Off in the distance, a dire wolf howled. Its close. Athereon thought, as he could see birds flocking from the trees and scattering into the wind, fleeing the piercing howl of an apex predator. Step after step, rock after rock Athereon climbed on. Treading forever onwards, towards the ancient stone circle that aligned with the stars. He found this mystical site atop one of the mountains months ago. Weekly the treacherous expedition was made. His own odyssey. Creeping out from camp into the blanket of nightfall was the type of death defying adventure to thrill Athereon. His body craved the excess blood flowing through its veins, allowing new heights to be achieved. It conquered fear. There was a stir in the trees, and a low hanging branch snapped. Athereon cocked his head in that direction and remained deathly still with deft hands placed firmly on each dagger. If it was a wolf, I’d already be dead. The pack wouldn’t be far off from the alpha, and I would have fallen victim to his trap. Athereon made a mental note and wouldn’t let that happen again. Lessons lie everywhere, you just have to be willing to learn. It’s more than likely a small rodent jumping from a loose tree limb. Athereon walked slowly, stalking the tree with sweeping eyes looking for any movement as he took the long way around. Once he reached the summit, he noticed the stars were out in full force this nightfall. Athereon thought the stars were seeking retribution from the previous shield of ominous clouds last night. Athereon marveled at the stars, in all their perplexing beauty they’ve managed to emulate Earthly creatures. The weather had been harsh the past few days. Heavy rainfall flooded the food quarters after the great river the Sobi flooded. Athereon’s nomadic tribe had chosen to camp along the bank of the river for access to clean water, and a guide for young ones should they wander. As the tribe salvaged optimistically what they could, gossip spread like a raging fire ravenous in its fury and conquest, taking over the talk of the town.
I wonder what Ryus is making of all this. Athereon thought as he chewed quietly on a Walen leaf to rehydrate himself. If anyone knows where the game has went, it would be Ryus. He’s the best tracker the tribe has seen in generations. Never failing to find whatever prey had eluded him or others. Ryus often joined Athereon on his nightly travels. And always in good fellowship. Tonight though, he had remained at camp with his wife who was recovering from birthing their first child, Vael. A beautiful little girl. Favoured by good fortune for bringing her into a distinguished family. How lucky she is, and she doesn’t even know it. For now, at least. Athereon thought it was inhumane to bring a child into such a harsh, relentless, and unforgiving world. A world with no rules. Only the arbiters of Life and Death got to decide what happened. Athereon would rather be alone, then to be struck with heart wrenching sadness and grief at any moment from the lost of a loved one. The faintest idea of a companion to Athereon was his weapons and Ryus. Ryus was more a comrade, and his weapons more a wife. Someone who he trusted dearly, with his life and his thoughts. The whole tribe would stare in awe when they walked by as a duo through the camp. Ryus had the unmatched ability to track and hunt an animal, while Athereon was a living and breathing weapon. Together their abilities let them conquer whatever trials and tribulations came their way, giving them clout and political status among the people. The wind whistled through the trees and shrouded the background noise completely. Clouds are rolling in. Forewarning to a forthcoming storm. Making this trip back downhill would be considered suicide if the clouds brought rain. Athereon thought to himself. Struggling to subdue his ego, he surrendered and started the trek to camp. Slinging his bow, carved from the trees of the Elder Woods itself. The food rations were deteriorating quickly, and the last hunt was another disappointment. Calamity was creeping up behind the nomads, tracking them, and following their trail. Death was imminent. Athereon knew this. I told Groshe not to follow the river, not after a flood. The game wouldn’t linger around a flooded river so recently after a flash flood. Animals naturally sense this stuff and would find solace and shelter in the forests. The elders know our food sources are low. It’s a growing concern, and by now the rest of the band has clued in. Why haven’t they let Ryus and I lead a hunt? People are going to starve, or wander seeking food and security with another tribe, likely dying trying to feed themselves and their families. Athereon thought as he made his trek back to camp.
Sleep. Mentally drained, all he could think of was sleep once he made it back to camp. Athereon walked backed to his spot under the tall leave-less elder tree. He looked up and his eyes caught light the stars. Oh, the stars. Forever beautiful. Perpetuating power and everlasting life. Infinity. The true image of a god, if there was one. The night air bit at Athereon’s chilled skin like the black flies of the plains. But Athereon paid it little attention. Athereon chose his resting spot thoughtfully. Close enough to the camp to hear of danger within the camps perimeter, and far enough outside to be the first to detect a threat. He saw a light flickering in the old forest, dancing in the wind matching its rhythm. Then Athereon saw the shadows. A slave to the erratic leaps of the fire. Projecting human figures doubled in size. Without unveiling himself, he quickly covered himself from seditious eyes.
