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Claws of the Tiger

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Metamor Keep story universe

By: Oberon

The sun woke me this morning as I turned in my sheets to get more comfortable. I opened my eyes and looked up at the plain ceiling in the room that the Keep had somehow prepared for me. Today I resolved that I would try and find myself something to do here that would contribute to the defense of the Keep and the surrounding countryside. I had many skills that would be valuable if they decided utilize them. Though I had some other skills in less dangerous jobs, they were jobs that I couldn't do for moral reasons because they were beneath the dignity of Kelmar Warrior of my status. Once I was dressed in my normal outfit of a kilt, black leather vest, swordbelt with attached weapons, and a voluminous black cloak, I headed for the nearest mess hall. There I would be able to get some food to fill this massive frame of mine. On my way there I banged my head on a low sign in one of the halls near the mess hall and growled a brief curse to Baatal before I continued on my way.

With breakfast taken care of I headed back to my room where I donned my armour, collected a few more weapons, and threw on one of my grey cloaks. Then without any more delay I headed out of the Keep to take a stroll around the country to the north of the castle. I may have been big but I did have some things going for me when it came to my abilities to move around without being noticed. I had trained as a warrior with my own people but that training hadn't been on how to be a scout. I had learned those skills during the time that I had served as a mercenary over the past thirty years. I kept my eyes, ears, and nose open for signs of someone else in the area but so far as I could tell all I could pick up on was the wildlife and the normal smells and sounds of a wild forest. This was the kind of place a Kelmar Woodsman would feel comfortable in. Though I wasn't a woodsman, I had spent enough time in the woods of the wildlands out beyond the Clanlands to pass as one.

I moved through the trees with as much silence as a big cat like I was capable of. The only problem with my trying to sneak through the trees was the fact that the colour of my fur wasn't all that conducive to not being seen. In the middle of winter when there was going to be snow I suspected that it wouldn’t be a problem but right now I was having all sorts of trouble trying to hide. In the quiver that I had added to my weaponry there were fifteen short spear-darts and an atlatl to replace my longbow and arrows, which I could no longer use because my claws cut the bowstring. Even if I didn’t see any enemies of the Keep while I was out here I would at least have helped the Keep by being a scout for enemies.

Some hours later I reached the summit of a small hill north of the keep and pulled out my collapsible field telescope that I had found in one of the cities in the Midlands. I carefully regarded the terrain ahead of me looking for any sort of force to be reckoned with. Since I was out here without the permission of the Keep I had to be careful to ensure that I wasn’t spotted by them either.

That evening I made a small fire and cooked several rabbits, that hadn’t been paying enough attention to the world around themselves and had fallen prey to my spear-darts. After I had eaten I turned over on my back and looked up into the stars and prayed to my gods that they would continue to look out over me as they had done in the past.

Back at Metamor Keep Misha Brightleaf was looking around for the warrior that he had met the other day. This warrior,Adòn Naharél, had been turned into a massive white tiger by the curse of the Keep but he hadn’t lost any of his skills. Indeed his size now made him that much more formidable. However, right now Misha couldn’t find Oberon, the other name that the cat used, and that was getting to be a little disturbing considering the likelihood that you could easily miss the big cat in the Keep. He even stopped in at the Deaf Mule and asked if any of the patrons had seen Oberon in the past day. Drift, the white Samoyed morph spoke up from where he was sitting

“Hey Misha I think I saw him this morning going out the main gate down to the town. He was armed to teeth as far as I could tell.”

“He was heavily armed?”

“Very heavily armed, he was also wearing black armour and a large grey cloak.” Misha shook his head finally before he managed to chuckle

“He must be insane going out there with no way of knowing his way around the countryside.”

“You think that he could get killed out there by the lutins?”

“I pity any lutin who is mad enough to attack that cat because he is very dangerous.”

“So he should be all right.”

“That depends on whether or not he has a small amount of common sense.”

“Well we hope that he isn’t under any threat of getting killed out there.”

“I would love to stay and chat Drift but I have to go find our new maniac.” As Misha walked back to the Long House he marveled at Oberon’s arrogance and foolhardiness at going out there all by himself. What was guy thinking? Going out there into the wild lands north of the keep. Was he trying to prove something? After thinking it over for a few minutes the fox morph headed to his room to get some sleep. It would be better if he could track the cat in the daylight after a good night’s rest. He would have to take a few people with him, after all that was only common sense, something that Oberon seemed to have a distinct lack of. Though he probably would be able to fight his way out of most trouble that he could get into.

