Chapter 23 – Rising Again

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Madarin sat there.

He stared at the wall; stared at how the long, wooden planks stacked upon each other. A fire crackled in the fireside, the heat of its flames brushing against his copper skin…but it wasn’t enough. The chill in the air seemed endless.

And yet, Madarin just sat there in that leather seat. He did not try and go closer to the fire. Nor did he did try and cover himself up, leaving his bare chest exposed, dark ink tattoos clearly visible as they wormed over his shoulders and back.

He did not shiver; he did not speak. He held a mug in his hand, the hot vapors wafting up, and the heat of the dark liquid pervading up his arm as the container rested on the nearby side table.

Madarin closed his eyes and after a moment he opened them up. A blink, but not a blink. It was a reflection.

“What do you wish to do?” A half-man spoke up at his side. His face was covered in something akin to peach fuzz. He had tiny, light green eyes as well as blackthorns for nails. The half man’s name was Yarnahal, and he was a strange one, even among other half-men. Regardless of how strange he seemed, he was of Madarin’s right hand.

“That wood…” Madarin spoke, his voice a near whisper.

“Sir, is there something wrong with the wood?” Yarnahal took a glance. Seeing nothing, he looked back at Madarin. Lately, Madarin had been acting quite odd, and it nerved him. To the man he had spent a near decade with, he no longer saw that explosive, fiery temper he was used to. He no longer saw the rash and brutal antics that the man displayed to get what he wanted. He was much…calmer.

“That wood. Can you believe that four years ago it was a pine tree? It was probably one of the tallest pine trees in all of Bloody Wood.”

“It was the tallest pine tree of Bloody Wood. We lost five hunter teams trying to retrieve it.”

“Ah, yes. A terrible loss.”

“But about the man you asked me to get. The hunter from 34th division’s team, he-”

“Do you think that wood had a family? Children? After the hundreds of years it spent growing amongst its peers, do you think that maybe even one pinecone that had dropped took root?”

“Yes, I’m sure, Sir. I’m sure the entire forest was propagated by that tree, but we should really focu-”

“The entire forest, huh? Yes, I think so as well…Bring him to me.”

“Who, sir?”

“Who else? The one you’ve been talking endlessly about?”

Yarnahal smiled weakly.

Bang.

The room grew quiet.

And Madarin smiled.

“It seems he came of his own accord.”

Yanrahal on the other hand grimaced. He went down the step, and there he saw a man in a thick winter coat with fur lining the collar and a rifle swung over his shoulder. He saw a kicked over a chair on the ground near the entrance.

Yarnahal could still feel the dry, cold air linger as the heat inside began to build again.

The establishment was a small hunting house. Hunting houses were posts, subdivisions around the city that offered a bulletin board of jobs that the main Hunting Association offered. Every hunting house had the same information; all updates, real time. They were also responsible for forming teams that were necessary for bigger jobs.

Even though that was the case, hunting houses weren’t usually full; just moderately busy. Not everyone had the means to hunt, and not many had the will to put themselves in danger.

Only this time, it was not just moderately busy, but…empty.

“Dekaros, is it?”

The intel he received pegged the man exactly. The man’s look; and his sudden bursts of anger, apparent as he’s kicked a chair for no seeable reason. Yarnahal did not really have to inquire, only doing so as a form of introduction.

“Huh?” Dekaros looked up. He appeared a tad tipsy as his face was flushed red, but he did not seem to sway. “And who, in the flesh-eating hell, are you?”

Yanrahal smiled. “I’m the owner of this establishment. One of them, anyway.”

“Leader is the owner of Division 34” Dekaros growled, and brushed passed Yarnahal. He went to the counter at the back. There, two people sat with small black devices, circular and enough to cover their entire ear, latched to their right helix and lobes of their ear. A thin circular red light glowed on the device as they spoke. This was the counter where attendants spoke to other divisions and handled day to day events.

