The Light of Hope (15.2) The Hunter

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PART 2

Zaniyah jumped thrice and reached for the pieces of the broken entrance that were still standing, to pull herself faster in a moment of desperation. The beast was soaring, that was evident from the lack of noise, it was soaring to either cut her off or, if she was fast enough, crush her.

The Hunter’s hands grasped against the shattered stone and pulled, she rapidly turned and ran off the side of the entrance but the beast hit her just as she was about to clear the entrance.

“Ahh!”

She got thrown against the wall but she was so high on the adrenaline pumping through her body that the pain and wound was left forgotten. She bounced off, landed on her feet and glanced at the beast, seeing it half-out the entrance, some of the stone collapsing around it, reaching its claws for her.

She leaned out of the way of a thrust, rolled back, then dove forward and slapped the ground to vault her body over the claw that had attempted to impale her and failed. This was particularly difficult because, in the mess of it all, she was no longer aware of which hand was holding the amulet, which led to her performing the move with her fists tightly clenched.

The Hunter hit the ground running but almost immediately tripped due to a really sharp pain coming from her side, where she had gotten hit. She managed not to fall, however, limping her way into an awkward run.

She skipped on her left leg every five steps then started running by jumping, she’d jump and land on the same left leg which didn’t make her right side hurt as much, even though it still pained her considerably.

Zaniyah heard the heavy crushing of the beast giving chase.

I will make it! I will make it!

She followed the trail of destruction it had already left on its way in, past the tomb rooms and back into the corridors filled with traps. Fortunately, the rooms were much smaller than Jakaraiah’s tomb, which meant much sharper turns, all close to each other.

The corridors also didn’t have that high a ceiling so the beast couldn’t leap as high, and thus as long, as it wanted. She noticed there were dents left in them, the beast was leaping against the ceilings anyways.

 The Hunter saw the broken traps, none of them had posed any danger to the beast, if they even provoked any pause. She reached the room with the walls of arrows and stopped with a wince. Her mind was back with enough control to remember she should consider that room for a moment.

Damn.

She had surpassed that trap by simply outrunning the arrows. How would she repeat the feat with her wounds? She then noticed she was holding the magical stone, the one that glowed, in the hand that wasn’t holding the amulet.

That was good.

She also glanced down at the wound finally, finding a puncture large enough to shock her. Frowning, she looked back to see a trail of bloody spots.

Crap.

It didn’t look like anything too important had been skewered, she would survive if she could tend to them. She would certainly die, and soon, if she could not. Immediately, she pulled the scarf out from the neck and tied it around her entire torso, covering both the side wound and part of whatever wound now plagued her back.

She tightened it in a grunt of pain.

“Ughn.”

She heard more ceilings and ground being crushed, and bellows. Why did it bellow like that? On the other hand, they wouldn’t call them beasts if they were completely silent. But it sounded so angry, so furious, even though it held no sort of face with which to express any emotion.

The Hunter looked forward a bit more carefully to find there was stone scattered across the floor. She raised an eyebrow.

The arrows are shot due to the pressurized floor. It was pretty sensitive too.

Gingerly, she stepped onto the trap, she had the speed to back-off in case the first three arrows came out.

They didn’t. None did.

Out of ammo!

She jumped, cursing at herself with words she didn’t know the meaning off. She could have just kept going!

The beast crashed into the room just as she was exiting it. Its wail boomed again.

Her mind was back at work. In her awkward mix of running, jumping and limping, she opened her hand to look at the Amulet. It was a white thing, it glistened, but it wasn’t glowing or anything, it was just made out of a kind of metal that had not gained an inch of rust in the centuries it had been down there next to a corpse.

It had an inscription but it wasn’t in the language that was on the tombs, it was something she didn’t know.

It matched the drawings, however, and that was enough. The Hunter had her prize. She pushed it into the safety of her pouch.

She also had roughly five minutes to come up with how she would climb up the stairs that had turned into a ramp, which would lead her to the jungle. There was no way she could pull off the splits and jumps in her state.

Zaniyah wasn’t one for smiles, but she produced one when she saw the state of the ramp.

Yes, she gazed up at a ramp full of dents created by the beast as it made its way down. They were small craters its weight had produced as it fell. She could climb them, even in her state.

Zaniyah put the glowing stone away and vaulted over the pit that was still there, its edges half-broken since the beast had apparently fallen into it without really fitting inside.

