Fort Weyr - Traveller's Forest North
Deep in the Fortian woods the air takes on a pure, unspoiled scent. Majestic, evergreen pines tower above you, nearly cutting off the view of the skies, and from the high canopy, a constant gentle rain of petals, leaves and pine needles falls no matter the time of day or season. The silence is broken only by an occasional rustling of foliage, an indefinable call or the distant flutter of wings. The ruins of an ancient building remain in the twisted growth of the forest that has long since taken it over, so passers by could only catch rare glimpses of rock sticking out of the growth that has consumed it. It's so easy to get lost here. To lose track of time, lose yourself or even lose your way.


Wild porcines. That’s what the trader at Gar Hold had told him. Brennan had been skeptical until the wrinkled oldster produced a tusk big enough to carve a dagger from. A rare sight, those beasts - no surprise, considering how crafty they’d evolved to be. It was a challenge the hunter couldn’t ignore, and the thought of the marks he might draw from the tusks alone certainly added some purpose to his steps, too.

Now, he finds himself stalking through the northern woods of Fort in the dead of winter with his crossbow, his pack, and very little sign to go by. It isn’t absent, just scarce - scat here and there, crushed branches, the odd crunching in the brush. There’s a thin rime of old snow on the ground, just deep enough to betray tracks to a trained eye. It’s thicker in the shadows, crunchy and icy and slick, and Brennan does his best to avoid those precarious patches as he moves along.

Hopping lightly up onto a boulder, he steps over to a raised bit of earth - a scarp, fashioned by some ancient shifting of soil and stone to create a small cliff of sorts. Climbing the slope and coming to a stop beside a small copse of naked trees, he crouches, listening. Keen eyes play slowly over the frosty ground, both here and over the scarp’s edge to a bank of ice below. No sign there. Bringing his gaze back up to his current ground level, he shifts his shoulders, bringing the fleece-lined hood of his jacket closer around his ears. It funnels the sounds of the forest in around his head, letting him hear just a little better in the direction he’s looking…

There. Slow steps in the growth, ahead and to his right. Those are heard just as Brennan spies the faint outlines of cloven tracks leading off into a stand of squat evergreens. It’s a pair, by the looks of things! It’s either his lucky day, or this has just turned into a very Bad Idea. He’s only ever seen a wild porcine once, and the size of one was enough to make his eyes bulge a bit. Best done in groups, this sort of hunting…but Brennan has never been the conventional sort. Unslinging and loading his crossbow, he starts silently forward.

Now, it’s a fact Brennan is quite good at what he does. He’s been tracking and guiding all over the Northern Continent for six Turns, so he’s quite savvy when it comes to picking up on where animals might be, where they’re going, and even where they came from. He is not, however, used to coming across other people while he’s on the hunt; he’s almost always alone and ventures into places most aren’t inclined to go for that reason. So when movement at the other end of that bunch of pines turns out to be another hunter, it’s a lucky thing that he doesn’t accidentally squeeze the trigger. He freezes, staring hard at the other man and watching his movements.

The other hunter carries a crossbow as well and moves with patience, but there’s something rather less fluid about the way he moves. Brennan can hear the soft crunch of that second pair of boots on the ground, and if that’s the case, then surely the porcines are going to hear it, too. Yet the guy’s gotten this close…

And those porcines are living up to their crafty reputation. There’s a sudden crashing in the underbrush, and the huge, grey-brown hulk of battle-scarred male careens out around a tree to the other hunter’s left. Brennan is instantly on his feet, watching in what almost seems like slow motion as the other man dives sideways, narrowly avoiding razor tusks aimed at his knees. The second porcine - likely a female - makes a break for it further ahead, but the male is having none of the threat he’s detected. Apparently unaware of Brennan for the moment, the beast makes a tight u-turn and thunders back toward the other hunter.

Acting on instinct, Brennan shoots. There’s an ear-splitting squeal of rage and pain, and the porcine stumbles and thrashes about, the bolt sticking out from his left haunch. “Get out of here!” Brennan bellows at the other hunter, shoving his hand at the man urgently before grabbing for another bolt from the quiver at his back. “Shardit, GO!” Shocked, the man scrambles to his feet and dashes away, leaving Brennan fumbling at a loading mechanism that is suddenly somehow frozen. He can’t lever it back - and he now has an enraged, injured half-tonne of porcine with beady black eyes trained right on him.

