Sumil glanced over at the two figures as they entered the clearing.
It was Orythia and some princess from the upper city. Yes, the princess didn't dress as such, but Sumil could read it in the way the girl hesitated when she saw who was practicing here. It was readily apparent that being associated with the Scouts, even simply by proximity, sullied her in some way.
It was the Scouts who were out skulking through the undergrowth for weeks at a time, but the Guard was all that anyone heard about or praised. The Scouts did their jobs quietly and efficiently, always in the shadows of their more gaudy compatriots. Those fools in the city had no idea what sort of dangers the Scouts protected them from! Most Hydras had long ago learned to give Agrodor a wide berth. But if one wandered too far, there were always a few bold, lone males who would happily sacrifice a head or two for the chance to feast on human flesh. Not to mention that fool, Dionysus! The bulls were bad enough, but when he decided to get drunk with a tribe of Minotaurs, devastation was sure to follow. It was only due to the Scouts' diligence and training these threats were kept away from the city proper.
Sumil spat a glob of greenish goo on the ground as Kalamnestra barked at them to return to practice. Turning back to her target, Sumil drew, and released within a breath. The Treant root she chewed gave her an uncanny precision and her shot landed just inside the center most circle. Though not expressly forbidden in the kingdom, the usage of Treant root was generally discouraged. Chewing it was known to alleviate pain, cause hallucinations, and produce a mild euphoria. A leisure pastime for the few so inclined.
However, when pickled with Dionysian Wine, it offered a distinctly different experience. The pain reduction was stronger -- though in reality, the pain remained, you just cared much, much less about it. But the hallucinations and euphoria were replaced with a supreme state of calm and an enhanced 'awareness', for lack of a better term. As it turns out, this combination led to an incredible effectiveness and lethality when paired with the martial arts.
It was not something that all Scouts partook of but most had tried it at least once. Though the pickled root appeared to have no negative effects, there was an uncanny pattern of early demise among long term users. Nothing obvious such as an allergic reaction or a tendency towards self-harm. But unfailingly, there would come a time where they did not return from a patrol or sortie. Any rising star who partook of the root to shine brighter, inevitably burned quickly. Some passed along whispers from previous generations of ancient curses, but no record was ever found of such a thing and the idea seemed preposterous.
Sumil was a Patrol Leader and one of the best shots in her division. She chewed the root to keep her edge. To be able to dance through the branches as nimble as a panther and then with barely a pause let loose a shaft that would find an orc's eye in the brush at two hundred paces was an incredible experience! And by Aeona did it feel good! Forgetting the princess with one last passing thought of disgust, Sumil renewed focus on her training.
Sumil leaped through the trees as the battle raged below her. The boars had been sent in first. The unexpected shock of their ferocious charges was often enough to break most raiding parties. But this group of Orcs had proven particularly tenacious and so her fellow Scouts fought them from both the trees and the ground.
She spied the leader. A hulking brute wielding an oversized two-handed axe that dripped with gore. Two of the boars lay in bloody messes nearby, one nearly split in two. He barked orders and assumed a battle stance as several Scouts flittered between the trees in his direction.
Sumil nocked an arrow and swiftly drew her bow, eyeing the exposed neck of the general. Sumil's first shot was true, as expected, but orcs have thick necks and her shot had not pierced a vital artery. As she prepared a second shot, something suddenly shifted beneath her feet. Her reflexes were quick enough to compensate but an unfortunate bit of luck saw her bow snag in a nearby branch. The additional, unexpected pull was too much, even for Sumil's enhanced responses, and she plummeted, uttering a single curse before hitting the ground.
When she woke, Sumil knew immediately that both legs were broken. Shattered bones broke through the skin and she had bled profusely. A light covering of newly fallen leaves lay over her, as if she had been there for some time. But though the shadows were lengthening, the stench of death was still fresh and she heard no sounds of scavengers. In fact, the forest was strangely quiet. Surely they had won the battle? But where was everyone? Why had they not found her afterwards?
As she pondered these questions and her current predicament, Sumil was drawn to a flicker of movement. Long, dark roots probed at the edge of the pool of congealed blood and seemed to be drinking. Other roots, sinuous, snaky tendrils, slithered hypnotically across the forest floor and stretched out, reaching for her legs and arms...