She grabbed onto the ledge and climbed onto the ramp just as the beast arrived. It would be considerably slowed down by the ramp but so would she.

Frantically, Zaniyah flailed up the ramp, too stressed to control her breathing, or to notice her bleeding

Come on come on come on…

The ramp and walls around her shuddered in response to crashing. She glanced back to see the beast, its black spherical eyes stuck turned looking straight at her. The thing couldn’t leap, not in that small space, and not up the ramp, and yet it tried. A mechanical echo boomed its characteristic threatening bellow as it crushed its way up, thrashing at the structure in the violent, desperate effort to reach her.

She kept climbing. Jumping, diving, grasping and pulling her body on. Her wounds hurt and opened and tried to motivate her to calm down, but she didn’t. She let them bleed, she let them hurt, she didn’t care.

The Hunter was running for her life, for Mother Superior and the Wild Felids, for the world, most probably. It occurred to her the amulet could maybe be a weapon she could use right then, but no, she didn’t want to think about that, she didn’t want to risk it. Zaniyah was terrified of making a mistake; of dying there and allowing that potential weapon to fall into the beast’s hands.

So to speak.

She jumped out the entrance to the staircase and into a bath of moonlight. The entrance ruptured behind her as she ran towards one of the tree’s roots that had penetrated the temple. She drew a dagger and passed it to her left arm, still breathing way too abnormally; she knew she would be exhausted in minutes, but if she hadn’t escaped by then, it wouldn’t matter if she was tired or not.

She need to stop and tend to the wound. Fast.

Zaniyah leaped and thrust at the root and pulled with all her strength. The Beast crashed against the wall the root was descending on, also crushing the root.

“AHHHh!” The Hunter kicked the beast to help herself jump and stabbed at the root again. The beast gnawed at the wall, trying to climb, but its claws just skidded and dragged down by its weight. She kept her pouch securely with her right hand while she aggressively lashed out at the root in the effort to climb.

The Hunter made it to the window, her heart beating too fast and tiredness starting to make itself felt over the throbbing pain in her side. She looked down to see that the beast was hunched down, about to leap.

“AH!” She leaped out the window without a proper look at if she could survive it. Again, if she didn’t, she wouldn’t. The window was around two stories high, usually not a bad fall, but she was in a jungle, and there was no telling how high she’d really fall.

The window and part of the wall ruptured in the beast’s wake like cardboard. Parts of the debris still hit her hard enough to hurt as the beast thankfully went over her, it had overshot its jump.

She grabbed onto a vine, it didn’t hold her weight, but it carried her the inches she needed to reach the trunk of a tree with her dagger. It gashed as it brought her descent to a stop at about the same time she heard the beast land.

It howled again, but as she looked around and found herself amidst a deep and heavy jungle, her breathing immediately became regular.

The Hunter was in her domain now. And it was open and chaotic and dense.

Her escape was assured.


Once she was sure the violent thrashing of the jungle was lost somewhere in a different direction than hers, she was finally able to stop to tend to her wounds.

They worried her somewhat as it had taken a beast a mere nudge on the Sorcerer to kill her. She hissed as the scarf, stuck to her bloody torso, peeled off a bit painfully to show the wound on her side.

Hm…

A normal puncture wound. And her back was recognizably hurting, slash wound. More scars on her body but other than that, nothing otherworldly deadly. Sorcerer had been nudged, but she had been fully in the range of a leap, the Hunter had kept herself just barely out of it, that had been the difference.

Cursed things.

She smelled the air and looked around, something she had to do often in the jungle, it was part of a routine. Every few seconds, one should become aware of what surrounded them.

There was a large snake slithering past three trees away. A couple of birds had perched on a neighboring branch, unable to tell whether Zaniyah was actually dying or not. Insects surrounded her, it wouldn’t be long until her wounds were in danger of infection because of them.

Finally, of more import, she sought after a river.

She flipped the scarf and tied it again, the clean part, before moving on. Even if she had escaped, it would still be a long journey back to anywhere where she could pass along the amulet.

There were still days of the jungle to handle, and that wasn’t something she could underestimate.

The Hunter found some berries that were safe to eat, and some roots that, after washing, would help close the wound. She collected large long leaves that were natural to that jungle’s trees, they would provide proper bandaging.

