"Hunting Dangerous Game" a Dark Sun Short Story by Fabian Benavente
The little man raised his hand and everyone instinctively stopped breathing, the silence was so solemn that the buzzing of the insects sounded loud in the hunter's ears. This was not the first time that this happened and it was starting to bother the seasoned hunter but again everything was annoying the large man by now. The air was hot and humid and in contrast to where he was from, this jungle did not cool off at night. It was all he could do to keep his half-giant companion from starting on a killing rampage.
The strange little man commanded silence even though he spoke no words at all. The guide sported a wild mane of hair and his face was wrinkled beyond age. He was a mystery to Prak'im and no matter what he had been told, nothing could have prepared him for this forest. He had been very excited at first, at the prospect of a real hunt but now all he wanted to do is finish this and get out as soon as possible. He had been lured here by the promise of a white pelt; rumor had it that a strange and primitive pride of white wemics inhabited the forest. The hunting of sentient beings was, of course, outlawed and seen as murder here in the jungle city-state of Danor as well as back in his own city-state of Zethir but, like everywhere else in Athas, everything could be had for the right price.
He had come to the jungle city as part of a trader's caravan and attracted by rumors of the most exciting hunting in Southern Athas. He had met Justine and after a few drinks had settled on a price to go hunting dangerous game. The pale skinned, blond templar told him that she knew of the best guide that would take them into the jungle. "Everyone got what they wanted or never came back out at all," the templar chuckled. Prak'im had risked too much already to back off so he had asked his half-giant comrade to come along as well as a group of six of his best archers brought specially down from Zethir. These were all rough men and it wasn't the first time they've been out hunting.
Another pesky insect on his forehead brought him back to the present. He squashed the critter against his skin and pulled his hand away with blood; the place reeked of blood. Grulon, his half-giant companion, was having the worst time of all and Prak'im feared for his sanity. The half-giant had shredded most of his clothes after soaking them with sweat in this cursed heat and his body was now almost covered with squashed insects which mixed with his fresh blood. The halfling, that is what Justine said he was, had called upon the Way anew and was again able to follow the trail where even he, the best hunter of Zethir, had lost it. Every once in a while, they would come across a footprint or another sure telltale sign that kept the hunter's confidence on their guide high. That and the fact that he would not only get a hefty price for his trophy, but also great recognition kept him going. He had plenty of money and was renowned as one of the best hunter of his time; Prak'im craved excitement and new challenges.
The tracker spoke to Justine; spoke was an expression given to a group of guttural sounds and many hand gestures. The pale, blond templar addressed them "We are closing in on a solitary male; the end is near. I will meet you again soon." She suddenly took off into the thick underbrush; a white ghost into the night. Prak'im's screams were to no avail and the two archers sent to find her, quickly came back more than a little afraid.
They all had heard them but were afraid to voice their concerns. As if by acknowledging them, it would make them come alive. Finally one of the archers broke and yelled out loud "Can't you hear it! It is this dammed forest. It is whispering to us, it is taunting us, it is warning us. We are all going to die and it's your fault…" He maniacally started for Prak'im drawing his short sword on his way. His steps towards the hunter were cut short by a meaty thud. The archer dropped dead on his tracks, his brains showing through the crack on his skull. The half-giant pulled back his heavy stone mace and quickly looked for any other attackers. The hunter breathed a sigh of relief; his trusted companion would not give in. Even among this hell, they would still make it out alive.
It was dark; it had been dark since they traveled into the heart of this dammed forest. The lush vegetation covered the sky and now that the sun had gone down, Prak'im was hopelessly lost. He realized that his getting out of here depended on the old man with whom he could not communicate with. The wild mane on their guide resembled that of the wemic he wanted to kill so badly. The little man started to jog carrying his small javelin by his side. A quick hand gesture and the half-giant and the remaining five archers all joined the hunter trying to keep up with him. The futility of the attempt was quickly seen, and as soon as the halfling introduced himself into a thorny underbrush; every member in the hunting was stopped short by the sharp spines. Prak'im wasn't sure but he thought that he had seen the guide actually walk through the thorns. "The Way again," cursed the hunter.
