Dark clouds had begun to gather in the skies over the western area of the Rokai Mountain range in Norland. At the base of one of the forty mountains in the magnificent location, a lone Recruit traveled along the tree line which served as border between the mountains and the rich green forest. It was Argo Taurus. For nearly a week and a half he had been traveling on his own. The last time he had seen his friends, Ken and Vanessa, they were going their separate ways. Ken went to the East while Vanessa went north.
With the growing darkness of the cloud cover he hastened his pace to get ahead the rainfall. By hastening his pace he found himself nearly running into a group of dwarves travelling along a pathway; the same dwarves he had seen a month prior just before he and his friends had challenged four Kappa to a competition.
"My apologies master dwarves," Argo said to the three and four foot high beings.
"No need to apologize, sir." One dwarf with a long white beard said.
As he let the dwarves pass he recalled their argument with the bridge keeper about how they needed to get to the Rokai mountains. He wondered if they were headed for the same destination as Vanessa for her orders were to take her to a dwarven mine. Argo found himself wondering how his friends were doing on their travels; recalling the last night they had camped out together near a natural hot spring at the base of the mountains.
Having not had a chance to have a legitimate bath since their time in Windshire they were all too excited to come across the springs. One at a time they took an hour to enjoy a relaxing cleanse in the steaming water while the other two set up camp and kept watch. With Vanessa being the first one in, Argo took a moment to talk to Ken.
"That must have been a terrifying nightmare you had the one night." Argo said, while unraveling his sleeping mat.
"Yeah, it was intense." Ken replied as he tried to get the fire started. "I'm sorry again for waking you up."
"No need to apologize." Argo replied. "Was it about what happened to your family?"
Argo's question drew an instantaneous mildly apprehensive look from Ken. Argo did not have to look in his direction to feel his stare.
"I don't mean to upset you," Argo said, "but I could not help but overhear it that night when you told Vanessa down by the river."
"I did not realize I was talking loud enough for you to hear it." Ken replied.
"That's the curse of having such good hearing." His teammate replied. "Sometimes I hear things that I don't mean to hear. I bring this up now though because with us having to go our separate ways I wanted to extend an apology to you."
Ken's slight apprehension that he felt eased away and he asked, "What must you apologize for?"
"Back when you and I met." Argo said. "The moment I realized who you were I hated you. Furthermore even when it seemed like I didn't, that hate did not go away; which was worse. I pretended to be your friend which is unfitting for anyone to do. I'm sorry for all the trouble I caused you and Vanessa in that first year and I apologize for everything that happened to your family."
Argo stood up and Ken seemingly stepped towards him in a potentially offensive way. Ken looked at Argo in the eye with a seriousness that no one had seen Ken display towards someone in days.
"Back in that first year," Ken said with an equally serious voice, "what I said to you when things weren't so good between us, still applies now. It's for a different reason though. The trouble we had in that first year no longer matters. We're not just rangers, but I see you as my friend."
Ken extended his hand for a shake. At first Argo was hesitant, not out of resentment, but feeling as though he was not worthy of such a kind gesture.
The two shook hands and Argo replied, "I see you as my friend as well; nothing less."
"Such a precious moment." Vanessa's voice suddenly said from the small hillside next to their campsite.
She stood there looking with at them with the most condescending and devious grin.
The two young men shook their heads at their female companion before returning to their things.
"How does the spring feel?" Argo asked her.
"Nice and hot," Vanessa replied as he started walking up the hill towards the spring, "But certainly it's not as warm as it's been back here."
Argo did not reply, only shook his head once more.
"Hey," She said stopping him. "Honestly, I'm glad the two of you have moved past everything."
"So are we." Argo said.
A suddenly cold drop of rainwater landing on Argo's forehead brought him out of the flashback. With the rain starting to come down, he picked up the pace once again and hurried to find shelter.
Several days later Argo had at last found himself on the outskirts of the village, Quartz; nestled at the foot of one of the shortest mountains in the area. From a distance it looked like a normal village or town. Argo couldn't help but noticed that the wooden buildings resembled his home of Dehaven.
Riding into the village it was a different story for the community to be full of nothing but peasants and farmers. No one there seemed to be any higher in class than commoners. Furthermore his appearance seemed to draw a lot of attention, as if they had never once laid eyes on a Ranger.
Every which way he turned as he walked there were eyes watching him in awe, wonder, and fear. Argo may have been of noble birth but he never received so much attention, nor did he ever observe members of his family causing such an arousal of interest.
