It’s kind of amusing when people come to me to ask what pet they should tame with their hunter. Sure, there are theories about game mechanics that say this or that and there are some hunters I know who switch out pets frequently. But I’m a firm believer in the phrase “you play what you feel is right”. So when I wrote the following story, I tried to capture what a true bond between a hunter and her companion can feel like. Enjoy.
The air was thick with moisture from the recently departed rain. It formed dewdrops on the leaves of the bush Niqora was shrouded in, drops that fell to mingle with her black fur. Her breathing was slow and quiet, her will carefully controlling what her lungs took in and out. Every one of her muscles was taunt in anticipation and ached so, but she dared not move in case her quarry would hear her motions. She would be patient, she was always patient.
Her body may have been still but her thoughts danced around her head as always. She was thinking of the black worg that had accompanied her for so many seasons. She cared dearly for him, as a hunter should for any of her pets. Indeed they were true friends, but Niqora had always felt a restlessness, a tug at her heart that had eventually led her here to Feralas. The worg did not complain when she had left him in the capable hands of the local stablemaster and wandered out under the gigantic trees that dwarfed even the tall Shu’halo. He knew that his friend needed to seek out her heart-wish. Even though she had not spoken a word to him about it, he knew in the way only an animal could. He would not worry for her safety as he usually did, but instead focus his attention on cracking the marrow from the large juicy bone the stablemaster had presented him.
A twig snapped to her right and Niqora’s attention came aburptly back to her present environment. Only her eyes flickered in that direction, she would make no other movement. Two squirrels came racing down a tree trunk, one chasing and scolding the other, most likely a territory dispute. Mentally she eased back into place, taking in a very slow breath through her nose. Good, she could only smell damp leaves and earth. Before she had smeared a mixture of mud and leaves over her skin and armor to mask her scent. Soon it would dry and be rather uncomfortable but she was determined not to squirm. She might not get another chance at this…so she would wait.
She couldn’t help but fidget with one of the white feathers that her mother had so carefully woven into her mane. However, she was at least more patient than Anuniaq, who had lept forward only to be pulled back firmly but not unkindly. Niqora’s father Cain stood over Anuniaq, one of his large hands resting on her shoulder. Niqora had to smirk as her younger sister squirmed under their father’s hold.
Slowly she turned her gaze back to the shapes that were striding closer to the camp. Her sharp eyes quickly picked out her mother Pala walking to the right, still in the shape of the great bear form that she took when she went hunting. Niqora’s heart warmed at the sight of her mother but only a moment later, she felt a gentle pulling at it. Following the pull, her gaze came to rest on the other figures approaching. She saw many faces and heard many voices that she recognized as her clanmates but that was not what she sought. Trotting along at the hooves of the Shu’halo were a meriad of creatures.
The cunning eyes of hyenas shone the deepest of black as they cackled their joy of a good hunt. The great shelled bodies of turtle waddled slowly, long necks stretching out to seize a bite of the plump fruit hanging on the bushes. The tawny pelts of lions seemed to glow in the sun’s last lights, the large cats glided along as if they had not a care in the world. Swoops perched on their owners’ shoulders, preening their long dark feathers clean of any traces of the hunt.
A mass of thick coal-coloured fur burst from the returning hunting party, its long legs a blur as it raced towards the collection of tents that was a camp. It let out a loud yip before bowling Niqora over, causing the two of them to tumble onto the ground in a tangled heap. This sent a wave of laughter through every Shu’halo present. Anuniaq seized this opportunity to slip from her father’s grasp and race to her mother, wrapping her arms around her neck in a hug fit for the bear she was. Niqora was too busy with her own arms tightly hugging the black wolf to her.
Niqora almost didn’t hear the rustle in the bushes, it was so soft. Although it seemed impossible that her muscles could tighten any more, they did nonetheless. A dark point appeared beneath a leaf, a canine nose shiny with moisture. There was a careful sniff and then the creature slunk out into the small clearing. Most definitely a female, Niqora observed with a trained eye. And what a beauty she was. Her muscles were lean and strong under fur appeared to be made from the shadows themselves. Without warning, the wolf vanished from Niqora’s sight and the Shu’halo felt panic well up inside her. How could she have been so careless to let the animal slip out of her grasp like that?
