Immortal Hunt Scene

Two days ago, I posted a poem I wrote that was inspired by a scene I was contemplating for the third book in the Peace of Evon series, Lost King.  Today, I managed to finish a draft of the scene and thought I would share it.

I’m only posting the part of the scene that pertains to the poem’s content, so, to fend off confusion, the scene is told from the point of view of a deity known as Aquila the Royal Eagle.  She is in a cave collecting the souls of the dead after a battle that has been interrupted by an earthquake.

Immortal Hunt Scene

Then again, Aquila thought as a sharp, shivering chill pierced her being, perhaps the Immortal Hunt has as much to do with it.

Aquila had paid little attention to the demigods when she first arrived in the caves—she tended to ignore them unless she had a message for them or unless Life and Death were fighting over a soul—but she was suddenly very aware of the increasingly dense emotional cloud now swirling around Death and Hate.

And Fear, she realized with a start as the yellow demigod appeared—sans Hope—and stalked closer to his brothers.

“Who’s the prey?” she heard him mutter.  His voice was cold and whisper-soft, and Aquila blinked as she realized that it had been so long since she had last witnessed a Hunt that she had forgotten he could sound that way.

Hate remained silent, simply jabbing his finger sharply towards the entrance of a small tunnel that had appeared in what should have been an unbroken wall of stone.  The color of his body seemed to throb, and he glowered at the small entrance.

It was Death who spoke in a low growl, though his words were not so much an answer as a call to the Hunt.

“Run, run, little thief, but you cannot hide, for none escape the shade of Death.”

Aquila ruffled her feathers, unsettled.  With the words, Death’s features sharpened and became shadowy at the same time.  It was as though she could see beneath his black form’s outer layer to a sharper, more skeletal layer that should not have existed.

Has Death always looked this way on the Hunt?

Aquila did not think so.  She had always thought he took on more feline attributes, like a large cat stalking its prey, but it had been over two centuries since the brothers last converged for a Hunt, perhaps longer.

Maybe Peace’s absence and the Chaos have changed the siblings more than we thought they could.

Such thoughts did not make the Eagle feel any calmer.

“He’s the one who held Peace’s dragon and stallion away from her, aye?” Fear breathed.  “The one who ruled the Hidden City with fear?”

“So much death,” the black brother answered.

“So much hatred,” answered the red.

“A warmongering fool!”

Death, Hate, and Fear all jumped at the violent words, and even Aquila was ashamed to admit that they had startled her.  They also frightened her because all the gods knew their owner had become overrun by Chaos.

Despite their startled reactions, though, none of the older demigods appeared to be worried by War’s appearance.  In fact, they greeted him with nods and turned their attention back to the tunnel, accepting his presence as though it were necessary.

Which it very well might be.

Aquila had never seen a Hunt that had not involved all the brothers who lived at the time.  And, while she did not understand how the Hunts first began, she knew that the brothers were driven to them, not by choice, but by a spiritual pull to cleanse the realm of a soul that had crossed into each of their influences too often for Balance to reassert itself any other way.

Aquila glanced towards the center of the large cavern from which the mortals had originally fled.  There lay the shell of a mortal who had been named after Aquila herself, a mortal who had been killed only minutes before the earthquake began.

Perhaps…

“Run, run, little thief,” Death repeated, “but you cannot hide…”

The gods’ revenge will not abide.

The line leapt to mind as Aquila suddenly remembered a poem she had once overheard an elven Seer and Mindspeaker use to describe the Immortal Hunt.  It had been a surprisingly accurate description, and she let it fill her mind as she watched the brothers engage their prey.

Run, run, little thief, but you cannot hide,

the gods’ revenge will not abide.

The four brothers stalked into the wall.  Their spirits were mostly obscured by the essence of the rock, but Aquila could still sense them and their actions easily enough.

A beast who steals, who kills, depraved,

who preys on souls and can’t be saved.

The man they stalked crouched at the end of a small tunnel, one hand wrapped tightly around a small stone that radiated Earth Magic, the other pressed awkwardly against the deep wound in the back of his shoulder.  Despite the wound, his concentration was focused fully on holding the Earth Magic steady.

You cannot still the burning Hate,

which beats within the souls you take.

Hate came upon the man first.  He tugged on the swirling cloud of emotions that had followed them, and Aquila felt an answering tug on her wings, like feathers being plucked.  The sensation soon turned from a sharp plucking to a taut strum, and the Eagle knew that Hate was collecting the hatred that those souls she had collected had felt towards their prey.

The red demigod wove the hatred together, funneling it into their prey’s soul and turning it on his own self.

Burning hatred eased into the man’s mind.  At first, he began to question small things he had done, ways he had lead his men, or left them.  That doubt soon became distaste, then disgust, until an inferno of hate raged within him and he had no choice but to release his shoulder and punch the walls with his bare fist and claw at his own face in order to relieve it.

Nor burn away the sickly Fear,

which chills your bones and has no cure.

Even as rage filled their prey’s mind, Fear weaved together the terror that the man had instilled in this place.  While Hate had funneled his emotion into the man’s soul and turned it on himself, Fear wrapped the terror around their prey’s neck, tying it like a noose and folding it around his head and shoulders like a shawl.

Shadows began to appear in the corners of the man’s eyes, and the hairs on the nape of his neck stood upright as cold seeped down into his bones.   Light, barely-there touches eased down his face, then neck and arms, until his entire body felt like it was crawling with tiny creatures unknown.  Only then did the shadows take more shape, still not defined, but visible enough to let any man’s imagination increase his terror to panic.

You cannot fight the raging War,

which churns and burns within your core.

When War took his turn, he did not use the emotions that others had felt towards their prey.  Instead, he plucked at a part of the man’s soul that was nearly unused, calling forth his conscience to wage war on the man’s antipathy and greed.

The man doubled over, gasping and groaning against the emotions.  He clutched at his head with both hands, unknowingly dropping the mage stone as he did.  The small stone bounced and rolled as it struck the ground and was soon clattering out into the main cavern.

And none escape the shade of Death,

which stops all hearts and steals all breath.

Death stepped forward as soon as the magic of the stone dissipated and rock began to slowly grow over the tunnel’s entrance.

“Keep him distracted,” he growled to his brothers.  “Do not let him escape.”

As he spoke, Death stroked shadowy fingers through the rock essence that filled the tunnel, urging it to regrow faster than the rock over the entrance.

“Why not just let the tunnel entrance close first?” Hate hissed spitefully.  “It would increase his fear, wouldn’t it?”

“And hasten his death,” the black brother added with a shake of his head.  “I do not wish him to die because he cannot breathe.  I want him to feel the crush of the rock against his skin and bones and lungs, and I want him to die by it, the way he should have five years ago.”

All four brothers bared their teeth, vicious grins that sent a shiver rustling through Aquila’s feathers.  They were united in the Hunt, and they would revel in this man’s pain and agonizing death and draw both out until the man’s soul was little more than tattered material.

The shiver struck deeper into Aquila’s being as she remembered the final line of the old elf’s poem.

When gods join force against your crime,

you’ll pray your death takes little time.

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