The First Hunter
For as long as I can remember, I have always lived by my wits and my weapons. I am one of those beings who, rather than allow the universe play with circumstances as it pleases, prefers to call the shots when it comes to his own fate.
As for the universe, I scoff at the notion of “destiny”. I do not believe that each being in this world has but a single purpose in their life, nor that there is some divine power that watches us, judges us, and decides all things for us, completely against our wills.
Simply put, I do not believe in the metaphysical. If it cannot be proven scientifically to me, brought before my eyes, be grasped in my hands, it does not exist to me.
But even I must admit, there are not always logical explanations for everything. I have seen too many wondrous and bizarre phenomenon to ever believe otherwise again. There are objects, creatures and occurrences so impossible, that somehow exist in the world, that they defy all laws of nature.
Where does all this lead me to, you may ask. What does discussing the laws of implausibility have to do with the story I am about to tell?
Because, I myself, am an implausibility. A lowly being from a desolate realm becoming one of the most feared bounty hunters in the universe? What are the chances of that?
I am known to all as the first true Dark Hunter, one of the organization’s founding members. I am the Shadowed One’s most trusted lieutenant, and his most cunning enemy. I am a soldier for the most depraved criminals and the most fanatical guardians of order in the universe.
I am not a saviour. But I am also not a monster.
I am not a hero. Nor am I a villain.
I am none of these things, yet I am all of them.
In short, I’m Ancient.
I come from a realm of ice and shadow, where only the strongest survive to see the next dawn. It was a land of harsh weather, and even harsher people, one of those places where it seemed like everything wanted you dead.
In fact, were it not for the draconian laws set in place by our rulers, civil war would have started much earlier here. Even so, it didn’t do anything to stop the conflict at the end of the day, so I suppose, it all depends on your point of view.
From my viewpoint, I see the former government as both a safeguard against, and an instigator of the civil war. The oppressive rules applied to everyday life did nothing to stop crime. They merely pushed it further and further down, allowing it to fester and grow. It did not deter thugs and warlords, it gave them the opportunity to plan and blossom.
Thus, it wasn’t a great surprise for me when war finally broke out, turning our once-peaceful society into a battle-ravaged, anarchy-ridden wasteland. As a mercenary (one of the best on our island, I might add), business flourished for me during this time, turning me into a veritable king, in a land of paupers and refugees.
This lasted until the end of the war, when the remaining leaders had been killed, and many soldiers began questioning why they were fighting in the first place. I didn’t care what happened, to be honest. I would have plenty of business either way, and I already had enough wealth to last me years should the supply of employers dry up.
One such employer, who would turn out to be one of my last, came to me shortly before the war ended. I was in one of the make-shift hospitals that had been set up across the island, when yet another offer was given to me.
My hopeful employer was a truly pitiful creature, a dark and twisted being, who didn’t look strong enough to even push me off the couch I was sitting on. He spoke quickly and quietly, I remember that. I found it very annoying.
“My master has a very promising offer for you, great warrior,” the being said, showing me a large sack of widgets, a self-satisfied smirk on his face, “10,000 widgets, in exchange for the head of one of his rivals.”
10,000 widgets, eh? I considered it. That was quite a bit of money, enough to last me for years without a single job.
However, if a mercenary survived to my age, it was because he was cautious, and cunning, and not someone who jumped at the first proposal without question.
“I want names,” I said, leaning in on my employer ever so slightly, so that my shadow fell directly on him, “Who is your employer and who does he want dead?”
My little show of force had the desired effect, and the being immediately cowered away from me. His thin, tapered fingers flexed nervously, and he was obviously choosing his next words with care.
“I am known as the Recorder-” he began, only for me to wave my hand, cutting him off.
“If I wanted your life story, I would have asked,” I said, lowering my voice to a deep boom, “Names. Now.”
The Recorder hesitated for the briefest of moments, before continuing, “You are to hunt down a being known only as the ‘Shadowed One’”. He is another warlord who has gotten in my master’s way long enough. I, myself, am employed by someone who calls himself ‘Darkness’.”
I snorted, not bothering to hide my disdain for this “Recorder”, “What is it that people have against original names these days?”
