Joy of the Hunt

by Oberon Snowcat

When we finally returned from our patrol, three days late because of that thrice cursed lutin mage, I was getting antsy to repair my armour, my borrowed brigandine didn’t fit all that well across the chest and shoulders and it lacked the protection that my own armour had.

As soon as I reached my own room I pulled off all of my heavy equipment, put on my normal clothes and sword belt before I grabbed my armour and headed into my forge room. I slowly pulled apart the thread seams on both sides of the chest piece and pulled it away to reveal that chain mail underneath.

Before I did anything to the chain mail I unfastened the metal plate on the right hand side of the chest and looked at the hardened leather underneath. Both the plate and the underlying leather were both ruined, though they had done their job and saved my life.

The chain mail wasn’t in much better shape, the small chain rings in an area about five centimetres around that had been over my heart were fused into a large lump of shapeless metal. I had to break close to one hundred of the tiny chain rings in order to get the misshapen lump of metal out of its place in the shirt. The soft leather underneath also had to have a section replaced, though the size of the hole in the under-layer was small, roughly the same size as the hole that had been made in my chest.

I rubbed the bandage that was still covering the small wound that remained. I had been lucky, the energy blast that had gotten through all of my armour hadn’t managed to penetrate very far, one of my thick ribs had blocked the remaining ergs of energy from hitting my heart. Not that it didn’t hurt, and worse still my native healing ability was being very slow about dealing with this injury. That was the problem with magic; I didn’t have much in the way of defences against it other than my armour.

When I had reported to George he had told me, quite bluntly, that I was off duty until after the trial, or when my wound had healed.

Well this was as good a time as any to repair my own armour and make those arrows that I had promised Drift I would make for Misha. Not that I minded doing anything for the fox, as far as I could tell he was a good person, not without his own charisma either, considering that people were quite willing to follow him.

Drift was also a person I didn’t mind helping either, since we were in just about the same situation, meaning that we were both very well adapted to cold weather, but we suffered in doing what we liked in the summer because of our dignity and our fur.

Luckily, Misha had helped both of us adapt by giving us an object that was enchanted to keep us cool in even the worst heat imaginable. However I would have to leave the repairs to my armour, and the manufacturing of arrows to tomorrow, I was almost at the limit of my endurance.

I placed the armour on the anvil and turned down the lamp and headed into bed where I could get a full night’s rest.

The sun was already streaming into my window when I finally managed to rouse myself, I had work to do today, but I had to keep my priorities straight, I needed to eat. I grabbed my light belt, though I made the point of taking my broadsword off of the belt and replacing it with the Claw of the Dragon. Now that I could carry it without any discomfort I wanted to keep it with me at all times. It had some rather gruesome things that it did to those who weren’t members of my own family who tried to wield it.

Once it, my short-sword, three throwing knives, and dagger were properly attached to my belt I threw on my cloak and headed for my favourite mess facility.

After I finished breakfast I went back to my place where I had stored several barrels that contained all of the things that I needed to make the arrows that Misha needed, so I got down to work with a few quick movements.

Five and a half hours later I put down the final shaft, fletched and nocked before I headed to the mess hall again to pick up some food before I carried on with the forging of the arrowheads themselves. That would be a long and labour intensive proposition, though I was looking forward to it for some reason.

I’m not sure how much later it was but when I placed the final finished arrowhead into the tub of water that I was tempering them in I was beginning to feel a little tired. I slowly turned the spigot of the trough to the drain and watched as the water flowed away to reveal two hundred and fifty finished arrowheads, they still had to be sharpened and attached to the arrows, but that could come tomorrow when I wasn’t so tired. I had just turned out the lamp and banked the fires in the forge when there was a knock on the door I answered it to see a bemused and exasperated fox standing there

“Oberon do you have any idea what time it is right now?”

I shook my head and rubbed my eyes before I replied, “No I’m afraid I don’t Misha, I just finished the arrowheads though they still need to be attached to the shafts and sharpened.”

He gave a sigh and rolled his eyes in a manner that was almost a prayer to his god to help him before he pointed out “Oberon it is four thirty in the damn morning. Have you been working on this project all night? Isn’t that what you bought my clock for, to tell you what time it is?”

I shook my head in chagrin before I remembered something that one of my own Blademaster’s had taught me when I was a mere Apprentice Bladesman. ‘A true Blademaster heeds no outside influence, even that of time when he’s working, only when he is finished his work will he sleep.’

I looked at Misha for a moment more before I slowly told him about the saying and the truth that was implied in it.

He had no recourse except to shake his head in bemusement as I also told him that now that I wasn’t working I wanted to get some sleep. With that said I politely bade him good morning before I closed the door, turned down the lamp, got out of my clothing and went to bed.

