out for me.”
“Understood. I’ll give you ten minutes before we start.”
Orders given and received, I took off in the loping trot that the gnolls had adapted from their wolf ancestors. Nearly a month of practice had honed my reactions, and I easily bobbed and weaved through overhanging branches. My speed picked up just a bit as I found a game trail that ran in the direction I wanted, all the way to the cliff area that the cat had laired in. The clay cliffs were easily scaled, and I started taking care of my approach. I kept at least 15 feet between myself and the cliff, using the stalking stride to approach the area where the cave would be. Difficult to master, it required lightly putting your foot down and using the sensitive pads to determine if anything would crack or crinkle before you committed. A few minutes after Jojek and the others should have arrived, I saw the clearing he was talking about.
I could smell the rot and old blood, as crushed bones littered the area. I crouched down, and tripled my caution. Crawling forward, each step I would gently wiggle my foot until it reached the soil beneath all the detritus. The last few feet were easier, as it transitioned to a rocky outcrop. Once I reached the edge, I stood and waved my spear.
Six gnolls entered the clearing, and I heard a low growling coming from below me. They split up, but stayed at least 20 feet away from the cliff, forming more of a line than a crescent. I wasn’t going to nitpick, as the beast they were taunting was likely eight to ten levels higher than Jojek, the highest level among them.
“rrrrrrrrRRRRRRAAAAAAAAA.” The growl grew in intensity, and I saw all the gnolls tense. Looking over the edge, I couldn’t see the beast yet. Wincing, I knew my next order would test the resolve of my hunting group. I jabbed my spear high once, then waved towards me. Hopefully Jojek would realize I wanted him to take one more step forward.
Yes! Jojek, you magnificent bastard, with complete trust in me took a large step forward. The rest of the group timidly crept forward with him, but that’s even better. Let the beast see a little weakness, convince it that it can come out and attack. I heard a crunch as a paw the size of a welcome mat moved forward, and a much larger creature followed. Now or never.
I gave a light hop forward, spear pointed downward at the beast’s neck. At the last second, I activated [Savage thrust]. Hot blood splashed across my snout as the spear plunged halfway up the foot-long blade into the spine of the creature. I wrenched it back and forth in a desperate bid to sever the spine as the creature bellowed in rage and agony. As it was distracted, several of the gnolls split to each side and darted forward, slamming their own spears into the flanks. Yowling in outrage, it started bucking, trying to throw me off. Digging in with my claws, I grabbed its ruff with my left hand and started stabbing wildly into its neck. It’s struggles slowed, and eventually the cat breathed its last.
“Status!” I yelled.
“Jojek, minor injuries. Claw swipe to the chest.”
“Koren, minor injuries. Claw slash to the chest and arms.”
“Salden, that was EPIC!” The youngest of the hunting party yelled, before correcting himself. “I mean, uninjured.”
Smiling, I hopped off the neck of the creature. “Perfectly executed. Salden, I know you’re excited but you need to remember to keep your jubilation down. There could be other threats nearby, or someone could be in dire need of assistance. Understood?”
“Yes, huntsmaster.” He said, ears lying flat in embarrassment.
“No need for embarrassment. My first hunt I tripped as I threw my spear and missed a deer ten feet away. Everyone has moments like this, just learn from them.”
“Yes, huntsmaster!” He repeated, visibly perking up.
“Huntsmaster.” Jojek spoke, seeing that the young gnoll had learned his lesson. “Your trophy, huntsmaster.” He said handing over the two prominent fangs he had cut from the cat’s mouth.
I took them with a smile. “Thanks, Jojek. Leila, Hidek, Koren. You are to dress the saberlion. We will cut a few saplings down to carry it back to camp with us. Jojek, Valen, Salden. Search the cave for our other antelope and anything of value we can take with us. Hopefully we can salvage something from it.” While the rest of the group went off to do their tasks, I started going through my popups.
You have reached the maximum level of this species. Please find a suitable evolution material and evolve as soon as possible, you will not earn any experience until you do.
Evolution material found!
You have come across several evolution materials. Would you like to evolve to one of the following?
Kill an apex predator
Dire gnolls are to gnolls as dire wolves are to wolves. Stronger, better, faster. Though they can use weapons, their own claws are often stronger.
Feral beastman, wolf subspecies
Lead a successful hunt with no losses
The feral wolfman is closer to human than a gnoll, but still lives like a classic barbarian. They have higher quality steel weapons, but life doesn’t differ much from a gnoll.
Feral beastman, saberlion subspecies
A different subspecies of beastman, the saberlion variant gains bonuses to strength every level in addition to regular gains.
I turned down the three options. The saberlion variant was tempting, but I figured I would be able to find something slightly better when I got back to the village.
