Hunting Shadows

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Chapter 34

A figure with a hooded cloak running towards the temple entrance. She watched, curious now about the figure. The figure entered the temple and she followed suite, always keeping a wary eye and ear open for traps. Something clicked, and she stopped cold; wary now of setting off something highly unpleasant.

“Who are you?”

The deep baritone was unfamiliar to her and she stiffened immediately.

“I’m an explorer, I’m looking for a vase that’s supposed to be hidden within this temple.”

She swallowed as she felt the cold kiss of metal against her temple, her assailant moved around to the front, always keeping an eye on her and the pistol in his hand leveled at her hand.

“Take off the backpack slowly and put your hands behind your back. No sudden movements.”

Nodding, she slid the backpack off, and did what she was told. Her eyes began to turn an eerie green yellow color; but for the moment she let herself be bound. Her jailer bound her wrists and shoved her down the temple hallway.

He kept shoving her forward until she had entered a large throne room. There were guards standing at three-foot intervals along the outer walls and women dressed in heavy make up and simple dresses loitering in the room. A figure sat upon the throne in the center of the room looking bored. Right away she picked up on the dangerous, and lethal aura surrounding him, and never in all her travels had she ever come across someone with aura so powerful and dark other than reapers.

“I found her sneaking through the temple my lord.”

Her guard bowed low with his eyes to the ground. Eryn bowed her head respectively, keeping a wary eye on the person who was making his way down the throne towards her. 11 guards, 13 women, 1 king; when she weighed the odds, and knew she had faced better, and worse. She was not looking forward to fighting her way through 24 people but as a last resort, it was something she kept in mind.

“And where do you hail from, young traveller?”

“I come from Earth; my Lord.”

“I see; welcome to Murkon 5. I am Gandulan, the ruler of this section. What brings you here?”

“I am searching for this.”

She showed him a picture of the statue she was looking for. Fascinated by the pictures on her phone, he flipped through the pictures on the album; looking at all the artifacts she had found. Once finished he handed back the phone.

“Do you know where I can find the statue?”

“I’m afraid it’s much bigger than what your expecting. It’s about ten feet tall and weighs about 50,000 pounds.”

“Well that changes things, then I’ll need to take pictures of it at least.”

“Then, I will lead you there.”

She nodded and followed him through the temple to the center.

“So how did you get here?”

“I wandered through the forest until I found the temple; I saw someone enter, and entered after them.”

The king laughed, and stepped slightly closer to her; invading her space.

“No; of course, you came through the forest, I mean how did you get to this world?”

Be careful how you proceed; you are on one of Hades criminal worlds. There’s a reason why I couldn’t stay long there. That’s why. I am still able to protect you; just please be careful.”

JB’s gravelly voice drifted across her consciousness and her shadow became darker and less transparent.

“Who says I haven’t always been here?”

“I know all the cri- patrons in this area. I haven’t seen you around before.”

“Maybe I came from another sector.”

“Unlikely; the electrified fence surrounding the sector keeps everyone confined to their own area.”

“Does this fence run all the way around the sector?”

“Yes, and it’s too high to go over. There’s a wave that comes over to form a protective layer. There’s no getting in or out.”

“Tell me more about the mechanics and politics of this world.”

They descended deep into the temple and he told her about how there were several sectors at war with each other and the slightest provocation would lead to an all-out war.

“Why are you being so nice to me?”

“I may be a criminal; but I was never an ass to women, my mamma raised me better.”

She picked up on the accent of a southern state and smiled politely as she continued to follow him to the statue. When they entered the chamber with the statue he hadn’t been kidding about the statue; it was huge. It stood at least ten feet tall, covered in gold, and had the head of Anubis.

“Well there’s no way I’m taking that back.”

She took as many pictures as she could while the king stood by and lounged against the wall.

“See, it’s a massive statue; and uh, its not the only thing that’s massive in this room.”

He grinned at her, and winked. Her smile was all pointed teeth and sugary threats.

“Thanks; but I’m happily paired up at the moment.”

“Oh really? Then what’s a pretty young thing like you doing all alone in a world of criminals?”

“How very interesting that a criminal would show kindness and honesty to a stranger.”

She edged away from him and abruptly changed the subject. JB wouldn’t be able to help her out of this jam, and though the thought of a good, no holds barred kind of fight had her adrenaline pumping; she wanted to get through this world without wreaking havoc.

