Urek Thunderhorn felt the wind blow through his grey mane as his kodo stomped down the dusty road. The old Tauren had spent his life teaching youngbloods the ways of the hunt, but none had the unique…challenge of the young Tauren that rode next to him.
Rual was lean for a Turen his age and mostly kept his eyes on the sky, particularly on the grey feathered eagle that circled over them. The old eagle Darkcloud was Rual’s animal companion and was never far from his new master.
Urek knew Darkcloud a little too well. During the Grimtotem takeover of Thunder Bluff the bird’s previous master had tried to kill him during the cowardly sneak attack but Urek had been in the wilds too long to be unaware of an approaching predator. He had turned and released an arrow into the attacker’s throat and the assassin was the one caught by surprise. That earned the wrath of Darkcloud who moved too quickly for Urek to notch another arrow leading to his capture by the other Grimtotem.
It turned out that his would be killer was Orgro Grimtotem, Magatha’s own son. The elder crone had used Darkcloud’s anger towards him a proof that Urek had “murdered” him. A few days into the takeover he was sentenced to be bound to a tree and guarded until he died of thirst. Thankfully he was freed when Baine had exiled the Grimtotem, or most of them anyway.
Rual had stayed behind with others of his tribe who denounced the actions of their kin, but it wasn’t out of choice. Rual was Orgro’s son, still a boy back then. Having his father die then seeing his grandmother exiled in disgrace he decided to take a third option and try to throw himself off Thunder Bluff to a sure and swift death. Thankfully the braves stopped him from carrying out that foolish choice but the elders deciding he was unable to choose for himself and too dangerous if he was given back to Magatha was given to the care of Jevan Grimtotem, known as Stormsong, the elder who became the leader of the remaining Grimtotem on Thunder Bluff.
Rual had grown since then, now old enough to take part of the Tauren rite of the Great Hunt, to go into wild and prove himself to both his people and offspring of the Earthmother. In Rual’s case it was the last right he would need to pass before he could be named a brave. Many were unsure of Urek’s wisdom in volunteering to lead the son of the man he killed into the wilderness but Urek knew the wilderness was where he was safest. Urek was a Thunderhorn, a great hunter from a tribe of great hunters and knew whatever anger festered in the heart of youngblood next to him paled in comparison to the savage beauty that awaited them. If Rual felt that Thunder Bluff had become a prison for him then barrens should ease him, if Rual wished vengeance, then Urek had taken steps to give the young man fair warning before he would have to defend himself.
Urek looked ahead and saw the Great Gate that now separated the plains of Mulgore from the vast and dry barrens where they would hunt. “Stop,” he said pulling the reins of his kodo. “From here we go on foot.”
Rual leapt off his Kodo and slung his father’s spear over his back, the same spear Orgro had tried to kill Urek with. “Won’t we need them to carry our kills? Or is the kill you’re after one you don’t want to return with?”
Urek sighed as dismounted. “I had no ill will towards your father or to you Rual. The prey we stalk has a large territory and is clever, we’ll need to keep a low profile if we wish to be successful.”
Urek walked to a nearby post and took a horn slung around it. After giving a short blast on the horn the braves at the foot of the wall cleared a smaller opening in the gate. “Once we pass through the Great Hunt begins,” said Urek. “Remember the wilds can be dangerous, but there is an order to that danger. Respect your prey and the land and they shall respect you.”
“I guess there is a first time for everything,” the surly youngblood.
After they passed through the gate Urek saw the last thing he would need for this hunt. Before them was an Orc sitting on a rock and cleaning his rifle, at his feet sat a sandy brown wolf panting in the heat.
Urek extended a hand toward the orc. “Lokesh, it makes me glad that you could accompany us on this mission.”
The Orc put his gun down and took Urek’s hand. “You know me old friend, the challenge of a powerful beast is something I cannot resist.
Rual flared his nostrils. “Him?! I thought this was supposed to be a rite! You have no business in our affairs Orc!”
