The Rise of the Black Tiger

by Oberon Snowcat

It was only four and half hours since I had gotten back to the Keep and I was already prepared to go out again. I had even managed to find a source of temporary black dye that I used to dye my fur jet black. My heavy long range patrol pack was fully loaded with twenty-five spare arrows, ten spare spear-darts for my atlatl, food for two weeks, and the other things that a long range scout needed for patrol operations for two weeks.

I checked to make sure that all my weapons were secured to my belts before I closed my door and locked it. I made a point to tell the gate guard at the final gate to the Keep that I was leaving before I headed down the hill into Euper. I quickly made my way through town and headed south towards where my squad had been ambushed. This experience with me losing half of my patrol to a lutin ambush had only served to reinforce my convictions that making superfluous connections to people would only lead to pain and suffering.

The weather was miserable, a cold soaking rain that seemed to penetrate through the fur and to the bone with every drop. I didn’t really mind. The cold matched my mood perfectly, even though it would make my tracking down the lutins, who were responsible for the deaths in my last patrol group, all that much harder, but that really didn’t matter because in the end I would find them.

Right now I just wanted to kill some lutins, but even at the height of my anger I remembered something that one of my old Swordmasters had told me back roughly forty years ago in my homeland. “A stupid warrior fights with his heart and his emotions, while a smart warrior fights with his mind and his emotions.” What he had meant by that was that any warrior could fight when he was angry, indeed anger could make one foolhardy, but you could use your anger to give focus to your mind, to clarify your purpose. I had taken those suggestions to heart when I was very young and I knew that it made me all that much more dangerous.

It was just before dusk when I found the mutilated bodies of Hernando, Joseph, and Henrietta lying on the ground where they had fallen. The sight of this only further fuelled my anger which had long since grown cold and almost passionless.

This was the trick to maintaining a fighting edge with your emotions; you had to make your anger cold and almost analytical so that when the time came to fight you would fight with your mind instead of your heart. I pulled out my folding shovel and dug three rough graves for them before I put them in their crude graves and buried them so that the scavengers wouldn’t have their way with them. They had already suffered one indignity I didn’t want them to suffer another one; they had already suffered enough at my hands. Once that task was complete I took up the trail of the little monsters that had caused their deaths and began to track them using both my eyes and my nose to follow the trail.

After a while I stopped and found a large tree and climbed it before I cached my heavy pack in the tree, so that I wasn’t carrying the full weight around with me when I needed to move swiftly, before I continued to follow the trail.

I was right to cache the pack because a short time later, just as full darkness descended I came upon the lutin encampment. Now was the time when my midnight black camouflage came into effect. I climbed into on of the trees that surrounded the camp and to get the lay of the land. This particular band of lutins had been somewhat sloppy in choosing their location for a camp. There was dense trees and forest on all sides. The only thing that it had going for it was the easy access to fresh water, in the form of a nearby stream. I carefully leaned out over the branch that I was standing on and looked down at the trail. As I was expecting the lutins had posted a sentry along the path that I had been following. I looked down at the lutin for a few more seconds before I quietly climbed down the tree and slid my left stiletto out of its sheathe and snuck up behind the lutin and then lunged forward with the knife in my right hand. I caught the monster with my knife at the base of the skull with a crunch of fracturing bone.

The lutin sighed and then the full weight of the thing hit my wrist, not that it was a big deal for me.

I wrenched the stiletto out of its skull and sheathed it before I pulled the body off of the trail and into the bushes. Just before I left the body I used my sword to remove the head and my dagger to remove the right thumb of the monster. I took the head and the thumb with me. I concealed the head in the branches of a tree and placed the thumb in an empty belt pouch that I was wearing at my side.

I spent a good deal of the next two hours quietly sneaking around the camp killing the sentries and concealing their bodies. I wanted these things to feel fear from the fact that their comrades where disappearing with no apparent cause. Only later would I start attacking them overtly, when they were completely terrified of the woods around the camp. With the ground work laid out I went back to the tree where I had concealed my pack and at a ration and sipped some water before I fell asleep with my feet on branch and my back to the trunk. It wasn’t the most comfortable position that I had ever slept in but neither was it the most uncomfortable. I had once slept in a trench that was half full of dirty, muddy water.

