“Halt right there! There is a toll to use this bridge!” Trunik hopped out from behind the railing of the large fallen tree that constituted the only bridge across the less than impressive river of Tuneltarin. There was a brief moment of hesitation on his furred face, and some might have noticed it if they were familiar with the tells and facial expressions of the Mongeese species.
Trunik’s current situation was that he and three of his brothers and one sister, Farnik, Fenig, Tranig, and Malika, were coming back from the magical haberdasher with a gift for their mother. The haberdasher, whose actual name no one could remember because he had been there forever, very rarely made gifts or actual accessories anymore and they were quite excited at the deal they had managed to make. So excited that they were taking turns carrying the accessory. Fenig had won the last round of sticks and swords, the lazy lout, and was fidgeting with the mouth of his belt bag like a royal wren with the sweetest of bugs.
Despite their general good demeanor and the fine day they were having, that didn’t mean they were going to let any funny business slide in Mother Chaka Territory.
They had spotted something moving on the eastern side of the river bank at a pretty good speed and had decided that there was still time in the afternoon for violence and robbery. Mother Chaka was the local leader of this territory and their mother. Most of the time there wasn’t any actual danger inherent in any of these afternoon heists. They would impose the toll, their quarry would recognize them by repute, and a tithe would be taken so everyone could go on their way. No one, frankly, was stupid enough to anger Mother Chaka or her ridiculously prolific family, or as many thought of it, the headache that would come from the neverending army that bore grudges.
Still, despite his confidence and the times he could count on one furred paw when things actually devolved into real violence, Trunik almost turned around and walked off as if he’d made an error when he saw what he had jumped out and surprised.
The creature in front of him was large. Trunik was a little taller than a Goblin in terms of stature, coming up to about a foot and a half. This creature was easily four of him high. Trunik was covered in fur and wearing a very dashing hat that denoted he was in command of this expedition. Hats were VERY important to the hierarchy of the Mongeese. This creature seemed to be largely furless, had horns on its head but no hat, a tail that was covered in scales, and seemed to have undergone a series of unfortunate events in the past if his smell was any indication.
Trunik had a small dagger that he drew lazily as if it were the greatest of swords. The creature in front of him stilled upon seeing the metal drawn, and became absolutely immobile standing in the middle of the tree-bridge as if he were just waiting for Trunik to dictate his demands.
Trunik began having second thoughts again when he realized that the creature hadn’t responded to his earlier speech. It was possible that this poor creature had been waylaid already this fine day. It was possible that the creature before him was already destitute. Trunik began seriously considering this possibility the longer he stared. The creature was wearing some sort of makeshift skirt, which made sense to Trunik because it was otherwise furless and hideous.
He hesitated again, actually considering letting this poor thing go. A hesitation that vanished the moment his three brothers came up behind him and pulled their own small iron daggers and began chortling in various manners of despicable highway robbers.
It was just bad timing, Trunik reflected. They couldn’t just let everyone go or then where would the state of the world be?
“What’ll it be tree-trunk?” Farnik, who had been envious of the hat Trunik had been given earlier that morning, obviously saw this as a chance to win some merit. Trunik almost cursed his mother under his breath but stopped because it would be the same mother as his own.
The creature looked down at Farnik, his golden slitted eyes taking his measure in a very calm manner. Trunik was actually impressed! Once again he considered befriending this stupid woodland creature instead of robbing it. Really, it probably didn’t even have any metal on it? Trunik was starting to feel like he should just adopt this stupid thing.
That was when everything went, as they say, sideways.
“Has someone already cut the tongue from your mouth?” Farnik sneered, and he pricked the leg in front of him. Just a little.
The creature really freaked out.
One of the things that Ruth did extremely well, Arathan admitted sincerely despite acknowledging the fact that she was lowering the bar of ‘extremely well’ quite a bit, was calming down and thinking things through after he had been hysterical. Sure, Ruth did seem to have a lot of them, these, episodes. Admittedly the half-day it had spent in the new world included Ruth exploding into anger or losing its temper and smashing things. There was, however, a surprising amount of self-reflection that Ruth did after the immediate anger had passed.
So when he had woken up in the river with river trash settled in around him like he was a dead fish… next to the dead fish that was nestled under his chin…
Arathan had thought that it had been somewhat admirable that after an explosive and intense moment of pure vitriolic thought, Ruth had settled down. He had pulled himself out of the water, checked to make sure he still had his abbreviated ‘skirt’ and then moved to the shore where he had checked the new spells that were available to him.
