Quests of a Monster Hunter
Ankle high grass sways in the breeze - the green waves stretch on for miles. Within the plains, a single figure moves.
This region is known as The Flattz, or the Emerald Sea. A great plateau surrounded by low-lying hills where dark, dry earth had been pushed up by fire and rock, and flattened by the storms that plague this land each season. Warm winds from the south are funneled in all year, meeting the cold arctic North just beyond the River Lands - the land our traveler hails from.
Stevalt holds an arm over his brow, protecting blue eyes from the bits of grass and dirt being kicked up by the current gentle gale. After a moment, he takes pause, pulling a vial from his pocket and snapping the glass seal. The brown liquid inside vaporises, and the elf quickly wafts the resulting fumes toward himself.
He winces in pain, his brow wrinkling dramatically as beads of sweat roll below his hairline. His hair is curly and blonde, matted and greasy from days of travel without stopping to wash. Being wellkept is not a priority for the elf, as that is a luxury unfamiliar to him. Elves who often cared about such things were aristocrats and royalty, and Stevalt is none of these. Born in the outbacks of the River Lands, the Scrub Elf had grown only to know of tracking and survival, making him a hunter.
His head whips to the left, nostrils flaring as he catches the scent of something on the wind - a pile of dung. The brown clumps lay chaotically, yet oddly aesthetically among the bundled up blades of grass - as if they were gently cradling the shit.
Stevalt makes his way toward the scent, extending a retractable metal rod to prod through the feces. A bit of bone, fur, bovine teeth - telling signs to the tracker that this was left by a carnivore.
A three-fingered hand brushes the ground near the pile, combing the blades of grass aside to reveal faint depressions in the soft ground beneath. Nodding to himself, the elf stands, taking a pause to once again sweep his gaze across the grasslands. To the south of him there is a small rocky outcrop, providing just enough shelter from the harsh winds for trees to take root and grow. This looks, to him, like the next place to search.
Leaves rustle and branches rub and scrape together among the winds that make their way in, making hearing his quarry rather difficult. Though not impossible.
Even now the elf can feel the breath of the slumbering beast, not in his ears, but in his chest. The thunderous rumble of pur-like snoring reverberates Stevalt’s bones as he approaches a downed tree. Rocks hold up the heavy trunk, covered in a blanket of moss and ferns. The soil once beneath the roots has been pushed aside, hollowing a space out underground.
Just as he gets close enough to land eyes on the den, however, the snoring stops.
The hunter takes note of this, steadily, raising a hand to his rear belt pouch, fingers closing around a metal orb, gleaming in the light. He grips the ball, a metal ringing fading into the howling wind. The sound is like a trigger to the beast, and it lunges from its den.
Stevalt, ready for the attack, pulls the ball free from the pouch, attaching a heavy chain to it. Holding the chain before him, the elf manages to hold off the manticore’s bite; it’s feline fangs grind down into the interlocking rings, though not managing to break through. The elf throws the ball toward the creature, letting it swing around her muzzle, before pulling it tight around the main length of the odd weapon.
The manticore’s eyes seem to widen, as if caught off guard. Violently, she pulls back, though with the chain still bound tight around her mouth, she is unable to escape. Stevalt pulls a short sword from his side, the sight setting the winged lioness into a fit.
Chitinous tail moves and flexas as a low growl rumbles from the beast’s chest. Wings start to move above her shoulders, the membrane weathered and beaten with age, and she lunges toward the elf, taking a swipe at his chest with her claws. They cut open his canvas shirt, revealing a chain undershirt which prevents most of the damage to his body, however the impact knocks Stevalt to the ground, knocking a rip out of place for good measure.
The man catches his breath slowly and regains his stance, dodging nimbly out of the way of the spiked tail that cracks toward him. Rolling back onto his feet, he grabs hold of the chain, using the slack to wrap it around the sword’s hilt. He rams the sword into the ground and twists the blade once he’s satisfied; this causes the blade to release anchors, tethering the manticore to this spot.
Stevlat steps back, pulling free more of the chain from his pack, until another weighted end comes free. As he does the lioness is thrashing, testing the anchor’s strength. Realizing she won’t pull free this way, The manticore spread her great wings. Only a single wingbeat wrenches half the blade from the soil.