“…have you no compass to guide your lost morality?” The shadowy figure said as they loomed over the fire. Looking black as night itself.
“Morality is a misconception of the feeble minded. You only develop morals when
you adhere and conform to society’s constructed conduct”. The frail and decrepit figure said.
Athereon remained as still as he could against the back drop of the night. The forest was his shield, the darkness his greatest ally, and his silence his greatest weapon.
“We cannot let our people starve, and then run off with the remaining food and supplies. That would bring great shame to our names. And for what, so we can struggle to survive just a little longer?” One of the mysterious silhouette figures chimed in.
“The seasons come and go, nasty blood feuds between tribes’ end, and famine arrives…but death soon follows. Not even the strong can avoid hunger.” The elder spoke eloquently and with a subtle hint of ancient wisdom.
Treasonous men. Nothing is as dangerous as the man who is willing to sacrifice everything to better himself. They must be planning to steal from the tribe, fleeing before anyone knows what happened. The tribe would hastily descend into chaos. Athereon pondered for a moment, then covertly snuck away into the night. This cant be happening. Athereon thought. Making his way back to the camp. I can’t let this happen, not to our people. I just can’t. Ryus and I will deal with this. Athereon made his way out of the Elder Woods since it was quicker than following the river he figured. The land near the river was soggy and sucked your feet down to its depths like quicksand. What was that? Athereon thought. Turning swiftly to face whatever it was. Before he could turn his head to look eastward, his whole world turned upside down and all he could see was black.
Athereon woke up to the harmony of birds cheerfully singing. His hands bound, and his eyes covered with a smooth tapestry he didn’t recognize. Pain was all that he felt. It was as if the pain was trying to escape him through his wounded head by throbbing its way out. The pain finally bore its way out of him, and he embraced the darkness as it surrounded his peripherals and him in entirety.
His limbs were stiff the next time he woke up and everything hurt. There were no birds singing this time, only voices.
“Grab some rocks, dash him over the head, and then throw him in the river. No one will ever find the remains, eventually scavengers will chew him up beyond recognition.” Athereon recognized this voice as the elder. He thinks strategically. But in a different way than I do. In a way that conveys a hardened war general. Good thing I have the mind of a warrior. But before he could plan his escape, they changed the plan for his untimely demise.
“There’s no time for such fatuity, give me his carved dagger, and I’ll slit his throat right here. Leave the body for the vultures.” Athereon didn’t recognize the speakers voice from the night before, but he came to instantaneously when he heard that new voice. Ryus. Athereon’s world was shook. He immediately felt nauseous like the Earth itself was trembling in despair.
The Earth fell silent as the others weighed Ryus’s words. I can’t even go out with a fight, I’m barely conscious. What a cowardly way to meet your end. This is what I leave behind. A terribly dull exit into a terrible dull place. That’s my legacy. Well chin up, I’m sure the gods will have plenty of food.
The crunch of footsteps broke the hush. Strides long and confident stalked towards Athereon. I wonder if its asphyxiation or blood loss that ends up killing you from a slit throat. Better this than getting mauled alive. Athereon pondered darkly. Chin up then. A firm hand fell on his shoulder. Ryus’s hand brushed his shoulder and landed on his neck. 4 fingers? Where is his thumb? Are they making him do this? All the sudden Athereon felt Ryus’s thumb tap twice gently on his neck. What in the fuck does that mean? Sorry for having to kill you, but its survival of the treasonous.
A deafening scream bellowed through the forest and found It’s escape through the tree line. Athereon’s blinding tapestry was removed from his face abruptly and the world was unveiled to him. Better to have remained shielded from this horror. Blood was leaking from Groshe’s eye as he held it and the knife embedded within it with both of his hands. Groshe ripped the knife out, pulling the eye out synonymously as he fell to his knees and then to his face, dead. The whizzing of nearby arrows flew by his chest and head. Athereon ran swiftly to the nearest tree for cover. Using it as a line of sight. He caught a glimpse of Ryus, magnificent in his movement, drawing from his quiver, knocking the arrow, and firing from behind a tree. Nothing happened for a brief moment, then Athereon heard a body drop. Two are down, two to go. Where are my weapons? Athereon poked his head wearily out from behind the tree to scout the area. There they are. But as he found his lady luck bow and twin sister daggers, he saw the elder and the surviving hunter scamper off into the forest.