He had briefly, it seemed, considered using his abilities on the river. Not to vent his rage or frustration, but to test the extent of the power and to capture food. Using lightning spells on the river had seemed a bit overkill to Arathan, and to her surprise, Ruth had come to the same conclusion moments later. He had even thought to himself that he would possibly need all the spells and couldn’t afford to be wasting them on food gathering when he wasn’t even hungry.
Arathan had almost chuckled moments later when his stomach had growled at him and his face had fallen as if he’d been betrayed once more.
Both she and Tamara had watched disinterestedly from that point onward, talking every once in a while about things they’d seen while separated.
At least until the tree-bridge.
Of course, Arathan and Tamara didn’t know anything about this ‘mother chaka’, her family, or how Mongeese operated. Why would they?
And if they did? They still wouldn’t have interfered. Why bother when good entertainment was just lining itself up?
Ruth for his part had been moving down the river intent on finding something other than wilderness. He was also keeping an eye out for that moving immortal text thing. So far it was keeping its distance and remaining out of sight, a wise choice. Ruth had spells now and wasn’t afraid to use them all on that damnable thing if to announce nothing more than his utter disdain for the thing!
He had some semblance of coverage on his lower body now, and his stomach was only telling him that he could eat every few minutes with garbled noises. Ruth ignored them as the mana continued to flood into his body. It was a little bit intoxicating, to be honest. His mana pathways were enormous compared to what he had been used to in a dragon’s body. Add to that he was only a fraction of the size and he was getting a little… drunk.
There was no excuse however for being surprised when he was walking across a large fallen tree to the other side of the river. To be honest the only reason he had gotten onto the tree-bridge thing was that he had noticed someone had woven together parts of it to make it look like it had railing on either side. Maybe this was a special place? Ruth didn’t know, but it sparked enough of his curiosity that he had started across anyway. It wasn’t like this river was deeper than his knees anyway? The river itself didn’t need a bridge!
Or so he had thought until the tiny denizen of the forest popped out in front of him. Ruth wasn’t up on small creatures or what they were. This one appeared to be smaller slightly than a Goblin? Or was roughly the same size. More importantly, it had an air of intelligence and said something to him. Ruth had no idea what it said. He froze, not wanting to get into a fight with something if he could help it. It was furred across its entire body and kind of reminded him of those small varmints he had seen that fought snakes where he was from.
Ruth was instantly on guard. This creature did not think him a snake did it? It couldn't be faulted for its misidentification because until recently he too had thought he might be a snake.
The creature seemed to appreciate his stillness and adjusted the brim of its rather fascinating hat. It was wide-brimmed made from some sort of grass and accentuated with a large feather. Ruth had no idea what the hat meant but it was obviously important and marked this creature as the leader. He knew this was the leader because three other rodents or varmints or… whatever they were came out from behind the woven nature railing and began to press in from the front.
Be calm, Ruth thought to himself, not every creature in this forest capable of thought must be violent. You need to gather information and find out where you are and how to get home.
Ruth was momentarily surprised with how eloquent his thought process was. It seemed a step up from kill everything and take their stuff. He was probably getting smarter as a result of all the mana being flooded into his system.
Ruth was brought back to reality when a small creature in front of him reminded him of his current situation. The little rodent without a hat had poked him in the calf roughly where the Goblin had been stabbing him before.
Ruth absolutely agreed with the sudden violence that surged through his mind and tried out his new spells without any sort of preamble. First, he cast [Generic Magnetic Field], because his understanding of the spell within his awareness was that it was invisible. It certainly was because nothing happened immediately except for the small creature in front of him taking a surprise step back when it's metal knife started to veer away from him.
★Generic Magnetic Field
Repel or attract metal to a certain degree using the caster as a base. Lasts until spell slot is restored or canceled.
Ruth had chosen to repel metal right now. The idea of attracting treasure and valuable metal had occurred to him earlier but the number of times he could cast a spell within a certain amount of time made him loathe to start his treasure hoarding when he couldn’t even protect himself from the simplest of creatures.
That being done he took a moment to eye-ball the small furry creature in front of him. He considered trying out one of his other spells but decided there were plenty of remaining creatures that seemed absolutely thrilled to be hostile with him, so instead he planted his left foot and swung with his right as hard as he could. The surprised look of the creature as it was punted far into the trees was worth a grin. There was a sickening squish from the distance.
