The numbness began to fade with each moment after stirring. The sharp stench of blood hit her nose as she tried to move. Each limb stung and throbbed, the woman quickly went prostrate from the pain but tried to look up. Hristo remembered a slope, a rockslide... a rockslide down a slope. Ugh. The scout grumbled as she gazed up at the rock face. She wasn’t stupid enough to walk into an unstable area, was she?
Hristo knew what to look for in the land, she was up there for that very reason – George wanted The Giant’s Bane to navigate the north east near Mycransburg and each of them knew how to do that without THIS happening! Of course it made no difference now, but still!
The human sighed and looked further down the face from the small, jagged ledge she rested on. Her pack and rations tore on the branches and splayed out all over the scrub and crevices along the Barrier Range’s foot hills leaving her with the straps, mockingly still attached firmly to her shoulders. Okay, she could not move, had no food or warmth and the location looked nothing short of impossible for another person to navigate.
Two hours past when the scout heard movement near by. Out of the corner of her eye she could see something approach from lower down and to the right. Navigating carefully, a tiptoeing feline approached up the steep incline to the injured human. Hristo smiled and breathed a sigh of relief.
The cheetah looked at her with a naturally detached gaze. The human knew she’d be found eventually and given the terrain, surely by someone in full form. Stealth had been training under the members of The Giant’s Bane since September and he was defiantly in attendance for this exercise, albeit watched over carefully one of the other Banes but where were the others?
“Stealth, where’s Teague? Go find her and fetch Adelina.”
The feline looked at her for a moment then licked the woman’s forehead. He carefully walked away in another direction out of the rock face. Hristo leaned back and relaxed, everything would be fine.
Several minutes later the cheetah returned with an amulet in his muzzle. The woman looked at him and smiled, though she hid her discomfort well, she felt very cold and gladly allowed the warming amulet to be slung over her head to rest around the neck.
“Is that old dagger going to be here soon?” She asked, feeling the warmth flow from the magical device.
The cheetah just looked at her for a moment and then found his way back out of the rocky terrain.
Hristo rolled her eyes, felines were so aloof. But he had deep gazing eyes and couldn’t help it. She enjoyed the warmth and waited.
Over an hour later the cheetah returned with the strap of a small pack in his muzzle. He deposited it gently near the woman’s waist.
“A medical kit? Thank you!” Hristo opened the bag to look for the salves and ointments she’d need to clean the wounds. “Adelina sent you ahead to give me this?”
The cheetah rubbed its head against hers and walked away, stepping over the form, long tail brushing over her chest.
Stealth was probably the fastest out here and the best suited among the Bane’ to access her. Hristo ignored the sting as she applied the salves.
Several hours later, Hristo began to grow worried when night fell and no one arrived but then she felt a wave of joy and relief when Stealth returned bearing dinner. He placed a small, boiled hare on the human’s chest and nosed her to eat it. The woman scoffed at the thought that this bunny just came out of a long winter, probably set to enjoy the warmer March weather and have some leverets with a lady hare but alas it was not to be.
Hristo took the hare and began to eat. Even eating food helps one to regain warmth and strength unless it’s frozen but this was lukewarm, recently cooked and taken up. Not that it mattered as the amulet did its job well, must have been one of the better made ones. The rest of the team were probably sending him up to deliver things till they figured out how to get to her. He left and returned again a little later on with a canteen of cold, refreshing water in his muzzle. After placing it on her chest, Stealth licked her nose and left into the darkness again.
The human finished the small meal and settled in to rest for the night.
The next morning the cheetah returned with another hare, after setting it on the woman’s chest he left and returned several minutes later with a canteen before he left again. Hristo finished her breakfast and with a tinge of discomfiture felt ‘the call’. She awkwardly lowered her pants, the terrain was very jagged and uncomfortable but at least it meant that there would be deep gouges sufficient to take away the waste, the same couldn’t be said for the streets of Euper.
Stealth returned several times that day, mostly delivering hares and a fresh canteen of water to the human. Hristo asked questions each time which of course the cheetah could not answer. As hours became days, two full days to be exact, the scout became very concerned. Stealth was acting very strange, he wasn’t even responding to yes or no questions, just delivering things like a faithful pet and no one else had shown up yet.
“Stealth, what is going on? Where are the others? Are they coming or not?” She demanded.
The cheetah just looked at her and sniffed at her nose.
“Are you all alone? Has something happened to the others? Do you understand me?!”
The cheetah continued to look at her, a look somewhere between indifference and concern. After a moment the feline turned to walk off again. Hristo blinked and her eyes widened, for the first time she could see this cheetah had no cheetah ‘bits’ – this was a female!