She did her best to hurry, she knew her wounds could be smelled for miles around. She was lucky enough none of the wild cats had come calling, though maybe one or two were already stalking her. She didn’t think so, though.

Once she reached the river, she had to again be careful about it. She didn’t see any predators waiting in the waters, which only meant it had things in it that scared them.

“Tch.”

The birds flew away overhead, now unconvinced there would be anything left of her after she died. The water, crystal clear in the normal day, showed nothing but the dark sky it reflected. It was obvious.

Alright.

She had to keep moving. She unwrapped her scarf and threw it long into the other end of the river. The fast moving water quickly carried it along and, within five seconds, an army of little fish critters were on it, gnashing in desperation to find whatever meat was producing the blood.

Zaniyah quickly reached down into the water with her hands and splashed, trying to clean her wound, eyes on the carnivorous fish. Once she caught even a glimpse of the attack on her scarf subsiding, she grabbed one of the leaves, submerged it and pulled it out.

She pulled away from the water and scraped her side and back with different sides of the leaf, and then threw it back at the water. The fish attacked again, but a bigger part of them stayed near the edge, where the blood she had washed out had lingered.

Breathing tired, grunting as silently as possible, in pain, she ground the roots into a paste and spread them over her side. Fortunately, she was nimble enough to also reach the wound on her back.

Then she tied the leaves.

She walked away, smelling herself to gauge how much she would still be regarded as prey. Zaniyah was content but knew that she should find a safe place anyways, and wait. As much as she was in a hurry, it would be brash and stupid to just run off. Fighting anytime soon would re-open the wounds and make it all worse.

She heard a faint, far-away bellow.

The beast was still trying to find her. She didn’t know if all that noise was good or not, whether it would attract attention or divert it towards her.  

The Hunter stalked carefully through thick bushes and large plants, doing her best to not upset creatures by stepping into their space. Her dagger cut ahead whenever it needed to. She wanted to be away from the river, it was a source of attention, the point in the jungle where anything alive would go to to keep themselves that way.

She climbed a tree then, with the help of her dagger. Zaniyah made sure she didn’t smell anything particularly off about it, she didn’t want to stumble into the home of a pack of monkeys or apes, or some nest of a family of birds of prey.

She wanted to be left alone.

Climbing the tree alone was a risk, her wounds were not yet fully closed, but then again, neither were they bleeding that much anymore either.

Zaniah crawled away from the main trunk, many dangerous things liked to live in tree trunks, and settled on the very large branch she had picked. Hidden by the flora that dressed it, and by the neighboring trees, she found a position to lie down didn’t make the wounds worse.

Carefully, she breathed out her relief.

The Hunter wouldn’t get any decent sleep. There was a time, long past, in which she could have done that, but in her time with the Wild Felids, she had gotten used to actually being safe and having moderate silence.

There was none of that in a jungle, not even a little bit.

It never quieted down. The noise of beasts fighting for their lives, or copulating to create more, was omnipresent. The disrespect for the food chain was remarkable, as well, ants would climb up the tree, burrow through her head and just eat her from the inside out if she allowed it. The territorial belligerence was incomparable, a spider would kill her just because of proximity, even while having no interest in her whatsoever, not even to use as a nest.

Finally, the bugs. The berries would help with that, they were a secret she had learned from the tribe, the one now long dead. They gave Zaniyah a breath that was foul to most flies.

No, she wouldn’t catch any decent sleep, but sleep wasn’t what she needed, it was healing.

I will wait until dusk comes again, she decided. She knew, from her interactions with other people, that many would be bored by the prospect. Sitting still for almost an entire day?

The Hunter was used to waiting, however. If she was anything, it was patient, and patience would see to her survival. She had no problem lying in wait.

The bad thoughts would come. The lousy memories, the bothering creeping past that was always in the back of her mind, waiting for the front to become idle.

Sometimes, circumstances are such that one just cannot avoid bad experiences. In fact, that had been one of the very first things she had learned, on the very first day she had become a woman. By her Tribe’s standards.

Why she was sad over what had happened to them was still one of the biggest mysteries to her. About her heart.

Maybe one day she would understand it.

Maybe that was the day she would. With a heavy sigh, she allowed the back of her mind to unfold like an ever-expanding scroll.

Zaniyah let her thoughts run wild.

Painful.

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