Lokesh gave a skeptical glare at the Grimtotem. “So this is the youngblood you were bringing. I have to say he seems to have too much thunder and not enough tact. He reminds me of our last Warchief.”
Rual then drew his spear and charged with a roar.
Urek turned. “Rual, no!”
It took a split second, the Orc simply made a gesture and in the next thing he knew Rual was on the ground. The Grimtotem stared at a mouthful of teeth as Lokesh’s wolf snarled at him.
“Lokesh call her off!” Urek shouted stringing his bow. Darkcloud was already diving towards them.
Lokesh shrugged and turned to the wolf. “Rakka, to me.”
The wolf stopped snarling, unpinned the youngblood and obediently came to Lokesh’s heel. Darkcloud landed next to Rual’s head as he started to pick himself up.
Urek came between the two. “We’re here to do a job, not dredge up old wounds! We’ve wasted enough time. We head south towards Firestone Point and make camp at sunset.”
As Rual dusted himself off Darkcloud flew up to his shoulder a perched. “You wanted me dead didn’t you Orc?”
Lokesh mounted his rifle on his shoulder. “If I wanted you dead Rakka would have torn out your throat, not smile at you.”
Silence was the hunting party’s only other companion on the long walk south. Urek kept a close watch at their surroundings, just a couple of years ago this area was a war zone. Alliance and Horde forces skirmished over the land scarring it in the process. Even though the two major forces had reached a tentative peace the land, known as the Battlescar, remembered. It has become a place frequented by scavengers and predators some who may mistake any of them for an easy meal.
Lokesh held up his fist, Rakka came to an immediate halt with Urek and Rual following suit.
Lokesh, knelt and examine a paw print at his feet. “Hyena, passed this way heading northeast about an hour ago. It was running from something.”
“And how do you think Lokesh came to that conclusion Rual?” Urek asked.
Rual knelt down to take a closer look. “The print looks fresh; the wind hasn’t had enough time to blow it away.”
“And how did he determine that it was fleeing danger?”
“There is only one set of prints, Hyenas run in packs. Something had to happened to the rest of the pack, probably tangled with a lion and lost.”
Urek allowed a smile cross his face. “Satisfied Lokesh?”
Lokesh stood up to face the older Tauren. “Well he isn’t completely hopeless, he knows how to track and to use the pointy end of his spear. Still is he really in touch with the wild?”
Rual crossed his arms. “Now you both sound like a couple of druids.”
This elicited a laugh from the old Thunderhorn. “I suppose we do! After all those on the hunt respect nature’s power or fall victim to it.”
“So is this Hyena our kill or are we interested in what it ran away from?”
Urek turned his gaze southwest. “Our prey is in the direction this hyena ran from. Tough I would hope you have more respect for it than just something you would kill.”
Rual started marching towards the southwest. “I thought the Grimtotem didn’t respect anything. At least that’s what I’ve been hearing from the Horde soldiers.”
Urek stood snout to snout with the youngblood. “So you want to live down to their expectations?! Jevan, Tarakor, they and the Grimtotem who stayed have been working to heal the wounds left by Magatha’s betrayal! They and the Bloodhoof have been nothing but good to you and you just want to throw that work, that kindness away?!”
Urek saw Rual’s eyes narrow. “If Baine was truly kind, he would have slaughtered us all!”
The Thunderhorn stepped back and notched an arrow at Rual, he saw an almost pleased look come across the Grimtotem’s face.
Urek then moved his aim to the side and released the arrow, a squeal sounded though the air and the arrow was lodged into the back of a large boar. Urek was aware of the boar as he talked to Rual, his aim and senses had no more left him no more today when the boar went into an unexplained charge as it did that night with Orgro.
Lokesh made another and gesture and Rakka leapt at the boar. The hog charged once again Rakka leaping to the side.
Lokesh aimed his rifle and fired. The shot missed, but far from his faithful wolf, Urek knew too well that his friend would never risk his beloved pet for a sure kill.
Rual made a gesture and Darkcloud swept into the fray pecking and clawing while Rual rushed in trying to get a good thrust at the underbelly.
