The twisted, dripping thing had once been human . . . maybe. I couldn't tell for certain -- everything recognizable had been removed. The condition of the body and the smell clinging to the air could only have been caused by the cruel monster I tracked: the black loper.
As I stood up, the carpet of flies that once covered the body returned to their feast. The twisted form no more than hours dead was once again abuzz. A bow and quiver of arrows rested nearby. Perhaps the victim had been a woodsmaiden like me.
I knelt to the ground to look for the creature's tracks. The morning dew had burned away, but the sun revealed some glistening blades. They shone not with blood, but the black syrup the foul beast drools after it eats. Slime and bodies were the only things it left behind. It left no foot or claw prints, nor would it unless it needed to get better purchase to eat a large beast.
I followed its trail, even though I knew it would die out as quickly as the creature's victims. The beast generally kept to a steady direction after eating, becoming erratic only when it hungered. The remnants of the poor soul I'd found were enough to assure me that the creature was full. The trail was straight, and I followed it at a jog. With luck, I would catch up to it as I had the others I had tracked, and then the area would be free of unholy malice forever.
I question my use of "unholy." Though I had spent many a year in the service of my goddess as a warrior, I knew that my true calling was hunting black lopers until none remained in the world -- or in the next, if I could manage it. Perhaps this was my goddess's wish: that I slay black lopers wherever I could. It didn't matter. Goddess or not, they all had to die.
The trail led into a nearby wood. I readied myself by drawing my cloak. Black lopers are nearly blind, depending almost entirely on their sense of smell. I believe that they cannot see very far ahead of them, though oddly enough, they can see hard edges easily. Using this amount of perception, they move around corners and through doorways, as well as track the movement of swords, spears, and especially pole arms.
As I crossed in to the woods, I tied my hair back and drew my cloak around me -- a good, though temporary, defense. The wide smooth surface would prove difficult for the creature to see. Black lopers possess an acute sense of smell, however, and they can sense any living thing approaching within a stone's throw. I treated the fabric with mint to disguise my scent. Any natural vegetable-based scent is good for the purpose. I hesitate to use anything animal-based, for that would surely attract the creature (and other denizens of the wild for that matter).
I didn't have to worry about noise, for black lopers have no ears. Instead, I casually tore through the brush, trying to make as much progress through the woods as I could while still following the trail of disturbed brush and slime drippings it left as it floated over the ground.
I came to a point where the slime had pooled. They were tiny pools, not more than a few droplets each, but they stood out from the trail. I froze. The pools meant the creature had hovered in this spot for a bit. The trail ended, so it could only have flown up above me. I must not have seen it as I approached. My hope was that it wasn't looking for me but had smelled a deer and waited to descend upon the prey when it walked by. Black lopers often hunt in this manner, preferring to float along, then stop when they smell something they want to eat.
If it was indeed hunting, this was a far larger creature than I had first thought -- it was early for the loper to be hungry again. Unless . . .
I shuddered at the thought that it might be hunting me specifically after all. Only once have I encountered a black loper intelligent enough to reason in such a manner, able to sense that it was being hunted. I was able to track it and catch it by surprise. I feared that this black loper had caught me.
My head was pointed down to look at the pools of syrupy black ichor and the hood of my cloak was pulled down over my forehead. I couldn't look up without betraying my suspicions, so I scanned the ground for a shadow.
There it was. The creature sat low in the branches of a tree behind and to my left. It wasn't moving. I shifted my position slightly, just enough to see the beast at the very edge of my peripheral vision. It had extended its tentacles and wrapped itself around some of the branches -- a position it couldn't get out of quickly. Did it intend to hide from me and let me pass? How it had detected me in the first place?
Just then, a sizzling sound came from the creature. Black lopers' tentacles exude an acidic substance used for digestion. Its tentacles, wrapped around the branches, released acid that even now ate through the wood. The salivating meant it had every intention of coming after me.
Black lopers have one weakness: magic weapons. All other weapons have difficulty penetrating their unusually tough hide. I reached for my dagger and closed my fingers around its pommel just as a terrible crack sounded from the black loper's tree. I moved immediately, not caring whether my cloak would hide the hard edges of the arrows in my quiver. The huge tree branch on which it had been thundered down, barely missing me. It had used the acid from its tentacles to eat through the wood, then hurled the branch at me. This was new -- no black loper in my experience had used improvised weapons before. Was this a new breed of lopers?