The hunter moves in; in a single motion, Stevalt leaps to the sword, pushing it back into the earth with his own weight. The restriction forces the manticore back to the ground, falling back to her paws with a dull thud.
Whipping the chain and ball over his head, the elf times his throw to lasso the base of the lioness’s wings, just above the shoulders. He pulls the chain, causing her to fall to one side.
Stevalt repeats with the final length of the chain to bind her feet. In full, the chain is three times his own height. Completing the final link, he steps back slowly, ready to react if she breaks through the bindings.
After a tense moment, he decides he’s satisfied with his work and sighs deeply, letting himself fall back onto his rear. He pants from the hard work, but keeps his eyes sharp and open, watching the manticore as she writhes around in the chains. Each time a link shifts, Stevalt ensures it won’t cause her harm, until finally all the links have settled safely around her form.
Finally accepting that she could no longer break free, the lioness lets out a pathetic call, low and long.
The elf finally speaks; “Easy now,” he soothes, hushing the frightened beast. “I’m not gonna hurt ya beauty, just gotta get you outta here, far from this place.” He extends a hand. From his palm, a rune forms, green, and faintly glowing. The light reflects off of the oversized cat’s eye. Her remaining struggle slowly coming to a stop as she stares at the light, distressed breathing finally beginning to slow.
That is - until the sound of metal on metal rings through the air.
The sudden noise startles the manticore once again, redoubling her efforts to struggle, though in vain. Before Stevalt can turn he hears a commanding tone; “Good work, just leave the rest to us.”
His brow furrows. He’s heard such demands before. To some extent he supposes he can understand the anger of these pilgrims. From what Stevalt had gathered, for decades now this manticore has been picking off livestock. No doubt she’d cost the farmers their fair share of coin.
The Flattz, though, hadn’t known the currency of man for ages - eras in fact. What the people there do understand is the hunger of a beast. Especially one who kept having her cubs slaughtered by pilgrims only caring for coin, not having any regard for a mother who is simply following her nature.
As he takes time to reflect, Stevalt pulls from his back another metal sphere, dropping it to his feet. The heavy chain clanks, quiet against the Flattz’s wind and the rustling of leaves.
The dwarf rattles his shield again, thumping it with his hammer. The sudden sound agitating the manticore further, who tightens in the bonds she’d been so meticulously wrapped in. The sound is a step too far for the elf’s liking as well. Kicking the steel ball off the ground, Stevalt twists his wrist, pulling the chain and arching the weighted end back. The ball rockets into the dwarf’s jaw. Teeth and blood spray from his mouth into his beard as the pilgrim falls back to the ground, unconscious.
The chain drops heavy to the ground, as the hunter stands there, between the group of individuals before him, and the beast tied helplessly behind.
Swords and spears come out to the mens’ front as the fan out around the elf, now on guard. Feet solid and stance sturdy, Stevalt counts his opponents, blue eyes moving from one to another, then to the last. Two more dwarves and a half-elf, though judging by their clothes and weapons, these men seem less like hired swords, and more like desperate farmers.
Hesitation obvious, they look between each other - it seems this plan wasn’t any of these men’s idea.
Stevalt pulls the chain, pulling the meteor hammer back his way, a gloved hand catching the bloody steel before tucking it at his side.
“I don’t wanna fight you,” he speaks calmly, “but I’m not gonna let you kill this here beasty.”
“Not up to us,” one of the dwarfs chimes in, lowering his sword.
“Then who?” Stevalt questions, his blonde hair now damp with mud and sweat clings to his tan brow as his head swivels toward the dwarf before turning his attention back to the group at large.
“When the beast came, it killed most of our herd. Had to borrow a sum from the lord. Only, the best kept killin’, and we kept askin’ for money. Now the lord is sayin’ we made up the whole thing, says we’re to be hanged les we come up with what we owe, or else get a trinket from the beast. Prove it’s real and dead.”
Stevalt waits outside the manor, his knife cutting into an unripe elven-fruit bulb, peeling the purple and yellow petals back to reveal the apple-like flesh beneath.
