The die is cast
“By Innos! Another six?” Surprise was written in Pavel’s face.
“Shit!” Falk cursed as he threw his purse on the table. “I’m out.” The hunter turned around and stomped out of the hut.
With a grin on his face, Alea picked up the bag and fastened it to his belt. “I hope you won’t follow his example. Double jackpot – who’s with me?”
Pavel snorted. “You are robbing us!”
Alea shrugged his shoulders. “That’s the game. And what would be the fun of playing it if it weren’t for the risk? Don’t be sad, you know how it works, lucky at cards, unlucky in…”
The smile vanished from Alea’s face. Pavel fell silent and tensed up. Both of them looked at Lukjan, who sat in a corner of the small room with his arms crossed.
Quickly, Alea recovered himself. “Now you are insulting me! Alright, I’m a bit lucky right now, but to accuse me of cheating? That marks a sore loser, my friend.”
“We aren’t your friends”, Lukjan hissed.
Alea sighed theatrically. “And I thought we were here in a merry round, having some fun… and now you call me a cheater, just because I’m having a short lucky streak.”
“I would hardly call that a “short” streak”, Pavel remarked.
“All right, a long one. But is that a crime? The gods are smiling down on me, that’s all! And after all, that is just an assumption without any evidence! Benefit of the doubt!”
“All right. We’ll play another round. Double jackpot”, Lukjan said. Alea was about to utter a relieved sigh, when the hunter added: “But this time, we are going to swap our dies.”
“No way!”, Alea gasped out.
“I knew it!”
“Are you implying…”, Alea started, but the hunter finished the sentence for him: “… that your die is pronged? Damn right.”
“It’s just my lucky die, that’s all. I have been using it for years. I got it in Vengard, and it has never let me down!”
It hadn’t always brought him luck either, though. It was not the first time that someone accused him of cheating. At least these hunters here in their hut in the middle of nowhere weren’t nearly as influential as the enemies he had made himself back in the days at the court in Vengard.
“Let’s see if your die is lucky for me, too.”
Lukjan reached over the table for the die, but Alea hit him on the hand. “Hands off!” Nobody would get his hands on his lucky die!
“I’m starting to that Lukjan is right”, Pavel piped up. “We should have known it. You just can’t trust these damn rangers.”
Alea knew when it was his time to leave. “Fine”, he said as he stood up with a very piqued look on his face. “I suppose I am not wanted here anymore.”
He was already heading to the door when Lukjan called “Not so fast! We first want our money back!”
“What? That’s ridiculous! If you want to play, you have to take the risk of losing!”
“I am alright with losing. But not with being cheated.” Suddenly, Lukjan had a knife in his hand.
“Fine, have it your way”, Alea said in a pacifying manner. “I don’t wan’t any trouble.” Reluctantly, he put his winnings down on the table. He would have liked to throw the money in the hunter’s dumb visage, but he knew when it was better for him to keep back. He could defend himself well enough, but had never been much of a warrior, and here he was outnumbered two to one. Three to one, actually, as Falk would surely come to his comrades’ aid.
As Alea was about to leave, Pavel spit on the floor and muttered: “Rangers! Wandering people. We should have known better than trusting their kind.”
In front of the little hut, Falk was plucking a Scavenger. As Alea walked by him, the hunter gave him a grim look. He pretended not to have noticed.
In front of him the wide plains spread out, that no-man’s-land in the north-west of Myrtana, that was travelled by no one save a few hunters. Well, hunters and rangers.
It was raining. Just a bit, but the cold drops falling on Alea’s head annoyed him. He put on his hood.
It had always been the same. Ever since his time in Vengard. And since he had joined the rangers, people were even more suspicious towards him than before. Maybe he should take off his green cloak the next time he socialized. But in the end, it wouldn’t really change anything.
People were always assuming the worst about their fellow men, especially about those who were – like Alea – blessed with extraordinary luck in gambling.
His lucky die was pronged, that was what Lukjan had claimed. Ha! Alea had carved it himself, from a piece of troll bone he had bought at a high price back in Vengard. Granted, he was no learnt craftsman, so his work might have been a bit sloppy, but was he really to be blamed for that?
