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The Hunt (an original short story)

Here is the Hunt which follows what happens after Origins.

Enjoy

The Hunt  

The events of the day before play over and over in her mind. The feeling of power was great and heady but she wasn’t in control of herself and she was without the panther. Her mind was consumed with anger and thoughts of vengeance. She was stronger and knew now what she wanted, and that was for Aquil to be at her side. To show him that she could take care of herself and just before she could do that something happened, he kissed her and then he and the panther were both gone.

A gentle hand shook her awake, it was Y’elt who had crouched down before her his citrine eyes reflecting the campfire.

“Time to go.”

She got up silently and rolled up her bedroll it was all that was left. Glancing back at the rest of the group what was sleeping peacefully, she turned away  joining Nyri and Y’elt.

“Are you sure you want to do this?” Y’elt asked as they started out.

“She’s a part of me, I have to stop her.”

“How to you plan to do it? She can’t be reasoned with. “ Nyri said.

“She’s a part of me, she’ll come back and then we’ll be reunited.”

“I don’t think you can be.”

“No one thought that we could be separated.”

“It’s only a matter of time before the panther turns.”

“She won’t harm anyone.”

“She attacked Aquil.” Nyri pointed out.

“I lost control of her that’s all; she can be cured, like Kanjyor was.”

“But at what cost?” Y’elt asked.

“Do you sense her?” Nyri asked  midday when they were taking a break.

Morishta nodded, “She headed south.”

“Towards Noam.”

“Noam?”
Nyri nodded, “It’s mostly forest with a few villages here and there.”

“How are we going to find her in such a large place?”

“You’re going to lead us to her.”

Over the next two days the mountains of Hagemage had faded into the distance giving way to dense forest. They had made camp near a large dark lake, Morishta settled on a large flat rock near the bank gazing out onto the lake. Nyri gathered branches and started a fire, once the fire was going steadily she slipped into the woods to hunt.

“It’s so still.” She commented.

“You’re handling this well. “ Y’elt observed.

“I’m not actually. I feel so empty and alone with the panther, like half of me is missing, which it is but..” she drifted her voice cracking with tears,” I just can’t believe he’s gone. I expect him to come walking into the clearing and asking me what I’ve gotten myself into now she broke sobbing, I’m sorry I’ve never been without anyone to talk to even in my own head. Spending all that wasted time wanting to be normal and Aquil paid the price for it.’

“That’s not true. What did the Goddess tell you?”

“That it was his choice.”

He nodded.” It was his choice; nothing you could have done would have stopped him from doing it.”

She sniffed, wiping away tears.

“We can’t find the panther without you. We need you to help us find her and once we do, we’ll see if you can be reunited with her, okay? “

She nodded.

Nyri returned with two wild rabbits and began roasting them on the fire. Once they were done, Y’elt helped himself to an entire one leaving Nyri and Morishta to share. The Rothous native picked at her half of the animal eating only a few bites before giving the rest to Y’elt and settling into her bedroll facing away from the fire.

It was on Nyri’s watch that she began to whimper in her sleep.

“No!” She awoke with a sob, looking around as if to gather her bearings.

“You saw her killing.” The H’enigh native said, getting up from her spot by the fire while Y’elt sat up sleepily.

She nodded mutely wiping the tears away from her face ashamed.

“Where?”

“I don’t know.”

“Your silence won’t protect her. “

“I only saw trees and bushes, no landmarks.”

“Y’elt?”

“I’ll go look if I see anything.” He said, his voice still heavy with sleep.

He glanced at the former shapeshifter who look at him with large frightened eyes as if begging him not to leave her.

It wasn’t long before a purple dragon leapt into the air and flapped its leather wings disappearing into the distance.

“Did you find anything?”  Nyri asked him upon his return.

Morishta was laying down facing away from the campfire.

“Nothing out of the ordinary. There’s a village up a head two days distance with some farmland maybe we could stop there and rest?”

“And give the animal more time to infect others.” She countered.

“She’s been through so much.”

“I have learned to deal.”

“Your powers aren’t a fair comparison to what she has been through. We are all she has now. “

“Fine, we’ll go to the village. But that’s not giving you an excuse one to make meals out of their sheep.”

