The Hunt

Published by Anonymous user #22 on Mar 19, 2022


Stumbling out into the open lands, I had glanced behind myself, checking to see if I had any pursuers. But there had been nothing behind me - or perhaps they weren’t behind me, as I turned back around. I could see nothing, though. Nothing in this darkness, and it was even worse in the light snowstorm that surrounded me. I hoped it would remain light - and I hoped I could find shelter soon, pressing a hand down to the wound earned from my escapade at the castle.

Indeed, it was supposed to be a simple mission, yet I had failed, miserably. The king still lived, and worse: I was alive, wounded, and fleeing through the wilds on foot. There was no way they’d let an assassin, especially one that got as close as I did, live. They were after me. But would they pursue me into the thick of the wilds, I wondered? It could be my best hope to flee and find a safe place. At least until I figured out how to get myself back together.
Shouting, somewhere, over the high winds. Shouting of men. For this, I could only push forwards, hoping that I was not running right into the hunting party instead. It wasn’t easy, you know. Going through the storm with a wound. The wound alone wasn’t fatal, although it would be combined with certain factors that I was experiencing right now. If only I could reach somewhere safe - a cave or something, I heard there were plenty in the local area, all I had to do was find one - and stop the bleeding. Clean it maybe, wrap it up at the least. Sleep. Although I had a feeling this may be a sleepless night.

Thunder rumbled - I wasn’t sure where it was from. The storm, or something else? I tripped on a rock before I had any time to think. Into the snow, and although I was wearing somewhat protective clothing, it was undeniably cold. I caught myself with my arms before I fell flat on my face. But through the harsh winds, I heard groups of horses - and not wild ones, as from the corner of my eye, I saw light. The shouting was loud now.

I quickly stood up. There was no way I’d be able to get away from them here, not on foot. Not without being seen. I had to wait for them to pass, but not in the open like this. Tucking my arms closer to my chest, I searched the area for something that could be of use. A fallen tree, some shrubs - that, I could use as cover. And I did, seemingly in the nick of time. For as I practically fell into shelter, the horses and men grew louder, finally approaching where I once stood. 

They slowed down, like they’d thought they had my trail, but lost it. The men spoke amongst themselves, and for a moment, I thought that maybe I’d managed to fool them. But I cursed. I cursed, I tell you, as I remembered one horrible thing - it was winter, and the ground was covered in snow. I leaned back even further into the shrubs to the point that my back met a rock wall - I felt my heart sink, realizing that they’d be able to see where I had gone off to. They hadn’t lost my trail. I’d led them right to me.

A few of them dismounted, pointing out the tracks, droplets of blood, and the sudden change of direction. They knew, and my time was up. If they didn’t get me here, they’d bring me to the castle. And that, well, I knew my fate was death. After they tried to scrub what information they could from me. Like I’d give anything up, of course.

They began their approach. I could see their legs - turning, noting where the trail seemed to end, and walking to it. To me. I pulled myself in further, but I was in a dead end. Nowhere to run. 
Until the howl. It was not the howl of a wolf, but it was enough for all of them to stop. Even for me to pause in panicking. It was a horrible howl. A deep one of a large, singular beast. The soldiers mumbled among themselves before another one came, closer this time. And there was only one howl that came from. The Val’anur was on its way. A beast most people in the northern wilds feared. It was said it could hunt endlessly. Even the most experienced warriors had trouble taking it on - it was better to risk fighting it straight on. The Val’anur could pursue for as long as it wanted.

The smart soldiers fled. The storm seemingly began to die out - I could hear some men get on their horses, others exclaim, as though surprised on their fellow men fleeing the area. They knew. I could hear some unsheathe their swords, their weapons. The air grew silent - only noise was the breathing, my heart thudding in my chest - and their talking, debating what to do, or where the beast would come from. 

It came so suddenly. There were only a few moments as the thudding was heard - massive paws, hitting the ground. A heavy breath from a heavier creature. The thudding become loudest when the beast burst from the trees, jumping into the air with a roar. I couldn’t run now, the Val’anur was in the area.

The soldiers who had stayed - the ones who had dismounted were the first to go. The first targeted, I supposed. The Val’anur didn’t even need to bite them - swipes of its paws were enough to send them aside. I wouldn’t check on what happened to them. Their fates were ensured - and mine? Earlier, I had thought it was death. It still could be, with the Val’anur here. But the soldiers wouldn’t be doing the killing.
The Val’anur roared, an echo into the tundra. I could hear horses leaving the area. Whoever remained was good as dead. No one wanted to stay and fight the Val’anur. I did not blame them. The Val’anur stood on its hind legs for a few seconds, facing one direction, as though watching something. The hunting party fleeing? The Val’anur moved back down, placing its forepaws back onto the ground, and turning back.

Presumably, to feed on the ones who had stayed. And were, well, dead. For what felt like hours I listened to the Val’anur feed - the Val’anur was particular to rarely leave anything behind. What it wouldn’t digest, it coughed up later, often including armour, weapons, etc - one could say an easy way to tell if you were in Val’anur territory was to check the quality of any armour or weapons you see lying on the ground.

Then the Val’anur stopped, and I held my breath as it pulled away from its feeding spot. For a moment, it sniffed the ground, walking closer to my hiding spot, then stopping. I stared at the Val’anur from my hiding spot. Its thick fur - by the gods, I’d never been this close to this one. I had not realized how big their paws were - bigger than a man’s head. 
But the Val’anur surprised me when it turned away with a snort, and trotted off. In search of more prey, I think. But why, when I was right there? Had it not seen me? Or had the gods decided to spare my life today?

I was not going to throw away this chance at survival. The storm had cleared, and daylight was seeping into the air. When the footsteps of the Val’anur stopped, I waited a few seconds, then crawled out from under the tree and shrubs. Not even looking at the remains of the Val’anur’s meal, I left, eager to get away from this place once and for all.

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