867 RA “1st Season, 5th Moon, 1st Week, 4th Day”
Southern Kingdom, Hukoten Hunting Grounds At Morning

Crimson orange moss covers the ground for as far as the eye can see.  The thick glade is only interrupted by the occasional patch of grass or twisted tree.  The songs of birds and insectoid chatter brim from the forest surrounding the open meadow.  Among the tall grass one could easily miss the band of neros hunters beneath the shade of a tangled tree.

The pack moves gently over the fields, low to the ground before being stopped by the raising of Lymric’s hand.  Within arms reach of her father, Belairus followed suit gazing over the open grounds.  She points her vulpine ears towards her father as he whispers in the most silent of voices “What do you see Belairus?”

With a soft brush of her hands the reeds that conceal her bend to the sides revealing a two-legged creature that stood alone several yards away snapping its long tail.  Belairus notes that its body is much like that of a rhino covered in the fur of a deer.  Two large avian talons bite deep into the soil while its mouse-like nose sniffs the orange fungus.  The long horns atop its head brought to mind a crown.  “This is an Elken.” she chimes remembering their description from tales around the village.  The field beast lets out a small grumble rising to study the surroundings.  Lifting a foot, the creature pads the ground and bends for another sniff at the moss.

A freshly faced neros moves up behind Lymric and whispers “Look at the horns.  They are long.  This one is strong, and its old.  Swift but delicious.  A true hunt worthy of the young princess, Lymric.”  His face is burned with several intricate designs and swirls around his right eye.

“Uncle Asgar is right father… don’t you agree.” Belairus says feeling the firm grip of Asgar pat upon her shoulder.  Lymric looks over to see his brother’s pearly whites grinning from ear to ear.

Lymric bends close to Belairus’s ear.  “If you make a noise, this one will run away.  You must be,” Lymric pauses for emphasis before saying “silent, slow, deliberate.”  He points his claw to the throat of the animal.  “It will run, but if you get a good poke at it, it will fall.”

Belairus lets out a purr of excitement.  She quiets herself before stepping out from the cover of foliage.  Low to the ground virtually crawling on all fours her hand’s inches from dragging, she gets closer and closer, and the creature is still pawing at the ground tapping with that long thin tail.  

Lymric whispers to Asgar “Let’s see your worth brother.” Asgar continues his smirk knowing he taught her well.

With no warning the Elken looks up, standing erect, its eyes immense and wide as fear replaces its once relaxed gaze.  Belairus freezes not moving a muscle knowing if she did she would disappoint the others.  Her heart pounds as the creature twists its head in her direction.  Struck with the chill of eyes looking at her, deliberately observing, careful, intent to find any predators.  Her breath ceases to avoid any hint of movement.  Silent in the still the pack watches expecting her next move.

Then the sigil of victory signs itself.  The Elken lowers its head, her ruse was a success, she thought to herself.  A long tongue pokes out of its mouth lapping the ground picking up the thick slimy moss before returning into its open maw.  Belairus takes a careful step toward the creature, her foot sinking into the slimy moss with a splotch.  She looks to see her foot buried in her ankle in the fungus.  Her leather ankle bracelet slipping off as she lifts her foot.  Stumbling forward her other foot comes crashing onto solid dirt.  The sound is loud causing the color to drain from her.  Jerking her head up the Elken looks right at her, its eye growing larger like ink spreading through water.

She had to make her move now.  Belairus dives up from the ground charging at the Elken. Bracing her spear against her side, she thrust attempting to lance the thing.  It spins whipping its tail drawing up dust slapping Beliarus in the face with a loud crack.  She tries to catch herself but lands on her butt, watching the beast run swiftly into the thick wood.  She raises her hand to the painful stinging on her cheek.  Wetness and the thick stink of iron pervade the air.  She lowers her vibrant red fingertips.  With drooping ears looking back at the group who now come out from their cover she lets out a heavy sigh.

“It will take time, but you will be a great hunter.” A tall, muscular woman says lowering her hand lifting Belairus to her feet. “I am surprised you got that close.”

Belairus pouts looking back at the others. “But it got away.”

Asgar lets out a hearty laugh. “Narin is right little flower.  If no one ever got away, we would be too fat to hunt, and the forest would be empty.” He grins widely adding, “Even the great Asgar has lost many a hunt. You best, not pout, it happens to the best of us.”

~

Later in the day after the group had caught several rabbits, foxes, and other small game, a sulking Belairus spots something rummaging through a bush.  She could see the hairy leather hide of the creature.  It presents itself to her as an opportunity to impress. Bravely she approaches gripping her spear tightly around its leather wrap.  With a few careful prances, she spots a massive boar just as the beast turns its head to face Belairus letting out a snort, lowering its tusks.  With no time to call the others she freezes.

Belairus’s eyes grow wide as the boar lets out a snarling growl diving from the grass.  The beast instantly dwarfs her appearing to be a towering giant in her own eyes.  Advancing to the side, she rakes her claws against its thick flesh leaving a nasty gash.

