Hunted

by P-Russ


Chapter One: Awake

Chapter One:
Awake


The walls of the ravine slowly shift from the yellow orange of the setting sun, to the dark blues and black of the night. The river responsible for the ravine still flowed strongly across its floor, darting between boulders and scree from the walls, swiftly bearing eroded sediment down the river, continuing its eternal war with the earth.

The river itself quickly changed depths, going from only a meter to ten with almost no warning. It was a mountain river as well, forming from a combination of snowmelt and rain from the peaks of mountain ranges, in other words, it was pretty damn cold.

As the light dwindled, receding back into the sky like a fisherman's line, the landscape slowly degraded into nothing more than shapes and blots in the inky darkness. All but the river was still, nothing making sound in the lonely crevasse. All but one shape.

The shape slowly unfolded, spreading out on the small pile of gravel and rock that served as a landing pad for its tumble from the heights. Groaning in pain, it crawled its way back into the world of consciousness.


Damnit, I feel like I just fell down a mountain.

Groaning, I took a deep breath. I noted, with a healthy dose of swearing and aggravation, the sharp pains in my sides and back.

Thats a set of broken ribs if I've ever had any.

Ignoring the pain momentarily, I rolled onto my side, coughing.

At least my back is fine, just sore, and probably scraped into oblivion. I wonder if I am alone out here.

"Anyone out there who didn't just try to kill me?" I called out in a strained voice.

Predictably, my only response was the soft sounds of the river. Sighing, I rolled onto my stomach and tried pushing myself into a kneeling position. Only to fall back onto my face, driving daggers of agony through my ribs and head.

Just what I needed from today, a headache. Wonderful.

Not content to lay on my face, and probably get eaten by some form of grue, I started to move myself into some semblance of an upright position. Finally, with much pain and more than a few false starts, I managed to get myself onto my paws.

Okay, standing is good. Now to find some shelter, hopefully before I have to fight off anything. I probably should get some fire going, if I knew where I was I could find a forest, but no, I had to wake up in the middle of a damn ravine with no visible landmarks, beside the giant ass mountain... meh.

Taking a breath I shakily shifted myself to the wall of the ravine. I followed the wall hoping to find some kind of cave to spend the night in as I followed the stream away from the mountain range.

After two hours of seemingly endless hobbling, and more than my fair share of stumbling, I finally found an entrance into the walls of my gauntlet.

Perfect, a tiny crack in the wall. Just what I need.

Easing my rather large form into the crack, I let out a relieved groan. Partly out of the pain of compressing my questionable ribs to get into the cave, and partly out of the joyous relief that the cave itself was larger that the entrance let on. Much larger actually. The cave was roughly circular with about a five meter diameter and a two meter ceiling, so I had to hunch over a bit, but it was better that expected.

Well, no fire tonight, but I'm not too worried, nothing big enough to worry about will be able to get inside. Damn I am tired, at least its a sand floor, and not solid rock.

I curled myself into a ball, both to help keep warm, and to help prevent me from tossing and turning onto my hurt ribs. Tired as I was, I found myself lingering on the edge of restful sleep, just barely easing into the darkness or blissful rest. After what felt like an eternity, my weary body dove into unconsciousness.


Torches flickered along the rough hewn hall way, barely casting enough light to make out an ornate stone door. Lights danced from around the cracks of the doorway, and the muffled sounds of revelry made eire by the echos.

In the Great Hall just behind the doorway, a feast was being held. Hundreds of dogs singing and dancing, eating and drinking, casting aside all worries and throwing themselves into the joys of the night with abandon.

At the end of the great hall, upon a small raised dais, three simple thrones sat with their occupants, set apart from the debauchery, but close enough to be able to participate in the music and laughter.

The centre throne was a masterwork of ornate simplicity. Carved of obsidian, with golden accenting and inlays. Its occupant a rather large specimen of dog, muscled and tall, with a black and white coat. He emitted an aura of collected calm and command, booking no argument to who was the leader of this den.