Urek as steadied his longbow he felt his heart pounding. Between the two pets and Rual getting a clear shot would be difficult, but he had dedicated his whole life to making accurate shots. As reckless as Rual was attack if Urek didn’t act fast and aim true the youngblood would be gored. He calmed his breathing and things seemed to slow down as he looked for a good mark.
He could hear his prey’s breathing, feel it’s movement in the wind. It was alive, part of the great web of life. Escape and survive, kill and eat, Urek was once again part of an intricate dance as old as Azeroth itself and he surrendered himself to it. Urek’s instincts drew his aim to the left eye.
Urek then let go feeling the string push the arrow forward in that moment time seemed to catch up again. The arrow found its mark, the mighty boar fell to the ground with a thud and lay still. The beast was dead.
Rual was still catching his breath as Darkcloud rested on his shoulder once more. Lokesh planted the butt pf his rifle on the ground as he looked on the fallen animal.
“Well, who’s hungry?”
An’she had gone to sleep over the horizon, Musha was now high in the sky. A fire roasted what was left of the great boar.
“I don’t know what that pig was eating,” said Lokesh as he stripped the last bit of meat from a rib. “But whatever it was it made the meat so tender you could eat it with a spoon. If only we had brought some bloodmead to wash it down with.” The orc threw the rib at his feet where Rakka happily began gnawing on it.
Urek added another branch to the bonfire. “The Earthmother has provided for us greatly this day. We should be thankful for this animal for giving its life for ours.”
“I’m thankful for its hide. As thick as it is we should be able to get good coin for it, maybe enough to get those earrings from Silvermoon my wife has been asking for.”
Urek took another rib from the fire. “We are taught to respect the animal by using all of it, but I don’t think money was what elders meant when they taught that.”
Lokesh gave a hearty laugh. “There’s nothing wrong with hunting for sport or gold, so long as it is in moderation and you don’t hunt only for those purposes. Am I right boy?”
Rual said nothing. The Grimtotem just sat sharpening his father’s spear with a rock as Darkcloud slept on the branch of dead tree nearby.
“You aren’t going to have much of a spear left if you keep doing that boy,” said Lokesh.
“The kill I need to complete this rite is out there,” said Rual. “I’d like to be ready when the time comes.”
Lokesh leaned against his pack. “Don’t be so serious boy! Your Great Hunt is as much about the journey as the destination. Look at us, we’ve emerged from a battle with a strong beast victorious. After a successful kill like this my people would sit around a fire like we are doing now and tell stories of hunts and battles past.”
Rual stopped sharpening his spear as he gazed at Lokesh with a cold fury. “Tell stories? Ok, how about you tell us the story of how our last warchief decided that your kind needed the land my tribe was exiled to more than they did and sent Krom’gar and his army to wipe them out against the promises of our High Chieftain?”
Lokesh made no move. “I wouldn’t know. At the time I was hunting panthers in Stranglethorn, but from what I heard they were ordered to secure Stonetalon from the Alliance. If Garrosh ordered Krom’gar to attack the Grimtotem or he took it upon himself to do so, you’d have to ask them. Unfortunately for you they are both dead, so you’ll have to settle for how things are now.”
“All I know is when either the High Chieftain or the Warchief finally get the spine to march an army into Feralas and put an end to the Grimtotem for good, I will be in that army and I will hunt down and kill as many Grimtotem as I see. If I die in process, all the better for the Horde.”
Urek then stood. “Enough Rual! You’ve been trying to antagonize me and Lokesh since Thunder Bluff. If you are trying to get us to strike or kill you in anger it will not work, the task ahead of us is too important to let your childish rage jeopardize this hunt.”
Rual stood to look the elder Thunderhorn in the eye. “And just what is this task you’d have me do to prove myself?”
Urek gazed into the fire. “Desolation Hold has reported more incursions of Quilboar into Horde territory in the Southern Barrens, our longwalkers have determined that their hunters are finding a lack of prey of in their own territory and found that a lion the locals are calling Blackclaw has been killing off more animals and Quilboar than normal. We are to track down Blackclaw and restore balance to the Quilboar hunting grounds. Then they will have no need to attack our people.”