"Does anyone know..." He started to ask before once again briefly becoming stunned by the sight of all the eyes looking in his direction, "...Where is the head of your village?"
"And who might be asking?" A sturdy voice from behind said.
Argo turned to find a man with a clothes looking in slightly better condition than the other villagers. The man had a round head, a thick but short beard and a cleanly shaven head. He seemed to be a little plumper than most of the villagers as well, suggesting that he was eating more or better food than his community.
"My name is Argo Taurus," Argo introduced. "I'm a Recruit from the Ranger Academy sent here for my first hunt. I understand you have a problem with a Troll here."
The man, whose brow lowered and lip turned up, seemed critical at the sound of Argo being a Recruit. Analyzing the young Ranger's sturdy build, the man started to break out into a relieved smile.
"Welcome sir," The man said, "we welcome you with open arms to Quartz."
Hearing the man's more cheerful greeting the people seemed less timid and more in awe of Argo. Whispers could be heard going around in the crowd of people who gathered around him; hopeful whispers that a savior had come.
"I am Rufus Greedo," the man introduced himself, "the head of this village. Come sir, I invite you to my home to discuss the matter of this troll."
After looking around briefly once more at the glimmer of hope that he seemed surrounded by, Argo accepted Rufus' invitation.
In the Greedo home, Argo sat with the Village Head in his study to hear the full details of this Troll. Argo was once again surprised that even for the head of a village, his home was not in a great state of being. Nevertheless with a fire going it was at least warmer than most of the other shanty buildings appeared.
"So Argo Taurus," Rufus said as he sipped from a cup of poorly made ale, "You have the baring of a man from noble origin."
Argo was surprised that Rufus was able to make such a deduction but acknowledged him, "My father, Hugo, is Lord of the Town of Dehaven."
"Fascinating," Rufus said taking subtle but great interest to that piece of information, "Now you seek to become a Ranger. Seems quite an interesting path for someone with such a background would want to plunge themselves into a life of danger."
"Well sir," Argo said trying not to take offense to that remark, "We all live in a world of danger."
"Indeed this is true." Greedo said before taking another sip of ale. "For the village of Quartz we know that life better than most. We are a village of harvesters and people of the land. Due to our location and the class of our occupants we don't trade much with the outside world, save for the occasional traveling merchant dwarfs."
"What of this troll sir?" Argo asked trying to remain on point, "Has it been a problem for you people for long?"
"Oh this troll." Greedo said in frustration. "Ever since a traveler told us of this troll taking up residence in a cave to the East four months ago, we've experienced nothing but ill fortune. First our armory with what few weapons we had was destroyed in the dead of night. Then, no less than a dozen of our most strong and able-bodied men vanished until finally the beast attacked one night. Thankfully I was able to scrounge together what funds we had to send worried to the Guild and we have not seen or heard any sign of it since. However, the people have lived in fear ever since."
"Sounds like the common signs of Mountain Troll." Argo said before standing up with confidence, "Well sir, it will be my honor to purge your people of this terror."
"We are grateful for your heroism, young Master Taurus." Rufus said taking the last gulp of his drink. "Who in your village knows of where this monster made its home?" Argo asked.
To Argo's surprise Rufus answered, "The beast lives in a cave about a day's journey on the other side of Hangman's peak, immediately to our East. You have to take the High Road up the mountain though for there are impassable cliffs on either side. Once you come down the other side you should reach a fork in the road; go directly off the center of that fork down into the valley and you should come across the entrance within a matter of hours."
"Thank you, sir." Argo said.
"May the Gods be with you young Ranger." Greedo said after taking the last gulp of his ale.
Argo wasted no time setting off from Quartz immediately after finishing his meeting. The rain passed before his meeting with Rufus was over leaving a clear sky. It seemed like the perfect omen on which to begin his hunt. His journey over the mountain was not the easiest venture as the road which he was directed to take was rather steep and rough in some areas.
After nearly slipping down a particularly long incline Argo could not help but remark, "This certainly is a path more fit for Dwarves and Trolls than men."
Reaching the highest point which the road went over the ridge line of the Peak's slope, Argo found his first sign of the monster; a large four-fingered hand print that was twice the size of his. Judging by the position of the print in relation to the path, it had planted its hand there to climb onto the ridge from the other side. Looking at the print he was able to deduce that its maker was at least eight feet tall. The signs were pointing to a Troll; and rather large for a Mountain Troll.
