I am happy to say that Writer's Block was downed today with no casualties. Loot is listed below.
Kaled crossed the border between the Barrens and Mulgore and stopped to look around. It had been a very long trip, but the directions had been clear and he had had no problems. He figured he should reach Bloodhoof Village well before dark, and continue to Thunder Bluff the next day.
The rolling grasslands before him were a welcome change from the dusty plains of the Barrens he had just crossed. He could see birds wheeling far overhead, and a wolf pack wandering its territory in the distance. The air was warm and clean-smelling as it blew across his face. He shifted his pack onto his other shoulder and continued on.
The hunters at Farstrider had decided that he could use some teaching from the tauren here, and so had sent him without so much as a by-your-leave. He didn't mind so much, though; he was grateful for what they had done so far. He knew very well that they were only training him because he was there, and something needed to be done with him. If he never returned to the Retreat, he knew they would probably not miss him. Knew it, and accepted it.
Arriving at Bloodhoof Village, he found the inn, then stowed his pack and went out exploring. Dodging a small group of young tauren racing around the central tent, he almost collided with an elder male. "Good evening, young one. How do you like our village?" the tauren asked with a pleasant smile. "Ah, it's great," Kaled said. He had expected to be ignored or told to watch out; the tauren's friendliness was a surprise, though not an unwelcome one. "That's good," the tauren replied. "I hope you enjoy your stay here, young elf." With that he walked away, and that's when Kaled noticed the emblems on his leather vest and headband, and he realized with a start that he had been talking with the village chief.
He wandered a bit more, then returned to the inn. His red lynx Ashkeyana, who he had left with the stable keeper, greeted him happily, and he sat by the front door for a bit, the cat next to him. When darkness fell he went inside and found his bed.
The next morning he set out for Thunder Bluff, arriving shortly after noon. He rode the lift to the top of the bluff, then found a guard and got directions to Hunter Rise. Crossing the connecting bridge left him a little dizzy; he quickly decided he did not want to look down during such crossings. Once on the Rise, he found the tauren that would be his main instructor for his stay.
"Greetings, young hunter," said the tauren. "I am Melor Stonehoof." Kaled introduced himself and shook the tauren's hand, then Melor helped him find a place to put his gear. Then it was back down the lift and out onto the plains for his first lesson.
The following week passed quickly, and was one of the best times of his short life so far. Melor and the other hunters he worked with were all very kind to him, listening to his observations without seeming critical at all, and never asking him to do anything outside of his skills. The plains of Mulgore were breath-takingly beautiful, and helped ease the homesickness he felt for the woods. Then Melor surprised him one morning by arriving with two strangers.
"This is Sheal Runetotem and Beram Skychaser, Kaled," he informed him. "They will be accompanying us today. Perhaps they can teach a thing or two." Sheal inclined her head to him, her expression serene. "Melor has told us much of your lessons, young hunter," she said to him. Beram added, "Let's go see if we can learn something new." And so they all went out together.
The two other trainers opened up a whole new perspective to Kaled, showing him the spirits living in the world, and the necessity of balance in everything. He absorbed all they had to teach, and was eager for more. Then came the day that would change his life, in more ways than one.
Beram wanted to travel to Red Rocks, the tauren's ancestral burial grounds, to honor the long-dead elders buried there. The trip was not long and they reached it before midday. However, they found the place overrun with Quilboar, deadly enemies of the tauren. Kaled got to see how an enraged druid and shaman fought, as they quickly routed out most of the Quilboar. Then they came to a commotion near the back of the burial grounds.
Kaled had been hanging back, sending Ashke in to help and firing a few well-placed arrows when he could. But when the sound of the quilboar's grunts and squeals were joined by an animal's shriek of pain and rage, he quickly pushed his way to the front of the tauren. What he saw filled him with a rage of his own.
