An uncommonly large stag stepped out of the dense forest like an apparition, surrounded by the ephemeral morning mist that still clung close to the earth. The twenty-four points of his majestic antler crown arrogantly spoke of his many years in the forest. They raised themselves proudly to the azure sky as the animal bellowed out his territorial call. The haunting sound hung in the still air as tangibly as his foggy breath. With his head reared the sun caught the dull glint of well worn gold at the wild beast's magnificently slender throat.
A thick belt of pure gold was fastened there with a message elegantly engraved into it: "Noli Me Tangere". It was a royal decree which stated: "Touch me not". For this glorious animal was the last of Caesar's special stags. As holy animals the marked were only to be hunted by the great Caesar himself, upon penalty of death. However, two decades had passed since the Hunter had become the prey.
Even with the guardian gone the emperor's forest was a sacred and forbidden land where the peasants nor the nobility dare tread. For twenty years the forest lay untouched and unvisited by mankind. A noble dynasty inhabited only by the creatures of the wild. For all that time the ancient stag had been the undisputed ruler of this kingdom, having the experience, strength, and swiftness to keep even the wolf at bay. However there was a new scent in the forest this morning.
The thief had traveled a long way in search of what the naive natives called the Golden Hind. A horrifying beast: a deer taller than any man with so many branches to his antlers as to be uncountable, all of the purest gold of the Gods. It was said to have the strength of a bear, the cunning of a fox, the resourcefulness of a raccoon, and the swiftness of a falcon. Any who tried to hunt such a deity would surly be killed.
The myth held nothing more than mild curiosity for the thief. He did not believe the inflated stories of golden horns from the Gods, however he did know of the valuable collars that the animals were given by man. It was for this bounty that the thief had come. The same jewelry that had kept the deer safe from hunters since it was a mere spike buck had made it a target.
The new smell was a foul scent that reminded the stag of his long lost youth when he was still suckling against his doe mother. In all his years the only time he had encountered man was when he was a tiny foal and was first granted the golden gift. Caesar had never returned to challenge the deer's mastery of the forest.
Times had changed since then and even now his gravid mate lay just over the ridge. Heavy with fawn she was not the swift creature he had mated with. Determined to protect his lineage the powerful stag bounded confidently towards the obscene stench.
Not a hunter by trade the thief was easily caught off guard by the enormous buck. The man had never taken into account that the animal would strike first. Knocked to the ground the uncommonly swift man rolled onto his back and drew out a sharp arced knife. The stag lowered his deadly crown to gouge his rights to this land out of the thief's hide. In a desperate attempt to save his life from what had once been his prey the man lashed out with the curved steel. The sickle blade caught the stag's protective necklace and slashed through both the yielding metal and soft skin with a hot crimson spray.
Enraged by the double injury the buck reared up to his full majestic height and brought his razor like hooves down on the thief's chest with a sickening crunch. With marked disgust he withdrew his cloven hooves from the carcass of the fallen intruder. The precious golden collar now lay across the inert body, the thief had what he had come for.
With the thrill of the battle over the pain of injury washed over the panicked beast. With every dizzy panting breath the blood washed anew from the gaping slit. Rolling down his tawny fur the scarlet river burned his skin and steamed where it came in contact with the cold sweat. Desperate for some privacy the once graceful stag stumbled away from gory remains of the alien that lay in the leaf litter.
The fated beast staggered through the dense forest to an open glade where the midmorning sun poured down upon an inviting bed of bright green grassy vegetation. Everything was still and even the birds held their melodious tongues. To a human visitor the place would have been hallowed ground, a place of Gods and Magic. To the injured animal it was simply a place for shelter to recover, far from the eyes of predators.
The slender forelimbs that had once offered the stag not only a swift retreat but the power to defeat his enemies failed beneath the enormous weight of his antlers. The regal spikes of bone came crashing down and bit into the soft mossy ground. Unwilling to give up his kingdom the wild beast persisted in breathing and kept alert. When the leaves at the rim of the glade were disturbed the deer took notice.
Despite the indisputable fact that death was all ready just moments away the fallen stag stared up in terror directly into the gold glowing eyes of a predator whom had just padded nearly silently into the blood soaked glade. The new Lord...