5. The Most Dangerous Game

Packing up the rest of camp takes no time at all, and it's all slung up on Kel's back before the sun's moved in the sky. She's gotten it down to an art at this point. There's only one thing left to do before setting out, and that's hauling herself up a tree to look for landmarks.

Before she can even get to the top of the tree, a glimpse of something bright in the distance catches Kel's eye. There's a scrap of red fabric hitched to a particularly thick cluster of trees in the near distance, one that makes the scout's heart surge up into her throat. Her cousin tied that scrap up a few seasons ago to make it easier to find her way home. It flutters in the morning wind, flying proud- nevermind that it hadn't been there the evening before. It's there now. Crushing the core worked.

Kel's never scrambled out of a tree so quickly in her life. She's hauling her pack over her shoulders in a frenzy as soon as her feet hit the ground, headed towards that marker as fast as her legs can carry her. It's still a day's travel home if her last scouting trip was any indication. Best not to delay. She's been away a few days longer than usual now, and there's a whole town waiting on her arrival.

All the nagging her father does when she's home... he must be out of his mind with worry. Hopefully he won't be too overbearing. Kel grins a little to herself as she jogs along- he's going to want to keep her home for months if she tells him half of what's happened. And that doesn't even touch on her aunt, who's probably going to try to talk her into another career path again. It's always "you should do something safer- a baker, maybe, it's a good life" or something of the sort. Kel had indulged her a few times, but settling down just wasn't in her blood.

The hours of travel seem to breeze by, and it's evening before the scout knows it. A glance up at the sky reveals the beginnings of sunset. The thought of making camp crosses Kel's mind for a moment before she dismisses it- home is close enough that booking it might be worth the risk, and she's not willing to chance losing the way home again. Her throat tightens at the thought. No, she'd rather keep moving while she knows where she is. She can sleep in her own bed tonight if she moves quickly enough.

Still, travelling at night is far from a safe prospect. Her mentor back home had made that plenty clear: "always bring fire, move quickly, and don't draw attention. You won't be alone in the woods at night." There's a strip of fabric tucked into Kel's pocket for this exact sort of situation, and she plops down for a moment to throw a basic torch together and light it. Fire isn't perfect protection, but it tends to ward off the worst dangers. Torch blazing, the scout gets back to her feet and pushes onwards.

Night slowly settles in as she walks. The woods darken and cool as the sun sets, and the torch casts flickering light that throws the area into stark contrasts and shifting shapes. Cast in torchlight, even familiar woods become alien. Little movements of the leaves and grasses turn into warning signs of monsters and killers, all cloaked in the shadows. The forest's sounds twist into as much of a danger as its sights, rustling leaves promising some beast behind them. It's more than enough to have Kel biting her lip and moving a bit quicker.

She's moving so quickly that she misses the sight of two staggered strangers standing in her way, slamming into one of them and nearly setting their arm alight. They jolt backwards, whooping like the collision is something to celebrate as Kel stumbles back. She catches sight of a short, squat beast and a tall, mangled humanoid before the humanoid lunges forward and snatches the torch out of Kel's hand, snuffing it on the ground and throwing them all into near-pitch darkness. A whole chorus of whoops erupts in response. These two aren't alone.

"What've we got here, ah?" a voice bellows, nasal and sharp. "Cute little thing, innit?"

Not daring to respond, Kel takes a slow step backwards, trying to keep quiet. Maybe she can slip away before they find her in the dark-

"Back here, little thing!" hoots another voice- behind Kel this time. Crap. They can see her. But they haven't tried to kill her just yet, so maybe they'll be content to talk and let her go.

"Alright, what do you want?" she calls out. "I'm not looking to bug you. I just need by."

A roaring cackle answers her. There must be a dozen of these creatures by the sound of it, and they're on all sides- they weren't lying about her being surrounded. They're closer than she'd like, too- her skin prickles with the feeling of something nearby. She can feel their breath. The scout gags- it reeks of rotting meat.

"Just a little game for a little thing!" one of them yells.

"A game, a chase, a contest- you bumped into us, little thing!" hollers another. "You want by? Start running!"

And Kel does, only to slam into a too-soft body that peels the pack off her back and shoves her into the ring of creatures. Another set of arms catches her and pushes her again, the circle bouncing her from body to body until she manages to stop herself in the middle.

"I have a knife!" she yells, reaching for her blade. Another rowdy whoop replies. Her grip tightens on the handle.

"It's got a little sticker! It thinks it's gonna stab us!" one cackles, sending up another chorus of laughter.

In the midst of the chuckles, Kel lunges forwards with her blade. It sinks all too easily into a body in front of her, hilt bumping against flesh that feels like cottage cheese. Whatever she's wounded only laughs, hot breath blowing against her head before it shoves her back into the circle with her knife still in her hand. Wet hands and bodies bump her around the ring like a pinball machine.

