This is the third post in this vein, and I feel enough revisions, especially of the second part, credits posting the original two works along with their continuation.
I will post the parts below in order.
Darkness grows like spidery legs crawling through the window, long black shadows invading the cabin. The night’s spreading tentacles cross the face of the sleeping man. He stirs and wakens. The dying sun was barely lit, and outside it pathetically fades away like drowned embers. Rising, the naked man drinks in the last rays of life giving day. Twilight sinks into night as the glowing red of the moon rises over the horizon. Quickly, he plucks his tattered garments off the floor.
Ancients tell of a war, a forgotten weapon, and the moon’s changing to blood. It’s a good epic, something for old men to sing to little children by the safety of the flames. But the reasons why, the misremembered past the poets tell, do not worry the cabin’s occupant. The world turns red with the ascending moon, displacing the brief black interim of night. Already, he has finished masking his face with a long and dirtied scarf, winding it up from his neck to the top of his head.
He fights with a glove, trying to fit it over his hand. The moon’s foreboding rays reach toward him as the life giving sunbeams had. He backs up against a wall. Along the floor the bloodied light creeps, slowly filling the cabin. The first glove finally slides over his wrist, but the second rests on the counter, already claimed by the red of the moonbeams.
He hugs his bare hand under an armpit and steps into the deadly rays. Outside the moon trees begin to bloom, filling the air with their dusty pollen. The window’s light dims within the cabin, blotted by the clouds of moon ash.
In the almost darkness, Richard seizes the glove, yet, even in the bleak shadowy room, his naked hand blisters before its covering. Finally, secure from red death, his heavy footsteps carry him to the window. Outside the fog of pollen enfolds the world in mystery denying far seeing eyes any insight down the paths they tread. Below the square frame of glass, leaning against the wooden planks of the wall, rests a different kind of security than tattered wrappings.
Both hands gently reach under the crossbow and cradle it into his chest. Without thinking Richard’s fingers curl about the handle. The butt and shoulder meet, fitting better than puzzle pieces. He takes a moment to look down the faithful instrument, aiming at his paraphernalia.
He takes sight of the pillow where the indent of his head lies. Click, the empty mechanism sounds. A duffel bag lies in the corner by the door. Click. A chair. Click. Looking up into the ceiling he focuses on one of hundreds of flat strips of bamboo dangling from invisible strings, his stars, his conquests, his history. Click. Lowering the weapon he lifts one hand and runs it through his life’s work. They softly tingle in the moonmorning.
Knock, knock, knock. A caller interrupts the morning chimes. He looks over to the disruption. His wooden stars settle and end their song as he straps the crossbow behind his back, and, sighing, walks across the room.
The wooden lock scrapes against the thin boards of the cabin as Richard opens the door. In the redlight a figure, covered in moon ash, holds out a flat strip of bamboo. The visitor wears the dark clothes of a fellow hunter, but, without face or weapon, hides in anonymity.
Richard reaches from the shadowy cabin and takes the proffered job. They salute, and the messenger turns on his heels and walks away. He fades into the red mist, the clinking of further deliveries playing long after him into the moonday.
Abomination unknown, reads the first line, countless slain. He skims over the list of chieftains who have pledged to pay the hunters’ due, and finds the name of the besieged town. In a little drilled hole at the top of the bamboo he threads a bit of string and ties the wood over his heart. Picking up the duffel bag lying by the door he treads down his chosen path.
As the moon ascends to her full height the clouds of pollen settle on the ground, raining like volcanic ash. It falls upon the caravan, clinging to every crevice of cloth draped around those wayfarers. Red dust builds into a blanket along the road, inches deep at parts. The world emerges from the crimson fog. A single set of tracks goes before the travelers, terminating in a little figure the size of a thumb. Tachi watches this vanguard’s tireless trek, and remembers his passing in the early moonmorning.
Like a ghost he broke through the mists behind them, his presence nearly unnoticed. Passing each of their members without a glance or word he marched ahead of their line and disappeared into the thick wall of moon ash in front of them, a momentary specter. The only memento of his passing was the faint echoes of the crossbow clinking regularly in the unseen distance ahead. The hunter’s sign rested over his heart, foreboding of a monster’s presence.
As the little figure approaches the fork Tachi prays to the sun he will turn left. Over the hill’s crest he disappears down the rightmost path. “It’s bad luck to tread the way of a hunter,” she whispers to herself. Tachi breaks from the line and the train stops. In the glimmer of the redlight she takes three paces from her company, turns, and kneels before them. The faceless spectators, known only by their spot in line, turn and look down upon her. Bowing, she presses her face into the dust.
