The Hunt, part 2 of 2

A Dark Fantasy Short Story by ZF Sigurdson

The Hunt

Part 2 of 2

by ZF Sigurdson


Scarlette Leaf Review publication ‘Treasure Hunt

Angela C. Hebert
Editing Service

Part 1 or The Hunt Playlist

Other stories on Tall Tale TV by ZF Sigurdson




Leon awoke with a jump. His head jerked around, searching for the orcs. For the filth. Pain exploded across his forehead and he fell backwards. He lay on soft bedding of dried grass. He rubbed his head. “What hit me?”

“Me, you dumb fuck,” said a girl’s voice.

He opened his eyes. He was inside one of the Burrows, this time a tiny hidden bunker beneath another ancient oak. One of the nicer burrows with a tiny iron stove and cooking implements. In the corner was a table and a shelf. Ancient books and scrolls layered in dust sat unread for decades. Leon usually spent winters in places like this.

Next to him, sitting cross-legged was a girl. Her long blonde hair fell in delicate curls around her shoulders. She wore a simple flowing dress of the brightest white. The dirt and leaves of the forest left no blemishes on the shimmering fabric. Her face was small and round, her nose upturned, her ears round, but it was her eyes that spoke so much more. Her blue eyes were like wells of the clearest spring water. As bright and beautiful as the moon. Ancient and wise beyond Leon’s meager century-and-a-half of life. This was a Fae. A spirit of the forest. One of the spirits he defended.

“You fucking idiot,” she hissed. In her hand was a wooden ladle. She cracked the ladle against the crown of his head.

Leon yelped in pain, rubbing his head. She tried to swat him again. He held up his arms, “Lady Fae! What have I done to displease you! Tell me! Oww!”

She swatted him a few more times. “You idiot! You daft pointy-eared fool. Gods, of all the Guardians you are the worst!”

“What have I done!?” He cowered under his Lady’s attack.

“Let me hit you a few more times! Then maybe you’ll understand!” she cracked him on the head and arms a few more time before stopping. “Gods, Leon, you really are the worst.”

“What did I do?!”

She sighed, tapping the ladle against her temple, “Riddle me this, dumbass. What are the duties of a Guardian?”

Leon sat dumbfound. He stuttered, it was so basic. He had almost forgotten, after an embarrassingly long pause, he managed, “To protect the integrity of the forest.”

“Yes, and what does that mean to you?”

“Defend it from invaders.”


Leon paused. “What else is there?” he blurted out.

She smacked him again with the ladle. Pain cascaded down his head. He rubbed the growing welts. That’s when he realized that was the only pain he felt. He glanced at his shoulder and touched his sides. Everything had been healed. Not even a scar.

“Answer the damn question, Leon,” hissed Fae.

“I don’t understand, my lady.”

“Gods, am I going to have to keep smacking you until you remember your duty.”

“I know my duty!” protested Leon.

“No you don’t, dumbass,” said Fae. “Your duty is to protect the integrity of the forest. Does that say, ‘Kill anyone who steps past the waystones’?”

Leon opened his mouth, but thought better to keep it shut.

“Does it say, ‘shoot anyone who picks up a flower’?”

Leon remained silent.

“Does it say, ‘to infect us with all your hate and rage’?!”

Leon stared, confused.

“Oh, you thought it was the orcs? No, it was you. You have been infecting the forest. All your hate and rage. It’s toxic. It’s poison. It’s poison for us, and I’ts poison for you. You almost got yourself killed multiple times. It will kill us all.”

Leon sat dumbfounded. He rushed through his mind for an explanation, an understanding. How can it be my fault?

My only regret,” said Fae. “Is that I didn’t step in and swat you earlier.”

Leon’s eyes went wide.

“Oh you remember, right?”

Leon looked away. He pushed the images from his mind. The soft singing voice. The way the breeze danced with the flowers and her little blue dress. He shut it all out.

Fae chuckled. “You do. And you’re ashamed. It’s a weight in your chest. A pain you can’t get rid of.”

He could feel how he drew his bow. He could feel how the wind kissed his cheek when he let the arrow fly. Anyone who crosses the boundaries of this realm must die. It was the only law he obeyed. Leon pulled on his tunic which lay beside him. He threw his hood over his head.

“Do not ignore it, Leon. It’ll only infect you further.”

“With all due respect, my lady, I have orcs to hunt. Monsters that would do you harm.” He found his bow and quiver by the exit. He put a hand against the door.

“She was a child!” hissed the Fae.

Leon stopped.

“She was a little girl who strayed too far past the waystones even though he parent’s told her not to.”