After coming down the other side of the mountain the sun was beginning to set prompting Argo to find a place to set up camp. Argo was fortunate enough to find a rock formation that would provide him shelter and conceal him from any nighttime threats so he was able to get a decent night's sleep. Come dawn he was back on the trail to seek out the Troll's cave.
Just as Rufus Greedo had informed him, there was a fork in the road to which Argo went directly through the center of, taking him down into the valley. After walking for about an hour, he came upon a stream with the clearest and freshest looking water he had seen in months. He took a moment to drink a few handfuls which tasted even more refreshing and pure than he had expected. While kneeling by the stream he noticed a peculiar looking impression on the other side of the stream; it looked to be a boot-print but it was made by a human, not a troll or a dwarf. This was an unexpected discovery for it was certainly unusual for a human to venture in this direction.
Before Argo could dwell on the thought any further there was a sudden bellowing growl from further into the valley. Looking in the direction of the sound he saw a massive bulky figure carrying a club over its shoulder; it was the troll. It was still too shadowy in the valley to make out an accurate description but it was certainly a troll.
Argo quickly drew his mace and proceeded quickly but quietly after the monster. Though the Troll eventually went beyond his visual range, Argo was still close enough that he could follow the sound of the booming footsteps it made. He pursued the monster for nearly twenty minutes as quietly as possible. Occasionally he would have to duck behind the rocks when the troll would stop and look around. It appeared that his presence went undetected.
The pursuit finally came to a conclusion when the Troll disappeared into the dark confines of a cave. Argo's moment of truth was now at hand. Finding a safe place to unload his excess gear, he mentally braced himself for the combat that was to come. He had fear but it was overwhelmed by excitement that he was finally going to fulfill his dream of being a Ranger like his brother.
Argo positioned himself just outside the cave but out of sight. His best course of action was to lure the beast from its lair. Picking up a large stone, he threw it into the cave. Clatters and clangs echoed throughout the dark hole and Argo stood ready to strike. His grip tightened on the mace's handle and his pulse skyrocketed. There was no response though to his bait though.
After a few seconds he tried it again, this time with a bigger stone and with a harder throw. The noise was far louder and the echoes went on longer that the first attempt. Argo stood ready and surer that the Troll would surely show itself now. Once again he stood ready to strike; and once again he was disappointed.
Argo had no choice but to venture into the cavern. Slowly and with his guard up, he made his way into the darkness. Much to his surprise the cavern was not as dark as it first appeared. Puzzled by this, he inspected the walls a little closer to discover there was some form of algae that had a warm yellowish glow to it. The bio-luminescence of the algae made his journey a little easier but it added an additional edge to it for he could not use the darkness to his advantage as previously intended.
Thirty meters into the cave there was an uneasy silence. Argo felt eyes on him, but he could not figure out where he was being watch. Amidst the stalactites and stalagmites there were also large boulders and no fewer than a dozen tunnels. Even with the bio-luminescence providing light, there was still many places that the beast could be concealed.
Argo tightened his grip on his mace and kept it ready to swing. Suddenly, what he first thought to be a large bizarrely shaped rock formation, revealed itself to be the Troll. The monster lunged at Argo and tried to smash its club down upon him. He was able to move out of the way but lost his footing and fell back. The beast grunted and tried again to smash Argo with its club but this time when it reared its weapon back, the clumsy creature knocked a stalactite loose. The rock formation fell and broke over the beast's head. As it stumbled deliriously for a moment, Argo got back to his feet and got around the Troll; between it and the cave's entrance.
Once the monster got its focus back, it continued its attack. It was at that moment that Argo noticed several things about the Troll. It had a number of scars across its body made by bladed weapons. Additionally it was not a Mountain Troll like previously believed but a Night Troll. Big like a Mountain Troll but darker in color and severely allergic to sunlight.
With a powerful swing, the monster nearly struck its target but Argo was able to step back out of the way. He then moved in close and swung his mace into the creature's knee. The Troll grounded in pain and stumbled back while clutching its knee with its free hand. It then proceeded to charge after Argo who retreated towards the entrance. In a last split second maneuver Argo whipped back around and struck the Troll's other knee causing it to tumble forward. Nearly falling out of the cave's entrance and into the sunlight. Argo found himself in a dire situation as his plan to kill the monster with the light failed and he was now cut off from his only avenue of escape.