“Too late.” He said with a shrug going to gather his bedroll.

She shook her head, “One day you’re going to get caught. “

When reached the village near dusk they found the cobblestone pathways a flurry of activity with men, women and children in long drab clothing scurrying this way and that, closing and bolting doors behind them.

A short tub of a balding man from up the street called out to them, “You there, come inside strangers ‘fore I close up for the night.”

Finding themselves hustled into a small wooden building with a sagging roof. The inside was dimly lit by lantern light a few tables littered the area near the small glass windows.

“I’ve only got some rolls and a bit of meat ‘n one room for the night, but I can’t leave strangers out in the night. Not if I have a conscious anyways. Name’s Ataaes by the way.”

“What is going on?” Nyri asked

“There’s a murderous beast that lurks in these surrounding woods. Some ‘ave seen a glimpse of it an’ believe it’s ol’ Signess himself. Left a bloody mess of its victims from ‘ere to the lake it did.”

“How many?”

Three so far; Jora no more ‘en twelve  she was, Qima and the co-owner of this very in itself Niaras. The man crossed his chest. May the Goddess have mercy on their souls. But ‘nough of my gabbin’.”

The inn owner waddled into the kitchen area and came back with a tray of 6 rolls that were slightly dry and a large cut of what could only be assumed to be deer meat. No sooner did it hit the table than a shrill scream pierced the silence of the night. The bartender moved with a quickness that was fluid and startling for a man of his size.

Upon opening the door a small crowd had gathered outside the entrance of the inn, lit torches surrounding them. A small waifish orange haired woman was in the middle of the crowd clutching a torn jacket.

“My Jayana, my baby. “She wailed

“We’ve got to stop it.” Someone said in the crowd.

“But how?” someone else asked.

“I will stop it.” The crowd parted slightly to reveal a tall thin scruffy man that had a large scar that ran across his left eye.

“Dajel ya haven’t hunted since the last one nearly got the better of you.” Ataaes said dubiously

“My skills are as sharp as ever.” He insisted taking a flask from the inside of his jacket, unscrewing the top and taking a sip.

“With Canyor there to bandage you up, ya may make it our alive.”

The curly brown haired shorter man who stood next to Dajel put his head down in embarrassment.

The crowd whispered amongst itself for a moment.

“I am the best hunter in the Tricurenta area.” he boasted

“There are others who have gone in hunt for this beast and come back empty handed, what makes you think you can find it?” the bartender asked.

“I know where its den is.”

Nyri’s eyebrows went up and she nudged Y’elt.

“No.” he mouthed shaking his head.

“Oh really? Prove it then. I’ll bet you 100 gold you’ll come back empty handed like the rest of ‘em.”

“I’ll take that bet ‘n raise ya 50.” A short man in the group chimed in.

“25.” another shouted eagerly

“75.” another eager voice

“I’ll take those odds ‘n tomorrow night you will be singing my praises.” He took a large gulp of the flask and put it back into his jacket, catching Nyri’s glance he stared back at her evenly as the crowd parted and the weeping woman was guided away.

“Need help?”

“I think it is you needs our help.”

“Ha! What makes you think that?”

“We’ve been tracking that animal since Hagemage.”

He eyed her silently his gaze shifting to Y’elt who looked away uncomfortably and then Morishta who retuned his gaze challengingly.

His eyes narrowed, “You’re not getting’ any gold. “

“Not concerned about that.”

“Really? “His face lit up and he pulled on his scruffy beard thoughtfully, “I’ll take the help.”

He extended his hand.

She took his hand and shook firmly,”You won’t regret it.”

“Aye but ya might. It’s not going to be a pretty one. I plan to stalk the beast, catch it sleeping and shove my sword thru its side until it comes out the other end and skin it while it still draws breath.”

“I think I need to lay down.” Morishta said weakly holding onto the doorframe.

“I’ll go with you.’ Y’elt volunteered, taking her arm and guiding her back inside.

“Ha! Prolly not hunting companions are they? He said taking his flask out and taking another sip.

