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Coaltar
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 Post subject: Bond of the Beast
PostPosted: Wed Jan 05, 2011 7:07 pm 
This is the last of the three stories I wrote about my retired Tauren Hunter, Steadfast. The first two stories go together, one immediately after the other. The third was written much later in his career when WotLK came out.

1. Hunter of Mulgore
2. Wolf in the Fold
3. Bond of the Beast

Enjoy!

===

His great hooves cutting through the crust of ice into the deeper snow beneath, Steadfast paused and surveyed the scene before him. Carnage! That was the only word. Counting all the bodies, he reckoned at least a dozen Nerubians had been killed here, and recently too. The fine snow, more gritty ice grains than flakes had not yet covered the corpses.

He had encountered enough of the scuttling Scourge-cursed insects here in the Dragonblight to know that whoever had killed so many them must have been mighty indeed. The scouring wind was already obliterating the tracks, but it was clear that whoever... or whatever... had taken out an entire Nerubian ambush party so close to Azjol’Nerub was strong enough to fling some of the bodies up into the branches of the spindly trees. Motioning for Manjari, his faithful Bear to stay still, Steadfast inched forward and tried to recreate the battle in his mind.

Eyes scanning the undead corpses for injuries, he saw evidence of axe wounds on the carapaces of the smaller creatures. One of the great warrior beetles seemed to have run into a spear... or possibly had been shot. The shell just above it’s head was pierced right through with a neat hole from which a foul gel was oozing. Some of the smaller insects, those which burrowed under the snow to spring out on unwary travellers, as well as the strange “leaders” who had large bulbous abdomens and a cruel understanding of Shadow Magic seemed to have been either crushed or even torn into pieces. More than one were missing legs and one of the spell-casters must have died horribly when the impact from something large had caused its abdomen to burst.

Spotting a flash of colour in this cruel world of white snow and black tree trunks, he knelt and scraped away the crust of powdered ice. There... blood. Red blood. The Nerubians did not bleed - at least not what any living thing would recognise as blood. Clearing more of the wind-blown ice, Steadfast came to the conclusion that the target of the Nerubian attack had been wounded. Seriously wounded, too. They had tried to hold themselves up against a tree, only to slip and leave a large blood-soaked streak on the bark.

Turning his attention to the tracks in the area, he could just make out a few boot prints where a heel had pressed deeply into the frozen leaves under the snow. That ruled out a Tauren... or even a Taunka. Hard to believe they were so closely related. The boot print was too small to be a Forsaken or Blood Elf and too broad for a Troll. Delicately brushing away some shards of packed ice, he looked again. Far too small for an Orc. That only left... Alliance! So close to Agmar’s Hammer too! He should probably go and report... but the blood was fresh. The wounded person would not have gone far with that injury. Better to report the presence of a corpse than worry the Commander with a half-complete report of a wounded Alliance Spy.

Thinking of all the Alliance folk he had met over the past year or so, Steadfast tried to fit the boot print into what he knew of them. Too big for Gnome... too small for Human and Draenai. Could be Night Elf, but it was a fairly broad and heavy print. Most likely a Dwarf then. That would explain the axe marks on some of the Nerubian corpses... if only he could find more prints.

Standing, Steadfast allowed his eyes to see the contours of the land. A wounded person would probably leave the area away from the squatting bulk of Azjol’Nerub. An Alliance Spy would never seek help from the Horde outpost so that favoured the downhill slope where the trees were thickest. Yes, a slight depression in the snow some distance away indicated where someone had fallen and struggled upright again. A stick was poking out of the snow, its surface already sprouting a layer of ice crystals. The stick was odd... thick... metallic. A weapon?

Steadfast snorted and Manjari obediently padded over, pushing through the snow. Together, the pair moved to the weapon in the snow but before they had got closer than ten yards, Steadfast knew what it was. The reek of sulphur declared that it was a gun. Pulling it free from the ice where it was wedged, Steadfast quickly took in the details. Blood on the stock. Nerubian ichor on the barrel where it had been used as a club. The scope was smashed off, probably in the same attack leaving only its mounts. Sighting along the stubby weapon, he noted that the broad barrel was cold but straight. It was unloaded but probably fired a heavy projectile with devastating power. Not accurate and certainly not stealthy, it was not a weapon he would have chosen.

