Heritage

A Duncan Naillio Story
By Kyrell

Duncan ran his slender right hand through thick chestnut hair that hung in loose curls down to the middle of his back. He was drenched in sweat from the heat of the midsummer sun and the humidity that accompanied it. The young half-elf’s ears poked out of his thick main and held a slightly pointed shape that exposed his mixed heritage for all to see. His almond shaped eyes were a light tan that was tinted yellow at the edges, hinting at his other…more hidden bloodline. 

Duncan’s left hand held a stout, fire hardened, hickory walking staff that his father had carved a beautiful vine and leaf motif into. Artisans the world over would have been proud of the work that his father, a simple woodsman, had imbued into the hardwood. He was dressed in a loose flowing tunic, sandy brown in color with a vest the color of cedar needles over the top. His breeches were of a soft buckskin, laced up the sides. He wore them loose as well, allowing for air and for growth. His loose tunic was held tight at his waist with a dark brown sash, tied in a simple knot at his right hip. 

Duncan let out a small sigh as he thought of his father, it had been too long since they’d hunted together and he was growing a bit melancholy. He shook his head, thick locks whipping to and fro like the mane of a great beast. The movement ran through his shoulders in a shiver and his sweat soaked hair threw moisture off in a mist.

 He chuckled at himself when he realized how much like the animals he trapped he must look at that moment. Thoughts of the animals brought him back around, he had work to do. A rogue bear had taken to eating livestock in the area and the fool farmers were looking to get themselves killed by hunting it down themselves. He’d managed to get them to hold off for a week, that he might try to remedy the situation without bloodshed. He might be able to save both bear and farmer alike. He picked up his staff and set off at a quick walk, his mind again turning to his father.

***

Duncan crept through the underbrush toward the clearing making the barest whisper of sounds. The sunlight pierced the high canopy of the forest, dappling the forest floor in patches of mottled light cast about in chaotic patterns. The teenage half elf had spent the last two years learning to stalk and trap prey. His father Karl was a true master at the craft and Duncan wished to absorb every iota of his father’s skill. The boy’s keen eyes caught sight of the hare edging out of the grassy clearing toward Duncan’s location. He’d chosen his approach well, he was upwind and even the skittish hare hadn’t noticed his stealthy approach. He inched forward, painfully slowly. He was perhaps a meter away from his quarry when it suddenly perked up its ears for a split second before bursting into motion.

Duncan leapt forward, his strong slender hand close enough to his prey that he brushed against the velvety soft fur with the tips of his fingers, but his fist closed on nothing but air. The mottled speckled brown and gray hare juked and veered off in seemingly random directions. Duncan was on his feet in an instant giving chase as quickly as he could though he knew that his efforts would be fruitless. 

After a moment, Duncan saw the bushes to his size waver ever so slightly. He slowed to a halt as a massive 150 lb gray timber wolf burst from the undergrowth barreling toward the unlucky hare. Within seconds the canine had closed the distance, predicted the next erratic movement and pounced, neatly snatching the rabbit up in its jaws, snapping the prey’s spine in an instant with a quick shake of its powerfully muscled neck. 

The great beast padded easily toward Duncan with the hare held gently in between its sharp teeth and its tongue lolling out to the side as it panted eagerly. The wolf dropped the hare at Duncan’s feet and sat on its haunches. 

“Thank you, Father,” Duncan said. “I almost made it that time, did you see?”

The wolf’s back arched unnaturally. Bones popped and snapped as they were dislocated and rearranged in a horribly painful process. Muscles elongated in places and shortened in others, forming temporary, tumorous looking growths to appear and fade on the beast’s form. The rounded canine chest flattened out, and hair receded into his body as it became the thickly muscled torso of a man. The torturous transformation took only moments. His father, a tall, well built man with iron gray hair and golden eyes stood before him. 

“I saw, Duncan. You did well. Especially for that form you insist on wearing.”

“I was born a half-elf, Father. I’d think that you’d understand that this is more comfortable for me.”

“Comfort won’t fill your hungry belly,” the older werewolf snorted. “Your senses are sharpened as the wolf, hell, Boy even in the Crinos you’d at least be faster.”

“Yes, Father,” Duncan conceded, knowing that he’d only kept his humanoid form because he disliked the painful transformation. “You are right, of course.”

“It is of no matter, you’ll learn to use your advantages soon enough. Skin that and cook it if you wish. Or change and taste the sweetness of its blood. As you wish.”

Duncan sighed and furrowed his brow, concentrating on his body. He reached inward to the beast within and triggered the change. His body twisted awkwardly much as his father’s had a moment ago. He did not choose to go all the way into the wolf form as his father had. His father preferred the wolf, but having been raised with hands rather than paws, Duncan preferred the three forms that retained thumbs. The hybrid Crinos form, large and terrifying, a thing out of the nightmares of creatures of the Wyld and of the Wyrm alike would do nicely. He would have the sharpened senses of the wolf and retain the ability to manipulate the prey with his hands. 

He used a razor sharp claw to deftly remove the bowels of the hare, careful not to taint the sweet bloody meat. After tossing the entrails to the side he ripped the small prey in half tossing the hind quarters to his father, who’d resumed his wolf form. They both put their muzzles into the meal and it was finished shortly.

“I’m still hungry,” Duncan growled through his maw after finishing his half of the hare.

“Then hunt,” his father’s wolf form communicated more through facial expression and scent than sound, but a growl and bark here and there added accent to his words.

