Their swords drip, not with blood, but with sweat. It has been 20 minutes now and their dispute still not settled. Both pupils to the same master, both think they are better, neither one sees the cloaked one in the corner drawing his sword. Neither had a flaw nor committed an err. As the shadows guided the third figure to the dueling men, rumors blew through the crowd like a quiet storm suddenly becoming a hurricane as the fight grew more intense.
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“For honor”, more shouts rang out. Through the murk of the crowd the figure seemed to just disappear and pop back into existence in an ungodly way. Their swords’ vibrancies were blood in the water to the feeding frenzy that was the crowd, for they were feeding. Feeding on the adrenaline of the duelists. And as more smelled it, the more the frenzy was locked on them, embraced by the horrifying thought of one of the men actually dieing at the hand of the other. The joy and celebration of birth was now forgotten as they roared at the sight of both men drawing blood. The only static things in the half-hour they had been fighting were the duelists and the figure in the background.
Finally on the inner ring of the crowd he completed in drawing his sword. The silence accompanying the sword scratch out of its scabbard was deafening as the men stopped and redirected themselves at this man, who both men regarded a fool for even thinking to touch his sword with them in mind. How quickly the crowd went from roaring to gasping.
Death was once more a foul thing. Their skill though equal to one another, was not a match for the form of the cloaked figure. Death was swift and once one had been slain the other lost hope. An older man tossed a towel to the figure.
“Shadow, clean your blade and let us mourn in peace.”, the man let ring from his deep old chords.
“Death is no spectacle, two men should not be allowed to fight, not like that.” His response was slow and monotonous, as it tip-toed through the crowd.
“And you teach this through death?” A girl commented quite confused, and a bit teary.
“There is no other way.” The response stormed through trampling the whispers of the crowd as the old man bowed and went on his way. The crowd dispersed, taking the men’s bodies, and their heads. He stood there, Shadow, sword clean and sheathed, still a spectacle to the town.
The town swallowed him back into the abyss he seemed to know so well. He would forever be the tale of a shadow, which mediated the epic battle of two men, now heroes by death. He would become the object of child’s tales, practical jokes, and serious conversation alike. That night only the ignorant slept; those people who did not see the sight, no, the carved reality that was those few moments. His words changed the town forever, no longer would they allow fighting. Some would not let their offspring learn how. The moon was full, the hillside covered with trees, already starting to take their journey into the cold. He could still a building or two, but only because he knew where to look. He seemed to fly through the rain of red and orange, since his cloak covered his feet from vision. Yet he never tripped upon it.
A fireplace haunts the woods as a drum is beat. Two men, to the untrained eye, dancing to this beat, to each other. An eruption of laughter as one of the men places a foot on an unwilling stick. Their voices filled the woods catching a passerby’s attention far off. The beat was no more, and a pot over the fire replaced the dancing.
The aroma’s soft whisper called the passerby in a harsh way, stopping it completely to redirect itself on its voice.
The men passed jokes and exchanged stories without fear of the forest. For they knew this particular forest intimately as such was their careless attitude towards being there.
Its eyes grew hungry, as its ears strained to pick up anything in the direction of the soft whisper that called it.
The forest grew queerly silent and the men took notice of its uneasiness.
It stood now in an open clearing with the moons reflection in its eye.
The noise made even the leaves about the fire shudder along with the men as the fire could not stand the silence any longer.
It had not moved, but now it watched them, the fire had seemed to gently tap it on the shoulder and point it in the direction of the men.
They whispered now as one man passed the other two swords. They knew something was up, but they have only ever heard the stories.
It moved as though the leaves from tree to tree, safe from vision and away from sound. They stood ready to fight off the unknown foe.
As more time passed one man started to waver, his strength was fading for they had not eaten all day.
It could not wait any longer, its own hunger was gnawing at it.
A rustle of leaves. The sound of a sword cutting air. These two things so quickly occurred, by the time the other two men could react the third was being dragged into the forest. They looked at each other in awe, horror whatever it was, was interrupted by a sound that could cleave a lightning bolt in half. The split-second decision of every man for himself was made and they both ran. Their fear drove them faster and faster, but hunger drove it, and it was this need for nourishment that created a clear picture in its mind. Exactly what it had to do to survive. They were swift but it was inhuman. A roar of victory accompanied by the gurgling noise of what was left of the man’s throat.
He was the last one, he thought he would survive. For someone must have been left to tell the stories. He paused for a moment to rest, thoughts flooded his mind. Like the A-bomb a dam was dropped in his mind and all was silent, except for one thing.
Breathing. Behind him. Directly behind him. The sound of a gripped sword, and he swung, a calm fell over him. His eyes closed, he swung blindly. As his sword reached its midway point in the swing, a sharp pain in his shoulder brought him to his knees as his sword flung through the air, splicing into a tree.
As its teeth slid from his flesh, it could barely contain itself from ripping him apart.
He knew he was beat, haunched on his knees in the forest. Dieing he thought, was not an option. He would fight. Fight to live. He stood up, and the adrenaline that flushed through his body also filled the forest around him. Leaves here and there rustled with a soft breeze.