Dekaros seemed to not pay them any heed, seemingly used to the sight, and looked at the clear glass that stood on the counter. He tapped it, and it lit. A list of jobs popped up.

As he pressed on one of those on the list, a message popped up. It was a request to submit his information. Dekaros massaged the back of his neck, dug in his coat pocket, bringing out a thin, black card. He inserted it into the slot of a silver square object nearby. But he froze when he heard an error message.

“You have been locked out of the system, Dekaros.”

Dekaros slowly took the card from the slot and turned around. “What is this?” His eyes narrowed.

“It is protocol. Until you are debriefed, you will not have access to any missions by our Hunter’s Association, or any other, for that matter. I hope you understand.”

“Policy, my ass. This is the first I’ve heard of this!” Dekaros cursed, banging his fist on the counter. Even though his mouth spat foul words, and his face was filled with anger, he appeared calm to Yarnahal. After a moment, Yarnahal knew why he had appeared so. It was the eyes. Such calm eyes. He knew the man knew he was in control now. It was an act.

“Don’t worry. It should only take a few minutes,” Yarnahal’s smile deepened; but the smile never touched his eyes.

Dekaros seemed to hesitate, but after a brief pause, he nodded and went up the stairs that was pointed to him, and Yarnahal followed after.

Yarnahal watched the man called Dekaros’s every movement. From the lifting of his leg as he took a step, to the slight touch he made to his neck as he seemed to massage a sore spot.

Once they reached the top, did Yarnahal move his gaze from the man’s figure.

As they entered, it could be seen that the fire had waned to nothing. The room was as chilly just as it was outside, just without the wind, and it was a tad dark, leaving the only source of light the small globular glass And even though it should have been a given since the fire had waned, Yarnahal still felt something was off.

“Come closer,” Madarin spoke. His voice sounded even more of a whisper, but it was clear. He was sitting before the fading flames, his head never turning around to see them.

Dekaros and Yarnahal stepped further into the room.

“What is this? Why am I here?” Dekaros sneered.

“Division 34’s leader didn’t pass the wall…in fact, no member of his team did…except for you. Mind telling me why that is?”

Dekaros was silent for a moment. His gaze locked on the man and after a few seconds passed, his eyes widened. “Can’t be…You’re-”

“Enough with the presumptions, and just answer my question.”

Yarnahal could see the man called Dekaros shift in his stance; he then rubbed his neck again, before continuing, “The mission was a failure. We drew out more than just one beast. The leader…he was brave. He held the frontline as we tried to escape. I managed to take the truck as the others had run off into the woods in different directions. I don’t know where they are right now.”

“When I met your Division 34’s leader, it was twenty-five years ago. He was a crafty one. When we played fortress as children, he would always prefer locking himself inside, taking control from his very centralized tower…Even now, that man was the same as he was all those years ago; surrounding himself with his men…

“Where’s my crossbow?”

Dekaros shifted again. By now it was obvious Madarin had not believed him. Not all of it, anyway. That seemingly random recall of history was not at all random. It was a clear depiction on Division 34’s leader’s personality which contrasted highly with Dekaros’s ‘recall’ on the events he transcribed. “Last I saw it, one of our new members had it.”

“The mission lists just you seven. Six people, and a dog. Every one of those people had been apart of your team for at least seven missions, your dog for two; you were all veterans. So, are you telling me your dog had my crossbow?”

“N-”

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“No?” Madarin flicked his gaze from the fading flames to Dekaros. Yarnahal watched as the man squirmed under the sight of those eyes. He knew things were not going to end well. Madarin didn’t even need to tell him. He turned and closed the room door, gently, as to not make noise as it locked. “Then who has my crossbow, Dekaros?”

“A girl. We took a few newbies with us for exper-.”

“Sacrifices.”

“…yes, but they were just orphans; nobodies. No one would have missed t-”

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“Sacrifices that my Hunter’s Association had invested in; one that cost me a hefty bag of steinz for each body. And you took them just like that. Doesn’t that mean you stole from me?”

