The Hunter — Part 2
There were two things that made Vexian a great place for a hunter. First, there were a plethora of beasts roaming around the lands beyond the castle gates. They were ferocious and killed a lot of people from the nearby villages. There was always some contract that was open for an able-bodied soul who could slay these beasts. It was good money and something proficient hunters could easily benefit from as they roamed around the giant kingdom of Vexian.
Secondly, the morality of said actions had gone down the drain. There were people who were willing to pay money not just to kill beasts but to kill anyone who was believed to be treacherous to the King. There were fewer questions asked and more hunting to be done each passing day. Ever since this land was cursed, people started fearing for their safety. This was definitely not healthy for the kingdom but it was a blessing in disguise for hunters. Anyone who had the money to pay could basically have free will to do what they wanted. The King had stopped stepping out of his castle. He let his militia handle day-to-day tasks and due to which corruption was rampant.
Kaos was one of those hunters. He was out on a contract this fateful night. His goal was simple. He had to find a man who was suspected of harboring beasts in his house. There was no actionable evidence hence the soldiers couldn’t step in. All Kaos had to do was either bring in evidence of this man’s wrongdoing or simply put an end to it. Either way, he was getting paid.
Kaos walked under the moonlight with his boots stepping in mud. He was in one of Vexian’s most downtrodden areas. The silver light shone on the walls of poorly built houses sheltering the low lives of the kingdom. There was rarely any trouble in these parts as the people here were basically slaves to the king. They did construction work, acted as servants to the wealthy, slog their way doing menial tasks, and returned back to a life of starvation and misery. These people had lost any hope of freedom.
Kaos walked through the desolated and ever degrading streets until he crossed the outer city walls. The transition from densely packed population to sparsely occupied lands was imminent right outside the city gates. People who built houses here were as chained to the King as the others inside. The main difference was that they were not protected by the huge city walls. This also meant that the poor folks here could live with little interruption from the guards except for the one odd patrol every week. This made it an ideal hideout for thieves and murderers.
Kaos reached a house right outside the castle walls. It was still a well-built house compared to others in the area. He pulled out a note from his pocket and verified that this was the target. His hand automatically checked for his blade and dagger. He was always prepared for a conflict. He knocked on the wooden door softly making sure he did not alert any nearby houses or drunks. *Thud thud*
He heard a whimper inside. Someone was home. Usually, Kaos wouldn’t be so forthright in his approach. He preferred catching his victim completely unaware and without a chance for retaliation but the shepherd he had met earlier convinced him to hear out his victims.
“Everyone has a right to be heard, no matter how guilty. Blindly killing folks without a chance for them to explain themselves was not the way. We would hardly be any different than the beasts if that was the case.”
The voice echoed in his head as Kaos stood there for a whole minute and knocked again. He was a patient man but only if there was reciprocation. The whimper and raspy breathing from inside grew closer to the door. Kaos could hear him as he whispered “Open the door! I am not here on a contract.” It wasn’t true but he couldn’t see any other way to enter without attracting attention.
There was a huge sigh and a heavy breath and the door opened. It was dark inside and the moonlight barely entered. Kaos saw a thin man with barely any skin on him. He was definitely one of the construction workers as only those people were the most exploited with the least amount of food in them. His nails were black and broken as he used his hand to slide the door open further. Kaos pushed back his cloak to reveal a small torch. He shoved the man aside and entered the house and closed the door behind with a thud.
For a moment, there was only darkness and breathing. The man posed no threat to him but that didn’t put Kaos at ease. There was something else wrong in the house. He didn’t know what but he was on guard. He took out some flint struck it against his blade. The resulting embers fell on the torch and there was light. The man gasped as he took in the sheer height Kaos possessed. Kaos was well built and burly which served him well as a hunter. The man looked at him with a resigned face and said nothing.
Kaos found a chair in the corner and sat down. He could see the entire house from there as the light danced around. There was a bed and a table. Nothing else.
“Are you alone?” Kaos growled.
The man was visibly shaken as he knew if the worst came, he stood no chance. He nodded.
Kaos weighed the gesture but he continued to be alert. “There is a contract on your head. Of harboring beasts in your house. Tell the truth and you might survive.” It was a possibility but the probability was low.
The man whimpered. “Are you a hunter?”
Kaos looked the man dead in the eye. The man gazed away. It was intimidating for even the best to stand in Kaos’s presence and this man was barely living. Kaos nodded, “I am.”
“Then how am I alive? Hunters are known to kill and not to judge.” Saying the sentence took all the courage the man could muster.
Kaos smiled to himself. “Would you rather I kill you now?”
The man walked slowly and unthreateningly towards the bed. He sat down on the bed and weighed his words before he spoke. “I have been dead for a long time. It is just this body breathing its last breaths. Even if you do not kill me, I doubt I have much longer to live.”
Kaos was a bit surprised hearing this. Every word was spoken in a matter-of-fact manner with no emotions. He had known humans to beg for their lives. Had this man suffered so much that he had no more fight left in him? That was very…unfeeling.
“If you do not care for your life, why not atone in your last moments? It is as good of a way to depart this plane as any.” Kaos spoke.
The man looked at Kaos not expecting this level of kindness. To be honest, Kaos wasn’t this generous. Usually, a blade to the throat and some bloodshed did the trick. The shepherd had really driven his message home. This approach was new to Kaos too.
“The contract is not false. But I beg you to let me show you my truth before you decide what to do with me.” The man uttered.
Show? Kaos stiffened at the choice of words. He kept his other hand on the hilt of his blade. The uneasy feeling he had ever since he entered, deepened. “Show me what?”
The man stood up with his hands over his head. “I need to open that door behind.” He pointed to the backdoor of the house which led to another room. Kaos had noticed the door but he didn’t think much of it. Kaos nodded, ready to plunge and make short work of the man in case he tried something.
