The Tale of the Sacred Hunt

Follows Chapter 06 in continuity

“I need someone who’s willing to bleed with me,” Virens announces, once the conversation with the People of the Air has become less tense. Perhaps there are better ways to ask for the favor he needs, but putting it this way weeds out the reluctant.

“I will go,” Sekura announces, and rises.

The one who knows more of the orcs than I do of their people, Virens muses. But good enough.

It is to be a hunt. Sekura brings her weapons, and Virens his usual assortment of ugly but functional arms.

“What prey do you seek?” the woman asks.

“Anything whose body will serve your peoples’ needs,” Virens answers. “It is the spirit I need.”

“There are hornbucks. Come. I will teach you the way my people hunt.” Sekura points the way.

“It must bleed us both before we kill it,” Virens cautions.

The pair come to the top of a cliff. Sekura gestures downward to the land below. “We hunt the creatures of the midlands in such places. The edges of forests, with tall trees we can climb. Anywhere we can gain a height advantage. We glide in, so, and strike with a javelin. Our prey will not hear or smell us. We strike to kill if we can, but often we cannot, so many young hunters learn to strike to cripple or bleed first. And from the top of such cliffs, we sometimes drive stronger animals to frenzy. We lead them to the edge, then glide off and let them fall.”

The strange eyes watch Virens for a reaction, perhaps to see how the orc responds to such tactics. She wants to know if we are violent savages, or honorable warriors. We are not what she expects in either case. He thinks of how to explain.

“A practical people. You use your strengths well.”

If Sekura is surprised by this answer, she does not show it, or Virens does not know how to read her features. But she nods, and gestures further up the valley. The orc can only barely see signs of movement. Her eyes are better than mine.

“Hornbucks, there. In time they will wander this direction. The pack will spread out to graze. We will take one without alarming the others. We don’t want to spook the whole pack, or we would have to move again to follow them, or find new prey.”

Virens descends the cliff, and Sekura stays atop. She still seems wary, but curious. Perhaps this is another way for her to observe an orc up close. But his duty comes first. If there is to be conversation, it can wait.

Time passes. Sure enough, Virens sees signs that the strange animals - the hornbucks - are moving in his direction. They spread out. One moves into a defile, away from the others. Virens realizes this is the likely mark, and begins moving. A winged shadow flits across the ground, and he spares a glance up, seeing only a glimpse of his hunt partner. There is a scream of a wounded animal, and Virens knows Sekura has struck. He quickens his pace.

He arrives to find her with a long spear, holding a wounded hornbuck at bay. Her javelin is sticking out of its back. It cannot flee, and knows it, and now only seeks an opening to fight. Virens affords it one, and strides past the spear.

The hornbuck charges. Virens is knocked to the ground, and grunts. One of its horns comes away bloodied, and the orc recognizes the serration on the horns before he feels the pain of their cut. “Your turn!” he calls to Sekura, and readies his own spear as he rises.

The winged humanoid seems less eager to wound herself, but she offers herself to the hornbuck in the same way, and it charges. This time, as she falls, Virens pivots and drives the spear home. It enters the open mouth, upward into the skull, and ends the fight in a moment.

Sekura needs no aid to rise to her feet, and Virens offers her none. The pair silently appraise each other, seeing who will admit to pain, and neither does. After a few moments, they both grin at each other. She has finally taken the measure of him, Virens thinks.

“Now what will happen?” she asks.

“Now we will pray.” Virens squats down next to the animal, readies his drum, and begins playing. Sekura waits silently. The beat of the drum mirrors the dying animal’s heartbeat, with spasms and silence, but does not end there. The regular beat goes on, and on, a beacon to the spirit now free to depart its mortal shell.

“It is done,” the orc reports after a few minutes, and stands.

“What will happen now?” asks Sekura.

“The drummers of a nearby clan perform their ritual every day. This creature’s spirit will hear the sound of their drums, and be drawn to it. The drummers will smell the blood on its spirit, yours and mine. They will send a few Spears, with a spirit of their own to track the scent. They will come here, and ask your people what happened. If you wish, they will help to protect and feed the refugees, or take them elsewhere. They will take your tale back to the clan, and then to Tosk. And this hornbuck’s spirit will go on its journey toward becoming Folk. It will learn and grow. Perhaps it will return here, to be guardian to this pack. Perhaps not.”

Sekura nods. “And its body will serve my people in its various ways. We can dress it here, and carry back what we need.”

Virens nods. No matter what enemy we just faced in Red Valley, the business of life and death must continue.

If Sekura wouldn’t come along for this, I can edit this to be another hunter.