literature

Whispers of the Woods

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The dry, blistering sands of home had long faded into a distant memory, kept alive only by the desert mare’s yearning to feel the sun on her back once more. The massive trees seemed to scrape up against the sky, blocking out the sun’s brilliance so only dapples of light patterned the forest floor. Zephyr watched the trees thoughtfully as she wandered, wondering if they had trapped the sun in their leaves to turn them that brilliant, orange color. The forest was nothing like home. The earth was dark from moisture and hidden beneath meandering patches of moss. The plants were normally too unfamiliar to stir her appetite, but she was aching with hunger. The forest was well alive with animals that she stalked, but they always evaded her grasp.

A bird rustled the leaves in the tree above and she shivered unwillingly, the hairs of her manes stiffening. She could never shake the feeling that something was hunting her, the way shadows danced across the dark moss floor and how the animals crept through the brush. They were frightened of her, but not because she was unfamiliar. They knew what her kind was capable of. The brush ahead was trampled and she stalked into the clearing, nostrils flaring nervously only to drink in the scent of another ballator. She recoiled, the sharp scent of a stallion jolting her senses awake – ears swiveling, she balked and glanced around, half-expecting a beast to come barreling through the brush towards her.

Silence greeted her. She closed her eyes and exhaled slowly until the icy feelings of dread slipped away. She was not going to turn back, not when that meant that wherever ‘back’ was, was towards the humans hunting her. Whatever stallion stalked this domain she would face him if they crossed – she had faced many brutes in the ring. How could this one be any different?

Something was creeping through the brush nearby. Zeph opened her eyes and craned her neck slightly, peering out of the corner of her eye. A doe grazed timidly among the trees, almost invisible under the dappled leaf covering. The desert mare’s jaws parted and she drank in the scent, a quiver rippling through her. Forgetting the stallion she stalked forward and when the doe did not respond she broke into a trot, excitement overwhelming her. In the desert she always ran her prey down, daring any creature to try to outmatch her speed. Her heart began to race and then thrum and when the hot blood seared through her veins she exploded into a canter.

The deer bolted, its flared tail disappearing into a thorny thicket. Zephyr crashed through the brush explosively, the sharp points scoring her chest with thin streaks of blood. The scent drove her mad with a surge of carnal excitement and she roared her claim to the terrified doe. Birds scattered above in every direction, the sound of wings further confusing the doe. It knew the forest well, yet in its terror its home was suddenly a never-ending maze of looming trees and tangled brush. It jumped and barely cleared a tall rock in its path and then turned sharply around a large oak and zigzagged off between smaller trees, Zephyr did not falter – the landscape was an invigorating challenge, a puzzle to navigate, and the thrill of the hunt always let her mind drift away from the terrors of the ring. The deer however was not free from such nightmares – it slowed and glanced around, searching desperately for a path to lead its hunter astray. Zephyr, seeing her chance, bared her teeth and lunged, a wild look reflecting in the whites of her eyes- 

A dark shape streaked ahead of her and barreled into the deer, bringing it down with a sickening crunch – Zephyr skidded back, driving her hooves into the damp soil to stop her fall as she stared at the intruder in sheer disbelief. The deer shrieked in terror and fell as a jumble of thrashing limbs, kicking up dust. Its hunter had brought it down with great force, but yet… there was something artful about the way he had tripped the deer, ramming it with careful precision and guiding it with the right blow to knock it off balance cleanly. The stallion was painted with an array of colors, as if lightning had struck his hide and sent cascading, brilliant scares across it. Her disbelief at the stranger’s color quickly melted into rage. 

“This doe is mine-“ She hissed, hunger clouding her eyes and desperation ruling her words. She stalked forward, sides still heaving from the chase, and snapped at the deer’s neck cleanly. The killing blow drew searing blood that pooled and then dribbled down the fallen creature’s neck. Zephyr tasted it, another stake of her claim set. She remained silent, in part from exhaustion, but she was also waiting to see if he would challenge her for it. The stallion said nothing at first, perhaps both a bit surprised and irritated by her manner. For a moment neither of them spoke at all – her pale gaze burned into him while he merely watched the doe’s still chest, its sides no longer rising and falling in rhythm. Finally he stated simply, “You’re going to fall, you know, trying to outrun prey like that.” 

The words stung… for a moment. She was used to others goading her at the pits, laughing and teasing about how she was too small, too slender, too delicate to fight back. But she could reason with this stallion’s words, even if his judgement annoyed her, for she hunted in the forest as if she was still back home. “I would have had it had you not got in my way… you..” The question escaped her before she could stop herself- “..What are you?” Weeks without seeing another of kind and months without conversation had also made even her speech desperate – she could no longer wear a guarded, reserved air. Better to speak her mind and learn about what could be a future danger. Perhaps he was gifted by one of the lords for no ballator naturally could bear colors that vibrant.

“I am Eitr. The deer is not yours… but I suppose you did have some role in catching it. I will share with you, if you so desire-“ The invitation was all she needed to sooth her worry. She visibly relaxed, prepared only moments before to fight and drive him away from the kill. Today she was lucky to have such a meal. Many days she went hungry, not knowing how to find and stalk prey in the strange landscape, and other days there was no time to stop to for anything out of fear her captors were drawing near her. She tore in the flesh without an introduction of her own or appreciation over the decision. The hot blood awoke a deep ache in her body and drove her to feast greedily, rending and stripping flesh as fast as she could swallow it down. 

