He stood there, sword in hand, gripped so tightly that the skin had long since cracked around the cloth, breaking like brittle paper. Blood dripped from his arms, to the massive cleaver, creating a steady drip, drip, the pitter patter of red filling the dark emptiness. Mirrored by this dull void, a strange vacancy filled the golden hazel eyes, framed by dark sclera. Everything about it, about him, was dull and lifeless, as though the body's owner had long since shed his soul.
In a sense, he had.
Anyone watching him would have experienced a chill, followed by a vague sensation of unease. Then dread. Due to his lack of expression, one would have no idea of what he was thinking. Why was he staring endlessly into the darkness? Why was he covered in blood? Why did he stand there so? These questions would remain unanswered, for there was not a soul to ask them.
He was in a cave. It was dark, and visibility was poor. The only things that made it possible to walk without hitting obstacles were plants that grew right in the bedrock. The petals of their flowers gave off a faint glow, illuminating the interior with a pale light. It was quiet within the cave, but for the dripping crimson that still leaked from the blade, the thick ichor slowly forming a puddle at his feet.
There was nothing out of the ordinary.
Abruptly, he started walking. He was like a ghost, and seemed to have no volition at all. He dragged his feet as he walked, if the slow crawl at which he moved could even be called such. He walked for what seemed like an eternity, schlepping right past a particularly foul smelling patch of shrubbery. Immediately, there was a low, warbling growl. The sound created a faint tremor, shaking loose some dust and dirt from the looming ceiling overhead. A stray pebble, shaken loose by the vibration, plummeted to the earth, striking his forehead. He paused, blinked, slowly, lazily, unmoving as the threatening sound was swallowed up by the black, devoured along with everything else.
Then it roared.
Without warning, the damp cavern shook as if a pair of giant hands had seized it from both sides and begun to pull. And still, the creature howled. Now, a series of hairline fractures, spiderweb cracks spread through the ground, A torrent of bad-breath, mucus, and phlegm, rocketed down the tunnel, laying waste to whatever was in their path. Wherever it touched, plants decayed, fertile earth becam,e barren, even the walls themselves began to crack and crumble from the putridity of the noxious fumes. And the man did not move. Even as his hair whipped wildly about him, he remained, unfazed, staring into the wind-tunnel. An earsplitting crack filled the cave. It was followed shortly thereafter by a large shadow, growing larger by the second.
Freed from its confined by the quake, the stone succumbed to the forces of gravity and plummeted towards its unsuspecting victim.
It never reached him. Moments before the massive chunk of rock could finish its untimely descent, as if a massive hammer had struck it, it shattered into a thousand fragments. Without so much as a glance to his back, the man blinked, his eyelids closing heavily, then opening slowly. And then, as if it had never been, the terrible shaking was gone. Now, there was nothing but the drip of blood once more. Whatever it, the entity that had growled, was, it had now chosen to remain tactfully silent. A bystander would have concluded that the aforementioned display had been a show of force, and now that it had failed, the source of that sound was waiting somewhere up ahead. Ignoring the oppressive silence that now threatened to press in on him, he continued his silent walk.
Within moments the creature was visible.
The source of the cry was human. No-he had once been human. His body was that of an adult male, but his eyes were blank, dead, fish-like, and his face had a pale, lifeless pallor. His tongue lolled disgustingly from his open mouth as he continued his bestial utterances. The thing's torso was bent forward like a decrepit old man, yet he still seemed like a beast about to pounce on its prey. His arms did not support his weight, but dangled lazily, a large axe grasped in his hand, the edge blood red in the setting sun's light. He loomed there, at the open mouth of the cave, swaying to and fro as if it had no control over its movements.
"Grrrrrrrrrrr!" He growled, clouded eyes looking ahead.
He was aware of the interloper. And still, the man dragged himself forward, bare feet, scrapping against clay, then dirt, as he neared the entrance. Steadily approaching at such an intrepid pace, it seemed to take hours from him to reach the mouth of the cave, when in reality, only a handful of seconds passed by. Now, he was near. Every dragging movement of the legs pulled him inexplicably closer tot he setting sun, and the warmth its fading light promised to give. But when it appeared that he would, in fact, step out into the light, he paused, just out of reach. He hung there, lingering in the shadows, fixing the beast with a black and deadened gaze. His unflinching form was so still, it seemed to become part of the landscape. But the man existed. His body was bathed in a strange aura, black, hazy, flickering, never once allowing a clear view of his otherwise gaunt and hollowed face.
The scent of death carried towards him on the breeze....
"Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!" It bellowed again, lowering its gaping maw to the cave. The sudden gust of wind nearly enough to fling the man off his feet. But the interloper was expressionless. Whether or not he truly felt nothing, his face was as blank a slate of marble, still waiting to be sculpted by an artist who's inspiration had yet to take flight. The show of force had produced nothing. Ineffective.
The interloper and the creature continued to stare each other.
"Gaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!" It, the creature, hunched so far forward that he nearly dragged his torso against the ground, before he kicked himself suddenly forward.
But just as it was about to make impact, the man moved. With a gesture as though swatting a troublesome fly, he knocked the axe aside. Freed from the grip of its clumsy wielder, it arced into the air, end over end, before sticking itself into the ground with a wet thunk. The creature either didn't recognize the significance of losing his weapon, or he chose not to care. Regardless, it was now the interloper's turn to retaliate. The man slowly brought his bloodied blade to the ready. The flickering black flame tinged the blade, impregnating it with power.
With a sickening pop, the creature's right arm crashed to the ground, severed at the elbow. Unable to understand the loss of the limb, it yowled in agony. Blood sprayed between misshapen fingers, clutching at the stump that had once been it's appendage. When the man had moved his blade was unclear. There was a track of black flame, the path of his blade. Crimson dripped from the blade.