“Don’t get me wrong; little lady, I didn’t get to be king of this band of ruthless lowlifes without being the most ruthless one of all; but my mamma raised me to be respectful of women, especially pretty ones that don’t often come here.”

“I see, well thank you. Your mamma raised you right.”

Once she was finished taking all the pictures she wanted, she gestured toward the exit. Hoping to leave as soon as possible.

“Come now, don’t you want to stay and play a little longer? The games are just about to start.”

“I have to be getting back to my partner.”

“Ah; your partner who’s not here with you. Where is he?”

“He’s waiting in the forest for me to return.”

The man took a step toward her, she took one back. Again, he pursued her as she continued to back up until her back hit the wall. The bastard had backed her into a corner. He reached out and stroked his finger down her cheek. She could smell his foul breath and see her image reflected in his black eyes.

“So, tell me again; how you got here. No one gets in or out of this area.”

“Look buddy, you really need to back up or else I will be forced to hurt you.”

Her eyes glittered and the tips of her fingers glinted in the light reflected off the statue. The criminal overlord merely smiled as if he dared her to hurt him. His hand flew to her throat and he caught her under the chin. She gasped the sudden pressure of his hand cutting off her airway.

“I like you; I think your real pretty, so I’m going to ask you again, how did you get here?”

She wheezed as she brought her hands up, her claws shining momentarily as she sunk them deep into his soft flesh. His eyes flew wide as pain convoluted his features.

“Sorry pal; I don’t like being threatened.”

He made a terrible gurgled coughing sound as she forced his midsection apart. His flesh made ripping sound moments before blood and entrails began pouring out of him. He wasn’t the only one who was ruthless. Flicking the blood from her nails, she wiped her hands down her pants and walked away from the carnage she had created. When she had reached the main room, no one appeared to notice her; and yet, there was something highly unsettling about the way that the occupants just stood there mingling with each other.

“Where is the king?”

The guard who had brought into the temple was now standing in front of her. A scowl on his face and his dark eyes blazing with mistrust.

“He decided to stay and admire the statue.”

The guard narrowed his eyes at her, and when he saw her hands coated in red, he motioned to the other guards to come to his side. Eryn prepared for a massive fight which would only end in bloodshed. The panther raised its head and growled low, a sound which escaped from her throat. The moment all the guards had converged around her, she let loose a howl of rage as swords and knives appeared from there holsters. She laid open throats, raking her metal claws up and across faces, arms and other limbs within range.

She was a dancer of death, and she flayed the guards surrounding her with brutal efficiency. One of the women screamed as the last guard dropped, his throat torn open and gushing blood. Crazed, the woman charged Eryn, who blocked the shiv the screaming banshee drove through her arm. Growling, Eryn drove her claws into the woman’s chest, punching through bone until she had punctured the woman’s heart. Eryn pulled her arm out, now coated from the woman’s blood, along with the woman’s heart. The female dropped without another sound.

The other women in the room had disappeared and Eryn wasn’t about to stay and see if they came back. Shifting forms, she shook the blood and innards from her pelt, and then she was gone. Running through forest until she had reached the lake, she stopped momentarily to fully clean herself before heading to the edge of the territory. She was no criminal, the lives she took were out of necessity for her survival. She didn’t stop moving until she had reached the fence the warlord had been talking about. She could hear the faint buzzing of the fence, and decided to see the fence ran underground as well.

If you keep going like this, your going to end up crashing, and that is not something you want to do on a world loaded with criminals.”

“Yea, I know, but I can’t rest yet. I need to get out of this sector first; can you come get me?”

Still nothing there. Sorry love; I’m trapped until you come home.”

She felt his whisper leave her mind, but he continued to give her strength. Her adrenaline rush was wearing off, and with it her physical strength was ebbing. She drove the shovel deeper and deeper, continuing to dig further and further. When she had dug more then seven feet down, she began digging across. It took her all night before she was able to create a hole from one side of the barrier to the other. She was panting hard, covered in dirt and blood and could barely make it to the next tree. But she had made it as far as a large oak tree before she climbed high into the branches and let herself sleep.

When day break shone through the leaves, she climbed down and began hunting for water. There was a small pond a few meters from her spot in the oak tree. She left to get cleaned up and to refill her canteen. Wary now of more criminals trying to subdue her, she kept mostly to the shadows, slinking about as large black cat. There was no easy way through the jungle in this sector which meant she would have to go through the town.

