A dark shape ran through the forest, intent on one purpose: Escape. Branches bent and critters bolted as the four-legged apparition stomped across the forest floor. Voices yelled and dogs barked behind it as drunken laughter rose towards the sky. A shot from a rifle whizzed past the running creature and embedded itself into a fallen trunk just before a heavy paw crushed it.
The branches were too thick and the trees too close for it to take flight with its great, leathery wings. The dogs came closer, panting and frothing with the scent of this new prey in their noses – the runner longed to whip about and show them the error of their ways, but muzzle flashes and lead slugs were enough of an argument against that course of action. Disoriented from the pain and stress, it managed to bring up a few coherent thoughts and curse itself from getting into this mess in the first place. Ah, how fleeting a well thought-out plan could be once set in action and no longer entertained by the optimistic mind of the creator, but instead faced with the hard reality of fact and pure bad luck.
Well, that and a slight miscalculation of just how far away that tiny dog could smell something.
* * *
An hour earlier…
Benjamin stalked through the forest. He had been following a band of humans for some time now, staying with the wind in his direction as to not draw attention to himself. He had been haunted with bad luck for several weeks now, and all his prey had gotten away. It had almost gotten painful to watch rabbit hop away in a seemingly mocking fashion, all while his stomach growled with hunger.
His stumbling over these humans had been pure coincidence, as they were both tracking the same animal, a large horned beast that would easily have sated his hunger. Sadly, he had once again been embarrassingly defeated when the hunting band took down the animal mere seconds before he should have pounced it. With a surprised face he had heard a loud bang, followed by the creature simply collapsing in front of him. Scanning the area for the source of the noise, he had quickly spotted the hunters and seen the tool used to slay his prey – a long, slender metal rod with a wooden handle. He'd had his fair share of those, and did not intend to try his luck against this kind of weapon. The last time still hung fresh in his memory, and the old wounds hurt merely thinking about it.
Instead, he hatched a plan. Why spend his energy chasing prey, when he could get someone else to do it for him?
The humans were ridiculously easy to follow – they had no sense of stealth or evasion whatsoever. Each and every one of them even wore a bright yellow jacket that made them stick out like tiny suns against the bleak landscape - Hell, even the dogs wore them. They would split up sometimes and sit for an hour or so in the same position, waiting for the prey to come to them. Benjamin rolled his eyes at these inefficient methods, but did not complain – he himself hadn't done much better for quite a while. At the moment, he was sitting at a ninety-degree angle away from one of his targets, who was situated at the edge of a clearing. He had two dogs with him, who looked as bored as Benjamin himself.
Finally something happened. One of the dogs perked up and went taut as a wire. His master was not far behind, and looked down his metal weapon in the general direction the dog was looking. Benjamin had sensed the animal for a few minutes already, but had been unable to pinpoint the direction. Even if he had, it wouldn't have done him any good – he wasn't the one who was hunting here (at least not in the normal sense).
Peering away into the distance, he saw what the dog had noticed. A large moose took a few cautious steps out into the treeline across from their position and munched on some old grass that stuck up through the snow.
Come to papa…
The hunter took a steady aim with his metal slinger and slowly breathed out, aiming at the moose.
Come on… do it already!
With a loud bang, the weapon went off and the moose collapsed. Feeling a sudden rush of energy, Benjamin started to move away from his position and towards the moose. He'd have to make this quick, or the hunter would notice that his prey was being preyed upon.
Slithering away from the rocky outlook he had taken up position in, he set off towards the moose, flanking around just out of view from the clearing. He didn't have the luxury of cutting across as he'd preferred to do, but life isn't fair. He could smell the blood now. His stomach growled as he approached the carcass, with his mouth watering at the scent.
Just as he was about to take the last step, he froze. Another one of the hunters was approaching from the other side, apparently intent on the moose.
What? How the hell did he get here so quick? More importantly, how did he KNOW?
Cursing, Benjamin retreated to a safe distance. In hunger-induced agony he watched the other hunter he had been following join in and laugh at their catch. The two of them brought a large pole, which they strung the moose to and carried it away. Silently cursing, Benjamin followed them. He wasn't about to let his plan go to waste, and certainly not against someone so ridiculously dressed.
The hunters joined up with the other ones, who had caught a moose of their own, and set off towards a small green house. It looked very used and had most likely seen its fair share of storms and winters, judging by the look of the walls. A moose head adorned the door, and a campfire burned warmly and welcoming in front of some log benches. The men hung the moose bodies on a metal rack and sat down in front of the fire. The dogs were hastily bound to some poles on the other side of the camp next to some tiny houses, obviously meant for them. Most of them lay down with a content huff, while some played with each other.