Good riddance to ‘em only true hunters can appreciate the killing and know its as good as the hunting and tracking. “

Nyri nodded.

Canyor who had remained unnoticed until then slipped from Dajel’s side and caught up with the two natives.

“Sorry about Dajel he’s quite grotesque at times. The name’s Canyor.”

“So I heard.  He’s your brother?”

“Cousin,” then without missing a beat asked,” Your accent, where is it from?”

“Not too many have lived long enough to ask.”

The villager paled,” H’enigh?”

He nodded.

“Her too?”

“Nyri and I are H’enigh, Morishta is from the Rothous tribe.”

“I heard H’enigh killed other tribe members?”
“It is a hard to explain.” He said hastily trying to keep Morishta from losing her balance as she wobbled unsteadily in the hallway.

“Room’s this way.” Canyor said taking the lead and opening the door at the end of the hallway for them. Revealing two cots, a small table a rug on the floor.

“How did you know?”

“It’s normally the room Dajel stays in when he’s had too much to drink, which is often.”

He caught the look Y’elt gave him but turned away watching as Morishta walked inside.

She inhaled sharply and froze suddenly her eyes going wide.

Y’elt quickly closed the door not wanting to attract any unnecessary attention. She reached out for something only she could see in front of her.

“No,” she whispered shaking her head vigorously from side to side, covering her eyes,” Stop it.”
Y’elt tried to calm her but she pushed him away and sank to her knees sobbing.

Canyor stooped down to her, she shrank away from him, gathering her needs to her chest.

“It’s okay I won’t hurt you.”

“She’s out there and it’s all my fault.”. She mumbled into her knees and continued rocking, repeating her words over and over again.

He tried to get more out of her but didn’t respond to his questions. She folded her arms across her knees protectively. It was then he noticed the jagged scars that ran across her inner arms.

“May I have a moment with her?” Y’elt asked.

“Sure.”

He stood up and walked away, leaving the room and closing the door behind him.

Hearing voices and then silence Y’elt came out alone.

“What happened to her? I’ve never seen self-inflicted wounds like that.”

Y’elt’s mouth opened but before he could reply Nyri answered for him.

“Nothing. We’re leaving at dawn tomorrow.”

“What?”

“We’re going to find the murderous beast with their help.” Dajel said somewhat cheerily behind her.

“I thought you knew where it was.” he stated looking evenly at his cousin.

The hunter shrugged loosely, “I only have an idea. Nyri here said they could track down its exact location.”

Y’elt glared at her.

“She’s hardly in any condition to do much of anything.”

“Oh, She will. Come Y’elt.” Nyri said, opening the door. Without another word she slipped through the cracked down and he followed obediently. The door clicked softly behind them.

“Strange bunch they are. “ Dajel said a bit too loudly and sipped from his flask turning on his heel and proceeding down the hall unsteadily.

Canyor sighed knowing he would have to deal with his cousin for the rest of the night.

The next morning Canyor found himself awake just as the sky was beginning to brighten.

“What’s eatin’ you?” Ataaes greeted upon seeing Canyor up seeing him sitting on the barstool leaning on the bar counter.

“Couldn’t sleep.”

“Dajel’s snoring’s that bad eh?”

He nodded,  butit was only partially true, most of the night he spent trying to figure out what secrets the new comers were hiding.

“His drinkin’s going to be the death of ‘im”

“This hunt will get his mind off the last one.”

Ataaes shrugged and went about ordering the cooks to work, leaving the man to his thoughts.

A hand on his shoulder caused him to nearly fall off the stool.

His cousin’s roaring laughter rang in his ears but it was meeting the owner of the hand that steadied him that caused his cheeks to burn with embarrassment.

“Sorry I didn’t mean to startle you.” She apologized in lightly accented common.

He met her brown eyes.

“You look good, “he fumbled wanting to say more but the words stuck on his tongue.

It was her turn to blush.

Breakfast spread laid out before them, plates filled with eggs, bread and some slices of meat. Dajel didn’t eat as he was still hung over. Nyri ate, Y’elt claimed to be full from the night before and Morishta picked at her food nibbling on some of the bread and ignoring the eggs. Canyor eat heartily.

