"Oh, that was just a Leshen. Should make this job slightly easier." Gareth said as he explored a crate of Druidic ingredients in the wagon.
"Well Leshens are incredibly attuned to their local forest." Gareth explained, his words turning into cold mist in the frosty morning air. "If something tries to set up shop in their territory, Leshen will know about it. Leshens and Rats don't mix, at all, so if we can ally with the Leshen then it will know exactly where the Rats will be."
"Problem is that if the Leshen hasn't already dealt with the Rats then they might have Steel Rats or Mages with them. That'd be a real problem." Captain Hertz said stepping into the conversation, his feet crunching under the frozen dew of the grass.
"Well at least we'd see some of the Rat bastards go flying! Leshen versus Rats is like watching a bulked out Hercules wrestle a hundred spoiled fat Elf kids." Artyom added with a smirk.
Having measuring out the ingredients, Gareth stoked a fire, adding ingredient after ingredient into the flame until the whole forest began to smell like roasted and spiced piss. Fuck that's an awful smell.
"Gareth, what the fuck did you add to the fire?" Artyom spoke up.
"Oh you know, the usual sort of thing. A couple of herbs… some spices… some other things…"
"What 'other things' makes this whole forest smell like piss?"
While we waited on the Leshen to show up, we fitted into our armor. Ice cold armor mind you. Even the anti-chafing Gambeson was probably going to give me a cold (although European colds aren't as balls to the wall as Japanese colds).
Nathaniel put the Armet style helmet on me, flipping the faceplate back and forth to make sure it was oiled enough.
"Make sure that you don't soil yourself this time." Nathaniel smirked.
I just grumbled underneath the armet's faceplate.
The forest echoed with the crunching of dried undergrowth.
"I think it's here." Gareth said.
Through the trees, the beast appeared. In the trees it really moved like a monkey, although it really was too large for these trees. Twice the height of a bear, the Leshen was an imposing behemoth, its face completely hidden behind the elk skull, making its piercing desiccated gaze even more frightening.
Gareth walked forward in his Druidic Armor of magic-proofed steel with the green robes of a hooded preacher, and communicated with the creature in Runic.
"Leshen. I hear you have Rats in your woods."
The Leshen grumbled, its Runic voice somewhere between the creaking of a tree and the croaking of a toad,
"HRAaaagh, RAT! MANY SCURRY! MANY CRUSH-KILL, BUT MANY HUNT-FIGHT. SHINE ROCK HAVE THEY. CUT-WOUND MANY!"
"Leshen, if you would be so kind, my friends and I would like to help you in killing them."
"SHINE ROCK CUT-KILL SHINE ROCK? HRAAAGH! LESHEN LIKE! LESHEN LIKE!"
"Leshen, might you show us where they are?"
"Hraaagh, LESHEN KNOW WAY. FOLLOW!"
Gareth glanced back to the rest of us with a smirk.
"Guess we're in business."
Brittle undergrowth crackled underneath my greaves with each step. Most of the forest was on the edge of hibernating, the plants already a dry crumbling brown. Although it had been snowing, most of that had been catched by the branches of the evergreens, leaving little for the ground below.
Reaching a flowing river, we stopped to refill our water skins. The ice cold water was biting, but it was a welcoming respite from the hours of walking in all this heavy armor.
"Stop." Hertz hushed. The ten of us stopped in our tracks, all alert.
"Smell that? Woodsmoke. Something's close by. Jakob, Nathaniel, take the bows and look over that hill."
Jakob and Nathaniel nodded, each shouldering a bow and quiver in their armor and making their way up the small hill.
"Okay here's the plan-"
A Rat screeched out mere moments before being silenced by a blade to the throat.
The deathly silence that followed chilled us to the bone.
Things were about to go to shit.
The forest roared in anger, echoing chitters and cries rebounding off of every tree, feet pounding and tools clanking in a stampede, each second the sound surging closer to our position.
Jakob and Nathaniel rushed over the hill with their tails between their legs, dumping their bows and quivers in the river. If the rats got the bows then things would go from bad to the grave.
"KID!" Hertz called over to me. "ONE LAST WORD OF ADVICE! SLASH, DON'T STAB!"
From over the hill the Rodiens poured out, so raggedly clothed and tightly packed that my eyes glazed over the concept of counting them.
My hand gripped the reins of my shield and the hilt of the short sword that Hertz had ordered me to train with.
Gareth strode forward, the hospital stench of ozone filling my nose as the very air reacted to the static charge he was accumulating, arcs of lightning already sparking off his armor.
When the waft of unwashed rat fur pierced my nostrils, Gareth unleashed a wide torrent of lightning. The wave surged forward, catching and arcing between the Rats, charring and burning their apparel, fur and anything else soft enough to do so.
The first two waves of Rats became paralyzed instantly, their inertia toppling them into a mound that the third wave tripped over. The fourth wave then tripped over the third, until the fifth had to trample its way over their comrades.
And so the Vermintide crashed against our shields.
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