Sunlight lazily filtered through the treetops, vines, and heavy jungle mists of Virrah as three figures stalked their way into the depths of the southern jungle near the outskirts of the SpottedEar lands. Two of these were obviously natives of jungle, while the third was visibly struggling to keep up.
Tsa’Bakr could sense his loyal ocelot companion, Mardoon, somewhere up ahead to his left scouting for any potential prey in which Tsa’Bakr and the Atralonian could take, and as usual, Quintus was struggling to keep up with the small, quick Ra’Virr. Tsa’Bakr always felt the most alive when he was traveling through the jungles of his home, and today was no different. Taking a moment to bask in the sunlight and let Quintus catch up, Tsa’Bakr thought back on the incidents that led to this important hunt.
It had been three phases of the moon since the Night of Introduction in which Quintus made his oath to the SpottedEar. Since then, it had been Tsa’Bakr’s task to train the Atralonian in the ways of the People of the Jungle and in the traditions of the SpottedEar. Starting quickly the next morning, Tsa’Bakr immediately began training Quintus in the proper way to travel through the jungle. After countless cuts, a sprained ankle, and a near miss with a Fer-del-lance, the training was finally beginning to show. Quintus would always be a bumbler, but he could now travel in the jungle without catching his foot on a vine every ten steps and avoid the most common hiding spaces of venomous snakes. Tsa’Bakr was amazed with how quickly the Atralonian was picking up jungle lore. Qunitus explained that he had always been an “academic,” a profession he explained was similar to the Ra’Virr’s Storytellers and Orators. He was a keeper of history and was traveling to unravel the past of this land. However, before Quintus could truly be accepted into the fold of the SpottedEar and allowed to travel through the jungle with authority, he would have to be deemed Hunter. This was the purpose of the excursion the companions were currently on.
Tsa’Bakr was taken out of his memory by the loud appearance of Quintus as he came up to the Ra’Virr breathing heavily. Shaking his head, Tsa’Bakr signed to the man, “I have told you before, you must breathe as silently as a whispering wind. Our prey will hear you coming and you will never get your chance.”
“Yes, about that,” Quintus answered in the Atralonian as his hands were occupied with holding him up against a near-by tree, “what is it that we are hunting this morning? We set out five days ago from the village and haven’t seen anything you’ve deemed worthy enough to be “Hunted.” (This last word was in Virran signs, as it was a special variation of the word that Virrans had more than forty ways to say.)
“It is not what we hunt, but what the jungle brings to us to hunt.” Tsa’Bakr explained.
“I’m sorry, but that makes no sense.” Quintus responded standing back up and stretching his arms and neck. “I’ll trust you though, you know what you’re doing. Just point me in the right direction. By-the-way, did I ever tell you about the time I was chronicling the whaleing vessels of the Geats in the Northern Ocean…”
Turning his back on the rambling Atralonian, Tsa’Bakr closed his eyes to form his connection with Mardoon who was nearly a league ahead of the two bipeds. As his mind’s eye linked with that of the ocelot, Tsa’Bakr began to grin. The Jungle had provided. Now to just keep Quintus quiet.
Tsa’Bakr pushed Quintus faster than he normally did, and he failed to explain why. Quintus, for his part, did not ask too many questions and seemed to sense the urgency of this companion. When Tsa’Bakr was near enough to hear the roaring and sound of fighting, he stooped and jumped into the branches of a near-by tree. Signaling for Quintus to follow him into the branches, Tsa’Bakr explained, “Your Hunt has begun my comrade. Do exactly as I tell you, and you will survive this to see the sun rise again.”
Testing the air, Tsa’Bakr knew that he was down-wind of his prey. Using all his experience as a hunter, he set out to lay his eyes on the creatures making the horrendous noise in the clearing in front of him.
As the two hunters carefully crept forward, going branch to branch, they came upon the epic struggle of two great jungle predators. Nearly fifteen Atralonian feet in length, the two dire-tigers were locked in the great combat of territorial control. The great pelt of a single dire-tiger would be enough to trade for any supplies Quintus would need on his expedition, and if Quintus took any part of the Hunt, he would be considered full SpottedEar. Tsa’Bakr knew that he could not kill both great cats without risking the life of Quintus, so he began to carefully form a plan of attack. In the time it took to form three breaths, Tsa’Bakr had his plan. In essence, Quintus would provide a distraction while Tsa’Bakr went in for the kill.
Turning the Quintus, Tsa’Bakr signed, “Do you have a trick in your bag that will distract one of the beasts?”
Quintus signed back, “Yes, I think I do. I was traveling in the forests of Geatahem when I witnessed…”
Tsa’Bakr cut him off. “Then use it.” He pointed to the left-most dire-tiger. “Wait for me to jump,” he continued. Slowly creeping out to the perfect ambush point, Tsa’Bakr closed his eyes and began a ritual, silently said in his mind.