“Leave em’. One is a walking fossil, and the other is a broken man.” Spoke Ryus.
“What the fuck is going on here Ryus. Why am I Alive? Why didn’t you kill me?”
“I have no reason to kill you Athereon, were loyal to each other, we share a bond not of blood, but a different kind of brotherhood. We share state of mind, values, and ability. I thought about it, but you would be a bitch to kill my friend.” Ryus said grinning, blood streaming down his face.
Athereon’s brain was trying to piece together the puzzle of this clusterfuck. I must be alive, my head still fucking hurts.
“How did you get associated with them?” Athereon asked. He’s the best tracker the tribe has seen in generations. Baal and the others would need someone like him for a food source. Athereon thought but refrained from speaking his mind, seeing what Ryus would say.
“How hard did they hit you Athereon? You don’t remember shit do you. I could track a fish through a river, reading the telling signs in the water. You’re a killer, I’m a hunter. Well, essentially Baal is orchestrating quite the heist for the elite members of the tribe. He wants to rob the common people of their fare share of the wild game and berries. Providing the elite with more food and a sense of security. Its all a façade. All they have to do is give Baal complete control over the next encampment. Provided they even make it that far. Like I said, its all a façade. Baal doesn’t even have the rations to provide himself and his closest allies with food and shelter.” Ryus said without even blinking.
“Obviously you have a plan to overthrow the overthrowers then, I assume.” Athereon said.
“First off, you don’t overthrow the overthrowers. You overthrow the oppressors, you Neanderthal.” Second, of course I have a plan. Although you can smell its mediocracy from the north end of the Sobi. What me and you are going to do is go for a hunt. We’re going to bring back meat for our people like good men do. If Baal and his minions decide to return, we’ll deal with them politely and accordingly. Politely by hanging them from a branch low enough so the hyenas can rip out their entrails before they die of asphyxiation.”
“You could’ve filled me in about this situation…maybe what a fortnight ago?” Athereon said light heartedly.
“I’ve always wanted to test your bravery Athereon. Here I am thinking you were some great warrior, and the only thing you did was raise your chin, exposing your throat for your own blade. All things considered, I couldn’t risk this information getting leaked and dealt with in an uncivil manner.” Ryus said.
Hanging them from a branch low enough so the hyenas can rip out their entrails before they die of asphyxiation. Sounds civil. Athereon thought, reflecting on Baals words. Morality is a misconception of the feeble minded. Morals change given a certain set of situations. Baal was onto something. Athereon pondered.
Off they stalked into the moonlit depths of the Elder forest. Athereon would try to keep up with Ryus, but after a while Ryus would set the pace and find his trail and Athereon would have to follow. All night they marched through the forest. Over fallen timber and around deep ravines. Avoiding cliff side caves that held unknown horrors within its dark insides. Keeping to themselves and nothing else, they pressed on. When alas dawn broke and the sun rose. The warmth melted the cold right off Athereon’s skin. It seemed to make the tension slowly evaporate out of the atmosphere. Who is this man that I thought I’d known and admired? The fact he lied about staying at camp with his wife and Tael, and had shown up in the woods ready to slit my throat… Is he to be trusted?
The forest came alive with the rising wind. Branches swayed and moaned playing their natural symphony as the wind performed the role of the maestro. Off in the distance, a crunched twig or fallen branch snapped. I sure as shit hope its not a pack of Dire wolves. Athereon thought as he imagined fighting to the death against a band of wolves. Only to get ripped apart limb by limb under the watchful eye of the Moon and far off in the woods where no one would be able to hear him. Out from the shield of the darkness, stepped not a Dire wolf but a Sabretooth tiger. It stalked out on four limbs crouching low, accentuating its muscles and prowess.
‘I literally didn’t see this coming” Ryus said.
Athereon drew his bow and knocked it. Arrow through the eye makes a predator shy. He recalled.
The sabretooth snarled at the sight of the arrow, withdrawing into the blanket of the forest. How long has this beast been stalking us? Athereon thought.
“At least it had the courtesy to show its face before he eats ours” Athereon broke the silence.
“Be quiet you fool. Read the signs. He’s been very patient so far, what’s to say he wants to wait any longer. Silence is our advantage. Tune out the common natural sounds and hone in on the irregular ones.” Ryus whispered.
