Through the weeping household stalked a small black cat—just past kittenhood, and more gamine than gangly. She darted past the skirts of a grieving wife as the woman buried her face in a... [+]
We circle like wolves. Our blades like bared teeth prepared to strike at a moments notice. Our movements synchronize and I feel each second stretch into an hour. Each step we take resonates like a drum; our sandals creating sounds only heard in battle. I see, in my mind, the opened gates of hell. I can see death himself use each of our steps to play a welcoming requiem. He knows I will be joining him soon. Although I have trained for years, I can tell from his movements that I am far behind him. I feel no fear; I chose this fight myself, promising Nort and the master that I would do my best to buy them a few seconds for escape. My death is almost certainly inevitable, but I feel only determination. For the final time I take a deep calm breath and feel the night’s cool breeze. In the distance I smell the spices of a food cart that has refused to shut down even in the dead of night, operating customer-less under the light of the moon. I see the smallest opening, a minuscule error in his footing, and strike, but within the next moment his blade twists around mine, planting itself through my chest and out of my back.
Pain, deep and immeasurable, ricochets through my body, spreading from my chest to the soles of my feet. My vision fuzzes but we somehow still lock eyes. A glint of reflected moonlight suggests a tear on his cheek. Suddenly I feel him push against a bloodless spot on my robe to free his weapon. I reach up to stop him but my arm only flops, not reaching anywhere near him. My blood thickens to stone, no longer liquid. His sword, once holding me up, frees itself. I hear the drums intensify as I fall, death laughing at my pitiful resistance. I hit the ground. There is only black.
As we lock eyes, I feel a solitary tear force itself out. His scarlet blood staining the stone beneath him. Small vein like rivlets form in the space between the bricks. I force myself to look away. The hunt stops for nothing, not even the death of an honorable man.
Goff dies. I feel it happen a few streets behind me. I feel his killer behind me, his presence forcing down on me stronger than a drunk sailor trying to seduce a young maiden. A situation I had stopped in bars many times, but this time I was the maiden and there was no swordsman to help me. I feel bile rise up my throat. A cold sweat runs down my back. I should have gone with him, I think to myself, only to realize it wouldn’t have mattered. he would have killed both of us, or simply ignored us to kill Master. At this thought my eyes wander to him. Our master is young with short black hair, wearing casual clothing, the kind he wears on nights of indulgence. What he does on such nights I do not, and do not want to, know. I grab his arm and pull him in a sharp turn. Hopefully this detour can give us enough time to escape.
They take a sudden turn, but I follow. None can escape jugement. Their senses are built on adrenaline but ruled by a fear filled mind.
He’s behind me. The realization is faster than a snap of the fingers. Sparks fly. I’m going to die. I want to feel determined but only feel regret for things I have left undone. Somehow I fall into the defensive stance Goff taught me years ago. His words echo for the final time: “Feel only the sword. Strive to live by it, for you will eventually die by it. When that time comes, fight with everything you have and then more if you have to.”
I prepare to kill for the second time, blade poised to strike his back, when he suddenly flicks his sword back and parries, throwing me slightly off balance. A second later we stand a scant three feet apart, swords up and teeth bared.
A yell is heard from the distance; both his guards are now dead. The lord is now alone, unable to defend himself. His weekly outings were perfectly legal; he owns everything and everyone within the immediate view of his keep, and only the king himself could overrule his decisions. So, within the arms of the law, the one who pursued him was nothing more than a criminal. A monster hunting an innocent man. Of course, as with many situations, things might not be quite so clear. When the lord’s “indulgences” are looked at under the view of good and bad, the view of one man judging another, the story told today could be quite different. His direct actions had spilled more innocent blood than those of his hunter, who kills only the guilty. He has attacked more women than the hunter had ever met. To the hunter, he was about to kill a man with blood darker than the night.
I finally reach him but instead of killing him I kick him to the ground.
“Have you any last words, any prayers to the great unknown?” I say before pinning him down with my foot.
“Spare me, please. I’ll pay you more than you could even imagine. Oh please just let me live,” is all he says. Pitiful last words for an even more pitiable man. As his last word is uttered, my blade is thrust through his neck, his black blood spilled to taint the ground beneath him. I sheathe my blade and leave. Although I have killed yet another monster the hunt is not over, for the hunt does not end until the hunter dies or kills all that must die.