That was all his mind could seem to tell him, at the moment. And so he did.
He could hear the villagers, his friends, his neighbors, all chasing after him, brandishing flames and bows. But they needed him alive, so for all the arrows that whizzed past Hunter, none of them struck true, nor would have been fatal if they had.
After all, a sacrifice is no good if it is already dead.
Hunter woke slowly, fatigued from running throughout the night. The sun had only just come up a few hours ago. He had gotten maybe three hours of restless sleep.
He observed his surroundings, having not paid much attention to them when he slid into the thicket, hiding for the remainder of the night. He had run almost half an hour longer after he couldn't hear the villagers anymore. And now Hunter heard
nothing. An unnatural stillness that meant a predator was near.
He sat up a little taller, trying to look through the trees. He could hear it now. There was something here, close by. The soft snap of a twig underfoot, of crunching grass and leaves, shifting dirt. Hunter froze. This may have been what had woken him.
A lone wolf suddenly lunged at him, teeth wrapping around his forearm. Hunter cried out, backing against the brush, writhing on the ground. After a few seconds of this, both had quieted, heavy breathing being all that filled the thicket. His arm still in a death-grip, Hunter stared into the wolf's eyes, his own betraying fear and fatigue. The wolf quieted his growls, searching Hunter's eyes for something. Or so it seemed to Hunter.
"It's okay. I won't attack you," he struggled. "I'm alone, and frightened. Please
The wolf loosened his grip, slowly, then backed up quite suddenly. Hunter was ready to stand when the wolf turned and ran off into the woods. Hunter doubted he could find it, even with all of his tracking skills. He couldn't draw his bow right now anyway; he would just have to trust that the wolf wouldn't return.
He had left his village in quite a hurry, only sparing the time to grab his bow, quiver, and hunting pouch. Having always been cautious, he kept sterilized cloth and other such small supplies there at all times. He would have to find a clear stream to wash his arm in. Who knew what diseases that damn wolf could have.
It took Hunter a little over an hour to find a clean stream. He wished now that he had something to store water in. The way it was, he couldn't stand to wander too far away from the stream. But just as he would stay close for fear of losing water, so too would dangerous animals. He'd have to watch himself.
After cleaning and dressing his wound, Hunter took an inventory of his supplies. He had his bow, an old thing carved from a hickory tree and reinforced with lemonwood. He had a quiver, comfortably full with eight arrows. Medicinal supplies along the lines of sterile wrap and gauze, and herbs for pain, cuts, and burns. He also had an extra bowstring and his hunting knife. The pack was fairly light, but he hadn't been able to find his waterskin in his rush to leave. His biggest regret. He had also dressed light, his cloak being his warmest bit of clothing. The nights would be cold, but bearable. He knew how to make a fire, and shelter. He would survive.
That only left him wondering one thing. What would he do now?
By next morning, Hunter was sure he had left the villagers behind. He had already traveled well beyond what they considered their normal hunting grounds. He was in contested territory. Now his worry became the various animal packs that roamed these parts of the forest, wolves especially.
Hunter's hand went to his injured arm. It was still sore, but he would try hunting today. He had left two nights ago, after a feast of lamb and potatoes, among other crops that they had harvested, and while it had served him well yesterday, his appetite had returned in full force overnight. He would take what he could get, though. He would eat tree bark if he had to; he had once before, on a bet. But he'd rather not.
These parts were hilly, making for difficult climbing. Hunter probably would've walked along with the stream even if he had brought his waterskin; it made for easier walking, for one thing, and animals would need water just as he would. There was a slight breeze, not enough to dramatically affect an arrow, but just enough to help mask a foreign scent, and carry it away from prey. Hunter found a tree downwind from the stream, stashing his hunting pouch at its base. This tree looked to be easy to climb, even with his arm, and had a clear view of the water below. He'd had several clean kills from this range before. This shouldn't be difficult.
The climb up was easier than he had imagined. It was a short distance, but enough that most animals would not notice him. Hunter nocked an arrow, laying his bow across his lap. He cut a piece of bark from the tree with his knife, needing something to chew on to take his mind off of his empty stomach. It was going to be a long day.
It was midday when Hunter knew something was wrong. He had suspected so for the last few hours, but there was definitely something scaring all of the game away. And it just wasn't leaving.
He had a few options here. The first was to continue on. After all, if this thing wasn't leaving, it was probably trying to protect its territory, or worse, its family. There was nothing more dangerous than an angry mother. And for it to scare away the game, it had to be a wolf, or wolves. For Hunter's sake, he would continue to hope that it was wolf, singular.
But if it was wolf, singular, then Hunter had pretty good odds of killing it, even if it challenged him. There was also always the chance that it was the wolf from yesterday, and Hunter hadn't had his revenge on him yet. Wolf meat wasn't so bad, better than bark, anyway. He was actually looking forward to it as he climbed out of the tree.
Hunter took off his bear pelt cloak. He'd have to wade across the stream, and though it wouldn't ruin the pelt persay, it would be damp and unpleasant for a while afterwards. He was fine wading with the rest, but took only his bow, knife, and two arrows with him. He could return for the rest if he was successful, but he didn't need it weighing him down for the kill.
After nocking one of the arrows and placing the other carefully between his teeth, Hunter sank down into the river, careful to keep his bow above the water. It was viciously cold, but only came up to just above his waist, and for that, at least, Hunter was glad.
As he slipped slowly out of the water, Hunter took careful stock of his surroundings. A good place for a wolf den
where would that be? He had nothing really to go on, and so chose a path that the animals had made and began to follow it.