When I awoke in the morning the sun was just beginning to rise in the east. I yawned and stretched, as much as my position high in a tree would allow before I ate another ration and took another sip of water. Once all of that was taken care of I made my way down the tree and headed back to where the lutin encampment was located. As soon as I got a good look at the camp I could tell that they were beginning to feel the effects of my first elements of my campaign of fear on them. They were milling around looking for their missing comrades. Shortly after I arrived two lutins came from a bush where I had concealed the body of one of the dead sentries with the body between them. The whole camp seemed to shudder before one of the monsters shouted

“There be a Long here.”

Another monster shouted “Why would be Longs here? We be well inside their range. All we run into out here is stupid patrols who don’t know muzzle from tail.”

“How you explain that then?” The first one asked pointing at the beheaded corpse of the dead sentry.

“I know not but that no Long, might be some crazy freak Keeper.”

“Can’t be ordinary Keeper, they louder than troll walking through woods.”

“How you known that?”

“They loud yesterday then they must be loud all times.”

“That not true, some of them very quiet, barely hear them until they come up on you.”

“How come they so loud yesterday then.”

“Bull man and human loud, the rest move quietly.”

“Scariest was white tiger man. He move like one who seen a lot war.”

I had to muffle my own chuckles at that comment.

“Why didn’t die? I shot him in neck.”

“He wearing some collar on neck. You arrow hit collar not neck, he break arrow off and take charge.”

I fingered my magical collar that Misha had sold to me and smiled slightly.

When a group of twenty lutins left the camp, leaving the other fifteen to twenty in camp to guard the camp I followed the patrollers. My plan was to take each one separately from behind with a spear dart or a thrown knife. It was now that I was glad that I had kept in practice with my knives with my almost nightly accuracy contests with Cope at the Deaf Mule.

The first lutin that I killed as they patrolled was stupid one who decided to go off of the trail to relieve himself. I quickly relieved him of more than the strain on his bladder; I relieved him of the strain of living with a quick stiletto thrust to the back of the neck at the base of the skull. I even managed to collect his head and thumb before two of his comrades came looking for him. Of course by the time they reached the body I had disappeared into the surrounding trees. As the morning went on I picked off the stragglers until there were no stragglers and the patrol of lutins was traveling in a tight cluster of terrified green skinned monsters. If I had some comrades with my I would’ve gone if for the kill now with my weapons swinging, but since I was alone I didn’t want to risk making any noise. A full out attack now would throw out any chance of stealth so instead of pressing home my attacks I made my way back to my base tree and clambered up it for a snack and an afternoon nap. Now don’t get me wrong I’m not by nature arboreal, but under present circumstances I had found that it was a wise thing to do. Simply put most lutins don’t tend to look up for enemy threats, so this was one place that I could feel comfortable in getting some rest.

When I awoke it was late afternoon. I quickly ate my ration and had a couple of sips of water before I made my way back down the tree and headed, with as much silence at my 445 pound body could to the lutin encampment where I took up station in one of the surrounding trees. By now the lutins were even more terrified of the unknown threat in the trees beyond the apparent safety of their camp. This was what I wanted, the more that they feared me the more that their fear would work for me. Their fear would quickly turn to paranoia at any imagined enemy that they would find including those among themselves. Once again that night they posted their sentries and once again I made progress by killing them all and taking their right thumbs and their heads. When they got up in the morning and found all ten of their night sentries dead the feeling that was in the camp was so strong I could smell it from where I was sitting in a tree overlooking the camp. This was exactly what I wanted, them to fear my very presence in the area.

One of the survivors of the previous day’s patrol looked around and shook his head before he said, “This only get worse.”

Another lutin spoke up “What you mean?”

“I mean we all be dead soon if we no leave here.”

“You know what Bammfist will do if we come back before we supposed to.”

“You know what happen to us if we stay, we all DEAD!”

“Fine you go back. Bammfist squish you into bloody pulp with hands.”

“He not that bad.”

“He ogre, he very cruel.”

As silently as I could I pulled out my notebook and wrote down the name of Bammfist and the fact that whoever he was he was an ogre, whatever that was. Then I went back to listening to the conversation to see if I could pick up any more information.

“Why he work for Nasoj? Nasoj not winner. He lost winter campaign; he lost campaign seven years ago, he always loosing campaigns.”

“I not know but Bammfist hear that he squish you into bloody pulp then feed bones to devil wolves. Reason Nasoj loose is because evil Keepers stop him from winning. If they not in way then we feast in Pyralis by time snow falls.”