It took a few days for her to determine that this sector had only women, and though they looked tough and gnarly, she wasn’t about to let her guard down. With her head, down and her traveller’s cloak wrapped around her concealing her face, she made her way into the town. At least no one was attacking her yet. She made her way to the fountain near the center, someone shouted at her. She turned around searching for the source of the voice, and was amazed to see two beefy looking women arguing with each other. Fascinated she crept closer to see what they were fighting about.

“Bitch, what do you think your doing on my turf?”

“Cunt, what do you think I’m doing on your turf?”

“Trying to take my man, whore.”

“Oh please, like you could ever keep a man.”

One girl shoved the other and the other girl, pulled a shiv from somewhere on her person, and stabbed the first girl with it through the neck. Eryn gasped and ducked behind the wall she had been hiding behind. When she peaked back around the corner, the woman was wiping the blood from her shiv. Looking up, they locked eyes momentarily before Eryn ducked back behind the wall and took off running.

“Oh no you don’t; I can’t have witnesses.”

The girl gave chase and it wasn’t long before Eryn could hear her pounding down the pavement after her. She pushed herself further through the city, whipping past corners and diving behind dumpsters. Just as she rounded a corner, a hand snaked out and grabbed her. With her mouth covered she was pulled into the darkened corridor and held against a well-muscled chest. Growling, she waited until the woman had run past before she pushed her feet against the wall and walked up, using her momentum to bring her arms up and over her attacker’s head while still holding onto him. Her left hand slid up to his throat and she could feel him swallow, his Adams apple bobbing against her silver claws.

“I wouldn’t move fast if I were you. You’re going to give me some information; now. Please.”

“Alright, alright; I’ll tell you what you need. Your looking for a portal right; a way out of here.”

The man rasped against her claws.

“How do you know?”

She tightened her grip just slightly, and he coughed; but other than that, made no other move.

“Were you or are you following me?”

“Yes, I had to. You’re an interdimensional traveller.”

“I should gut you where you stand. I don’t like being followed and I don’t like being used.”

She growled against his ear.

“I can help you find the portal.”

She felt his body shudder, could feel the pulse under her fingertips.

“What makes you think, I’m going to trust you.”

“No choice; your face is all over the bulletins.”

He slowly held up his wrist, and a small square on the inside of his wrist showed a picture of Eryn, with a rather large number under it.

“Explain.”

“Can you release me?”

“Only if you promise never to touch me again.”

“I promise.”

She realised him and he gasped, his hands rubbing his bruised esophagus and he took two steps back further from the entrance of the alleyway.

“Now explain why there’s a bounty on my head, and how you knew how to find me.”

“Your face appeared on screen with the bounty a little over a couple of hours ago. We haven’t had new criminals in forever. I used to read your stories about your adventures and that’s how I recognized your face. Finding you was a bit more difficult; I didn’t know which sector you wound up in, it was purely by chance that I was able to find you in this one.”

“Why are you helping me?”

“Because I’m hoping we can make a deal.”

“What kind of deal?”

“I help you get to the portal, and you take me with you.”

“You’re a criminal, why should I help you?”

“Because I know where the portal is.”

“Where is it?”

“On the other side of the world.”

“Fantastic…. How did you end up here?”

“Uh, we should get going; it’ll be nightfall soon and let me tell you, there are lot more scarier things in this world than just criminals.”

She glared at him in the darkness, but followed him when he started down the alleyway, away from the entrance.

“How long will it take us to get to the other side of this world?”

“How long does it normally take you to get from one side of a planet to the other?”

“depends on the mode of transportation I have available.”

“How about walking?”

She stopped talking and continued to map their route through the city. By the time, they had reached the outskirts of the city, they were both panting hard and covered in a light sheen of sweat.

“How much farther to the edge of this sector?

“Not much further, the edge should be coming up soon.”

When they had gotten to the fence surrounding the sector, she began digging a hole while her companion kept an eye out. When they were on the other side of the fence and further into the trees, they set up camp for the night.

“So, you never told me why you’re here?”

“What do you mean?”

“You’re a criminal; what did you do to get you sent here?”

“Uh, mostly murder… a couple counts of rape and one count of burglary. What about you?”

“I’m not a criminal. I wound up here by accident. I’m looking for a way off this world as soon as possible.”

She didn’t mention the fact that she had several counts of murder stacked against her – most of which were self defence. The only one she felt truly guilty over was Skylar’s death which even though she hadn’t caused herself… she still felt responsible for it. The judge told her she had been absolved of those murders, though she still felt guilt over having caused them.