It wasn’t long after, they headed out with a map of the area, Dajel saying he didn’t need one but Canyor brought it anyway.

Dajel was armed with crossbow, dagger, sword and a bag.

“What the bag is for?”

“I plan on drying its skin and hanging it on my wall.”

Morishta blanched, Canyor glared at him.

“What? Not my fault she’s sensitive.” He brushed past them and took the lead with Nyri.

The air was still with no wind.  Not a sound in the forest, no birds, no insects just silence, even the sun has disappeared beneath the trees.

“We’re lost” Dajel grumbled after a while drinking sullenly from his flask.

“No, we’re on track,” Nyri replied,” The lake is up ahead.”

The lake and the sky opened up before them, both dark and still and grey.

“Where’s the den?”

“Nearby, we camp here.”

They quickly set up a campfire and settle for the night near the bank of the lake

Dajel claimed first watch.  Morishta’s crying awakens Canyor who catches his cousin sleeping, after waking him, he goes to Morishta .

“What is it?”

“She’s got something.”

“She who?”

“Lead us there.” Nyri said pulling a large branch from the fire.

She nodded solemnly, getting up

“What’s going on” the hunter asked confused and slightly annoyed.

Morishta led them around the lake, stopping in front of a figure that looked like nothing more than a heap of clothes.  She kneeled down with her back facing them, picking it up and cradling it.

Dajel was about to ask what it was when they all caught a glimpse of a child’s pale face.

Canyor gasped.

Nyri put a hand out to Y’elt to stop him for moving. He looked at her questioningly.

“Jayana! You get away from her you heathen,” Dajel growled angrily, snatching her hair by the hair pulling her away from the body.

She shrieked in surprise clawing at him, he bellows when she tears at the skin on his arm letting go of her hair and grabbing his arm.

Dajel fumed looking at his arms, the marks where very much like cat scratches and were bleeding. He marched up behind her and unsheathed his sword

Canyor got between them. “Stop it.”

“Give me a good reason why I shouldn’t run her through where she stands.”

“She’s not capable of this.”

“Oh? And how do you know dear cousin? She shredded my arms like a common housecat.”

Morishta dared not get up, she was shaking too badly to trust her own balance.

Canyor helped her up, he turned away for a moment upon seeing her clothes covered in blood from the child.

“I’m sorry, I was too late to stop it.” She said

Dajel grunted, ”You’ll be sorry soon enough when we get back to the village. “

He pulled rope out of his pocket and pulled her towards him to tie up her wrists; she hung her head in silence. He marched her pasted Y’elt and Nyri while Canyor gathered the body of the girl in his bedroll carefully walking by them.

“Don’t.” Nyri cautioned Y’elt as they were leaving.

“You’re going to let them go?”

“We have to find the panther.”

“Without her we have no idea where to the find the anima. And you’re letting her get dragged to her death.”

“And what of it?”

“No one should suffer like she has. “ he said angrily turning around and following the villagers.

“Where are you going?”

“I’m going to free her.”

“You’ll get yourself killed.”

“It’s better than having innocent blood on my hands.”

Nyri sighed following, reluctantly.

When they returned to the village they found it the center of celebration, the cobblestone walkways were lit with torches, a band was playing and a few people were dancing merrily to the music. A few of the villagers spotted them.

“You strangers! Thank you for saving our village!” one shouted

“Where is she?” Y’elt shouted back.

“The cursed one? She’s in the tent up ahead. Tomorrow she will be burned at the stake.” Came the reply.

They come to a small tent where Morishta is tent up to the pole, her black hair hanging in front of her face. Canyor is there with a bowl of water in his hands with a wet cloth. He set the bowl at her knees and bent down before her, wringing the cloth out and pulling her hair back to reveal red welts on her face.

“What happened?” Y’elt asked.

He turned tensing and seeing it was them, he turned back to her.

“When Dajel announced he had found the killer they came out in droves carrying sticks, rocks, whatever they could find and began throwing it at her. I tried my best to shield her.”

“Where is Dajel?”