The quilboar here had a large bird backed into a corner; they hadn't even noticed Kaled or the tauren yet. The bird, a large gray raptor he had never seen before, stood on a hump of rock with its wings mantled above its head, beak open and hissing loudly. A crude arrow stood out from one shoulder, but it didn't seem to have hit anything vital as the bird had no trouble moving its wings. The quilboar surrounded it on three sides, poking at it with their short spears; the rock wall blocked it on the fourth side. A quilboar at the back of the group was fitting another arrow to its bow.
Kaled yelled at them in a fury and the whole group jumped and turned to face their new enemies, but it was too late for them. The three tauren, with Sheal in the form of a great bear, charged into the quilboar with weapons- and claws- flashing. Kaled got three shots off, finding a mark each time, then pulled his sword off his back and joined the fray. Soon the only quilboar left were four stragglers running away across the plain, then it became three as Kaled got another shot off with his bow. The threat ended, he turned to face the bird.
She- for Kaled was strangely certain it was a female- was in no mood to let them come close, and still stood on the rock with wings upraised threateningly, hissing. From what he could see she wasn't hurt badly, but he needed to get that arrow out and see how much damage it had caused. He crouched down, placing his weapons to the side, and sidled nearer carefully, crooning to her soothingly. It took ages, but eventually the wild look left her eyes and she lowered her wings. She still had her beak open, hissing at him, but it lacked her earlier viciousness. Finally he got close enough to touch her and, holding his breath, he reached out and gently scratched her neck feathers. She calmed down at his touch, folding her wings close to her body and relaxing her stance on the rock. Kaled continued scratching for a bit, then carefully reached out and picked her up.
She was startlingly large, which he hadn't noticed before, though not too heavy. She could easily have done him some major damage; her talons were almost as large as his hands and her beak was razor sharp. But she remained quiet as he examined her thoroughly. He removed the arrow without much difficulty, noting with relief that it had missed the main muscles of her wing and wouldn't affect her ability to fly. He was finally satisfied that it was the only injury she had taken, when a throat cleared behind him abruptly reminded him of the others' presence.
"She is a strigid owl," Melor said from behind his shoulder. The bird hissed again at his voice, but made no further protest. "They live far to the north in the Night Elf lands of Teldrassil. I wonder how she got here." "Probably blown off course during her migration," Beram put in, and the other two agreed. "What will you do with her?" Kaled asked. "Can she live here?" Melor's face clouded slightly, and the others shook their heads. "She will compete with our native swoops. It will upset the balance," Sheal explained. "Well then, what will become of her?" Kaled asked them, growing worried. Melor looked at him with a grave expression. "It would be a terrible shame to put down such a beautiful bird," he said, and Kaled's expression grew horrified. "You mean you would kill her?" The other tauren, knowing what Melor was doing, kept silent.
Kaled looked at the owl in his lap, thinking furiously. "What if I kept her? I can care for her, and she would leave with me." Melor dropped his hand onto Kaled's shoulder with an approving smile. "That, my young friend, is an excellent idea," he said warmly. The other two quickly gave their approval. Then the bird, as if giving her vote as well, suddenly hopped rather clumsily onto his shoulder, her talons digging into the leather shoulder pad he wore, then hooted softly. Kaled grinned happily as he reached up to scratch her again. "I think I will call her Kechara," he said.
Before leaving Red Rocks, Kaled carefully introduced Kechara to Ashke, holding the bird on his arm as the two animals sniffed at each other. Ashke seemed to approve of the owl, and stood still while she gently nibbled at his nose. Then she surprised Kaled by hopping off his arm onto Ashke's back, where she rode for the entire journey back to Thunder Bluff. Back at the hut where he slept, the lynx lay down at the door, and Kechara hopped down to the ground, then went in and examined the tent before picking out a corner where she settled down. When Kaled entered she turned her head upside down to look at him, then ruffled her feathers when he laughed at her. She hooted softly a couple times, then tucked her head down and went to sleep. Kaled marveled at her acceptance of him, and went to bed himself with a light heart.
The fight at Red Rocks is also I think where he figured out how to use the elemental spirits for his "hunter magic" but I don't want to make this too long, so I'll put that in a different story. Working on another for Khlar, will post that soon as it's done. :)