A set of hands suddenly grab her under the arms, holding her firm; the whooping and laughter falls silent just as abruptly, leaving only the sounds of heavy breath and the smell of rot to fill the space.

"Hello," whispers a voice just above Kel. "Aren't you unfortunate, winding up here?"

The scout thrashes against the arms holding her still, flailing her knife. It's time to leave, and leave now. Talking won't do her any good. Unfortunately, those hands have an iron grip as they turn her to face whatever's holding her in the dark.

"Do you like my friends?" that voice breathes, and Kel tries to stab them in response. Her knife meets nothing but air.

"Clearly not," they sigh, grip on her arms tightening. "That makes me sad." There's a pause punctuated by knowing giggles from the surrounding creatures. "I know just how to change your mind."

Something ice cold and slimy splashes against Kel's face, and she sputters, flailing again to try to get it off.

"You can play a little game with them," the voice says, suddenly upbeat. "It's easy. You run and try to find light before it's too late. They chase you." The hands suddenly let go of Kel, shoving her forward. "Off you go. I'm sure you want a head start."

Rather than another body, there's suddenly open air in front of Kel. She doesn't think. She just runs, bolting out into the black as a chorus of shrieking laughter erupts behind her. The sound dims into the distance as she sprints, heart pounding and skin beginning to burn. Whatever she was splashed with isn't cold anymore. Her hands claw at her face, ooze stretching between her fingers, but it's not coming off. All her touch does is spread the heat to her hands.

A cacophany of whoops and footsteps erupts behind the scout, and there's no time to find a leaf to wipe the slime off. The chase is on. Hands outstretched into the dark, Kel hangs a tight left around a tree, hoping to throw off the trail- but the sounds follow, not far behind. Her feet pound against the dirt as she strains to stay ahead. A tight turn to the right, left again; laughter stays close behind. The trees aren't stopping them. Nothing seems to. Do they even run out of breath, cackling like that?

A whoop close behind Kel spurs her on, and she darts right again, narrowly dodging a tree that she can't see. There's a thud behind her as something slams into that same tree. The scout's face and hands feel like they're pressed into a campfire, eyes tearing up with the pain of it. It's hard to breathe through the slime, hard to keep running like this when her body wants to shudder to a stop and rip off its own skin just to be free of the gunk slicked onto it. But there's no other choice.

The things are all too close behind, and Kel's heart thumps in her ears. That voice said to find light. Home has light. She has to run home- it can't be that far, but the trees and the dark crowd her mind's eye of the place. It's... a left turn now, right? She needs to run left? There's no telling. She can't see her own hands as she whips left at the next trunk, then left again. Her legs scream for mercy as she bolts forwards, driven by the stampede of footsteps behind her.

Nothing matters but movement- Kel whips right, a low branch cracking across her face as she does so. She barely notices it over the still-growing blaze on her skin. The things behind her definitely notice it. One yelps as they smack against the bulk of it, the others pausing for a split second before charging back after her with a roar of laughter. That pause buys just a little more space, a little more time. Another turn left to get back on the right track, another set of wheezing breaths through the slime. She reaches up again to try to smear it away from her mouth, but the stuff seems to be getting thicker and there's no breaking it. A trail of pain laces down the back of her hand. Still, she runs.

A cackle erupts just behind Kel's ear, and she reflexively slaps back at it- something soft and fleshy contacts her hand, and the thing hollers in response. It's right behind her. Her breath catches in her throat. How did they catch up so quickly? There's nothing to do but keep running and pray to whatever gods will listen- she has to be close by now, right? But there's no light ahead, nothing but blackness that she can barely see through teary, squinted eyes. Another turn to the right, careening around a bush. She's lost- there's no denying it now. It's just too dark. The scout's hands shake, extended into the blackness in front of her. Home might be behind her for all she knows.

She swings right at the next tree that her hands meet, crashing through a patch of brambles that scrape across her shins. A chorus of screeches makes it clear that the things on her tail aren't fans of the thorns. Still, their hollering stays at her back as she sprints on, breath short and pained. She's near the limit of what she can take. Only adrenaline keeps her going, sprinting forwards with every ounce of strength she has left.

The things behind her don't seem to be tiring. They shriek and holler with every turn and jump, babbling incoherently at each other as they stampede after her. Their footsteps break twig after twig. Kel can feel the heat of their breath on her neck, the clutches of their hands that she slaps back time after time. She whips to the side, then back- she can't keep running in circles. Either home is in front of her now or she's screwed.