“Why can’t we have a normal person come to the keep for once, it either is crazy overconfident mercenaries or curious elves who have nothing better to do.”

I woke up before the sun rose and consumed some of the leftover rabbits that I had killed yesterday. I quickly concealed where I had slept for the night with practiced ease. Part of being good in the woods was knowing how to eliminate all signs that you had been there. Once I was satisfied that all of the signs that I had stayed here were gone I silently moved through the trees heading northwest. I intended for the next couple of days to skirt the region in a giant circle that would eventually take me back to the keep. As I walked through the forest I paid close attention to what my senses were telling me. Any man who didn’t listen to what his senses were telling him would end up dead in very short order. At one point when I saw some disturbed ground in a ravine I sniffed the air and the mark to see if I could get any more information out of the mess of tracks. I couldn’t just look at the tracks because the prints were so messed up. The smell that came off of the ground though was distinctly unpleasant, and just as distinctly not human or animal. It must have been a lutin, or some other monster that made these tracks because I didn’t conceive that anything else could smell so foul. I stood up then and tried to find some other clue that would give me a hint of what direction the lutin had gone. I had no such luck this time so I decided that the best bet was to follow the ravine up the side of the hill. Maybe if I reached the top of a nearby hill I could find enemy camp. From that point onwards I would try and see if I could do some damage to lutins, while making sure that they couldn’t damage me back. Night would be the best time to make a raid on their came simply because as a cat I had found that I had excellent night vision, in fact it was a lot better than it had been when I was human.

Several hours later found me on the top of the hill hidden under a bush looking out at the valley below me. There wasn’t much to see but I could see one tell tall streamer of blue smoke off in the distance. They might just as well have put a sign saying that they were there. These guys were pathetic in trying to conceal where they were from me. Now that I knew where they were I could easily move in closer to where they were hiding and hopefully get some information on them and what they were doing out here. I looked down at my body and more importantly my striped white and black fur before considering the small problem of getting close to the camp when my white stripes would stand out like a beacon. The I had a brainwave, though it wouldn’t be pleasant for me, especially now since I was a cat. Well there was nothing for it I had to get into that camp.

It was beginning to get dark when I got close enough to the camp to smell it. I went over to a nearby tree, it was one of the largest ones in the area and began to climb it. Claws proved how useful they were in ascent of the tree because all I had to do was grab the tree, hook my foot claws into the bark and push up, while using my hands to guide my ascent. Once I had gotten to a good perch, I began to strip off all of my clothes and most of my equipment other than my double baldric, which I somehow knew would remain in place no matter what shape I assumed. I slung one sword on it, two knives, and my dagger to it before I went down the tree to the nearby creek. There I began the distasteful operation of getting myself covered in dark brown dirt of the creek bank. I As soon dirt hit my fur I had to suppress the natural urge to clean the dirt out of the thick fur and continue the operation. Finally when I was completely covered I looked at myself in the creek and shook my head. I didn’t like the image that looked back at me but in order for me to get into that camp I had to do something about my colouration. If I had the colouration of the orange Snow Tiger I wouldn’t have to worry so much, but that wasn’t what I was so I had to live with the dirt. I then closed my eyes and concentrated for a short time and found myself in a form that reminded me of my Soul Guide. I cleared the creek with one bound and then began to slink through the trees to get closer to the lutin encampment. As I got closer to encampment I had to be more careful because there were guards in the area. Finally I got close enough to one of the guards I could reach out and break his neck like a twig. I had change back to my morphic form in order to kill the guard. After I concealed the dead guard I switched back to my full form and snuck around until I got behind the largest tent in the encampment. I returned to my morphic form again, before I pulled my heavy dagger out and slit the back wall of the tent open. With one hand I slowly pushed the slit open and looked inside to see three lutins wearing a barbaric assortment of clothing standing around a table and arguing about something in their own language. I pulled my head out of the slit that I had made and then sat back and considered what to do next. I couldn’t just stay here and wait till the sun rose, that would be a recipe for certain death, and I certainly didn’t want to start a battle with these lutins right now. Then I came upon an idea, and I slid both of the throwing knives that I was carrying as well as the dagger into my left hand. With my right hand I opened the slit again and brought my other hand up until I was ready to cast my first throw, my heavy dagger rested hilt first in my right hand. The largest of the three lutins turned as suddenly his eyes got wider as he must have seen me. It was the last thing that he ever saw, as my heavy dagger hit him right in the middle of the forhead with a sickening crunch. The other two died fractions of a second later without a single sound other than a slight gurgling as the throwing knives took them in the throat. With the three of them dead I pulled myself completely into the tent and went over to the table to see what they had been arguing about. On the table there was a map with several notations in lutin script, that I couldn’t read. I quickly folded the map into a small package and shoved it into a pouch at my side before I retrieved my weapons. I had to work the dagger back and forth a few times to get it loose. As quickly as I had come I left the tent through the hole that I had come in through. Making my way out of the encampment was actually easier than getting in because I used the same route to get out as I had used to get in, hence anyone that might’ve noticed me was staring at the stars with a vacant stare that spoke eloquently of death. I sighed in relief when I reached the forest beyond the perimeter of the camp and the safety of the trees. Now I was home free, until the lutins discovered the corpses in the morning, but by then I planned to be long gone. It took me a further hour to reach the tree where I had concealed my gear and get redressed. Cleaning my fur would have to wait for later when I didn’t have so many things on my mind. Once I was dressed and armed properly I headed for the mountains in the east. I would follow those mountains south until I reached the Keep again. If I could get some more intel on these lutins and what they planned on doing maybe I would prove myself to be of some use to those in the Keep and hence they could give my some form of payment for my skills. With that thought in my head I headed off into the dark night like a black ghost looking for vengeance.