“And this Blackclaw is to be the kill that marks me a worthy Tauren? I suppose it is a win-win for you, if I kill the beast then you have the peace you want, if it kills me then the Horde has one less Grimtotem who could turn against them.”
Urek looked deep into Rual’s eyes. “I am trying to find out what you are thinking! Why do you keep picking fights with your fellow youngbloods and pushing away the members of your tribe who are worried about you?! What made that boy I saw that day back on Thunder Bluff want to end his own life rather than choose between staying with his tribe in exile or accepting the forgiveness of a young man who also lost his father?!”
Rual bellowed as he stomped his hoof. “I am not some animal who you can figure out by just staring into my eyes! You can’t understand me, no one can!” Rual began to slink down to sit next to the fire. “No one ever will.”
Urek took a seat next to the boy. “You are right, no one ever will understand you, not until let someone in and tell them. I may have killed your father in self-defense but I am not your enemy.”
Rual turned his gaze skyward. “I never knew my mother. I was just a calf when the Centaur killed her. Father fed and clothed me but he was always distant, as if my mother’s death tore a hole into his heart.”
Urek told tell where this was going. “A hole that your grandmother’s words of hatred and intolerance began to fill.”
“He kept telling me that the races of the Horde were no different than the Centaur or the Night Elves, they just wanted our lands. I listened if only to play the games with the other Grimtotem children. Then Father took me to Thunder Bluff. I tried to make friends with the other Tauren children, but their parents mistrusted the Grimtotem, told them to stay away from me. I had thought my grandmother’s words were meant to help all our people, no one else thought so.
“On the night after High Chieftain Cairne had died my father went out to aid Grandmother’s plans. But I could feel something different about him. There was doubt in his heart, I thought he wasn’t sure about killing other Tauren. Before I could speak with him he voiced his doubts. But his words, the last words he ever spoke to me, were not what I expected.
Urek looked into Rual’s eyes. “What were the words he said to you?”
For the first time since Urek saw him running towards the cliff he saw tears in the Grimtotem’s eyes. “He said ‘this would be so much easier if the Centaur had killed you too’. My father, he didn’t want me. He ended up trading me for that arrow in the throat you gave him. But when Baine returned victorious, destroyed Grandmother’s totems and exiled her and the Grimtotem who wouldn’t reject her path I came to a realization.
“It didn’t truly matter if stayed or went. If I went with Grandmother I would bear the shame of my father’s failure, if I chose to remain at Thunder Bluff the shame of my tribe would mark me as a pariah for the rest of my days. When the braves stopped me I thought I was proven right, Grandmother, she wouldn’t even look at me. You want to know why tried to throw myself from the rises? It was because I realized no matter what I did or who I gave my allegiance to I was a tribe of one.
Rual looked at the head of his father’s spear, his own reflection stared back at him. “I would always be alone.”
Urek had now finally found the quarry he was hunting since he took this boy’s training as his responsibility. When Magatha bound him to that tree that he ended up thirsting for days, this boy’s heart had been thirsting for years.
Urek gazed up into the sky, the stars were shining brightly. “Rual do you know the story of the Great Hunt?”
Rual sighed deeply. “Every Tauren has heard that story a hundred times over and a hundred again.”
Lokesh gave a laugh as he filled his cup with water from his canteen. “The great stories deserve to be told, even if we already know the words. Continue old friend.”
Urek nodded in approval. “At the dawning of the world the Earthmother made the Shu’halo. Into the brave hearts of her pure children, the Earthmother placed the love of the hunt. For the creatures of the first dawn were savage and fierce. They hid from the Earthmother, finding solace in the shadows and the wild places of the land. The Shu'halo hunted these beasts wherever they could be found and tamed them with the Earthmother's blessing.
