2. Foreboding

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, ‘til 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 long mournful howl breaks her trailing thoughts. Before she can turn around, a hand comes from behind and pushes. 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 lies scattered along the hill, her slave-masters dead.



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