Kiyashi repeated the last two words, a question, as the young man wound medicinal bandages around her legs where the toad creature’s saliva had burned holes in the cloth. Apparently, the saliva was not acid but a powerful poison and the medicinal cloth was to both protect her skin and to mend the cloth, the second use puzzling to her.
“Yes, that’s what we call it.”
The young man stood up and Kiyashi followed suit, as he had made her sit down to apply the bandages. After dusting off the seat of her pants, Kiyashi dropped her eyes to her katana, which she had tied to her belt after sheathing it properly. The poisonous saliva had not affected it in any way and had simply slid off the surface of the sheath. The blood on the blade had simply dissolved into dark dust and disintegrated, along with the body of the dead creature, a few seconds after it had met its end at Kiyashi’s blade.
“Why the Hollow?”
The young man did not respond for a moment, looking at a sheet of parchment that he quickly stuffed back in his satchel. With a glance at the courtyard, he turned his eyes back to Kiyashi.
“I think you’ll find out, soon enough,” he said, with a smile that looked more like a frown. But then, it became a real smile as he held out his hand. “My name is Sendo, nice to meet you.”
Kiyashi hastily gripped his hand in return.
“My name is Kiyashi, thank you for saving me there.”
“No problem, Kiyashi. It was my bad for letting that one escape. He was part of my prey.”
Just as Sendo was about to reply, there was a low, drawn-out bellow of a horn being sounded. At that sound, Sendo snapped up his head and his eyes flashed.
“Oh no, it’s already time? We gotta get out of here.”
Kiyashi asked, but her arm was quickly grabbed by Sendo. He began striding towards the doorway opening onto the courtyard and stopped to check around the corner. Seeing that the coast was clear, he let go of Kiyashi’s arm and turned to her.
“Can you run?”
“Yes, I think so.”
“Okay, then follow me.”
Sendo beckoned with his hand and took off across the courtyard. Kiyashi followed as close as she could. Although her body felt like it was black and blue with bruises, she still had the energy to run, which she credited to the strength of fear and nerves.
The sound of their boots on stone echoed through the crumbling halls. Sendo seemed to know the place like the back of his hand. He deftly avoided blocked off hallways where the walls had fallen in and did not stop once to look at any sort of map. It was simply all in his head perhaps.
In a matter of minutes, they were out of the halls of broken stone and vines. The light outside was still the same blue-grey, as if it were overcast. They were now surrounded on either side by 2- to 3-story buildings, all with unlit or shuttered windows. But Sendo did not slow down. Almost in time to their departure from the structure, the light around them seemed to dim. Kiyashi could tell this by the way the shadows between the buildings began to lengthen at a rapid rate. Kiyashi hazarded a glance upwards and saw the sky above them dimming.
“Ask questions when we get to The Hand. Just focus on running,” came the swift reply.
As the paths between the buildings darkened, Kiyashi felt a tingle at the base of her neck. It was like a premonition of fear. She lightly shook her head and focused on keeping her feet moving and her eyes on Sendo.
When they turned a corner, they were greeted by a pool of light that floated up out of the gloom like a halo. Ahead of her, Kiyashi heard Sendo give a laugh of relief.
“We’re almost there. Just get into the light,” he shouted back to her.
“Got it,” Kiyashi responded, when out of the corner of her eye, she saw a shadow drop down and matched their strides. It was such a blur in the gloom that Kiyashi could not tell if it was a person or not; she could only see similar boots and something like a cloak. Sendo noticed as well, as he turned his head slightly and his expression darkened. He turned his body and threw out his arm to Kiyashi.
“Take my hand!,” he shouted.
Kiyashi quickened her strides and grasped his hand. Then was basically thrown forward. The end of the pool of light was right there. Then Kiyashi was completely bathed in it from head to foot as she practically rolled into the light, landing with a cloud of dust. And she looked up just in time to see Sendo jumping into the light as well, followed closely by the dark shadow. But when Sendo cleared the barrier between the darkness and the light, the shadow withdrew with a growl of annoyance and melted into the dark.
Breathing hard, from both the running and the adrenaline rush of fear that they both experienced, Kiyashi and Sendo lay on the ground for a moment, both trying to catch their breath.
“What- what was that?,” Kiyashi asked, in between gasps.
“That, was an Outlaw. A Hunter of Hunters,” said Sendo, sitting up and dusting off his back.
“Oh yeah, Hunters. We,” Sendo pointed at himself and Kiyashi, “We are Hunters.”
“We hunt creatures like the one you slew today. Outlaws, they hunt other Hunters.” Sendo’s expression darkened as he spoke those last words. Kiyashi blinked at noticing this and then struggled to her feet as well.
“But we’re safe here,” continued Sendo. “Inside the light from the taverns, Hunters are safe from creatures and Outlaws alike. It was my bad I didn’t notice that night was falling already. That’s when the Outlaws strike.”
“The tavern… was The Hand that you mentioned earlier, a tavern?”
“Yes, good memory. Yes, this is The Hand.” With those words, Sendo turned and gestured towards the building before them.
Kiyashi hadn’t noticed it as they had been focused on escaping the shadowy Outlaw. It was a structure that looked like it had been cut and pasted from a picture book of medieval European structures. A tavern made of stone and wood, complete with some barrels rolling about on the outside. A sign hanging from the storefront bore the name “The Hand” in cleanly hand painted letters.
“In the tavern, you can buy food and clothes, as well as other supplies. It’s like a convenience store, pharmacy, and clothing store all put together.” Sendo smiled and walked towards the entrance. “Come on, let’s go inside and grab a bite to eat. You must be hungry.”
As if on cue, Kiyashi felt a gurgle erupt from her stomach. She covered it with her hand and smiled sheepishly.
“I suppose I am.”
Sendo laughed and opened the front door. A rush of warmth and something akin to the scent of home enveloped Kiyashi.
“After you, my friend,” he said.
And Kiyashi stepped into the light.