“You seem a little touchy.”

“I’m going hunting. Can I trust you enough to watch the fire?”

“Sure.”

She kept her pack tucked away in a tree a few feet from their campsite. She disappeared into the undergrowth, searching for prey.

She made her way through the forest hunting small game like rabbits and fox until she had a small cache hidden away. Climbing the tallest tree, she could find, she climbed until she was high enough to see over the sector. There were towns and cities, acres of forests, and at the center was a massive pole that had lines running in all directions. Taking out the map, she pin-pointed her location and marked where the portal should be. It would take her another couple of days, given their current pace and whatever other obstacles they encountered.

They left early in the morning, and travelled through the city center, avoiding people when they could and hiding in the shadows when they couldn’t. At one in time, the criminal helping her disappeared into the shadows, only to reappear a few moments later splattered in blood. She didn’t ask questions, all too accustomed to death with a comfortableness to killing. By the time, they reached the third sector wall, Eryn was beginning to suspect that the criminal helping her, was not as stable as he appeared. Every now and again, he would look to his side and talk to someone who wasn’t there.

When she asked about it; he looked at her funny and said his companion had been with them all along. His name was Kieron and he had several counts of murder stacked against him.

She just agreed and smiled, but was already making plans to ditch the crazy and escape in tack with her life and limbs. It was coming on the third day when they reached the last sector and the portal that lay beyond. He was watching camp, talking to his imaginary friend when she left to go hunting. She made sure to leave a fox for him to skin, and then she disappeared into the forest, halfway down, she transformed into a panther. Instinct pulled her to the right outside the city, and high up in the sky just, hovering just above an apartment building, she could see the off-centre glow of the portal.

She moved as silently and fluidly as a shadow, this time of night everyone seemed to be inside. She didn’t want to find out why, her hackles were already on the rise and her instincts were screaming at her to run. She found a fire-escape that led to the top of an apartment. She was halfway up when the top part began to break away from the brick and mortar. Jumping from landing to landing, she climbed as lithely as possible, but her weight was against her in this situation although speed was paramount and her human side wasn’t nearly as fast as her panther form.

The fire-escape broke free, just as she had reached the top and with a final kick to the rotting metal, the entire thing fell from the building with a massive clattering of brick, stone and metal.

She crouched below the wall, waiting. 1 minute turned into 3, 3 minutes turned 5 and when nothing happened, she decided to stop wasting time. She started running, the portal glimmered lazily in the air three buildings over. She jumped the first roof, mindful of the 10-foot gap between them, the second roof was more of a challenge because the building was taller. She secured the triangle to the gun and shot it into the top ledge of the next building. Securing the rope around her body, she launched herself at the other building, grunting as she hit the side of the brick.

Bracing her feet against the stone, she walked up the side of the building until she was on the roof. The moon hung lazily in the nighttime sky against the stars that twinkled like diamonds. Looking up at the moon, it made her miss home. Swallowing against the lump in her throat, she started running for the last rooftop. Once she cleared the gap, she pulled out her helmet and slipped it on. There a moment of waiting for the technology inside to wake up and pick up on her location and vital signs.

This suit was slightly different than her previous suit; this one had wings, rockets and a weapons upgrade. Once everything was on and warmed, it began clicking into place, covering her body from head to tail. The wings began clicking outward until they were fully expanded. There were rockets in the paws and a propulsion system built in to the suit.

She started running from one end of the rooftop to the other, and then she leaped off the side of the building, the rockets kicked in and propelled her to towards the portal. She was through the portal within seconds, and then back out through the jelly water that surrounded the planet and from there, she was flying. She loved nothing more than the feel of freedom as she flew through the clouds; the rockets in her suit propelling her higher and higher.

She found the portal she was looking for, and dived though, welcoming the sensation of time and space ripping across a vortex of color and reassembling of molecules on the other side. She laughed as she came out into a new world; free of criminals and psychopaths. Vaguely she wondered what kind of creatures inhabited this world. As she found a place to land she began going through the list of creatures that could inhabit unknown worlds. There were the obvious, trolls, pixies and fairies, elves and dwarfs, werewolves and vampires; and then there were other creatures such as: mech-droids, soul-eaters, crazy psychopaths, dopplegangers, and a whole host of creatures that could and most likely would eat her.

She set up camp near a small stream and waited for night to descend.

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