“One great spirit eluded them, however. Apa'ro was a proud stag of snow white fur. His antlers scraped the roof of the heavens and his mighty hooves stamped out the deep places of the world. The Shu'halo hunted Apa'ro to the corners of the dawning world - and closed in to snare the proud stag.
“Seeking to escape, the great stag leapt into the sky. Yet, as his escape seemed assured, his mighty antlers tangled in the stars which held him fast. Though he kicked and struggled, Apa'ro could not loose himself from the heavens. It was then that Mu'sha found him as she chased her brother, An'she, towards the dawn. Mu'sha saw the mighty stag as he struggled and fell in love with him immediately. The clever moon made a bargain with the great stag - she would set him free from the snare of the stars if he would love her and end her loneliness
“Mu'sha loved Apa'ro and conceived a child by him. The child was born into the shadowed forests of the night. He would be called Cenarius, and walk the starry path between the waking world and the kingdom of the heavens.
“But before Cenarius, before magic and steel, before the races and before nations there was the hunt. The predator seeking food for themselves and their children would need to become stronger, fiercer and more cunning. The prey seeking survival would need to become faster, craftier and elusive. Though seemingly opposed to each other they make each other better, the hunt connects all life each living thing having an impact on everything else. We as the Shu’halo are connected to the hunt and so as part of the hunt we are never truly alone.”
Rual sat in silence, contemplating Urek’s words. Now was the time for Urek to bring the point home. “When your father said it would have been easier if the Centaur had killed you it wasn’t because he didn’t love you. Killing his fellow Tauren would have shamed him forever in the eyes of the people, he trusted in your grandmother’s false beliefs but feared what his actions would bring shame upon you as well. If you had died with your mother, he would have thought nothing of honor and obeyed without hesitation and perhaps I wouldn’t be here this night. But instead he died with the crime undone, the stain not made on you. If you are looking for proof that you are not alone, look upon his old companion.”
Rual looked at the sleeping old eagle. “He could have gone back to the wilds, or followed the Grimtotem if he felt a bond with any of them. But he chose to stay with me, he chose to watch the son of his friend.”
“The hunt connects us all,” said Urek. “From the animals to the races of Azeroth. Though if we return successful and your rite is completed the Great Hunt never truly ends.”
Far above the camp a shooting star blazed across the sky.
The next day the hunting party turned southwest towards the brambles frequented by the Quilboar. About midday they found the first signs of their quarry.
Lokesh examined the rotting carcass of an antelope. “Not all of the meat has been eaten, but these marks are consistent with a lion attack.”
“We’re getting close then,” said Urek as Rakka took a bite out of the antelope. “Female lions would normally do the hunting while the males protect the young. But the longwalkers described a male lion with a black coat stalking the Quilboar and killing animals while leaving most of the meat. Something has thrown off the balance here.”
“Then we remove Blackclaw and restore the balance,” said Rual.
Urek motioned for his fellow hunters gather around him. “It will not be that simple, we have to understand what made this animal go against his nature, why he does this, how he thinks. Once we understand our prey we can lay a trap for him
Rual patted an animal trap hanging from belt next to his right thigh.
“That will give us the best chance for success. Not only that Blackclaw may be just a symptom of a bigger problem, keep your eyes open and…”
Urek’s words were interrupted suddenly by a lion’s roar. The three hunter moved to stand back to back, their weapons pointing in an outward circle. They were surrounded by tall grass. The beast could be anywhere even very close.
Lokesh chambered a round in his rifle. “Seems like Blackclaw was the one who laid a trap for us.”
Blackclaw growled as he circled unseen in the grass, Rakka growled in response.
Lokesh turned to Rual. “Your bird should be able to spot him from the air. Send him to attack, then we can tell where to strike.”
Rual motioned for Darkcloud to take wing. The elderly eagle took off its talons just brushing the top of the tall grass.
It was then Blackclaw pounced. In an instant it had firmly clamped its jaws around eagle’s neck.
Rual roared and moved to charge in, the head of his father’s spear gleaming in the sun. Urek was already after him, his instincts the only thing that let him grab the youngblood in time.