The Recorder seemed to feel that this was his time to speak, and replied, “I agree, s-”
“Shut up,” I snapped, turning my attention away from the twisted, little being. Normally, I wouldn’t be so careless as to take my gaze off of a companion, but I didn’t feel particularly threatened by this being. It wasn’t like I couldn’t just squash him in an instant.
I looked back at the messenger, my line of vision alternating between his face and the sack of widgets in his hand. I had heard vague rumours about this “Shadowed One” over the years, but nothing that would help me to know about his movements, his tactics, his skills.
On the other hand, of course, I did love a challenge, and this assignment looked promising.
“I’ll take the job,” I announced finally, getting to my feet and holding out my hand, waiting for the money to be delivered into my palm, “I expect an upfront payment, if you don’t mind.”
The Recorder obliged my demand, quickly dropping the sack into my palm, before scurrying away from me, “May I wish you a safe and fruitful hunt, my liege.”
I grunted, pocketing the money, seriously holding back the urge to punch this sycophantic, miserable wretch in the face. Instead, I merely turned, heading for the door. Just as I was about to cross the threshold, I heard the being call out yet again.
“You have quite the reputation,” the Recorder said, “A warrior as ancient as this very island. The true champion of this accursed place. You should be proud.”
Pausing for a moment, I allowed myself the liberty of snarling my distaste for him, before stalking out into the cold air.
It didn’t take me long to find this “Shadowed One”. For someone with this large a bounty on his head, he certainly did like leaving the most obvious clues as to his location. Asking directions from a refugee, purchasing a Kikanalo to ride, explaining his intentions to anyone who would listen. Either this warlord was some sort of moron...
... or he was luring me into a trap. But even if he was doing the latter, he was doing a very bad job of it, if I was able to tell he was setting a trap.
Of course, I should’ve been able to tell it was a trap when the messenger was so willing to give me my payment immediately. It was the most recognizable sign that your employer was setting you up, since you probably wouldn’t have time to spend the money anyway.
Of course, the logical decision would be to stop searching for my mark, and leave with the profit I had already. However, if someone out there wanted me dead, they wouldn’t stop trying to get rid of me until they succeeded, or they died.
I was hoping it would be the latter.
Finally, after following his hints and clues, I found the Shadowed One at the far edge of the island. He was standing perfectly still on the edge of a steep cliff, a place characterized by the massive ice formations which dotted the landscape.
Turned away from me, with one hand lazily hanging onto a long, bladed staff, this warlord didn’t even seem aware that his death was fast approaching.
I double-checked the Rhotuka Launcher on my arm, eyes barely straying from figure in front of me. I was hidden behind one of the ice formations, safely out of sight from anyone who happened to be watching the scene.
Above me, even the dark skies seemed to radiate heat, making my armour feel too warm and stuffy. I shuddered, a thousand thoughts racing through my mind. Was this a trap? Should I even be doing this? Why was I so uncomfortable?
Slowly rising from its hiding spot, a strange new concept popped into my head. These strange feelings; could they be attributed to fear?
I snarled silently, not willing to let such trivial things hinder me. I would kill this warlord, I would not die, I would not fail.
In retrospect, I am truly ashamed of my recklessness when it came to this battle.
Had I not been so eager to engage the Shadowed One, I would not have charged him.
Had I not charged him, he would not have heard me, and whirled to reveal his eyebeams, nearly blowing me into oblivion.
Had I not spun around like a dancer, while firing off Rhotuka spinners at random, hoping to hit a target, I wouldn’t have left myself so vulnerable.
Instead, in my recklessness, I allowed my opponent the chance to fire a strange beam at my arm, encasing the launcher in a thick shell of protodermis.
In any other circumstances, I would’ve been able to recuperate from this humiliating strike. But I was too caught up in the attack, and I fell to the ground in shock.
Suddenly, I saw the Shadowed One’s staff come down, ready to neatly separate my head from my shoulders.
But this is battle, is it not? One long series of motions, of decisions, each one inextricably linked together in an intricate dance.
For me, this battle began with a long series of mistakes.
As the Shadowed One’s blade came down, I grunted, raising my imprisoned arm to block the strike, before batting the weapon away with my free hand. The staff skittered away, leaving my opponent vulnerable, and I took my chance, slamming my feet into his chest.
As the Shadowed One went sprawling, I climbed to my feet, hurling another kick at the warlord before he could recover his senses. Unfortunately, my opponent was too quick for that, and fired off another round of disintegrator beams at me, which I barely managed to block with my sealed arm.
