Another day in the life of a hunter…
The sun was slowly setting behind the trees as fog rolled in, covering the muddy shores surrounding the swamp. The air was growing cold as the native animals began creeping out of their dens. Frogs and night owls could be heard, and somewhere in the distance wolves were howling.
Within the marshlands, a camp had been set up by a group of hunters, having made a temporary headquarters which allowed them to hunt the surrounding area. The twenty men and women were slowly packing up their supplies, getting ready to return home after having spent two weeks in these less than favorable conditions.
In a nearby trail, a hunter staggered back to camp, dragging the dead body of a six foot long wild boar behind him. His heavy footsteps sank in the mud, as he cursed this wretched swamp and whoever thought it was a good idea to come here. His officer’s armor was muddied, and stank of sweat and gore. Angrily, he swatted away mosquitoes as he approached the camp site. A bearded man in a heavily decorated armor stepped forward to greet him. It was Adam Wolfkin, the Wolf Clan leader.
“How was the hunt, Owen?” asked Adam.
Over seven feet tall and wide as a tree, the hunter known as Owen Bearhide was quite imposing. Unlike most hunters with their swords or spears, Owen’s weapon of choice was a two handed war hammer, which he could bring down on an enemy with the force of a falling mountain. He was a formidable hunter that Adam trusted and knew for a good part of his hunting career. The big man was usually joyous and fun loving, but the swamps drab weather was taking its toll, for his patience was now wearing thin.
“Remind me again, Adam” Owen grunted as he tossed the boar’s carcass in a nearby wagon, “why are we here?”
Adam laughed out loud. He slapped taller man’s shoulder as they walked together. Owen found himself in a somewhat better mood already, being in the murky swamps all day was not his idea of fun.
“My poor friend, you know how it is, we go where the bounty takes us! If we hear something in these woods is worth its weight in gold... we come kill it!” explained the clan leader.
“Adam, I’m not some new recruit fresh out of the academy..." Owen’s tone turned impatient again. "This blasted swamp doesn’t have anything worth hunting. The only thing we have accomplished here, was gather herbs and stock our food supplies. Why the Maker's name did we come here?”
“Yes...well. We also have obligations towards the Guild, which state we must clear out any dangerous or unwanted animals that may have been reported... and such a creature was reported in this area” Adam was gazing out into the foggy swamp. “But we’ve been here for almost two weeks, and still nothing. So I shall be reporting our findings back to the Guild Master, and inform him his contact seems to have been mistaken. Now, would you mind helping the others with their preparations? We are leaving tomorrow at daybreak.”
“And not a moment too soon” muttered Owen to himself, as he saluted his senior officer and left to go take care of his gear.
While on his way to his tent, Owen came across James Bluewolf, the crossbowmen Captain. The marksman was sitting on a tree stump, swearing under his breath as he cut his finger on an arrow head. James stuck his thumb into his mouth and looked up with a startled expression, only now noticing he was being watched. Owen chuckled as he entered his tent.
Some time passed, and just as Owen finished packing his belongings, he overheard familiar voices originating from outside his tent. Owen poked his head out to see Jeremiah Greatfox and Keith Pathtraveler in a heated argument. Keith was recruited into the Wolf Clan not too long before Owen, and had proven himself numerous times. This was far from enough to impress Jeremiah however, for this old hunter was well-seasoned after many seasons out in the field. They called him Great Fox for his outstanding tracking talents.
Both of them were good colleagues and great friends, so Owen decided it would be prudent not to get involved and be about his business. Before he could re-enter his tent, Jeremiah called out to him.
“Owen my boy," Jeremiah called out, "can you do me a favor? I’m in the middle of something, can you just go around camp to make sure everyone is ready to leave by day break?”
Owen waved his hand in acknowledgement and walked away, leaving the two men to argue to their hearts content. He was never one to try and shove his nose in where it wasn’t wanted.
As he began patrolling the campsite, Owen ran into Irvine Blackhorn, the Wolf Clan’s second in command. Irvine was the reason Owen wanted to enter the Wolf Clan, as he was his first teacher back at the academy. At this moment, Irvine seemed to be inspecting the camp grounds.
“Well good day to you, Owen.” Said Irvine in a cheerful manner.
