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The Hunt

It was dark as we returned to camp and a cold autumn mist licked at our heels. We had been unsuccessful – the battle had been furious and bloody and the beast had fled before the might of my sword and the grace of your bow but deep, burning wounds had stopped us from giving chase and we returned to our camp, heads low with shame and exhaustion.
<P>
We spoke little as we wove – stumbled – naked through the mist-wrapped trees, you beside me but one step behind. I watched you closely stumbling in the moonlight: sweat and dew had plastered your dark hair to your face and pain clouded your silver eyes; a deep rent sliced across your chest where the beast had tried to find your heart, the blood that flowed from it was dark with poison and fever. I had fared little better – my breathing was shallow and laboured from a ragged gash across my throat, while black blood flowed from several puncture wounds in my scalp where the beast had tried to shatter my mind.
<P>
And he had almost succeeded.
<P>
The light of a campfire flickered in the distance, a dismal beacon of hope against the shadowy dark of the forest. Yet, with every step the light seemed to grow more distant and the mist more cold more dense and all too soon the light had diffused into a muted golden glow then finally… nothing, just the cold white damp of autumn mist.
<P>
I felt the danger approaching more than I saw it, like a spectral hand that raked its icy talons down my spine. I stopped and a heartbeat later, you stopped too. You looked at me, your eyes white with fear as the weight of a shadow slammed me to the ground, my sword skittering from my grasp as razor claws biting into the flesh of my back. Blood bubbled from my lungs, staining the ground as it dripped from my lips, and my eyes swam in darkness. An arrow whistled past my ear and the weight was gone.
<P>
“Stay,” you whispered, your breath hot against my cheek. “Stay with me. I can’t fight without you.”
<P>
Breathing an assent, I struggled to my hands and knees, my teeth clenched to bite back the pain. My sword laid before me and I reached for it with a blood-slicked hand, using it as a crutch as I forced myself to my feet. Swaggering from pain and exhaustion, I hefted the sword before me and through a cloud of blood, looked around me.
<P>
In the time it had taken me to rise, you had already nocked another arrow. Like the string of your bow, your body was taut with an energy both deadly and sexual; you loosed the arrow and reached for another in a singular movement of fluid sensuality.
<P>
As the arrow found its mark, I turned to confront the horror that beset us and found myself facing the living embodiment of emptiness. The creature was twisted and knotted beyond all reckoning, dark, ragged and misshapen. It walked – if its ungainly gait could be called such – on cloven hooves, the dirt on the back of its knuckles evidence that its razor-sharp talons were used as much for balance as they were for offence. But most horrifying of all was the creature’s face – a man’s face, twisted and bitter below a knot of jagged horns. If it hadn’t been for the look of unabashed hate in the beast’s eyes, I could almost have pitied it; as it was, I could barely contain the loathing I felt for such a twisted, maligned creature.
<P>
The beast had stumbled under the force of your arrow, bellowing in rage as it raised its clawed hand to tear the offending splinter from its shoulder. Forcing back tears of pain, I rushed the creature, my sword slicing through the tendons of its hand as yet another arrow lodged in the monster’s putrid flesh. The creature screamed in agony, striking out in blind rage with its crippled talon; I ducked, and as the beast’s wild flailing left it exposed, plunged my blade into its chest.
<P>
Too late I realised my mistake and my sword splintered, shattering against a heart harder and colder than stone itself. The force of my failed attack caused me to stumble back, over-balanced, and the beast advanced on me, a gleam of brazen malice burning in its eyes. It was if I was looking into the soul of evil itself… and realisation slammed into me.
<P>
“The eyes. Aim for its eyes!”
<P>
No sooner had the words left my lips than the monster screeched in pain, the shaft of an arrow blossoming from its left eye. It reached for the arrow, clawing its own flesh in an effort to pull it from its eye, but it had lodged too deep. The creature stumbled to its knees and an arrow slammed into its right eye.
<P>
You were at my side even before the beast collapsed into death throes. There were tears in your eyes as you studied my wounds, and a look of surprise as I pulled you into a deep kiss. I released you, smiling, and you helped me to my feet, wrapping your arm around my waist. We stumbled, slowly, into the mist.
<P>
“Together, my love. Always together.”

The Hunt

Todd Payne

Joined January 2008

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  • Robert Knapman
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