In the wilds, hunted and alone.
Driev has to get to safety, but will he make it out alive?
Rain hammered the slatted wooden roof, making the most terrible racket. The well-sewn thatch seemed to keep out most of the downpour, although some drips crept into the dark corners of the hut.
Outside, through the doorless timber frame, rain could be seen splattering against the muddy ground in the patches of moonlight that broke through the thick clouds above. An ever-growing pool of water lay just beyond the building’s threshold, inching closer moment by moment. Crates and barrels were stacked high against the walls, with little room for anything else, or anyone. In what space there was, hid Driev; crouched down and rooted to the spot. He dare not move, he dare not make a sound. Despite the rain lashing down outside, he feared that any noise or movement would alert his hunters. The beasts were vicious and highly-skilled predators. If he was caught, he’d be torn apart and feasted upon. Their thick coats protected them from the harsh weather, and their carnivorous mindset meant that, despite the conditions, Driev knew they’d still be out there, in the forest, seeking him out. The vast wilderness that spread out all around him seemed to be almost swarming with them. His only hope was to sneak through and make it to the mountains, where they wouldn’t chase him.
He should move, he should go now under the cover of darkness and rain, the hunters had weak eyes after all. But he was terrified. Up in this little hut, atop a lone hill, he was vulnerable, and he knew it, but what if got lost out in the forest? What if he was seen? He could feel the fear rising within him, and desperately tried to bring his senses down to a calmer state. A blind panic was the last thing he needed. The hunters were smart, so he had to be smarter. Creeping forward, the soaking wet ground sloping beneath him, Driev peered out into the night. Visibility was dire, he could only see the ground encompassing the peak of the hilltop and a few branches of trees that were perched on its slopes. But if he couldn’t see, then neither could they. Clinging as close as he could to the wall, he snuck around the doorframe and out into the night.
Immediately, he was battered by the cold, brutal rain. He was already drenched, having been fleeing through the forest for much of the night, but it made the lashing of water no less pleasant. He dove off, down the slopes and into the woods. So dark was it that most of his movement was lead by touch alone. He reached out to feel for tree trunks, moving carefully as not to collide with bushes or low-lying shrubbery, nor crunch twigs or nuts laying on the forest floor. Driev carried on through the wilderness, slowly, as the unrelenting downpour showed no sign of reprieve. He could feel a weakness building, he was desperate to rest. He’d been hunted since dusk, and with dawn only a few hours away, had been moving non-stop for far too long. The gnawing feeling of hunger didn’t make things easier. But he had to ignore the hunger, ignore the weakness. Fight his urge to falter and trick it into thinking he was strong. He didn’t have the energy to waste on such trivialities as worry. Every move through this pitch black forest could be taking him closer to his hunters. The predators could be around any corner, any tree trunk, waiting to strike. His eyes were darting in all directions, seeking out any tiny piece of light he could find.
The darkness felt so close, so tight.
There was a constant feeling that something was behind him. About to reach and grab, pulling him down into the abyss. Occasionally he would give in to the paranoia, only to spin around to more darkness. He wanted to just run. To sprint and hide. But to give into the feeling would just make more noise; an easier target. In this nightmare, with all his senses on edge, he had to fight that feeling of adrenaline, to avoid his instinct to tear through the trees and escape as fast as possible. The occasional patch of dim moonlight breaking its way through both trees and cloud felt like sanctuary. He could at least escape the total darkness, and gain what he felt was some sort of control. Any sound — a rustle of leaves, a heavy drop of water hitting a leaf the wrong way — would cause him to jump, move forward faster or catch his breath. Driev wanted nothing more than to be out and away from here; to feel safe again. Safety though, was a long way off. Dawn would bring new challenges. Yes, he would be able to see better, and keep a lookout for his hunters instead of hoping they weren’t mere steps away, but they’d also be able to see him better. He’d have to move much more carefully through the trees. He couldn’t just make slow and steady progress like he was now. Not that he’d be able to move much faster, even if he wanted.
The cold of the night was wrapping around his core, making his movements sluggish. As time went by, and nothing leapt out of the darkness to finish him off, Driev started to feel hopeful. He might make it out after all. Then, up ahead, he saw something. The only thing he could possibly see in all this darkness: light. It wasn’t moonlight though, nor the sun creeping its way over the horizon. The light was small, flickered and clung close to the ground. A fire. At this point, anything could be there. Driev had no idea who started the fire, or if they were still there. He approached, ducking between the trees, careful not to be caught in the light of the fire.
