Chapter Twenty: Hunting with Grandma II
“Are we done?” Valerian asked.
He was a bit relieved. It hadn’t been as bad as he thought. Journey and prep work aside, the whole hunt had barely taken a minute. His grandmother responded with a smile.
“Actually we are just starting. The whole point of today is to teach you how to hunt. That was just one approach. We still have three more to go”, she told him.
“Three more?” Valerian asked in astonishment.
“Yes, three!” his grandmother said in an amused tone. “However for the remaining three I think it would be best to get some help”.
As if the last word was a trigger of some sort, the space beside her suddenly trembled and broke open. It was like someone had noticed that a section of the world was made out of glass and had taken a pick to it. Valerian could barely keep his tongue in his mouth as a hole in space opened up before his eyes.
It expanded as quickly as it appeared becoming a glowing vortex four metres in diameter. His eyes flicked towards his grandmother who stood there delighting in his reactions. Without warning, a form shot out of the newly opened vortex. It was dark and fast, a blur before even his sight. Quickly, he took several steps back the dagger at his hip unsheathing itself and flying into the air but it ignored him, heading straight for his grandmother.
He could barely make out the blur leaping onto her outstretched arm and scurrying up to her shoulders where it took a seat, its true form finally becoming visible when it stopped, revealing it to be a scaly four-legged reptile. Valerian breathed out in relief when he recognised the form of Fuooh, one of his grandmother’s contracted beasts. The little thing ignored him.
Valerian wasn’t surprised. Most days Fuooh did not even glance in his direction. The damned thing was spoiled rotten. She spent all her time perched or draped on his grandmother’s shoulders. An impressive feat considering that the lizard was a meter long, tail excluded. Fuooh was a Jadeite scaled Gecko. An arboreal lizard famed for its defensive scales which were the colour and hardness of actual jadeite. She was also a Daemon Lord.
Another figure walked out of the vortex, this one taking its time. It was Pan, his grandmother’s Mountain Devil Ape. Pan was an unbelievably large beast. He was three metres tall when slouched forward and knuckle walking. He also possessed an impressive physique with huge fists and massive muscles that rippled when he moved.
He had the biggest hands Valerian had ever seen. Each palm had a width of close to thirty centimetres. They were tougher than stone and backed by those massive muscles. In fact, his forearms were noticeably disproportionate but that was just how his kind was built. He was also covered in coarse dark coloured hair with a large silver coloured patch over his saddle shaped back.
His large size, massive arms and fierce looks made Pan on par with Sela as the most fear inducing of his grandmother’s beasts. That’s because Pan was a male Devil Ape.
Most apes were shy, gentle individuals if not provoked. Devil Apes on the other hand, especially the males, were different. The males had in addition to their silver backs a bony, red crest over their heads. It was hard, bright and made their heads look more conical. They were easily recognised and everyone, beasts included thanked the immortals for that.
Devil Apes did not need to be provoked before they attacked. They were fiercely territorial and the “unlanded males” actually roamed the mountain sides looking for adversaries to battle. They did this to temper themselves and grow stronger, increasing their chances of obtaining more territory and attracting females. For them strength and combat were all that mattered.
Luckily, Pan was a rather laid back individual. Valerian had never seen him get truly violent. He had sparred with Uncle Richard a few times but those were always contests of strength. Contests Pan always lost. However, Valerian had never seen him grow angry or enter into the feared “devil’s rage”. He was told that it was because of his grandmother’s training and the fact that Pan himself had mellowed over the years. Perhaps that was a good thing. He could only guess the damage he would cause otherwise.
Pan strode out of the vortex and out onto the plains at the foot of the mountain. For a moment the Dire Daemon looked wistfully at the mountains before getting out of the way and letting Sela through. The winged snake didn’t waste any time. Like Fuooh she sped out, only she coiled around Valerian to tickle him with her tongue.
Just like that, all of his grandmother’s contracted beasts were out on the plain. Three females and a male. Two Daemon Lords and two Dire Daemons. It was a remarkable line up and one that he looked forward to seeing in action. Then a thought struck his mind.
