THE HUNTER

By Chau Ho

 

There is a saying that in the night, when you see the wind summon fallen leaves up in an even whirl, inviting the hollowed trees to dance under the ancient moon, you are being watched. You are being heard. You are being hunted.

The night is long and lonely with not a single star in the haunting sky. It has been four weeks since the fall of Kokai, since Koharu left us to fend for ourselves. Four whole weeks. The world had changed like it had been many months. I couldn’t care less. I should make do with any setting, no matter how distasteful it may be.

I am a female warrior from a noble family. It is my duty to fight and protect those who cannot. Yet my father did not agree. He told me to fall in love with a man of riches, be wedded and have children, live a long and safe life. I fell in love with swordsmanship, the exhilaration of feeling the blade close to my skin, living the way I wanted to. Well, I certainly am living my life to the fullest. I wonder what father would say.

It is very late into the night, and after realizing how shaken and exhausted I become to be, I decide to rest in one of the abandoned houses at a small village I had arrived to. I’ve hunted and cleared a large amount of dark creatures in the woods beyond the village earlier. There shall be no dark creatures upon me tonight. Strange though, how they all seem to be in a state of seeking for something in such an abnormal haste.

Knocking on a door quietly out of habit, then pausing and listening for sounds of movement, I enter a house and immediately sat down on its wooden floors. My feathered cloak is soaked of corrupted blood from the creatures, but it kept me warm. I wrapped it tighter around me. I could barely breath, even as I rest, so I take off my mask — an old okami mask I have stolen a couple weeks ago— letting my long hair fall doward as I place the mask by my side along with my katana.

Closing my eyes, I let my breathing become a slow, steady rhythm as I begin meditating.

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I do not kill, for I am not a murderer. I am their salvation. I am their savior from this cursed world that bloomed and flourished in a time of peace. Kokai, the mortal realm, needs a savior, a true goddess. Koharu failed and left us, so who would save us from the reign of Yamaru, the deity of the Dark? In a world of darkness, I will be their light. By my holy blade, crafted and handed down for generations by my family, I will purge the vile night, draw open the seams of corruption and spill its spoiled blood graciously so that it may run free from its eternal punishment.

I am their salvation.

Although I would not openly admit it, I am proud to be a loyal slave to this passion. I ask you, what sort of person would you be if you do not possess something to live by? A hollowed-out soul, a waste upon Kokai. Of course, who am I to impose on one’s beliefs? My work does not, and never will, give answers. It only asks questions. At least, questions that only I can answer. Take for instance: why is killing deemed evil? Because mercy requires cruelty.

I am their savior.

It has become easy to hunt for these dark creatures. They linger in specific areas, in the darkest parts of the forests, the towns. And they are always making noise. Even if they are still as the never-ending night, it is the dead silence that is the loudest in these parts. Too unnatural. Too familiar. It is not long before I can find them lurking and hiding. Pathetic.

I am their hunter.

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An unexpected blinding light takes me out of my meditation. It came from outside, the unknown light shining through the house’s wooden cracks. Immediately, I place my mask on, unsheathing my katana and went out the door promptly.

I cannot believe my eyes.

There, surrounded by a horde of dark creatures of various types, is a mysterious figure in a white horned mask wielding a sword, the source of the light. It must be made by Hikamaru herself! It is ethereal, strange. Alluring.

I take a step forward, my stance ready for combat, but what’s the need? The figure had already lunged forward, slashing through multiple creatures in fluid motions. The sword rips a fabric of pure light in the air, glittering and and beautiful before it explodes in bold bursts by command of the figure sheathing and unsheathing the sword. The creatures shriek and yelp so desperately, I almost felt a hint of pity for them. I swear some screamed words, actual human words at the figure.

The sword of light… this must be the actual fist of Hikamaru herself! Why does this… thing, possess such a gift? Why does this sword turn the creatures into fragments of light ascending to the heavens? Why doesn’t my blade do the same?

I will have these questions answered soon enough.

