Aftermath

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. At every step the horrid moon ash grows shallower, as they climb toward the first body. 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, then 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 for 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, silencing 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 is 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. He recognizes the survivor who had rolled down the hillside.

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, dressed in a slave’s rags, lets the luminous orb fall from her hands and land on Richard. He stands, and faces the darkness. Before them, countless bones litter the forest floor. Femurs split in half, marred with savage scars from the monster’s grinding fangs, remnants of crushed skulls, broken for their tender brains, and bloodied rags of shredded clothes adorn the cave’s entrance, memories of those taken. A resounding howl bellows from the entrance, as if the pair stands before the gapping mouth of some snoring giant.

He re-bolts the crossbow and makes his stalking walk forward, surrounded by the blessing’s light.

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