The smell of blood is close and fresh. There! A handprint, on that tree!
Without sound, I motion quietly in the air above me: two fingers in a half moon. My men will adjust their positions. I know without looking.
He’s crafty, this one. A nobleman, perhaps? Certainly not used to running for his life through dark streets and tight alleys. How quickly he fled the paved streets to seek refuge in the wood. So arrogant! We will find him, trees or no. The Watch is skilled. City, mountain or forest, we will find you.
This one won’t live to see the dawn. If my men lose sleep, he’ll regret it. They will make it hurt.
He moves fast, and quiet – wasn’t he wearing armor? Scale mail, could be enchanted. Perhaps this is not his first hunt.
My men circle around: two left and three right. So, this is where he has chosen to die. A strong trunk, old and knotted. He picked a good one. His blood pools around the base.
Three fingers up, my hand turns over. This kill is mine. I approach the tree, horn-hilted blade clenched tightly in my hand. I step around to find –
A hare, pinned to the tree waist-high, bleeding down the length of the trunk to the ground below.
It is said the first of the Elken was D’Orion, the greatest mortal hunter who ever lived. Born of man, he was the master of bow and blade, and the thrill of the kill burned deep within him. Hunting for survival is part of life, but hunting for sport is a grave sin against the gods.
D’Orion, then, was the greatest of sinners, for with each passing year he ranged further afield in search of more exotic and dangerous prey. One day he wandered too deep into Gaea’s wood, and Gaea cursed him for her displeasure, transforming him from a man into a beast – a beast that other men would find irresistible to kill.
Yet D’Orion, the greatest hunter, proved to be elusive prey. For a hundred years, hunters came and hunters perished in that wood. No man proved to be his better. Eventually, Gaea’s heart softened and where once was there was anger, pride blossomed. D’Orion was not a rival; he was her great creation. She named him Son and gave him the gift of divinity. She offered him a seat at the table of the gods and had Kane fashion for him a winged chariot so that he could hunt the beasts of the sky.
Thus are born the Elken. Gaea’s curse still hangs over the deepest of forest; any hunter who ranges too far deep risks losing himself – and is reborn, with hooves and horns.
Silent and brooding, the Elken speak mostly through gestures. They apparently keep no memory of the men they once were, but retain their intellect and, of course, their love of the hunt.