“Greetings,” Owen replied less enthusiastically, ”I see they have you on babysitting duty as well?”
“Not today,” chuckled Irvine, ”I’m looking for Marcus. His gear is still unpacked and I can’t find him anywhere. You know how he is, if he doesn’t start packing now, we’ll be here till tomorrow night waiting on him.”
“Wasn’t he on fishing duty this afternoon?” Owen thought aloud.
“Oh? He must be by the waterside, then.” Irvine began walking off in the marshes direction, “I’ll go have a look there.”
“I’ll join you, I was made responsible for the boy, besides, everything seems ok here” Owen stated, as both men made their way to the nearby fishing spot.
The hunting in this area wasn’t great, but the fishing was surprisingly good. So they had kept one man on fishing duty at all times during their stay. At this moment it was Marcus Littlebrooke’s turn.
Marcus was boy, still a student at the hunter’s academy. The Guild occasionally allowed students to go on expeditions on the condition they not participate in any dangerous activities and be kept to simple tasks. This was a great opportunity for young hunters to gain experience out on the field and see the pros at work. Marcus was the curious sort and always seemed to get himself into trouble. You couldn’t question his dedication, however, for he was the first to volunteer for anything.
They found the recruit with his fishing rod cast out and both feet in the mud. Marcus was whistling softly and seemed oblivious to Irvine’s and Owen’s presence. He was surrounded by buckets, some containing large quantities of different varieties of fish.
“Well... I see your day was productive!” exclaimed Irvine as they approached the shoreline.
The boy jumped up, startled. He looked at the two hunters and let out a sigh of relief. “That was not funny! You guys scared the living ghost out of me!” Colors were slowly returning to the boys' face, “I’ve been hearing weird sounds around here all day.”
Both hunters laughed out loud, amused by the recruits' reaction. They had to wipe tears from their eyes and take a breath before being able to ask the young hunter if he needed any help.
“I’m fine. I’ll be doing a lot better once we leave this spooky swamp,” uttered Marcus.
“Speaking of which,” replied Owen, ”why have you not finished packing your gear yet?”
Marcus grinned and pointed to one of his buckets. Irvine and Owen took a step closer to peek inside, and were amazed by what they saw. The container was filled to the brim with golden coy fish.
“Amazing!” exclaimed Owen, “You caught all these today? With the price these fish go for at the market, we should be able to pay for this entire excursion with the fish in this bucket alone!”
“Yep!” replied Marcus, “they seem to be abundant in this area.”
“Adam will be happy to hear that,” stated Irvine, ”but right now you need to go pack your equipment, Marcus, or you won’t be ready by tomorrow morning.”.
“Do I have too?” whined the young man, ”I still have some time before sundown, I might still catch a few more of these golden coy fish.”
Both Owen and Irvine looked at each other and shook their head. “Just be certain you are ready to leave come daybreak” ordered Owen.
“Don’t worry about me sir!” answered Marcus, “I’ll stay up all night packing if I have too!”
Owen turned to whisper to Irvine. “Which is more than likely what is going to happen, have you seen the inside of his tent!”
The hunters chuckled between themselves as they made their way back to camp, but before they got out of earshot, they heard little Marcus cry out for help. Owen and Irvine turned and ran back to the muddy shoreline.
The reinforced fishing rod jerked with such force that the little hunter found himself dragged forward, landing face first in the mud. This caused Owen and Irvine to burst out in laughter. As Marcus pulled himself back to his feet, it became clear he would not be able to reel in this catch by himself.
Owen approached the lad, grasping the fishing rod alongside him. Both of them now leaned back in an attempt to reel in the catch, but to no success. Irvine decided to help by grabbing on to the other side of the fishing rod, but all three of them still could not reel in the catch.
“It must be caught under a rock or something...” grunted Irvine as he leaned back with all his might, “it’s not moving.”
“YA IT’S MOVING,” yelled out Marcus, making no effort to contain his excitement, as the fishing rod began jerking frantically back and forth, “AND ITS A BIG ONE! WOOHOO!”
“Maybe Marcus got lucky and caught himself a mermaid!” Chuckled Owen, putting all his weight against the fishing rod.
“In a swamp?” asked Irvine, “must be one ugly mermaid.”