“You’re not Stealth!” She gasped at the departing female cheetah, “Wait! Who are you?!”
The feline departed again, ‘damn that mute-full-form’ Hristo cursed as she tried to look up to her departing direction.
Another several hours past and the cheetah returned. Hristo grabbed her by the neck and pulled the female cat in close, “Identify yourself!”
“It’s me! Stealth!” The cheetah gasped.
The human blinked a few times at the animal with an amulet around its neck. “Stealth? Really?”
“Yes! ...please let go, you’re pulling my fur.” He whimpered.
She let go and the feline regained his balance, “What happened to that girl cheetah?”
“Girl cheetah?” The animal asked and tilted his head.
“The cheetah that was up here feeding me.”
Stealth blinked and nuzzled her head, “How long have you been up here?”
“Ho, down there!” A call came from above.
Stealth looked up the slope, “Teague!” He called out, “She’s down here alright, safe but too injured to move, we need a churrrr...”
“A ‘chur’, eh?” Another voice snickered.
“A stretcher...” The cheetah rolled his eyes, “This bloody amulet...”
“We’ll be down in a moment. Hristo, can you hear me?” The first voice called out.
“Yes, Ma’am!” She called back.
“Hang on and we’ll have you safe in no time.” With that, metal clanking noises resonated through the hills and after a few moments two ropes fell from above.
Stealth sniffed about and could see the remains of many small animals, “What happened here, did you have a feast or something?”
The human rolled her eyes, “I told you, the female cheetah gave me these. I thought she was you!”
“Hmmm, perhaps a hermit in this area?”
“I don’t know but she helped me a lot... whoever she is.”
Stealth nodded, after concentrating on ground he could smell another cheetah but he put the thought to the back of his mind. “How did you end up down here?”
The female human sighed, “I don’t know, I just misjudged the path.”
“I wouldn’t say that.” The descending bear cat grunted, coming even with the two.
“What do you mean?” Hristo asked as another morph descended from the other side.
“The path is rigged.” Stealth said before anyone else could chip in.
“And how do you know that?” A feline-like creature asked. She had a medical pouch and a bundle of several sticks wrapped in a cloth.
“Because there are signs of implements being used on the rocks.” The animal said, trying to maintain his balance on the jagged edges, “...right?”
“Correct!” Teague said, beginning to tie ropes around Hristo.
“You’re kidding.” The injured scout gagged, “I fell for a booby trap?!”
“Who put it here? I was told the lutins haven’t been active here for years, it’s too out of the way.” Stealth said, he didn’t know all that much about Metamor’s regional history but he was learning gradually, tutored by Edmund to look for patterns in an enemy’s activities as they both researched their new home.
“Why would Lutins set a trap here, now?” Adelina mumbled as she examined the wounds, surprised to find them already cleaned and dressed – as far as a field dressing goes.
“No Lutin set this...” The binturong said slowly, “This was well concealed and painstakingly laid with care and patience.” She explained, moving a rock slowly about in her paw.
Silence fell upon the rocky slope save the grunts of pain from the splints being applied.
“The cheetah...” The human mumbled in between grunts.
“Stealth? What about him?” Teague asked confused.
“No! The female cheetah that’s been keeping me alive the past two days.”
“Oh? What’s this?”
After an awkward moment Stealth chipped in, “I can follow her trail, track down the scent.”
“No, far too dangerous. We don’t know how many more traps there are, even without that to worry about this is still a dangerous region.”
Another awkward silence fell over the quartet of scouts. The idea of someone setting traps was unsettling enough but then there were the questions it raised.
“Okay, you’re ready.” The sabre toothed healer said and looked up to her squad leader, “We’ll move her onto the stretcher on three, ready?”
They grabbed the shoulders and legs respectably, “one, two, three!” The feline said and they quickly hefted the human onto the stretcher.
“Are you ready up there?!” Teague called out.
“...ready, it’s looking good up here.” A young voice answered.
“Good! Start heaving!”
Slowly, bit by bit, Hristo moved slowly off the ledge and began to hover in the air. Over ten minutes past until she was back on the original path, the binturong, forest dagger and cheetah followed carefully.
“We’re heading back now, same way out, same path and no deviations, is that understood?” Teague had a lot of questions – the thought of the trap just unnerved her. It unnerved and angered each of them that one of their own had been ensnared by it...
Though it alarmed her it did comfort the binturong to know that the accident didn’t occur to sloppiness on Hristo’s part. They’d certainly report it to George, other then that she could currently do little but find a safe path home.