The two wherhandlers were in agreement with their plans. They would go out into Atricis’ territory to find prey to bring back to the Weyr to help supplement their livestsock. With equipment packed, Solonia and Saibra mounted up on their whers and headed out into the wilds. Nothing of interest happened for a while as they left the Weyr proper behind them in order to find prey. They wouldn’t find anything too close to the Weyr after all, but once they were a suitable distance away it was time for Solonisk and Sarsk to track the prey. Solonisk had a strong nose compared to the average wher, while Sarsk had sensitive hearing and a greater ability for stealth. Together, they made a perfect team for tracking, but even after half a candlemark of searching, none of their leads them to anything.
“It looks like we’ll have to go further out. Shards, I was afraid this might happen.” It was true, Solonia really hadn’t wanted to have to go further out, but likely the felines had over hunted the area. It was time to go further and put themselves at greater risk in order to complete their objective. The Weyr needed more hunting parties, but it was too dangerous to send out too many, so it was imperative they came back with something. So the pair of handlers and their whers went further toward the outskirts of Atricis’ territory.
The first half candlemark and having to travel further out ate up some of their allotted time, but as long as they found something soon, perhaps they could get lucky and find enough to make up for the lost time. That was what Solonia hoped at least.
*Smell… Not feline… prey.* Solonisk announced while they moved along, encouraging Solonia that they wouldn’t have to return to the Weyr empty-handed. Still, they were fairly far out, they would need to be careful, both because they couldn’t afford to lose too much prey, but also because they didn’t want to attract other predators that were far more bold than others.
The handlers dismounted their whers for the sake of easier movement and stealth. Solonisk helped to sniff out the scent of prey until Sarsk could pick it up, then the bronze took point due to his stealth. Solonia and Saibra stayed close, but made sure to keep quiet and downwind so as not to tip off the creature they were hunting, as well as to situate in places to help support the whers.
Once the prey was confirmed, they new better what to expect. A wild herdbeast, suggesting there might be more if this headbeast belonged to a herd. It was a good sign or potentially good hunting if they played their cards right. So Solonia lifted her crossbow, and aimed for the beast, aiming a killing blow to make this as silent as possible. When she shot, she missed, but Saibra reacted quickly, shooting her own crossbow and landing a killing hit on the beast. The herdbeast fell to the ground and quickly they all moved to it to make sure it was fully dead and wouldn’t make a sound to alert the potential herd or other predators.
It all went smoothly, and so it was decided Solonisk would carry the beast so that Sarsk could continue to take point on hunting due to his skills. Solonisk would take up the rear to keep the scent of their first kill from chasing off the herd. They were able to confirm there was a herd when they saw another two beasts, and the flickerings of bodies of other wild herdbeasts between the trees several wherlengths away. They would chase off the herd this time most likely, but three herdbeasts would be a respectable amount to return to the wher with, so they set themselves up to try and get both herdbeasts at once.
Solonia took the first shot again at the smaller of the two, and while she didn’t land a killing blow, the bolt lodged itself in the beast’s hindquarters, effectively slowing it from running. They had planned for the second being alerted, and Sarsk was quick on his feet despite his size, descending on the second beast to keep it from running. The first wouldn’t make it far, as between Solonia and Saibra and its slow gait, they took it down to give them a total of three beasts as the rest of the herd fled.
“Three wild herdbeasts is a good amount I think,” Solonia suggested, proud of what they had accomplished that night despite the minor setbacks. And then they heard it… something else… Another herdbeast’s cry of pain and the fleeing herd’s panic.
“We better get these beasts on the whers quickly and get out of here.”
Together they worked at tying the beasts up to make it easier, and gave Sarsk the two smaller ones and Solonisk the largest of the three to try and keep the beasts distributed between the whers the best they could for their sizes. While they finished tying the beasts onto to keep them from slipping, Sarsk’s ears perked and he growled.
Something coming. Big. Sarsk warned, letting his handler know they needed to get moving.
*Smell strong. Feline. Close.* Solonisk confirmed and Solonia swore. They didn’t have time to decide what to do before the threat emerged; an enormous striped feline built like a mountain, or perhaps a monster. It was likely the beast was attracted by the scent of their herdbeasts, and hadn’t expected to find other predators instead.
Both handlers reacted quickly to the threat, but Saibra was a bit faster, launching a crossbow bolt at the feline to keep it from the whers who were encumbered by the weight of herdbeasts. Maybe if they put up a fight when the feline wasn’t expecting it, the beast would give up. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case, as it paused from the first hit, and then the second from Solonia’s crossbow. Solonia used those precious seconds to pull out a knife from Solonisk’s supply pack and saw away at the ropes and straps that held the herdbeast and supplies on his back.
With Saibra’s help, they were able to free Solonisk of his excess weight, but not quite in time. Perhaps the lucky part for them was the fact the feline went for the herdbeasts that Solonisk had carried, yanking it off the wher’s back as soon as the ropes had been cut away. This allowed Solonisk to shed his pack to the forest floor and lunge at the feline before it could try and run away with the herdbeast.
As Solonisk fought the feline from his kill and the handlers, Solonia and Saibra were able to get to Sarsk and do the same thing, releasing him of his extra weight. As he dropped the herbeasts to the ground with the help of Saibra and Solonia yanking them down, he moved quickly forward to aid Solonisk in his fight before the other wher suffered too much injury.
Already, Solonisk was hurt, but he’d avoided anything too bad to his hide, but hadn’t managed to do much to the feline. Now, with Sarsk and him against one feline, the odds were better for the whers than for the feline. Solonia hoped the feline would flee against two whers, but the brave beast didn’t, facing the two whers with a ferocity that Solonia had never witnessed before in a wild animal.
“Shards, I can’t get a clear shot,” Solonia swore, wishing she could aid the whers in their fight, but being unable to without risking hitting one of the whers instead. All they could do was stand back and hope at this point, and Solonia hated it.
The whers fought against the feline with matched ferocity, motivated by the need to protect their handlers from the beast, and their kills as well. Perhaps the whers also fought for their fallen comrades. For all the whers and handlers that had been lost to these foul beasts. Even so though, neither wher came out unscatched, but with these two large whers against the single feline, they avoided the fates of the others that had come before them. With flashing teeth and snarls and claws, the two whers felled the beast, panting hard, standing over the body of the monstrous feline.
“We should take it back to the Weyr,” Saibra suggested after the adrenaline of the event wore off. Solonia nodded in agreement. Maybe the body of one of the felines could prove to be useful. At the very least it would give them all a chance to truly see what they were up against, and help explain why so many had fallen to these creatures.
“Shells, this thing is huge, I think Sarsk is going to have to carry it,” Solonia said in surprise at just how big this feline was when you stood beside it. “Solonisk can carry the herdbeasts, after all that I’m not leaving our kills behind,” she finished with a chuckle before they got to work at loading the whers back up.
It took a while, given they had to cut so much off of the whers and now had a lot to put back on and some ties they had to knot together to make it work. Solonia would have to replace some of her straps for Solonisk, but that was ok. They had all come out with their lives, even if the whers were a little worse for wear. They would all make it home tonight, and hopefully the Weyr could learn more about this terrifying enemy.
Note: Written after talking with Ember about this thread. Since I dropped the ball on this and stopped posting in it before it could get anywhere, we decided I would write up a summary post and let Ember read it over for approval.