Owen gave a quick glance around himself, searching for anything they could use. At this moment, he noticed other than the buckets with fish in them, are two more buckets empty of whatever content they had.
The rod jerked forward again... all three hunters found themselves being dragged into the murky waters.
“By the Maker this must be one of a big... Fish...” Irvine grunted as sweat dripped down his brow.
“Bloody Blazes! How big is this beast...?” growled Owen through clenched teeth, “Marcus... tell me... what in the Maker’s name have you been using as bait?”
“Well... I ran out of worms and leeches...” the boy said sheepishly, “so I’ve been using whatever I could find... frogs... dragonflies... when I ran out of those I figured I would use a lure, so I crafted one out of a gold coin I had in my pocket and…”
“WHAT!?!?!” Owen and Irvine screamed in unison.
The two hunters looked at each other, then gazed out onto the swampy waters. The surface of the water was being rippled by something underneath. The waves were gaining in frequency and amplitude. Then suddenly, a large yellow fin broke the surface.
“Damn it”, cursed Irvine, “Damn it all to the darkest corners of the Abyss. We’re not prepared for this.”
Owen felt his skin go pale. The look in Irvine’s face told him the older hunter was thinking the same as he was. He turned to look at the camp grounds, desperately looking for help.
“ADAAAAM!” Owen cried out as loud as he could.
All conversations on the campground went silent and all activities came to a halt as everyone’s attention was now diverted to the water’s edge. Adam could be seen coming out of his tent, looking around frantically for the source of the commotion. The Clan leader was struggling with his helmet when he noticed the three men by the waterside, wrestling with the fishing rod.
“WYVEEEEERN!” yelled Owen.
The campsite burst into action. Hunters ran around frantically getting armor and weapons ready. Adam was yelling out orders to get everyone organized, while Marcus, Irvine and Owen desperately tried to keep a hold on the fishing rod.
“Should we try... to pull it to shore?” asked Marcus.
“Are you daft, boy?” snarled Irvine while trying to keep his footing. “We’ll be lucky if we can hold it still!”
“Besides,” replied Owen, “I’m perfectly happy where it is right now... which is as far away from us as possible!”
“But… I don’t understand,” said Marcus, fear growing in his voice, ”why would a wyvern be biting on a fishing line? Shouldn’t they be going for larger fish?”
“They are attracted to gold!” replied Owen, “It probably thought your lure was one of those golden coy fish…. Would explain why there is so many in the area. Damn it, I should have seen this sooner!”
A loud snap was heard as the fishing line finally broke, sending all three hunters crashing to the ground. Shaking their heads in an attempt to gather their wits, they looked out to the water’s surface.
Waves crashed and spiraled as a low rumbling noise resonated through the air. The sound quickly turned into a loud roar, as a fish-like head raised above the water line. It continued to snake upward until it was higher than the tree tops, exposing large fins on each side of its body. It then tilted its massive head downward to look at the three men laying on the shoreline.
“You think it knows we’re here?” whispered Irvine.
The Wyvern shrieked, lunging towards the hunters.
“I’LL TAKE THAT AS A YES!” screamed Owen, as he hurried to get back on his feet.
Each grabbing one of Marcus’s arms, Owen and Irvine frantically dragged the boy to the nearest set of trees, zigzagging as they tried to avoid the water dragon. The creature climbed on to shore, now on its two hind legs, pursuing the three huntsmen. Its long fish-like tail swung wildly in the air, swatting down trees and leaving broken stumps in its wake.
The three hunters continued sprinting through the dark forest, ducking between the trees until they came to an abrupt halt. They had encountered the base of a rock formation stretching upward, way too steep to climb quickly. With nowhere else to go, they turned around to face the oncoming dragon.
“...weresogonnadieweresogonnadieweresogonnadie...” Marcus was babbling, having lost his wits to fear.
“Owen, are you thinking what I’m thinking?” Irvine glanced over to his fellow hunter.
“Ya...” replied Owen, “Get ready to charge.”
“Wait, what?” squeaked Marcus? His eyes wide with fear and disbelief.
The wyvern was charging them at full speed. Every tree in the monsters path was trampled or tossed aside. The creature lowered its head to be even level with its prey, its gaping maw revealing numerous rows of small sharp teeth. The beast was ready for the killing strike.