To his right sat a sandstone throne, inlaid with rubies of all shapes and sizes. The dog occupying this throne looked every bit as regal as the former. While he didn't exude authority, he did have an air of confidence and self mastery about him that spoke of his ability to do anything you can, but better.

The remaining throne was more ornate than either of its comrades, made of silver and ordained with athemyst set in rings of gold. The owner of this throne didn't have an intimidating presence like the other two, but instead had the smile of a mother, and the eyes of a sister... the one who'd punch you in the shoulder and tell you to stop being an asshat, then set you up with her best friend, not like the one who would scream if she even so much as saw any kind of insect.

The figure at the centre sat calmly listening to the bards sing their tales, reminiscing on his time before becoming the alpha. His quiet thoughts were interrupted by the slamming of the door from the outside, sounding like a rockslide followed by the cracking of a boulder, which could quite possible have been the wall behind the door from the force of the entry.

The gathering of dogs was silenced almost immediately, as a column of heavily armed figures marched through the hall, knocking aside obstruction and reveler alike, making a line directly towards the thrones, forming an alley of arms and armor. As the honor guard finished their entrance, a cloaked figure emerged from the shadows of the now ruined door.

"Ah, Firestone, it has been too long brother," said the alpha, "tell me, have you forgotten that moronic little dream you had of uniting the clans?"

"Ha, you are still set in your ways," said Firestone striding towards the dais, "but not even the right ones Stonemaker, what is this I hear of you doing away with the old traditions?"

"Those archaic practices did nothing but hold us back, slaves made us belligerent, which lead us to our devotion to combat and the like. Without slaves we have managed three years of plenty, along with peace with the pony settlements. They even are discussing trade rights as we speak," explained Stonemaker.

"Surely you jest, brother. The weaklings are meant to serve us, it has been our way since the dawn of our proud race," growled Firestone, "To even think of coexistence is an insult to our fathers, and their fathers before them. This is the reason why you should align wi-"

"Are you still on about that fool that calls himself The High King?" snapped Stonemaker, "I have told his envoys that I am not going to sell my pack to anyone, nonetheless a mongrel like him. You speak of honoring our ancestors, and yet you follow the bastard who dances on their graves!"

"YOU WILL NOT SPEAK OF THE KING THIS WAY!"

"I WILL SPEAK OF HIM AS I PLEASE, I am alpha of this pack, you would do well to remember that brother!" spat Stonemaker.

"very well," said Firestone breaking out into a predatory grin. Turning toward the assembled dogs he shouted, "AS IS MY RIGHT BY BIRTH, I CHALLENGE STONEMAKER FOR LEADERSHIP OF THIS PACK!"

"I refuse, you gave up your claim long ago you bastard," growled Stonemaker, eyes narrowing to a, sadly ineffectual, lethal glare, "you have no business here any longer, remove yourself from my sight cur."

"It is birthright, I can't lose that claim," purred Firestone, "so what will it be brother? Fight or forfeit?"

"Your master must be more of an imbecile than I thought, I will not become a kinslayer, nor will I give up my pack, not to his foolish crusade!"

"Just fight him father, he has already cast his lot," said the dog on the sandstone throne

"No, I can not," said Stonemaker, "even in a trial like this, it would be no better than if I killed you Gemdust, my son"

Outraged Gemdust cried,"But you can't let him get away with this! He will undo all of your work within a week!"

"So what is it going to be brother dearest? Your family, or your den?" gloated Firestone, well aware that he was in a position of power.

"My den is my family, but you would destroy both in your lust for power," growled Stonemaker, "very well, I will yield my pack to you, may your reign be short and painful, wretch."

"Now now, no need to be sore about it brother," leered the newly appointed alpha

Stonemaker turned to his son, speaking softly so only he could hear, "Gem, take your mother and leave, do not come back, we will not survive this night."

"But fathe-"

"NO, take River and begone, quickly. Take the gift with you too, we can not let Firestone get his mangy paws on it."

