A boy and his quest. My first full length novel, and one I hope will eventually turn into a published series.
One hand clutching the worn grip of his bow, Neyr silently crept through the undergrowth. A few meters ahead of him was the Ja’mir herd he had been following all morning. Unlike many of his targets, Ja’mir were capable of killing a man with ease. He had seen the male of this group tear a young tree out of the ground by the teeth about an hour back, and the trees of their better- frequented trails were marked all over by deep scratches from the massive antlers possessed by both sexes. Neyr’s target today was a female who seemed to have been wounded recently. Over the harder ground of his pursuit, it had been only the drips of blood and her grunts of pain that had sustained the chase. Neyr knew that to preserve the herd he would have to kill the poor animal; else more serious predators would drive away his only source of meat.
The trail suddenly turned sharply downhill, and finally Neyr caught a glimpse of the herd, springing gracefully down the slope to a vast floodplain. It was here that other herds and more males would meet up for heat a few weeks hence, but now it was still winter. As the Ja’mir bounded over a rock fall, the wounded one failed to clear the whole pile and landed awkwardly on a jutting boulder. It brayed in agony, and for a moment everything seemed quieter. A flock of crows to the east rose from their roost, silhouetted against the just- rising sun, and the rest of the Ja’mir turned from where they had stopped to begin again their journey across the plain.
Neyr hurried down the hillside, heedless of caution, and hastily killed the beast before its cries woke something nasty.
“Damn shame,” he muttered to himself, as he pulled his arrow from the animal’s neck. “Let’s find that wound, shall we?” He carefully circled the legs of his target, as he knew them to spasm after death, and began examining the body. What he found brought a frown to his face: a broken arrow shaft, hewn from darkwood, was buried deep in the rear- left thigh of the hind. Neyr knew that there was no such wood nearby, and tried to tell himself that it might grow across the mountains, but in the back of his mind he knew that darkwood only grew in a region far from where he was, in a place he knew all too well.
In silence, Neyr worked the fragment out, and placed it in his quiver.
As the new day began, so too did Neyr begin the arduous task of skinning the whole carcass with a small, dull knife and carving out what he knew to be the best cuts as well as he could. Packs of Hopas, small but vicious creatures, would invariably devour anything they found at the site of the kill. To attempt to defend the body alone would be suicide for a young boy, and so everything Neyr wanted to take had to fit into his sack. The dark red blood baked in the sun, matting and crusting onto the pale brown fur around it, turning the sinuous beauty of the Ja’mir sour with death. Flies swarmed the wounds, ignoring Neyr’s swipes with impunity and corrupting any meat open to them. His education was solid enough that he knew to stop cutting then, but Neyr yet lingered to cut some of the antler bone off. His target had been at least a few years old, judging by the impressive sprawl of the growth, but he had nothing strong enough to cut the rack. It had been several hours already, and Neyr knew he could not stay long, but the bone would serve him well as a knife.
A breeze stirred suddenly, and moments after that a chorus of howls replied, louder than he had expected. The Hopas were close, and he was still at the scene. Working quickly, Neyr seized the biggest stone he could carry and smashed it down onto the clustered antlers. They were so entangled that few large points broke, so he smashed again. Still, almost no results. Neyr glanced around, and spotted a mass of small shapes racing from their cover in the trees to his left. Frantically now, he brought the stone down as hard as he could onto the antlers. Another glance aside; the pack was getting close. Their howls lit up the silent midday air as they saw their prey, closer to loud, ugly, coughs than shouts. Now he could make out the features of the first one distinctly. Its body, a dull soot black, tapered into a snoutish mouth filled with rows of tiny teeth, best used to rip apart meat and crush bone. This one was particularly scarred, with both ears, usually long and pointed, ending abruptly as chewed- up stubs. Its eyes were beady and too widely spaced for the narrow face, and the deep, moist blackness gave off an air of base malice.
It, and twenty like it, were closing in on Neyr with every intent to kill; he gave up on the new knife, grabbed his bow and sprinted for the forest.
For several minutes Neyr ran blindly, simply trying to outdistance the slobbering pack of monsters he heard behind him in every twig he broke or tree he brushed, but finally he slowed to a stop, panting. All around him trees reached for the heavens in soft arches, their branches bare and thin, the remainder of last week’s snows glazing over at their bases in the rays of light filtering from above. Dead leaves coated the forest floor, and little brush impeded his view. Neyr turned around slowly and saw that he had come to the border of the oldest stand of trees in the forest. Not far behind him lay the fresher landscape he had come out of, and for all the miles he could see he had no pursuers. Silently annoyed at himself for wasting so much energy out of fear, Neyr began the long walk back to camp, but hadn’t gone more than a hundred feet when he remembered his bag, the one he had put the Ja’mir meat in.
‘Must have forgot it back at the tree…
He searched the area, walking a good deal farther than he had gone in every direction, looking for the only food he had for the foreseeable future.
He hadn’t dropped the bag when he stopped.
That bag had my only food! I know I put the cuts in the bag… did I pick it up? Yes, of course. Sure I picked it up, I had to have. Must have dropped it while I was running. Now, which way did I come from?...
Neyr began trotting back the way he had come, looking anxiously for the sack. With every step he took, it seemed his subconscious reasoned more forcefully that his food had already been found and devoured by the Hopas. With every step, his pace seemed slower, the sky darkened, and his mood fell.
Finally, Neyr brushed past the last bushy tendrils of a huddle of evergreens to see the rock fall of the morning in a new light. Blood, now from the Hopas as well as the Ja’mir, shone in the waning afternoon light, congealing on the mangy fur of the vile animals snarling and fighting for the remainder of the carcass. Most of the animals’ teeth, not clean at the best of times, now were decorated by saliva, blood, and fur. Near the highest part of the boulder the Ja’mir lay on, a familiar form had ripped open a small piece of burlap and was tearing into a final parcel of flesh. It was a horrific scene, and one Neyr could not stand to watch. He strung his bow, drew, and fired hastily at the head of the nearest beast. From no insignificant distance, his shot slammed the animal several feet backwards, where it crashed into another.
By the time the pack had figured out the source of the threat, two more arrows had found their marks. Led by the same animal as last he saw them, the Hopas rushed up the hill, but Neyr stood his ground and kept firing into the pack. Even when Neyr missed the leader, scratching its flank but not killing it, he continued. Even when the monster’s beady little eyes lit with an indescribable pleasure as it bit deep into Neyr’s leg, still he did not flee.
Only when he had shot the leader through the head with just a moment’s hesitation, just as one might have observed his lips form the wordfather, and the rest of the howling pack had descended on him, did Neyr stop. He stumbled under the weight of his assailants, and fell without another sound.