“This isn’t good at all,” Rainpace muttered to himself. Not too far away, Bristlepelt seemed to agree with her friend’s assessment as she sniffed the remains. This had been the second of his traps that had been robbed in as many nights. All the tracks pointed to a stinkbear as the culprit. This most recent find only served to prove the identity of the thief. Its tracks were all around the small clearing where the trap had lain and its distinctive smell still covered what little remained of the trapped rabbit it had savaged.
“Looks like it was here around nightfall,” he continued as he checked the sky and determined it to be just a little past midnight. “It's probably long gone now to sleep with a full belly.” There were two more traps to check before he was done for the evening so the pair set off. The sooner they finished the sooner they could get back to the Holt. Stinkbears were notoriously foul-tempered and could be difficult to kill. Better to hunt it with a few friends on his side, Rainpace reasoned. Stinkbears didn’t come down this close to the Holt very often because the elves eagerly, if cautiously, hunted them for their pelts.
“We’ll let Windburn know that we have another stinkbear robbing the traps. Maybe we can get a hunting party together to find it,” he said as he gave Bristlepelt an absent-minded scratch behind the ears. The wolf trotted along beside him as they made their way down the path.
A little later they came to the next trap. It was undisturbed, with neither fresh meat nor sign of the stinkbear to be seen. Rainpace frowned slightly. This trip, thanks to the stinkbear, was turning out to be a huge waste of time. He wanted to at least have a little bit of meat to take home. With a sigh he turned his attention to the path again and the two of them made their way towards where he had left the last trap.
As they rounded a bend in the path and approached the trap site, something didn’t seem right to either the elf or the wolf. It was too quiet and there was an odd smell in the air. It stank of blood and the easily recognizable odor of their sneak-thief. The hairs on the back of both their necks began to rise as they caught the scent and Rainpace found his hand reflexively tightening on his stone dagger. It was only a skinning knife really, and would be little use against a stinkbear, but the solid presence of it reassured him. Motioning for Bristlepelt to remain silent, he hazarded a peek around the corner towards where the trap lay.
There in the moonlight he saw that the trap had been sprung and that there was blood all about. It seemed reasonably fresh, as best he could tell at a distance, but there was no sign of a carcass. He looked towards his wolf in confusion when suddenly a noise off to their right drew their attention. The pair of them dodged quickly as a form came hurtling at them from a nearby thicket.
Landing on the spot where the pair had been, the stinkbear came to an unexpectedly clumsy stop. Its right forepaw was a bloody, mangled mess and it was having difficulty in using it. Both elf and wolf could sense the fury and pain in the beast before them. The thief had apparently gotten caught in the trap itself when looking for an easy meal. In its desperation to escape it had gnawed both the trap and its own limb until it was able to pull itself loose. Now it was nearly maddened by rage and pain and was looking to destroy anything that got in its way.
Rainpace and Bristlepelt were now on opposite sides of the stinkbear and were circling it cautiously. Wolf instinct guided them in the best way to deal with such a foe; present it with multiple targets so that one member of the pack could get an attack while the other dodged until the prey was too weak to fight back. It worked well on prey animals. Would it work in this case though? A stinkbear, even a crippled one, was dangerous. There was no choice now though. If they tried to retreat it would give chase. Better to face it now and try to at least cripple it enough so that it couldn’t follow if they had to flee.
**Wounded stinkbear. Come quick,** Rainpace sent, along with an image of his location, to his tribemates. At this distance he could be sure that someone at the Holt would hear, but knew full well that no one could arrive before this matter was resolved. At the very least, if something happened to him, they would be able to hunt the wounded sneak-thief down before it could hurt anyone else.
The three of them circled one another for a bit. The stinkbear was clearly growing weaker from blood loss. Maybe, Rainpace hoped, they could keep it busy long enough for it to go down on its own? It seemed a slim hope given how angry the creature was. It would attack soon and he and Bristlepelt would have to try and wear it down and kill it. There was no other way now. It would either be them or the stinkbear.
Just then, the wounded predator gave up on patience and lunged towards Rainpace. He dodged quickly as the stinkbear flew past him. Snapping teeth and flashing claws missed him by the barest of margins as he moved nimbly out of the way. Bristlepelt charged, snapped at the stinkbear’s backside and then dodged as well as the beast turned her way. Fortunately for the both of them the wounded animal's mangled forepaw kept it from being as quick on its feet as it might ordinarily be. If it got a hold on either of them it could cripple or kill with ease.
