The forest was eerily quiet, the silence broken only by the noise of wind as it whistled and swirled a path amongst the trees. The leaves stirred on the ground as the wind passed, whilst all around was moonlit shadow – the sun had set hours ago – and a deathly chill that permeated the night air with a strong sense of foreboding.
Crouching down on one knee, Evelyn examined the forest floor, taking time to carefully brush aside the more recent falling of leaves and foliage on the ground. Her deliberate and precise movements revealed a lightly compacted soil covered with twigs and small branches, remaining mostly undisturbed except for the faint outline of an unusually large clawed imprint.
Taking one of the many twigs to hand, she carefully exposed more of the clawed tracks, which were equally as large, before frowning to herself in confusion. She recognised the tracks as ursine, but of a type that she did not expect. Still, she did not question her abilities, no matter how unlikely it seemed, instead feeling empathy for the animal she had been paid to hunt down. Frightened and confused, out of its element and alone, what did the towns folk expect. It was only natural for it to have lashed out at an unwitting traveller. Still it posed a danger and had to be dealt with.
Moving over a couple of feet she discovered yet more tracks, this time of a different and instantly more recognisable type of creature – Orcs. A blight to the land that she would happily be rid of, she counted at least ten of the despiseable creatures, their tracks fresh and apparently in pursuit of her own quarry. Whatever their own nefarious plans for the poor animal, they would certainly be at odds with her own.
Checking her surroundings, she acknowledged that help was needed. Closing her eyes, she expanded her senses and reached out to the creatures of the forest for help. What she needed was a birds eye view, a bigger picture with which she could decide her course. A moment later and her call was answered by the flapping of jet black wings that belonged to an old travelling companion.
The tracks led deeper into the forest, the bear following a winding course alongside a stream that would eventually lead it to the more rocky ground that heralded the far off Taersys glacier. Now tracking at pace with the aid of her winged friend in the skies above, Evelyn made good time through the forest, stopping now and then to make sure she had not lost the trail and occasionally foraging for nuts and berries.
The orcs were still in pursuit of their quarry and had managed to close the distance, the bear apparently taking time to investigate its surroundings, or judging by the tracks, fishing for it’s supper in the stream.
After a few hours, Evelyn came across signs that the hunting pack had met with and joined a second larger pack, this one accompanied by wolves if she understood the signs correctly. There were clues that a brief scuffle had taken place, most likely the larger group asserting dominance over the other, before the tracks continued at a much faster pace after the bear.
More worryingly to Evelyn was a another set of tracks that had appeared from nowhere. The tracks were wolf-like but on a much larger scale and appeared to be following after the bear as well as the orcs. Her suspicions were heightened when she spotted signs that the nearby ground was scarred and damaged, in places having succumbed to a frost that had left the nearby roots dead from the extreme cold.
Once again she picked up the trail, setting a fearsome pace as she followed after the bear and it’s pursuers. If her skills as a tracker were to be trusted, she was just behind the orc hunting pack, who unfortunately for the bear would have caught up to it by now. The way was littered with signs of the orcs, the forest reeking of their stench and general uncleanliness as Evelyn passed by rotten chunks of meat that had been casually discarded to the side and signs of defecation and destruction that proved without doubt that Orcs had no consideration for the forest or her children.
After less than ten minutes, the tracks led Evelyn to an enclosed gorge near the edge of the forest. If the bear was following the course of the stream, it would eventually reach a small waterfall within the gorge that was impassable. Anyone familiar with the area knew that the way through was to track east before reaching the gorge and rejoin the stream in the foothills beyond, but for the bear, it would be confronted with a dead end and forced to turn back.
A sudden roar and the sound of nearby fighting told Evelyn that the bear had run out of time. Ambushed and outnumbered, the bear would fight valiantly until exhaustion or death took it, but eventually the sheer weight of numbers meant that the bear would not prevail. Running as fast as she could, Evelyn unslung her longbow and sought the higher ground that surrounded the gorge, hoping to unleash a rain of arrows and come to the bear’s aid..
The higher ground of the gorge was littered with cover, the tree line and a number of rocky outcroppings affording her a perfect position from which to shoot as she arrived. Standing on top of one such outcropping, she looked to the floor below, frantically searching the hunting pack of orcs and wolves for any sign of her quarry. Sometimes called by It’s formal name of Ursus Maritimus, the animal was a close relative to the great bears of the south, but preferred the lakes and arctic conditions of the Taersys Glacier to the warmer southern climate. To most people they were the deadliest of land predators, striking fear into the hearts of many a traveller, but to Evelyn, the polar bear she saw below was at once an old friend and a new found acquaintance who was in need of help.
