Chapter 21 – Hunger

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He stood there, watching the fight go on with a dumbstruck look on his face. What is this? How can he move like that?

Right before Braen, that half-woman, half monstrosity, aimed it’s steel tip claws at the half-man. The half-man parried just with his sword, mostly dodging left and right; and although the creature was fast, and growing faster still, no matter how it swiped, thrashed, or smashed down on the cavern floor, it would always miss him by a hair, where he would use that opportunity to strike.

After a few moments of that scene, Braen could see grooves in the flesh of the creature’s arms. In response, the creature wailed in pain and kept thrashing. He’s not taking those hits fully on; diverting the strikes more like or dodging them completely.

Braen jumped as he winced in pain. He looked back to see boiling water surging near his heel.

Cursing under his breath, and with no other options, Braen moved closer to the two fighting. He looked around for higher elevated areas to stand, to get away from the water, but he quickly noted that the water was beginning to spill out at even higher amounts from the open entrances above, splattering over high rocks and stone.

Damnit. Running out of time. We have to end this now! Only when they finished killing the beast would the ‘environment’ they were placed in be turned off and resume back to normal. That’s how these events were set up. At least that’s what they were from rumor.

Taking a deep breath, Braen aimed the gun he took from the weapons stash. He only had one arm, so he could not stand in proper form, one that was taught as the most stable and practical way to shoot: with two hands, one mainly to stabilize the shot recoil. Braen had to opt to a straight-arm technique. He pushed the weapon straight out with the handgun aligned vertically, locking the arm at the elbow, and pulling the trigger straight back as smoothly as he could. The barrel had been aimed at the backend of the gestating blob of the creature.

Bang!

He was calm when he pulled, but he stumbled as the shot was fired. His balance was terrible. He had yet to adjust properly to his new proportions.  Braen had not even taken a second to look at the damage that he had made after he shot. His presence would obviously be known now if it were not known already. Although he had been shocked at first by the half-man’s power, he had, of course, realized after observing them for a while that the entire time the half-man had not made any direct clashes with it at all! Just dodging and striking when the creature had overextended itself. That meant if the creature wished to divert a bit of its attention at him, and thought he, himself, was somewhat more of a threat, the half-man would not be able to stop it. Injure it for sure when it opened itself up, but not fully kill it in that space of time the creature focused on him. And it’s not that he relied on the half-man at all, nor truly believed the guy would be willing to help, but in a situation like this, having two of them alive was better than one. In this situation, who wouldn’t try to stop the other from being killed if it were in their means? They needed each other.

Nine left. The gun he had contained nine bullets in the clip, and one in the chamber. Keeping count was something one had to do. It had to be ingrained in a hunter. One miscount could mean death when you were out on the hunt.

“Stupid boy!” The half-man roared, a sound half drowned by the screech of the creature.

Braen did not pay much attention to him. He got onto another elevated space, out of the creatures direct view, before he took another look. The bullet had perforated the creature’s glowing abdomen. Green puss spewed out every time its body pulsed with light. Even though his balance was off, and the bullet landed higher than he intentioned, the creature was so massive that he still managed to hit it.

Braen quickly went into his stance and shot again and again. Eight. Seven. Six.

“Stop it, dammit!” The half-man yelled. Sweat rained down his brow, his skin pale. “Don’t you know what this is? Stop it, or you’ll just end up killing us both!”

It was after Braen fired his fifth shot that he stopped firing and moved to another location behind it. All along, he had been focusing his aim on the left back side of the creature. More green puss spewed from the various holes in its abdomen. What is it? What the hell is he talking about?

“Then how do you expect me to kill it? All you’re doing is cutting at its arms, but it’s not even slowing it down!”

“Aim for the head, you fool! Aim for the upper body! Just don’t damage that damned sack of hers.”

I would if I thought I wouldn’t miss.

Braen only had ten bullets to start with. He didn’t know if the bullets could perforate that grey skin of the creature, so once he saw they could damage the abdomen, even though he had aimed for higher, he no longer thought it necessary to test it. Why waste the bullet? Especially since the abdomen was about four times bigger than the upper portions of the creature. The likely chance he would miss was far less. Furthermore, given the half-man’s skills, he could take advantage of those wounds he gave the creature and deal a devastating blow. Couldn’t he?

But Braen didn’t continue to shoot. He was wary of the half-man’s words. ‘Do you not know what this is?’

No matter how young he was, Braen was a hunter still. Knowing your prey was the difference between life and death. He quickly ran to another area and observed. He didn’t spend much time on observing before because they clearly had none, but with a sudden strong sense of wary overcoming him, he made sure he spent some, regardless.

The two kept at it. The creature shrieked with each cut, but Braen could now see what was really happening. The creature was not in pain but was just frustrated.  It was frustrated it couldn’t pin down the half-man, and with every cut made on its arm, it would roar in anger. Not good! At this rate, the half-man would just tire out and die.  There is no way I can deal with it alone.

