Story Dice 5 – The Old Huntress

 

This story is later than planned, thanks to my cat going missing. Thankfully we found her after a week and she’s okay now, but the question of “where did she get to, I wonder?” inspired me to write this tale. It’s got some magic, some chances taken and some happiness to boot. Hope you enjoy it!

The Huntress stared out from under cover of the dense, strangely angular foliage, willing the rain to pass so that she could carry on her quest. Cold water ran in streams down either side of the shaped stone concourse, guttering through metal grids and down into whatever underworld existed below. She winced as one of the giant, noisy things went by, harsh light flooding from the front of it that hurt her single eye. The Noisy Things had something to do with the dominant species in this world, the ones that Hunters referred to as the Strange Ones and the Familiars called the Masters. The Strange Ones seemed to be able to enter and exit Noisy Things at will and, with some manner of arcane interaction, they were able to make the Noisy Things move over long distances very quickly.

Strange Ones certainly lived up to their names, though they weren’t inherently bad. They built things out of the shaped stone, cut the foliage into angular patterns, stressed and worried about nonsense things and, it seemed, they liked the companionship of other creatures. The Huntress lived with two such Strange Ones, along with her half brother. They referred to him as Patch, whatever that meant, and they called her Rags. Unusual sounds, like all of the ones they made. They also furnished the Huntress and her half brother with food, warmth and comfortable nests of strange, fluffy fabric to sleep upon.

It had been whilst she was sleeping upon such nest when the dream, the prophecy, had hit her. The world was to end. Tonight. The Old Ones were coming back, their thousand year machinations about to bear fruit at last. The dream had been confusing, a kaleidoscope of colour and fractured images, yet the Huntress had been able to piece enough together to know what must be done. So she had crept away in the night, away from the warmth and unusual companionship of the Strange Ones and the more prickly company of her half brother, to explore the Strange One’s shaped stone labyrinth, to find the tear in reality from which the Old Ones would begin their invasion. No matter what happened, it had to be closed.umu

Steeling herself against the cold wind, she left the cover of the foliage and, with a certain amount of furtiveness, continued down the shaped stone causeway. In her younger days, when her body had been more taut and flexible and she still boasted two working eyes, this would have been no challenge at all. But gone were the days when she would track down and kill Fliers and other prey creatures, which she would either take back to her home to eat or else offer as tribute to her Strange Ones. They never seemed to understand the gesture anyway, she mused, more often than not they ejected the broken prey from the home, sometimes whilst making quite the fuss.

But now she was long in years, out of shape for hunting and her remaining eye had only partial vision, perhaps she could still kill a little Scurrier, feel it’s tiny neck snap in her jaws and taste the wonderful sensation of its life blood, but she didn’t really feel the need to try anymore. Her Strange Ones supplied her and her half sibling with sustenance anyway, usually some strange blend of cold meat or unusual crunchy balls that tasted faintly of the same. Sometimes, if the ancestors were truly pleased with them, the Strange Ones would provide them with a piece of chicken or, better still, sumptuous flesh of an Ocean Swimmer.

So lost was the old Huntress in thoughts of food (for it had been 3 days since she last ate anything of value) that she failed to spot another of her kind, which appeared from behind a dormant Noisy Thing with a look of malicious mischief on its side, white furred face.

“Not seen you about these parts before, old one. Perhaps you are lost?” It sneered, loping arrogantly to block her path. She didn’t have the time to indulge this young Hunter’s ego, but knew that he would be both a faster runner and a more vicious fighter than her. She would have to talk her way out it.

“I am not lost, young one, my path is clear to me. I must reach the stone meadow near the Strange One meeting place else this world is doomed,” she explained, keeping her tone neutral yet resolute.

“Truly?” The other Hunter snickered, attempting to circle around behind her, “so you pass through my territory on some manner of lofty quest? Who do you intend to save us from sweet heroine, those loud and dim witted Familiars?”

The Huntress turned to keep her antagonist in what was left of her vision, trying not to think about Familiars. They went everywhere with their Strange Ones and considered Hunters to be a meal on legs. Whilst Familiars and Hunters had been known to share a home, even learn to communicate with one another in some rudimentary way, the two species were mostly mortal enemies. One had, in fact, once bit into her tail in years gone by. The Strange Ones had taken her to one of their kind who healed Hunters, Familiars and even prey and so her tail had been saved. The same healer had also taken her eye, once it had become too painful to bear and sightless beside.

