Forest Guardian: Chapter 2

This Zenon fellow is painfully slow and boorish.

We’re making our way through the forest to find that latarniak of his, but he’s just such a drag. He can’t follow me on the treetops, so I’m relegated to walking along the ground like some foreigner. My steps are graceful and elegant, in perfect tune with nature, while his fat boots are stomping along, scuffing exposed tree roots, rustling fallen leaves, and leaving deep imprints in the dirt. It’s starting to grate on my ears. There’s a certain harmony to Dubawin, the gentle rustling of trees, the distant chirps of birds, the humming of bugs, and the occasional croaking of tree lizards. It all comes together in a perfect mix, but Zenon’s walking would be like interrupting a symphony orchestra with a dry cough.

“Can’t you… walk with a bit more tact, at least?”

“Tact?” He says, hunched over, hands on his rifle, “I’m walking with as much ‘tact’ as I can.”

“Really?” I don’t sense any latarniaks around, so I walk confidently, not bothering to scan the forest as Zenon does. “Then how about just not stepping on so many sticks?”

He rolls his eyes, “there’s sticks everywhere, Alfons. I can’t walk without stepping on at least one or two.”

That’s not true, but there’s no point arguing about it.

We arrive at our destination and I raise my arm, prompting Zenon to stop and lower himself into a crouch, his rifle at the ready. He holds his breath, and I see his ears wiggle to try and detect whatever I’ve noticed.

“Calm down,” I say as I point up. There’s a cluster of fruit, high in the branches, glowing a faint blue.

Zenon looks up and raises an eyebrow, then watches me jump to a tree trunk and start climbing. “Fruit?” He asks.

“The latarniak’s favorite snack, yes.” With deathless agility, I sink my fingers and toes into the crevices of the bark, then use my lithe muscles to scale the tree. I put in a few flips and spins as well, just to show off to the outsider. “I don’t feel like running around Dubawin to try and find this beast of yours, so we’ll set a trap.” I intentionally fall off a branch and hook the back of my knees around the wood, hanging upside down as I start grabbing fruit to put in my pouch. “The scent of the Dubawin blute will travel on the wind, and a laterniak will come before long.”

“Aah, got it.” Zenon looks around and jumps to a nearby bush, “so we’ll hide nearby and ambush it when it stops to eat, right?”

“Well, you have to make sure it’s the one that attacked your village, but yes.” With enough fruit collected, I use my abs to pull myself up back onto the branch, then I head back to the trunk before sliding my way down. “Help me crack these open.”

I take a knife from the sheath on my thigh and get to work carefully carving away the hard shell of the blute. Zenon places one on a rock and starts bashing the butt of his rifle against it, slowly cracking it. When the shell’s intact, no scent permeates the air, it isn’t until Zenon bashes his way through that we’re hit with the overwhelmingly sweet smell.

“Ugh,” Zenon pinches his nose, “why’s it smell like this?” When he smashed the fruit open, a few drops of the insides smeared the stock of his rifle.

I shrug, and finally carve around the shell of the fruit. “You’re just not used to it,” with a hand on both sides of the shell, I use all my strength to twist until the fruit neatly pops in half. “It’s addictive though, once you get a taste for it.” I raise one of the halves and gently press my tongue against the inner fruit guts, which send a shock of sweetness throughout my body, and causes me to shudder.

Zenon watches this with an eyebrow raised, then smells the butt of his gun. His brow creases and his face clenches, then he pulls away and wipes his gun on the dirt. “I’ll take your word for it…”

We crack open a dozen fruit and set them in the middle of a small clearing, then hide off to the side. Dubawin is a land of slight inclines and gentle slopes, where the subtle motions of massive underground roots can shift the landscape from year to year. We head up one of these small hills about 50 feet from the pile, then wait. We have a perfect view of the landscape, and we’re upwind from the pile, so any latarniak would come from the far side. I keep two blutes with me, and slice one open as we wait.

“Sure you don’t want one, foreigner? You might not get another chance.” I take a bite out of my half, then hold the other half out to him.

He recoils from the scent, “I’m sure, thanks. I don’t have much of a sweet tooth.”

“That’s probably because you’ve never had anything this good.” I put the second fruit in my pouch, and go on to eat both halves of the one I cut.

It doesn’t take long for a wild latarniak to approach, drawn in by the scent of its favorite snack. Thanks to that lantern, we see it long before it enters the clearing.

A large creature, with striking white and black fur, and a large mouth full of sharp fangs designed to tear apart its prey. The powerful limbs stomp heavily against the ground as it walks, each ending off with a set of six sharp claws, four in the front and two in the back. Its ten-foot-long tail is raised high above its back, and the rainbow lantern is swaying back and forth, signaling its location to any other latarniak that might be in the area. It raises its head up to sniff the air, then it spots the fruit, quickly pouncing on the pile to dig in.

I turn to Zenon, and he’s smiling. An intense smile, with his ears flapping, and his eye twitching.