He dropped his foot and turned toward the remaining three. They had watched with wide eyes and quivering wet little noses. Their whiskers had turned up in rage and they had brandished their tiny little knives and began rushing at him.
It was still fresh in his memory, the feeling of being cut and hurt and stabbed by the Goblins. Ruth had no intention of going another round like that.
He pointed with one hand and cycled through shots of Generic Shock.
Jolts targets within line of sight with a moderate shock, killing or incapacitating small creatures.
Ruth smiled as all three small forms fell on the wooden log and started writhing. He walked over to the impressive one with the hat first, deciding to start with the leader. The hat was much too small for him so he quickly tossed it to the side. The daggers themselves were practically metal shavings and were only the length of his big finger. He picked up all three of the daggers from the fallen rodents and put them gingerly with the small handles up in a bag he had pulled off Trunik.
Trunik had gone still and Ruth paused momentarily, both pleased and distressed that his shock spell had apparently killed the small creature outright. It had been capable of some sort of speech and Ruth would have liked to have tried to communicate with it. A quick glance revealed that the others had also stilled, likely having passed onto their next life. A swift intake of mana confirmed the situation at once.
Ruth checked the other two for belongings and pulled out a small black ring. He was about to toss it into the water when he realized that it was changing in his hand. What had been tiny and fit for one of the small Mongeese digits slowly grew in size until it was big enough for his smallest finger. He put it on without hesitation, having never worn an item when he was a dragon and being largely unaware of the repercussions of trying to wear cursed gear.
Immediately the ring started to cover his hand, startling Ruth. Ruth began to look for a way to take the object off but needn’t have bothered. The moment he thought of trying to remove it the ring had retreated to his finger.
What had it been trying to cover the-
The ring once again started to cover his hand, then his arm and then moving to his shoulder. Ruth had been wearing it long enough now to know that all he had to do was think it and the small thing would retreat once more.
It only took a matter of moments but then Ruth was garbed in a flowing black cloth that seemed to fit his form, starting from the index finger of his hand and extending all the way up to his shoulder, then down to his waist, and then past his waist to his feet. He tried to will boots or shoes or anything that covered his feet but apparently the ring could only cover most of his person. Only the hand with the ring on it appeared covered, and he once again failed to materialize a second ‘glove’.
Ruth smiled, bowed slightly to the dead rodents, forgot about the creature he had punted into the trees, and left.
Half an hour later, from the shadow of the side of the log, a female Mongeese appeared. She slowly went over to the corpses of her brothers and looked down at them mournfully. Her gaze straightened and she looked up in the direction that her kinslayer had gone. She would have liked to go after him immediately but she was unarmed. Farnik was dead too, or he would have come back by now.
A small furred hand reached down, quivering, to grab the hat that lay nearby.
Her narrowed black eyes gleamed with purpose as she settled the hat on her head.
The creature had stolen the lives of her brothers, the gift meant for her mother, and this enmity must be settled in the way all things were settled in the Ten Year Wood -- with violence. Perhaps even the haberdasher would lend aid since it was his clothing ring that had been taken as spoil.
First, she would report to her mother, then she would personally be there when this creature drew its last breath.
Malika did not have metal with her so she bit her small hand with her sharp teeth and bled on the bridge to mark her personal vow.
Unaware of the stirring and emotional moment of Malika, Ruth was surprised to find that he had 1 out of 5 spells remaining but there seemed to be some improvement in his spells.
He closed his eyes and tried to imagine those dark stars that had appeared when he got his spells. He opened them seconds later when he felt an old enemy presence. His eyes narrowed. It was the immortal text picture.
Generic Shock 75% Learned.
Generic Magnetic Field 25% Learned.
Ruth put aside his vendetta for the moment, trying to understand what this meant.
He straightened with a sudden grin.
Did this mean that he could learn a spell and it wouldn’t require spell slots?
Ruth was almost willing to forgive this thing for not killing Tamara.
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Bio: I'm not by nature a very courageous person. If you have been around enough you might have surmised as much on your own. I started writing these gaming books because I was frustrated, and in desperate need of a way to give voice to the ideas and concepts that I hope to see in a game some day. I'm also trying to write a book about a former dragon without making him into too much of a murder hobo. I hope you enjoy them. If you don't, that's alright too. :)