Duncan, growled again in anticipation of fresh blood splashing down his throat as his claws and teeth ripped flesh. He set off into the foliage, padded feet making barely a sound even though his massive form moved swiftly through the brush. His greatly enhanced olfactory senses caught the scent of a stag and he smiled, spilling his tongue out of his mouth. They would eat well this night. He sniffed the air judging distance and direction, then set off in pursuit. 

*** 

The soft tapping of the hickory staff against the loam of the forest floor was the only sound made as Duncan made his sure footed approach. Tracking the rogue predator had been easy enough. The bear, a gargantuan brown specimen of her species, had not been careful. The dark portal to a shallow cave beckoned him.

The established hunter took a moment to center himself, and triggered a slight change in form. Glabro, the near human, just in case his mediation was unsuccessful. A decade had passed since his father had chastised him, but still the pain of the change remained. This, at least, was not a great change. The lengthening on bone and thickening of muscle tissue always hurt less than the opposite. His senses sharpened a bit as the beast came closer to the fore. His quarry awaited in the cavern.

He approached cautiously, stopping 10 meters from the entrance to allow his scent to reach the predator. A low rumbling growl met his advance, a warning. He called out to Gaia asking for the power to communicate with the creature. It seemed much like a prayer, his hands grasped his staff, eyes closed and head slightly bowed as he whispered his request. Slowly, over the course of a quarter hour or so, the growling of the bear took shape in his mind as words. The beast communicated much like the wolves, but the language was shaped differently. His spell would prevent any miscommunication. 

He held his staff out before him, moving it in precise gestures and sending a wave of magic laced calming energy out in waves as he spoke soothing words in the bear’s own language.

“Easy, little sister. We must speak.”

“Speak there,” came the growled response, less sure of her aggression than before but still wary of the intruder. A new scent wafted toward the young chosen of Gaia and his ears perked up as his brow raised.

“You’re with cub,” it was not a question. “Men want to hunt you. You eat their sheep.”

“Must eat. Feed cub.”  

“Can you walk far?” the ½ elf asked hoping. “I show you a cave, two days walk. Cave has many fish.”

As Duncan spoke he formed a mental image of the cave in his mind. It was larger than the usual bear den. A small entrance opened immediately into a 30 ft deep cavern that was around 15 foot at the widest point of the elliptical hollow. The rear half of the cave was covered in a small pond that had formed from a natural seep and extended far beyond the cave itself. Schools of fish teamed in the pond regularly entering via an underwater passage that led to a large lake on the other side of a large flat topped hill. Once inside the fish, generally couldn’t find their way back out.  After the image was fully formed, he pushed it forward, reaching out for the mother bear’s mind and briefly touching it to implant the image.

“Show me,” came the response. 

A warm wave of pleasant emotion accompanied it. The mother bear was pleased, and hopeful. She ambled out of her den sniffing the scent of the near man before her. Something about him was not Man, but she couldn’t identify exactly what.

“You smell…odd.”

“Yes, Little Sister. I know. I am both Man and not.”

The bear shook her massive head and thought no more of it as Duncan started on his way. She followed behind, crunching through the forest with her ample belly full of cubs. The not quite Man set an easy pace, showing concern for her cubs. She was grateful for his help. The walk took only a day and a half, even with the slower pace, but by the time she reached her new den her paws were heavy and she was weary. The smell of water and fish called to her from the cave and she knew beyond doubt that Duncan had been truthful.

“Home, Little Sister, If you’ll have it, but you must leave the sheep to the Men,” Duncan risked putting out a hand slowly and touched the mother bear’s swollen midsection, she tensed but allowed the gentle touch. “For their sake.” he smiled kindly at her and she moved her colossal head slowly over to the man who was not Man nuzzling his hand in thanks before moving ponderously into her new home.

Duncan had not traveled more than ten minutes when he caught a familiar scent on the slight summer breeze. He stopped and waited smiling as the hefty gray wolf padded out of the underbrush, halting before him and then transforming into his father’s human form.

“Father,” Duncan was pleased. “Nice to see you again, I was just thinking that it had been too long.”

“That was a fine piece of work, Son,” the muscular hunter motioned toward the newly claimed bear den with a nod of his head, bringing a smile from his son at the rare bit of unsolicited praise.

“I learned from the best,” Duncan replied, bowing his head slightly in acknowledgement.

“No, Son, that was beyond my skill. At best I could have chased her off. Most likely we’d have fought and the world would be short a few grizzlies. I’d probably have not taken the bounty unless she started attacking the Men. You are truly touched by Gaia’s hand, my son. You’ve made me very proud today.” 

Tears welled in Duncan’s eyes and a lump developed in his throat at his father’s remarks.

“Thank you, Father. I could not have done any of this without your training, without your blood.”

“I’m not sure that’s true anymore, Son. But, business calls us both. The pack has called a Moot. A sacred hunt begins soon. I was sent to collect you.”

“Certainly, Father. We can leave immediately if you’d like.”

“One last thing,” Karl Ulven pulled a thick platinum medallion over his head and he took it off his neck. “Your mother gave me this long ago, when I still took bounties for the crown. It marked me as a hunter of beasts and a friend to the federation of Caelfall.”

The old hunter rubbed his thumb over the stamped ebony image of the Federation of Caelfall, a stylized wolf’s head howling at a waning full moon, the intricate tails of each image converging to form a border around the plain circular amulet in a near perfect imitation of Luna’s crescent. This piece had been his badge of office for more than two decades, made by the loving hand of his half elven mate, the mother of his child.

“I have worn this many years, Son, but I have now found a hunter more worthy, bow your head.” Duncan was weeping freely as he did as instructed. His father gently placed his symbol of office over his son’s head, straightening the chain and smiled a rare smile of pure unadulterated joy.  “Now, I am ready.”

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