Calming his heart, he looked at the glowing abdomen. More and more puss splurted from the holes with every movement the creature made.

Braen’s eyes narrowed, taking in every detail. And at that…his eyes widened. What is that?! At first, he mixed it as the undulations of the creature’s body, but as he saw the low viscosity of the puss, he came to realize how odd it really was. No, there’s something inside!

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Damn half-man! You could have just warned me earlier. Braen was scared. The only creatures he knew that carried other creatures inside their bodies were all highly dangerous. So dangerous, only the craziest of bat crazy hunters went after them. And though he didn’t know what this creature was, he could tell that whatever was inside was not good if it came out, especially if his seemingly powerful partner seemed wary of it himself.

What do I do?

What do I do?!

Shoot its head? I have 5 bullets left, and every chance that I’ll miss!

At that moment a drop of water splashed on his shoulder.

Braen gritted his teeth in pain as he rubbed it, displacing the water to cool it down.

Wait! That’s it!

But…can I pull it off?

*

The night was cold and dark, but the nights were always cold and dark. Jon pushed his fingers in the trash bin. It had a top, cased in metal, and locked by the city officials. They did so to prevent the homeless and the poor from searching the trash and spilling out its contents on the street of Eastern City.

“Great One forbid if the muddy streets of Eastern City end up with another banana peel caked onto it,” Jon muttered under his breath as he rubbed his grumbling belly.

“Who am I kidding?” he chuckled. “Like that wouldn’t have been eaten already?”

The trash bins were now sealed, leaving a small hole for passerby’s to drop their trash in. That, and once you put something in, it was hard for that something to come out. The opening was made like a heart valve. In a heart, blood would pump and move in one direction, but be hard pressed if the flow would reverse.

So, for most adults, putting anything, even your arm through that hole was easy, the only problem was, trying to take it out. Citizens would find themselves waking in the mornings, leaving off for work or other things to find some poor sod with his arm halfway down that hole, bleeding away from metal traps digging into his flesh when they tried to break free, as the inner mechanisms locked.

Jon was different, of course. He was small and used a short cylindrical pipe. He would first insert the pipe in, keeping the whole wide and open, and then insert his arm, leaving him to search freely. He could only do so because he was so small.

He had been through the commercial district, and tonight, decided to go to the station. There was much food to be found near the train stations. In fact, anywhere that had heavy flows of traffic, you’d find a large haul.

Before on a night like this, it would have been flooded with other poor sods, rummaging through the trash, but on this night, he was alone. A part of him liked the system the officials put in place. It meant more food for him, but another part of him felt…exposed. It was different when you were the only one around. Not many of the young survived on the streets. Most opted to be taken in by the system.

The ground rumbled.

Erh Eeerhh!

Jon glanced up.

“That’s odd,” he said, unwittingly.

A station that would often have workers milling about, was dark and…dreary.

At first, he had not paid any mind to it. It was very late at night. No, in fact, very early as the sun would be up in a few hours. But the twenty foot-arched entryway to the station’s platform was like a black pit. He could not see past it, nor hear any sounds of workers nearby.

The night was a moonless one, a few streetlamps left to illuminate the walkways. Eastern City was a cesspool, but it was a busy cesspool; and one of the few places in which it earned money, by receiving and distributing shipments, didn’t have anyone to cater to it?

The hair on Jon’s body erected. Every sense about him was telling him to leave.

Just as he took a step back, an erroneous buzz echoed. And a gated glass glove lit. A green light brightened up the archway. Etched in stone, he could make out the letters for Eastern City. Of course, Jon could not read, but after a few years, he recognized the pattern.

Pat. Pat. Pat.

The moment he heard it, Jon knew what that sound was. The slapping of bare feet on cold, flat stone. The sound was continuous, like the rhythm of his heartbeat. For some reason, he could not escape its gravity. It entwined his attention as the sound grew louder and louder. He knew whoever made it was getting closer and closer.

His mind fought him. It told him he should go. That it was not safe, but his body refused to listen.

And then he saw it.

Two feet poked out the dark, green light shining upon them.

It stepped forward, a small cloaked figure sifted out of the darkness.

It stood still once it seemingly noticed him.

The figure’s arms reached out and removed its hood.

Underneath had been a girl. Her long, black hair shined under the green glow. And her soft, ugly brown eyes stared back into his own.

The night seemed to stretch. Time continued. The girl did not utter a word, and neither did he.

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A moment passed, and then another.

And then he heard it.

His stomach grumbled.

Jon instinctively moved to rub his belly.

Yes, he could move again! He was relieved. He had been shocked silly by some little girl. Either way, he felt on edge and was just thinking that he should leave, when he realized something.

That grumbling sound.

It did not come from him.

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