I woke up much later, from the light coming in through the drape covered window it was early afternoon. I checked my clock to see that it had just chimed the hour, one-o-clock in the afternoon. I felt refreshed from the sleep and stretched before I got dressed to go down and take care of a couple of things that I had put off for a couple of hours. I needed to eat something and I needed to stop by Coe’s Infirmary to have him look at the wound in my chest.

When Coe saw the wound he shook his head, and said, “Mr. Naharel you seem to come to me on a regular basis.”

“It all comes with the job Mr. Coe; a warrior tends to accumulate injuries throughout his or her career. If a warrior didn’t get injured in the conduct of his trade then he or she isn’t much of a warrior.”

He shook his head “I guess that it means that I’m going to end up patching you back together every time you get injured.”

“I’ll do my best not to get injured Mr. Coe but as I pointed out I will be here from time to time for you to put me back together again.”

He shook his head again as he checked the bandage on my chest, then in a professional tone of voice he said “This wound appears to be healing nicely, you should be able to practise again today or tomorrow, though you will have to take it easy for a little while, no extensive drills with weapons.”

I nodded my head in understanding. I knew what a doctor meant by those words, I had to take it easy for the next few days, but that didn’t mean that I couldn’t do any drills, I just had to make sure that I didn’t work out too much or I would risk hurting myself.

Once he finished examining me and sent me home, I got back home and went out right away to the practice field with only the weapons I was carrying. Just as I was about to reach the field I ran into Misha, the leader of the Long Scouts.

He looked at me and shook his head before he noticed the Claw of the Dragon sheathed at my side, its heart shaped ruby glowed with its own inner light. After a moment he pointed to the sword and said "I've never seen a blade like that one before."

"I don't think that very many people in this part of the world have seen this blade. It is a weapon from my homeland; it's an heirloom of my family. It has been passed down from father to son for the past three thousand years."

"Impressive. My own axe is over 2000 years old but not as grandly decorated."

"Oh this," I indicated the ruby ", it's just the repository of the soul of this weapon. Other than that this weapon is like all of the other weapons that my people make, utilitarian and purposeful."

"Whisper has no decorations at all on it. Not even a craftsman’s marking. She is pure black."

"Sounds like my kind of weapon, simple and to the point." Misha gave a yip of laughter. "She is many things but not simple. Few people understand just how powerful she really is."

"Sorry I should've put it another way, considering the fact that this sword,” I indicated my long-sword “, is probably similar in many ways, he has great power."

Misha nodded. "I can understand that. May I hold it?" He asked.

I shook my head vehemently before I replied "He won't let anyone who isn't a direct descendant of his creator wield him, or even hold him. Though I can show him to you." I carefully pulled the shimmering mithral blade out of its scabbard and held it so that the fox could see it.

"I understand. She can be very picky about who touches her. And she has a nasty way of dealing with those she doesn't like."

He bent forward to get a closer look at the blade.

"This sword has a rather permanent way of dealing with those that it doesn't like."

“Oh? What method is that?" the fox asks being sure to keep his distance.

"Well anyone who touches him that isn’t a member of my immediate family usually ends up getting cooked from the inside; it isn't a pretty thing to see Sir."

"Nasty but effective. SHE tends to drink the very life from a person in a most public and terrifying way."

"That is an interesting way to kill someone, also very effective. When I'm wielding him in a fight though he just tends to go through just about anything that I swing him at. I once used him to chop down a tree that was three feet around in one swing."

Misha shivered. "I've only seen her do it twice. It's something you never forget. No matter how hard you try."

“That's for sure. I was going down to the practice field; Coe told me that I should take it easy today." I opened my vest to reveal the bandage that I was still wearing on my chest to cover the small wound that still remained from when the mage had hit me with his spell.

“How are you doing? I heard you were hit by a spell that would have killed a smaller person." the fox asked.

"My armour took most of the spell; I have to remake it as soon as I get a chance. The left chest-plate, the hardened leather which the plate was mounted on, the chain mail underneath, and the soft leather undershirt were all damaged. When I first got hit I was knocked out, I guess I came to roughly seven hours later in Glen Avery."

"Armour can be replaced. A person can't. Everyone thought you'd die. Few people can survive that powerful a spell."

"Well made armour can help you survive in a situation when you would otherwise be dead. I'm glad that my armour did its job this time."

"Me too my friend," he said and gingerly touched the bandage on my chest. "But be careful from now on. First rule of a Long Scout - Kill the mages first."

"This one was hiding in the bushes while Lieutenant Jonah and I were eliminating his archers. If I had seen him earlier I would've been all too happy to kill him."

"Ah. I see. It'd always the unseen threat that's the worst."