Upside: The protodermis which encased my arm was destroyed.
Downside: The Shadowed One was back on his feet.
Before I could process what had just happened, round after round of deadly lasers were being hurled at me, forcing me to take shelter behind a chunk of ice. Already, my mind was in overdrive, scrambling to find a way to defeat, or even stall, this warlord.
I could hear him searching for me, eyebeams obliterating anything in his path. My heart sank. I couldn’t think of any way I could stop this being. I was doomed.
They say that before you die, your life flashes before your eyes. They don’t lie about that. However, they don’t tell you the possible benefits of that happening. As memories popped in my mind, I latched onto one particular recollection, where I was in battle against an enraged Zyglak, with nothing but a package of Matoran fireworks on hand.
With speed and strength I never knew I had, I ripped off one of my boots, each of which contained a small levitation device, activated by stamping down on them. Prying the machinery out, I dug a shallow hole in the ground, before burying it in the dirt.
Without warning, the chunk of ice I had hidden behind was gone, replaced instead by a shadowy spectre of death and destruction.
“Playing in the dirt, are we?” the Shadowed One sneered, revealing a truly carnivorous smile, his eyes beginning to glow.
Not waiting for him to finish his strike, I fired a Rhotuka spinner at him, knowing all too well how useless such an action was. The warlord easily side-stepped the assault, giving me enough time to spring up onto my feet, trying to gain as much distance between the two of us as possible.
The Shadowed One, for his part, just kept smiling, aiming for another burst of his eyebeams. Time slowed. The air seemed like water, making all of my movements sluggish. The ground under me was trembling.
My gaze was locked on the light patch of soil right in front of my soon-to-be-murderer. One step. All I needed was one step.
The Shadowed One let loose a barking laugh, like a Kavinika, fixing his gaze firmly on me, trying to get a better lock.
His feet were too close. I remember that. He shifted his right foot forward-
-onto the light patch of dirt. He stepped. He really stepped.
Suddenly, the Shadowed One was thrown backwards, his right leg lifted into the air without warning by the waiting levitation device. His eyebeams flashed through the air, no where near to me. In his eyes, for the first time throughout our fight, I saw genuine surprise.
Without waiting, I raised my Rhotuka Launcher, firing a spinner at my opponent, hitting him squarely as he struggled to regain his balance. I watched as he collapsed to the ground in heap, robbed of all physical coordination.
I allowed myself a small smile as I walked over to my fallen foe, priming myself to finish him off once and for all. One good blow to the head should do it, I thought. Maybe two, tops.
Standing over the Shadowed One, fist raised above my head, I stared at the downed warlord. Even though he was lying in a heap on the ground, limbs splayed at odd angles, his eyes blazed with ferocity, as if challenging me to finish him off.
I snarled, forcing these distracting thoughts from my mind. This being had tried to kill me, and destroying him would do the universe (and my lifespan) a great deal of good.
However, his eyes still unnerved me. While filled with intensity, they didn’t seem afraid, not in the slightest. They almost... accepted death, begrudgingly of course, but absolutely, nonetheless. It was the visage of every great mercenary who had ever or who would ever live.
In his eyes, I saw a bit of myself.
Slowly, I began to recognize the potential that this warrior held. With his help, I could become even greater than I ever had been before. Under his tutelage, I could surpass every bounty hunter who had come before me.
I lowered my fist to my side, chuckling, “I’m not going to kill you, old man. Not yet.”
When the Shadowed One awoke, the two of us were back in the hospital. I was leaning against one wall, intently watching the warlord lie on his cot, my Rhotuka launcher primed. I wasn’t about to let this fellow get the upper hand on me.
Slowly, groggily, the warrior rose up, knocking the blankets to the ground in the process. Immediately, my launcher was trained on his head. The Shadowed One merely chuckled.
“Your bedside manner needs improving, doctor,” he chided, not even looking in my direction, “I believe even murderous warlords deserve a little more respect than this.”
I smirked, not changing position, “Until I’m assured that you won’t kill me once I turn my back, I’m keeping the weapon up and ready.”
“Your arm’s going to get tired, in that case.”
I let loose a barking laugh, “You’ve got quite the mouth for someone whose being held at launcher point.”
The Shadowed One shrugged, “Laughter is the best medicine, is it not?”