“Yeah. Yeah, Alfons, that’s the one. I recognize it, that’s the one that attacked my village.”

“Are you sure?” I turn to look at the beast, but I don’t see any specific markings or wounds.

He nods, not taking his eyes off the beast. “I’m sure. That’s the one… the way it’s hunched over those berries, eating. Exactly what I remember, I could never forget it.”

“Hmm.” I silently get up and move around the clearing to get a view of the beasts flank. Latarniaks have tough skin, but it’s nothing that could stop a sturdy arrow, or a bullet.

Zenon moves to a new position as well, but makes enough noise that the latarniak raises his head to look out. It seems to lazily scan the horizon, looking for lanterns, then lowers its head when it senses no danger. Laterniaks are some of the most ferocious animals in Dubawin, it has no reason to fear anything except for another of its kind.

With a perfect view of its wide profile, I take the bow from around my chest, and an arrow from my quiver. I draw back the heavy string, line up the shot-


I jump, and the latarniak crouches down to scan the area. Accidentally loosing my arrow, it’s sent flying clear over the target.

Shooting my head to the side, I see Zenon crouching down, the barrel of his gun smoking.

“Tch.” He clicks his tongue, the cracks the back of his rifle open. The bullet pops out, he slams another one in, then clicks the rifle back into place.

The latarniak roars ferociously, a low-pitched wail that rumbles the forest, then it charges!

“No, why’d you shoot!?” I scream as I run towards Zenon as well.

The latarniak pounces in a zigzag pattern to confuse Zenon’s shot, and the man ends up missing once more before the beast manages to close the distance. Just as it’s ready to bring down its massive, clawed arm on Zenon’s head, the man kicks his legs against the dirt to jump backwards, landing on his feet and bringing up his gun again. The beast dodges just before he fires, and the bullet can only scrape down its side, causing nothing but superficial damage.

“Stop moving!” Zenon screams, “I want a clean kill!”

The latarniak swings again, but Zenon, supposedly the best hunter in his village, turns and dives out of the way. He jumps through a thin gap between two trees and lands on his stomach. Quickly turning to his back, he sees the large creature jump between the trees as well, higher up, where the gap is bigger.

It gets stuck slightly, and that’s when I take a new arrow and pull back the string. It quickly sets about freeing itself, but I loose an arrow before it can! The arrow flies and imbeds itself in the hind leg of the murderous beast.

It howls in pain, a ferocious growl that, in human terms, would be a promise that it would pay us back. The beast has no intention of fleeing, or begging for its life, it has a singular drive of ripping us apart. It roars at Zenon, saliva dripping from its sharp teeth, as the latarniak’s long tail coils around the arrow to yank it out.

I ready another, but Zenon beats me too it. He’s slams another bullet in his rifle and, from his position on the ground, brings the barrel up. The beast finally frees itself, but Zenon doesn’t waste the chance. Just as the latarniak reels back to pounce, he pulls the trigger, sending a bullet straight through the monster’s head.

The latarniak falls limp to the ground with a firm thud, and Zenon only just manages to scoot out of the way. It’s over.

I lower my bow and sigh, “what a sloppy job…” then I run to the body, and Zenon. “Are you alright?”

“Yeah,” he wipes some of the beast’s drool from his face, “I’m fine.”

“Good. Now, what was that? Why’d you make so much noise, why’d you shoot?” I put a hand out and help the man to his feet.

His ears flare up and his cheeks turn red, “I was gonna shoot it in the head and be done with it, but ‘someone’ decided to hit my rifle with an arrow and knock the sights out of whack!” He raises the rifle to show me a few notches on the barrel, but I have no idea what they signify or how it prevents him from aiming properly. “It took me that many shots just to figure out how much I need to adjust my aim.” He cracks the gun open and starts adjusting things to how they should be.

I roll my eyes, “don’t blame me for you not keeping your equipment maintained. If just one arrow could damage your rifle so much, you should have checked it before shooting.” I look down at the beast. “Just look at this mess. That was sloppy. It should have been quick and painless, no needless suffering. I had the right tool, I was in the perfect spot, it would have been over in a second.”

He snaps his rifle back into place, “yeah, yeah. I get it.” His eyes glance down to the corpse, and he sighs. It seems like he regrets what happens, so maybe I shouldn’t give him too hard a time.

Shaking my head, I crouch down and put a head on the beast’s torso, it’s still warm, and the fur is soft. “I guess it doesn’t matter, what’s done is done. I’ll escort you out of Dubawin. Don’t worry about the remains, I’ll make sure all the parts are used by at least something in the forest.” Latarniaks are heavy though. I might need to head to the city, built on massive branches of the central Dubawin tree, and get help.

“Oh,” Zenon says, “I can help with that. I’ll take the fur off your hands, haha.”

I raise an eyebrow and turn to the man, looking up at him.

All I’m met with is the stock of his rifle bashing me in the face. I pass out instantly.

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