"That it is, that it is. What're you doing down here right now? I don't see your bow, or your axe for that matter.”

"I was just going to do a little exercise in my full fox form." Misha explained.

"What's that like? I only got once chance to try out my full form and that was when I was infiltrating that lutin camp more than a month ago, though that was some fun."

"You've never tried your full animal form? It's truly liberating. There is a freedom I can't explain."

"I tried it once, I just told you, when I was infiltrating that lutin camp the night before you found me in that box canyon surrounded by lutins."

Misha shook his head. "That was under stress. You need to try it when there aren't people trying to kill you. Like right now."

I shrugged my shoulders and undid the rest of the vest, my belt and my kilt before I stood in front of him completely naked, not that there was anything to hide, my fur already took care of that for me. I closed my eyes and let the calm take me before I willed the shift. Before I shifted too much I said

"I hope this as good as you say it is."

Misha stepped backward a few paces as I completed the change. "Wow! You are impressive and scary. You are one huge cat!"

I looked at him and set both of my hind paws behind me before I leaped over the startled fox in a single bound.

He cringed instinctively. "That’s amazing I've never seen anyone jump that high!" The tip of my tail waved in the air happily before I turned and gave him a look that said come and get me, before I headed towards the town, which was being rebuilt, in the outer ward.

Behind me I heard the fox say "OH! You want to race do you?"

I reached the outer ward and jumped onto the nearest roof, which gave me the advantage, since I knew that he couldn't jump like that. I followed the rooftops until I could jump over to the top of the curtain wall. I actually had to wait until I found place where I could have healthy landing before I jumped off of the wall.

From there I made my way through Euper, again using the rooftops to my advantage before I headed out into the fields where the Equinox Festival had taken place. This wasn’t where I wanted to be, an open field with the fox behind me. In the wild the fox would be the one watching his tail because of my form, but here we were just playing a game, one that I intended to win. At the base of the hill was the river, it had yet to get the full effect of the spring flood and thus was fairly low, I jumped as far as I could to get across it but I only managed to get about three quarters of the way. That was no real problem, I was a strong swimmer, I had known how to swim since I was a little boy, here though I was using my full animal body and the swimming ability that came naturally to a snow tiger.

Once I was across the river I headed for the trees of the forest where I knew I could find a good place to hide, or make my trail as confusing as possible. I would soon need a place to hide since my form had limited endurance. With my great strength also came the weakness of low endurance. Right now I was moving though the trees at a reasonable rate, one that I could maintain for quite some time, but earlier I had used a great deal of strength to get out of Metamor and Euper.

Then I found myself a perfect hiding place, a stand of white birch trees, which perfectly matched my own colouration. Within moments I was laying on the ground beside one of the trees using the dappled pattern that it threw on the ground to further hide my presence. As I sat there regaining my breath and my strength I thought ‘Try and find me now fox.’

Some time later I noticed Misha come walking through the bushes, though I could tell from the way he looked that he couldn’t see where I was. This was amusing but I knew that he would eventually get close enough to spot me. I had to remain perfectly still, to avoid detection, though my traitorous tail seemed like it wanted to remain in motion. After some effort I was able to quiet that part of my body. I watched as the small fox walked around the grove sniffing the air trying to pick up my scent.

"I know you're around here kitty cat." His posture almost shouted.

As he got closer to me I bunched up my hindquarters and waited until he was within range, then I pounced, rolling the fox over with one paw and pinning him gently with the other.

He shifted his form almost instantly and shouted "Damn it you really scared me! You know that you overgrown pussy cat."

I climbed off of him and shifted my own form before I replied "Sorry, but the ambush is something that comes naturally to me."

"So I see. I think it's more the warrior then the tiger." Misha comments. "You are very good at stealthy hunting."

“I've learned a lot over the past thirty years, and a lot more back when I still lived with my own people."

"I see. I think you'll make a fine scout here at the Keep."

"George has said as much, though he said that he intends to test me to see just how capable I really am."

"I know he will. And I'll be watching closely too. Perhaps I can use you too." He said cryptically, though I had an inkling of what he meant.

"That would be interesting, lots of enemies, good fighting comrades, and a real ability to make an impact, my style of fighting."

"I can't tell you more just how dangerous it would be. The missions will be mostly deep into the Giantdowns."

"Sounds fun."

"I'm serious Oberon. Where we go there are no allies and lots of dangers. But I think you'll do well."

"Well we should give it a try some time."

"Soon enough. But before then I have to be sure of just how good you are. I need to be sure."

"Ok I'll make sure that I do my best out there."

"That's all I can ask. Do your best. I'm sure you'll do well. But George and I WILL run you ragged."

"Running me ragged will take a bit of doing. By the way don't you think that we should be getting back to the keep, my clothes are still lying on the ground in the practice field?"

