A snort came from out of the mist and two puffs of snot-flecked haze shot toward him along with a generous helping of rancid breath. The smell was thick with rotting mushrooms, leaves, and a faint undertone of spoiled meat—like a storm drain that had dried out and been left to rot.
The shadow behind the breath snorted again, this time identified with the sound of a hoof scattering soil and leaves.
Feeling a prickle run down his back, Chris readied his hammer as the shadow charged. He swung, but the mist was deceptive. The shadow was closer than it seemed and, mid stroke, barreled into him.
Two wicked tusks, backed by a brown-bristled body swept his knees out from under him, tossing him into a bush as the boar rampaged past. He pushed himself up off his hammer and shield, and turned back to the boar.
The boar circled slowly, disappearing into the mist before charging back. This time, Chris expected the distortive effects of his surroundings and swung early, activating [Sunder], intending on turning the boar into paste.
Expecting wasn’t the same as compensating for. Instead of hitting the charging beast in the chest, the hammer splintered its left tusk like bone china. The boar squealed and its head dipped down under the impact; its remaining tusk gored the earth instead. Dirt and leaves sprayed everywhere as the monster slid forward, one tusk carving through the ground in front of it as its knees buckled beneath it.
Chris felt another prickle down his spine, and this time he noticed his mana drain ever so slightly. He hopped back a few steps, just as the boar’s tusk caught a subterranean rock.
The boar’s momentum stopped abruptly and it pivoted upward, rump waving in the air before crashing down right in front of Chris’ feet.
The hammer hung limply at Chris’ side as his mouth dropped open. That was a close one!
If he hadn’t moved out of the way in time, the shape of a pig’s ass would have been permanently embossed in his forehead. At least his [Danger Sense] was paying off.
The boar began to right itself, still squealing, finding its footing on uneasy trotters as it turned to glare malevolently at its tormentor. Its tormentor glared back and sent a heavy hammer crashing into its spine.
The boar collapsed again, its legs splaying out beneath it as its squealing paused for just long enough to register before resounding out at a far higher volume and intensity. Chris raised his hammer one more time, just as his [Danger Sense] registered again.
He looked around, seeing nothing but a ring of mist and lights.
“Oh s***.” He had a feeling that was becoming an unwelcome catchphrase.
The boar he’d almost killed was struggling weakly, unable to rise, but there wasn’t time to finish it. He was surrounded. Then his [Danger Sense] went off again, and again, and again—until he was sure that it had just registered for every single boar around him. The cost was miniscule on its own, but it was beginning to snowball. Worse yet, the boars were beginning to move, pawing at the ground with their trotters.
He looked around. Nowhere to go.
Red lights stretched away and away, each pair the eyes of a boar drawn by the piteous screams of its brethren. Chris felt a chill run through him. And then they charged.
Nowhere to go but up. He jumped and slung his shield arm over a branch, jimmying a leg up, and hoisting himself the rest of the way.
Just in time, squeals and snorts surged beneath him as the bacon tide overtook the forest floor where he’d been standing.
He shifted around, then hung down by his legs to land cheap shots on the boars as they roiled and heaved beneath him, leaping on top of one another for the chance at spitting him on their curving tusks.
Then the tree began to shake as the swarm of boars aimed to dislodge him like ripe fruit. It almost worked. Chris flailed as his legs slipped. He only just managed to hook the head of his hammer around the branch to stop himself sliding farther. A few more inches and he’d have been too far gone, falling to be swallowed by the sea of boars beneath him—literally.
Jiggling himself back into a secure spot, he reached up for a higher branch, just as the tree wobbled again and let out an awful groaning noise. He steadied himself and looked around. He didn’t quite trust his Dexterity enough to risk leaping to a nearby tree, and the branches that got close to them were awfully thin. Some of the trees were barely even visible, spectral silhouettes in the mist.
He edged closer to the trunk of the tree, then slammed his hammer down low into the base of it. He shook his head in self-reproach, he was honestly becoming something of a one trick pony. Deforestation was not a universal solution. The wood buckled easily beneath the blow and the tree pitched forward like the mast of a foundering ship.
Chris clambered around the side of the tree, making sure that he was on the upward facing side when the tree finally collapsed.
Collapse it did, with a boom and a rustle of leaves. Boars trapped beneath the collapsing timber squealed, and mist blasted away from the area as rain and overcast light poured through the hole in the forest’s roof.
Chris looked around, most of the boars had fled when the tree hit the ground. A few still remained, about nine of them, glaring at him. Now, however, the tree’s branches and leaves provided a decent protection against flanking and encirclement.
He shifted his balance on the fallen trunk and readied his hammer and shield. The boars took the action as an invitation and careened toward him, squealing and bellowing, splitting into two groups that took either side of the trunk.
Ready for them, Chris sprung off the tree, letting the rampaging beasts pass under him.
He landed to the left of the trunk, swung low, and kneecapped three of the five animals that had taken the left side.
The boars on the right side chose that moment to crest the trunk, but the noise and Chris’ [Danger Sense] alerted him. He had already sidestepped and a blunt hammer face met a porcine snout. The snout lost and the hammer carved a canyon in its face as it scraped up towards the beast’s eyes.
The boar collapsed without so much as a squeal of pain.
That left five boars in fighting shape. It didn’t seem too difficult. They lacked the malevolent intelligence of the demons in the Dungeon, or the coordination of the Undead. They were just walking sausage factories that hadn’t yet accepted their fates.
He spun around them as they charged again, clipping the legs of two more and taking them out of the fight. Three left. He brought his hammer down. Two. Swung his weapon to the side. One. The final fell without ceremony. But the majority were not dead. Most still squealed and struggled limply in their agony.
Chris moved between them, hammer rising and falling like a red metronome. He had reached the last when he saw it. Rising from the body of the first boar he’d killed with the blow to its snout.
The light in the monster’s eyes had faded, and now that luminosity hung over its corpse like a shroud, pulling itself from the surface of the downed beast like a crimson ghost leaving its body. Silently it detached, its trailing ends snapping into itself like elastic, until it was a small orb of luminesce that began gently floating toward him.
Whatever it was, it wasn’t good. More began manifesting from the corpses, draining the light from the monsters’ eyes.
Chris backed away as the lights approached, stepping into the clearing of the fallen tree, where the rain fell and brought with it a small breeze that helped disperse the mist in the area.
His [Danger Sense] started going off again as they approached, but as they hit areas with less fog, the lights dispersed abruptly, fading into nothingness.
Chris checked his mana pool, surprised to see that it had decreased by about a third due to all the times the skill had gone off. It was an unexpected downside that it registered indiscriminately for each individual threat, although he couldn’t really complain about it, even if it was a drain on his mana. [Mana Spring] was working passively to replenish his pool, and he could almost swear he could feel energy in the mist seeping into him.
However, this was neither the time or place to be musing about how to absorb mana at higher rates. He was surrounded by killer pigs that released dangerous, homing will-o’-the-wisps whenever they died. It would make dealing with the swarm of hogs difficult, even if he had wanted to try taking them all on.
He was more interested in what was creating this mist. It obviously wasn’t natural. If he could bypass the trash mobs, then he could cut the problem off at the root. The main danger seemed to be the lack of visibility and the red wisps. If the mist dissipated, then it would be much easier to deal with the boars.