Later on in the morning I looked up when I heard the sound of a horn in the distance. I guess that the lutins had found the corpses of the people that I had killed in their camp. I couldn't take back what I had done and nor would I want to. I just hoped that these lutins didn't want to chase me half way across the countryside like the armies of the Duke of Colneth had done fifteen years ago when I was serving his rival as an assassin. I had managed to evade those armies but in the evasion more than a handful of those soldiers had ended up in a shallow grave beside the road. This time though if these lutins caught up with me they would find that I wouldn't even give them that much. I knew that fatigue was beginning to be a factor because I was getting tired and being tired was something that sapped my strength and energy. When I found a safe place I would probably climb up a tree and rest there, well out of the reach of any lutin that would try and pursue me. After much contemplating on finally settled on a tree that had a high group of branches where I could get the rest that I needed to go on.

That morning when Misha awoke he found his metal friend Madog sitting in the corner of the room regarding him.

“Papa going out today?” Misha nodded before he replied slowly

“I have to go find a crazy cat who had gone out north of the keep with no one else knowing that he was going." Now he, Misha Brightleaf, had organize a team to track down the wayward cat and bring him back to the Keep, in chains if necessary. Once he had eaten he gathered his equipment and headed to the Long Hall where he met several other of the Longs as they prepared to go out.

“Finbar, Padraic are you here?” Misha shouted into the group of Longs who were in the hall. The ferret morph and the rabbit morph stood up and asked him what he needed “Well we have an interesting case. A man who has recently joined the Keep has gone out by himself to scout the area and we need to find him before he gets himself into too much trouble.”

“What is this guy mad?” Finbar asked shaking head at the thought of someone who wasn’t a long going out into the northlands.

“No as far as I can tell he isn’t mad he’s just looking for a place to fit in.” Replied Misha

“Well he has a damn strange way of going about it” Remarked Padriac.

“That he does, that he does.”

“Well at least he should be easy to track.”

“I highly doubt that Padraic, he appears to be somewhat skilled. He is a warrior, though I’ve yet to identify where his people are from. So in some ways we are lucky because I doubt that he will be found dead out in the middle of nowhere. If we do find him dead I think that there will be a pile of lutin corpses around him that we will have a hard time reaching the body.”

“How can you say that Misha, he is just a normal man right?”

“Not really, besides being a warrior he has had the luck of turning into a white tiger morph so therefore even without his weapons he is very formidable. With his weapons he is even more dangerous and know that much because the day before we sparred together for a little while and I can tell you this. He is very good at what he does and I respect that.”

“Sounds like we should be worried about the lutins out there and not him” mused Finbar.

“I know that is what you think but we still have to find him, after all he doesn’t know the terrain around here.” The two others nodded before the went to grab their weapons. They all agreed that they should travel light because their quarry had at least a day on them.