Soon, he came to the edge of the forest, reaching a clearing. Surrounded by the wilderness was what appeared to be a burial site. Wrought-iron fence, some 10 feet high, topped with jagged spikes, encased a small selection of dirt graves, marked by stone tablets and the occasional assortment of — now drowned — flowers. A large pair of gates, chained shut but ajar, were set along the fences’ edge closest to Driev’s hiding spot. Within the burial site stood four wooden poles, half as high as the fence, topped with a large sheet tied to each one of them at the corner. Beneath the shelter was the fire, burning away, protected from the onslaught of rain. And, beside that, Driev could make out the shape of a lone hunter. The beast, keeping warm by the fireside, appeared to be fast asleep. Laying down, covered in its thick coat, it was hard to make out their size and shape, but Driev could tell it was a hunter. Dug into the ground beside it was a hand-craft metallic weapon; its two razor-sharp edges shimmering in the light of the fire. The tell-tale sign of a hunter. Rearing up on his hind legs, gripping the soggy bark of the tree in front of him with his sharp, scaled claws, Driev tried to get a better look at the vicious predator now sleeping so peacefully by the fire. They appeared to be male, adult, with a face covered in dark patches of fur. It was rare for a Lokar to get a good look at one of these hunters for so long. Most contact involved either death or fleeing from it. Slowly padding down, silently, onto all fours, Driev faced a choice. He could slip on by and into the mountains beyond, their dry, rocky peaks now becoming visible as dawn fast approached, or he could take advantage of this opportunity.
A sleeping hunter, right before him.
He could become the hunter, he had the potential to save many Lokar from a fate he nearly met that night. It was not in the nature of his kind to be violent, but it was not often you found a vulnerable predator such as this. A sharp wind whipped around the trees, rattling the chains of the gate. It startled the sleeping creature, but it soon fell back into their deep stupor. For Driev, this was the decider. If those large, metal chains didn’t wake the beast, his gentle webbed footsteps wouldn’t either. Skulking out from the trees, he edged his way forward, step by step, keeping low to the ground. His body, slippery from the torrential rain that continued its assault on the wilderness, he carefully dragged the gate open as far as the chains would allow before sliding his slender form between the gap.
He was in a cage now. Trapped with his fiercest predator. Softly, he approached the crackling fire until he hung over his prey. Gazing at the weapon momentarily, a weapon he’d seen cut down many a Lokar in the past, he considered trying to lift it, but thought better of it. He did not know how to wield it, nor if he could even lift its presumably mighty weight. Beside the beast, Driev looked small, it was longer than him by around two feet. A grunt from the creature had him stumble backwards with a jolt of fear. He couldn’t wait, he had to do it now. The cold air was slowing his body down. He wouldn’t be able to escape or fight back if they woke. Back up beside the hunter, he gripped his claws tightly together, so the points of his talons created a sharp trio of what he hoped would be a fearsome weapon. If he could crush the shell of the toughest beetle, surely this would work?
As quickly as he could, Driev raised up on his back legs, claw high, then slammed down towards the ground, driving his talons into the beast’s exposed neck. With a squirt of blood and a desperate attempt to inhale through its now carved up throat, the hunter lurched up. In a flight of terror, it tried helplessly to breathe through the hole in his neck, as Driev withdrew quickly, slinking back out the burial site before the creature could react to him. He watched, from behind the gate, as the hunter grasped at his wound, blood coating his hands and chest, trying to drag in deep, dry breaths to no effect. Within moments, it crumpled into a heap, still and lifeless.
Elated by a sense of accomplishment, Driev once again made for the mountains beyond the forest, making quicker progress in the light of dawn; his new-found confidence allowing him to move more recklessly than he perhaps should. The fish had just slain the shark, and he couldn’t wait to let the others know. It was unheard of, for a monster such as the hunter to be struck down by one of his kind. In their history, he’d never heard of anything like it. But then, he thought, the hunters were ruthless and relentless, now.
Had he just shown them the Lokar were something to be feared and left alone, or a threat that needed to be taken care of? Fear unlike anything he’d ever experienced, not even while being hunted down in the dead of night for his own meat, gripped him. Would the beasts see that it was their own acts that led to such violence, or would they see it as an act of war? New and previously unseen aggression. The prospect of their wrath was without equal. Their weapons, tools, intellect and numbers made them an impossible foe to match. As Driev finally reached the safety of the warm mountains and sanctuary he had craved all night, his heart was heavier than ever. Should he tell the others? And if so, should he be bragging of his conquest, or warning them of impending catastrophe?