Hone in on the irregular sounds. That’s your renowned knowledge. The Great Ryus. Athereon thought as he tensioned his bowstring even further. Adrenaline surged through his body, empowering him. Trust the thrill. Trust your instincts. Athereon repeated to himself. Scanning the forest with his drawn bow, he could only see different shades of black. Whether dark black or a light black and shadow overlaying another shadow, against the backdrop of the night it made no difference. Human eyes were pathetic compared to the stalking beasts of the night. He can see us and anticipate our defense. Unless we can see everywhere at once.
“Put your back up against mine, and we can slowly rotate 360 degrees so we have a panoramic view of this forest.” Athereon said in a hushed tone.
Back to back they were, rotating they did. Athereon could sense the nervousness in Ryus in the way he moved. Unsure in his movements, as death could be the consequence of a misplaced foot or a wrong crook of the head. He’s nervous not because he fears death, but because he fears leaving his family. Athereon puzzled the pieces of Ryus together, remaining quiet as he did so. Death is nothing to fear. It’s dying that sucks. Especially when you have no one to die for.
“If we could bring this sabretooth meat…” The sabretooth ascended through the air, landing its sabre teeth in Ryus’s neck. Penetrating his jugular. Dropping a dying Ryus from its mouth, it snarled and barred its blood-stained teeth. As Ryus lay there irrevocably bleeding from his neck, he spurted out blood as he muttered his last words, “Once more into the last good fight”. He said, eyes fixated on Athereon never to blink again.
The beast was circling Athereon, challenging him, waiting for his answer.
Athereon threw his hand over his heart. Creating a fist. Staring down death itself he recalled the last verse of his tribes beloved war chant.
“Once more into the last good fight,
Into the last good fight, I’ll ever know
Live and die on this day
Live and die, on this day.”
The beast stopped circling, landing directly in front of Athereon. Athereon raised his arm from his chest to his bow and the beast advanced full tilt. Roaring as it did so. Seemingly summoning the grim reaper, himself to watch the deathly duel. Deep breath, hold…. And Athereon let the arrow fly. Side stepping the arrow in an athletic movement, the Sabretooth pressed on. Athereon threw his bow aside. The beast lunged and attacked with a fatal swipe. Athereon rolled underneath the beasts’ paw evading it. Athereon came out of the roll on one knee. His hands placed on his dual daggers. Unsheathing them in a dexterous fashion, he flipped one backwards for ripping and the other forwards for stabbing. The sabretooth roared. Pressing the assault with another swiping leap. Athereon swiftly ducked underneath spinning with his left hand forward. He felt the hide against his knife as it made contact and pressed in. The beast roared yet again as it descended from its leap. Leaking blood from a long slit in its side. The sabretooth went berserk. It charged at Athereon ferociously. Anticipating the spin from Athereon, the sabretooth caught his right arm in its mouth unloading titanic strength from his jaws. Collapsing under the superior killing machine, the sabretooth pinned Athereon with its paw. The sabretooth sunk his claws into his chest. Into the last good fight, I’ll ever know. Athereon repeated. With one free hand Athereon jabbed the sabretooth in its bloodshot eye, rolling over and grabbing a stone head arrow from his quiver. The beast let out a deafening roar. Athereon lodged the arrow between its lower jaw and through its head with a swift uppercut. Eyes rolling back, the sabretooth fell to the ground defeated. Athereon rolled over onto his back. Scanning the night sky while thinking for an answer to his blood oozing arm. I’ve never seen this constellation before. Athereon thought as he pieced the puzzle of the scattered stars into a fitting picture. Connecting the stars, Athereon noticed it looked like a hunter. Bringing his wandering eyes back to his arm. He looked at it completely stupefied. Unable to make sense of it. A low grumble brought Athereon’s attention back to the sabretooth. How is it breathing ?I saw the sabretooth die… Just then, Athereon looked into the forest, that was just moments ago obscured from the darkness the suns absence provided. Only the forest wasn’t ill-lighted this time. Yellow eyes illuminated the forest. Off in the brush, the dire wolves howled.
About a month ago I wrote my first story for fun and this piece of shit story is what became of it. Drawing a lot of inspiration from A Song of Ice and Fire as you could probably tell from the dire wolves, twin sister daggers, and Athereons’ lady luck. Also using a name from one of my lost loves Diablo 2 and some poetry from one of my favourite films, The Grey. So there you have it. A story so fictitious that hunter gatherer’s have not only a fantastic grasp of the English language, but a working understanding of politics. Like what’s next, Dragons?