The whispers suddenly became louder and the insects seemed to have multiplied. The half-giant's torso glistened with gory stains. It was then that they heard the roar, not just a solitary roar as expected but many of them coming from what seemed everywhere at once. Everyone tensed for a moment and waited for the attack that never came. The hunter took charge quickly and showed a confidence he wished he had. "Grulon, get these cowards in line and let's get out of this hell, even without my white pelt. I can find the templar again and I swear she will pay for her treachery." The half-giant did as he was told and soon everyone was marching out of the jungle or so they thought...
They came upon a strangely illuminated clearing, it wasn't just the moonlight that the hunter was so used to but it was as if the holy place gave forth its own luminescence. The place reminded all present of savage age-old rituals and the light revealed a pile of bones littered all over the floor. The whispering had returned and the strange forest was yet again living up to its name. The hunter and the half-giant signaled for their archers to stop at the edge of the clearing while they went forth to investigate. Grulon picked up a long femur and snorted. "A battle took place here but who would fight so deep in this dammed jungle?" The hunter's pondering was abruptly cut short by a fierce growl as a series of ghostly shapes jumped on the nerve-racked archers.
Four beasts plowed through the unfortunate soldiers. They weren't wemics, at least not the kind that Prak'im had dealt with. The ones he had seen were civilized and fought with humanoid weapons…These beasts growled like any of the great hunting cats and actually bit into their prey as they swiped their four arms leaving a crimson trail behind. The wemics had adapted wrist razors to their upper arms and actually converted them into two more deadly claws. The ambush lasted less than a minute before the three beasts turned around and faced the two humanoids left standing. The mangled bodies of five archers were left on their wake while the beasts were barely scratched.
The hunter already had his spear in his hand and his short sword by his side while Grulon smiled and palmed his heavy stone mace. The half-giant welcomed the change of events that finally showed him an enemy; he was no stranger to violence and he knew how to deal with such beasts.
Prak'im took two great strides and hurled the spear at the largest beast. His aim honed in many battles hit true piercing the lion's body just behind the front leg. The wounded lion-man roared its pain and rage and charged the hunter. The clumsy charge was expertly stepped aside and a serrated edge shortsword ripped the side of the wemic's human torso. The lion-man laid on its side softly whimpering as he witnessed his entrails spill onto the ground. One beast had been killed; the hunter had his white pelt and a beautiful black mane to go along with it. Deep inside he knew he would never live to claim it.
A moment later and the half-giant charged mad with battle lust; he was not capable of waiting for the forthcoming attack. The brute met head on with a wemic and was able to bring down his heavy stone mace as the beast lunged towards him. The two separated as quickly as they joined, each one assessing its own wounds. Grulon pulled back with two great gashes on his torso that only served to add some new blood to his already crimson-stained body. One of the claw had ripped deep enough to show the brute's ribs behind. The wemic took the worst of it as his upper torso was mangled; his left human arm dangled helplessly. The half-giant realized that he had the upper hand and charged again going for the killing blow. The white wemic merely waited for him and caught him in a deadly embrace of sharp fangs and sharper claws. A second lion-man jumped onto the half-giant trying to rake with all six of his members. The second beast clung onto his back as the half-giant desperately tried to throw him off.
After the thrashing died down, only one beast came up… and it walked on four legs. The surviving wemic raised his black mane towards the moon and roared, crimson blood had soiled its white pelt. The other wemic closed on the hunter as well. His life already forfeited, the hunter promised to sell it dearly taking as many beasts to hell as possible. He was buried underneath a whirlwind of slashing claws and piercing fangs…
The dark sun cleared the horizon and shined upon the eerie scene. There was a small pride of white wemics feeding. The cubs and females had joined the males in the meat orgy. The wemics greedily bit into the flesh of the would-be hunters. Four cubs were splitting up the half-giant which was already partially eaten; two of the cubs were baring their fangs and growling as each one pulled on one end of the large liver. Blood dripped down the side of the mouths of the little man and pale blond woman who ate amongst them…
Short Story by Fabian Benavente
June, 1998. All Rights Reserved