The Troll stood up and was furious. It snarled through its yellow teeth and snorted with its bulgy nose. Argo now but had one chance and it was going to put him very much in harm’s way. The two of them readjusted their grip on their blunt weapons. Patiently and anxiously, Argo waited for his moment to strike. Finally the Troll made its move, once again attempting to clobber Argo with a swing of its club.
The Recruit stepped back with his mace at the ready, just narrowly dodging the club. With the monster off balance, Argo then charged and leaped into the air. With a mighty swing of his own, he struck the Troll in the face so hard that the monster's front teeth broke. Its hand released the club and it fell backwards out of the cave and into the noon sunlight just as it crept over the peaks of the valley.
Delirious from the strike, there was no time to react before the intense rays of the sun set the beast a blaze. Engulfed in flames it made one last frantic effort to save itself the walking inferno stumbled back into the cave but collapsed about ten meters in. After catching his breath Argo reentered the cave to make sure the Troll was dead. Most of the flames had died out but the monster was now one large smoldering lump of charcoal.
Argo was relieved that he had done it but the light of the Troll's remains caused something metallic to flicker in his eye from one of the larger tunnels. Upon investigation Argo found roughly a dozen human remains dressed in armor in a line down the tunnel. Not only were they armored but they were also armed. It appeared as though he had found the missing people from Quartz but the fact they were dressed for battle was extremely peculiar. The reason for which was not made clear until he came across the last one that was found in a chamber at the end of the tunnel, where the Troll had made its home. Many things began to add up, and suddenly Argo felt as though he had slain the wrong monster.
About two days later, Argo reappeared in the village, but this time his bag appeared to be stuffed with something. His arrival once again brought much attention. Most of the people were astonished that he made the return journey with such a large load.
"People of Quartz." Argo said as he set the bag down in front of him, giving him a great feeling of relief, "The Troll has been destroyed. Its body is nothing more than ash now in the cave where it once lived."
There was much rejoicing among the villagers who were hugging each other and thanking the Gods out loud.
"However, I'm afraid I bring more news though." Argo said bringing the commotion down. "Rufus Greedo; the village head. Does anyone know where he is?"
"I am here." Greedo said emerging from the crowd. "It would seem you did us all a great service, Argo Taurus. Bring forth your hunt order so that I may sign off on its completion."
"There is no need for that." Argo said. "After I slayed the troll my teacher's assistant, a Brownie, appeared and signed off on it for me."
Greedo appeared relieved still but now confused as well, "Well then, why have you returned? Did you bring back the monster's remains?"
"No Mr. Greedo," Argo said. "I found somethings in the Troll's cave that at first I intended to keep for myself but, being of Noble birth I felt bringing it back to the village would be the noble thing to do."
Argo untied his sack and kicked it over. With many metallic clings and chinks the bag toppled over, spilling out a large amount of gold, silver, copper, and gemstones.
The peoples' eyes widened, none more-so than Greedo's.
"Did you all know about this treasure?" Argo asked to which he saw nothing but clueless head shaking. "Well I regret to inform you that this was not the only thing found in the cave. I also found the bodies of a dozen men."
Greedo suddenly caught wind of where Argo was going and tried to stop him by interjecting, "That's good! You found our missing men. We can give them a proper resting place. Now, my good Ranger, we best get you packed up for your journey-"
"Unfortunately Greedo there is more that I must share with your people." Argo said cutting him off. "The men I found were donned in very crude armor and were armored with equally crude weapons."
"Well then you were mistaken," Greedo countered. "Our armory was destroyed by the monster."
"So you say, Village Leader." Argo politely fired back. "I don't mean to undermine your good people in the slightest but armor and weaponry of that caliber could not have been forged in closest town of Robinsburg. I've seen their forgeries and know they could not have produced such crude designs. Additionally I think you should be aware of the kind of Troll I found. It was not a mountain troll like we originally believed but a Night Troll."
"That's fascinating, now we would like to no more but-" Greedo said once again being cut off by Argo.
"The thing about Night Trolls is that unlike their Mountain kin they are very allergic to sunlight," Argo continued, his voice sounding grimmer, "And unlike their Mountain kin they tend to live very solitary lives in the dark reaches of the earth, seldom venturing from their habitats. And unlike their mountain kin, they do not feast on human flesh. So it begs to wonder, why on earth would a Night Troll target your village?"
Greedo suddenly looked a little unnerved. There were a number of people who were starting to look suspicious.
