Fin was beneath the balcony again with all that had chosen to stay, which by the looks of things had been all but Irillan and the two Lycankind hunters.
Emberdens King, Aiden had stepped back onto the balcony. “It looks like most of you have chosen to participate in the White Stag Trials, congratulations. Your first hunt, will be a Dire Wolf, from the Greyplanes region.” Fin heart raced as he listened, “The rules are as follows, as this is a nonmagical creature, there will be no use of Mageforged weaponry.
“You may use your own equipment for the hunt - provided you allow our Magesmith to ensure it is just regular equipment - otherwise anything you may need for the hunt will be provided for you. You may work with another hunter to take down the dire wolves, but you must bring back evidence of a kill for each of you. Are there any questions?”
“What will distinguish the better hunters?” The man in white armor asked.
The king smiled, “Dire Wolves keep growing for as long as they can be sustained, the bigger the kill, the more recognition the hunter will receive. Was there anything else?” After waiting for more questions he lifted his arms, “Then let the first trial begin!” Fire danced over his fingers, the color of the flame changing with every flicker, then shot towards the basin full of stag hearts and ignited them all at once.
Fin made his way over to a wall of the courtyard covered in hunting equipment. Fin hadn’t gone back for his bow in the forest and only had his buck knife on him when he had been pulled through the rift. It would take more than a knife to take down a Dire Wolf.
He stood at a rack full of weapons, many he didn’t even know the name of let alone how to use them.
“It’s unfair to have us make so many choices in one day isn’t it lad?”
Fin looked up beside him and saw the Pinerust tavern owner. “You could say that.”
“Since we may be seeing each other for a good while - provided we survive the first hunt - I’d like to introduce myself. The name’s Mavric.” he said with an outstretched arm.
Fin took it, “Fin.”
“Gladly met Fin.” Mavric said with a firm grip and a strong shake, “Now, we’re going up against a predator for this one, you ever hunted one of those before Fin?”
“Me either, but plenty of my patrons have. What I’ve heard is to hunt a predator, you either go after its home or its food. If a Dire Wolf can eat enough to get as big as they say,”
“There must be a food source large enough to sustain it.” Fin finished.
Mavric snapped his fingers, “That’s it. Now wandering into a Dire Wolf den would be as stupid as, well, as stupid as it sounded coming out my own mouth just now!” he moved closer to the bench, examining various bladed tools.
“So to to food source. Any idea what that would be?”
“I heard that the Greyplanes used to have a lot more woodland than they do now. So either there’s a fire-breathing dragon, or more likely something that destroys tree roots.”
Fin nodded, “Thanks Mavric. Are you hunting with a partner?”
Mavric shook his head, “You’ll be fine without me I’m sure.”
“What about you?”
“Don’t worry about old Mav, besides this is a competition, if I don’t make it you’ll be a step closer to winning.” Mavric put down a spear and held what appeared to be a blade melded to the end of a chain.
Fin turned his attention to the bench, it was already pretty sparse with most of the other hunters having already had taken what they needed.
He took up a re-curve bow and fixing his gaze at a lantern at the opposite end of the courtyard, he pulled on the unnocked bowstring to fulldraw. Satisfied with its strength he slung it over his arm and filled a quiver with arrows. He was about to leave the bench when one of the weapons caught his eye, it was like a spear in that it was a spike on the end of a pole, but it also had the head of an axe.
“Ah a Halberd. Probably best to keep some distance between you and those Dire Wolves.”
Fin nodded and took up the weapon, “I hope to see you after this Trial, Mavric.”
Mavric placed a strong hand on Fin’s back, “I trust you will.” He turned and made his way over to where the other hunters were being inspected by the Magesmith, the same man who had stood next to the King earlier.
Fin was about to join the group when another hunter made his way over to the bench, picking up varying sizes of cleavers and testing their weight. The was a large man with ruddy skin, scars and callouses covered his hands and forearms.
“Got a partner?” he grunted, barely making eye contact with Fin.
“How about hunting alongside the Butcher of Thornburrow?” he said, swinging a particularly large cleaver with ease.
Fin knew Thornburrow, it was a town nestled in between two mountain ranges to the west of Emberden’s capital. Though he had never been there, he had heard of the regions native wildlife - the thorny-elk, a powerful deer with barbed antlers that delivered a deadly poison.