Just when the creature was within range, Irvine and Owen grabbed Marcus and charged the wyvern while yelling in defiance. Instinct caused the wyvern to raise its head, to attack its prey in a downward motion instead of trying to bite it in a ground level attack. This reaction allowed the threesome to jump and roll between the large creatures legs, effectively avoiding its assault. The dragon, however, could not stop its momentum, and found itself crashing head first into the rock wall. The monster staggered backward, dazed and confused.
The hunters gathered themselves and hurried back to camp. Looking over their shoulder, they saw the wyvern had already shaken off its dizziness and was back in pursuit. Its giant head was reaching for them, when a series of fireballs struck the dragon, causing it to rear back and roar in pain.
Owen, Irvine and Marcus looked ahead of them to see James Bluewolf had arrived and was followed by his squad of crossbowmen.
“TAKE THAT, YE BLOODY FLOUNDER!!!” roared James defiantly. He then turned to order his men, “FIRE SECOND VOLLEY!”
The crossbowmen continued to provide cover fire as more Wolf Clan members came to assist. Great swordsmen, spearmen and other warriors all surrounded the creature to limit its movement. The giant water dragon fought back, swinging its long tail, sending several bodies flying into the air.
Adam halted the trio before they ran past him. Owen and Irvine seemed fine, but Marcus was as pale and clearly in shock. The boy was stuttering and babbling to himself.
“Are you well enough to fight?" Adam placed a hand on Owen’s shoulder while looking him over.
“We’re still… in one piece...” Owen was panting heavily, but still managed a smirk at the Wolf Clan leader.
“Yes… just allow me… a moment…” Irvine was still fighting to catch his breath.
Marcus was still rambling to himself, not making any sense whatsoever. Grabbing the boy by the chest, Adam shook him vigorously while calling his name. Marcus snapped out of his stupor and managed to focus his gaze.
“Go to the supply wagon,” Adam ordered, “bring back more ammunition for the firing squad!”
The little hunter nodded and ran off towards the supply wagon. Adam turned his attention to his second in command and squad captain.
“I want both of you armed and back here,” barked Adam, “NOW!”
The two officers gave a sign of acknowledgement and ran off to their respective tents. The clash of battle and screaming men, accompanied by the dragons roar, sounding vividly behind them.
Owen ripped through his tent’s doorway. He quickly unpacked his bags, searching for his hunting belt and knife. He strapped them on and equipped his helm, while grabbing his favorite war hammer on his way back out. Just as he exited his tent, he crossed Irvine who had gotten his great sword. Together, they made their way back towards the fight.
The wyvern was keeping the hunters at bay by shooting powerful jets of boiling hot water from its mouth. Adam and Jeremiah, accompanied by a few more spearmen, were holding their ground, hiding behind their massive shields. Their goal was to keep the crossbowmen safe while they reloaded, but it was becoming painfully obvious that they would not be able to hold out much longer.
The dusk sky lit up as the crossbowmen fired a new volley of flame tipped arrows at the wyvern. The spearmen and trappers spread out to surround it, getting ready to attempt ensnaring the beast with nets. The dragon, however, was not cooperating. It swept its massive tail around, causing several hunters to be sent flying and crashing into the firing squad. Adam and Jeremiah looked behind them, they knew too well that without cover fire, they were in serious trouble.
The wyvern roared and fired hot waters jets on the men and women of the Wolf Clan. Adam and Jeremiah managed to block the attack using their shields, having to lean against them to withstand the pressure of the blast. Nonetheless, the pressure proved to be so great, that they found themselves being slowly pushed back, their feet losing traction in the hot mud.
“Tell all the recruits to fall back!” Adam bellowed to Jeremiah, trying to be heard over the sound of the dragons attack, “and I want the firing squad to flank it...distract him long enough for us to attack!”
Jeremiah acknowledged and from the cover of his shield, turned to face his men. Performing a series of hand gestures, he signaled the orders the other hunters. The crossbowmen proceeded to split into two separate groups, while everyone else without a rank retreated.
Irvine and Owen were advancing in a crouched position, moving in to join the leaders and remaining spearmen, whilst making sure of remaining hidden of the dragon’s line of sight. Adam greeted them with a smile.