"I have a theory on this," Argo said, once again stopping the Village head from trying to halt his words, "I believe that when word reached your leader about this Troll, he also received word of this treasure. So instead of seeking help to retrieve the treasure, he secretly had the armory destroyed by those most loyal to him and blamed it on the troll."
Greedo began to sweat. Argo's theory was making him very unstable.
"Then he secretly started picking the most able bodied men to go kill the Troll with the hopes that a single troll would not be a problem." Argo continued. "And once the troll was dead, he could retrieve the treasure for himself."
All eyes were now on Rufus Greedo. Argo's accusations were making sense to the villagers who now glared at him.
Argo finally said what they were thinking, "You sent your people to their deaths for your own greed. Your actions got those men killed and you provoked that monster into attack your people's homes."
The people suddenly grabbed Greedo before he could run away, they progressively grew more furious. He struggled as hard as he could but was unable to break free.
"Hypocrite!" Greedo suddenly shouted at Argo. "You, a nobleman from a noble family. You sir are a hypocrite! You and your family likely have done the same! You have as much blood on your hands as I do mine!"
Argo walked up to the Village Leader with a firm stride. He then grabbed the man by his shirt and stared intensely into his eyes.
"You sir," Argo said with a firm but angered voice, "You are no nobleman, nor could you ever live up to such a title. My family watched over our village with wise and protective eyes. Nobles are to be leaders and guides for the people they watch over. Even so though, I am no longer just the son of a nobleman. I am a Ranger. Rangers are warriors... Providers and protectors of the people. And as such, I and the rest of the guild have deemed you unfit to lead these people."
Argo let go of the disgraced leader. With a slight shove he released Greedo from his grasp. The people kept a firm grip on him.
"By orders of the Ranger Guild, Rufus Greedo is to be thrown into your village's holding cell until constables from Robinsburg arrive." Argo declared to the people. "Those of you who assisted him with his traitorous activities best confess and testify against him when they arrive. If not then those who aided him will be locked away as well."
"What of the treasure sir?" An older woman from the crowd asked.
Argo looked briefly at the treasure and then back at the woman.
"My good lady, I already said the treasure belongs to your village." Argo said.
The Recruit returned to his bag, and began taking handfuls of the treasure scattering out to the people. Greedo could only watch with watering eyes as his prize that he sacrificed the lives of a dozen men to retrieve was given away.
Later that day as Argo left the village's borders, Quint appeared before him.
"Well done Argo Taurus." The Brownie said. "You completed the hunt and liberated a village from a corrupt leader."
"Thank you, I guess I am to return to the Academy now?" Argo asked.
"Not just yet." Quint answered before handing him a piece of folded up parchment, "This here is a list of items you must now gather before making your return to the Academy. You have completed the hunt yes but only by returning to the academy with these items will you be able to graduate."
Argo took the parchment from Quint, and nodded his head in compliance.
"Also are you sure that you do not want to keep any of the materials gathered from the troll?" Quint asked. "You defeated the creature so you do have a claim on all that was collected from its remains and the treasure."
"No." Argo said. "That treasure belongs to those peasants, they need it and deserve it more than I do. As for the troll, I do not want any of its resources because frankly that beast had been wrongfully abused. Had I'd of known about what had been done to it, I would not have gone through with the hunt."
Quint was rather surprised by Argo's remarks and could only bring himself to say one thing, "Remarkable... truly remarkable."
"Why? Rangers are not supposed to hunt monsters for amusement or out of greed, correct?"
"That is correct." Quint replied, before saying, "It's just remarkable because when you first started your training we worried that your pride would have been your downfall. Instead, it remarkably is the reason why you are succeeding beyond our expectations now."
"Well," Argo said. "When you’re of noble birth, you are born with a responsibility to uphold the nobility of your title. As a Ranger, I feel like that is even truer given the class of warrior we are to be for Shogun."
"Indeed so," Quint agreed, "Indeed so. Well then I shall leave you to your duties Argo Taurus. May the Gods be with you."
"Farewell, Quint." Argo said before the Brownie made its spark filled exit.
Argo took one last look back at the village. The people seemed more cheerful than they were before he arrived. He smiled slightly, realizing he had made a difference in their lives. As he stepped off on his next task, it began to sink it that he was living up to standards that his brother's stories had set. It was not on his scroll yet, but Argo Taurus was in the eyes of his himself and his instructor, a Ranger.