Several hours later Padraic held up his hand and plucked something from a bush that was on the edge of the path that they were following. He held it up for the two others to see before he silently asked Misha using his hands in a short flutter of hand gestures

“Does this belong to the person that we’re looking for Misha?” Misha looked at what the rabbit had in his hand. It was a tuft of soft white fur although there were a few hairs of black fur. He sniffed the hair gently trying to pick up a scent from the fur, but there wasn’t much of a smell at all to the fur. That was the problem with cats, they had little discernible scent, it assisted real cats when they were out hunting.

“Thank you for finding that Padraic. This is indeed from the guy that we are looking for” Misha gestured in return

“Well his trail won’t be an easy one to follow but I think that I can follow it.” The rabbit gestured once again and Misha nodded in an silent command to continue as Paudric took the lead with his eyes focussed on the ground ahead of him reading the signs that were barely there. Over the next few hours they continued to follow the often indistinct path that their quarry had left behind him. When they stopped for a brief snack Padraic looked over at Misha and gave a swift flutter of nearly imperceptible hand gestures that Misha was quite easily able to translate.

“This guy is pretty good at making his trail hard to find though there are few sign that he has passed this way.” Misha nodded slowly before he stood up and shoved the light snack into his pack. the others took that as a sign that it was time for them to get back on the trail. The one advantage they had over their quarry was the fact that they knew the terrain,and therefore they didn’t have to stop to check their bearings and look at the surrounding countryside. They came upon the camp where Oberon had stayed just after midday. There were a few signs that the big tiger hadn’t managed erase and those were a clear indication that he had been here. As they continued to follow the trail of the tiger the light began to fade.

By the time it was dusk they reached the peak were Oberon had sighted the lutin encampment in the distance. Misha spotted the rising smoke and shook his head before he silently said

"I think that our impulsive friend is going to make a visit to that encampment off in the distance."

"Does that mean that we should start trying to look for a place to bury this guy?" Remarked Finbar in a similar fashion

"No if anything I think that it will be time to look for a place to bury all of the lutins this guy will kill.” The two others nodded and then began to lead the way down the hill towards the distant encampment.

It was early the next morning after traveling all nigh long through the pitch black forest that they reached the creek were Oberon had decorated his fur with dirt from the creek bank. When Misha saw that he couldn't help but laugh a little because he knew that cats were normally very fastidious about their appearance and yet here one had been forced to get dirty in order to get close to his targets. Before they could go too much further towards the lutin camp Finbar found a set of huge prints on the creek bank that lead away from the camp and deeper into the woods back to the tree that was marked with the claws of their quarry. They had just taken up the trail again when a horn in the lutin camp sounded in alarm. Misha tilted his ears forward and then chuckled silently before he silently said

"I guess that he killed a few of the lutins but they didn't find out until now."

"That is some stealth Misha are you sure that you want to kick this guy into next week?" Finbar asked

"I don't think that I want to try that because he's probably dangerous when I get up close, but I do want to talk to him and send him back to the Keep for a little while." Later on in the morning the three of them stopped for a rest because they all knew that if they pushed themselves too hard they could end up getting careless. They all awoke later on in the afternoon when they heard a huge roar sound out not too far from where they were sleeping

"I guess that those lutins are about to learn what it is like to corner a wildcat now." Finbar quiped. Misha only nodded and grabbed his axe and headed off into the trees with the two others following close on his heels.

When I awoke later on in the day I felt refreshed, though I was feeling a little on the hungry side. However I didn't have any way of filling my stomach at the present time. As soon as I climbed down I made my way east towards the mountains that closed down into the valley where the Keep was located. As I jogged forward I kept my eyes on the trail and on the ground ahead of me. I had my atlatl and a spear-dart in my right hand ready for use in case I saw something, either a lutin or something to eat. At this point I was willing to eat just about anything that came along. Being a predatory form did help me since I could quite easily eat raw meat, though I did prefer if it was cooked a little bit.

More than an hour later I was following a dry ravine up into the moutains and I noticed that the walls of the ravine were beginning to get steeper and close in on me. Oh great I should have read a map of the area before I decided to come up here, but now I had no choice I had to live with the decsions that I had already made. I needed to find a good place where my back would be protected and where any enemies would be forced to come at me in small numbers. Finally after much searching I found an ideal spot in the box canyon. The rock gave me an excellent place to shoot spear-darts from as well as a good place from where I could defend myself.