“I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but I’ve never heard of you.” Fin spoke slowing, closely watching the gleaming cleaver cutting through the air.
Fin could hear the grating of the hunters teeth as his face deepened in shade. “That will change when I win the Trials.” he managed to say through his clenched jaw.
Fin made sure he had all the equipment he might need for the upcoming hunt before stepping back from the bench, he turned to make for the group of hunters on the other side of the courtyard. “I’ll be hunting alone.”
“Do you know why I am called ‘The Butcher of Thornburrow?’” he asked, blocking Fin’s path with his cleaver, “It’s because I enjoy cutting up my prey.”
Fin’s heart beat strong in his chest, hot blood surging through his veins as he locked eyes with the Butcher. “You will find that I am no prey.” Fin growled and shoved the palm of his hand against the flat of the cleavers blade, knocking it to ground and clattering across stone. Before the Butcher of Thornburrow had a chance to realize that he had been disarmed, Fin thrust his already extend palm into the man’s throat and took hold, “I am a hunter - and I don’t take well to threats.”
The butcher tried to respond but only managed to splutter and nod. Fin released his grip on the mans neck and gave a final push towards the weapons rack behind him, the impact loosed some of the equipment causing it to fall on the stone below.
Fin’s blood cooled and he continued on his way to have his weapons inspected by the Magesmith, it was only then that he realized that the entire group of hunters were staring at him. He ignored them, already regretting being involved in the scrap. He had never been one to fight with the boys back in his village, he hated confrontation and would tell them that he was saving his energy for his hunting trips. So he had no idea why he had stood up to the butcher.
At least the other hunters would keep their distance - for now.
He made his way to the Magesmith who wore a leather apron and blue robes that hid his build. He took the halberd from Fin without hesitation, placing it on a translucent workbench that looked like it was carved from a single massive gemstone. It seemed he was testing all of the weapons that the hunters carried, not just the equipment that they had brought with them.
“Making quite the impression already, young sir.” The Magesmith’s said without looking up from the blade.
“My apologies.” Fin said, giving a slight bow.
The Magesmith looked up, “I did not mean it to your discredit. The Trials will require of you bold choices, but I would advise against making enemies of all the candidates.” The workbench darkened until it was pitch black. The Magesmith nodded, apparently satisfied that the weapon held no magical properties. He held out the halberd for Fin to take back and motioned for Fin to hand over his buck knife, the bow and quiver of arrows.
“I’m not a fighter, I’m a hunter. I don’t plan on being anyones enemy.” Fin said, mostly to himself.
“You’re not just a hunter to the candidates, you’re competition. Remember that.” The Magesmith handed the weapons back to Fin. “This equipment is clear to use during this Trial.” He reached into his apron pouch and pulled out a cloth pouch, handing it to Fin he said, “This is fifty Sovrens, stand with the other hunters and you’ll be taken to the Portal Station shortly, purchase a ticket for the Greyplanes Station with the funds provided. Once there you can use your remaining Sovrens to purchase any other supplies you might need.”
Fin thanked the Magesmith and joined the hunters, standing next to Mavric and avoiding eye contact with the others.
“You traveled by portal before lad?” he Mavric asked grinning.
Fin shook his head, “My village was considered too small to have a station built in it. Too small for most Mageforged objects actually.”
“Not surprising, the Magesmiths don’t just give ‘em out cheap. I had one installed for my lodge when some of my suppliers refused to deliver all the way out in the Pinerust woods - cost me far too much, but I couldn’t let down my patrons.”
“You paid for a Portal Station yourself?”
“It was a profitable year. And besides it meant I could sell tickets to my patrons if they wanted faster travel, a nice little side business for a businessman like myself.” Mavric smiled to himself, “Anyway, your first portal travel is… an experience.”
“Can’t wait.” Fin said dryly, but he couldn’t help but feel the excitement of going on another hunt. His blood surged again and he looked around, the butcher had had his cleavers inspected and joined the group. He glared at Fin, who met his gaze and felt the urge to go for his throat again.
Mavric placed his heavy hand on Fin’s shoulder, “He’s not the prey you’re hunting today. Let it go Fin.”
Fin tore his eyes from the butcher and breathed steadily. His blood cooled again and the muscles that he didn’t realize were tensed relaxed.
“Let’s hunt a Dire Wolf.”