There were more tracks here. Clearer too, less obscured by the frantic melee that had occurred a short distance behind them. A small humanoid had fallen here. They were losing some blood. They had tried to push themselves up with the gun but had dropped it. A frosty lump under the crust of snow was a canvas pack. Whoever had lain here was well equipped and had been prepared for a long stay in the cold. Steadfast hauled the pack free and slung it over his shoulder by its one good strap.

There was a clear set of boot prints for a few steps but then they were joined by the prints of something larger which had approached from an angle. An animal. Steadfast didn’t need to know what kind. Manjari could have been the twin of this animal. The tracks were clearly bear, and a large one too judging by the force with which they crushed the packed snow.

More cautiously, Steadfast edged forward, nose testing the freezing air. The bear tracks were on top of the boot prints but not much fresher. The ever present wind was already taking the edge off them and fresh snow was falling, covering everything with an even layer of white. So... a wounded Dwarf, probably, now being tracked by a bear? A local white bear with a cub in a den perhaps? Or worse, a rabid Grizzly? Whatever the situation, Steadfast needed to hurry if he was to have any hope of finding the owner of the gun alive.

Ploughing rapidly through the snow which was now up to his knees, Steadfast winced as he saw the blood soaked hollow where the fleeing person had once again fallen. Where the bear had caught up with them. The snow was churned up too badly to see much of what happened next, but from that point there were only the bear tracks and a long sliding mark of something being dragged. Steadfast knew how Manjari carried his victims. A bear dragged prey using its jaws. The body of the victim would dangle between the front paws, the thick neck muscles easily supporting the extra weight.

Before he could take another pace towards the trees ahead, Manjari started to growl - a long low rumble in the back of his throat. Glancing at his companion, Steadfast noted that the bear’s fur was standing up across the back of his neck and shoulders under a light covering of powdery ice. Following the line the beast’s nose was pointing, Steadfast could just make out a patch of deeper darkness between a few of the trees slightly to their left. Shielding his eyes from the stinging grains that the wind was whipping across their path, he began chanting the invocation of Eyes Of The Beast. Instantly his vision jerked forwards deep into the thicket of trees and he found himself looking back towards where he and Manjari were bracing themselves in the wind, barely visible even at this distance. With a grunt of effort, Steadfast rotated the point of view of the spell while it was still running and jerked upright, losing his concentration as he realised he had focused just in front of an enormous black bear. Reeling slightly at the sudden shift of perspective, Steadfast was aware of the shape of a prone figure between the black bear’s paws before his sight returned to normal.

A black bear? That meant the animal was not native to the Dragonblight! The great bears here were either of the same colour as the snow or the mottled plagued pelt that the Scourge imposed on the diseased and dying rabid Grizzlies. You were only likely to find black bears and Dwarves together in the distant hills of Dun Morogh. Perhaps the Dwarf was not prey after all... perhaps the bear was a tamed companion? Never one to underestimate a Dwarf in battle, Steadfast remembered that the few Hunters of that race that he had encountered often favoured the massive beasts of their native lands. This changed everything. The bond between Hunters transcended mere politics... perhaps the bond between Hunter and Beast would work in his favour also?

Motioning for Manjari to hold back, Steadfast rummaged in a pocket for one of the last pieces of a Sporeling Snack and stepped towards the trees...

= = =

The Dwarf woke from a nightmare in which he was being pursued by huge insects with great gangly legs through snow as deep as his chest. Opening an eye, he realised he was under a layer of furs inside a crude tent. As he tried to sit up, a fierce stab of pain in his side made him cry out. Wounded! Collapsing back into the furs, he looked round again. He was under his own furs in a tent made from his own wind-sheet. His outer clothes and boots were missing and a quick check revealed he had been bandaged, rather expertly too, around his chest and leg. The wounds appeared to have been serious and he felt a little light-headed.

Carefully pushing himself upright again, he looked around in the gloom of the tent but could not find any sign of his pack or weapons. He kept perfectly still as he heard crunching noises of some large creature moving around in the deep snow outside the tent.

Brilliant light flooded into the tent as the flap was pushed aside and an enormous male Tauren in ornate chain armour crusted with ice shouldered its way into the space under the wind-sheet. Seeing the panic in the Dwarf’s face, the Tauren spoke in an unintelligible language and carefully placed a bundle of clothes and boots onto the fur between them. The dwarf recognised them as his own. Without a further word, the huge shaggy beast pushed back out of the tent and secured the flap again.

