TRAIL OF MYTH - CHAPTER 1

The fallen leaves softly crunching under my feet weren’t doing me any favours. They hid the tracks and made it difficult to move quietly and keep pace. Boars didn’t have the best hearing, but they were far from deaf.

At least the creatures were a hungry sort and left plenty of evidence between the rooting in the ground and the absence of low hanging berries on the shrubs. The warm scat also made it obvious I was getting closer to the sounder. I had five arrows on me, and I hoped I’d be able to use at least two this hunt, if I was lucky.

I stopped for a moment and took a breath, trying to calm myself. I could feel my heartrate pick up just knowing I was getting close.

“Keep me steady, heralds,” I whispered under my breath. Focus on the hunt. Be patient and wait for the best moment. Be merciful to my prey.

With that short prayer I pushed on, though I wasn’t as focused as I wanted to be. It wasn’t uncommon to have boars in our woods, but not this close to our village. They were emboldened by something. Or perhaps driven our way somehow. I wanted to know what it was so I could deal with the root of the problem and not waste time thinning out a sounder that was just going to repopulate and stick around.

Still, a selfish part of me was grateful for the opportunity. It wasn’t often I got to hunt boar, and the change of prey was exciting. I wasn’t satisfied simply being a deer hunter, someone who simply killed easier targets for a bit of food and hide. I wanted to be able to hunt all sorts of animals so I could understand the instincts of any creature I came across. My master always seemed uneasy when I mentioned this, though I wasn’t entirely sure why. I assumed it had to do with the fact that he loved me like a daughter and as much as he loved teaching me the ways of the hunt, he didn’t want my curiosity to be the death of me.

 

Over the soft rustling of the dying leaves still clinging to the poplars, I finally heard my prey. Soft, distant grunts. They sounded calm, so they must have been eating. The stream was a bit further away so they wouldn’t be stopping for a drink.

 

I stalked closer, mindful of the wind. Boars didn’t have the best eyes or ears, but not many other animals could compare to their snout. One tiny whiff of me and they would bolt.

 

As I stalked forwards something caught my eye on the tree – a large scrape mark that tore off a chunk of bark. It could have been a deer or an elk, but that was awfully low for their antlers to reach.

 

I gasped softly, the answer hitting me like a gust of wind in my chest. A great boar. I couldn’t be entirely sure, but the height of the marking and presence of a nearby sounder made it seem like likely possibility. I’d need to investigate as soon as possible. If I could take him out, as well as the lead sow from this group, there was a good chance the sounder would back off. Or at least be easier to thin out.

 

“Focus,” I whispered to myself. This was something to deal with later. I could still hear the sounder nearby and they wouldn’t be feeding forever. I needed to take the opportunity while I had it.

 

The wind was on my side, even if the damned leaves weren’t. It didn’t take long for me to lay eyes on the group as I hid myself behind a thick poplar tree.

 

“Patience,” I whispered under my breath. Watch them. Pick out the lead sow. Without her wise guidance, the group may return and grant me the opportunity to take another.

 

There were nine of them in this pack. Six females and three males still too young to leave the pack. It didn’t take long for me to pick out the leader. She was the only one that wasn’t completely hypnotized by the proverbial feast of berries that surrounded them, and would occasionally scanned her surroundings with black, beady eyes.

 

With practiced movements I pulled out my bow and one of the heavier arrows I’d brought specifically for this hunt. Boar hide was far tougher than the deer I usually hunted. Since I wasn’t strong enough to wield the bows my master did, I would need to get closer. I exhaled silently and inched forwards.

 

Even after years of practice the thrill never subsided. I could hear the blood pounding in my ears as I readied myself for the kill. I slowly breathed in through my nose and let out another deep and silent exhale, emptying my lungs completely. I couldn’t afford shaking limbs if I wanted to place my mark. If I missed this shot, I wouldn’t get another today. The sun was already sinking in the sky, and it wasn’t wise to tempt fate by remaining in the forest after dark.

