Lonely Tears of the Hunter
This is a blast from the past (March of 2014).
Lonely Tears of the Hunter
“Quit bein’ a wuss and get the damn tattoo already,” Bertok said. He scratched a claw across the page in frustration. Only his brother, Qlark could be this indecisive. “Father wanted you to do this.”
Qlark shook his mane and snarled at his brother. “You bring the memories of father when it suits you,” he said. “Must you always push to show my failures?”
Bertok laughed and clapped him on the shoulder. “It has been years. You are accepted in the pride,” he said. “Quit letting his shadow overpower the hunter you have grown to be.”
Qlark sat and laid his arm on the work table for the tattooist to do his work. The laser needle cut through the fur and flesh of his arm as pain flooded through him, but this pain paled even now to the memories of their father. The pain of his betrayal haunted them.
“Have no fear brother,” Bertok said. “He does good work.” He flexed his arms. The sleeves of color flashed his valor and courage. “I would only bring you to the best to mark this day.” Smells of burnt flesh and hair cut through the antiseptic air as the tattooist ignored their banter.
Dried skin flaked away from the tattoo. The laser needles were cleaner than the old ways but the body still healed the same. Qlark adjusted his vest and pack to keep the area around the tattoo clear.
The last words of his father flitted through his head as he prepared for his patrol. “Do more than just belong,” his father had said. “Make it mean something.” He never understood the words, still didn’t understand them. They took his father away and made him an example before he could learn the intent.
He bristled at the thought. “Example,” he said with a snarl. “Showed us what happens when we ignore their orders.”
“Say something?” Jarrok asked. He pulled the laces to a boot and adjusted the fit.
“Sorry lost in my own thoughts,” Qlark said. He adjusted his harness to ensure easy access to his knife.
Jarrok chuckled. “First pride missions can do that to you.” Jarrok’s short dark fur greyed at his temples with white flecks throughout. He trained Qlark as well as many others through his years in the pride. He still ran circles around many cubs that he trained.
“Do you remember your first?”
Jarrok’s lips pulled back in a snarling smile. “Ol’ Jarrok is too old to remember such things.” He placed a hand on Qlark’s shoulder. “You never forget the first.”
Three of them, all that remained of the pride of eight. Qlark’s brother fell to a mine. The explosion ripped his legs from his body. The others were ripped from him just as quickly. Qlark, Tranta, and Garosh were all that remained. A brief respite from the battle allowed them to regroup and catch their breath.
“We can’t go on like this,” Tranta said. She favored her left arm. A medical wrap covered the gash in her forearm that still bled. “How soon till we can get reinforcements?”
“We lost contact when Skrill went down. The javelin ripped through his relay,” Garosh said.
They were the veterans, as lost as he was. Qlark looked out into the area they came from. “I don’t like this. They will be on our tail soon.”
“Relax, we can make it through this,” Garosh said. “They have taken casualties as well. We just need to find a com that works.”
“If we can get past the line over here,” Tranta said. She pointed off to the side of where they came from. “We can make it to the next check point.”
Make it mean something, his father’s final words to him echoed in his mind. “If we circle around a bit more we should be able to avoid their line,” Qlark said. “Either way we need to move before they send out hunters of their own.”
Qlark took point and set out far to the right of their last contact. They lost their com but still had access to their nav systems. They could find their way through the woods but it was up to Qlark to keep them away from the enemy lines.
He plotted out the course on the datapad on his arm then signaled to the others that the direction to follow. He cringed at every snap or crackle of the brambles as he stepped through the underbrush. His senses on fire and his nerves on edge, he could smell the Droogs upwind from them. He never forgot that smell, musty hay. Pack hunters, he knew if he could smell one there would be more with it.
Qlark froze when he saw the first of them. A pack of at least five, entrenched further to the side but still there to block there rendezvous point. With a motion for the others, they skulked to his location.
“They haven’t found us,” he whispered. “I think we can flank them.”
“Five to our three, I don’t like the odds,” Tranta said. “This could go very wrong.”
“I will draw their fire,” Garosh said. “Straight down the middle, as much noise as possible.”
Qlark and Tranta exchanged a quick glance. “We should wager for it,” Tranta said. “The middle is suicide.”
Qlark agreed. He picked up some rocks and held them behind his back. “Odds and evens loser takes center.”
“Odds,” Tranta and Garosh said at once.
Qlark showed the four stones he held behind his back. “Get in position. When you see me rush them be ready.” He watched as they slipped off into the woods. One chance, all he had was the one chance to draw the fire while the others finished them off. So much left to chance, not much was left for the chance of his survival.
His father had a blindfold when they killed him. He had not seen the blade as it cut through his neck. Qlark could see the moment of his own death ahead of him. He knew with the same certainty that this would be that end. A deep breath and slow release before he roared and charged toward the Droogs.
They yelped and barked at the sight of him. Surprise gone as their rifles barked and snapped their rounds at him. He took out one and then another of them as flechettes bit into his body. Make it mean something. He fell to the ground as the others fell upon the enemy.
Claws and teeth ripped and tore into Droog flesh. A blood bath splashed down with only Tranta and Garosh still standing. They rushed to Qlark but too late. Garosh picked him up and carried him on his shoulders the rest of the way to the relay point.
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