BONUS SHORT - "The Hunt"

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BONUS SHORT - "The Hunt"

Postby Sterling on Wed Feb 29, 2012 4:13 pm

- The Hunt -

Somewhere in the Austrian Alps, late 1500's

Consciousness faded back in slowly, or rather conscious control of his body. For the last several minutes he’d been a prisoner, trapped in his own mind, seeing through his own eyes, experiencing through his own body but unable to control any of it.

It had started normally enough, as normally as anything in his life was since the change, since becoming a monster. A monster that hunted monsters. How ironic.

---

He was on his way back home from his latest mission, one that had taken him far up into the Alps to hunt another Kinsmir. He still bore wounds from that fight both on his body and in his mind. He rubbed absently at his shoulder and side where the Snow Leopard Kinsmir had raked and bitten him, the raw and ragged flesh just now beginning to knit back together under the bloody bandages even though the fight had been almost three days ago. The ache was constant and herbs were no help.

It was always this way after a hunt, especially now that he was hunting monsters like himself. Then again he was the only one that could. It had to be cosmic irony that he was part of a Slayer family when the curse was inflicted, even more so since it was his friend that did it to him, and oh they must be laughing mightily that he was already known and worked with the Order when it happened.

Now he was a destroyer of his own kind. But that was his duty, his family’s honor.

“Dushaad,” he said quietly. “You put up a good fight but not good enough.”

He ran his fingers down the line on his shoulder that would soon be another scar, another badge of the battles he fought against his own kind, a new species that at this rate would be extinct in short order.

There was no pattern to it. They were popping up all over the world. Dushaad had been from India, a humble and deeply religious man, not one that was experienced with monsters or other creatures. Why had he become one of the extraordinarily cursed? Nobody seemed to know. Not the mighty Mages or even the Ancient Elves.

“How many more?”

He shook his head, trying to clear it of the constant noise and whispered or shouted voices. Voices that told him to do terrible things when they were understandable at all. The constant noise was becoming unbearable and invading his every waking moment. Even now they nibbled at the edges of his mind, prying at his sanity.

“ALABASTER,” an ancient sounding voice broke through into his mind.

“No,” Sterling growled through gritted teeth. “No, no, no.”

“EAT!”

His stomach growled in reply to the unheard voice in his mind but it gave him an idea. He was hungry and hunger made him more vulnerable to the influence.

His supply pack had been destroyed in the battle with Dushaad, as had most of the small estate which was the other Kinsmir’s home, so he had no supplies but for his remaining weapons. Despite being a monster he was still a capable hunter. He should hunt, find food.

“... flow astral,” the voices whispered in a tone that seemed like they were taunting then dissolved into an incoherent white noise.

“Damnit, will you just shut up for a moment?” he cursed softly, then chuckled for talking to himself again, a sure sign of insanity.

He retrieved a short bow and his last three arrows from the small duffel that held his cache of weaponry by the low-smoldering campfire. Sure he may be a monster but he’d be damned if he’d act like one if he didn’t have to.

The snow on the ground was thick outside of this small trio of bristled pines and it would be difficult to track any prey but the wind was surprisingly calm for a late afternoon on a high mountain. Perhaps he’d be in luck. He set out into the fading light to hunt.

---

It wasn’t long before he picked up a trail near some jutting rocks on the mountainside. Tracks in the snow, just a few of them, ones that most might miss. A mountain goat, a large male by the look of it, had passed through here not long prior. The tracks were still clean in the snow, not eroded by the soft breeze yet, so it had to have been only minutes, maybe an hour.

He turned his nose to the wind, trying to catch a scent. His supernaturally keen senses picked up and searched, filtering the air and sensing like a wolf, like a predator. He smelled it, it was close. Fighting down the urge to stalk after the beast on all fours, and tightening his will around the urge to shift form and chase, he moved with slow grace on the trail, stalking as an experienced human rather than a beast or monster.

His body stiffened as a deafening scream shot through his mind, a soundless wail of rage or despair. It made him grit his teeth hard and rake his nails over the rock of the mountainside.

“I’ll end up like the rest,” he thought to himself. “Like Dushaad and the others. Jabbering and insane. No... just focus. Focus. It isn’t real.”

His mental protest was only met with soft laughter that echoed in his thoughts as he unclenched his body and moved over a boulder up a long, narrow slip of rock. There were few trees or shrubs on the face, and the steep climb of it gave him a wondrous view of the snow-covered pine valley between two peaks in the mountains. Of more concern than the view, however, was the light. The day was fading and if he couldn’t find the animal by dark he’d have to go back hungry. That wouldn’t be good.

His shoulder protested as he slid slowly around an overhanging outcropping, his side screaming with the exertion of keeping his balance so as not to plummet down the rocky face of the mountain. Perhaps it would kill him. Probably not. And it would be a true misery to survive.

A soft lick of breeze brought a fresh slap of scent to his nose. The animal was very close. But that wasn’t all. It animals, not a single one. He paused as he cleared the overhang, eyes fixed on the next turn of the narrow rock path, and listened.

He heard the soft crunch of chewing from up ahead. It wasn’t a sound that any human should have been able to hear, not with the wind, and not from the distance, but he wasn’t human any more.

The sun had set and the last glow of it had faded from the western sky behind the tall mountains. He should have gone back, but being so close to his prey he couldn’t. Thankful for his enhanced senses for once he could still see as well as if it were midday even though only the stars twinkled above in the pitch blackness of night.