 

My eyes never left the sow. She grazed at one bush, then another, before finally moving into a favourable position. Only then did I ready my shot. I was strong, but I could only hold the string for so long before my arm started to tremble.

 

A sudden noise to the left – perhaps a small bird hopping on dry leaves - grabbed the sow’s attention and caused her to turn, perfectly exposing her left flank to me.

 

I loosed my arrow.

 

With satisfaction I watched it pierce past her shoulder and into where I knew her vital organs were. She wouldn’t last long. It was the most merciful death I could give her.

 

The boars squealed almost all at once and darted around in a panic before charging out of the area. Despite the chaos, I kept my eyes trained on the sow.

 

Staying upwind and a safe distance behind, I pursued. An angry boar was a dangerous boar, and I was in no mood for injury. Not when I wanted to hunt an even bigger prey tomorrow.

 

I followed the trail of blood for a while before I found her lying limp on the ground. She seemed dead, but I didn’t want to take any chances or disturb her final moments. I took a few moments to wait silently in a nearby bush until I was certain of her passing. Once I could see her chest was no longer moving, I approached and gently laid a hand on her side as I retrieved my arrow.

 

“Thank you for your sacrifice.” I pulled out my hunting knife, leather tarp, and length of rope. She was too big to completely carry back on my own, but I’d take what I could manage without slowing me too much.

 

With the best cuts bundled in the tarp and tied tightly shut with the rope, I slung the makeshift bag over my shoulders and set out, my hunting knife still in my hand. I wouldn’t be able to reach my bow if trouble came up.

 

I kept to the wide trails and took the most direct route I could back to the village, hoping any opportunistic scavengers were far more interested in the carcass I left behind than what I was carrying with me. The sun was dipping behind the mountains when I saw the fires burning, lighting up our little round yurts with a familiar glow.

 

“Anneka!” Called my master as I approached. I wasn’t surprised that he would notice me first with those keen eyes of his.

 

I smiled as I walked up to him. “Master, I come bearing success and meat for the tribe.”

 

He laughed. “Of course you do. Come, let’s get it sorted out for the women to cook.”

 

Without another word he led me to the north side where a group of three women were huddled around a fire cooking fish on long, damp sticks.

 

“Anneka,” greeted the eldest one, her grey hair pulled back in neat braids. “Looks like you’ve brought us something more interesting to cook than fish.”

 

“I have, Myrin,” I said with a respectful little bow of my head and took the bag off my shoulders and laid it over to the side.

 

“Been a while since we had boar. Think you’ll catch any more?” Myrin asked.

 

"I don’t know. We’ll see,” I replied. I didn’t want to worry her, or more accurately the younger women next to her, with mention of the great boar I was hoping to hunt down.

 

“We’ll leave this in your capable hands, Myrin,” my master said, apparently not interested in chatting any longer.

 

“Of course. Thank you for the meat, Anneka,” Myrin said.

 

I nodded to her and walked off with my master. He didn’t speak until we were well out of earshot of anyone else.

 

“It’s not like you to give such a vague answer when it comes to hunting, Anneka. What are you hiding?” my master asked, seeing through me like fresh, mountain water.

 

“I found something while I was on the trail,” I replied. “And I wasn’t hiding it. Well, not from you. I didn’t want to worry the women.”

 

He smirked. “I see. Well, we’re alone now. What did you find?”

 

“Marks on a tree that I’m pretty sure belong to a great boar. They were deep and far too low to be deer or elk. I was thinking it may be why the other boars are coming in so close.”

 

My master hummed and nodded. “It’s possible. We should speak to the chieftain about it. This is not something we should keep from him.”

 

“If you say so, master,” I said.

 

“I do,” he said and led me towards the chieftain’s large yurt at the north end of the village.

 

It wasn’t that I didn’t respect the chieftain, I did, but sometimes it seemed so bothersome to have to report every little thing to him. It wasn’t like he was going to go hunt the boar.

 

“Urien, Anneka, come in,” the chieftain greeted as we pulled back the thick leather tarp in front of the entryway. He was eating with his wife and the village priestess around his small fire.