“We salvaged what we could from the antelope, but it wasn’t much. Everyone else is reporting ready to return to camp.” Jojek reported.
“Good work. Jojek, I want you and Salden running scouts all the way back. It’ll definitely be dark by the time we get back, and I don’t want a nocturnal predator sneaking up on us. The rest of us will take turns hauling the saberlion back with us. That’ll give us two up front and one for rear guard. Everyone ready?” A chorus of affirmative responses came back, and I took the front half of the carcass while Hidek took the rear.
The hike back was arduous, though nothing important happened. When we got within a half mile though, Salden and Jojek came crashing through the underbrush. “Drop the carcass, defensive positions!” I immediately ordered, as I could see the panic on Salden’s face thanks to the light of the moon.
“Attack on the camp. Unknown number of attackers.” Jojek reported.
“What did you see Jojek?”
“Two enemies standing as the camp was burning. One knight type and one mage. I couldn’t see anyone, but heard sounds of battle coming from the far side of the camp.”
“Ok, we make best speed back to camp. Jojek, lead the others in a flanking maneuver from the west side. Your objective is to assist whoever is still alive and doing battle. The two you saw were probably higher level overseers, judging the actions of possible recruits. I’ll head straight in and handle them. Give me one of the spare spears, and head out. Remember, if you don’t think you will turn the tide of the battle you are to flee back to the home den. Let them know what happened.”
Nodding, my brave hunters disappeared silently into the woods. I took off myself, covering the half mile in less than two minutes. I slowed down as I came to the end of the tree line, taking quick stock of the situation. Closest to me was the mage, with the knight slightly in front of him. Ten feet away from them was the start of the camp, and I could see the wooden huts we had thrown together burning merrily.
I charged out of the trees, not bothering to be perfectly silent as the two players were distracted with their bonfire. I launched my first spear, taking the mage in the center of the back.
“Gyaaah!” He cried in pain. I smiled, as the force of my throw had sent the spear tip completely through the mage.
“[Piercing lunge].” I cried out the second I was within range. I launched myself forward, speartip aimed right at the mage’s heart.
“[Intercept]!” The knight shouted, automatically inserting himself between me and my target. There was a resounding clang as my speartip was deflected off his kite shield. “So there were a few hiding in the woods.” He murmured to himself, not realizing how good gnoll hearing was. He tried an overhand smash with his hammer, but I pulled one of my favorite moves.
“[Whirlwind deflection]!” I used the butt of my spear to deflect his hammer to the side, but kept spinning. At one full revolution, I had my spear extended to slash across his face. The knight’s reflexive flinch saved his eyesight, but I still managed to tear a furrow across his face and through his nose. “Who would hide from fools as weak as you?” I snarled. “[Bladestorm flurry].” I activated another of my skills, this one increased the speed and accuracy of my jab attacks. He was good, I’ll give him that. He stopped all the jabs that would cause major damage, and took the little bleeder cuts to his biceps and thighs. Unfortunately, I had forgotten about the mage. In our dance, I had gotten turned around so that my back was to the burning buildings.
“[Shadow binding].” I couldn’t take my eyes off the knight’s attack, and so the magic debuff landed. He must have been at a high level on it, as it nearly halved my speed. I felt like I was doing fighting forms in the middle of a swimming pool.
“Well, you must be one of the monster players. I don’t know your level, but you put up quite the fight. Sad that you don’t have any backup.” The knight said, and I couldn’t tell if he was honest or taunting me. It didn’t matter though. “Soon your NPC’s will all be dead, but you would be someone worth hunting. Come battle us again, we are the Sons of Ullr. [Hammer bash].” His last attack I couldn’t dodge, and it smashed me through one of the walls of a burning hut.
“Was it really necessary to taunt it?”
“Yes. It gave me a challenge in battle. I want it to hunt me down and fight me again.”
“You going to finish it off? I still see a bit of a life bar over there.”
“Naw, either the fire will or it will use this as a motivational experience.”
Kill him. I would hunt his ass down and kill him. Bastard wants to taunt me? I’ll take him and his guild down, even if they think they are the sons of the hunter god. As I was fuming, I saw the moon peek out from behind the clouds through a hole in the roof. For some reason, I couldn’t look away. It grew brighter as my vision telescoped in on it. The moon was all that mattered.
Secondary evolution material……check
Greetings, my wayward child. Do you wish for vengeance?
The voice resounded in my head. “Who are you?” I thought at it.
I am the one who was cursed and sealed in the moon. I am Sin.
What do you want?
To help. Accept, and I will give you an evolution that will let you have your vengeance. You will become a cursed one like me, but eventually may come to control your curse. Will you accept me?