A bison-herd passed by. Their meat and fur made these animals a valuable target for any hunter, but only a madman would have taken on a whole herd of them. Alea wasn’t much of a hunter, anyway. He usually sticked to rabbits.
But at the moment, he didn’t care about bisons or rabbits. He was approaching the river, and it was usually swarming with lurkers, blood flies and even crocodiles. No matter what kind of stories the town people might tell about the rangers, these beasts didn’t leave you alone just because of a green cloak.
Well, maybe they did around the ancient stone circles and monoliths that were spread all around Myrtana. Runak kept telling that at these sites, Adanos himself guarded his people. Alea had never put that to the test. He didn’t feel like luring a pack of wolves or a shadowbeast to one of the stone circles just to notice that a strong pair of jaws could tear him apart there just like everywhere else.
Alea was lucky. The lurkers had already found a good meal in a careless group of goblins by the river, and the blood flies preferred to stay at the ground in the rain, that had gotten a bit heavier by now.
A fight was the last thing he needed right now. Whether in a stone circle or in the middle of nowhere, no beast asked someone if he happened to be a ranger. Not even the flower-pickers where safe against their oh so beloved nature, Alea thought with a grin.
Soon, the sound of the waterfall drowned out the falling rain. The sun was slowly going down behind the mountains. The ranger took an anxious glance at the summit to his left.
Runak and his flower-pickers could call it a sacred place as often as they wanted to, he didn’t like living at the slope of the Archolos. Every child in the area knew that the mountain was cursed. Alea had never been one to care much for spooky stories, but it still didn’t feel right. And he was sure he had once seen a strange light at the top of the mountain.
He put aside these gloomy thoughts about the walking dead when the camp of Runak’s rangers started coming in sight between the trees. Rangers of both genders had taken places around the campfire in front of the hut that Runak inhabited at the moment. Two others were practising with the bow, using a small tree as a target. One ranger was washing his cloak in the river.
He flinched and slowly turned around. He knew what was about to happen.
“You know very well that you shouldn’t be wandering around on your own!”
Alea was looking into Silva’s face, that had been terribly scarred by some beast’s claws. The ranger was giving him a very disapproving look. “Well, technically Runak only requested…”, Alea started, but he was interrupted: “And you should accede to his requests. He was worrying about you.”
“Unnecessary. I haven’t even been gone a day.”
“You were out there, and you know perfectly well how the situation is. We don’t know what the Orcs think about us, so we will hide here for a while. Runak doesn’t want any trouble, and I hope, I don’t have to remind you of that.”
“Don’t worry. We want to be neutral, so we stay here and don’t draw any attention to us until all this has settled down. I know about it.”
“Than act accordingly!”
Alea sighed. It was always the same problem with the flower-pickers.
There were lots of rangers like himself; normal people who had gotten into trouble and gone into hiding. People you could get along with very well. But these flower-pickers always had to be so strict. They were so very serious about everything, and the word of the druids was their law.
“Come on.” Alea gave Silva an amicable pat on the shoulder. It was time for deescalation. And after all, the ranger was nice guy, if he didn’t let the flower-picker hang out too much. “I didn’t mean any harm. And I haven’t been to any tavern, just out at the hunters’.”
“Hmm, I suppose, that’s more than we could have expected.”
“That’s it, my friend. Think positive!” Alea gave him another pat on the shoulder. “It won’t happen again, promise. But if I can’t leave to gamble a bit, I’ll have to pass the time here. How about a short game?”
Silva shrugged his shoulders. “If that keeps you from wandering around, why not?”
Alea grinned. Silva was quite a good guy, after all, he thought as he was fiddling about with his lucky die inside his pocket.
In the original game, the rangers don’t have any kind of face, which is partly due to the fact that, apart from the three druids, there is only one NPC with a name. We are going to change that and hope that this little story gave you a small impression of the rangers’ life and made you curious about the new NPCs you will be meeting.