August 30, 2017

Into the hunting grounds

Worn ragged from the road, mud encumbered and coat in tatters, your journey is far from over. You stand at the edge of the hunting grounds: marked only by a border scratched on your map, but not your map alone. Through the Cyprus copses swathed with Spanish moss stand others like you, ten Hunters total: marks scored in their flesh, readying firearms, thirsty for blood.

Fetid water gives way to rough mires rising in lonely outcrops. It was on these that people once built their homes and livelihoods, sinking stilts into drenched earth and living out their days on rough hewn planks. They ate, grieved, and worshipped. They are gone, in their place stand husks harboring the sickness you fight, that you profit from.

Fences once built to mark property now enclose claustrophobic compounds. Their names fall now, letter by letter, as paint weathers and wood rots. Their former inhabitants swarm them, feasting on what's left of their livestock, and each other. Tools and utensils litter the ground where they fell. Valuables rust in abandoned carts. Windows are broken; their threadbare curtains hanging limp in the muggy heat. With one false step glass crunches, a chain rattles, or pots clatter, and the swarm is upon you.

Between these compounds thread overgrown trails crossing water by rotten bridges. They cross themselves into a labyrinth, preferable though to the one which lurks between the groves. It's these paths you'll tread warily, no two routes the same. At crossroads stand signs to direct you, but make no bargains with the one who lurks there.

Your ears are as good as your eyes. In the distance you hear Hunters calling to, or shooting at, or fleeing from, someone or something. But the trail leads away from them, winding into the mist. You use this information as you will, to prey on them, or give them a wide berth. It may be an ambush, after all.

The choice sets you free: but there is anxiety in that freedom. Your way is not curtailed; your actions are your own. Triumph and failure are laid before you; you only have to take them. You take death as equally as you take life. There is no cosmic force choosing for you, no predetermination written in the stars, just you.

You will take advantage of the hunting grounds, or the hunting grounds will take you. Speed, Hunter.