Simmering, Benjamin watched from a safe distance. The metal rack where the moose were was fortunately in the correct wind direction, so nobody should be able to smell him should he decide to approach. However, it was out in plain sight.
Benjamin took a few deep breaths to calm down. It was still light outside, so he didn't have to hurry. It was unlikely the hunters would cook and prepare the meat out here in the woods – they did not have the tools nor the equipment needed to ferry the meat home to their village, or wherever they lived. Benjamin didn't care where they intended to take it – as long as he got to it, they wouldn't have to.
Some of the men started passing around bottles of some liquid which was greedily accepted and drunk by most of the hunters – some declined and stuck to water. Benjamin could smell the sting of the alcohol in the clear drink - It might have been a long time since he last tasted alcohol, but the concoction was nothing strange to him. He'd had his fair share of drunken hunting rampages with friends. He shook his head. While fun at the time, nothing good ever came out of a drunken hunter – personal experience didn't really lie.
Briefly considering abandoning his plan, Benjamin shook his head and steeled himself. Drunken guardsmen or not, that moose was his.
A few minutes later, the bushes at the back of the building rustled lightly. The dark outline of a tail and some claws raked across the pine-covered ground as he crept closer. The wind was blowing lightly to the west, sending a strong scent of dog-mixed alcohol his way. The men were grilling something over the fire that had a very enticing smell to it. Benjamin's stomach growled.
Edging ever so closely to the corner of the building where the metal rack was, he could almost feel the taste of food in his mouth. A week is far too long without something to chew on.
Putting aside his caution, Benjamin lay down flat against the ground and crawled up to the rack. Raising his long neck to grab the leg of the nearest of the two moose, he opened his mouth and slowly closed it around the left ankle of the moose.
There… And with a sssingle fluid movement, I tug the moose down. Flawless. One… Two… Threeee…
Benjamin whipped his head. The moose rattled in the chains holding it, but didn't fall down.
A faint growl and the sound of a breath caught his attention.
Glancing to the side, he beheld a tiny dog, not even a meter long. It had a torn collar around its neck, and was very much free. It was watching him very intently with bared fangs. A very faint growl could be heard from the depths of its throat.
Eh-he-he. Don't worry, little one. Jussst your friendly neighborhood moose thief. Let'sss be friends, you and I? Please don't bark. Shush.
With all its might that it could contain in its tiny body (which was tiny indeed), the dog let out a single high-pitched bark. All the hunters turned around and fixed their eyes on Benjamin. A glass bottle fell down onto the ground with a clink and rolled away.
All the hunters sprung up with exclamations and yells, grabbing for their weapons and scrambling after the dogs. Abandoning all hope of eating this particular moose, Benjamin didn't waste time seeing as his cover was blown and literally turned tail. Putting on a burst of speed, he aimed for the deeper, thicker parts of the woods where he hoped he could lose them. The men bellowed and followed, apparently intent on not letting this new target escape. Some of them loosed a few stray shots and some laughed with drunken joy at something to take out their bottled up bottle-induced hunting lust on. A shot whizzed past Benjamin and struck a fallen trunk mere moments before his paw landed on it, crushing it.
Ssstealth is VERY overrated. Fuckfuckfuckfuck!
The forest was still bright as day, so he had no true hopes of slipping away silently, nor could he fly off as the branches were too thick. The clearing was too far away, so he turned about and bolted south instead. The drunken goose chase dragged on for the better part of half an hour before a treeline finally showed. Feeling his joints aching from the stress, Benjamin grinned internally before taking a final look back. The hunters reined in their dogs and seemingly gave up the hunt, pointing in his direction. With a toothy boyish grin, he stuck out his tongue at them and ran on, not watching where he was headed. He'd had enough of hunters, moose and small dogs for a lifetime.
Stone clattered against his claws and Benjamin froze. He didn't recall seeing rocks here. He looked down and saw an obsidian-colored flat stone face. Feeling a chill run down his spine, he looked up and to his right. A broad strip of the stone stretched on towards the horizon where it disappeared. A roaring sound was coming close every second. With dread, he slowly turned around.
In the brief moment before two bright lights hit him and sent him spinning, he had time to think a few words.
* * *
Groggily, Benjamin coughed and came around. Someone was poking him. And talking.
"Hey! Hey, are you alright? Come on, you can't be dead – please don't be dead."
Slowly he opened his eyes and groaned. Ow.
His eyes came into focus, and he saw a very strange visage looking down on him. A red, scaly face with green eyes and some sort of glass contraption was staring at him. It... almost looked like him. A grin spread across the creature's face.
"There we go! Come on, hold on now, don't drift away. Are you okay? Hey, dad! Come look at this!"
Confused, Benjamin tried to get up, but slumped back down. As the world started to fade and blacken, he had a last look at the strange lookalike before he passed out.