 

We walked in and took our seats on the ground across from them.

 

“You still haven’t washed from your hunt, Anneka,” the chieftain’s wife said with a little smile, her eyes going to my bloody hands.

 

Oh, I said, my cheeks turning red with embarrassment. Often my master reminded me, but he was preoccupied as well. I’m sorry, Hellena-shi, should I go wash and come back?

 

The chieftain waved his hand dismissively. “Don’t worry about it this time.”

 

I watched his wife give him a sharp look, obviously not appreciating her desires being overruled, but I wasn’t about to get involved in that. Hopefully my sincere apology and offer to wash would be enough to keep me in her good graces.

 

“Tell us about your hunt,” the chieftain said, biting into the fish he’d been keeping warm near the fire.

 

“It went well. I managed to kill the lead sow,” I said.

 

“Excellent! Do you think they will return?”

 

“It’s possible. If they do, I’ll bring back some more meat for the tribe.”

 

“We’d look forward to it,” the chieftain said with a pleased smile.

 

My master nudged me, obviously wanting me to tell the chieftain of the other matter at hand.

 

“There’s something else you should know, chief. I believe there is a great boar roaming the territory. Between the marks I found and the fact that the other boars have wandered so close make me think this to be true. I intend to go out tomorrow and investigate.”

 

The chieftain’s brow furrowed, making thick lines on his forehead. “You’re skilled, Anneka, but conquering a great boar is no walk in the forest.”

 

“I know, and I won’t take this prey lightly, but I want to take on this challenge.”

 

“I’ll go with you,” my master said.

 

“No,” I said and looked to him. “Please, master. I’ll be tense if you’re there. Let me try alone first.”

 

My master stared at me for a moment. I hoped I hadn’t offended him. It was tough making these decisions, especially in front of others. As skilled as my master was, he couldn’t do what he used to, not since his leg went partially limp. He could walk fine but running was out of the question, and if something went south with the boar there was a chance I wouldn’t be able to protect him.

 

“Two days,” my master said. “If you haven’t felled him, you will accept help.”

 

“Understood, master,” I said. That was fair. If I couldn’t do it in two days I’d consider it a failure myself.

 

“But be careful, Anneka,” the chieftain’s wife said. “You are valuable to our village. Please think of us as well as your pride.”

 

I clenched my teeth, but bowed my head to her all the same. I hated when my faults were pointed out so bluntly, but she was right. I would be of no use to the village, or myself for that matter, if I let pride or the thrill of the hunt cloud my judgement.

 

“And stay within the warded area,” the priestess, Jashni added.

 

“I’ll do my best,” I replied.

 

Jashni’s eyes narrowed slightly. She was only twice my age, but she acted as if she were as old and wise as the chieftain’s wife. The dumb woman hadn’t earned it. All she did was walk around all day putting talismans on trees and praying. I was pretty sure she was taking advantage of the village with her priestess act, doing nothing while still getting the benefits of food and protection. Sometimes I worried I wasn’t much better considering I had no true family here. My master had adopted me as his daughter and the village treated me as a member, but I always felt like a bit of an outsider. At least I could comfort myself knowing that even though I did not share blood with these people, I actually protected them. Nobody ever saw these demons or faeries Jashni was supposedly protecting us from. Great boars, however, were a real threat.

 

“I suggest you do better than your best. My powers will not save you outside of those wards.”

 

“I understand, blessed one,” I said.

 

“I hope you do.”

 

My master grabbed my shoulder and gave it a squeeze. It was a very solid reminder to keep my mouth shut disguised as a loving touch. He knew I had very little patience with that woman.

 

“You should prepare yourself tonight, Anneka,” my master said. “We can go over training tonight or we can stay here and go over other successful, and not so successful, boar hunts with the chieftain. He’s heard plenty of stories that would do you benefit.”

 

Should Anneka:

1) Train with her master.

2) Stay and listen to more stories of boar hunts. (Winner!)

Head on over to our discord to vote!

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