TRAIL OF MYTH - CHAPTER 3
“I’m going to take the net,” I finally replied. “I realize there’s no guarantee I’ll manage to trap the boar, but if I do, I’ll be able to land as many arrows as I need to take it down.”
My master rubbed at his greying beard. “I agree with the idea of it, but you of all people should know that hunts rarely go according to plan. Also, that net is a damned clunky thing to carry. You won’t be able to move as swiftly and silently as you’re used to.”
“I know, but I feel it’s my best option. From your stories I better understand how dangerous the great boar can be, so I’d rather not leave it to a contest of chance and reflex. You always say that a hunter’s best weapon is preparation.”
My master sighed heavily. “I know there’s no point talking you out of this, but I do hope you’ll not do anything foolish. The great boar is not worth your life. A wound to your pride may sting, but at least it’s temporary.”
“I understand, master, and I won’t take any unnecessary risks.”
He smirked at me. “If only I could believe that. Just try to make it back in one piece.”
I smiled a little. “Yes, master.” I looked to the chieftain. “Do I have your blessing as well, Rommus-shi?”
“You do, Anneka, but I echo your master’s sentiments. Please be careful. We care much less about the boar than we do about your safe return,” the chieftain replied.
“Understood,” I said and popped the last of the berries into my mouth. “Well, I’d better get some rest.”
I stood and gave the chieftain and my master a little bow of my head before heading out of the yurt.
I was exhausted. My arms felt heavy as logs, and I could feel the grasp of sleep creep around the edges of my mind. But despite this, I found when I returned to our yurt that I was in no mood to settle down. Fear and excitement danced around like fireflies in my stomach. I took my time washing my hands and face then grabbed my tools so I could clean them as well. Anything to keep my hands busy.
I was certain the great boar was going to be a majestic creature, despite how dangerous I knew him to be. Then again, maybe the danger was part of the majesty. He’d certainly be a welcome change of pace from the small game I’d gotten accustomed to hunting.
Though I’d never admit it to my master, I was beginning to fear that hunting was losing the lustre it once had when I was a younger girl. I knew if I even mentioned such an idea he’d scold me soundly. “The thrill of the hunt is the mark an amateur, do not chase that feeling! Hunting is about serving the community, not your own selfish excitement.”
I sighed heavily and made my way to my bed, snuggling under the heavy pile of furs. Perhaps we’d never see eye to eye on that. If we didn’t chase the feeling of being alive, then what was the point of it all?
I left in the middle of the afternoon and returned to where I saw the initial markings, hoping I could pick up the trail from there.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t that easy. For one, the stupid net was heavier than I thought it’d be. I’d have to drop the thing if I needed to bolt. The other problem was that in order to even see the trail I had to shuffle the leaves around, which meant making additional noise. The whole thing was more tedious that I was used to. It wasn’t often I was trying to track a singular, specific prey.
It also didn’t help that luck wasn’t on my side. The trail was old. For all I knew the great boar had moved on from this area. After all, most boars didn’t come this close to the mountains since food was more readily available downriver. The fact that he was up this far in the first place was a bit of a mystery. Perhaps it was the lack of competition? The fact that mountain berries ripened later in the season? Or maybe something else was driving the boar population in this direction.
The old tracks eventually guided me to the stream. With no sight of the boar, or any other animal for that matter, I took the net off my back so I could take a moment to stretch and rest.
Truthfully, I was getting frustrated. I hadn’t found any fresh leads, and having to constantly be on alert was mentally taxing. I sprawled on the ground to look up at the sky, watching the clouds slowly dance and morph like a drop of blood in still water.
“Heralds, give me a clue,” I whispered.
I took a deep breath and slapped my hands against either side of my face, leaving a sting on my cheeks. I needed to clear my head. Stop thinking like a human. What does the boar want? What is he doing? It isn’t mating season, so he won’t be trying to meet up with the other sounder. He’s most likely trying to fatten himself up before the winter season when food will be a lot scarcer. He’ll also be stopping to drink from time to time and this stream is the best water source in this area.
Feeling a bit renewed with fresh insight, I picked myself back up, slung the net over my back, and began quietly following the stream in the hopes that I’d find some fresher tracks along it.
Hours passed, and I wasn’t having much luck with this plan either. But at least the sound of the water was soothing. In this calmer state I was able to remind myself that even the best hunters didn’t always catch the trail right away. The forest was massive. The great boar could be anywhere. All I could do was make educated guesses, follow my instincts, and hope luck was on my side.
While these thoughts placated me for a time, another near hour of following the stream with no clues was chipping away at my optimism. Where did this damned beast run off to? Was he not thirsty? Or was I going in the completely wrong direction? I just assumed further downstream the berry bushes would be over-picked by other animals. But were boars even smart enough to realize that?
I was also getting dangerously close to the wards. The priestess was able to place them quite a ways out, but apparently her powers could only extend so far.
I rolled my eyes. Superstition and nonsense. Why people continued to believe in that stuff was beyond me.
