Two young hunters stood at the edge of a tree line. Just beyond them, the granite base of the Greyplane mountain range loomed above like a guardian that stood between worlds. On the other side of this mountain range began a new land, separate from the southern region of Emberden. It was full of exotic creatures that neither Fin nor Edmin had seen and possessed a people of unique culture and way of life. But the strange land on the other side of the mountain range weren’t what the two were here for.
Almost out of sight, between granite slabs and crumbling stone was a deep cavern. The entrance had only stood out to Fin because the rocks had been worn down by being brushed up against by something large over a long period of time.
“We’ve found the den of a Dire Wolf.” Fin said in hushed tones.
“Are you sure it’s not the den of a pack of Dire Wolves?” Edmin asked while trying to keep the boar quiet behind him. The Dire Boar had followed them after the fight with the first wolf, so far it didn’t show signs of wanting to leave. It did however become skittish as soon as the hunters had stopped at this point along the mountain. Fin doubted it would follow them inside, even if it could fit. Despite being a similar size to the Dire Wolf overall, the boar was much bulkier, while the wolf was slender and agile.
“No, I’m not sure.” The potential of more Dire Wolves made Fin’s blood boil, his pulse quickening at the thought of more prey to hunt. He knew first hand how dangerous these creatures were and yet couldn’t shake his excitement.
His blood wanted him to run into the den, but Edmin’s presence kept him from doing so. He tore his eyes from the entrance of the cave and hoped his thoughts would follow. It took a moment but they did, allowing Fin to think about the best way of hunting a Dire Wolf in its den. He could build a fire at the entrance of the cave and try to smoke it out, only he didn’t know how many exits the cave might have. That approach may allow his prey to escape or sneak up on them. A fire would also gain the attention of other hunters, which would not be ideal.
It was clear that the only way to proceed would be to enter the cave. Fin remembered his conversation with Mavric, he was about to do exactly what they had said was stupid. If there was such a thing as destiny, it must have been laughing at them as they talked at the weapons rack.
“I’m going to go in,” Fin said turning to Edmin, “I don’t expect you to follow me.”
Edmin hesitated, seeming to have some sort of internal struggle. He spoke slowly, responding in a measured way, “Our fates seem to be so entangled already, I feel as though not seeing it would be denying destiny.” He sighed heavily, “I’ll be right behind you.”
Fin tightened his gauntlets - which Edmin had insisted he wear - and checked that his quiver was full of arrows. He pulled on the string of his bow and was reassured of it’s strength. He pulled his knife from it’s sheath on his thigh, it came out easily and without much noise. He put it back and checked that the small pouch of supplies was secured to his belt.
Edmin patted himself down briefly and then nodded. He was gripping his sickles tightly, sweaty palms already making the task difficult. Fin admired his courage, as well as the fact that he had already killed a Dire Wolf. Technically Edmin should be leading this hunt, even if Fin had been pinned down for the duration of the skirmish.
But Fin wasn’t pinned this time. This time he was on equal footing with the hulking beast that lay within its den.
Lead by Fin, the two hunters crept up to the cave entrance. A heavy snort gave them pause. Fin spun with bow drawn back to the tree line, where Edmin’s Dire Boar pawed at the earth but didn’t move. Turning to the cave once more, Fin exhaled and stepped lightly on the changing terrain. The forest floor gave way to cold gray stones with the occasional debris from the wood they had come from. It also grew colder in the shadow of the mountain, reminding them of the grand structure that loomed above like a slumbering rocky giant.
They were are the mouth of the cavern now, the darkness inside a stark contrast to the shadows outside. Fin held up his hand and stopped the pairs progress. He waited for his eyes to adjust, now able to make out the cracks in the ancient walls and the twists and turns those rocks would take them on. Fin wondered how deep they would have to travel before running out of natural light.
Before entering, he picked up a stray branch and tore some fabric off the end of his shirt. Fin wrapped it at one end of the stick, leaving some the fabric loose on top. He managed to lash the makeshift torch to the quiver on his back.
