To Be Challenged (2.2) The Hunter

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PART 2

Eliza smiled, pleased. “An answer worthy of The Hunter. And what is your interest in this competition?”

“I…” she gave it a moment’s thought, gauging her own feelings, “I wish to test my skill against the best. I wish to find out if I am the best.”

“A good answer,” she wrote it down. “Welcome to the Shadow Conclave.”

She put away the small scroll and then faced Zaniya, cupping her hands together on top of the scroll.

“This year, we have many competitors, so we will be hosting a three-match tournament to single out the best. Your first trial will take place in the city of Japien, in the orient. Do you know it?”

“Yes.” She did not really, she had never been there, but she could read a map just fine.

“It will be held in the Seventeenth of October, from sunset to sunrise. There will be thirty two of you in total. Only sixteen will advance to the following round. You may use whatever gear you wish, whatever strategy you wish, but your starting point will be dictated by this,” she handed a map to Zaniya.

Good, giving me a map already. She looked at it and noticed the marking of her position; it was on the outskirts of the city. Immediately, she could guess everyone was being placed in a perimeter around the city, and knowing they were thirty two, she made a quick and probably correct prediction of where all others would be positioned.

“And finally, here is the gear that we provide…”

She took a small pouch and a scroll from the drawer, and pushed them towards Zaniya.

“The pouch is magical, it will transfer anything you put in it into our vault, tag it and price it.

But be aware, not that I need to tell you, but anything that is worthless, or near enough to that, will count negatively towards your score. So no use just piling everything you see into the pouch, we have enough socks, believe me.” She chuckled but the Hunter was too nervous to laugh at anything.

“I understand.”

“Your ability to correctly appraise valuables is hence of use, but in the end, it is as simple as having made the most amount of money. The scroll is provided by the Kagekawa, it gives us the ability to silently communicate with you. Look to it for information, like the start and ending of a match.”

Zaniya took the items with a nod.

“That will be all. If you start outside your given starting position, you are disqualified. If you cause permanent physical harm to anyone, you are disqualified. If you use the pouch outside of the official period of competition, you are disqualified. If you lose any of these two items, you’re also disqualified.”

Hunter looked up at Eliza with inquisitively.

“Yes? You have a question?”

“May… others attempt to steal… this from me?”

Eliza smirked knowingly.

“Yes,” she answered, “and you can steal from them, too.”

“Okay.”

“Heh, every one of you asks that question, it is quite promising to see.””

Zaniya stood up with a slight bow, and waited for Eliza’s word. Eliza smiled peacefully at her.

“Are you also representing the Wild Felids?”

“Yes.” She had been warned this question would come up. Answering yes meant that if she won, the prestige and protection would be extended to the group.

“Very well,” she wrote it down, and then started rolling close the prophecy scroll. “May fortune favor you, Hunter.”

“No. My skill… will favor me,” Zaniya seriously stated, bowing her head again before turning to leave.

She walked out and followed a guide back into normal land. The guide left her alone, confirming it was now up to her to make it to Japien on time. She looked around for the child but she was nowhere to be found.

Good. It is better that I not meet any of the contestants.

Still, she felt she should be on her toes and never let her guard down. She had no interest in robbing the others of the items, thereby hindering their participation. It felt dishonorable and very much contrary to her purpose, she would instead focus on not letting that happen to her.

First however, she would find a zeppelin to carry her to her destination.

Japien was a crowded city with little to no night life. Buildings were close together, stacked with floors ranging from one to ten, and had roofs that were easy to traverse even though most of them were heavily diagonal. The street lighting was not electric, instead being provided by little balloons tied to the ground. The fire inside rose them up, illuminating the environment through them, the ties kept them from escaping into the sky.

They made those balloons in different colors which generated a cacophony of luminescence all around the city, and because the light was provided by fire, it made the city seem all the more pulsing and alive. It had quite the beauty to it, the Hunter was forced to admit.

What they did during stormy weather however was anyone’s guess, but then again, maybe they didn’t have that stormy a weather.

This type of lighting, however, generated a lot of shadows. The crackling of the fire alone also produced noise cover, which was usually what concerned her the least but still.

She again looked at the scroll.

27 of 32 Contestants have arrived.

Countdown to Begin: 123 seconds.

They were updating it by the second, which was impressive to be sure. She again looked around from the cover of her ten story high roof, but she could not see anyone of note.

This is Kagekawa territory, she noted to herself, The Shadow will feel right at home.

The headquarters of Kagekawa were located on an island just off the coast of Japien. Where on the island was the question, but they were there, which meant this whole match was taking place in their territory. In the Shadow’s backyard.

He should be knowledgeable as to the points of higher value. If I can locate him, I can trail him to them.

Of course the question was if she could fool the senses of one of her most skilled opponents. It occurred to her then that she did not know who anyone was, would they be as easy to recognize as competitors as she herself was?

30 of 32 Contestants have arrived.

Countdown to Begin: 53 seconds.

She felt it was a considerable advantage to already know the child was a competitor, she would never have guessed that one in particular. She wondered how many would elude her.

Better to assume competition than to be fooled. I have little information but what little I have is that they do not have a night life here. Anyone I see in the streets is a potential threat.

The Daredevil has been disqualified.

The Competition in Japien has now begun.

The Hunter looked around for a few seconds longer to see if she saw anyone moving, and when she didn’t, she closed her eyes and sensed.

She had a sixth sense about prey…and this prey didn’t exactly have to be alive. Valuables always generate anxiety from their proprietors, dead or alive, and she could feel it in the air.

She breathed, feeling her senses extending their sensibility. She could now feel wind despite being produced by the near-stale air around her. She could feel the heat coming from two lights that were near her building, her eyes, even closed, could see the blurred spots of those lights against her eye-lids. Her feet now recognized she was stepping on ceramic tiles and what little hairs she had rose up as if she was cold, giving her a better appraisal of the environment around her. Finally, she could hear a couple snoring in the room below, and the two aforementioned fires crackling, muffled by the balloons that contained them.

She opened her eyes, looking down at the whole building she was standing on.

Good.

She rolled forward, grabbing onto the ledge and skillfully vaulting into the balcony below, landing silently. She drew her blow tube just in case and slid open the door, they opened to the side and into the wall, instead of outwards or inwards.

It sounded noisy to her but she knew it wasn’t.

The doors are quiet too. I believe this will be the easiest of locations to work in.

She walked right past the couple’s bed and silently browsed through the cabinets and other furniture. Again, it all sounded noisy to her but she knew none of it was.

A jewelry box lightened up her mood, but as she was about to put the first bracelet into the pouch, she aimed her blowgun at the couple just in case it would make any sort of noise. All she heard though was a very feint muffled swoosh. And if it was that quiet to her, it would be near silent to everyone else.

Good.

A watch followed, and some other things. Everything that shined or felt like a valuable metal, she put into the pouch. She saw a small statue that, at first glance, was just a wooden little thing of no value. But she knew better. She put it into the pouch with a slight smile.

My experience as a treasure hunter will still come in handy.

Silently and cautiously, she went over the whole house before leaving, sliding the door shut behind her. She approached the balcony and looked over with all the attention she could muster, but saw no one. She focused for a minute and felt nothing but the valuables on the lower floor.

Good.

She vaulted over the balcony and climbed down, then dropping herself to land on the next floor under. Silently.

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