Rise of the Alstalar
Tales From the End of the World
“Looks a little like a caribou,” Fel said quietly to his hunting companion. The Lynx blinked and flicked an ear at a circling gnat. The crimson coloured foliage that served as their blind rustled a little in the breeze, and Fel wondered if the wind was changing direction. Below the two prone figures was a shallow valley where once a creek ran from the river into the badlands south of Ophen. Now it was used by the remaining fauna as a path through the tangled growth of Bleeding Woods. Fel had been tracking the Korpt(1) for several hours after the Ophen Rangers had reported to him about a wild beast in the region. It was not uncommon for Korpt to wander this close to Ophen, but this was a new species and it was important to know if the creature was edible or not.
It loped on muscled back legs in a teetering and unsteady gate. Its arms were long, strangely jointed affairs that ended with bulbous looking hooves. It stood perfectly erect and seemed poorly made for walking in upright. Its face was a twisted snout that hid two sunken beady eyes under a prominent brow. Atop its head was a set of antlers where some commune of spiders had spun themselves a home. “He’s a tall one isn’t he Gray,” Fel whispered and the cat wiped its paw over its whiskers. The smell of their quarry came up the ridge wall and the hunter grimaced. A thick sulfurous stink hung in the air, and the gnats bothering Gray vanished into the woods.
“Time to move,” Fel said and, gathering his unstrung bow, slid silently back from the edge. “Seil’ala’malir,” the Zith recited and suddenly a coil of coal-coloured twine sprung from the tip of his bow and climbed down its length before fixing itself to either end. “Ker,” Fel finished, and the twine straightened with an audible snap. Gray paced around the hunter’s legs, eager to join its master in their most common shared activity. “Come.”
They moved quickly south along the ridge and stopped occasionally to keep track of the lumbering Korpt. Eventually the ground sloped downward and the hunters were forced to crouch as they carefully descended the hill. The Korpt reached the end of the creek and cocked its head. It sniffed and wheezed and cantered a little before trundling off towards the harsh terrain of the badlands. Gray surprised the creature by rushing out of the last copse of trees and the Korpt reered up and bellowed. The webbing in its antlers quivered menacingly. It made as if to charge the much smaller animal but stopped as it saw Fel stepping out from behind some fallen stones. An arrow the same colour as the twine shot through the air, missing the Korpt’s head, but passing clear through the silky mess in its antlers.
Having done its part in distracting the monster, Gray fled into the trees behind its master. Fel leapt atop the tallest stone and pulled back the shadowed bowstring again, but before he could fire the Korpt had leapt towards him with unnatural height and speed and he was forced to dive from his position onto the ground below. The Korpt landed heavily where Fel had stood a moment before. Fel rolled on his side and scrambled up, heading for the trees. He took a quick glance back as he ran and saw the Korpt closing in. Fel’s mind struggled to process what he saw, for the creature had undergone a strange transformation. It was now crawling with fist sized red spiders, who busied themselves spinning armouring web across their host’s vital areas. Their scurrying bodies made a chitinous clicking sound which drove Fel to run faster. He leapt atop a fallen log and turned to fire another arrow. This one found its mark, and pierced the looming horror in its left eye. The Korpt dropped instantly, sending a spray of spiders into the air. The arachnids scurried away in all directions. Fel climbed down and slumped against the dead tree. After a time, Gray joined him and groomed itself lazily in the later afternoon sun.
(1) The word Korpt is used generally to describe any corrupted species of animal.
“Well, was it edible?” Dellon asked, as Fel slouched onto the bench that ran the length of the walls in hunter’s lodge.
“I think,” He paused. “Not.”