“Perhaps,” I replied, “But while you’re laughing, perhaps you can answer a few questions, Darkness.”
The warlord grinned, with a flicker of pride flashing across his wolf-like features.
“Oh yes,” I continued, “I know that this has all been a set-up. There was no mark for me to find. You just wanted me dead. I’d like an explanation.”
“I’m certain that anyone who has seen death wants the same thing,” my foe replied, “Do they get their wish?”
“Enough jokes!” I roared, suddenly quite annoyed with this being’s antics, “Answers, old man, now!”
The Shadowed One sighed, gazing at the wall opposite to him with a lazy, content expression on his face, “I’m must say, I’m impressed. You were correct on every count, except for one.”
Slowly, he turned his head to face, causing me to instinctively raise my launcher even higher. However, his eyes didn’t glow, nor did he make any move to attack. He just... stared at me.
“I don’t want you dead,” the Shadowed One said, finally, “I need you alive.”
I distinctly remember being too stunned to make a witty comeback, and my opponent took this opportunity slip onto his feet.
“I’ve been searching for a warrior of your... skill, for some time,” he continued, “A being with the ability, intelligence and ruthlessness needed to survive and prosper in the the criminal world. For ages, I was afraid I might’ve been the only being possessing these qualities.”
“Flattery will get you nowhere,” I snarled.
“You misunderstand. I did not seek you to find a kindred spirit. I needed you as a... business partner.”
“Business partner? In what?”
The Shadowed One clasped his hands behind his back, tilting his chin upwards ever-so-slightly, as if to assert his dominance.
“For years,” he explained, “I have toyed with the idea of an organization of beings like ourselves, dedicated to profit and profit alone. An entire army of criminals and mercenaries, with no nation behind it. And I want you to help me create this.”
I scoffed, hiding my intrigue at his idea. The notion of an organization of bounty hunters... it was certainly a possibility. The question, however: could it be profitable?
“Why would I want to risk so much on such a dangerous transaction?” I asked, “Here, I have the promise of work, wealth and security. Why toss those aside for some petty warlord’s dream?”
He smiled, “Dream? This is no dream, my friend. This can and will succeed, but only if the right minds are behind its planning. Which means, us.”
I considered his words, before smirking, “Then I guess I’m pretty important to you, eh?”
“Not too important,” the Shadowed One countered, “But yes, certainly necessary. As for the financial risks, well, consider this your chance to get out into the real world. We’re much better than this island can allow either of us to be, don’t you understand? Out there, we’ll have the entire universe at our fingertips! We could be kings!”
His voice grew with such intensity, I found myself agreeing with him. His words tempted desires and thoughts that had filled my heads throughout the years. I’d always considered leaving this island, beginning anew somewhere out in the world.
“If I joined you, I assume I would be considered as an equal, correct?”
“And the profits acquired would be shared equally.”
“I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
I smirked, “And I guess that even as your equal, you won’t be giving me your real name?”
A now-familiar carnivorous smile greeted my remark, “You’re very quick, warrior. No, I will not be. You may call me the Shadowed One. And, I’ll assume that you will be doing the same.”
I tilted my head with a roguish grin, “Very astute.”
“So then,” the Shadowed One chortled, “What shall I call you, hunter?”
I paused, thinking. What would my new name be? My new identity, which would last me for the rest of my natural life, as well as throughout my legacy.
As annoying as it was, the Recorder’s voice popped back into my head, You have quite the reputation. A warrior as ancient as this very island. The true champion of this accursed place. You should be proud.
An ancient champion from a land filled with ice and shadow?
I rather liked the sound of that. A fitting title for the king of criminals.
“Call me Ancient,” I said, lowering my launcher, “And count me in.”
A lot can change throughout time. Since that day, our brainchild, the Dark Hunters, have flourished and spread throughout the universe. The Shadowed One and I became veritable kings of criminality. We became close allies, with even a few sparks of friendship showing themselves.
And now, amongst the smokestacks of Xia, I find myself recording one of the most important events in my life. The ruins of factories and workshops surround me, and I realize that my mission will force me to abandon this memoir.
But, not to worry. Always some time to finish it once I get back.
Word Count: 3,657 (including title and dividers)
Edited by Emissary to the Void, Jan 17 2013 - 08:48 PM.