Eitr did not disturb her meal, noticing the look in her eyes when she had watched him. Gaunt, wary, but ready to strike without a moment’s hesitation. It wasn’t the instinctual fear of seeing another ballator that ruled her, but something deeper that was visible in every careful movement and caustic word. Fear guided her and the only thing left to protect herself with was hostility, a powerful emotion that always rendered the bearer alone.

 The small deer was not enough for the two of them to share and leave content, and he finally voiced something that had been lingering in this thoughts. “The doe was traveling with a stag. I was trailing her yesterday and saw it following her.”  Zephyr worked her jaw for a moment, clearly deciding between silence or a biting reply. Why was he telling her this? He sensed her misunderstanding and confusion and continued. “I still need my fill, and you are clearly inexperienced hunting in these woods. I expect you’re only passing by, but you wont make it further if you can’t sustain yourself.” He expected her to curl her lip in annoyance at this, and she did. “I can show you how to hunt other deer here, but after you must move on.”

What was the reason for his sudden gracious act? Most stallions she knew would chase her off their territory for her impudence or try to court her. What could he possibly gain from this – he would only lose time helping her. Her scorching gaze faded and her expression dull. All she could think about was herself escaping alive, all she could imagine in others was deceit. Had the pits finally stamped out her last conceptions of hope? If.. if she took this stallion’s offer she would be defying that notion. And it could help her make it out of these woods without starving to death. “Thank you. And the stag will be yours.”

They stripped the deer together in silence. The forest was bathed in an orange glow by the time they finished, the brilliant colors of the sunset dappling their hides as they crept through the brush. Often times Eitr was silent, only occasionally speaking to tell her the rules of the forest. Where to find certain animals, how to move silently and use the tree cover to their advantage, and what signs she could look out for. The stag was near, he told her, he could smell its fear for it had not seen the doe in hours and could smell its hunters. They passed through a trampled clearing, where the stag had rested for a while, he told her after studying it, and eventually stopped.

“There…” His voice was scarcely more than a whisper, but she could hear the excitement lingering in it. He was clearly holding himself back to let her take this kill. He pointed with his nose and she craned her neck and stared into the darkness until her eyes were finally able to pick apart the young deer’s form from the bushes around it. It was a small stag, its antlers only small, velvet nubs peeking out from the pedicle. The stag was allowing itself to graze, but only in short, wary bouts. Its large ears swiveled around and its body shook even at the wings of birds in the trees ahead. “You can’t run it down now – it’s expecting you. You must wait until it relaxes and move closer when it does. Then you can run it down.”

Zephyr suppressed an anxious growl – but she waited. The sun had long vanished and the moon ruled the sky. The stag was in shadow, but she cool still make out its shape. Eventually it calmed, she looked for the signs Eitr described and then with his guidance crept forward through the brush. And then waited. She could no longer see Eitr where he was hidden and she could only let instinct guide her now. A tremor ran through her muscles and she took that as the sign – she bolted and surged through the bushes she was using as her cover. The stag tossed its head up in alarm and tore away, driving up furrows of dirt in its wake.

It was more ready for its hunter than the doe had been – it immediately ran for thicker tree cover to lose her. The mare’s energy was renewed by her earlier feast and she whipped around a large trunk and into the dark maze. The deer’s white belly flashed somewhere in the gloom ahead and she tore off her path to cut it off from the side. Her hooves beat the ground faster and with a last burst of speed she closed the distance between them. This was not a drawn out chase like she had tried earlier, but a full on sprint. If she didn’t catch him now, he would slip away. She tried to make a quick turn, ready to lunge and ram the stag to knock him down, but the path was too unclear in the gloom and she overshot the distance – the stag darted away and she cursed out loud her failure. 

Then again, a flash of vibrant color and Eitr burst into the clearing ahead, cutting off the stag and sending it sprawling. He finished it off quickly and let it fall from his jaws to breath deeply and drink in the cool night air. The thrill of the chase that surged through her was easily replaced by shame and she looked away, inhaling sharply. The stallion enjoyed his meal before speaking, thoughtfully choosing his words.

“I have been hunting here my whole life. I hardly expected you to master these woods in an evening. But you will learn-“ Desperation was could teach anyone how to survive, but it would not teach her to strategize. Each hunt here was different, he knew this, because the woods were a challenge in themselves to navigate.  

She nodded and repeated. “I will learn.” There was little more to say between them – he had kept his vow and both had their meal. He did not say it outright, but she knew these woods were his. And this was not like her home, not something she would ever completely adapt to. She could not live here, but she could survive her passage through. She bid him farewell only with a dip of her head and then vanished in the shadows, hoping to find her way out of the woods.  

I had random inspiration to write about Eitr and Zeph hunting so I tacked this up. It’s a what-if scenario of Zephyr escaping from the pits and wandering through the wildnerness searching for something she can call home again. Forgive the awkward writing, I’m so rusty it.

Ballator(s) Pictured: 2906 | Zephyr & 3466 | Eitr | Reference
Item(s), Companions, and/or Rank: Dog (Zephyr), both are Rookies.
Region: Americas
Object Being hunted: Whitetail Deer
Link to Hunting Tracker:
Hunting Tracker (Zephyr) & Winzer's Hunting Tracker
Number of Words (if applicable): 2257
Stat Count:
+11 Words
+2 Extra character (Eitr)
+2 Extra character (Doe)

Total: 15

© 2017 - 2021 Zugunruhes
Comments1
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Winzer's avatar
holy fuck this is amazing. I want to read more of your writing. I think I'm gonna have to finally get off my ass and start up that rp :eyes:

And seriously. The word choices and characterization here are flawless. I love Zephyr, sweet bab.