The horde of marauders pummeled their way through the conifers, knocking down clumps of snow from the shivering crowns. The spruces shuddered with their passing, there where the forest stood witness to a growing army that seemed unwavering and determined in their ascent up the mountain. It was not hard for the great owl to spot the string of warriors as they snaked up past the mountainfoot. Despite the trembling trees, their campsite downhill had seen a swathe of felled forest that fed their consuming crusade. Circling overhead, the bird descended past the treetops to land on one of the needle-like branches. And there it perched, watching…

With their boots crunching hard through the snow, the beasts fared little in the concealment of their travel. With its large eyes, the owl surveyed the scene of warriors, its gaze darting from one fur skinned raider to the next. Crude, yet powerful weaponry clanked with its clamorous chorus as they marched. The tribal symbols of many clans were scattered on those iron bolted hardwood shields, and strapped against broad backs that were turned to the eyes that followed them. And there, with a distinct battleaxe cutting furrows in the snowbank, one of the chieftans moved more slowly to prod on his lagging tribesman in that guttural tongue.

“…There you are...”

With her minds-eye returning from the great owl’s vision, the ranger jumped from the rockledge she had crouched on. She dashed along the rockface, with knee-high doeskin moccasins barely breaking the snowpack as she nimbly sprinted between the whitedusted shrubery. With some druidic skill at her disposal, she was more than capable of tracking her prey while leagues away. She relied on the vigilant eyes of nature to guide her. As she cut the corner to reach the steep cliff that looked down on the mountainfoot, she was met by the sight of the horde winding their way up the mountain.

Her black hair snapped wildly in the air that was compressed through the mountain pass. She reached back, and draw her hood over her dark head for fear of being spotted against the snow. Not fear, caution, she reminded herself. Dressed in grayish white, she melded perfectly with her surroundings. Yet, even while fully camouflaged, she doubted such stealth was necessary. The brutes hardly expected anyone to attack whilst their numbers had grown to the size it did. And why would they? Their concern was all but minimal, with their unrivaled strength on this side of the mountain. They had no inkling of what lurked in the wilds…

But on the other side… well. Whatever horror some of their scouts must have run into, one thing remained clear: The beasts could be killed. And in bulk. It made her wonder if this migration of force was tactful, or a mere ploy of vengeance.

It hardly mattered to her. The ranger crouched down once again, unstrapping the recurve bow from her back, and in the same fluid motion knocking an arrow to the string. Her keen eyes waded through the lumbering masses of limbs, pelts and weapons as the warriors climbed up the steep rise. It only took her a moment – being lead by those cues sighted through the owl’s eyes – to spot the chieftain. Their leader was a thickset veteran, standing straight as he looked on at his warriors – an imposing figure who commanded the loyalty of his tribesmen just by his very presence. Scars attested to the conquest of many battles, and his stern face was calm and poised with a simmering bloodlust that he more than had control over. But for all his latent power, and despite the impenetrable fortitude of his command, a well-placed arrow between the eyes would see him fall just as easily as the trees they had butchered to the ground. Or the people of that village…

Raising the armed bow to her chest, she pulled back the arrow; ready to fire. And as she awaited a clear shot, she caught sights of shifting pale figures on the outer edges of the cliffs and hidden in the higher branches of the trees…

Smiling silently to herself, the ranger released her arrow, as her sisters surrounded the forest to rain down nature’s retribution on the enemy…

Inktober #16

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