“Why not go round them like we did?”

“If army do that then Keepers stop us from getting food, we starve.” It was apparent even from my point of view that these lutins did have a basic understanding of both strategy and tactics. They were able to get a small patrol past the Keep but anything larger would be spotted and stopped rather quickly.

I put a few more notes in my book before their morning patrol left the Keep and I shadowed it like I had done with the patrol the day before. However this time it wasn’t quite as easy for me to pick off stray lutins because they were paranoid and thus traveled in a compact mass without many stragglers get lost. The simple reason for this is because if one straggled along behind the main group he would never live to catch up to the rest of the group. Since this was the way things were I went back to my base tree and climbed up it had something to eat and went to sleep.

Later on that evening I once again went back to their camp, this time before their patrol got back and quietly made my way around seeing if I could cause any more chaos without any of them noticing it. At one time they had been able to leave twenty in the camp and patrol with twenty, but now that had changed. There were only seven lutins in the camp, while the rest of them were on patrol. If anything the small number of lutins made things more hazardous for all involved, including themselves.

At one point while I was staying perfectly still in a tree a lutin shot an arrow at a moving leaf, causing him to hit one of his comrades in the chest, killing him instantly. This was where the fear and paranoia that I had sowed with my clandestine tactics were beginning to pay off. They were so frightened that they were shooting arrows at ghosts that their minds made up.

I knew that in their minds they thought that they were seeing a Keeper behind every tree, rock and hummock of dirt. I was looking forward to the chaos that the return of the patrol would bring because it would be a chance for me to finish off this group once and for all. I wasn’t disappointed because as soon as the patrol arrived in the clearing their terrified comrades began shooting arrows at them because they saw the patrol unit as their hidden enemy. Even though I was up in a tree across from the spreading fight between the two groups of lutins I added a few spear-darts to melee to enhance their paranoia.

As the fight degenerated into a shapeless mob of fighting lutins I finally decided that it was time for this black tiger to put in an appearance. I swung down out of my tree, drew both of my swords and began the ‘Sung Dranatk ek Grect.’ Dancing through the depleted ranks of my enemies with grace and power until not one was left alive. When the fight was over I grounded the Claw of the Dragon and looked around. The majority of my enemies had been killed by their own friendly fire, but there were still a goodly number of them that were sheared in half from the power of my cuts with my swords.

I carefully wiped the blade of my weapon off on a dirty jerkin that one of the lutins had been wearing before I began the grizzly job of collecting the thumbs and heads of all of the dead lutins in the clearing.

When I had collected all of the heads I left the camp for a moment and gathered the other heads that I had already harvested before I returned and stacked the heads into a pyramid with the faces all facing outwards. The reason for this was as a simple and graphic object lesson to any other lutins who thought that coming into the region was a good idea. With all of that done I checked all of supplies that they had brought with them and availed myself of some of the somewhat fresh meat that their hunters had brought in before I arrived and began killing them.

It was dark by the time I left the camp but I still acted with caution because I believed that a few of the enemy may have escaped and gone back to report not only my appearance but also what I had caused.

Of course that would both help me in some ways and hinder me in some ways. On the one hand a frightened enemy is easier to trick and demoralize, but on the other hand now that they were aware of what I looked like and what I could do then my tactics might not all work because they could adapt a defence against them.

The beauty of my kind of warfare is that it put my opponents minds under tremendous stress, and eventually that stress would cause their minds to buckle and crack like an old rotten stick.

The next morning I took all of my things with me as I began to track two survivors of the encampment that I had just decimated. Their trail was ridiculously easy to follow, I could have followed this trail had I still been human with only one eye. They were sloppy and careless about the trail that they were leaving behind.

Roughly a week later I finally was able to track the lutins to their main encampment. I would’ve been happy if I had been able to begin terrorizing them right away but I was low on supplies so I had to make my way back to the Keep to re-supply.

My ration pack was empty and I was beginning to feel hungry when I finally arrived in the Keep, four days after I had left the lutin encampment. The first thing that I did after I dropped my pack off in my apartment was go to the nearby mess facility and get some food to fill my growling stomach.

Once I had taken care of that immediate desire I went back to my apartment and pulled out a bucket in my forge that was filled with a highly caustic mixture that would strip the flesh from the thumbs that I had collected on my most recent trip out into the wildlands. I quickly dumped all forty thumbs into a wire rack before I dipped it into the bucket. Once that was taken care of I went to bed and thought about what I would do once I was fully re-supplied.

