Chapter 2: Back To Basics
“We’re calling this place Ammen Vale.”
I jumped at the voice and turned to see a female with dark blue-purple skin and outward curving horns. Her clothing was torn and burned, and she looked as if she’d been run ragged, possibly having not slept in several days. She ran a hand through her hair and moved toward me. Despite her haggard appearance, her strides were purposeful and powerful, and the air of authority she carried made me immediately stand at attention. I may have been a royal screw up at everything I attempted, but at heart I was still a trained soldier.
“Ammen?” I asked quietly. The word was loosely translated as “lost.” The female nodded.
“It is what we are now, after all.” Her eyes were haunted, and she stopped in front of me, giving me a look up and down. “I’m Maylora. Report to the Quartermaster for gear and an assignment.” She pointed at a large male who was handing out supplies to several other dazed looking Draenai that had recently emerged from the makeshift medical building. I hadn’t been the only one to be out for two weeks, it seemed.
“Yes, ma’am.” I turned as quickly as my sore body would allow and attempted to mimic Maylora’s authoritative walk of a few moments earlier. I felt more like I was almost tripping over my own hooves.
The quartermaster looked me up and down, then nodded. “Hunter,” he muttered in a gruff voice, then held out a crossbow and short sword to me.
I blanched. “There must be some mistake… I’ve never hunted. I don’t know the first thing about-“
“Hunter,” he said again, a hint of a growl in his voice, his steel grey eyes flashing with mana flowing through him, and he shoved the weapons into my hands. “Next.”
I almost tripped over a rock as I stumbled away from the Quartermaster and tried to get a feel for the weapons in my hands. It took me a moment to figure out how to slip the short sword into a sheath on my belt and take the crossbow in both hands. It was the most clunky, unnatural object I had ever held. I doubted I’d be able to hit the broad side of an Elekk, let alone any of the smaller creatures around that I would no doubt need to hunt.
“Hunter… How do I look like a Hunter?!” I muttered to myself. “What about, Girl-Who-Fails-At-Everything-She-Touches screams “Give me a dangerous, hair-triggered piece of equipment that I can easily kill someone with accidentally, and a pointy object I can fall on, please!”?” True to form, before I’d finished even figuring out how to hold the thing, the crossbow fired. The bolt embedded in a nearby tree, and I glared at the weapon as it automatically reloaded furiously. “Great. This is going to be so much fun. Best job ever.” I sighed, then made my way back to Maylora, who seemed to be giving out actual assignments to people supplied by the Quartermaster. Maybe I’d be lucky and not be asked to deliberately shoot anything.
I was sent to Taerix, a botanist. Silly me, I thought that perhaps I would be given a simple task. Gathering plant samples, or something that would prove my crossbow unnecessary. When I was instructed to collect samples of the Lasher plants that were being mutated by the presence of our Draenaic crystals, I thought that things were finally looking up for me. Even I couldn’t screw up collecting samples of plants.
What Taerix carefully hadn’t told me was that the mutated plants had gained mobility and viciousness in their mutation. By the time I returned to the botanist, I was bleeding from several gashes in my arms, bared by my simple leather tunic, and stumbling on hooves coated with sticky Lasher sap. It turned out that these plants were called Lashers with good reason – they possessed long, sharp vines that they whipped anyone who came near them with. And, to make matters worse, if you managed to get out of range, you would have to run quickly, because these plants had developed foot-like roots with which they could scurry after you with surprising speed. My short sword was covered in blood-like sap, and my arm ached from wielding the unfamiliar weapon, though I’d managed not to fire the damned crossbow once. And, most importantly, I had the samples.
“You could’ve mentioned that the mutations were ambulatory,” I said in irritation, dropping the bag of samples on Taerix’s makeshift desk.
The botanist murmured noncommittally and didn’t even look at me. His full focus was on his equipment and the samples I’d just brought. “…moment to analyze…”
I sighed and set to work trying to scrape the sap off my hooves on the spongy ground. When he didn’t say anything for another few minutes, I murmured a soft spell, casting my Gift upon myself to heal the cuts and aches I had sustained during my botanical quest. I sighed with relief as the wounds healed and I felt the residual pain from my crash injuries fade as well. Those injuries were too severe to be completely healed by my Gift, but it affected them enough that I was finally able to stretch and roll my shoulders and neck, feeling stable on my hooves for the first time since I woke up in the makeshift medical building.
“YES!” Taerix’s jubilant shout made me jump, and I refocused on him. Suddenly, he was animated and excited, looking at me for the first time as he brandished something purple and glowing in a large, corked vial. “This is it! The contamination of the plants comes from the lake water! One of the crystals must have sunk into the southern lake. Quickly, Hunter, we must neutralize the contamination before it reaches farther than the local plant life!” He shoved the vial into my hands and I stared at it dumbly. “Swim out into the lake, find the crystal, and pour this into the water near it, and all will be well!”
“But… I… you…” I was supposed to be a Hunter, not a plant medic… But, I’d succeeded in my last attempt to help the scatterbrained botanist. “Ok. Swim out, find the crystal, and pour this in the water. Got it.” He looked so excited that I couldn’t bring myself to ask for further directions. Not wanting to disappoint him, I turned and headed south. After all, how hard could it be to find a lake?