Fin started moving again, Edmin followed. The cavern passage seemed to get wider the further in they got, suggesting that the mountain could be largely hollowed out. It was getting more difficult to see, shadows in crevasses playing tricks on Fin’s mind.
Coming to a fork in the tunnel, Fin took a moment to stop and listen. Edmin took a moment to bump into Fin and utter some words that must have been more common in the region he was from.
“I can’t see anything.” He whispered, a wobble in his voice.
Fin nodded, perhaps in futility. He could still see ahead of them, but the advantage of staying in the dark would make little difference if he was having to look out for Edmin while they hunted the wolf. Besides, Fin reasoned the wolf would be able to see much better than them in the dark.
Putting his bow between his knees, Fin reached behind him. He freed his torch and held it awkwardly as he opened the pouch at his side. He gathered a pinch of fire flower tinder and placed it in on top of the fabric of his torch, pressing it down with his dark steel covered thumb. He paused and wondered…
Handing his bow to Edmin - who was shocked at the sudden touch of cold metal but took the weapon without too much trouble - Fin put the torch between his knees as he had the bow before and drew his knife. He struck the gauntlet with the edge of his blade. He adjusted the angle and tried a few more times, eventually creating a spark. He made a fist with his left hand and aimed it at the tinder atop the torch. With his right hand he struck the gauntlet with his knife and sent a spark cascading towards the soft cotton on his torch.
A flame burst forth, at first a deep red color, before shifting to the more typical amber glow of fire. Fin kept an eye closed, not wanting both eyes to adjust to the light in case it went out. He gave the torch to Edmin in exchange for his bow, sheathed his knife and got arrows at the ready.
Now with some light to guide them, the two continued deeper into the cave system. They explored large tunnels, ignoring smaller passages where a Dire Wolf wouldn’t be able to fit through.
Fin was just about to give up and begin back tracking, when he felt the air around him moving. Back and forth like wind that had appointments on both sides of the world and wasn’t sure which to go to first. Or was it in and out? The cave seemed to be breathing.
Fin checked the roof of the cave to look for teeth, but was glad when he didn’t see any. A few rocks that hung like stalactites got his heart pounding as his imagination told him they had walked into the open mouth of a beast without knowing it, but that was not the case.
A corner was coming up and the closer the hunters got to it, the heavier the breathing felt. Fin’s veins burned and his blood rushed through him. Something took over his movements and before he could formulate a plan, he had already turned the corner with bow at fulldraw.
A hulking black canine slumbered before him, paws - as wide as large as Fin was tall - crossed in front of him like a pillow for its mighty head. Fin aimed at one of the wolf’s eyelids. They would be an easy target as the beast slept. Just as Edmin had ruptured the eyeball of the Dire Wolf he had fought earlier, blinding the creature certainly would be an advantageous start to their fight.
Fin almost let the arrow fly, but stopped short. He aimed down slightly and let the arrow loose. It flew straight and true, landing with a thud in the beats snout. It stopped breathing so heavily, crimson eyes flashing open and reflecting the flame of the torch that Edmin was carrying. It growled and rose to it’s full height, knocking loose granite from the ceiling with the motion and threatening to unbalance the hunters.
The Dire Wolf looked at Edmin, but turned to Fin, locking eyes with him. Fin’s heart pounded and his blood surged within him, he met the challenge with a growl of his own and fired off more arrows in quick succession. Each one hit its mark, but had an underwhelming effect. The wolf was at least five times Fin’s height and the arrows looked like splinters that were more of a nuisance than a wound.
The Dire Wolf lifted its head and howled at the mountain ceiling, shaking it with the vibration. Fin dropped his bow and drew his blade, a part of him worried that the knife would have no effect either, but that small voice was drowned out by the loud call of the hunt that echoed within Fin.
He ran at the Dire Wolf, eyes wild and a grin carved on his face. The hunt was afoot.