The next morning after breakfast I took myself to the baths to clean my fur and my skin, though I didn’t take any of the special soap that I needed to get the black dye out of my fur with me. I enjoyed the bathes and finally an hour after I arrived in the baths I walked out and down the hall. I was just coming around a corner when I almost bumped into the slightly smaller, though still quite substantial form of George, the Patrol Master, standing in the hallway.

“Well,” He said coldly. “Are you here to stay or do you have more killing to do?”

“I’m here for a couple of days but I’m heading out as soon as I get all of the supplies that I need.”

“I thought so.” He answered in a contemptuous tone of voice. “Care to tell me what’s happened out there so far? Anything important to report?”

“Not really. I just wiped out a camp of lutins southeast of the Keep.”

“Just? How many did you kill?”

“Oh I would estimate that there were roughly forty or fifty of them in that camp. I killed most of them, though I believe that maybe two or three of them may have escaped my final actions.”

“And?” George asked me. “You’re leaving some information out. What else did you find?”

“There’s another encampment four days northwest of the Keep, but I will deal with them in due time. The leader of the encampment is an ogre named Bammfist.”

“I wouldn’t think of stopping you little killing raid Oberon.”

“I would appreciate if you kept your patrols out of my way on all of my trips out there.”

“Are you going to make more piles to scare the lutins?”

“Piles? Oh you mean my object lessons to those little monsters. Those are just reminders to them of what is going to happen to them if they keep trying to raid this far south.”

“Yes I mean the heads. A scare tactic that might work for a little while, but they will get used to it in time.”

“Oh they will get more than that. When they do eventually find the rest of the corpses they will find that besides not having heads the corpses will also be missing their right thumbs.”

George shook his head “First Misha and that stupid collection of ears and now you and your thumbs. Why do people collect trophies like that anyways?”

“I think it’s a warning to others to stay clear of that person and also a way for the person to keep score. You should’ve seen my grandfather with his skull collection. I would’ve enjoyed collecting something like that but thumbs are easier to carry around with you.”

He shook his head again. “It’s a silly habit, and I’ve told Misha that at least a dozen times.”

“Has it caused him to stop collecting ears?”

“Not yet but his fiancé, Caroline, will break him of that habit soon enough!”

I shrugged my shoulder and dodged around him before I turned and said. “I’ll probably be going out tomorrow to deal with that encampment with the ogre. Before I leave I’ll have my full report of my last mission on the desk of your aide for you perusal.”

“Remember Oberon to try and not get yourself killed in the process. Come back alive.”

“Trust me I’m very careful with my own life George, and I’ve done this lots of times in the past. The lutins should be the ones who should worry because I’m going to kill as many of them as I possibly can. My trick is going to be that I’ll kill them without them even knowing I was the one responsible for the deaths.”

“Don’t loose your calm out there cat.” He warned. “Or your anger will lead to your own death.”

“Trust me when I am angry more of them will die. I’ve learned how to funnel my anger into what I do.”

“Be sure that it stays that way my friend. I’ve lost too many friends already in my life time.” I shook my head and turned around and swept my way down the hall towards my apartment where I could check if my caustic solution had finished its job of removing the flesh from my thumb collection. When I pulled the wire basket out of the solution I was very pleased at the results, because the bones were bleached white by the solution and there wasn’t a single trace of the flesh that had, until recently, covered the bones. I rinsed them off and before I took my smallest drill and began to drill holes in the thickest part of the thumb.

Once all of the thumbs had a hole in them I strung them all on a leather thong and then put the newly strung necklace of lutin thumbs around my neck before I headed out for the day to get some supplies. My fletcher had outdone himself and he had two hundred fully prepared long arrows ready for me to pick up at a copper penny per arrow.

I handed him his money and then went and picked up a few more things before I went back to my apartment where I struggled to write out my full report of my actions over the past two weeks for George. Even though I didn’t want to trust him with some of the information that I had picked up I included it in my report because I didn’t like shorting any of my reports of information, and he would probably chase me halfway to the Giant Downs to get what I had left out of my report from me.

The next morning, true to my word I left the Keep once more with a full pack and a steady heart to face the threat of the lutins again. This was going to be a lot of fun.