Thursday, September 11, 2014

Being Sick Sucks.

Show of hands, who agrees?

Well, at least one good thing is I'm able to catch up on my sleep. And maybe I'll post a bit more on my projects later today.
Stay sneeze-free out there,

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Mif's Choice

It was his nose that awoke him. The tantalizing aroma of sizzling meat stirred Mif from his wooziness, and set his stomach to grumbling angrily. Stretching, the boy realized he was laying on a bed of possibly the softest material he'd ever felt. Layers of fuzzy leaves and bundles of strange white fur were mixed with an oddly dappled leather to form what was technically a large nest. As his eyes grew more accustomed to the gloom around him, Mif could see he was at the back of a large, circular room, with walls that looked like seamless wood. A cooking fire sat in a little pit in the center of it, with a pan set on a little stand above it. Besides a large orange mound that laid beside the bed, the only other items of furniture were benches scattered around the other walls, some of them covered with bottles and bowls of brightly colored liquids, others with the assorted components of weapons and traps that Mif recognized as the Bloodfeather's work.
The Bloodfeather!
Memory of the fight shocked him back into a state of terror as the boy realized he must be in her lair. Gulping, he carefully scooted out of the nest, and flattened himself against the orange mound as his eyes darted around, searching for some clue as to where the Bloodfeather woman had gone.
Then he noticed that the mound was breathing.
Mif froze in horror as a massive head lifted up and swung around to stare at him. The beast's deep blue eyes glared down an the boy, and a single snort from its nostrils blew all of his hair back.
"Now now, Hard Luck, the kid's been scared enough lately. Don't you go adding to it just yet." The voice came from the shadows behind him, and Mif whirled around to see the Bloodfeather getting up from her seated position past the other side of the bed. She'd been behind him the whole time!
But despite her initial words, the Bloodfeather now ignored him. She moved to the cooking fire, stirred the meat that sat in pan, then stepped over to one of the benches. Off of it came a couple bowls and spoons, as well as a few bottles that looked like they held some seeds or grains in them.
Over the next few minutes, the Bloodfeather never so much as glanced at him. Even the monster that Mif still stood next to, satisfied with something, put its head back down and returned to sleep. Gradually calming down a bit, Mif eased himself back towards the soft bed. He froze again, though, when the Bloodfeather finished mixing in her spices with the meat, and stood to face him.
"So," She started. "Are you just a servant or an aspiring bounty hunter?"
Mif tried to operate his jaw, but he couldn't make any words come out. After a few seconds that stretched out like eternity, the boy just shook his head.
"No? No what? Not a servant or apprentice?" He twitched his shoulders and shook his head again.
Muttering a curse, the Bloodfeather pinched the bridge of her nose. "Kid. Were you a forced laborer?" Now he was able to nod vigorously. "Did you want to be more than that?"
"No!" Mif said forcefully. Then his eyes widened and he clapped both hands over his mouth. The Bloodfeather just laughed, though.
"Well, at least we've determined you can, in fact, speak. Now, the next question is, are you hungry?" This time, Mif's stomach answered for him.

"Orphan conscript, huh?" Aylon snorted in disgust. "Figures someone like Muscle-hands would take a cheater's method."
"Isn't that how most hunters get their servants and students? Mif asked curiously. The delicious food had gone a long way to making him feel at ease - especially since Aylon had taken the first bite. He hadn't recognized all of the stuff she put in, after all.
"Depends on the hunter. Some think it's better, to get a youngster whose indebted to them. Others take applicants, and a few only take on apprentices under extreme circumstances, or never at all."
"What about you?"
Mif regretted the question the instant it passed his lips, because the woman across from him clenched her jaw and looked down angrily.
"Special circumstances." She said gruffly a minute later. "The same kind that later led me to leave my teacher and come here."
"And... It really was Edercy the Tracker? Who trained you, I mean?"
"Yeah. But his combat training is about the only thing I've tried to hold on to through the years. Speaking of which, what are we going to do about your fighting skills?"
"Mph?!" Caught with a mouthful of food, Mif tried not spew it all out in surprise. Aylon watched him in amusement as he tried to swallow it down too quickly. Finally, the kid was able to speak without making a mess of the words.
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, there's no way in I can just let you leave her without doing something to make sure you don't into a worse situation than with me today. For starters: don't stab someone if you're just going to run away a moment later. Second, if you have to stab them, do it in someplace that's going to count." She gestured to the bandage wrapped around the fleshy part of her thigh. "This hurts, but not so bad it didn't stop me from carrying you back here."
"Okay, okay, consider me advised. But I can't stay here!"
"Why not? Where are you going to go? And what are you going to do? Muscle-hands is dead, and so are the rest of the bounty hunters you came here with. Well, all except Edercy, who took off on you all. Face it Mif - there's no good reason for you not to stay here and gain some better skills for yourself."
"What about that thing?" He hooked a finger at Hard Luck. "I didn't believe most rumors about the monsters in this gods-forsaken forest, but if he's any indication, I'd rather not stick around. So, take me to the edge of the trapped zone, and I won't trouble you anymore."
Aylon narrowed her eyes at him, causing Mif to squirm in discomfort. "One problem with that, kid." She said at length. "I'm not going to take you anywhere near the border of this forest until you've figured out how to survive on your own."
Mustering up his own paltry glare, Mif set down his bowl and stood. "Then I'll leave on my own." Now Aylon threw her head back and laughed. Worried, the kid waited until she'd stopped to ask what was so funny.
"Mif, if you want to leave because of the creatures in this forest, then you don't want to wander around here by yourself. Trust me. I've earned enough respect around here to be ignored by most of them, present company excepted. But you? You've got one choice." He watched as Aylon stood and walked to a section of the wall indistinguishable from the rest. The Bloodfeather pushed in one spot, and a panel swung away, revealing the outside world.
The pitch-black outside world, which seemed to be teeming with unfamiliar shrieks and growls. Mif swallowed uneasily.
"Your choice," Aylon continued, "Is to stay here and learn, or go out there and become something's dinner."