Bristlepelt snapped again and then retreated as the stinkbear's fangs missed her by a hair's breadth. She was keeping it occupied, though, and gave Rainpace an easy shot. Readying his sling, he let fly and struck the beast in the back of its head with a well-aimed stone. The stinkbear staggered but didn’t fall. If anything, it only became more angry and even less cautious. Turning away from the snapping wolf, it turned and charged with an unsteady gait towards the elf.
Rainpace only had a moment to pick a direction and move. Half a step to the left and a quick leap up put him in the bottom branches of a nearby tree. The stinkbear’s charge came up short as its prey left the ground, but it quickly reoriented itself. This gave Rainpace an opportunity to let fly with another stone, which hit the target square in the face this time. Now the stinkbear was bleeding from the muzzle as well as from its wounded leg. Only a little longer now, Rainpace reasoned. If they could only keep it moving for a little longer its rage wouldn’t be able to overcome the blood loss and it would fall on its own.
That hope proved to be short-lived, though. The beast seemed to have no intent of dying quietly. Though it was temporarily stymied from getting to the elf, there was still the matter of the wolf that was tormenting it. Turning its attention now to Bristlepelt the stinkbear charged again. This time its fangs managed to hit flesh instead of empty air as the she-wolf was a moment too late in her dodge. Now she was bleeding as well, with a nasty bite to her flank, but she managed to pull away and the two continued to circle each other.
Rainpace cursed silently to himself. He couldn’t stay in the relative safety of the trees. The stinkbear couldn’t climb but it could surely kill Bristlepelt before it managed to die. He would have to draw it away from her and try to finish exhausting it. With that in mind, he once again jumped to the ground. Once there, he took extra careful aim and let fly another stone which struck the trap-thief square in the side. Now, with its attention once again turning towards him, he waved his arms and yelled at it.
“Hey… come on… try and get me.”
For emphasis he fired another stone and then turned to run.
**Don’t try to stop it, Bristlepelt. Let it chase me,** he sent to his wolf. He was hoping that the wounded leg would slow it down enough that he could outrun it, at least for a while. The longer he kept it exerting itself the more it would bleed out. As long as it didn’t catch him first all he needed was some time for nature to take its course.
As he hoped, the stinkbear gave chase. Rainpace ran for all he was worth. Every so often he would risk a quick glance to see how quickly it was gaining on him. Unfortunately it still seemed to be moving much quicker than he might have expected. It was gaining ground, with Bristlepelt several wolf-lengths behind it. For the moment, anyway, it wasn’t slowing.
“Shards! Why can't you just fall down and die?”
The stinkbear did not reply. It only seemed to redouble its efforts and run all the harder. Rainpace could see that he wasn’t going to outrun it for much longer. He had to get back into the trees. Leaping upwards, he caught a low-hanging branch and began to pull himself up. Just then he felt a pain in his leg and looked down. The stinkbear had been closer than he thought. It wasn’t fast enough to get a firm bite onto him but did have ahold of his pants and was fighting for a better grip.
The beast's claws raked his leg as it tried to get a better grip with its fangs. Rainpace kicked at it once with his free foot and frantically tried to pull himself up. The pants leg tore away as the stinkbear fell back to the ground with nothing but a mouth full of leather. Scrambling up to a better vantage point, Rainpace examined his wounds. They weren't too bad. Certainly nothing to worry over now with an angry stinkbear gnawing on what was left of his pants leg below.Looking back down he saw the stinkbear angrily gnawing on the bit of leather that it had pulled off of him, and Bristlepelt waiting a short distance away.
**Stay put, Bristlepelt. Just wait,** he sent to the anxious wolf. Time was on their side now. He would rather have waded in and just killed the thing, like some of the more adventurous hunters might. The wolf-blood in him howled for the kill, but the more rational elf in him recognized the signs of exhaustion setting into his prey. Blood loss and fatigue were doing their work for them and it was a much safer path to take.
The stinkbear regarded first Rainpace and then Bristlepelt with suspicious eyes but as long as neither moved it didn’t have the strength anymore to fight. Instead it angrily paced around under the tree until it no longer had the strength to continue. It, too, could sense its end and eventually, as they sat patiently and waited, it finally bled out enough that it could no longer remain conscious.
Some time later Rainpace’s tribemates would find him skinning the stinkbear. He had enough time before they arrived to make sure that it was dead and to tend his own and Bristlepelt’s wounds. Now he would not have to go home empty-handed. Stinkbear pelts were prized in the Holt, and if nothing else it would not be able to ever raid his traps again. Even more valuable, though, was the story that this would make. He had few enough tales of his own adventures, especially when considered beside those of the more daring Notch. This one would make a fine story, and he was pleased.