“Great Mother in the Halls of Spirit, your child has kept his oaths. You have provided this child The Great Hunt, the Reason of the Oath. Hear my call echo. Provide this Oath Keeper a sign that you are watching.”
As Tsa’Bakr thought this final word, one of the great dire-tigers caught its hind leg on a jungle vine that suddenly seemed to reach out and grab it by unnatural means. At the same time, the jungle ferns parted at the edge of the clearing and a reddish-orange tank barreled between the two beasts. As the two giant jungle cats separated to avoid the horn of the jungle rhinoceros, Tsa’Bakr leapt into the expanse unsheathing his Tempest Pair as he soared. Clearing twenty paces in his bound, Tsa’Bakr rolled directly underneath the throat of the right-sided dire-beast neatly slicing his sickle through the wind-pipe of the cat. With one blink of his eye, Tsa’Bakr was back in the trees before the other tiger could retaliate. Turning and preparing to protect his companion if need be, Tsa’Bakr was suddenly stopped short in disbelief. As the blood of the tiger Tsa’Bakr dispatched continued to seep into the jungle soil, three ethereal men held the other dire-tiger in place by a misty-silver chain.
As Tsa’Bakr watched, the three bearded mist-like men called to each other in a language Tsa’Bakr did not know. Two of the figures held the chain while the third methodically strung a bow and pulled an arrow from his quiver. The dire-tiger roared and lunged, but no matter how it struggled, it could not break free of the iron grip of the ghost-men. The ethereal bowman walked forward, staring straight into the eyes of the beast. Slowly, the tiger calmed and righted itself so it stood at its tallest. Nodding, the bowman pulled back and let his arrow fly. As the arrow pierced its heart, the great beast fell. With a final call, the three figures began to dissolve into the mist they were made of. Soon, the clearing was empty of their presence but for the continued fog of their dissipation.
Approaching the downed tiger, Tsa’Bakr saw that there was no mark where the arrow appeared to enter its body. Turning towards a sudden sound, Tsa’Bakr saw Quintus slowly climb his way down from the tree he had been perched in. Clenched in the Atralonian’s teeth was a piece of parchment with glyphs Tsa’Bakr was not familiar with. Quintus approached talking in Atralonian, “That’s odd. When I saw the Geats do this spell, the third figure used a spear, not an arrow. Of course, that was on a bear. I will have to make a notation on the differences and check the Guild’s library to see if there are other variations of the ceremony.” Pulling a scroll from his pack, Quintus furiously started writing.
Still in disbelief but always practical, Tsa’Bakr started skinning the dire-tigers. After clearing the front half of one of the beasts, Tsa’Bakr had collected his thoughts long enough to interrupt the Atralonian’s note-taking. “You continue to surprise me, Quintus Carbo.”
Suddenly, Mardoon appeared on the shoulder of the Atralonian causing him to yell and nearly fall over. “Great, you little wretch, you made me smudge my notation.” Mardoon merely blinked in response and started liking Quintus’ hand.
“Mardoon is finally recognizing you as a friend. You should be honored he chooses to perch on your person. It is a sign of respect.” Tsa’Bakr told Quintus.
“Thank you Mardoon, but you are putting me off balance” Quintus replied. And putting action to words, the Atralonian stumbled.
When Tsa’Bakr was finished skinning the great tigers, he made a deep throated call into the air.
“What is that?” Quintus asked his feline companion.
“It is a call to my cousins in this area. We are on the outskirts of the SpottedEar, but there are other clans and families that live on this land that do not have the resources my tribe has. We cannot take back this meat to the village, but it should not be wasted. The jungle has provided for us, and we must honor that sacrifice. Now listen, and tell me what you hear.”
Quintus did not have to wait long. On the wind, the same deep-throated call that his companion had made came wafting back into the clearing. Shortly after that, slight shifts in the branches of the trees that Tsa’Bakr had told him to watch for, showed the signs of appearing Ra’Virr. Within two minutes, Tsa’Bakr estimated that there were around eleven Ra’Virr around the clearing waiting for him to allow them to approach his kill, as custom and honor dictated.
Once the signal was given, the awaiting Ra’Virr came forward and lined up.
Beckoning Quintus to rise and stand before the waiting Ra’Virr, Tsa’Bakr pulled the canine teeth from the tiger Quintus had dispatched. Placing the teeth in Quintus’ hands, Tsa’Bakr turned to the Ra’Virr. “Bear witness to this Oath, People of the Jungle. We set forth to perform the Hunt, and the Gods in the Halls of the Divine has provided for these Oath Keepers. This guest of the SpottedEar has taken his kill, and I proclaim him Hunter.”
All the Ra’Virr present lifted their heads and chirped while repeating the sign, “Hunter.”
With a smile, Tsa’Bakr embraced Quintus and signed, “You are ready.”
Mardoon just yawned as the sun set.