It stared at this thing that would not succumb. It raised its hand to strike him down when it heard something coming, quickly.
He knew not his luck in his strike and in the timing for he did connect with the push and sent it back at least a yard.
He had been running since he left the village, he was tired but would not rest. He carried with him his sword and a metal woven quarterstaff. He arrived at a fire, still burning. Suspicious and angry at those who would leave a lit flame to the forest, he left to stumble over a corpse. It was unrecognizable. No person was capable of that kind of mutilation. Drawing his quarterstaff he sees a tree vibrate, like watching a drop fall in a pond. It took only seconds to get there. They acknowledged each others existance silently. The creature he saw standing over a man, still breathing, sitting with his back to a tree. It turned around to face Shadow, a sick grin crossed its face. Hundreds of stories blew through his mind as he searched for a way to kill this new foe. This werewolf. Blood and saliva dripped from its jaws, which when it stood straight, were over his head. He then realized sunrise was only an hour off and he would only have to entertain the creature for said time. They leapt at each other. The creature’s claws ripped through his cloak as his staff raked across the creature’s muzzle. For a moment they stopped as if frozen in time, both realizing the power of the other and both setting their determination on victory. 10 seconds went by, they studied each other with out moving, waiting for the other to get distracted so their next blow would have a better chance of striking. They were close enough to shake hands, still holding their pose from their last strike. This fight was as much a mental one if not more than a physical one.
“KILL IT!” rang out from the base of the tree. Both Shadow and the werewolf looked at the confused man. Both realizing the distraction in the other, they struck again. The werewolf lunged forward hoping for a chance to lock its jaw on Shadow. But Shadow stepped forward as his quarterstaff struck the creature in the side. Reflexively the creature backhanded Shadow in the back and sent him rolling. Now with distance between them he decided to take a chance. If he rushed and struck the creature in the neck hard enough, maybe, he thought, it would pass out. But if it did not he would be very open to retaliation. The werewolf drooled in anxiety. The man by the tree had stopped breathing, he had bled to death, from shaking the tree so badly. Shadow leapt. And connected. The werewolf was terrified as it realized it had no control over its body as its vision slowly went black.
The leaves caught the werewolf as Shadow rested. Time passed as Shadow eventually built a fire and long after that put down his staff. He found a shovel in the men’s camp and started digging. There was only enough room for one person when he noticed the werewolf slowly drooping back into a person. After a minute he could tell it was a she, after two he realized she had no clothing, and rushed to the camp and tore down one of the cloth tents the three men had setup and laid it over her. Thinking she might run away before he spoke to her, he now shoveled the dirt onto her legs. Only one of the men was able to be buried. The other one he found was too mauled beyond recognition and still wet with blood. After tossing in the body he rested and decided to show her what she had done. He fell asleep from exhaustion while waiting for the woman to wake.
He dreamed, of wars past of fields blanketed in blood and metal of the day he left home. His last glimpse of his home as the sun set locking the picture in his mind as he smiled the last smile would have in a long time. The dream was short lived and he wept in his sleep, but soon he tasted dirt and thinking he had been buried realized his state and jumped to his feet only awakening thereafter. A small bit of dirt flew his direction again as the woman still nude buried the man he had left. He did not know whether she knew he was awake but he remained both silent and still as she hauled the dirt, shovel by shovel. The sun broke through the trees highlighting her slender body as it performed this ,to it, loathsome task and it perspired in discontent. When she finished and dropped the shovel, he spoke.
“You should make a tombstone.” As cold as death itself he tried his best to let it show what she had done. She jumped in genuine fright and frantically searched through the leaves for the cloth, which had covered her before, one hand trying to search, the other trying to cover her entire body at once. After not being able to find it she gave up and merely slumped down in the opposite direction turning her head over her shoulder to speak. He prepared his things to go and she watched cautiously hoping he would not come after her. It only took seconds to dust off his robe and take hold of his staff he had already passed her and was on his way before she spoke.
“Are you just going to leave me here?” She sounded like a kitten that had just lost its mother. Shadow stopped.
“At least leave me some clothes” She made the comment in desperation. Looking ahead he saw the trees start to bend his way. He waited for the last moment taking a gamble and turned quickly extending his hand just as the wind blew, scaring her into believing he held such power. Fortunately for him, the wind unearthed the tent and she was able to robe herself.
“If you’re not going to make a tombstone, you may travel with me, until you can find your way home.” Shadow rushed. She disliked not being able to see his face and for this reason was distrusting.
“I know the way.” She said sharply turning her head just as she spoke in a disapproving tone.
“Is there any other excuse I could use to get you to come to make up for…” He paused and placed his hand on his, well where his chin would be anyway, as he searched for the right words, to be as inoffensive as possible. There he had it, as he raised his hand from his face, finger extended toward the sky.
“Interrupting your meal last night.” He said cautiously expecting verbal assault. She had been slowly turning her head back toward him throughout his sentence and finally nodding at his last words.
”Yes I’ll come, no there aren’t any other excuses though.” She seemed to wink with her whole body, as women can do, as she spoke. Shadow nodded and they both walked into the forest.