Daemons were essentially the cultivators among beasts. They too had tiers of power just like human cultivators did. Their tiers in ascending order of power were, Daemons, Daemon Lords, Dire Daemons, Profound Daemons, Mystic Daemons, Bestial Ascendants and Primal Divinities. This meant that power wise, Pan and Gulsalma were the most powerful in the household. For both of them, in fact, all the beasts in the house to be gathered for one hunt…
Were they going after a Profound Daemon or heavens forbid it, something higher? He made his thoughts known to his grandmother immediately letting her know that he didn’t think he was ready to face a beast of that tier but she just stared at him and laughed.
“You really worry too much dear. The reason everyone is here is to help with the hunt, true but they are not here to hunt one beast in a horde style. They can but I wouldn’t put you in that kind of danger on your first day. They are just here to help demonstrate different methods that you can use when hunting”, she clarified.
Valerian felt foolish. He should have known better. There was no way his grandmother would do such a thing especially when her little boy was with her. The part about such a hunt not happening on his first day completely went over his head unnoticed. He apologised and holding her hand allowed himself to be led to another site.
A flock of crowned cranes roamed the area around an old ox bow lake and its parent river a few kilometres from the foot of the mountain. They were elegant, regal beasts that stood a full two metres high with stiff, spiny feathers that stood up on the top of their heads to give them their eponymous crown.
Graceful and beautiful they walked around like they were at a pageant or feast, eating plants, frogs, small fish and other delicacies that could be found in the waters and marsh.
There were also a few in the air, their fabulous four metre wingspans outspread as they made beautiful aerial displays. It was an idyllic sight. The kind you’d find on depicted on the canvas of a master. Indeed, Valerian would be disappointed if there weren’t numerous depictions of such scenes. It was that good. Sadly, it did not last.
A massive serpentine form fell out of the sky wreathed in lightning. Like a javelin thrown from the heavens, it struck a particularly acrobatic crane who was giving a spectacular mid-air dance that was being appreciated by the other cranes and creatures below. That serpent of course was Sela, displaying an expertly executed ambush.
Winged Cloudvipers, like all vipers were ambush predators. They lurked in the sky, floating aloft until suitable prey came within strike distance. When that happened, they folded their wings against their bodies and channelled lightning essence for both speed and power. They struck their prey before they could even react, electrocuting them and sinking their long hollow fangs into their bodies then unfurling their wings to keep them both from crashing into the ground.
If the impact didn’t kill their target, the poison definitely would. Their poison worked on the flesh and nerves of their prey. It broke down muscle and made meat easier for them to digest. However, their attacks had a small problem. Being aerial predators they could not strike, envenom and let go like many other snakes. They had to hold on or risking having their prey fall and be lost to them. The problem was that prey often fought back. No one wanted to be eaten after all.
This was where their lightning attribute came in handy. Apart from increasing their speed and striking power it had a third beneficial effect. It paralysed their prey, making it very difficult for most animals of a similar or even higher tier to fight back. Once their victim had ceased struggling they would then fly off to a nice quiet place and swallow their prey.
Valerian watched the literal bolt from the blue make her kill. The shock factor and the speed of the attack made it such that by the time the other cranes had calmed down and marshalled themselves to rescue their flock member it was clear that he was dead and Sela was already making her exit. With a burst of lightning and a flap of her wings she was gone nearly as swiftly as she came.
Pan walked up to an enormous Long-tusked Hog. The beast was scavenging in a thicket. It had just succeeded in chasing away a couple of hyenas from their kill by scaring them with its bulk and a half-hearted charge. Now it was happily gorging itself on the carcass of an antelope.
The hog was gigantic. It was actually the same size as Gulsalma making it at least five metres long and two high, but it far surpassed her in bulk. From the side, it looked like a very large carriage. Valerian could tell that six of him could fit inside it with no problem. The beast was mean and ferocious with long sharp tusks over a metre long jutting out of from the sides of its snout. It was also a Daemon Lord.
Of all the beasts they had hunted today it was unquestionably the most dangerous. The crane was a simple daemon and the antelope could be called one as well if you stretched the definition but for this hunt his grandmother had chosen a Daemon Lord . A hog that was surely five times more powerful than the previous two combined. Despite knowing that Pan was a Dire Daemon and certainly stronger he could not help but worry.