“Belairus!” Narin yells, first to see the struggle.  Asgar who is at the rear of the group comes charging out of the brush as the boar turns swiftly back at Belairus.  The hog rushes her again in an attempt to bore her with its elephantine tusks.  Unexpectedly no sooner did the boar turn, the beast met the sharp end of Belairus’s spear right between the eyes.  It rears sending Belairus vaulting overhead as she uses her weight to push the spear in deeper.  She dives off the polearm to land on the boar’s arching back, stabbing it in the neck with her claws. The boar let out a squeal of pain kicking hard knocking Belairus from its back.  She rolls several times over the dusty soil sliding into a sprawl on all fours.  She narrows her gaze facing the beast as it drags it hoove to the ground.

Lymric whistles raising his hand signaling Asgar to stop.  Asgar looks at Lymric with frustration, his fingers moving across the shaft of his spear ready to lunge at his command. Lymric shook his head closing his hand.  Asgar sighs, his eyes focusing on his niece fighting the wild monster of a boar.  The beast rushes Belairus, but she grabs hold of the spear still stuck in its face. Her hands glide back onto the shaft turning along with its gate redrawing the spear from the boar’s skull. Blood leaks out of the boar’s face as the wound is opened.  It makes another round at her squealing with rage.  Again,  she sidesteps the boar, but this time as it passes her she lunges in the air slamming the spear into the boar spine knocking it to the ground.  With quick fury, she jabs the spear in several times until the boar’s movements ceased ensuring it indeed is dead.  Dripping with blood Belairus looks upon her kill a sense of pride welling inside.  She looks up to her father who likewise is pleased, a huge smile covering his face.

“Who would have thought my flower would be a fearsome beast slayer?” Asgar says in a voice thick with emotion.

“She is your daughter for sure, Lymric,” says Narin. She rests her body on her spear stabbing it into the ground.

Asgar chuckles more. “Smile.” Belairus obliged giving the widest toothy grin she could muster. “Good, that girl of your’s brother. She won’t be bested by any of us will she.” He takes a few steps to inspect the creature she had downed by herself. “Oh look at what you got. A bearded boar. Rare to find one of these if you’re not looking for one.”

Lymric walks over to Belairus grabbing her under her arms lifting her. She clutches onto his side. “Your first hunt is a bearded boar. You make your father proud,” he says tickling her belly causing her to let out a giggle.

Barieve chuckles before saying “Fantastic.” he then audibly licks his lips. “Can’t wait to dig in.”

Asgar nods his head lifting up the dead boar behind his back. “This is a noble hunt Belairus. Lumaria smiles upon you. A boar is a stronger creature than a small girl. Stories will be told of this hunt.” Belairus toothy grin beams with happiness.

~

Belairus sat next to her father on a log densely covered in moss. A small fire roasts the boar on a makeshift barbecue spit made of a few wooden branches. Barieve stood upon a rock above the group with his gazes focusing on the distant woods for a sign of danger. Asgar spun the spit gently roasting the meal properly while Narin relaxed sprawled out on a large flat rock sunning herself. Asgar watches the fires intently calmly lifting his head to peer at Belairus. “Belairus, do you know what Barieve is watching for.”

Belairus shakes her head. “We are in the land of an old winged god.”  Belairus’s face lights up. “Yes a winged god my girl.”

“The same winged gods we pray to at the wisdom tree?” Belairus asks.

“This one lives here in our world. The others fled long ago to the land of the wisdom tree.” Lymric says in a calm tone rubbing her head. “This winged god is named Visaraliel, and she is the queen of the forests. I have never met her, but Barieve has.”

Barieve slyly looks toward Lymric. “And I wish not to again.”

Amazed Belairus looks up at Barieve. “You met a winged god!” she bursts out. “What was she like? I mean what did she look like?”

Barieve glances down at Belairus for a moment and promptly raises his sights back to the distant. “She is larger than a temple statue and has the body of a feathered viper, horns like a ram. Her wings are so large they block out everything but folds tightly on her back. Her arms and legs were massive, like a mastodon. She had a tail like a tree. I was terrified. She told me to leave, and I obliged.”

“What happened to the winged gods?” Belairus asks.

“They left. No one knows why they left. The winged gods just left.” Asgar says. “But, when the world ends, the priests say they shall return to battle with the gods of the sky.”

“When the world ends…” Beliarus says under her breath, she quiets herself watching the boar cook staring deep into the burning embers.

~

It was quiet among the timbers; the sound of birds, absent. Narin sniffs the air her eyes growing wide with anger. Belairus sniffs as well smelling a funny smell. She looks over at her father who sniffs as well. Asgar quietly growls “I know that salty smell. It’s a human.” At that moment Asgar, Barieve, and Narin lower their ears, and their tail fur bushes out, claws extending out of their fingers and pupils grow into thin slits. “I’ll kill them.”

“Not unless I command it.” Lymric snarls at Asgar. They follow the scent to see a man dressed in a dirty jerkin vest. His bulging eyes and trembling body suggest to Belarius he is in a panic as he stumbles through the brush.  Lyrmic places his palm on Belairus’s head “This is a good test. Belairus, what shall we do with this human?”  

“Is this truly a human? He does not look so scary or strong?” she says in a curious tone. “Shouldn’t we see what he is up to before we do anything?”