That was the only proof.
The creature lunged again, swinging its fists wildly, unwieldy, the blow propelled by brute strength towards the man's neck. But it never reached its target. The man's blade easily met and stopped the hand, which quivered with effort upon being denied first blood. It howled in frustration and strained to force its way past the unyielding steel that continued to deny it it's prize. The interloper gazed vacantly into the rage filled eyes of his adversary. In lieu of a reply, he smiled a ghastly smile. His visage froze the beast, as if the temperature had suddenly dropped.
The creature gave a strangled cough, its eyes bulging open. It seemed to realize that its body was covered in wounds. No blood spilled from them. In its place, tongues of flame erupted. They covered the creature's body, charring him. His mouth formed a voiceless cry as he fell from his knees to the ground. Having slaughtered his opponent, the man was once again, expressionless. Silence fell, and he blankly looked on as the last vestiges of the daylight crept behind the horizon and were gone. The day was gone, stolen away by the unseen gods who ruled the heavens.
He was all that remained.
A gust of cold wind blew across the desolate plain onto which he had so recently fought. The black aura began to fade from his blade as he lowered it, the slim katana crashing into the earth and givng birth to a small fissure. Banished by this sudden movement, the shroud vanished, presenting a clear view of the man for the first time. The light was beginning to fade, even so, he remained in place.
He was barely even a man. His athletic, physical build, suggested that he was somewhere in his late teens, but his eyes said he was so much older. As did the enigmatic through and through hole that could be seen in his chest. A wound like that would have killed most, but for him, seemed simply to exist. He took no notice of it anymore, it had been there for as long as he could remember.
He swept a hand through the rough, sandy blond hair framed his face. Dull, listless blue orbs shone out of a haggard face, occasionally seeking shelter behind the ragged locks that obscured them. His chest was bare, his legs covered by a ragged black garment that looked as if it were in dire need of repair, so full of holes it was. The sword he so fervently gripped in his right hand was just as, if not more so, worn. Its rotund hilt was well worn, the blade chipped and cracked in places, leaving only the tapered tip intact.
He glanced at the blade and decided he'd have to find some way to repair it by the tomorrow's end. But that meant going into the mines...
"Impressive. You fought rather well...given your odds."
Stirred, the man glanced back at the cave. He found nothing there, and so, turned his gaze back to the dimming sky. The darkness was already beckoning to him, calling him. He glanced back at the creature he had felled, and instantly decided it to be inedible. His stomach growled angrily, causing him to grip his blade tighter. This was no time for imaginary voices. It was time to hunt.
"Pardon me, but I think you're being a bit rude."
Still expressionless, the hunter turned his gaze back to the cave.
There, standing on the air, was man who looked to be in his mid thirties. His curly brown hair and glasses spoke volumes. He wasn't from this area. He wore a dark garment that seemed to blend in with the night itself, but atop it, he wore a strange white jacket that stood out like a flare gun. The youth felt a flash of irritation at this. Whoever he was, he wouldn't survive the night, sword or no sword. Wearing bright colors meant that they would see you at night. Others had learned that the hard way. Fancy, flashy clothes, they weren't any good when they got you killed, now were they?
They only made you a target. And if you were a target around here, you were as good as dead. You could run, you could hide, but it wouldn't matter, not in the end. They could smell you. They would find you. Once they had your scent, it was all over. The last thing you'd hear would be their howling...
They could fly, so this air walking trick wouldn't save this one either.
"Tell me boy, what's your name?"
Still silent, the youth stared up at the stranger.
"Don't you have one?"
A distant howl was heard. The hunter scowled, the first human expression he'd worn in quite some time.
...Leave." He uttered the word harshly, as if it were difficult for him to speak. With that, he turned his back on the man and began walking through the field. There were similair corpses lying about, eerily similair to the creature he'd just killed. He swallowed once. They never came out before the sun fully set. They were becoming more active, just as he'd predicted.
"Now, now," The man was descending, walking on invisible footholds that the hunter could not see, following after him. "There's no need for words like that. I simply wish to talk."
"I don't." Came the crisp reply, but his free hand had clenched into a fist now.
But the strange man would not be deterred. His sandaled feet touched upon solid earth now, and even at his languid pace, he was beginning to catch up. The hunter tsked, but did not increase his pace, he couldn't, what with his leg being in the shape it was in. If he didn't get to the waypoint soon, he'd be picked off like a sick calf. He couldn't see the moon, and realized that it was a new moon.
'Of all the nights...
Just a bit further...
"Then where are you going?"
"Hunting." He replied grimly. "Monsters."
"Monsters? Ah, you must mean Hollow."
A visible chill ran up the hunter's spine.
They were getting close.
"You're intent on following me, aren't you?"
"Quite." The man answered with a contented air. "You see, I came here to find someone, and I'm afraid I can't leave until I find him."
"That so?" The hunter shook his head. "You might as well forget about them then. Unless your friend found a hole to hide in, they're as good as dead."
"I don't think so. My sources say he's still active in this area."
The hunter held up his sword and spared the stranger a glance."Unless he has one of these, I seriously doubt he's anywhere but in their stomachs." The waystation, once a distant speck on the horizon, was now drawing near, its lights warm and welcoming, as if promising them safety and shelter, in only they could go but a bit further. But the darkness was closing, fast, and the distance between death and safety, still infinitely vast. Another howl, followed by another, this one infinitely closer, tore through the arid air.
"It seems we've been found out." The man sighed suddenly.
Wincing as he put pressure on his right leg, the hunter muttered a curse.
Then the explosion of red consumed them.