The Flame

by Soraya

The Hunt

The forest was a blur of greens, greys and blacks as an impatient chimera ran after the scent traces of potential prey. This was his hunt, his meal, and the first potential food he would have in days. He would lay claim to it before anyone else did. Any chimera from this area held a familiarity with the scent, tracks, and other signs of the great deer. Elias would use this knowledge to his advantage; he had a set plan of attack. The deer were certainly enormous in size, but still not without flaws that he could use against them. The scent trail veered in a new direction. The chimera, Elias, turned sharply, his front paws with their sheathed claws making much less noise than the goat hooves on the back end.

Suddenly he stopped. This was unfamiliar territory, and for a moment he was agitated. His tiger's head looked up, and tasted the acrid air. "Did you get yourself lost?" the goat's head snapped at the tiger.

"I am not lost," the tiger head replied proudly. Elias paced around, trying to get his bearings. The acrid smell in the air was a telltale sign that he was near the edge of the Everfree Forest, and the Flame Geyser swamp was in close proximity. While the swamp was a suitable home for chimeras, Elias disliked the unpredictable place. To not mince words, the place was a scorched wasteland. All three of his heads - the tiger and goat in the front, and the snake that served as a tail - had one singular focus right now. Elias cocked all four of his ears and sniffed the ground, regaining his bearings. He cautiously headed towards the source of the sound.

Antlers clacked against each other as two great bucks fought for dominance. The chimera made his way through the underbrush. He glanced in all directions, then paused and then slithered underneath a tangle of bushes. Neither one of the rutting deer had noticed yet - he was safe. Silently, Elias waited under a brush where his conspicuous stripes copied the patterns of the sunlight. "Stay hidden!" his goat head whispered the command. The great beast knew how to use the light and shadow to his advantage. Elias crouched low to the ground, with both the goat and tiger watching the battle intently while the snake coiled over his flanks.

Elias was young, but he knew the harsh rules of life as a predatory beast in the Everfree Forest. Although the forest lay within Equestria, Princess Celestia's reign and influence were not recognized here. The intelligent chimera knew who she was - he had seen the ruins of her castle, but never encountered her. It had been long ago since she had set hoof here, and the castle where she and her sister Luna had resided had long since fell into ruin. The place was full of other hungry monsters who were larger and stronger than him - including others of his own species. Chimeras were solitary and territorial, and rarely saw another of their kind. However, if it did come down to a fight for food, a young adult male like Elias would almost surely lose to a more experienced beast.

"Remain quiet and wait for an opportunity." The tiger head emphasized the command, taking care to lower his voice and not alarm the deer. "Those bucks sure look daunting; don't let that fool you. First impressions always lie. See - they're only focused on beating each other up now. The size of those deer may be intimidating, sure, but a chimera has the potential advantage of cooperation. Bucks and does only look out for their own interests; they don't work together. The only reason they live in herds is because they always have someone to sacrifice. They must have been taught cooperation by a draconequus. Each wants to prove himself as the strongest to impress a doe. They don't even know we're here."

"You're the confident one, fuzz stripes," the goat head bleated, the snarky tone evident in his reply. "Having a taste for meat is a pretty damn good motivator for taking risky actions. Especially unnecessary ones."

"Would you really let some other creature with cloven hooves push you around, brother?" the tiger snarled without raising his voice. "Bucks are just prey no matter how big they are. But you wouldn't know that, since you're just a goat! Predators recognize prey, and prey fears predator."

"Yessssss, brother," the normally taciturn snake head hissed. "The goat issss right, thessssse deer are dangerousssss!" Both goat and tiger looked back in surprise. The snake tail was so unobtrusive, only eating once every week or two, and satisfied as long as the climate didn't get too cold, that it was sometimes easy to forget he was even there.

Elias moved further down through the brush, noting about ten does resting in the grass, watching the bucks with mild interest. A small pack of timberwolves eyed the deer on the opposite side as they moved through the forest.

"Do timberwolves really need to eat? They're golems made of sticks and leaves, aren't they? Or do they just like chasing animals for fun?" the goat pondered aloud.

"Keep it down, will you?" the tiger head whispered. "We don't want the deer to hear us." Elias crouched in the brush, and all three heads kept quiet

One of the great deer charged and speared his assailant with the prong of his antler. The wounded buck backed away, turning back towards the thicket for shelter. One of the timberwolves let out a reedy howl. Two other members of the pack charged ahead. The rest followed along with them, the two leaders snapping at the deer's hooves as the buck veered sharply towards the brush. The tiger's eyes stared intently at the stricken deer, watching every move. "Here's our chance," he whispered. "Follow the wolves, we're stronger. Don't worry about them." The chimera slid out from the thicket, broke into a run, and raced to confront the wounded deer. Elias was very swift and agile when he could get all three of his heads to cooperate.