Soon, all the dark creatures have vanished into bits of light. The mysterious warrior stands there, breathing heavily, staring at the ground. Then very slowly, they turn their gaze at me.

“Who are you? How do you come to possess Hikamaru-no-Kobushi?” I demand, tightening my grip on my katana.

A moment of silence.

“…Who?” whispers the warrior, before turning their attention away and dashing in the opposite direction towards the thick woods.

“Come back!”

Pushing my cloak back swiftly and keeping my eyes locked on the warrior, I follow suit. The sounds of rustling leaves echo my movement all around, but the figure? Nothing but a faint breeze. If this is Koharu’s chosen warrior… well, I will have to success them immediately. Within me, I have a fire and soul of a true warrior, a samurai! The figure feels so empty. I must take the sword away from them, if that is the last thing I will do.

Blocked by a fallen tree, I turn my direction away from the path. I quickly leap onto the massive branches of the many trees, making good progress in catching up to them. Finally ahead of the mysterious warrior, I have my blade drawn and lunge downward at the warrior with a fierce battle cry.

A split second later, my sword is stuck in the ground, the figure a few feet before me.

I let out a frustrated growl, “You will tell me who you are and how you got that sword!”

No answer.

“Fine,” I seeth. “Actions speak louder than words.”

Pulling my sword out at once, we both dash towards one another, our blades locked against each other. I stare deep and angrily into their eyes of their mask. Nothing but darkness.

In an instant, I push my weight on them, causing them to stumble back. A light step forward, I spun my body and slash my blade in an upward motion. It breaks one of the horns off from their mask. I take this opportunity to do a firm stab at their liver, only to miss and instead slicing their side. Their tunic cuts open with blood blooming a very dark crimson circle, like the beginning of Spring. Now this is the true excitement to every fight. Every hunt.

I inhale the chilling air. “Mm… how delicious.”

Suddenly, the warrior is nowhere to be seen. It is as if they disappear into nothingness with a blink of an eye. Only the splatter of blood is before me on the ground. I whirl around, and in a flash, my blade is once again locked with theirs. Struggling to push them off, I can feel my body leaning backwards, their blade inches from my mask.

Light is pouring into my vision, blinding me, and for once in a very long time, I feel warmth. I feel hope. But most importantly, I feel my hunger grow rapidly. I begin to feel my head pounding, my eyes unblinking and seeing red, my body shake at the sheer desire to possess this light!

A single slash by the figure throws me off-balanced. There is a streak of light through me. Startled, I cannot regain my focus and the figure takes advantage of it, knocking my blade out from my hands and reach. Snarling, I draw out several spare darts I keep with me, launching them in direct throws at the figure, only to have it deflected. One flies back at my mask at such a speed, it slices my okami mask in half, revealing my face to the cold and unforgiving air.

My hunger, still present, is not as fervent as it was a few moments ago. A strange and sudden emotion arose in me: desperation.

I run. I run deep into the forest. For all I know, there is only one thing on my mind: I am the one being hunted now.

It isn’t long before the warrior caught up and stun me with the light as they unsheath the sword. I fall onto my back, staring upwards at the wielder of the sword of light. Is my mind tricking me now? Or am I really seeing dark inky coils sprouting from my skin, enveloping me like tightly bound ribbons? I can feel my skull cracking so loudly, my bones shattering and reforming into an awkward shape. Is the darkness corrupting me, a pure soul? I can hear moaning, shrieking, my heart is rapidly beating in sheer panic. Despair!

The mysterious warrior slowly approached me, almost dragging its body to me like a puppet. “I… can help you…”

“No!” I scream, trying to keep my voice firm and determined and failing. “Not from you! I need the light! Give me the light, give me the sword!”

They ignore me, raising the sword above their head. I can feel the dead leaves around me rustling and whirling around me in a fury, the trees creaking and groaning as the angry moonlight shines upon my terrified and pale face, watching me finally caught by the true hunter of the darkness.

“I can save you.”