“Drinking to his victory at the tavern. “

The cloth touched her eye, she flinched.” I’m sorry.”

Y’elt glanced at Nyri to prove his point.
“Don’t say it. “

“There’s one thing that still remains a mystery to me.”

“What’s that?”

“How was she able to find Jayana? “

Y’elt glanced at Nyri who said a few words to him in their native tongue.

He frowned, replying back seemingly annoyed.

“Did I say something wrong?”

“No, not you. Nyri, he has to know.”

“I knew where the panther was because she was a part of me.” Morishta blurted.

“You were a shapeshifter? I’ve heard of them but didn’t know they actually existed.”

“We do.” Y’elt said.

Canyor’s eyes went wide and he blushed embarrassed, “I’m sorry I had no idea.”

“You wouldn’t. I wanted to be normal and look where it got me.” she said looking down as angry tears began to fall.

“Morishta there was no need to change who you are. You are beautiful no matter what shape you take.”

He wiped away her tears with his hand.

“Where is she? “

“In the woods.”

“Take us to her. “

Morishta hesitated, looking at Canyor, who nodded. Y’elt undid the ropes. She rubbed her wrists for a moment and got up, shakily. Canyor steadied her. She gained her balance and took off with surprising speed.

She’s escaped! “A scruffy redheaded boy squealed while running down the streets. “The cursed one escaped! We’re all doomed!”

Villagers scrambled back to their homes panicked. Doors slammed torches left to burn in the street.

Dajel sat at the inn chugging on his pint of ale contently when someone burst through the door.

“Haven’t ya heard?”

“What?”

“The strangers set the woman free, they all ran into the forest with Canyor behind them. “

Ataaes glared at Dajel

“I thought you captured ‘er?”

“I’m not responsible for my stupid cousin.” He muttered into his mug.

The mug was snatched out of his hands, most of its contents spilled onto the flood.

“Well you’re responsible for bringing ‘er back. ‘Til then, I’ll take my gold back. “

He snatched the bag of gold off the counter and grabbed Dajel by the shirt  collar and tossed him onto the cobblestone street.

Just as he was picking himself up about to challenge the tavern owner when the door slammed shut in his face. He head the wood slide across to deadbolt it.

Looking around the streets were now completely deserted and he saw a streak of blue in the corner of his eye heading into the woods. He lumbered after it.

Upon entering he found the trees swaying back and forth as he tried to gain his footing he tripped on an upward facing branch.  The sharp end of the branch pierced his right shoulder ripping through the newly formed scar tissue from his last hunt. He howled as pain seared through his body, blood spurting out around the impaled branch.

With his good arm he yanked the branch out of his arm and tossed it to the side and tried to regain his footing. His right arm was dangling uselessly, try as he might he did not have the strength in his left to pull himself to a standing position. So he settled for an upright position instead, pulling out a knife from his boot knowing the beast would not be able to resist the smell of fresh blood. All he had to do was wait.

When they caught up with Morishta they were all panting.

“What is it?”

Morishta shifted her course stopping for a moment and turned her head as if listening for something.

There was a rustling noise in the bushes close to them, all but Morishta jumped. A black blur of an animal streaked across them and into the bushes ahead of them, without a word the Rothous native leapt after it.

Several noises invaded their ears all at once, growling, cursing and a scream.

Parting the bushes they came upon a ghastly scene.

A large black panther lay on its side, the skin on its stomach hanging loosely.

Morishta was no more than a few feet from it, blood covering her right pant leg, she made a move towards the injured animal but tripped, landing hard on her leg and clawed her way to the animal.

It was then they saw her wound, her leg from knee to hip had been sliced open.  The feline responded weakly to her touch, she put her arms around it sobbing.

Canyor took off his shirt and went to her to wrap up the wound; she feebly tried to push him away. He managed to wrap the wound as best he could with her lying on the ground. The blood quickly stained the shirt.

“Bring her back.”  The Rothous native pleaded through bloodshot eyes looking up at the woman who stood before her.

“I can’t.”

“You can.”

“No, I can’t.”

“Morishta, you’re hurt.” Canyor said, trying to reason with her.

