HUNTED

Warning: As the kids today say, the following image is not safe for work.

hunted

The Vakaldin tracker Sar ta Olt caught the scent of Tanglevine at first light. The foolish Kromanji shaman had left her village, probably searching for herbs. He set out to capture her. Those pesky, ugly naked things moved into the swamplands two hundred years ago, without an invitation. Vakaldin hated Kromanji, but the ancient warrior clan found uses for them. Tanglevine would provide a week’s sport for the he-Vaks, and some of the bolder she-Vaks, of his village. Later, her flesh would taste like pork, if roasted alive and slathered with enough garlic and watersage.

Sar ta Olt sniffed the air. Tanglevine had two companions. He knew the scents of that detestable Catwhisper and Goldfern. He chased them before. They always eluded him by splitting up. Today, they couldn’t, not protecting their valuable shaman. He had them! Three noisy, smelly, clumsy Kromanji were a thundering herd of swamp sloths. A blind she-Vak could track them. A wonderful prize they would be. If he captured them, then he got his pick of the bunch for his very own. Catwhisper looked the most delicious in many ways. He would bring them back to his chief and great acclaim. After all, Sar ta Olt was the best tracker in the swamplands. This was a mere stretch of the legs.

If Sar ta Olt was the greatest of the Vakaldin trackers, then Goldfern and Catwhisper were the best of the Kromanji scouts. Not strong enough to bring down a mastadon, the two women swept the area around their village for threats to the hunters and farmers. The swamps were more home to them than their own huts, and nothing eluded their eyes, ears, or noses. Not even a knifetooth lion heard them move, nor could a dreadwolf outsmart them. They often guarded Tanglevine on her forays beyond the village. Not every death in the swamplands walked on paws, wrapped in fur. The shaman often became too lost in her flowers to pay attention to what approached. Goldfern smelled Sar ta Olt at fifty feet. In their tongue, they called him Ohkar, the deadliest predator in the swamplands.

The women exhausted their wits eluding Sar ta Olt. Their stealth and cunning only threw him off long enough for them to breathe. They were far from the safety of the village walls. Finally, they ducked into the water, hiding in a canopy of moss and vines hanging from some dead trees. They could run no farther without rest. The trio become as still as stones. There he was, only feet away. So close, they heard him snarl. Kromanji had fallen prey to enough Vakaldin for the women to know their bone weapons were useless against Sar ta Olt’s thick hide. He also had that club made from something called iron. They saw the ropes and manacles hanging from his belts, meant for them.

Goldfern and Catwhisper tense. They ready their weapons. Tanglevine senses their intentions. They plan to sacrifice themselves so the shaman can escape. The scouts are her friends, and she’ll be a corpse before she lets this Ohkar defile them, much less eat them. Tanglevine wasn’t chosen Kromanji shaman simply because her mother spoke with spirits. She reaches out to the snake overhead. Their wills become one. The snake hisses encouragement to the shaman and her guards.

The sound of the swamp grows. The insects and birds sing loudly. The wind kicks up, blowing the hanging vines and moss together into a curtain between hunter and hunted. It brings the thick odor of wet muck into the face of Sar ta Olt, masking the women’s scent. The usually quiet water laps at the rocks beneath his feet. The swamp’s creatures close in on the Vakaldin. Now, who is the hunted?

DAZ Studio 4.8 Pro -> Reality 4.2 -> Luxrender 1.5.

“Hunted” is unusual for me. I usually stick with fantasy or Medieval themes. But I was inspired by Frank Frazetta’s “Night Winds,” featuring a nude woman hiding from an armored night. The scene I had in mind felt more at home with cro-magnons than anyone Medieval. And it made more sense to have them hiding from Ogarus Uglius (primeval ogre) than another of their kind. I figure this took place about 20,000 years ago, before the Agricultural Revolution and urbanization and the social construct of “modesty.” It ain’t cold in swamps, so why bother with artificial fur?

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