With a small sigh I stopped walking. I needed to change tactics. There was an area not far from here that might still have a good selection of berries, but it also didn’t have much in the way of tree cover, which would be troublesome for many reasons. Still, it was my best shot. If the boar wasn’t there I’d have to double back south.
Veering east I quietly made my way through the underbrush. I had absolutely no trail to follow and I was moving entirely on instinct and hope. But at least I didn’t have to keep my eyes on the ground and could stay a lot more aware of my surroundings.
Then suddenly, my luck changed.
I nearly gasped as I saw the alarmingly large pile of dung on the ground. It wasn’t warm, but it wasn’t cold, either. He had been here recently.
I poked around in the leaves and grinned to myself as I found the trail once more. Again, it wasn’t fresh, perhaps from yesterday, but it was still a very good lead.
My heart started to speed up knowing there was a far greater chance of seeing the beast now. I needed to be alert. Careful. I couldn’t afford any wrong moves that might reveal my position.
Thankfully, the trail veered back inwards into our territory, away from the wards. But my luck was snatched away as quickly as it came. The wind suddenly picked up amidst the thinning trees and blew against my back, sending chills up my spine. I didn’t like this. If that boar was downwind I was going to be in a lot of trouble.
And that was the problem. Not only did I not know if the boar was downwind, I didn’t know if the boar was anywhere near me at all! Yes, I had a trail, but it wasn’t terribly fresh and these beasts could travel fast and far if they wanted to. The only thing I was certain of is that I couldn’t stand there doing nothing, I needed to make some difficult decisions.
“Damn it,” I cursed softly, knowing my answer almost immediately. It wasn’t ideal, but I needed to press on. This was the only lead I had, and I wasn’t interested in backtracking into the thicker part of the forest in the blind hope that the boar had returned there.
I debated pulling out my bow, but there was no point. If the boar saw me before I saw him, there wouldn’t be time to shoot. I would have to drop the net and get up a tree.
Slowly and carefully I continued on. My gut was as tight as a drum. I was playing with fire being upwind of the trail like this, but I wasn’t about to back down. Not when I was so close.
As I pressed on, time seemed to stand still even though I knew I’d been tracking this newest trail for nearly half an hour now.
Then, finally, I came across fresh scat. It was practically steaming. My nerves went wild, and my eardrums thrummed with the sound of my heartbeat.
I knelt down slowly and scanned the area. No sign of the boar.
Assured that I was currently alone, my eyes darted around searching for a place to set up the net. The trees were sparse in this clearing, but luckily I managed to spot a small cluster just southwest that would work perfectly.
Silently as I could manage, I made my way to the group of trees and gingerly took the heavy net off my back. Unlike other net traps that would scoop the animal up off the ground and let them hang from a branch, this one would fall from above and hopefully tangle the beast up.
Damn it. I forgot how cumbersome this trap was. I needed to climb up four different trees to attach the corners, and then return to each and adjust them so the mechanism would trigger properly once I set up the bait. And all the while I needed to keep my eyes and ears peeled for the boar itself, which was difficult to do when I was up in a tree wrestling with this contraption.
By the time I was up in the fourth tree I was seriously doubting this plan. There were far too many things to keep track of at once. I had not practiced this enough. There was now no doubt in my mind that the Herald of Focus heavily favoured me over the Herald of Patience. I felt far more secure when I was running on instinct with only my bow and my agility at my side.
Still, I managed to set up the trap with no issues until the very last adjustment. In my eagerness to get down the tree and be done with the stupid net I missed my footing and fell to the ground with a heavy thud.
“Ugh!” I grunted in annoyance.
A deep, feral grunt replied back.
I turned my head to the right and saw a large, dark shape move out from behind a cluster of bushes. My blood froze like ice in my veins. It was him.
Like I’d been warned, he was the size of a bear. No, he was bigger. The tusks were at a perfect height to tear open my stomach. His maw was large enough to crush my head in one bite.
After a momentary, startled truce, the great boar squealed and charged towards me.
He moved fast. Impossibly fast for his size. For a moment I was paralyzed, unable to make sense of what was happening.
I broke through the shock with an internal scream, and the fire of adrenaline hit my veins as I scrambled off the ground and dashed towards the thicker part of the forest where I’d hopefully have the upper hand. There was no chance now of doubling back to try and get the boar in the trap. It was all for nothing.
The deep, terrifying thuds of his hooves were closing in on me faster than I could have ever imagined, and I couldn’t risk looking back to see just how close he was. Was this it? Was I going to die right here and now?
I let out a horrific cry of fear and rage.
No! This was not the beast I was going to lose to.
In the corner of my eye I saw the perfect tree to scramble up. But I had to veer right, and he was already practically nipping at my heels.
Stop thinking and just do it! He was going to catch up to me no matter what I did!
I slammed my foot down into the dirt to pivot right. I risked a glimpse over my shoulder and saw him. He would clip me. There was no avoiding it. Either it was my arm or my leg. I’d make it to the tree, I knew I would, he wouldn’t be able to turn fast enough. But I had to sacrifice something to ensure my safety.
1) Sacrifice injury to her leg.
2) Sacrifice injury to her arm. (Winner!)
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