“Your most excellent pardon,” she begins. Sitting up from her reverent position she places her hands together and holds them before her face. Resting on her knees, she continues, “A hunter hunts before us. Is the left not as pleasant as the right? Can tradesmen not sell and barter in another town?”
No answer comes. Their leader turns towards the road and obediently the line of robed figures pivot. Dust flies from their clothes forming a cloud around them. She rolls back onto her toes and stands, holding her hands before herself the whole time. Bowing head once more she says, “Your humblest indulgence, master.”
Tachi reenters the line, and they return to their march, following in the hunter’s footsteps. The moon ash has stilled its airy dance and lays upon the ground where chance ordains. They begin to climb the hillside. The drying pollen now crunches beneath their feet. One by one they come atop the crest. Tachi watches the descending heads before her, till finally it is her moment to mount the peak.
In a little dale rests the simple mud huts of farmers. A conflagration of the denizens make a half circle about a dark spot, the hunter. Little ants crawl out of the earth and gather about this strange assassin. A screaming breaks her trailing thoughts. From behind a hand pushes, and Tachi stumbles out of line. A voice calls out. Beneath her feet the caked moon ash slides, and she collapses onto the slanted earth. The momentum is too great, and an avalanche of pollen sweeps her tumbling form into the dell.
Twisting and turning, she knows not which way is up. Enveloped within her own cloud of dust she descends. The barren slope holds no recourse, her grasping hands find nothing to latch onto and stop her fall. Down she goes until, suddenly, her rolling journey ceases as her head rams into something solid as stone. Obscured by the cloud she grasps the unseen obstruction, and feels the hard calf of a man. As the dust settles she looks up into the dread hunter’s black mask.
His crossbow is raised. He fires. Keeping hold of this bulwark Tachi twists her head to follow the shaft’s flight. Over the hill it goes, just sailing by the hairy shadow descending the other side of the slope. Her caravan lays scattered along the hill, her slave-masters lie dead.
Together they crawl up the hill, their legs sinking knee deep into the mounds of pollen. They follow the path Tachi had earlier tumbled down. The farmers all gather around the base of the slope, women and children with the men, watching the hunter’s ascension. With every step the horrid moon ash grows shallower till they reach the first body and stop. It had rolled a good three quarters down from the peak, and the center of the carnage.
The gushing blood boils in the moon’s redlight, mixing with the ever-present dust. It pours from his neck and mouth like water from a delta, a river emptying into the boundless sea. The skin of his exposed face has begun peeling around the forehead, revealing bleached bone underneath. The rest of his features are disguised under countless erupting blisters. In another minute of redlight only a skull will remain. The hunter inspects the dead man with a glance and marches on, but Tachi stays and kneels beside the body.
“May your spirit rise to the sun,” she prays. Placing a hand over her eyes while resting the other on the dead man’s shoulder she adds, “And let that light burn from you your wickedness, that you find peace.”
With this rite the body softly glows a moment, and as it dims to naught she lowers her hand. Rising, Tachi looks up the path to see the hunter already standing by the other victims. The crossbow is loaded, its sight roaming the crest’s edge. He walks on, his crouched steps taking him over the hill.
The abomination’s path is marked by the pollen, its tracks leading into the surrounding forest. A howl breaks through the moon birds’ cackling cries and silences the animals’ commotion. In the valley the huddled masses cling to each other, praying the sun to rise soon.
The hunter descends the mount, sliding down the pollen like it was snow. He slows to a halt and waits for the clouds to part about him, the crossbow ever at the ready. As the fog settles, the hunter looks to the tracks. There they go, under the shadowy canopy of the forest where not even the moonlight dares enter.
He enters. The blanket of pollen, once so ready to betray the monster, grows thin and then is gone. The signs to follow become vague, a broken twig, a disturbed rock, scratches on a log, and the path only grows darker.
The hunter stops before a wall of blackness, impossible to encroach upon. Ahead the path disappears into the recesses of that mysterious eternal night. He stands still, hoping his eyes adjust to the darkness. A new howl echoes through the trees, bouncing off their boughs from every angle. It surrounds the armed man, coming from behind, then the left, and then the front. The monster is everywhere.
Then the clean light of day begins to build, eviscerating the red taint of the moon. The hunter turns to see a small figure, a young man or a woman, coming his way. Tachi approaches, chanting the sun song. Above her outstretched hands floats a brilliant ball of light. As her soft voice cuts through the howling echoes Richard recognizes the singing of a woman. She comes beside him and the darkness flees. He lowers the crossbow and kneels before her.
“Rise, hunter, and take this blessing.” The priestess, adorned in a slave’s rags, lets the luminous orb fall from her hands and land on Richard. He stands, and faces the darkness.