Urek pulled Urel back into the circle. “You go out there and you’ll succeed in giving our prey another victim! He won’t eat while we are still here ready to strike, there’s still a chance to save Darkcloud.
Rual reluctantly moved back into the circle, ready to thrust into grass the moment he knew he could hit the beast.
Urek drew an arrow, he watched and listened for even a telltale sign of the lion’s location. His ears drew him towards rustling to he left, seeing the movement of the grass he pulled back the arrow and aimed for where the lion’s heart would be. Releasing the arrow birds flew out from the rustling grass, Urek realized too late just how cleaver their opponent was.
Blackclaw had leapt from almost the opposite direction of the birds and landed on top of Lokesh. Its claw had raked against the arm of the Orc. Rual tried to stab the lion, bellowing like a wounded kodo, but it leapt away. Rakka moved to bite but the cat moved for the grass once more.
Lokesh fought throught the pain and fired a shot at the lion. The bullet grazed its thigh and it vanished back into the grass. The sounds of its steps became more and more distant, with the orc’s wounds they would have to give up the hunt for the day.
Urek knelt down towards his friend of many years. “How bad is it?”
Lokesh cradled hiss arm but he tried to smile through in spite of the pain. “I’ve suffered worse. A day or two and I’ll have some new scars for the wife to admire.”
Urek took a waterskin from his belt and poured the firewater we meant to celebrate the end of the hunt with over the wound. “We’ll have to bandage it to prevent infection. We move out of the tall grass and set up camp. We’ll figure out where to go from there in the morning.”
Rual however had come from out of the tall grass, in hand he cradled the grey eagle. Its neck was bent in an unnatural angle and it did not move at all. The bird that felt such anger at Urek over the death of its master had now gone to join him.
For the moment An’she and Musha shared the sky in this brief period of twilight. Rual had taken a few feathers from his father’s longtime companion, some he tied to his spear others he now wore next to his ear, the rest of it now lay on the soon to be lit pyre.
Urek stepped forward with a lit torch. “Darkcloud, wild brother to Orgro, as we light this flame to take your earthly remains to the Earthmother may the smoke that rises take your spirit to Skyfather. As you had watched your brother’s son in life may you continue to watch over him with the ancestors and the spirits of the land.”
Urek lit the flame and soon the fire began to consume the corpse of the old eagle. A thin pillar of smoke rose into sky, high enough Urek thought that from the top on could see the plains of Mulgore and the stony rises of Thunder Bluff.
The memorial finished the two Tauren returned to their wounded companion. “How you feel?” Urek asked the Orc.
Lokesh rubbed is bandaged arm. “Better, those herbs you found seem to be doing wonders for the pain. I should be ready to continue first thing in the morning.”
“Good,” said Rual as he slipped a blade of grass over the head of spear. The blade was cut cleanly in half. “My father left me only Darkcloud and this spear. That cat took away one, but the other will drink its blood.”
Urek shook his head. “Revenge will not bring Darkcloud back and it is not the Tauren way.”
Rual snorted. “First I was denied my mother by the Centaur, then you denied me my father, Grandmother and my tribe denied me my honor, the elders denied me choice and now Blackclaw has denied me Darkcloud! All I have left is vengeance, are you going deny me that too?”
Urek grabbed Rual’s shoulder. “If you allow hatred to control you, you will leave yourself vulnerable to the beast! As misguided as your father’s actions were he did them for your sake, but if you throw your life away then his death will have no meaning!”
Rual shook Urek off. “Why did you insist on having me as a student? Is it because you killed my father? Because you felt that you owed something to him? Well let me put your mind at ease old man, my father tried to murder you in cold blood. You don’t owe anything, to him or to me! So keep your advice to yourself!”
Rual then entered his tent closing the flap behind him. Urek started to go after him but Lokesh stood up blocking his path. “He’s young and just blowing off steam, I’m sure he’ll cool off by morning. I’ll take the first watch tonight, Blackclaw may strike in the dark and we need to be ready.