Not a moment too soon, the wolf appeared exactly in the position she had been before. Niqora allowed herself a small smile. So the stories of the locals were true, these wolves had an uncanny ability to make themselves disappear when they wanted to. She could see now how the wolf had shifted ever so slightly, molding with the shadows easily in the dim light that managed to find its way through the thick treetops. A light breeze ruffled the bush around Niqora and she took the opportunity to breath the words of a marking spell so the wolf would have a harder time evading her sight.
The beast sniffed the ground with intense interest, obviously having detected the rabbit scent that Niqora had carefully placed on the ground. A few more steps forward and she was just where the Shu’halo wanted her. Niqora stood up in one smooth motion that did not betray her poor aching muscles. She was beyond the pain of her body now, for she was not only on a hunt but a very special hunt. The wolf twisted her head ’round at Niqora the instant she moved. Blue eyes locked with bright yellow ones that flashed with a feral intelligence.
The wolf snarled at the intrusion and trickery that Niqora had caused. Snapping her strong jaw, she bounded across the clearing towards the Shu’halo. In her anger, the creature did not notice the carefully laid trap that Niqora had concealed hours before. The wolf’s right forearm touched it and it triggered with a snap, encasing her in a large block of ice only a foot before Niqora’s muzzle. Niqora leaned forward, pressing her hands against the clear icy walls, her eyes having never left the wolf’s. She felt the energy flow through her and around her into the frozen creature as she murmured the language of the Beast. This was old magic she was working with, older than the memories of even her brethen, as old as the land beneath her hooves. The connection that it formed between the two beings was almost tangible, could almost be seen as a thin silvery strand. Although her mind was still focused on the words, a thought drifted up to her consciousness. It was one of the first things she learned as a hunter: A spirit cannot truly be tamed, only befriended.
The zhevra carcass sizzled and spat from the heat of the fire cooking it. The Shu’halo had gathered in a rough circle about it, letting themselves relax in its soothing glow. The sun had already fallen behind the mountains and soon even twilight would leave them. But then the meat would be served and the story-telling would be in full swing. Even now the leader of the hunting group regailed how they had stalked and brought down their prey.
Niqora was seated crosslegged on the ground with her back against a log, the black wolf’s massive head in her lap. Even though she was larger than most calves her age, the wolf was easily her size if not bigger. To her right sat her mother and father with Anuniaq. Her mother had slipped back into her natural form and was cradling the sleeping form of Anuniaq in her arms. As usual, her younger sister had worn herself out before and would wake up later with a rumbling stomach. The wolf softly complained that she had stopped petting him so she glanced down with a sly grin and teasingly tickled his ear before running her fingers over the soft fur on his brow.
Beads tapping gently against one another brought her head up to attention. It had been the beads in her mother’s mane that made the noise as Pala had nodded her head in greeting towards a light-coloured Shu’halo that seated himself on the log to Niqora’s left. From the happy whine that the wolf made, she did not need to look at him to know he was the wolf’s hunter Iluq.
“Palaruk. Cainivat,” the hunter’s deep voice greeted Niqora’s parents as he returned Pala’s nod, using their full names as a sign of respect. “Anu,” he added quietly as his fingers gently brushed the fur of the young sleeping calf. Anuniaq stirred and moaned from her dreams before falling still again. Iluq then turned his merry gaze to Niqora and the wolf in her lap. “One would think that you are Shiv’s hunter, Niqo.” He reached out to touch the feather in Niqora’s mane.
Niqora returned his teasing smile and leaned over to whisper loudly to the black wolf. “I think he’s on to us, my handsome Shiv. We must do better to deceive him.” Shiv responded with a low whine and a wolfish grin.
Iluq chuckled heartily, having heard each word from Niqora’s mouth. Pala rolled her eyes at her eldest daughter but there was a shadow of a smile on her lips nonetheless. Cain playfully swatted Niqora’s shoulder as he commented, “We would have named you Niqora the Trickster if we had known you would be such a sly creature.”