The deer snorted in alarm, and skidded to a stop. Elias sprung forward and growled in anticipation. He chased the deer from the opposite side of the running timberwolves, an attempt to herd the deer where he wanted it. The chimera snarled, directing the fleeing deer towards the tangle of brush. The big buck ran the other way, and in response, the timberwolf pack changed direction in their pursuit of the deer. Even as a young adult, Elias knew enough about prey from watching his mother hunt. When a prey animal ran away, that was a sign of weakness. The strongest deer stood and fought off the attacker with their horns and hooves. If wounded, a deer sometimes would make a final stand and go down fighting. A wild predator could never afford to drop his or her guard, even when the quarry was nearly finished off.

The buck raced headlong and ran right into the Flame Geyser swamp. Both timberwolves skidded to a halt. They panted and jumped clear of the danger zone. One of the geysers erupted and the timberwolves backed off further. From a safe distance, both wolves watched the deer escape, refusing to go in themselves. Elias grinned with both the tiger and goat's heads. This plan had worked perfectly, as long as he had the strength to finish off his quarry. It was time to use this unpleasant place to his own advantage. He kept pursuing the buck, while keeping track of the eruption patterns of the geysers with his goat's head. Satisfied with his clever trick, his tiger's head remained focused on the harried deer. While the large buck was agile and evasive, even when wounded, Elias could think fast. No doubt the buck was familiar with this place, fighting in such close proximity to it.

When the buck turned direction, Elias pounced in front of the animal as a geyser erupted behind them. "It's a choice between me and the flames," his tiger head growled. The trapped deer hesitated, but looked unimpressed with the size of the attacking chimera. "What's it going to be," Elias purred, looking up at the deer that stood over twice his size.

Crack! The buck's hooves came down, hard. Elias stepped aside, his tiger's head spitting out a gob of blood from the gash on his jaw. He growled and leaped at the deer's back. He slipped and found himself dangling over the back end of the great buck. Elias lunged out and ripped at the deer's side with his claws. The buck's grunt told him he had opened the previous gash up further. The chimera swallowed hard, desperately seeking a hold with his claws.

The buck's wounds were bleeding profusely now, and it was rapidly weakening. Yet the deer was not one to go down without a brave fight. With a final rally of remaining strength, the buck kicked and flung the predator, dislodging him. It was a desperate move. Yet it would come too late for an animal that was already too badly injured to have a good chance of survival. Snorting blood, the deer stumbled and fled.

Elias was thrown violently, smashing into the trunk of a tree in the swamp. He fell sprawling to the swamp floor. All three heads went limp, eyes rolling back. For a few seconds he was unconscious, then the goat head rose slightly, awake yet groggy. The other two heads were still unresponsive.

A flame geyser went off, just brushing the back of the chimera's fur. Elias grunted in pain, and then came fully awake. He growled softly. Trying to get all three heads to cooperate, he jumped to his feet. The chimera paced tentatively until he regained his bearings. Wherever this deer had gone, it wasn't far. He had made sure of that with his claws.

A wounded deer's scent is always easy to find, even in a hazardous swamp. Elias followed the scent with anticipation. He would end the suffering of this deer if it hadn't succumbed to its wounds already. He looked out from behind a tree and swallowed hard.

Some other beast had finished off his quarry before he did. A sleek, brawny female chimera crouched over the carcass of the buck, her tiger's head lapping up the blood of the prey. She was powerfully built and considerably larger in size than Elias. Her eyes - goat, tiger and snake alike - glittered with a fierce and ruthless light. Her claws and chest were drenched in the blood of her prey - my prey, Elias growled as he watched her devour the buck. "This may be my only meal in three days. I did all the work, and I'm not just going to let her have that deer like she was the one who brought it down," his tiger head growled softly. "Even if she is bigger than me. She's the first chimera I've seen in a while in this hostile place."

Elias had spoken softly, but not quietly enough. The female chimera stopped feeding. She raised two of her heads, and stared intently at this interloper. "You are in my territory," growled the chimera. "This stretch of the Flame Geyser swamp belongs to me, and you thought you could hunt here." She had a cold, calculating stare, as if she was deciding whether or not to kill this stranger, and whether it would be worth the effort.

"Who are you?" Elias asked with his tiger's head, trying to match the stares of this unfamiliar chimera. He took a few confident steps forward. Best to not give her any indications he was nervous or scared of her. He would face her with as much confidence as he could put on.

The female chimera rose to her feet. A look of respect for the smaller chimera flashed in the goat's eyes, while the tiger's gaze reflected haughtiness, and the snake's eyes looked sinister and intent. "My name is Keres. If you were from the Flame Geyser swamp, you would come to know me soon," her tiger's head said. She ran her tongue over her sharp white teeth and her blood-drenched muzzle. "You are brave indeed if you wish to challenge me. Is that what you are here to do?"