Book 4 Chapter 344

Hunting with the Barbarians

Either Legg trusted Leguna and his fellow envoys, or he was just careless, Leguna decided. He'd had them all housed just a couple tents down from his own personal one! Leguna didn't really mind that much, really. It let him monitor the barbarian easily and made scheming much harder. He supposed Legg might be thinking the same thing.

He'd prepared himself for the worst when it came to accommodation, but he'd not done enough. He couldn't have drawn a shorter stick... well, maybe he could have, but only by the tiniest margin.

It was one thing for the place to leak air everywhere, but another for it to not even have a warm blanket. Forget about it being new, he would have been fine with the old rag they'd given him, if at least they'd cleaned it first. Hell, he could even have lived with it being dirty -- having been an orphan for most of his childhood -- if only it could at least keep some of the cold out, but it could not even do that. And damn was it dirty. He was certain even dogs had better standards than that! And what the hell were those white spots on the blanket? Had they been using the blanket to grow fungi or something? It was bad enough if they were okay with living like that themselves, but treating their guests that way was going a tad too far.

Leguna shuddered at the thought that that very blanket had been used by some hairy bastard barbarian for years and was now his by designation. He pinched it between his thumbs and forefinger, keeping skin contact between himself and the blanket to the absolute minimum, stood as far away from the blanket as his thin arms would let him, and tossed it into the furthest corner he could find. He scrubbed his would-be bed as best he could, then took out two of his own blankets from his dimensional pocket.

"Thank the gods I'd come prepared!" Leguna sighed shudderingly.

Despite his thorough scrubbing, however, the bed still made him itch, though he half suspected it was all in his head. Surely even this bed couldn't still be harbouring pests after the scrubbing he'd given it, could it? He very quickly decided it was definitely in his head and forced himself to sleep before he had time to doubt himself.

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"...Ugh... much worse than Ogrimma..." Leguna moaned when he woke up the next morning.

The days itinerary consisted mainly of a guided tour of the settlement and surrounding areas, focused mainly on showing the delegation how the barbarians lived. All guided by Legg personally.

Leguna had initially thought it wouldn't be all that different from a normal human settlement, at least, that different from a human settlement were enough people dumb enough to want to live in that hell-hole and go through the trouble of building one there. But he was very quickly proven wrong yet again.

The first part of their tour was all about hunting. Animals were very scarce this far north, especially in the highlands were the barbarians had settled. He and Legg had to search for several hours just to find a couple rabbits, and that was only enough to feed someone of Leguna's meager size for just two meals. He didn't think a barbarian would even notice he'd eaten them.

Incidentally, Annelotte would most likely consider them an appetizer at best. She wouldn't comment on it to anyone, nor would she let it show by eating more, but Leguna knew she hid a black hole in that cute stomach of hers.

"We'll have plenty if we're lucky enough to run into a pack of wolves," Legg said from the back of his snowbear.

"Wouldn't a whole pack be a little difficult to handle for you?" Leguna asked from another bear's back.

While not as large as their wild cousins, barbarian-domesticated snowbears were still fierce mounts, and surprisingly capable in the snow for their size. As long as they kept a reasonable pace, they were about as stable as a rocking chair as well.

"Don't your hunting parties suffer many casualties?"

Leguna was quite certain they did, despite what his question might suggest. The harsh north made hard men out of the barbarians out of necessity, not out of want. Those that couldn't make it died, and died by the dozens. Hunting was one of the most dangerous things to do up here, too, since the climate that so polished the barbarians, did the same for every other animal that dared walk it's white expanses, those which had to rely on hunting others especially.

The average snowbear from Chino was at least the equal of the crimsonblood bear he'd killed all those years ago. Then there was also the little matter that most of the bears he'd seen here so far had all been fiends. Though he had to admit he remembered a report from the court magi association that said it was quite possible the high rate of fiendism was thanks to the harsh environment. The beasts that lived here generally either evolved into fiends, or didn't make it through their first year.