I didn't have time to ponder the matter. I ran behind a tree and peeked out, catching a glimpse of it moving away to my left. I shifted to the other side of the tree and glanced about -- it was flying straight for me!
I transferred my dagger to my left hand, drew my sword, then backed up a few steps. It would have to come around the tree to get at me, and that moment of turning would give me a slight advantage.
The loper arced around the tree, its tentacles gripping the invisible air as though it crawled through a thicket of invisible vines hanging in all directions. The completely black beast, dripping with its hideous syrup and painful acid, undulated and swooped and even wobbled as though gravity was changing randomly around it.
It turned to come at me. At that moment I swung and moved at the same time. The sword missed but my dagger caught one of its tentacles. It shrieked as more syrup poured out of the wound. A terrible burning smell arose from my left shoulder blade as acid ate through my cloak. I flung off the cloak -- the beast could sense me clearly anyway and I couldn't afford to damage my armor.
I cut the drawstring on my cloak as quickly as I could and let it fall to the ground as I moved again. The black loper had reversed its direction. Because black lopers have no face -- and thus no "front" to speak of -- the creature had no trouble reversing. It bore down on me quickly, leaving me little time to react. I put my sword up to receive its charge and made ready to cut it again with my dagger. The foul beast landed upon me and I thrust the sword for all I was worth. I hit it solidly in its biggest tentacle, driving the blade through the other side. It howled, gripped my sword with its other tentacles, and pulled back, taking my sword with it. Impaled, it writhed in mid-air, howling and slamming against trees, scorching bark with its acid.
It pulled the sword out and the weapon fell to the ground, along with a huge quantity of black blood cascading in a continuous stream from the open wound. I shuddered, for the foul creatures have no pulse and when they bleed, it's as if they were pouring their own blood out of a bucket.
I stepped away, trying to get the beast to move aside from my sword, which was now covered in blood and acid. I hoped I could retrieve it and perhaps wield it for a few more swings if my heavy leather gloves could stand up to the acid long enough.
It lunged toward me, ignoring whatever pain it felt. It moved much faster than I thought it could and was suddenly right next to me, flailing its tentacles with hideous frenzy. They wrapped around me easily, covering my face and circling my neck. The acid burned into and through my skin down to my muscles almost instantly, causing horrendous pain that almost made me black out. The creature had seated itself right on my chest and brought all its tentacles to bear against me. It wrapped and linked its tentacles around my back and squeezed, trying to burn me in two. I brought my dagger up and stabbed it repeatedly. That had no effect -- it kept trying to simultaneously sever me in half and strangle me.
The acid ate through the skin on my neck and I saw my own red blood pour over the black creature. I probably wouldn't make it out of the woods alive, but I had to make sure the monster never made it out either. I stopped stabbing with the dagger, put both hands around the weapon and thrust it in as far as I could. The beast howled and managed to grip me even tighter. I heard my own gurgling screaming as acid burned its way into my neck.
I don't know how much time passed before I woke, but it must have been morning as there was a fog on the ground. I rose up and became aware that I could see the edges of the trees easily through the fog. My own sword and dagger shimmered with a curious glow I had not seen before. I went toward them and felt myself descend. As I reached for my sword, I saw a dripping black tentacle reach out to grip the haft. I realized then how the creature propagated itself. I floated silently further into the woods, hoping that I could find some animals to feed off of, and hoped that I would never find a need for human flesh.
Transfer: When it kills a victim, a black loper assumes the personality and fragments of memory of its victim. If it kills an intelligent person, then it wanders lost and aimless as it tries to somehow reconstruct its life, but remains basically unaware that it's the monster it truly has become. During a full moon, the creature's memories are lost and it reverts to its natural state, hunting as necessary to survive. Black lopers do not reproduce. They come from some other plane, but which plane and their method of entering the plane is unknown.
About the Author
Eric Haddock is a game content writer for Xbox and PC games at Microsoft, publisher of Abashima Press, and former assistant editor for Dragon Magazine. When not hiking in the Pacific Northwest and avoiding lopers, he games about 60 hours a week, not counting gaming at work. Fortunately, his wife, Julia Martin, is a gamer too. They have two cats, Oracle and Ororo, who like the dice from games but do not play very much.
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