Yessssss! I hissed in my mind. Suddenly I was looking down on my body. The moon formed a perfect pale circle of light around it, which suddenly turned blood red. The shadows started dancing, drawing ever closer. I might have seen bits of runes form and disappear in a flash. Circling faster and faster, the shadows swiftly crossed the bloody moonlight and started swarming through my now floating body. As it stood upright, it gained another two and a half feet in height, putting it at eight and a half feet tall. The muscles swelled, and the fur turned from a tawny brown to grey with black stripes. The claws turned jet black, and ended up being eight inches each, with the slightest bit of a curve to them. I also gained two jet black fangs like the saberlion. My eyes. My god, my eyes were a deep, burning red. Like you would expect if you just told a royal dragon he was descended from a lizard.
I opened my eyes, and the shadows glowed. There was nothing I couldn’t see. I flexed my hands a few times to get a feel for what I could do with those meat hook claws, before I heard a yelp from the distance.
“AAARRRRRRWWWWWWOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOHHHHHH!!!!” I howled my rage, my indignation, my promise of retribution to the heavens, and I swear for a half second even the flames were too terrified to move. The moment broke with a boom of thunder, the storm just starting to arrive. Snarling, I shot through the hole in the wall my body had made earlier, and saw the look of shock on both mage’s and knight’s faces as I closed the distance in the blink of an eye. My claws shredded the knight’s armor with one strike, and my hand closed over his head and crushed it like a grape.
“[Shadow binding]!” The mage panicked as he cast his spell. I watched as the shadows climbed on my body again, only to be absorbed by my dark stripes.
A backhand swipe took the head of the mage, and I hurled myself down the aisle between huts to where I still caught faint hints of battle.
When I arrived, there were players battling on two fronts. There was a group of three healers standing back, keeping the four tanks alive. Only one rogue out of three was still standing, but my hunting party had lost two members and of the thirteen left at camp, only four remained. Red was creeping into my vision, and I charged forward with reckless abandon. Forming my hands into spear blades, two healers died after being impaled on them.
“What the?” The remaining one got out before a flurry of slashes from both hands shredded him.
“AT THE REAR!” One of the tanks had noticed the healers die, and screamed in panic. From there, the battle swiftly turned to our favor. None of their armor could stand up to my claws, and when they turned to face me my hunters made swift work of them. Precision strikes to the kidneys, livers, and hearts or stunning blasts to the back of the head that left openings for me to exploit, it didn’t matter. We fought, they died.
As the last one fell, I let loose a howl of victory. “AaaahWOOOOOOOOO!” The remaining members of our hunting expedition joined me. As the adrenaline faded, the scent of fear became more prevalent.
“Illyora, is that you?” Jojek asked, trying to hide his slight trembling.
“Yes.” Talking around my gigantic fangs was hard, but once the battle fury left I shrunk down until I was my normal size. I kept the new coloring and saber fangs, however.
“What happened to you?” He asked the question that was obviously on everyone’s mind.
“Give me a second to check my notifications, and I’ll let everyone know. While I’m doing that, search for survivors and find the trail of the bastards who did this.”
“Yes, huntsmaster!” Everyone chorused, and gave me the time to think.
Congratulations, you have evolved!
Loup Garoup, the cursed one
Through the aid of Sin, the cursed one, you have evolved. As Sin is sealed within the moon, the strength of the curse is also tied to the moon. When it is full, your rage shall be unleashed. You will turn into a savage monster, the only way to tame it is through the slaughter of sentients. Blood is thicker, however, so you need not fear ever attacking any of your clan. Once per day you will have the ability to summon this form, the length of time dependent upon your mastery of the curse. Master the curse, and master your fate.
Loup Garoup is the name given to the cursed form of beastmen. It is similar to the legends of werewolves, though it can’t be transmitted through the bite. Animals and those sentients that are more in tune with their primal sides will instinctively know how dangerous you truly are. Priests and paladins will recognize you as cursed, even in your saberlion beastman form.
Special attributes for Loup Garoup form:
+300% attack speed
+300% attack damage when unarmed
Curses other than divine in origin will heal you
+100% dark magic resist
-300% light magic resist (does not stack with Saberlion beastman form)
+100% damage received from silver weapons
Special attributes for Saberlion beastman form:
Immunity to fear
+100% dark magic resist
-300% light magic resist (does not stack with Loup Garoup form)
+100% damage received from silver weapons
Once my hunters returned with no extra survivors, I told them of my evolution. I also laid out my plan for revenge, for the sons of the hunter god were about to become our prey. Jojek and I headed out to backtrack the group that attacked us, while the rest of the hunters headed back to home den to inform them of what happened. The gnolls are going to war.
Bio: I'm a chemist that gave writing a try, and loved the results. Everything is mostly for fun right now, though I might try and get some things published eventually. Certain traits of my daughter have made it into bits of my stories, and she sometimes keeps me company when we both have trouble sleeping.