“Familiars are but prey in the eyes of what is coming, it is the Ancients that I speak of,” the old Huntress explained, wishing for some distraction to aid in her making an escape.

“I would laugh at your claim, old one, yet I see that you are being quite sincere in all of this. Still, one cannot simply pass through my territory, I am the strongest hunter in this area and have fought off many challengers!”

The old Hunter suspected that her assailant was full of hot air, most male Hunters were, yet she had to admit that the idea of having this fool as an ally was starting to appeal to her.

“Then set aside this petty squabble over territory and join me. Two Hunters working together will stand a far better chance of stopping the Ancient’s magicks,”

The young Hunter stopped pacing then, fixing her a wary glance with eyes of piercing blue, “You invoke my aid? What an unusual concept. My territory will be unguarded, you will undoubtedly lose face also, it is not worth it to work as one, even to save this strange reality,”

The Huntress knew that he had a point. To stray from one’s territory for even one night could result in rivals attempting to claim it as their own, in her younger days this would have undoubtedly ended in a brawl. It was also true that she would lose face, to beg for help from another Hunter was a sign of weakness up there with defeat in battle. Yet she was older now and rarely left the home of her Strange Ones, what would that even matter any more? Besides, unless the Ancients were stopped tonight reputation, territory, all of that would mean nothing at all.

“My days of hunting are over, young one, I care not what others may say of me,” she said to her would-be attacker, “As for your territory, isn’t fighting off invaders part of the fun for a young one such as yourself?” This seemed to amuse him, he stopped pacing for a moment and seemed to size her up anew, “What an interesting mind you have, old one! But you may be right, I have not had a good battle in some time. The other Hunters here are weak, defeating them is actually rather fun. Oh, and you are right, you are far too old to be fighting for territory, not to mention your missing eye”

The Huntress was a little annoyed by the young one’s needling, yet kept her calm composure as she framed a response, knowing that she almost had him convinced.

“Oh, don’t worry, my ears and nose work just fine, as do my claws. I just need the strength and sight of a young Hunter to aid me, or else all of this will be for naught!”

So it was, some time later, that two Hunters stealthily moved along a large shaped stone causeway, passing Noisy Things lighting up the three eyes they had between them as they moved in on their target. The old one could feel the Ancient’s presence now, like a dull headache accompanied with the taste of hot blood in her mouth. Even her young accomplice could feel something, even though he hadn’t been chosen in his sleep like she had. It was said that the Strange Ones had once known of the Ancients too, had understood the gift that Hunters possess. Yet over time things had changed, the dominant race had begun to doubt the things that they could not see, could not rationalize and they had become ignorant to the otherworldly dangers that would forever threaten their existence. Theirs and everybody else’s.

“I am beginning to think that you might be right, old one. I can’t get this sensation out of my head, like being observed by a thousand eyes,” growled the young one, for the first time looking a little frightened.at the prospect of what lay ahead.

“I know it well, it’s been in my head for a long time, ever since I started to have the dreams” replied the Huntress, surprised to find herself feeling a little sorry for her cocky comrade.

“These dreams, they are what guides you to the Strange One’s meeting place?”

“Yes, for a long time now. I have seen the place so many times, despite never venturing this far, I know my way here like it was my own territory” the old one explained, seriously hoping that the dreams would end once the Ancient’s plan had been undone.

The great stone meadow was quiet, only a few Noisy Things came and went, conveying Strange Ones that were ignorant to their impending fate. Their meeting place had been busier, that strange place covered in unnatural, colourful lights and with at least one Familiar tied to Strange One artefacts outside the entrance. The two Hunters had kept to the shadows and moved quickly, the elder following the scent of the younger, trusting his better senses to see them through. Thankfully the plan had worked, the closest they had come to discovery was a Familiar picking up a hint of their scent and roaring with excitement at the chance of pursuit. Yet it is hard to give chase when you are tied to a length of shining ore, shaped and given purpose by Strange Ones.

“So, what are we looking for here?” asked the young one, peering out across the empty, hostile ground. The Huntress thought about her dreams,

“It will appear to be like us, except with eyes of pure gold. I think it will be attempting to open a tear in reality, through which the others can follow,” she said after a pause, wishing that she could see like she used to, in the two eyed days. Eyes of gold would be better than a green one and an empty socket.

