Elf Boy's Friends - XI

by George Gauthier

Chapter 12

Trophy Hunters

Just beyond the hawthorn hedge which marked the lower or eastern boundary of the New Forest, lay the nature reserve where giant brontotheres roamed and flourished. In this transition zone between the forested mountains and the grassy Eastern Plains the great beasts might browse as well as graze. Grassy glades alternated with copses and gallery forest. Thanks to its elevation above sea level the plains were not oppressively hot, but the climate was still tropical. The brontotheres welcomed the shade the trees provided and the chance to swim or at least bathe in the deeper pools of the streams which drained the mountains.

Taking their leave that day after their latest visit to their brontothere friends were the two White Kodiak bears Bjarni and Bjorn. Magical beings like the brontotheres only more so, the ursine brother were giants of their kind standing nearly seven feet high at the shoulder and massing a long ton. For size though nothing could match brontotheres which were taller by a foot and seven times more massive.

Brontotheres looked like armored one-horns or rhinos though their two bony horns were set side by side and grew from the forehead not the nose so they pointed forward not upward. Their thick gray skin hung on their frames in folds, serving as living armor proof against even the claws of the slash bear or the tiger.

They had no natural enemies though they were vulnerable to weapons wielded by humans and other races. Caltrops could turn their own size against them. Arrows shot from ballistas might slay them. Poachers had once killed dozens of brontotheres by offering them cabbages with leaves coated with ground glass held in place by a sticky syrup, which killed them slowly and painfully from internal bleeding.

The Mind Speech of the bears allowed them to link with the brontotheres who used their own version of telepathy which was really projected mental imagery. It had taken practice on the bears' part since their own telepathy relied on projected words not imagery.

Since then they had exchanged the wisdom of their species. The Kodiaks explained their role as the protectors of a group of Snow Elves who lived in the forest and might one day join them for a visit. Theirs was a full partnership. The bears were both teachers and protectors. The elves provided companionship to the normally solitary bears. Also their locomotion of two legs freed the hands of the elves to perform all sorts of tasks that the bears themselves could not. For instance, the elves could gather honey less messily and much less destructively than the bears could themselves. Then too, there was something to be said for food which had been cooked. It offered novel tastes hitherto unknown to the omnivorous bruins.

A pair of autogyros arrived as the bears ambled toward the hawthorn hedge. As they orbited overhead at two hundred feet a couple of air guns poked out of the leading aerocraft and took aim at the bears. The initial ranging shots missed. Once the shooters corrected for the long fall of their bullets they got hits. Though only superficial flesh wounds blood loss would eventually weaken them. The bears ducked under the cover of some trees and used mind speech to warn off the hunters.

<Stop shooting at us. We Kodiaks are not dumb animals. We are fellow sapients, the ursine equivalent of a unicorn. You wouldn't shoot a unicorn would you? Anyway this is a nature reserve where hunting is banned entirely.>

The answer they got back was chilling.

<We know perfectly well that you are sapients. That's precisely why we are hunting you. Shooting dumb animals is far too easy. Boring really. Sapients offer a real challenge. As for unicorns, we certainly would shoot them and have done so in the past. So we have already added them to our collections of heads mounted on the walls of our hunting lodges.>

<You two will make magnificent trophies. Our taxidermists will turn one of you into a rug which will have the place of honor in front of my hearth. The other one's skin will be mounted on an armature looking as you did in life. My colleague here plans to put it next to his prize centaur specimen.>

<You claim that hunting dumb animals is too easy, yet here you are taking pot shots at us from autogyros orbiting overhead. Where is the challenge in that? It is cowardly is it not?>

<Please! You're just trying to shame us, to lure us into setting down and hunting you on foot. Actually we plan to do exactly that but not just yet, not till we give ourselves an edge. These shots at long range are only to weaken you. We have to get close for our shots to penetrate all that muscle and reach your vitals. So be patient. We intend to get close and personal in due course.>

With that the trophy hunters resumed shooting. Bjorn and Bjarni scrambled toward a ravine which would give them considerable cover from overhead fire. Autogyros could not hover but must move constantly to generate lift for their rotors and stubby wings. Once the bears reached the ravine, they hunkered down under an overhang though they did still take hits when the aerocraft were at the right angle.

By the time the autogyros settled down the Kodiak had been hit five or six times each which was not enough to kill them. Their magical constitutions had strong healing powers though far less than the near miraculous powers of shape shifters. Still the bleeding from their wounds had slowed and would soon stop. The blood loss had weakened the bruins less than the hunters thought. The bears had plenty of fight left in them, plus their ace in the hole. Two aces really.

Both autogyros set down. The trophy hunters themselves were human. Their backup was comprised of seven Frost Giants armed with the larger and more powerful airguns designed for their race. The pressure in their air reservoirs was higher and the longer barrel let the outrushing air propel the bullet for a longer interval confined in a tube which gave it greater momentum and range.