Grabbing hastily at the clothes, the Dwarf inspected them. They were his own, slightly stiffened but still warm and smelling of woodsmoke. Someone had attempted to clean them in the snow as there were still small traces of dried blood in the seams and then had dried them over a hot fire. Taking care to avoid disturbing the bandages, he got dressed and put on his boots.

What do do? There was no way of knowing how many more of the vicious Horde were outside the shelter or whether he was a prisoner. Where had he been taken? Why had they bothered to clean his clothes and return them to him? A far better way to restrain a man here in the cruel Dragonblight would be to withhold his clothes - the icy wind would stop him before he had gone a hundred yards! Questions buzzing in his mind, the Dwarf cautiously lifted a corner of the flap and peered outside into the brilliant whiteness...

The tiny tent had been pitched in a hollow in the middle of a heavy stand of trees by stringing a cord between two convenient trunks - an old Woodsman’s trick. There was a tiny fire over which a pot steamed on an iron hook. There, only a few feet away was the same massive Tauren sitting on a rolled fur with its back to the Dwarf but his Hunter’s senses told him he was being closely watched... by two bears!

There on the far side of the fire, close enough to benefit a little from the scant warmth but far enough to avoid the Tauren were two great bears staring intently at him. One he instantly recognised as his own companion - black fur a stark contrast against the white of the snow. There were a few patches of bare skin around its muzzle and on its forelegs which had been shaved close to the skin and... stitched? It was watching him keenly with head raised and ears forward. Lying at ease in the snow only a few feet away from it was another great Bruin - one of the dark brown bears native to the Silverpine. It’s pelt was sleek and shiny and indicated a high standard of care and feeding. There were no other creatures of the Horde anywhere to be seen.

As his attention flickered over the group around the fire, he saw his own pack with all his weapons and gun, carefully cleaned and wrapped in the burlap which could be used to keep the ever-present ice crystals out of the mechanism. There, draped over a thin line between a couple of branches was his winter greatcloak, steaming gently in the heat of the fire.

The brown bear snorted and blew ice crystals off its muzzle but didn’t take its eyes off him. The Tauren nodded, reached forward to the pot over the fire and filled two leather bowls with a thick, hot stew. Turning its head slightly towards the Dwarf, the Tauren raised an enquiring eyebrow and pointed a great finger towards a fur-covered lump next to the fire which was suitable for sitting on.

Hesitantly, ready to flee at a moment’s notice, the Dwarf crunched through the packed snow and sat down carefully. Both bears seemed so relaxed and calm that the Dwarf felt his own fears and worries melting away. So... not a prisoner then. His wounds had been treated, his equipment returned, his companion’s injuries treated and a meal offered. This huge Tauren must be a fellow Hunter.

The bond between Hunters transcended mere politics... perhaps the bond between Hunter and Beast would work in his favour also?

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Brambline
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 Post subject: Re: Bond of the Beast
PostPosted: Thu Jan 06, 2011 3:00 pm 
Aww so cute and heartwarming! I actually get this feeling of comradeship when another hunter is around too! It was lovely how you conveyed the care and sympathy of the tauren towards the dwarf with all the descriptions of how his gear had been cared for. My only gripe this time was in the very beginning where the pet is determined. Since I had just read part 1 and 2 I was assuming that now we'd hear about how the wolf and the tauren got on and how things had progressed, so I was disappointed to hear that the wolf had already been "ditched" for a bear. However you have probably written these at different periods of time and not so much as a seamless series of stories. Once reading on and learning about the whole "bear thing", it makes of course a bear a perfect fit and envisioning the two in the end, side by side calm and bright eyed was endearing! Perhaps however there could be some mention of the wolf in the beginning, about how he was still resting from "battles from the previous day" and the tauren felt it wisest to take his old trusty bear along this time. Or something like that.

Well done with these stories! Keep 'em coming!


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Coaltar
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 Post subject: Re: Bond of the Beast
PostPosted: Thu Jan 06, 2011 9:45 pm 
I think there was a year between the first pair of stories and the last one. I still have Whitepaw... in fact he is with Coaltar now.

I haven't written any more since Bond of the Beast as shortly after the Guild I was with exploded and I went to play Eve Online. I'll have to wait to see if the ol' creative juices start bubbling or not.

Glad they were enjoyed though.

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 Post subject: Re: Bond of the Beast
PostPosted: Wed Jan 12, 2011 7:05 am 
Great story, I enjoyed reading it over breakfast and it helped me to wake up :D


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