The oak door opens with a creak, revealing the well dressed halfling. The last spring nide afforded Stevalt enough cover to blend in with the fading light, up until the spilling light from inside made it impossible.
The lord jumps at the sight of the elf. “Bloody nines, you need to mind yourself!” His wrinkled cheeks flush red from the scare.
Stevalt remains silent.
After a moment the lord coughed. “Might I ask who you may be?”
Stevalt remained quiet for another moment, the only sound the slight crack of the fruit as his teeth bit into the slice between his lips.
“Stevalt of the Riverlands,” he finally answers.
Again the halfling’s throat crackled. “Right, well, Stevalt of the Riverlands, it is late, and I am quite tired. Perhaps we can continue this on the morrow.”
A subtle step by the elf blocks the retreating lord, who grows irritated. “Now see here, you ruffian-!” the halfling starts, before Stevalt’s voice cuts through.
“Keep your coin.”
“The coin for the manticore. I don’t want it.”
A pause, and the halfling replies, “Am I to believe that you killed the beast?” The lord sizes up the elf, realizing that he shouldn’t really be asking, given Stevalt’s appearance.
“I’ve dealt with her, yes,” comes the easy reply, “also dealt with the men you sent off to kill her.” As he speaks the elf circles around to the back of the three-foot tall humanoid.
A nervous cough escapes the lord once more. “Well, do you have proof?”
Stevalt stops his circling, looking down toward the halfling. “Proof?”
“Aye, yes proof. Severed foot, decapitated head? Tail tied to your steed?” He looks around for any sign of such things.
Stevalt just laughs. “You expect me to bring you a trophy??
“Yes!” The halfling shouts, only to throw himself back to coughing, this time spitting phlegm. “Proof that the beast is dead, though I suppose I can get whatever you have stuffed….”
The elf laughs sharply in bewilderment. “You want her stuffed?” he asks, turning to whistle. From beyond the stables comes Stevalt’s steed, though it is not a horse.
The scaly hide of a reptilian creature emerges, like that of a crocodile, but with a more streamlined body, built for running. Its muscles flex as it pulls along a makeshift wagon behind it; the manticore restrained within, still very much alive.
The lord jumped at the sight, though who knows which creature provoked the reaction.
The manticore growls, teeth bared through the binds still holding her mouth closed.
Stuttering in shock, the halfing manages to get a few words out. “Y-you - kept it alive!?”
Stevalt fell quiet once more, the manticore’s snarling doing all the talking for both of them.
The halfling swallows and goes to speak, but his cough rises up, harsh and overwhelming.
“Do you smoke?” the hunter asks, moving to the side of his Drakra, offering the remaining fruit.
The halfling shakes his head through a few final coughs, trying to steady his breath.
“You should get it checked out,” the elf says, finally, mounting his reptilian steed, fitting himself snugly in the saddle, nestling nicely on her osteoderms. His hands on the leads, Stevalt gives the Drakrasuchus a slight tug, stirring them to move.
They are east and north, some days away from the manor.
Stevalt lets out an exhausted sigh, the morning sun just starting to peek over the horizon as he looks through his spyglass. The manticore, after coming to terms with the fact that she was safe, takes a moment to sniff this new place.
The mountainous outcrop here seems to have been untouched for some time now, overgrown with pines and shrubs. The faint sound of wild goats belting carries over, perking her ears. A hungry growl comes from her chest as she stretches wings, and with a leap she takes flight, circling around to catch a draft to propel her up the rocky cliffside.
With morning now moments away, the elf lets out a yawn. His face twitches in pain and he grabs at his chest, feeling the cracked rib from the hit he took the day before. Agony finally sets in for Stevalt as he feels the pain now with every breath, the adrenaline from the hunt fading with the last hints of darkness.
The Drakra, Bin, whines and huffs. Stevalt wonders if it is out of sympathy or simple impatience. Eager to leave himself, the elf wills himself to stand, stumbling a bit. Cradling his side, he finally climbs into the saddle.
“Okay, let’s go then,” Stevalt huffs, his legs squeezing Bin’s sides, stirring the reptile to move.
The two head into the rising sun, heading back toward the village of Murvo, the next quest already occupying the elf’s mind.