“One of us? I suppose even inter-dimensional beings can aspire to something” her accomplice snickered, beginning to move around the perimeter of the stone meadow where the Noisy Things lay dormant. The Huntress once again followed, trusting her nose and ears as to not lose her only ally. It took several minutes to cover the area, having to hide at several points as Strange Ones came to collect their Noisy Things, or else arrived inside them and headed off to their meeting place. They were giving up hope as they approached their starting point, the Huntress questioning her own sanity and wondering if the young one would attack her out of anger.

This, however, did not come to pass. Right where they had begun sat another Hunter, fur as black as night and eyes molten gold. They had found their enemy at last.

“Really? The gods send a blind old wreckage like you to stop us? This will be too easy,” it said, it’s voice cold and carrying a strange echo. The Huntress was afraid, to stand before an agent of the ultimate enemy, that which would extinguish all life, truly was terrifying. Yet something else was welling up inside her, a cold, inescapable fury. How dare this thing, which had no form of its own even, dare to sit before her and belittle her so?

“I have taken many lives, cur, one more will be no challenge!” she spat, the rage suddenly bursting from her as she launched herself at the Ancient, claws fully extended and teeth bared. But the gold eyed Hunter was fast, supernaturally so and, before she even closed on it, the monster appeared behind her, cannoning into her and knocking her to the ground before laying into her with claws like torn steel. The Huntress struggled to her paws once more, trying to land some blows of her own and feeling some relief when at least one connected (though the Ancient’s fur seemed strange, as if it were nothing more than thick mist). Yet for every blow she landed, the Ancient landed three or four and she soon found herself beginning to tire.

Thankfully she had her own secret weapon to use against the Ancient’s false Hunter body. Her ally, the young one, also launched himself into the fray, fighting with more fury and speed than she had been able to summon in some time. Even then the Ancient may have won, overpowering the young Hunter with its ethereal tricks, but the old one did not relent, leaping onto it’s back and sinking her teeth hard into the creature’s fabricated neck whilst it was distracted fighting off her brave ally. Instead of the sweet taste of blood, hr mouth was filled with a taste of ashes, as if the Ancient had risen from the remnants of a fire. It howled with rage, unable to dislodge the old one as she sunk in every claw, bit down with every tooth and absolutely refused to let go.

“Its eyes, take its eyes!” she hissed at the young one, who was currently laying into the otherworldly invader’s face wildly.

“You are making a mistake! We can spare your lives! We can make you gods!” screamed the Ancient, suddenly realising the danger it was in as the lithe, white furred younger one mercilessly laid into its eyes. Instead of blood, black smoke seemed to emanate from it’s eyeballs, it’s scream distorting into something utterly alien as, finally, the false Hunter crumbled into ashes upon the shaped stone ground, leaving the old one lay in its remains.

“Is it done?” asked the young one, his blood still up and looking for more violence. The old one laughed bitterly, struggling back onto her paws. She was starting to feel a few aches and pains, no doubt the awful thing had managed to cut her in a couple of places, but otherwise she seemed to be fine.

“It is done, young one. I thank you for your aid,” she replied, relief flooding through her, “and now I shall aid you to reclaim your territory, if you wish”

The young one laughed then, it’s eyes full of mischief, “you think I’m going to share my fun with you? Gratitude, friend, but I shall enjoy sending them packing”

The Huntress sat in the ashes then, watching her newfound friend walk away. Before he darted under a wall of shaped foliage, he turned to her one final time,

“By the way, you fought well for an old one!”

Hours passed. The sun rose, the Fliers began their incessant singing and the old Huntress returned to her home at last. Overcome with love and relief, her Strange Ones cradled her in their arms, babbling their nonsense. They gave her water and food and, after waving their strange devices at her and smiling their strange smiles, they placed her upon her beloved fabric nest. These giant, complicated creatures, that ran every facet of their world, had no idea at all just how close they had come to total annihilation. Had the Ancient succeeded in its plan and defeated the dream champion then the world would now be flooded with formless, evil nightmares that would not stop until everything was laid to waste. She was home, having saved it all alongside her younger friend. Two small creatures versus a demon.

Curling up now on her nest, the Huntress was overcome by a wave of joy and well being.

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