“I don’t care. Bring her back.”

A hand snaked out from underneath the half dead animal and grabbed Canyor’s ankle, he yelped in surprise.

The hand belonged to Dajel, who was completely covered in dirt and blood. Whether it was from the panther, Morishta or his own it was impossible to tell.

“I killed it. They didn’t believe me but I killed the evil beast.” He cackled hysterically and began to cough letting go of his cousin to cover his mouth.

Y’elt turned away in disgust.

Canyor was about to turn to help his cousin when Nyri’s firm hand stopped him.

She turned to reach for her sword.

“No!”

She looked at him questioningly and began to draw a spiral pattern into the dirt and then a square, soon followed by a circle and a triangle with squiggles coming out of it slowly working her way around Dajel and the panther.

“Y’elt, get them out of here. I will take care of Dajel.” She said oddly her eyes not leaving the ground as she continued to draw the patterns.

He nodded and bent over to touch Morishta’s arm.

“It’s over.”

“No,” she said weakly

“She’s at peace now.”

Morishta accepted his help with a reluctant sob as he gathered her into his arms letting her wrap her arms around his broad shoulders.

“Don’t leave me with her!” Dajel shrieked, suddenly aware of the fact that he would be alone with Nyri.

“Come, there is nothing left to see here.” Y’elt said, attempting to draw Canyor away.

Canyor hesitated a moment seeing the terrified look in his cousin’s eyes. Nyri began to chant softly, seemingly oblivious to Dajel’s pleads and Canyor watching her. Soon the drawings began to pull away from the dirt taking shape of small demon-like creatures; he turned running to catch up with Y’elt and Morishta.

His cousin’s cries for help grew louder as he left, finally having to put his fingers in his ears to keep from hearing them.

It wasn’t until they reached the outskirts of the village was he no longer able to hear them and finally removed his fingers.

He checked on Morishta, who had thankfully lost consciousness whether from the loss of blood or the shock of losing the panther he couldn’t tell.  One of her arms still draped over Y’elt’s neck, he felt a twinge of jealously but put it aside, checking on her makeshift bandage. The wound seemed to have clotted but would need to be cleaned and stitched.

He led them to the hut that belonged to Dajel, opening the door with ease. Thanking the goddess that the clouds had cleaned and the full moon was shining brightly into the dark cabin.

Y’elt proceeded inside and laid Morishta down onto a cot.

Dajel fumbled but managed to light a lantern and closed the door.

“Quite the collection,” Y’elt said upon noticing the various skinned animals that hung on the wall. Of various animals, bears, deer, cats.

“I always hated it.” He commented, taking a moment to unravel the bandage and get a good look at the wound. With any luck there would be no muscle damage, but thankfully it was a clean cut and was in the very early stages of healing.

He gathered some supplies; cloth wraps, a bowl of water, string and a needle and went to patching up her wound trying his best not to wake her. She stirred a few times during the process but not enough to wake up fully or interfere much with the stitching. As he was finishing up he noticed the warm and the soft orange glow. Looking behind him he saw a roaring fire in the fireplace.

Y’elt had settled near it, watching the flames dance around.

“She’ll live.”

“Of course she will.”

“I didn’t think she would make it.”

Y’elt put a reassuring hand on his shoulder. “She has you.”

“Me?”

“She trusts you.”

“She cried on your shoulder.”

“I may have known her longer but you gave her the strength to finally end it.  You both deserve some peace after this.”

“You’re not staying?”

He shook his head.

“What about Nyri?”

“She’ll be here soon.”

“What did she do?”

“It’s better if you didn’t know.”

“What did you feed the fire?”

“Look up.”

He looked and noticed the wall was bare.

Canyor smiled slightly, “I always wanted to do that.”

Sometime later, he found himself drifting off on the chair near the cot when Y’elt suddenly got up and went towards the door. Opening it, Nyri walked in briskly.

They exchanged a few words in their native tongue and glanced at him.

“Are you going to stay?”

“No, we’ve caused enough damage. Take care of Morishta, she is going to need someone to look after her.”

He nodded, sleepiness taking over as he settled back into the chair and drifted off.

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