Urek had found himself back in his simple home at Thunder Bluff, while he felt most comfortable away from civilization Urek was always happy to be among his people now and again, more so when it became his responsibility to train up the younger generation.
He felt movement in the chill night, something was trying to sneak up on him, at he could sense the ill intent on the wind.
Urek drew his bow and as he turned he saw a Grimtotem with a spear moving in for a kill. The very next second he released the arrow the image of Orgro changed to that of Rual who moved to the side with a grace Urek had only seen in the deer of Ashenvale or the movements of the Night Elves.
As Rual moved to charge he changed once more, this time into a black lion. The lion’s mouth seemed to draw in all light around him until Urek could see nothing but darkness.
Urek awoke with a start, the nightmare seemed more real to him than hide of his tent. It was a wild dream, as Hammul Runetotem had called them. If one had a particaulary deep connection to nature the Emerald Dream would reach out to give encouragement, or warning.
Normally they only happened to the druids but it was, while unusual, not unheard of for a hunter to experience one in the wild. This was the first time it had ever happened to Urek but if he dreamed of Rual…
Urek got up and looked about camp. He could hear Lokesh’s snoring but there was no sign of Rual. Lighting a small torch, he looked into Rual’s tent to find it empty.
The gleam of the torch light reflected of something that was next to Rual’s bag. On closer inspection it was a small clay jar with a red liquid inside. Fearing the worst he dipped a finger in to feel. His initial fears ebbed away as the liquid didn’t feel sticky like blood, but it wasn’t completely like water either. It was more the consistency of mud or wet clay.
As he felt a more solid part of the mass Urek realized what was in the jar. Warpaint, the color and type preferred by the Grimtotem before they would go on the warpath. Urek sprung out of the tent, grabbed his bow and moved next to the sleeping Lokesh.
“Wake up!” Urek shouted as he kicked the sleeping orc.
“Right between the eyes!” Lokesh muttered in his sleep. “Take that, you Twilight Hammer scum!”
“Lokesh, Rual is missing!”
The Orc groggily got up, Rakka lifting her head from her own slumber. “It’s supposed to be his turn on watch. Maybe he just went to look for a bush to relieve himself.”
“No, he is nowhere in sight. I think he’s going trying to take down Blackclaw alone.”
Lokesh shook the last bit of sleep from his head. “In the dead of night? Its suicide!”
“Like you said he’s young and youth tends to breed stupidity. A single man looking for him is more likely to be unnoticed, I’ll go and find him. Tend to your wounds and watch the camp.”
Lokesh scratched Rakka behind her ears. “Take my wolf, she could sniff your student out.”
Urek shook his head. “If Blackclaw comes here you’ll need the help. Besides you are one she’s bonded with, it wouldn’t be the same with me.”
Urek then ran off to pick up the trail of the youngblood.
Urek allowed his eyes to adjust to the darkness, this allowed him to pick up the Grimtotem’s trail. Still while Urek had the virtue of experience he was pitting it against the strength and energy of youth, not a single moment could be wasted.
A saw a mound in the middle of plains, unusual and instinctively ran towards it. If Rual came this way he was sure to examine the mound.
As Urek approached he saw the corpse of a Thunder Lizard, the same mighty beast that earned the Thunderhorn tribe their name when their first chief killed one with nothing but a knife and his wits. Approaching the fallen beast Urek spotted remains at its feet. Lions, three females by the looks of it, They had given the behemoth its last battle but with no flesh stripped but by carrion birds their victory was a hollow one. For a moment Urek thought of the Lion that they were sent to hunt. Something fell out of balance causing to act in a way contrary to its nature, was this great animal a clue to the cause?
Urek left the corpse, clue or not his student was still in danger. If Rual didn’t lose his life, he could lose himself. In the moonlight his path seemed to go through a Quilboar camp. The Bristleback tribe of Quilboar had a tentative truce with Mulgore his presence would probably not be welcome among the pigmen.