Asgar wrinkles his nose.  “And dishonor our lands? Not I.” Asgar grips his spear walking towards the man. Lymric places his hand on Asgar’s shoulder holding him in place. “And why not?”

Lymric grins at Asgar. “She must learn how to lead.  I am curious to see how she would handle this.”

“By the Lumaria, I think you are making a big mistake listening to little flower.” Asgar groans.

“Father,” Belairus says before posturing to the two men. She then looks directly at Asgar. “Asgar, we have an alliance with the humans of Haven. Have you forgotten your honor to the Aria? Would you have me soil the Hukoten clan in the eyes of the Aria?” she says pointedly.

Asgar grows wide-eyed at Belairus’s statement. “Little flower thinks too highly of herself.”

“We honor our word to the Aria above our own interests,” she says in a firm tone.

Narin lets out a long hhhhhisssss “He is in our territory. That is breaking our treaty.”

“Would you have me kill him?” Belairus asks.

Barieve licks his lips before saying “Yes and eat him.”

“He smells terrible Barieve. You would eat that?” Belairus asks in a joking manner.

Lymric steps ahead of the group and walks out from cover. The rest of the Neros follow behind him.  The man looks up, his mouth gaping open immediately. “Where do you come from?” Lymric asks in a slow, deliberate tone.

“I am lost, please. I am not a threat.” the stranger stammers reaching to his sides pulling out his pants pockets. “See no weapons, I swear I am unarmed.”

Lymric lowers his ears slamming his spear on the ground. “That is not what I asked.”

The man drops to his knees in absolute terror shouting out “I am from Haven. Forgive me. I was separated from my caravan. I’ve been heading north for some time, but I seem to only be getting into denser jungles.” he says with a very ominous tone.

Belairus grabs her fathers shoulder pulling him down to her level “North… “ she whispers. “He is confused… south… he is going south.” Lymric eyes meet hers, a faint glint forming at their core, they return to the man as he rises to his feet.

“My daughter has saved your life. You should be grateful to her,” says Lymric. “I would have killed you if she had not been here. We do not take trespassers lightly.” Lymric growls letting out a long snarl. Belairus walks over to the man with a toothy grin. She reaches down to him showing her open hands. He grasps her palm as she helps him to his feet.

“I must be in the wildling lands?” he says in a shocked tone. “Thank you for your kindness.”

Belairus looks at the man walking around him inspecting him. He bites his bottom lip as he looks at the other three who appear eager to kill him. He gulps a lump forming in his neck. Asgar growls “Why are you here?”  Lymric’s eyes darting to Asgar’s.

“My caravan was attacked by thieves. Think they were from the Golden Kingdom. Not sure but they plundered our carts. During the fight, I got scared and ran off. I thought I was heading north, but I was heading south instead. This is quite a surprise. Could I have an escort… out of your lands? I don’t mean to intrude.”

Lymric looks over at Barieve who is salivating. “Can I trust you Barieve to take him to our border?”

Barieve looks up with a cartoonishly pained face. “Of course.”

“He can’t be harmed. Not even a little,” says Lymric.

Belairus stops looking over the man and stands in front of him. “I have never seen a human before. Where is your tail?”

The man smiles for a quick moment. “I don’t have a tail.” He shows her his hands. “Nore do I have claws.”

“Your eyes look funny. They look like dots.” she chuckles. “We are different, aren’t we. I am pleased to have met you human. Go in peace.”

The man gulps as he looks up to see Barieve standing in front of him.  Looking back to Belairus he bows his head. “Thank you. You are most gracious.”

Asgar growls “Get moving human…” before he turns to walk away. Barieve takes the man with him down another path. Belairus looks over her shoulder back at the man before saying “He sounded very nice and terrified. Why are humans such a threat to us?”

“They are not, and we should have killed them all a long time ago,” Asgar growls before running ahead.

Lymric sighs looking down at Belairus. “Long ago we were at war with the humans. It was long ago. Before I, or any of us were born. I think no one remembers why but we have been at war ever since. The humans of Haven were our friends for a long time. Now though, not so much.  We have a strained alliance with them.  I am surprised you know of that alliance Belairus. They serve a purpose. Without them, the humans from other lands would overrun the Aria with their weapons. We in return protect them from those other kingdoms.”

Narin snarls. “Not that long ago Lymric. It was not nearly long enough to forgive them for their betrayal. I have not.”

“Those were not the true leaders of Haven,” Lymric says to Narin.

“Fenrir told me of the human alliance, and the dangers of humans but I do not understand.  If the humans are our friends why do we not trust them now?” Belairus wondered aloud.

“Haven was captured by a people from another land. They attacked the Aria, and our elders were forced to slaughter the people of Haven. They did not kill all the humans though.” Lymric says. “Most of us Hukoten are still bitter to the Haven people. The Aria demanded the pact remain. This is why we hate the humans Belairus. You are too kind to them, and they will kill you when your back is turned. They hate us as much as we hate them.  If the people of Haven had their way, no doubt would like to go to war with us but they know they cannot because we would overpower them.”

“That is sad,” Belairus says as she continues walking down the path.