Soon after I had got myself set up the first lutin scout appeared in the cleft that lead to my position. He gave a rough shout, that was the last sound that he ever made because I hit him in the throat with a spear-dart.The next four lutins to show their ugly green little faces suffered a similar fate. After a few more moments they rushed through the opening out into the clearing where I stood. I expended the other ten spear-darts and then grabbed my two handed sword from it's scabbard and held it up over my head as I watched the lutins pour into the box canyon like an evil green flood. As soon as I saw the main body of the lutins come out of the gap I opened my jaws and let out a roar before I dashed forwards to hit them like a whirlwind, throwing their short little bodies everywhere. bodies and body parts flew away from my blade in a rough spray as I swung at the lutins with a speed that I had never possessed as a human. These lutins were in trouble because they didn't know the danger of the Keeper that they were facing. They were working hard to get at me with their massed numbers. This was trouble because they were smaller than I was, much smaller than I was and that was making the fight more difficult than I had expected. Another problem that was beginning to wear on me was the simple fact that I couldn't stop them all, and I sustained a number of painful but non-threatening injuries to my arms and legs. My next issue was the fact that several lutins were hanging back near the mouth of the box canyon shooting arrows at me, though their marksmanship was absolutely terrible, when they did manage to hit me it was normally in the armour and this armour easily managed to prevent me from getting hurt all that much. The fourth problem was something of an entirely different nature, I was getting tired and there was no way that I was going to be able to keep killing them at this pace, there were simply too many of the little green monsters for me to be able to kill them all. As that realization hit me I heard a loud shout at the other end of the canyon and there was a sudden shiver that ran through the forces near the mouth of the box canyon. The lutins tried to get away from the mouth of the canyon. The result of was that they crowded me even more, making it even harder for me to hold them off with my blade. Then I saw the reason why, as three figures emerged into the canyon. The form in the lead was easy to recognize because he swung a huge black axe that didn't make a sound. The other two were people that I didn't recognize but none the less they were quite welcome. The first lutins that they killed were the bowmen who were making things difficult for me. With the four of us working from either end of the box canyon we managed to completely exterminate the remainder of the lutins to last man. When the last lutin died I put the tip of my great sword on the ground and stood there panting for a minute trying to get my breath back. As a human I had never been this winded after a fight but I guess that this was something that I would have to get used to, or maybe I could train myself not to get tired this quickly. Misha looked positively maniacal with his black axe in his hands. The other two didn't look that much better. Misha looked at me ignoring the mess all around his feet and then looked at me like one of my old swordmasters back home before he shouted

“You acted like a damned blasted rock brained fool. What where you trying to do get yourself killed" I couldn't really say anything so I pulled the map that I had snagged from the lutin encampment. He grabbed the map out of my hand and then opened it and glanced at the information before he turned to the ferret and snapped out

"Finbar you escort this lunatic back to the Keep and get together a squad to take care of the lutin unit that is coming in from the northeast. I'll go with Padraic and go warn the people in Glen Avery that they have an incoming lutin raid. With any luck we should be able stop them before they do any serious harm." The ferret nodded and looked over at me and shook his head before he said

"You are one crazy cat."

"I am a Kelmar Warrior and I don't take nicely to being called crazy." I replied stiffly

"Wherever you are from they must value the willingness to fight over the willingness to use their brains."

"I used my brains on this little expedition didn't I? After all I was the one who had the pressence of mind to grab that map off of the table in a lutin encampment after I killed their leaders."

"That is the sort of thing that should be left to the real Long Scouts and not someone who imagines that they are a Long Scout."

"Until now I didn't really know that you had anything like this so I decided to try and demonstrate my worth to those in the Keep." Misha turned at that statement and said in a voice that was barely above a growl

"If you wanted to show me or the other members of the keep your worth then you should have done so with the permission of myself and the patrol master and not on you own." I nodded slowly and then blade before sheathing them and standing to follow the ferret. If I was back home I would take out my heavy dagger and impale myself on it but I figured that here to attempt that would be a bad move that would only get me into more trouble. So I had to follow the ferret out of the box canyon towards the keep. If my soul guide had still been with me I could have avoided all of this trouble but now I was as prone to make mistakes in judgment as any other human in the world. I just hoped that I wouldn't make any more mistakes when I got back to the Keep.

Preceded by:
Enter the Tiger
This story is part of a series Succeeded by:
Hot Under the Collar