The giants fanned out to either side. They were not to shoot except to save the lives of their employers. The honor of the kills would go to them.

<Any last words, my sapient friends before we kill you?> the leader teased, his air gun held at the ready.

Bjarni answered for both of them:

<Your doom is upon you, foolish mortal.>

With that the bears cut loose with their stand off weapon, a killer roar far more effective than the so-called killer neigh of the unicorn or the screech of a black panther like Aodh. The bears' sonic weapon really could kill not simply startle, pain, and distract their foes to make them vulnerable to a unicorn's or panther's sonic weapons.

The trophy hunters were caught in a cone of sonic destruction which blinded them, destroyed their hearing, and tore blood vessels in brain and heart, killing them with multiple aneurysms. They had just enough time to realize that they were dying and then fell down dead.

The Frost Giants turned and fled to their autogyros turning to shoot back to keep the bears from closing with them. The bears caught two shooters with their sonic weapon before they got out of range, but no matter. Their second ace in the hole had just been played: the brontotheres had arrived.

Formed into a broad line to cut off escape forty brontotheres trumpeted their challenge and charged the giants. The ground shook from the pounding of their feet which rumbled like thunder. Brontotheres could not gallop. They were far to heavy to get all four legs off the ground at once as horses do in the gallop. The gait of a charging brontothere was more like a fast shuffle — a very fast shuffle indeed thanks to their long legs.

The giants cried out in dismay as the line of brontotheres swept past the parked autogyros cutting off any chance of escape. With nothing for it, the five giants stood their ground and shot as fast as they could work their charging levers and take aim. Their efforts came to naught. Their bullets could not penetrate the reinforced skulls of the brontotheres. Their shot could only inflict wounds to the front legs or face. Some of the beats did get hurt but none of the leaden bullets that came their way reached their vitals.

It was a distinctly uneven contest, five air guns against forty brontotheres whose charge was relentless and unstoppable. Their initial pass bowled the giants over or impaled them on horns. Then the brontotheres turned and stomped the prostate bodies of the wounded and dead giants, rearing up to bring the full weight of their forequarters smashing down. In a final pass, the brontotheres formed a column and charged over the dead bodies all the while bellowing their battle cry. Only then did their fury cool and they charge ground to a halt.

At Bjarni's request a dozen of the brontotheres broke off from the main body and stomped all over the four hunters slain by their bears' secret weapon. The hunters would never have been drawn into the trap the bears had set for them had they been aware of their stand off capability which the bears had not disclosed even to the snow elves.

By then the brontotheres' human caretakers had arrived to lend assistance to the injured brontotheres and bears. One of their number was the resident veterinarian who extracted bullets and flushed wounds with water and an astringent to prevent infection. The brontotheres accepted his ministrations stoically, knowing that the pain from his probing for the bullets was both well-intentioned and necessary.

"Sorry I cannot do anything about the bloodstains in your white fur." the vet apologized to the Kodiak bears.

<Our fur will grow out eventually. The red stains are nothing to be ashamed of.>

"Indeed. As a combat medic in the Troll War I heard wounded soldiers calling their blood stained bandages their red badges of courage."

In the end the bears stayed on a few days to recuperate and also to give statements to the constabulary about the deaths of the trophy hunters and their guards. The Kodiaks did not lie to the lawmen but told the full truth about what had happened. The constabulary appreciated their candor and to spare them from having to disclose their ace in the hole in public testimony before a coroner, the lawmen credited the brontotheres with all of the kills.

The case did not rest there. Investigators would backtrack the hunters and guards, confident that it would not be difficult for them to locate their trophy filled hunting lodges which were forfeit to the state along with a considerable portion of their assets including their autogyros. Investigators would want to find out who else was involved in the despicable practice.

In the fullness of time the bears rendezvoused with the proteges, the wolves and leopards plus their new friend Derry. Gulo's new friends, the natural philosophers and their party of seven which included his new boyfriend Roland had gone on ahead to Elysion.

The bears assured his proteges that despite the rusty bloodstains in their fur they were healing just fine. No infection and no complications. They praised the boys for their dedication to helping others in their various adventures during their separate walkabouts. Gulo had faced the greatest odds battling that slash bear. The triplets had not only taken part in the search for the lost "faun' they had mentored the boy and help him understand his new gift and prepare him for his next walkabout.

The leopards Leon and Brand had the most exciting stories to tell: first of their fight with the poachers, then of helping to foil the brazen bank robbery in Three Forks, and finally of a knock down and drag 'em out fight with an anaconda. And yes they were not doubt right that press coverage of those incidents would promote a better image of snow elves among the general public.

They quickly arrived at a consensus to go to Elysion and meet up with the party of natural philosophers. Brand would also get a chance to ask the druids to sponsor an upgrade in they powers.

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