“Hold my battleaxe, Dar,” Gax requested, handing the massive weapon to the elf before she had a chance to respond. Darsil’eit snatched the axe from Gax’s outstretched hand with both of her arms, her bow now leaning against a nearby tree.
“What are you about?” she asked suspiciously as he strode forward.
Gax slowly shifted his feet through the watery mud beneath him, brushing past low hanging willow branches. The swamp he trudged through sat bathed in the soft glow of dusk, motes of dust and small insects flitting fancifully past the rare shaft of intense orange light that pierced the thick veil from the many trees and tall ferns.
“The traps you set are sound, yeah?” he asked, not breaking stride. “They’ll capture a ergun well?”
“Three if they’re spread out,” she said with a snort of superiority.
“Good. I figure it’s my neck we should stick out here, not yours. Axe will slow me down getting back behind the traps.”
“Well seeing as how we’ve been tasked with capturing creatures dangerous enough to rip either of our faces off thanks to your stupidity, I’d be inclined to agree. Carry on. Long as Obrel gets his ergun, I’ll be happy.”
Gax stopped and swung around, splashing loudly in the muck. “And what if it’s me who ends up with a ripped face, eh?”
Dar lifted a shoulder and pursed her lips, one brow higher than the other.
“Damn you, elf,” he whined a bit too loud.
A high-pitched whistle that devolved into a blubbery croak split the air. Gax raised his hands up midway as though the ground was soon to drop out beneath him, and his eyes darted this way and that. After a few moments of silence, he spun around slowly and continued onward to where he had seen the ergun just moments before.
A large mound that seemed composed mostly of green slime, many different forms and colors of fungi, and fallen trees limbs mangled about large rocks blocked his view from where he was sure he had heard the call. He crept up to the hill, a grotesque pimple rising from decaying and fetid flesh, and peeked around it.
He saw them, roughly a stone’s throw away. All he had to do was make a racket to lure them his way, then they’d capture any careless enough to run afoul of Dar’s traps, and slay the rest, harvesting their precious organs and oddly shaped bones to sell later.
Bulging eyes met his, only an arm’s length away. Green, spotted flesh slick in the wan daylight rimmed the orbs and covered the beast. It croaked in surprise and he hollered right back, stumbling backward. His heel caught a root and he floundered backward where he fell hard onto a pointed rock. “My arse!” he hollered.
“Get your arse up and back here before you lose it completely!” Dar shouted.
Gax surged to his feet covered in mud and dripping stinking water, and tried to sprint back to Dar, but his feet took three steps without moving his body anywhere substantial. He was pumping them so hard that he couldn’t gain any traction. He realized this as a cacophony of croaks sounded from his back. He cast a glance over his shoulder as he planted his feet and began to steadily jog away, successfully this time.
The ergun were closing on him. The first one he had startled had likely been a scout who had returned to the group. Their massively long legs bent nearly in half at the knee, then propelled them terribly far, each hop covering as much ground as four of his strides would. Their arms, similar in nature, splashed into the water with each landing, pushing them into the air with each thrust, muscle rippling across their lithe frames.
They were quite like frogs in many respects, save the massive hooked talons extending from the ends of their feet.
Gax saw the wire spanning the tree boles not more than a few steps away, but he also saw Dar’s expression suddenly twist and her mouth fall open. He wouldn’t make it.
The orc flung himself to the side and spun. An ergun crashed down where he had just been, its clawed foot lashing out dangerously close to his throat. “Unhold me axe, Dar! Unhold it! Throw the damn thing!” he screamed as he clambered to his feet.
Her bewildered expression notwithstanding, she hefted the weapon and hurled it as far as she could, grunting loudly. The axe splashed down into the thin blanket of murky water and would have disappeared if not for the blade sticking into the mud at an angle, the opposite end protruding.
An ergun dove at him, croaking mightily. Gax ambled backward and raised his arms to intercept the clawed foot. An arrow sliced into its chest and went clean through slowing it a bit and distracting it far more. Its strike lacked gumption, and Gax was able to turn it with his bracers while suffering nothing more than a scratch across one elbow.
He dove for his axe then, scooped it up, and set to work on the ergun.
“Gax!” someone far away shouted. “Gax dammit!” the voice commanded, far closer now.
Something smacked him hard in the side of the head and he whirled, growling, his axe raised in one hand and ready to maim or kill. Dar was staring at him with a mixture of disbelief and anger written plainly upon her face. His fury subsided then, and he noticed, for the first time it seemed, the corpses about the murky swamp, the dark water tinted green by the ergun’s blood.
“Did we catch one?” he asked enthusiastically, his arms falling to his side.
Dar simply stared daggers at him in response. Her glare dropped to his offhand, and he lifted the thing he held in it before his face. “Oh,” he murmured as he stared upon the blood-soaked arm from one of the ergun he had apparently torn free from one of the unlucky creatures. He tossed the limb aside with little grace.
Gax looked at the traps, saw that each one remained intact and not triggered, then his gaze swept over the handful of dead creatures.
“Did I kill them all?” he asked sheepishly, barely looking at Dar for more than a moment. Disappointment greeted him when he did. “Right. Well, I think I saw another band west of here. Hold my battleaxe and I’ll be back with a gang in tow before you can say, ‘Gax, you’re a dumb idiot’.”