Notching an arrow, she let fly at the first orc in view, her aim true as the black shafted arrow struck the orc’s chest and sent him sprawling to the ground. Her next arrow was equally as deadly, taking down a particularly savage looking orc in mid stride as it ran screaming at the huge bear that was under siege from all sides.
The polar Bear was a magnificent animal, a huge arctic white paragon of its species that must have stood fifteen foot tall on its rear legs, if not more. Wrapped around its neck and paws were huge spiked chains of rusted iron, a group of Orcs on either side struggling to hold on as they attempted to restrain and control the beast. To the front, a pack of wolves nipped and mauled the polar bear, their attacks causing the bear to react furiously as would any trapped animal. With vicious swipes it threw off it’s captors, flinging them about with powerful claws that rended flesh from bone; tearing into the bodies of orc and wolf alike as it struggled to free itself from it’s bonds.
Still, the sheer number of foes was taking it’s toll on the bear. It’s once pristine white fur was matted and blood stained, a mass of arrows protruding from the pelt on it’s back whilst the bear’s left eye bore the fresh wounds of an attack that had bitten deep into its maw. Partially unsighted, the polar bear did not react as the remaining wolves moved behind, snapping at its heels in an attempt to hamstring the poor beast. The bear attempted to turn, but too late, as chunks of flesh were torn from its now collapsed hind legs.
Seeing the polar bear in imminent danger, Evelyn let loose with a volley of arrows faster than the eye could see. Like rain, her arrows fell upon their intended targets and pierced both flesh and fur, cutting deep into the enemy to litter the floor with the bodies of both orc and wolf.
The orcs had taken quite a hit, down to just fifteen in number, whilst the wolves were either dead or had run back into the forest, finally free of the leash and whip that chained them to their cruel masters. As the polar bear moved to retreat, fully half of the orcs pressed forward in attack, the badly maimed animal offering an apparently easy target. The other half, seeing the ease with which Evelyn had despatched their fellows, bellowed in rage and instead ran in her direction.
With just twelve arrows in her quiver, the choice of targets for Evelyn was easy to make. Jumping away from the outcropping, she moved forward in a hap hazard manner, firing what arrows remained. Her targets were the unsuspecting orcs intent on the trapped bear, the pig faced creatures making an easy target as each arrow sped toward its victim unhindered, piecing their unprotected backs and cutting them down with ease.
Her quiver of arrows exhausted, Evelyn quickly slung her bow and drew a pair of blades in a single fluid motion. Made of dwarven forged steel, her longsword and dirk were held in an orthodox style that would offer her speed and freedom of movement as she sprinted toward her foes.
As Evelyn closed the distance, a few of the oncoming Orcs stopped to unlimber their bows and were beginning to shoot, forcing the closer orcs to duck as their aim failed to separate friend from foe. The orc bow fire was clumsy at best as Evelyn danced from tree to tree, using her superior abilities as an archer to evade each shot before it had even been released from the bow.
The head of the closest orc did not even have time to blink as Evelyn’s longsword sliced through its neck, it’s mouth letting out a final gasp through clenched teeth before bouncing to the floor and rolled away. The second orc was disarmed quite literally, the clatter of its weapon a mild distraction as the creature’s sword arm fell to the ground, a broadsword still clutched in it’s hand. The dismembered orc fell to the ground screaming in shock at the sudden loss of it’s severed arm, it’s screams suddenly silenced as Evelyn pierced it’s skull with the dirk held in her off-hand.
Advancing down the gorge, Evelyn let out a furious battle cry that startled the orcs into panic. Their flight was short lived however as treacherous footing and conveniently exposed roots turned an attempt to flee into a clumsy mess as they fell over themselves to escape. Semi-prone and at the mercy of her blades, the remaining orcs offered little resistance as Evelyn showed nothing but contempt for an enemy that deserved no quarter and would have given none in return.
Looking around for more orcs, Evelyn realised that the battle was over. She spotted the bear to one side, lying deathly still at the base of a large tree. The animal appeared dead, much to her chagrin, but if there was even a chance of it living then Evelyn had to take that chance. Rushing over to the bear, she knelt down beside it and hoped for a miracle. Looking directly into its eyes, she gathered her strength and willed the bear to live.
“Breathe damn it”, she shouted. ”You deserve a chance at life, a chance I will not see taken away by the like of orcs.”
