A Dark Hunt Final Poll
Vote here for your favorite Dark Hunt story. Please MAKE SURE YOU READ ALL ENTRIES BEFORE VOTING.Voting begins now and will end on July 17th at 11:59 PM PST. The entry with the most votes will be the winner of the Dark Hunt theme and will then be either judged or polled against the winners of the other themes.
The waves still washed at the foot of the cliff. The spires of the ancient fortress that crowned the cliff still gnawed at the sky above. The figure still crouched, shadowed by the overhang, where the shore met the water of the Silver Sea. He crouched and waited with colorless eyes.
The ship must have wrecked last night. Debris littered the shoreline. It reminded him of a time he had almost forgotten, but not quite. Four millennia, was it? Maybe more.... But the years were meaningless to him. This was his home now—his realm. Even his name was lost to time.
Before him, the body of the blue-and-gold-armored creature bobbed with the tide. It was the only survivor of the wreck, it seemed. He squinted down from his shadowed perch, tail swishing back and forth as he weighed his options: It would be easy to end the thing where it lay. Just a glance, and the shore would be a wasteland of glass. Yes, it would be easy. Too easy.
Old memories arose: memories of rolling surf, sand against his face, coughing up seawater, and then struggling up the shore. It had been night, pitch black. He’d set one of the thorn-trees aflame with his vision to provide some light, then lay beneath it, weak and shivering. Eyes had glittered beyond the firelight, and fear had paralyzed him for a time. But then his will had returned, and he’d met the gaze of those beastly eyes with the fearsome power of his own.
In the morning, he’d awakened to find the remains of their bodies. Ravenous Kavinga and razor-toothed Hapaka, feral and gaunt. Their corpses were burnt and half-destroyed, but worst of all was what he found among them: the seven-toed tracks of the night-stalking Muaka. Muaka Elnikrai: the Dark Hunter. He knew the tracks, but no body remained. The beast had escaped into the darkness. It was still out there, somewhere, and his fear of it had bitten deep....
A sound brought him back, and he focused once more upon the figure in the surf. It was moving now, struggling up. Water dripped from its armor and face. Was that a Kanohi it wore? No, it was no Toa. In fact, they were much alike. The same species, perhaps. Sunlight gleamed on the being’s armor as it rose. It did not see him yet, hidden in the cool shadow. It surveyed its surroundings: side to side, then upward. Its gaze lingered upon the fortress atop the cliff. Such irony, that both of them should end up marooned on this island; forgotten, just like the Beings who had raised that fortress in ancient days....
Their eyes met suddenly, gaze to gaze. A long moment passed, and another memory leapt to the forefront of his mind then. It was amid the stones of the fortress high above. Years had passed since he’d been marooned, and he had survived. He had established himself as the strongest predator in this island realm. Any creature that opposed him fell to his gaze. All but one...the Dark Hunter stalked him still, cunning and terrible. It pursued him always, lurking just beyond his sight.
Until one night, when he had led it on a long, dark hunt through the night, high upon the cliffside, into the stony heart of the fortress walls. And there it had ended, same as now. For a moment he had hesitated, creeping through a courtyard, and in that moment the Hunter had struck. Claws raked, teeth bit, and he had thought his death was near.
But then morning had poured over the broken walltops, and the beast had recoiled from him, blinking, as he collapsed in the shade. Their eyes met—one bathed in sunlight, one in shadow—and the Dark Hunter had perished at last.
And now? The silence stretched. Neither figure moved. The one who crouched in shadow felt the sudden urge to act. He was the Dark Hunter now. He was the dark.... He would hunt. He felt the fearsome power welling up behind his eyes. And then—
“What is your name?” the other being asked, and something changed. The moment was broken. The power.... It ebbed away.
“I...I have forgotten,” he said, hesitating. The words felt strange. “I have lived...in shadow...too long.”
“Well, shadowed one, my name is old and forgotten too. In fact, it is beyond ancient. I see you wear the skull of the Muaka Elnikrai...”
“...I believe you must be a fearsome Hunter.”
"The Music Box's Song"
It’s often said that the most curious piece of treasure in all of The Shadowed One’s collection is a plain, wooden box with neither value nor decoration. A key juts from its front and when turned, the box begins to sing. A hollow, melancholic trill fills the room and drowns it in pensiveness. The Shadowed One has never attempted to sell it, to barter with it or even dare to gamble with it.
Why he keeps this box is known to few and fewer still who would speak of it. But yet it continues to rest amongst rubies and opals, broadswords and spears, trophies and spoils of war. It exists besides them without contest and most curiously of all, it has gathered the least dust in all its years of rest.