It didn't take him long to find the wolf.
When he happened across it, his bow was already drawn, but his arrow did not strike true. The wolf chose to move at the moment that Hunter loosed his arrow, and it struck instead in the wolf's right flank. He landed atop Hunter, eyes wide with the pain and fangs bared.
Hunter was really frightened now. This was no ordinary wolf. Those eyes were most decidedly human. And he was about to be killed by it, this demon creature. So
why hadn't it attacked yet? Maybe they weren't all as primal as he had been taught to believe.
"Please, wait," Hunter managed. Déjà vu much?
"Why are you here?" spoke the wolf. "You humans rarely hunt this far, and if you do then you never hunt alone."
Hunter blanked. This wolf's voice was mesmerizing. It was mature, yes, but not deep. In fact, it sounded to be even younger than himself, though it spoke with a wisdom beyond its years.
"Speak, human! I will not hesitate again."
Hunter knew that he would have to choose his next words with great care. He swallowed first, finding himself in desperate need for a drink of water.
"The only reason I am hunting this far from my tribe is because they meant to sacrifice me to the Gods two nights ago. I wouldn't blame you if you didn't believe me. I can hardly bring myself to believe it, but I swear to you, it is the truth. I've had nothing to eat in that long, apart from tree bark. So please, if you would just spare me, I will not go after you or your pack."
The wolf laughed, a deep, coughing growl accompanying his all too human laugh.
"You humor me, human."
"But it's truth!"
"I did not say otherwise, only that I find you humorous. Poor helpless human, had to eat bark from a tree, even with his fancy weapon."
Hunter came to a sudden realization.
"You've been watching me since morning?"
The wolf blinked in response.
"Was it your aim to scare all of the game away? Or were you simply hoping to kill me when I could not net a meal tonight?"
"You simply intrigue me, curious human. I was watching to see how you would react in that situation."
Hunter liked the direction that this conversation was taking. It was no longer about bargaining for his life, at any rate.
"Did I react according to your expectations?"
The wolf blinked again.
"I did not expect you to realize that I was scaring the game away. And also, that you would come after me."
Hunter swallowed, the wolf still pinning him very much to the ground. He could feel the wolf's blood, trickling down around his leg.
"For that, I am sorry. If I had known you were more than a mere wolf, I would-"
"What? You would have done what, exactly? Do not try to deceive me. Your kind hardly look upon mine with respect and admiration."
"It is wrong to kill another human, and-"
The wolf growled, fiercely.
"And so it is wrong to kill my kind? Do not, ever, compare me to that of a lowly human. Why do you think I choose the appearance and life of a wolf?"
Hunter was at a loss for words. Of course he had heard the tales of the ones who had lost favor with the Gods, and so, to be punished, had lost their bond with nature. He was one of them. Humans were considered lowly beings, in the eyes of a God. They were made to sacrifice young men to appease the Gods, once a year, after the harvest, lest the next year be a harsh one.
In all actuality, humans were, in the beginning, only another form of every creature. After losing touch with the Gods, they also lost touch with what they had once been capable of. In much the same way, some of the original beings completely ignored free will, and so shed their connection with man, becoming animals that blindly followed the teachings of the Gods. Those who ignored Gods, and those who blindly followed Gods. Then there were those who followed the teachings of the Gods, while still daring to challenge them and grasp at free will. They were beings like this wolf. Being proud creatures, many wolves were actually capable of human intelligence and actions, moreso than any other animal.
In fact, legends said that all wolves were capable of human transformations, and that half of all the humans today came from wolves, one of the most prideful animals on the planet, never one to blindly follow. And Hunter had just insulted this creature's pride, whatever his definition of that was.
He looked down from the wolf's eyes.
"I apologize. I did not mean to insult your pride, or to otherwise offend."
The wolf let up, Hunter finally finding it easier to breath. He slid so that he was sitting, the wolf doing likewise, keeping his right leg outstretched. It was he who spoke first.
"So, you were to be a sacrifice? You may have doomed your entire village to a harsh winter by running away."
"And you're okay with that?"
"There's no one left in my village that I will miss. In a choice between my life or my village, my life simply won. And that's all there is."
The wolf nodded.
"Are you going, then, to the mountains?"
"To beg forgiveness from the Gods? I'm not sure. I've no idea what to do now."
He couldn't stop staring at the wolf's quivering leg, at his arrow still sticking through.
"I could start by helping you with that arrow. I have herbs and the like in my pack, just a little ways back."
The wolf looked at the arrow as if it were nothing more than a mere annoyance.
"That would be appreciated. There aren't many human skills that I am envious of, but your ability to heal is one of them. I will wait, if you would be so kind, but please leave your weapon behind."
Hunter felt torn. To leave his bow behind was madness. But he knew that the only reason he was alive was because he had won this wolf's favor somehow. The wolf could probably still kill him, given the chance. So he set his bow and arrow down carefully. He did not offer his knife, nor did the wolf press him for it. And then he was gone, trudging back across the stream.
He almost didn't go back. That creature terrified him, shook him to his very core. But without his bow, he was as good as finished out here in the wilderness. So he rolled everything up in his bear-pelt cloak and carefully made his way back to the wolf.
"You know, this would be easier if you were human. Less fur."
Hunter had his knife, some herbs, and wrap already set out when he voiced his concerns. The wolf simply laughed.
"Are you truly that curious as to what I look like?"
(And..... that's all I've got. So far. Much more in the works. Maybe. xD)
Listening to: Pika Girl
Reading: Catching Fire
Eating: Mashed Potatoes