Friday Flashfic: The Hunt

Something a little different for Friday Fiction today. This is a move from one of my Storium games, in which I play Ismena of Belmar, a former mercenary turned caravan guard. It’s one of the more self-contained excerpts I’ve written, but for context: Ismena is in charge of security for the caravan of a wealthy merchant. One day into their journey, her scout comes back to report he found cave bear tracks along their route. They decide to hunt the bear. WARNING: Gore.

Huge trees arched over them, blocking out the light and leaving them in a green-tinted twilight world straight out of a fairy tale. Ismena half expected to find a witch’s cottage around the next corner.

As they walked on, all idle chatter died out. The forest’s silence was oppressive, a heavy blanket that pressed down on them and muffled any desire to penetrate it. Each man retreated into his thoughts.

Ismena found herself thinking of a hunt some years ago in Fall’s Reaches.

The Fighting Eagles was a mercenary outfit for the modern age, and quickly realized that limiting itself to being simply an army was also limiting their cash flow. If no war or skirmish required the hire of an entire force, the Eagles were hired out individually or small groups, as militia supplements, honor guards, body guards…any task requiring martial force that a “client” could conceive of, the Eagles would honor. So one winter Ismena, Shepherd, and two others had been hired out to a northern baron whose towns were being menaced by dire wolves.

That had been a miserable season. They had stalked the beasts for weeks, following them through forests covered in snow and pierced by biting winds. One of the locals had lost several fingers to frostbite.

They’d found the beasts, in the end, and killed them all, but not before they savaged one of the mercenaries. He lay on the snow, his belly sliced open, guts bright pink against the white ground.

He professed to feel no pain, though his body jerked and shook with every breath, and every beat of his heart sent out a new wave of red to darken the surrounding snow.

They all knew it would be useless to go for help; they were far from the village. Even if he survived until reaching a doctor, he had lost too much blood; even if he could survive that a belly wound was almost guaranteed to fester. Ismena’s nose was running in the cold, but she could smell the stink that rose from her fallen comrade.

It was a kindness. She knew it, he knew it, they all knew it. Still, once it was done, she vomited all over the pristine white snow; her fellow eagles gamely ignored her tears.

Sometimes she dreamed about it still, felt once more the feeling of her sword slicing through flesh, saw him shudder once and go still —

She had no warning. A huge, furry mass slammed into her right side, simultaneously letting out a deep rumbling roar. Her bones vibrated with it.

She thought she could hear shouting, though she wasn’t sure. The heavy panting of the bear filled her hearing, and she scrambled to keep its slobbering mouth and wickedly sharp claws away from vulnerable parts of her body.

The heat searing her right arm and shoulder told her she’d already failed at that.

She’d dropped her rogatina in the struggle. Desperately, Ismena tried to reach for a weapon — any weapon — but her right arm was slow to obey and her left was occupied in fending off the bear. The beast’s shudders suggested that he was taking hits from the others, but so far they did not seem to much impede him.

Suddenly the bear screamed, and reared up on two hind feet.

As he rose up, Ismena could see two spears lodged in his sides, dangling. An arrow protruded from one eye.

Good man, Kyle, Ismena thought.

She was fumbling at her belt, though her hands, slick with blood, kept sliding off her sword hilt.

The bear started to come down.

She fumbled the sword out of its sheath – dropped it – seized it again – pointed it upwards, bracing the hilt between her left arm and her side.

The bear crashed down, impaling itself on the upraised blade. He shuddered and went still.

Darkness was starting to intrude on her vision, eating away at the edges. The weight of the bear on her chest made it hard to breathe. The fire in her arm was numbing, going cold. She closed her eyes…

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