He carefully knocked an arrow and crept silently forward to the turn.

At the edge he glanced around the corner. Just a small peek, moving slow so as not to be noticed, to see his prey and the area it occupied.

It was a wide, flat area on the edge of the mountain perhaps ten meters wide. Small shrubs clung in the crevices of the rock where it bordered the clearing and there was only one other way out of it, a steep drop off the other side. There, at the edge of the clearing, was the male goat. It was a huge white male with long, graceful horns ending in deadly points, horns that showed chips and cracks of many contests against other males. The beast had to be near two hundred pounds. Behind it were two females that must have come in from another direction.

Sterling crouched and aimed carefully, steadying the bow and lining up the arrow for a clean heart-shot.

Then something stopped him, a hard wash of anger and instinct in his mind, and hunger. It stopped his breath and froze him in place.

“BLOOD!” six voices seemed to scream at him at once.

His will was strong, but not strong enough in his wounded and weakened condition. He fought to release the arrow, to hunt like a man, to kill clean, but his hands would not respond. Anger began to rise in him at his lack of control and red began to tint his vision.

He dropped the bow.

The male goat, startled by the sudden sound, whirled and struck a defensive pose, its ears coming forward and its nostrils flaring. The females bolted, bounding up the side of the mountain with the grace and skill of their kind, disappearing around an apparently insurmountable outcropping. Males could be dangerous if cornered, especially up on the mountain where they had the advantage, and when protecting females. It snorted a challenge.

Sterling, still fighting in his mind, stood up straight and looked directly into the beast’s eyes, a low growl issuing from his throat that never should have come from a human. He was losing control. His teeth and ears began to lengthen as his body began to shift. It was all he could do not to let it slip all at once, to keep the change slow.

Even before the change was complete, just as fur was beginning to grow over his body, the goat lowered its head charged.

Sterling charged as well, his hands out in front of him, a primal scream on his lips.

The two met in the middle of the ledge with a deafening collision, horns to claws, forehead to chest, knees to legs. The impact was incredible, majesty and brute strength of the goat smashing into the supernatural strength and power of a monster. Both were stopped cold in their motion and they went down in a tangle of flailing hooves and swiping claws and teeth.

Pain flared through Sterling’s body as a sharp hoof landed on his injured side, raking it open and setting blood to flowing. He growled as his body continued to shift, slashing his long claws over the flank of the goat and snapped a now furred muzzle at the back of the beast’s neck but came away with only a taste of flesh and fur. Both the goat and Sterling kicked with their back legs as they rolled, separating to roll to their feet on opposite sides of the clearing.

Blood speckled the furrowed snow between them, tufts of both gray and white fur littering the gouged paths.
Sterling crouched as the goat planted his feet and readied for another charge.

Pure, insane, laughter screamed through Sterling’s mind. It was too much, he buckled to it, and gave in to the calling deep within himself.

Dark energy flowed over his body and manifested in black chains that wrapped around his upper arms and wrists, chains that seemed to glow dark. They writhed around him, the tips of them ending in sharp teardrop shaped blades.

The goat charged in a blinding rush, and so did Sterling. They met again in the center of the ledge with a horrendous crash. This time, however, the raw power of the beast that Sterling had become was overpowering. Even as the goat’s horns crashed into his broad chest he locked his claws into the beast’s shoulders. The dark chains slashed over the goat’s back and rear haunches, sending blood spraying to both sides. The goat’s hooves rammed into and raked down his thighs as the momentum of Sterling’s size and power rolled the two of them together and sent them careening over the exposed ledge.

Down they went, rolling over the jagged rocks, chains flailing and tearing the stone to slow them as Sterling and the goat bit and clawed at each other. A small tree was snapped off at the stump and pulled down with them as they fell and large rocks came tumbling down with them. Arterial blood sprayed on the rock face as a chain ripped into the goat’s side.

Ten meters below the ledge they crashed to solid rock, plowing through the snow, as they landed on a wider, flat area on the mountainside with Sterling on top. The fall broke the goat’s back with a sickening snap and shattered one of its horns. Debris fell around them like rain, peppering the swirling snow as they rolled to the center of the ledge.

The goat kept kicking with its rear legs, pummeling Sterling in the abdomen, but the wounds it had received were already mortal and the strength was leaving it. Sterling snapped his muzzle closed on the goat’s neck and reared back, tearing the flesh clear and raining blood over the disturbed snow.

“Enough! Enough! STOP!” Sterling screamed in his own mind, but he was no longer in control of the slaughter.

The voices screamed incoherently back at him, a stream of disjoined thoughts and images of blood and pain and triumph.

The fight had left the goat, as had its life, but the ravening beast that had killed it did not stop. Claws tore flesh and scattered it, chains slashed and crushed bone, and teeth tore and consumed in ravenous hunger.

By the time it was over and he was able to regain control the clearing looked like a bloody battlefield. The smear and spray of blood on the rock wall leading to a scattered mess of flesh, bone, and organs that no longer resembled anything of the beast they once had formed. Shattered rock and broken wood peppered the furrowed and smeared snow. And in the center of it all stood Sterling in terrible, blood-coated glory.

Eyes blazing bright red, almost eight feet tall, in full Werewolf Kinsmir form with chaotic chains writhing around him he threw back his head and screamed a roaring howl into the darkness, a howl of success, failure, agony, and despair.
~
Sterling

"Naive wishing for peace is the surest possible way to invite an aggressor."
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Sterling
Shifter Darkly
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