"Now, if you are finished with you little secret sharing session over there brother, I would like you to hear my first proclamation as alpha," said Firestone, turning to the crowd he said, "My first act as alpha is to punish the traitorous Stonemaker in accordance with the old laws. Which, incase you have forgotten, includes flogging to my pleasure, and banishment from pack territory, along with a traitor's branding. Now, since you have softened your own guard with delusions of peace, I will gladly deal the flogging and branding myself."

"So be it," said Stonemaker, with a pointed glance at his son, who quickly grabbed his mother and started down a side path.

"Now now, you little runt," barked Firestone, "old law dictates that the family must be present at the flogging, and the branding for that matter. So just march your little tail right back to you seat, and take that bitch to hers as well."

With a glare guided by a rage to melt steel from Gem, and one of cold fury to freeze it again from River. Wordlessly they stood back to their seats.

The now grinning Firestone strolled to one of his guards holding back the crowd and relieved him of his mace, a nasty affair of iron and oak. With a grin still plastered on his face, Firestone whispered to the former alpha, "Be glad brother, the beatings will be quick, and the branding will be when you are unconscious. I am a dog of mercy, I know. But I just feel sorry for you, knowing that you will lie broken until a predator comes to end your suffering... Oh, I almost forgot, you should also know that your bitch and runt are both slated for death.. Just thought I would pass that along."

Before Stonemaker could react, the mace was slammed into his body, just below the ribcage, knocking him down to the ground. Two of Firestone's guards came forward and held down the fallen dog's arms as blow upon blow fell upon him. As the beating continued, a crack sounded through the hall.

"So, thats what it takes to break three ribs at once, I've always wondered that," mused Firestone, "well, I think that should be enough, and you are still awake too. That is just unfortunate, well, I tried at least."

As he was speaking he turned to another of his guards, and pulled a metal brand in the shape of a viper entwined around a kriss.

"Now, this here is nasty. Pretty simple really, it is completely cool, at least until it is placed on the one receiving the brand. That is when it starts to heat up, not instantly, no not at all, it heats up nice and slow. leave quite the mark, or so I have heard."

The guards flipped Stone maker onto his stomach. Firestone placed the twisted iron on his back, the tip of the design resting on his lower back, with the hilt of the dagger starting half way up the back of his neck. He turned to the crowd and chuckled, "You may want to cover your ears for a bit."

Sure enough the iron started to glow bright red, but it wasn't quite hot yet. As the seconds dragged by like hours, the brand heated up, after about thirty seconds, the smell of burnt hair permeated the air. Shortly after, the groaning started. At first just a low groan that could only be heard by those on the dais. Within minuets the groans turned to agonized cries, and into screams shortly after, the red hot iron slowly burning and melting the flesh it rested on, slowly sinking into its host, searing shut the would before it could bleed, the smell of cooked meat wafting through the room, intermingling with the scents of the feast, and of the burnt hair, creating a noxious odor nauseating any unfortunate enough to smell it.

After what seemed to be an eternity, Firestone bent down and grabbed the iron, as if it were still cool to the touch. Smirking he said, "And this is what really hurts."

His grip tightened on the brand, and slowly started to pull, once again starting the cries of the victim.

"Oh alright, quit crying," sneered Firestone as he gripped the iron tighter, and then with a single heave, ripped it from Stonemakers back, bits of charred flesh still hanging from the edges. A single cry pierced the ears of those in the room. A feral scream of unmentionable pain.


Still screaming, Stonemaker awoke. Cold sweat dripped from his muzzle onto the ground as the events of the past day flooded into his mind, repressed, along with the pain, by the adrenaline of the moment. As the barriers fell down around his mind, one fact remained in his mind

The gift... WHERE. IS. THE. GIFT.

Ignoring the now almost unbearable pain in his back and ribs, Stonemaker sprinted back out into the late night toward the pile of gravel he had risen from.