A rush of last-reserve energy floods Kel at the sight of a light in the distance. It's faint and barely visible with her eyes burning the way they are, but it's a promise. Home is ahead. Her legs push harder, heart hammering like it's about to give out as she sprints towards that glow. The creatures seem to see it as well, screeching with the first traces of anger Kel's heard from them. They sound like a knife scraped on a plate, and she shudders. There's no turning to evade them, not now. There's only running faster than she's ever had to before, pushing through the growing roar in her body.

And then the light is there, an animal fat lantern hung at the town entrance, and the things behind her reel back and flee into the dark as if burned by it. Kel hardly notices as she drops to the ground, chest heaving. Everything hurts. Her lungs and legs ache from the exertion, her face and hands feel like they're melting, and every inch of her body begs her to lie down and claw the gunk off her face. Trying to see it in the light only worsens the pain, and she finds herself scraping her face against the ground to try to get it off.

She can barely make out the voices that approach from the town, drawn out by the commotion- worried cries, neighbors hurrying over at the sight of her. People's hands haul her up, and then someone's wiping off her face with their dress while someone else speaks urgently at her; none of it makes any sense, tired as she is. A pair of people hook themselves under her arms and half-carry her through the gates; the buildings around Kel seem to twist and spin.

The last thing she sees before collapsing is the town carpenter's worried face, her mouth moving without making sound.

Nitty Gritty Details

Starting chaos factor: 5

Scene test: Interrupt (2)

Event focus: Current context (99; why do I keep rolling doubles during random events?)
Current context: trying to get back home
Event meaning (description): fully plain. Oh, the irony of the unexpected being the expected. Went with her spotting a landmark indicating she's much closer to home than she'd thought.

Fate question: Does anything interrupt Kel's trip? Odds: 50/50
Roll: no (86)

Fate question: Is Kel within reach of her home if she keeps walking overnight? Odds: likely
Roll: yes (48)

Fate question: Is Kel interrupted while travelling overnight? Odds: likely (many creatures are nocturnal)
Roll: exceptional yes (03)

By what? Roll for meaning (descriptions; rolled twice for 2 things because Exceptional): Lazily amusing, intensely ruined

Fate question: Does the creature successfully snuff the torch? Odds: likely (element of surprise)
Roll: yes (25)

Fate question: Do the creatures have night vision? Odds: very likely
Roll: yes (55)

What do they want? Roll for meaning (character motivations): adversity, transform (AND a roll of 99 again- here we go, folks)

Creature stats

  • Scale: 0
  • Body: Good
  • Mind: Fair
  • Social: Fair
  • Gifts: Fluid-bodied
  • Faults: Light-sensitive

Struggle (Kel's Body vs Great): Good (+0) vs Great; Failed escape

Stay ahead (Kel's Body vs Creature's Body): Fantastic (+1) vs Great (+1); Success

Fate question: Does Kel run in the right direction? Odds: 50/50
Roll: no (92)

Stay ahead (Kel's Body vs Creature's Body): Great (+0) vs Good (+0); Success

Fate question: Does Kel run in the right direction? Odds: 50/50
Roll: exceptional no (94)

Stay ahead (Kel's Body vs Creature's Body): Good (-1) vs Poor (-3); Success, and she gains some ground

Fate question: Does Kel run in the right direction? Odds: unlikely
Roll: no (53)

Stay ahead (Kel's Body vs Creature's Body): Mediocre (-3) vs Good (+0); Failure; they're right behind her

Fate question: Does Kel run in the right direction? Odds: 50/50
Roll: yes (14); 2 more turns needed to reach safety

Stay ahead (Kel's Body vs Creature's Body): Fantastic (+1) vs Fantastic (+3); No change

Stay ahead (Kel's Body vs Creature's Body): Fantastic+ (+2) vs Great (+1); Success. Next turn is safety.

Stay ahead (Kel's Body vs Creature's Body): Fantastic (+1) vs Fantastic (+2); No change, but she reaches safety.

Fate question: Does someone find Kel? Odds: likely (it's home, but it's nighttime)
Roll: yes (52)

Chaos factor +1; current factor: 6

Added to character list: wood whoopers, townsfolk

Only one scene for this session, and wow, it was a doozy. Chase scene! Kel's going to be alright once she recovers a bit, but this is absolutely going to have some consequences that she might not like.

This seems like a good time to mention an element of how I play. I like it when my characters surprise me, so occasionally I'll treat them like a slightly more controllable NPC and roll to be surprised by their actions. One could say that instead of simulating having a GM, I sometimes simulate having a player. That didn't really come up this session, but it's very likely to come up next session given what my expected scene is.

Also, it turns out that I love chase scenes; this was the most fun I've had yet. Wasn't sure if she was going to make it home a few times!

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Played on

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