“No, please. You must understand.” Dekaros took a step back. He turned and saw Yarnahal behind him. When Dekaros saw Yarnahal blocking the way out, he stopped. “I wasn’t the lead on this. It was not my plan~”

“I know this. I know. Which is why you’re still alive.” And with that, Madarin stood up. He came forward and patted Dekaros’s face.

“…You already knew, didn’t you?”

“Of course, I knew. Four fresh hunters from my academy go missing, how can I not know? Even if it happens all the time.

“Then-”

“But unlike the other cases, for you to take such a risk, with my crossbow in hand, and fail, I can’t have that happen. It looks terrible on me; on what my organization stands for.

“Such a waste of resources. But your leader is dead. I know. I’ve sent out a team. They found 8 bodies and a dog. Just so happens two children recently passed the wall to the Free Cities. Only…one of those two is not from us. Now, I just want to know. Who’s the extra boy with the girl?”

Dekaros paled. “I-There was only those four kids! No one else!”

Madarin smiled. “So you don’t know. Then what use are you to me?”

“Wait, I-” And before he could finish another word, Yarnhahal crept up from behind in one smooth motion, slitting his throat. Blood gurgled in Dekaros’s throat before he dropped to the floor with a heavy thud.

The two of them stood there as the floorboards became soaked in red blood, the thick liquid spilling out through the gaps.

Yarnahal walked across the room, pressed his hand on the far left wall. It indented and opened up to reveal a stone passageway.
Madarin walked passed him and down the dark path.

Taking out a small rectangular container, Yarnahal opened its box, the black wood smooth against his palm. Squirming on a dark purple cloth were three glow worms. He picked one and tossed it into the fireside.

After that, he grabbed one of those small light globes on the wall and followed after Madarin.

The door shut behind them.

Looking back, the backside of the pushed in the wooden door was made of pure iron. On the top of the door, the number 34 was etched into a metal panel.

Yarnahal took a dagger from his sheath and swiped it, striking the number out, before he walked away.

The two kept going, ignoring the boom that shook the entire tunnel, not a speck of dust or granuel falling from the ceiling, ignoring the screams that dulled to nothing.

“Yar,” Madarin spoke.

“Sir?”

“Our forest is not big enough, don’t you think?”

“Our forest?”

“Yar,”

“Sir?”

“Bring those children to me.”

“Yes, sir.”

*

Once the green worm was tossed in, it was ravaged in the fading flames, it’s flesh easily marred. The fluid inside the worm heated, and boom, the entire fireside exploded. Hot green-yellow flames roared and spewed, licking the wooden walls, turning everything alight. In mere moments the wooden Hunting House was afire.

The attendants down below screamed, the second floor caving in. The flames drowned out any other sound.

As the smoke filled the room, a body laid on the yet to be collapsed part of the second floor. On the back of its’ neck, a black bulb appeared. It grew, and quickly, a black worm wiggled out of the skin. It dropped to the floor and squirmed for a bit.

The body of that worm pulsed. Once, twice, and after a few seconds, at the very tip of that worm, the skin split; and a large eye opened. The eye looked left then right, and the skin split on its other end. This time, a mouth appeared.

“Damn soft fleshing animals.” It said. “I’ve got to report. The girl is here.”

It coughed. Red-purple flames spewed from it. It coughed some more, and more flames appeared. The flames hung in the air, burning, turning green soon after before fading to nothing.

And then the pupil of the creature constricted. It shifted right, glancing at the body right nearby. It glanced at the wound on the neck of it, except, there was no wound. No cut the other human had made.

“Not possible.” It spoke again.

And then the body shifted, and a groan came with it.

“Hum-”

But before the creature could say another word, a fist slammed down, squishing it into the floorboards, black liquid splattering everywhere.

Dekaros shifted his head up, his vision blurry before it went dark.

There was nothing but the sound of the flames in his ears, and then, even that faded.

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