The Dark Hunter trod through the collection, his feet whispering across the stony ground with all the subtlety his name would suggest. In the distance The Shadowed One marched these halls in pursuit of a separate purpose. Whatever it was, it was of no concern to Darkness. His intent was of a different nature, independent yet important enough to allow his game to wander from his watchful gaze.
The music box lay where it had always been kept, on a pedestal between two tablets inscribed with a language older than the rocks used to host them. His fingers brushed the surface and left a trail of dust in their wake. Darkness made no noise as he lifted it from its resting place and held it to his face.
Something shifted beyond and The Shadowed One’s voice floated over to Darkness’ ears. Whatever those words said was left unqueried as the Dark Hunters’ attention returned to the plain box before him. He turned the key and shattered the silence with its grating groan. The gears were wound and the song began to sound.
Once upon a time Darkness had made it his goal to ascend to the Dark Hunter’s throne. His plan had been to follow The Shadowed One, to watch and wait. At any moment his prey would slip, would make a mistake, would show weakness. He would wait for the moment when The Shadowed One had finally proven himself to be unworthy for rule and then Darkness would slip in and take his rightful position at the head of the organisation with a well-placed knife. Once upon a time he had thought nothing of this plan. But once upon a time was a long time ago.
He had watched and he had waited. Years turned into decades and decades into centuries. Through time, Darkness had grown proficient at his job. He learnt The Shadowed One’s schedule, his plans and his aspirations. He slipped into his prey’s mind as though it were a comfortable set of armour without realising the cost. In joining the Dark Hunters he had surrendered his old self to become Darkness. In the pursuit of his goals he had surrendered Darkness and become The Shadowed One’s shadow. He was no longer an independent being. He was only an echo of The Shadowed One now.
And yet, the dark hunt might have been Darkness’ life, but the box held the key to something beyond. In its hollow notes it sang a song of a time gone by when the world was different and when Shadow was something else. Something now lost, not only to himself but to the universe itself. But the music box knew and through its gentle rhythm, Darkness would know as well.
The true meaning in the box’s elusive history was of course known to Darkness but it was a matter that was none of his business. He cared not for the object but for its produce. It was the music that enticed him to listen. It was the sounds it made, like a siren calling him home. Nothing could have drawn him from the thoughtful trance it cast him in, nothing besides the great shadow of The Shadowed One that loomed over him then.
Darkness turned and the two regarded each other in watchful silence. Not a single word crossed between them as the box’s notes continued to unfold, for there was nothing to say. They simply stood and stared and waited for the empty desolation of silence to envelop them, and then their interaction would come to an end. Two individuals stood in this room but they would leave as one.
Eventually the box fell into silence and the hunt resumed.
"Colours on Canvas"
I started making swords as a Ta-Matoran. It promised an honest living.That was not what I sought.One thousand years later, I would wield a sword as a Toa of flames. I was promised glory.That was not what I sought.Another thousand years would pass, and I would wield a sword again. This time, no glory was promised; heroes and defenders had become commonplace to the Matoran. We had been demoted from legends to scarecrows. We had become the security blanket locked in the attic -- impotent, redundant, kept out of misplaced sentimentality. Our lives were put on hold, dulled and faded until they were a grey canvas.Many years later, a rogue Toa of the soil attacked the village, and my sword had chance to sting again.And sting it did. Earth met steel, and earth was transformed to blood. My opponent fell, his life leaking back into his element.Anger ignited, fear swelled, shame fell, horror took grip; I drank in those crisp, genuine, heartfelt feelings. They were deep blacks, muddy greens, vibrant yellows and burning reds splashing onto the grey space of my existence -- in a blazing moment my frustration had been replaced by fire, and my lethargy had been replaced by lust.Reprimands were given; trials held. I was warned that if my actions were repeated, I would be punished.That was not what I sought.If I stayed on the straight and narrow path, they said I would become a hero of legends.That was not what I sought.More years passed, and I returned to an existence of limbo. Grey creeped back into my life, but this was a darker shade -- it was not of boredom, but of resentment.History repeated itself; a mad Skakdi of the waves stormed our gates, and my team rushed to stop it. I was pushed back by my brethren, to keep me from the rapture that battle promised. But my will proved greater than their might, and the frenzied beast was reduced to red streams splashed onto shards of blue.I looked back to my five brothers and sisters, as they silently conceded that the final line had been crossed.How right they were.Axe, scythe, shield, flail, spear...names were lost to me. Steel sang, and my old team fell one-by-one, their lives returned to their Great Spirit, their colours feeding me.But five was not enough.So I drowned my village in death.As well as the next. And the next. And the next. And the next.Some desperate men and women promised me power in exchange for mercy.That was not what I sought.Power was a sedentary thing, and my hunger required me to move and chase and hunt. Only my sword could give me what I wanted, what I needed.It promised me life.And that was what I sought.