Raising her head, the next words she spoke were addressed as if to the forest.”‘I swear on all that I hold dear, that from this moment my life is forfeit, gladly offered in exchange so that this creature may live. No person or thing shall stand between us, for we shall be as blood, inseparable from the other even unto death.”
As the words were spoken, Evelyn used her dirk to cut her palm. Drawing the dirk across her hand, a thin line of blood escaped, Evelyn unflinching as the blood began to pool. With a simple gesture, she closed her eyes and touched her now bloodied palm to the bear’s head.
“Hear me spirits of the forest and grant my request. I make this pact freely and without guile and ask that you sanctify this blessing.”
Lifting her head once more, she looked to the forest again, daring anyone or anything to question her request. The response that came back however was not what she expected.
A growl from behind was her only warning, battle honed instincts saving Evelyn’s life as she rolled sideways and away from danger. Sailing past her came the largest wolf she had ever seen, similar in color to the polar bear, but more compact, its body twisting in mid air as it flew past her to line up another attack.
Evelyn had forgotten all about this particular wolf, her memory lapse almost costing her dear as she felt an icy cold sensation tear down her back. The wolf had managed to rake her, even as she rolled away, its deadly sharp claws leaving a painful reminder that this was no ordinary foe that now faced her.
The wolf prepared for its next attack, but this time, no leap was forthcoming. Instead, the wolf dug its paws into the ground and let out an almighty howl that left Evelyn stunned and confused. Out of sorts, she was totally unprepared for what happened next as a blast of its icy cold breath struck her.
The creature’s rancid breath enveloping her, Evelyn felt her entire body shut down, no longer able to feel her arms or legs as her very blood began to freeze. Her weapons clattering to the floor as she was forced to let go, it was only as she faced certain death that she remembered the stories that parents told their children around the campfire. Stories about the dreaded Taersys wolf, and a warning to never face it’s howl or else suffer a chilling and icy death. How true those stories seemed now as her vision began to fade, unable to keep her eyes open as sleep took hold.
As consciousness faded away, Evelyn mustered one final effort and turned her head toward the polar bear; a silent attempt to say sorry for not saving it from death. Yet the polar bear was gone, as if nothing had occurred. Still dazed, her vision became a white blur as something large moved into view, blocking her sight of the wolf.
Like a shot to the system, Evelyn felt the effects of the icy breath wear off. She still felt drained and physically exhausted, but then she was also grateful and surprised to be alive. Even more of a surprise was the huge presence that stood over her. The once seemingly dead polar bear now stood before her, unhurt as if the previous battle had never happened. With a fearsome roar the polar bear hunkered down, a warning to the wolf to back off or risk confrontation. Evelyn could not see, but she could feel the tension in the air as both animals refused to move.
After what seemed an eternity, Evelyn watched as the bear suddenly exploded into action, surging forward to where she imagined the wolf to be. Forcing herself to stand up, Evelyn looked around, but there was no sign of the wolf. The wolf was nowhere to be seen, disappearing as easily as it had appeared, but that did not mean it was gone.
Picking up the weapons she had dropped earlier, Evelyn kept them at the ready position in case the wolf should make another appearance. Deciding to approach the bear, she was careful not to startle the creature as she walked, the bear hesitant at first before greeting her with what it probably considered a gentle nudge. To Evelyn however, the nudge was more like a powerful shove, forcing her to take a couple of steps back in order to keep balance.
Resting her hand on its shoulder, Evelyn could feel the unique bond that had been forged between them. She had saved it’s life and the polar bear had repaid the favour in kind. Looking to the animal, it also turned to her and made eye contact, as if feeling her gaze upon it. With Silvery eyes of blue that matched her own, the bear looked deep into her soul, as if judging her worthiness, and suddenly she understood.
She understood the journey that stretched before them, the adventures they would share alongside the tragedy and heartache. More than anything though, she felt the very essence of the bear, Vuori Kiintyr, which meant Immovable Mountain in her native elven tongue.
Lifting his head – for she now knew the bear to be male – Kiintyr looked up to the sky and toward her other companion circling high above them. As if beckoned, the midnight coloured bird of prey – a raven hawk – swooped down from above, Evelyn extending an arm as it came to rest on her padded sleeve. It’s high pitched squark welcomed the newest member of their group, it’s greeting answered by Kiintyr with a series of throaty growls in return. Though the noise was not recognisable as language, words formed in Evelyn’s mind, so close was the bond between them.
“Hail and well met. Our journey heads south little sister, for destiny awaits us in a city called Port-o-Baal.”
© 2014 Alan Weltch