The large ape was oblivious to his thoughts though and simply strolled up to the pig before letting loose a load roar in challenge. The hog spun around angrily wondering who would dare challenge him only to spot Pan walking over aggressively. It immediately adopted a ready posture and let loose a bellow as well hoping to scare him off or convince him that a fight was not worth it.
Pan ignored it and began to knock on the ground with its knuckles, growling aggressively. It was clear that he had not come for the food but to fight. Surprisingly the hog was not as worried as it should be. In fact, it was actually interested in the competition. That was the true reason why long-tusked hogs were so feared. They were fierce and overly aggressive. Even in the face of a daemon like the mountain devil ape, it did not back down.
At least that’s what it looked like on the surface. Truthfully the hog would never have stayed to fight if it knew Pan’s true power. A Daemon Lord fighting a Dire Daemon, it might as well commit suicide. But it stayed. The reason for this was because it actually thought Pan was a Daemon Lord as well and was confident in being able to fight beasts of the same tier.
Pan was supressing his aura and power to the Daemon Lord tier. Ordinarily that would never happen as both daemons and cultivators were incredibly proud of their power. But his grandmother had ordered it. The ape was supposed to demonstrate how a confrontation was to go and he couldn’t well do that if all the beasts around turned tail and run at the sight of him.
Challenge accepted the two jumped straight into battle. Valerian didn’t even see the first strike. He only noticed the hog’s tusks glow brightly and then loud crash resounded though the area. Safely ensconced in his grandmother’s shield spell and warded from sight, hearing and smell Valerian was fortunate to not be buffeted by the shockwave. The leaves on the trees and some of the branches and their tenants were not so lucky.
The two giants churned the earth beneath their feet, ruining the grass and creating furrows in the dirt with their struggle. Even the trees, hardy and strong though they were from absorbing world essence were affected by the battle. Each clash produced waves that shorn off leaves and shook their tenants loose. But soon the two blurs stopped.
Valerian was happy at this because he was beginning to wonder what the point was in having him watch when he could barely make them out. Thankfully the two beasts had now halted. Valerian’s eyes opened so wide the eyeballs nearly fell out.
The hog was caught. His snout was held securely in Pan’s armpit such that his overly large tusks were away from his body. Then the ape raised his other fist and began to rain a barrage of punches on his opponents flank. The poor pig could not resist. He was trapped in the hold and he was not strong enough or skilled enough to break free. He could only struggle impotently as he was beaten to death by Pan and his cask-like fists.
Fight over with, Pan picked his massive victim and slung it over his left shoulder before making his way back to them. Valerian just stared mutely. His dazed state was interrupted when his grandmother called out from beside him.
“I hope you now see what happens when you foolishly charge in without measuring yourself against your opponent”.
Valerian’s face coloured but he could not say anything. She was right. He had been asking for a beating at the very least and death at worst.
The last hunt was done by Fuooh. It was the first time Valerian saw Fuooh do anything except eat, sleep and sit on or around his grandmother so he watched carefully. Properly hidden by spells they followed closely behind the gecko as she cornered a large hare in a crevice of some sort. It was a partition in the rocks that was narrower at the top than it was inside or at the bottom.
The poor hare was tired and trapped. The only exit was blocked by Fuooh and unknown to it by Valerian and his grandmother. With no way out, it could only brace itself as Fuooh closed in on it. It fought valiantly though. A term Valerian did not use lightly due to its connection with his father but in this case he had to concede the point.
The hare did everything it could; clawing, scratching, kicking, biting, and pretty much all it was capable off but the dark green lizard just stood impassively and took it all without batting any of its none existent eyelids. It just waited for the hare to tire and then snapped it up.
Valerian looked on and sighed. That hare was so brave alas the weak were not long for this world once they met someone more powerful. Just watching how it used every trick it had only to have them brushed off must have hurt it mentally. He put it out of his mind after a moment of consideration. That was how the world worked. He had to make sure he did not end up the same.