Misha chuckled. "I thought you enjoyed walking around in public stark naked."

"Not really, the only time I will do it is when I am in my full form, what about you? You aren't exactly wearing anything right now."

"True but I'm used to it and I came out to exercise this way remember. But let's get back and recover our clothes."

I nodded and then quickly shifted back to my larger animal form.

"Mind if catch a ride?" The fox asked before he shifted. When Misha shifted I noted the fact that he wasn't much higher up on me than my elbow on my foreleg he glanced up at me and then leapt onto my broad back.

It felt a little unusual to be ridden like that but I could quite easily tolerate it because after all he really wasn't all that much of a burden. When I reached the bank of the river I looked up at the fox sitting on my back and let my eyes tell him that he would have to swim the river just like I would have to.

Misha hopped off and took his morph form before he said “AK! You mean this ride doesn't come with a ferry? Well in that case I want to be a lot larger for swimming this river."

My tail-tip twitched in a silent laugh as I bunched up my hindquarters and leaped as far as I could, reaching about three quarters of the way across before I contented myself with swimming the rest of the dstance. That water was COLD; I felt it even through my thick fur, though I really didn’t bother me all that much.

When I reached the other bank I turned around and watched as Misha hesitated for a moment before he slowly slipped into the ice cold water. "That's COLD!" he shouted as he began to swim the river.

I shook the excess water from my fur and watched as the morphic Misha swam across the river. He was shivering by the time he climbed out of the water. Misha shook himself dry. Then he reverted to his smaller animal form and nimbly leapt onto my back once more.

Once the fox had regained his position on my back, between my shoulder blades, I made my way towards the keep at a leisurely pace.

When I reached the town gate of Euper the two guards at the main gate actually barred our way. The fox reluctantly hoped off of my back and shifted back to his larger two legged form before he asked in an innocent tone. "Why are you standing in our way?" When Misha asked that question the two guard’s eyes almost bulged out of their heads and they fell over each other trying to offer more and more elaborate apologies.

By the time we finally got through the gate the tip of my tail was almost invisible in my silent laughter.

"That was fun," Misha commented as he walked forward, staying even with my shoulder in his morphic form. Then he noticed my tail-tip which was still waving with my silent laughter before he said "Your tail is imitating the pendulum on one of my clocks."

That only made me laugh in a more exaggerated manner, this fox was trying to make me laugh.

"And now it's moving even faster! You sure that tail of yours doesn't have a mind of its own?" As soon as we reached the inner ward I shifted form and held my aching ribs as I roared with laughter.

"I like you Oberon. You have a great sense of humour."

Between guffaws I managed to say "You were trying to make me laugh since the river, by the way are you still a little cold?"

"I've dried off and I'm not so cold anymore but let’s collect out clothes and get back inside.”

I nodded my head and went over to where Misha had, in a move of consideration, placed my clothes in a neat bundle on a bench, pulled on my kilt, grabbed my belt and belted it about my waist, and finally put on my leather vest and cloak last of all. By this time I was managing to get control of my laughter.

"You were having fun there weren't you?"

He chuckled before he replied "Oh yes! I love rattling people once in a while. Keeps them on their toes, and it gives me some laughs."

"Did you expect me to laugh like that back there?"

"I wanted to see what type of sense of humour you have. I like a person who is willing to laugh."

"I don't mind a good laugh, even though I don't find something that causes one very often. Well maybe I should finish attaching all of those heads to those arrows that I made yesterday."

"A good sense of humour keeps a person healthy. oh and I need them as soon as you can make them," Misha replied.

"Very well than I must get going, since those arrowheads won't attach themselves to the shafts by themselves."

"Good. You make them and we'll make sure they get used to kill lots of lutins." He commented.

"Certainly sir, these will be among the best arrows that you could probably get." with that said I turned and headed for my room.

The afternoon had been highly enjoyable and highly educational as well. I had managed to learn a little about myself and Misha the fox. However, now I had to go back and finish the arrows that I had promised to make.

On my way back to my room I passed Snow’s Tinsmithy to see a new sign hanging from hooks higher up in the wall, if fact it was high enough for me not to bang my skull on it. The next time I ran into Drift I would have to thank him for that small courtesy.

When I reached my own apartments I took off my cloak and hung it on one of the hooks by the door before I went into the forge room and began finishing arrows, attaching the heads and sharpening them to a razor-sharp point.

Hopefully George and Misha would appreciate this small favour, since it was still going to take some time to take care of. Once I finished the arrows then I had the matter of repairing my armour. I didn’t want to go out on patrol without armour that I knew that I could rely on. Well for now though I had to work on the arrows, ‘what fun?’

"Joy of the Hunt", copyright Oberon Snowcat