On that note, while Leguna might have little trouble dealing with a pack of fiend wolves on his own, he doubted the same could be said of a group of barbarians. Especially not the ones usually sent out to hunt since they were usually the young ones who've yet to prove themselves and those that were now too old and whose strength had faded. The strongest of them he'd come across thus far had been at just the seventh stratum. The oldest was in his seventies but the youngest was even younger than Leguna.

He glanced at one of the baby-faced ones and worried they'd all be dead before the day was out.

"He's just twelve. He'll become much stronger if he survives long enough, he might even become a great warrior," Legg answered without looking, somehow still knowing where Leguna was gazing.

"Twelve?" Leguna asked, taken aback.

He was even younger than Innilis, and yet he already had the face of someone who'd gone on at least a couple hunts. Leguna's mind wandered back to his younger days. Even the children of the poorest of family who helped out their parents wouldn't be put in this kind of danger. Would any of them be able to handle this? His instincts told him they would not. Not even the likes of Annelotte would have been able to when she was 12, regardless of how much of a genius she was.

The thought crystalized into the determination to make sure the kid got back to the settlement alive. He wished he could call it the saint in him awakening, but he just didn't feel like letting a kid that young day today. He was destined to be shocked.

They ran into a pack of wolves that very afternoon around three.

The wolves didn't shy away from the group at all. It appeared they didn't think the group was worth their caution. Though he supposed at least part of their daring had to be the desperation for a meal, any meal, that was ever-present in every life in this cold. They could likely even more ill-afford to let a meal go out of caution than to lose one or two of their kind trying to get it.

Neither side hesitated at any point. The moment they noticed each other, both groups charged and the situation devolved into chaos instantly. It was less of a hunt on either side than a a series of individual duels, or two-on-one fights were one side had an advantage in numbers.

Leguna was surprised at how thick and strong the wolves' skin was. Barbarian weapons, for all their crudity, were lethal against humans; yet they had barely any effect on the wolves. The knives, scimitars, and axes mainly cut hair and occasionally made small cuts into the wolves' flesh. Even so, the barbarians charged as if possessed by bloodlust.

Leguna watched from the sidelines, having hidden himself the moment the encounter began. He saw one wolf leap onto a barbarian, who pushed his scimitar into the beast's soft underbelly and gutted him while the wolf mauled his shoulder. He didn't bother to dodge the intestines the open stomach belched either, letting it soak through what little clothing he was wearing, and all his hair, like it was warm water from a bucket.

Despite having just lost its innards, the wolf continued on as if nothing had happened. It let go of the barbarian's shoulder and chomped through his neck instead. One collection of bio-pipes was exchanged for another, and the barbarian collapsed to the ground in a fountain of blood, his larynx and pharynx vanishing down the wolf's mouth.

Another barbarian, having done in his wolf, came charging over, stone hammer in hand and smashed the wolf's skull in. Less smash than make burst into a million pieces of bone and gore. The same strike dematerialised the dying barbarian's head as well. The new partaker in the fight only belched an excited cry, then charged of to find another wolf to kill, only to be torn to shreds by two wolves who had the same idea.

Leguna's brow furrowed at the site. He was not averse to gore, but this was... unnecessary. He remembered his mercenary days, and while it was blood-soaked, every drop had been shed for a reason, had been shed with some goal in mind. Even the back and forth killing between the orcs and the humans was always done within the auspices of some grander scheme. He half snorted when the thought brought back the memory of how he couldn't eat meat for a week after killing his first orc. He might have just gone vegetarian permanently if Kurdak and Vera were not so addicted to meat. Now he barely flinched.

His aversion in this case, was not to the gore itself, but to have pointless it was, and with how little aplomb the barbarians went about their bloody killing and bloody death. They showed no more remorse for the absolutely gruesome deaths of their comrades than one might for an insect being caught and eaten by a spider, and showed no more reservation about inflicting the same kind of horror on their prey than one might for swatting a fly.

He supposed he should have expected it from these savages. Legg had made him forget just how barbarous barbarians were.

Arikos' voice broke him from his stupor.

"The boy you're so interested in is in trouble," he said.

Leguna's eyes immediately darted in the same direction Arikos was looking. The boy was fighting two wolves on his own using a scimitar as tall as him.


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