Niqora beamed her most innocent smile and was rewarded with her parents’ soft laughter. There were smiles on their lips as they shook their heads at their eldest daughter. Iluq took that opportunity to say to Cain in a half-joking tone, “Whether you wish it or not, your daughter is destined to become a hunter.”
Cain glanced over at Niqora, only to see her preoccupied with rummaging through her pack in search of a zhera hair brush that she owed. As the three adults began to talk in low tones about adult things, Niqora gently brushed Shiv’s handsome black fur and the wolf closed its eyes in response to her soothing motions. A feeling of complete contentment settled over the young Shu’halo. She knew nothing of destiny or what was written in the stars, but she did know who she was…and who she was going to be.
The words that Niqora spoke were not truly words, nor did they have a particular rhythm or tone. However she knew when they came to an ending…only the freezing trap broke before she could finish. The female wolf took only a fraction of a second to recover and knock the Shu’halo to the ground. The fall knocked the wind out of the hunter and for a moment, she gasped for breath to fill her lungs once more. The beast, who had positioned herself over Niqora, moved to snap her powerful jaws over the hunter’s face. Niqora’s hands flew to the wolf’s chest and held her back so the pearly teeth only just grazed her right cheek. Ignoring the gash on her face and the claws digging through her leather armor, she continued to mutter where she had left off, looking deep into those aware yellow eyes.
Suddenly there was no more to say and the wolf stopped struggling to pant heavily on Niqora’s face. The Shu’halo let her arms thump to the ground as her aches and pains finally began to creep into her. The wolf stepped neatly to Niqora’s left and collasped on the ground with a grunt, her sides heaving.
Despite all her muscles protesting, the hunter rose to retrieve her packs from a nearby bush, coming back to sit down with a grunt rather like the wolf’s. Out of her bags she pulled several large barbecued buzzard wings. She handed one to the wolf, who took it gently in her teeth and began to chew on it eagerly. Niqora began to nibble on another wing between taking swigs from a canteen of cool spring water.
The food and drink seemed to restore her energy and a small sigh escaped her. For a brief moment, her eyes closed and though all she saw was the star-spangled darkness of her inner eyelids, she could feel where exactly the wolf was before her. She could sense every black hair on the creature’s body, its cupped lupine ears always twitching with curiousity and intrigue. When she opened her eyes again, the wolf was watching her with interested yellow eyes.
Removing her helm, she splashed some of the water over her face to clean away the mixture of caked-on dirt and her own blood. She then rinsed out the inside of the helm and filled it with the rest of the canteen water, offering it to the wolf. As the canine lapped it up swiftly, Niqora said to her very softly, “My name is Niqora Wildstride.”
The wolf groaned, following with a peculiar whine. The Shu’halo chuckled low as she interpreted: The wolf already knew who she was, in the way that animals do, and her own name was Blacky.
Eyebrows coming together in a peak on her brow, Niqora turned the wolf’s name over in her mind slowly. It was not quite the sort of name she had expected but who was she to question someone’s name?
Once Blacky had had her fill of drink, Niqora stood somewhat stiffly and stretched each limb and joint slowly. Determined to wash all the dried mud and grime from her fine dark fur, she set a comfortable pace towards the nearest stream. The wolf appeared at the Shu’halo’s side and matched her stride. With a sudden tug at her heart that Niqora did not understand but did not need to understand, she buried her fingers into Blacky’s thick coal-black fur. A small but companionable whine came from deep in Blacky’s throat. Niqora tilted her head upward and although the tree leaves blocked her view, she could imagine the wide open night sky above. She did not believe that one’s entire life was written in the stars but she knew–had always known–that there were some things that had to happen in order to complete one’s live.
She let her gaze fall down, blue eyes meeting yellow eyes once again. She smiled as a vast contentness filled her being, even greater than it had years earlier. There were also some bonds that had been there since the beginning of time…they just had to be discovered.