The camp was silent, moving through Urek saw freshly dug graves, Blackcalw had come this way. Among the belongs were Quilboar made traps, the jaws shaped like the thorns sacred to them. Urek had seen them before the thorns would dig into the flesh and could snap with enough force to break bone, to him they were brutish, crude and needlessly cruel. Near where their bonfire once roared he found lion bones, stripped of flesh and sinew ready to be made into whatever the Bristleback needed. He could make out two skeletons of adult males but most of the bones were so small they could have only been cubs when they died. Urek his anger rise, killing something so young and unable to defend itself was only justified if they could not survive without their mothers and there was no way for these Quilboar to have known if their mothers would come back.
Urek began to move faster, the pieces were falling into place. Rual was using anything he had taught him he should have them too, Urek just hoped Rual wasn’t too enraged to put them together. As Urek picked up the pace he found both Rual’s hoof prints and the paw prints of a lion. Getting a good sense of their direction he noticed that the Lion seemed to favor its left hind leg over its right. Rual would have an edge in the fight but if Urek’s suspicions were correct and he was swift enough he might be able to save TWO lives.
The first light of day was starting to peak over the horizon before the sun. Then near a craggy hill Urek had found Rual. The youngblood was yelling towards a small cave in the hillside about the perfect size for a den. As Urek expeted Rual had covered his face with the red warpaint.
“Blackclaw face me! Do you fear me?! Are you a coward?! We are going to end this here and now!”
The black lion came out of its den snarling, Urek was unsure if it understood Rual’s words or it just didn’t like the noise but either way it was ready to attack. Blackclaw ran into the short grass that was lay before his den. Rual lifted his spear ready to strike and Urek notched an arrow to the string, it was likely he would have to use it.
Suddenly with a loud snap the lion tripped in the grass and seemed unable to move, Urek allowed a small smile. Rual had laid a trap for the lion before drawing him out, if nothing else Urek’s lessons on how to hunt had sunk into the boy.
The advantage had clearly shifted in favor of the Grimtotem, the lion still had teeth and claws but with its movement restricted Rual had the advantage of his spear’s reach. But how Rual acted in victory would be vital, if he tortured the animal in revenge he would make himself an outcast and in all likelihood Urek would once again have to kill a Grimtotem in self-defense. If on the other hand Rual would let his pride take over he’d leave himself open, a mistake that would likely prove fatal. Urek asked the spirits for Rual to give beast a quick, clean kill.
Rual drew his spear back and with a roar thrusted forward. The lion was still but breathing, stunned into silence as the Grimtotem spear grazed its right hind leg. The Bristleback trap that had been causing it such pain was completely shattered by the blow.
The black lion and the black Tauren kept their eyes firmly locked on each other. Urek came closer, it was more than he had hoped. “Rual…”
“As I tracked him I learned how he thought, why he acted as he did,” Rual said never once breaking eye contact with Blackclaw. “He lost his whole family, he was alone and killed to drown the grief as I tried to drown mine with anger. He and I are the same.”
“So what will you do with him?” An’she began to rise over the horizon.
Rual knelt closer to the lion. “I do not know if can understand my words Blackclaw, but you will be alone no longer. My name is Rual of the Grimtotem tribe, son of Orgro and from this day forth you and I are as brothers.”
Rual had reached out his hand and the lion had moved rub his head under it. After Rual removed his own trap Urek patted the new brave on the shoulder. “You left the camp hoping to find vengeance and instead gained a lifelong companion. You left Thunder Bluff a boy but have now completed the rite of the Great Hunt and will return a man, one who I hope will help to restore honor to the Grimtotem name.”
Rual sighed. “First I will need to make amends with Jevan and the others I have wronged and as for Grandmother and her followers, that will be a trial for another day.”
“Urek!” Lokesh as he was running towards in the distance with Rakka. Rual began to move towards the Orc to begin his amends, the Blackclaw was keeping pace with his new master and friend.
Urek looked on with as he felt the wind blow through his mane. He knew that more challenges awaited his student as they awaited him and Lokesh and everyone else. But Urek knew that those challenges would serve to make them stronger and better than what they were before.
After all the Great Hunt never truly ends.