“Glad you could join us,” said Adam from the cover of his shield, “We were beginning to think you would miss all the fun!”
“Don’t worry old man,” smirked Owen, “I wouldn’t let my elders do all the hard work by themselves!”
“Don’t patronize us, boy,” replied Jeremiah jokingly, “I’m certain there are still a few tricks us old coots can teach you!”
“So it’s the four of us against the wyvern then?” said Irvine, “Poor thing doesn’t stand a chance.”
“Let's not get over zealous” cautioned Adam. “Save the gloating for later. Now, move into positions.”
Adam and Jeremiah hid behind their shields and raised their spears. Together they charged the wyvern, with Owen and Irvine following close behind them, their weapons at ready. All four of them ran straight at the dragon, forcing it to assume a defensive position. The wyvern roared and lunged forward, snapping its massive jaws. The two spearmen deflected the attack with their shields, then pushed the dragon back by threatening it with their spears.
Meanwhile, Owen and Irvine circled the creature and went for its legs. Irvine attacked first, swinging his great sword around in a wide arc, slicing the beasts hamstring. The blade sunk deep into the dragon’s flesh, which spewed forth thick, dark blood.
The wyvern raised its left hind leg with a jerk, letting out an ear piercing shriek. Its giant head turning abruptly, all its attention now gone to the sword wielder. Irvine stood his ground, assuming a defensive position as the Wyvern limped toward him.
With the dragon preoccupied, Owen seized the opportunity. Bringing his mighty hammer in an upward swing, he landed a blow on the wyvern’s right knee cap, effectively shattering it with a loud cracking sound. Again the Wyvern shrieked out in pain, as it toppled to its side.
The water wyvern flopped around on its side like a big fish, totally helpless. With both the dragons legs incapacitated, the hunters moved in for the kill. Two spears went through its mid-section, while a great sword slashed its throat and the finishing blow of a giant hammer crashing down on its skull.
The scaly body twitched and went limp...
Breathing heavily, the four hunters just stood there for a moment, with their weapons still in the dragon. Cautiously they moved back, removing their arms from the carcass. People could never be too careful around dragons. Even in death, these nasty creatures could have a nerve spasm strong enough to knock a hunter for several yards.
When it became apparent that the creature was no longer a threat, the signal was given for the rest of the Wolf Clan hunters to move in, bringing with them carving knives, wheelbarrows and carts. The hunters listened as the Wolf Clan leader and squad commanders began issuing orders.
“I want everything of value to be scavenged from this beast,” ordered Adam, “fins, scales, teeth... Everything, all the way down to the bones! Make sure it is all properly wrapped and contained, I don’t want anything to go to waste.”
“Anyone with wounds, report to the field medic” instructed Irvine, “I want a full report of all injuries.”
“Once the carving is done, I want everyone is to go back to finish packing their gear!” requested Jeremiah. “We are still leaving tomorrow at dawn. I will also be looking for volunteers for night watch patrols.”
Each member of the Wolf Clan went about the camp, hurrying to get their respective task accomplished. Owen removed his helmet, went over to a nearby cart and sat down. Reaching to the back of his belt, he pulled out a small, leather clad book and a piece of charcoal, and proceeded to sketch the events of the day. “Just another day in the life of a hunter”, Owen thought to himself. He believed keeping a journal was important, especially in a risky profession such as his. He wanted to be sure some sort of record would be left behind for his family, in the event something ever happened to him. Other members of the Wolf Clan admired his work, to a point where he was made the clans unofficial records keeper.
Adam, Irvine and Jeremiah came over to join him, letting weapons fall to the muddy ground as fatigue claimed their weary bodies.
“Ack! My feet are killing me...” Irvine complained, as he sat down on a nearby fallen tree trunk and proceeded to remove his boots.
“My back is killing me...” chimed in Jeremiah, sitting next to him.
“Well... I do believe this would explain the source of the “dangerous animal” that was reported by the Guild” stated Adam, as he took off his helmet and let it drop to the ground, then taking a seat on the cart next to Owen.
“Remind me when we get back to town,” requested Owen, “to inform the Guild Master that he needs to reconsider his definition of “dangerous animal”, and change it to “BIG FREAKIN’ DRAGON”!”
The four friends laughed out loud, as they laid back to rest.