Everyone hoped we didn’t actually have to fight any people from house Liaxalim. It was better to avoid fighting when there was no benefit to us- and some equipment wasn’t enough benefit to make up for the risks involved. Monsters were one thing, but people were another. Sure, I’d fought against humans a number of times… and while I’d won or at least survived all of those encounters that wasn’t necessarily going to continue. Besides, if I was being honest I only survived in Escait because they didn’t want their guild cards to be tainted. While I couldn’t see Khyrmin losing to anyone, that didn’t mean we would be safe just because she was around.
Every branch snapping or leaf crunching seemed like cause for alarm. However, after the first day of travelling I just couldn’t keep up with the worry. It still lingered in the back of my mind, but I actually couldn’t function if I tried to stay on full alert all the time. It was a good opportunity to work on that, however.
The worst part of traveling through the forest wasn’t the threat of being attacked or even the long days of horse riding. I was actually growing quite used to being on horseback, though I wasn’t planning to fight from horseback if I could help it. Halette was training for that, however. It made sense as a beast tamer, but I wasn’t… anything, actually. I was 17 levels away from getting a basic class, at the moment. Anyway, the worst part wasn’t even camping on the ground. It was the food. Trail rations were boring. At least when working out of a city we got fresh food every day, even if sometimes the meals were cheap.
Socks whined and stopped, sniffing the ground. Then she started off to the side instead of straight ahead. “More beasts?” Halette asked. Socks barked once in response. We were doing our best to avoid entering the territory of anything dangerous or likely to attack us. It made the trip longer, but we also wouldn’t have to spend time fighting and recovering from wounds. Halette didn’t have unlimited arrows, either. Besides, the only thing we would get from fighting would be experience and maybe a few hides- whatever we could fit on Carlos and maybe a tiny bit of stuff on the horses. The experience was actually a detriment to me, as well.
We didn’t know exactly where we were going, but we did have a specific area to search. Sadly, it was one of the most monster infested areas in Fepresil- and overall it seemed like Fepresil had more monsters and magical beasts than Othya. Maybe that was natural or perhaps Othya just did a better job of clearing out the areas around the road. Fewer people seemed to travel through Fepresil, so maybe it just wasn’t as important to them.
Socks probably scared off most of the things that would have attacked us, ignoring those we intentionally avoided. It was one thing for a wild animal to not know how strong a particular human might be, but a giant wolf was easier to recognize. One time a bear approached the camp at night- presumably it smelled the food in our packs, bland as it was- but it failed to notice Socks who was at the other end of the camp. Socks, however, noticed it- and we were all woken up by the sound of biting and clawing. The bear was just a normal bear- big, but normal. Socks, meanwhile, was a beast tamer’s pet who had some magical equipment and fur like steel. She also had a lot of combat experience… so the bear didn’t last long. For a few days after that, we ate bear. We couldn’t preserve much more of it, but it was a welcome change.
Socks once again sniffed at the air… but instead of leading us in a different direction, she growled. At the same time, a giant tiger jumped out of some nearby bushes. Before that moment, I had wondered how anything orange managed to hide in a background of green… but even this monstrosity that was six feet tall at the shoulder had managed to hide. Granted, we were in a part of the forest that had very thick undergrowth… but that meant regularly sized tigers would have no trouble in normal forests.
“Dire tiger!” Khyrmin shouted, “Spread out around it, and be careful!”
The tiger was on top of Socks, with one of her front paws in its mouth. Almost instantly, an arrow from Halette struck it in the side. It barely seemed to notice, and it didn’t look like it had gotten very deep.
I dismounted and pulled out my spear, moving around to the left while Alhorn went right. That let him keep his shield between him and the dire tiger, and while it made it a bit harder to attack for a few moments, the safety was worth it. I chose to use my spear with two hands based on the assumption that it would be hard to pierce the tiger’s hide.
Kantrilla managed to cast Barrier on Socks just as the dire tiger shook the limb it had in its mouth back and forth. There was a cracking sound and a loud whimper, but Socks managed to tumble away- and while her front right paw was bloody and bent, it was still basically whole.
I wasn’t sure how much Strength this dire tiger had, but my few moments of observation put it near the top of what I had seen. At least seven or eight hundred… maybe as high as a thousand. It clearly wasn’t lacking in Toughness either, because my spear barely even stabbed two inches into its side- and only the very tip was bloody.
I stepped to the side as the dire tiger pivoted around to swing a paw at Alhorn, and then I stepped back. I’d forgotten about my adamantine dagger, but with such a tough hide, that was exactly what I needed. Adamantine could be sharpened to a fine point, but more importantly it could hold that edge.
I threw the dagger at the tiger. I’d practiced with it on still targets, but hadn’t yet used it in battle. I would have liked to go for the tiger’s eye or head, but if it missed I might hit Alhorn. Instead, I opted to throw into its vast torso. The dagger seemed to meet no resistance as it entered into the tiger’s side, almost a full foot deep. For many creatures, that would be a fatal wound, perhaps going entirely through them. For a dire tiger of this size… well, it was enough to actually reach the organs. It took quite some effort to yank the dagger out with Return Weapon, because the tiger’s muscles tensed up around it.
Khyrmin had been in the middle of the group and was just reaching the dire tiger when Kasner created a large patch of ice underneath its front paws. The dire tiger clearly wasn’t expecting that- and it may have never encountered anything that slippery or cold, as it slipped onto its face. Khyrmin lunged forward, her sword going through the tiger’s eye almost up to the hilt. Khyrmin kicked off of the dire tiger to pull her sword out as it started to toss wildly for a few moments before stopping. Khyrmin shook her head, “Normally I would have let you get a bit more practice fighting this thing, but with two injuries already…” She looked at Socks and her injured paw, then at Alhorn.
“It’s not broken, I think…” Alhorn felt his arm, “But I wouldn’t want to try blocking another attack, even at an angle like that.”
I sighed. It was crazy how dangerous a handful of seconds of combat could be. A hail of arrows from afar might be even worse. If even dire tigers could hide in these woods… elves could as well. I just hoped they weren’t ready with a group to follow us.