It charges.

Brennan spins about and runs, sights on that copse of bare trees near the edge of the scarp. They aren’t the sturdiest things, but they’re grouped so closely together that if he can just get up into the midst of them and distribute his weight…

No more analyzing. He just leaps, gloved fingers clamping on to any branch and muscular arms pulling him onwards and upwards. The dry boughs strain and creak, bending with his weight - but they hold. Brennan jams his boots into the forks of a couple of trunks and twists around to watch the still-oncoming porcine.

It doesn’t stop. Instead, it rams right into those thin trunks, sending a massive shock through the tree bearing most of Brennan’s weight. There’s a cracking sound, and the vibrations cause on foot to slip. The tree shifts. The porcine backs up for another go. Brennan’s eyes widen. “You have got to be kidding me.” Yes, this has officially descended into the realm of Bad Idea. Not only is the porcine sharding smart, the tree Brennan’s escaped into is dry and thoroughly dead, it seems. It wouldn’t have been sturdy even if it was just in the grip of dormancy for the winter, but this? There’s no question of what’s going to happen. Such rotten luck! The hunter casts about for an escape in vain.

WHAM!

CrrrrrrRRRRACK!

The trunk splinters and gives way, sending Brennan right over the edge of the scarp in a tangle of dead branches. There’s more cracking as the entire heap meets the ground, but Brennan can’t tell if it’s the tree or his ribs as he slams into the cold earth nearly headfirst, a stabbing pain in his side the last thing he’s aware of before he blacks out.


Six hours later…

Consciousness returns to Brennan with all the subtlety of an Igen sandstorm, swirling through his brain with the most fiery wakeup call he’s ever gotten before settling (barely) into a constant, throbbing ache. He groans, screwing his eyes further shut as most of his body protests the resurgence of sensation. He becomes aware of the frigid ground biting unyieldingly into his left cheek, and of the thin, sharp lengths of snapped branches and twigs digging into his arms, stomach, and legs. Trying to roll onto his left side sends him yowling as pain lances through his left shoulder and side. Going still again, he evaluates, working muscles almost imperceptibly. Dislocated shoulder. Probably a cracked rib or two. Banged up knee, but otherwise no damage done to his legs, it seems. Concussion, though it seems minor.

He opens his eyes, blinking profusely and fearing for a moment that he might’ve been knocked blind…but no. It’s just dark now. And very cold. He’s injured, alone in the middle of Fort’s northern woods in the winter at night, and has no way of calling for help. Sharding fantastic. Isn’t the Weyr somewhere nearby? Well, he can’t hear or speak to dragons, so that’s right out. He knows that sweeps are flown, but he doesn’t know when, nor does he have a way of giving away his location should he see a sweeprider-

No. That’s actually not true. He carries a firestarter. And given the fact that he needs to find a way to stay warm, fast, this solves a couple of problems - provided he can move enough to make it happen. Rolling onto his right side is less painful, but simply moving is a monumental task that feels like it’s making his shoulder pull steadily further out of place. Clutching his left arm tightly against his chest, he ignores the pain of his injured ribs and forces himself up to sitting with a strangled yell. He’s motionless for another long moment. Then he feels out a small pouch on his belt, squeezing it to be sure it didn’t fly open and lose its contents in the fall. That confirmed, he reaches around him and starts breaking off all the dry wood he can feel.

It’s an arduous process, but the movement is keeping his blood flowing. Even so, he’s shivering by the time he gets his tinder piled and the flint and striker out of his pouch. He has to hold the flint in his left hand, and each rap of the striker against it sends a nearly sickening jolt through his shoulder. Finally, finally, a strong enough spark leaps away to catch, and Brennan nurses the flame to life with an almost desperate air.

It isn’t long before the fire is burning at a healthy crackle, and Brennan is able to wriggle out of his pack by degrees. He lost some things in the fall, but his bedroll isn’t one of them. That, he unfurls with one arm and promptly works his way into once he’s certain his fire won’t go out or burn down the forest around him. The splintered remains of the tree catch the firelight dully off to his left, and with his little remaining energy, Brennan gives a quiet, ironic chuckle. That tree nearly killed him, but it’s currently saving his life.

And in the morning, it’ll get to keep doing so. He only gets a few minutes into that plan before the stress of pain and exertion overpower him into a deep - if fitful - sleep.