The door creaked slowly but then opened quietly all the way to reveal another room. Kaos stood up and went over. What he saw froze his blood. There was a huge figure sleeping in the other room. It had claws resting next to its head, hair all over the body, teeth that could rip apart a man’s sternum, and a stench only a beast would have.
Kaos looked over to the man and unsheathed his blade swiftly. The blade made no sound and was at the man’s neck in an instant. The man froze still but managed to utter, “She won’t wake up. I have drugged her. You are not in danger.”
No one moved for a whole minute. Kaos looked over to the beast and saw how it slept. It should have woken up the moment he had drawn his blade yet it slept with no reaction to what had just occurred. His eyes never left the beast yet his blade drew drops of blood from the man’s neck. His mind went on over-drive running scenarios in his head. It would have been near impossible to fight this beast inside the confines of this place. He would have to run out immediately but that would also not help as the beast would easily tear this house apart if it wanted. Yet the beast was silent, they both were alive and standing at the door.
Kaos gestured for the man to close the door. The man with the blade to his neck immediately grabbed the handle and closed the door behind with a soft thud and creak. Kaos listened for any movement from inside the room but except the haphazard snoring of the sleeping beast, he heard nothing.
He slowly withdrew his blade with the knowledge that the man spoke the truth. No beast would ever be sleeping at the slightest hint of a human nearby. He walked back to his chair as quietly as he could while the man grunted his way to the bed.
“I told you, she’s heavily drugged. I have her under control.” The man said softly with a soft hint of pride in his voice.
“Why did you call it she?” Kaos whispered.
“What else would I call her? She’s my daughter.” The man replied.
Kaos was sincerely taken aback by this. This was definitely a first. He had known of no beast turned from humans. “That’s impossible.”
“Not it isn’t. I know what she is in your eyes. But to me, she’s my daughter.”
“You cannot control any beast. I should call the guards right now and end this lunacy that you have conjured inside your little head.” Kaos spoke, angered.
“I told you I will show you the truth. This is it. My daughter went out a week ago to collect berries out in the forest. When she didn’t come back by evening, I went looking out for her. I knew something was wrong. She was never this late. I found her wounded in this form. She had no clothes on except the scarf that I has stitched. It was still wrapped around her…her hand. She pled for me to help. What should I have done? Leave her be. She is my blood.” The man started to weep.
“Was. Even if anything you said is true, she was your blood. She stopped being your blood the moment she transformed into that monstrosity.” Kaos spoke.
“You may be right and I am not going to argue. I know what I am doing. It is wrong in your eyes but when did that ever stop anyone? The fucking guards exploit us to no extent and no one bats an eye. Is that right? The nobles in the upper city starved us just for being poor. Is that right? The King abandons us as the curse sweeps through our blood. Is that right?” The man was angry but tears streamed from his eyes. “I do not have anyone else to live for. If she dies, I die.”
Kaos was at a loss for words. Killing this man would be simple and easy. The beast behind the door was a different story. It would probably kill a lot many people so close to the kingdom before going down. He put his torch in the fireplace and walked over to the front door. He thought about what to do as the man silently wept.
After what felt like an eternity, Kaos knew what needed to be done. “You have to leave this place if you have any chance of surviving. It is only a matter of time before another hunter comes this way or even worse, the royal guards. They would kill the beast and skin you for your crime.”
The man listened without any expression. Kaos was unsure of what he was doing. “You said it was drugged and asleep. Do you know for how long?”
“A few more hours. I make her a strong dose and feed her twice so that she sleeps through night and day. Otherwise…” The man didn’t need to finish the sentence.
“You will take it away into the forest right now.”
“But where will I go? I have no place to shelter us except this.”
Kaos stood up and grabbed the man’s throat. He was angry at the sheer stupidity of this low life. Not only did he endanger himself but everyone around him. No one was safe as long as the beast slept here. He wanted to kill him now and call the guards to have the beast killed while it slumbered. That would have been the most practical choice. The man was struggling to breathe as Kaos lifted him up against the wall. He heard the beast’s breath from behind the wall. Nothing but gasps of the devil. The beast truly was out of its senses.
Kaos put the man down and took a breath. The shepherd’s words went through his head once again.
“If the man is guilty, put him down, no questions asked. But if he has even a shred of the reasoning behind his wrongdoing, should he not deserve a chance, no matter how small?”
Damn you, shepherd. Kaos muttered beneath his breath. The man was convinced that the beast was his daughter. In his head, he was protecting his family. No matter how absurd it sounded.
“You have one hour. There is a small castle ruin just beyond the forest to the east in the lands beyond. You can stay there until you figure out where to go next. That should be enough shelter and no guard from the kingdom would venture that far. Do not return back. If you do, I will be the last face you see. If you are not gone from this house within the hour, you will find the royal guards at your door. Consider this your last act of mercy.”
Kaos waited for the man to say something. The man stood up massaging his throat and nodded. “I will make sure we are gone. What will you tell the guards about the contract?”
Kaos had already thought about that. He took out multiple glass bottles, red as wine, from his cloak and uncorked them. He splashed the red viscous liquid onto the walls of the house artfully. When he was done, no one could question that someone wasn’t killed inside the house.
Kaos glanced one last time at the man and without a word he was out the door and into the wind. He was still taken aback at the event that just unfolded. He was even more taken aback by how he had let things transpire. This curse was making people go out of their senses. The situation was worsening. He hated the day he landed in Vexian. Things were far simpler before he had ever entered Vexian. A lot less complicated before he had met the shepherd. Now, he couldn’t leave and this curse would be the end of him.
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Hi, I am Tushir, and thank you for reading one of my short stories. If you liked this, you will love what is coming up.
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