Leon was frozen. His feet wouldn’t carry him outwards. He had to leave. He whispered, “I did my duty.”

“No! That is not your duty! Not even close, bucko.” She paused. “Look at me.”

Leon turned. Fae barley rose to his chest, but he felt dwarfed by her ancient power. Fae was thousands of years old. He was a child to her. She set her fists on her hips, “Little girls walking into the forest are not a threat to us. It is the root of our place in the world. It is the origins of every fanciful tale and storybook since time immemorial. Children in our realm are a welcomed sight. Something you firmly ended and, it will remain ended until that child’s murder is long forgotten, but the myth will linger. We will have the songs of birds, the voice of the wind and the hum of the bee, but we will never have the laughter of a child.”

Leon stood with his head hung. His shame held his entire body limp. He didn’t understand what this had to do with today. “But they’re orcs.”

“Orcs who are fleeing death and had one nothing to this forest. They hadn’t even searched for firewood. They knew to respect the forest, something you have firmly forgotten.”

Leon was frozen in his spot, he looked down at his bare feet.

Fae stepped closer, “You punished the innocent for a crime they had yet to commit. When the innocent are punished as brutally as the guilty in my name… Well, I’ll burn the forest to the ground myself if that is the case.” She paused. “Do you understand?”

Leon nodded.

“Your duty as the Guardian of this Realm is to protect its integrity. You slay invaders who do us harm, not those you suspect may do us harm. You maintain our integrity by acting dutifully and honourably. Your hate and anger infects us. You will not fight with poison in your heart. You are a shepherd and a guide. When those who enter simply wish to pass through, let them. Guide them if you can; but do not slay the innocent. Is your duty clear, Leon of the Deepwoods? Leon Swiftbeam. Leon, son of Salas.

Leon winced at the sound of his father’s name, but managed a nod.

“Good, now get out of my sight.”

He nodded and left.


The night air was cool, the wind blew harder than during the day. A storm neared from the north. Leon trudged through the forest. The trees towered over him with ancient silent disapproval. He was the problem. He was the infection. His vision went fuzzy. He steadied himself against an oak.

He could feel the ancient tree’s spirit shudder at his touch. Fae’s contempt for Leon was a drop in the forest’s ocean to the silent disappointment. Leon retracted his hand.

He sighed.

His path was clear. He could follow Fae’s precepts and act in accordance to the duty which he himself had corrupted. He rubbed his eyes and sniffed. I will have to do better.

He smelled smoke.

His eyes went wide, his entire body broke from his fatigue and melancholy. He ran with his bow. He slid down slopes, vaulted over logs and across roots. The smell grew more pungent. He could see a glow over the next ridge.

At the crest of the ridge, the smell and heat hit Leon like a wall. A huge ancient tree was in flames. The branches broke and crackled with a halo of sparks. As if a thousand fireflies danced with the breeze. Its bulbous body like that of a pregnant woman raising her many arms. Around the base of the tree were small piles of brown dung and stains of foul urine. The fat belly of the tree was carved with the crude faces of orcs and trolls. The simple maws and fangs cleft deeply into the flesh of the tree.

They’re mocking me. They insulted and damaged the forest.

Leon gripped his bow, they were no longer innocent. He knew where they were headed. He took a deep breath before sprinting through the forest. His heart pounded.


Night bled into dawn, but there was no sun. Dark grey clouds gathered, threatening a brutal storm. Thunder rumbled in the distance over the far reaching mountains at the northern border. A path into the mountains was marked by a pair of waystones. Tall stones rubbed smooth by centuries of weather and erosion. Beyond was a rocky track lined with shrubs and small trees. The path into the mountains.

Leon sat on one stone, his legs crossed and his bow in his lap. His hood pulled down to shield his face. He tried to focus on his breathing. Calm. As the Fae directed, he would not use anger or hate now. He had a duty and responsibility. He would remove the infection from himself as he would from the forest. Calm. Breathe.

Footsteps approached through the undergrowth. The vines and flowers seem to retreat as the pack of surviving orcs entered the clearing. The Boss pushed himself to the front.

The gunners and archer raised their weapons, ready to fire.

“He’s mine,” said the archer, drawing one of Leon’s black arrows.

“No,” said one gunner, cocking his machine gun. “He killed my brother!”

“No,” growled the Boss. Gesturing for them to lower their weapons. “Not like that.”

Leon gripped his bow. “You burned and defiled an ancient oak. Maiming and killing its spirit and its voice. That is rape and murder by the laws of this Realm. For that, you are condemned to death.”

The Boss growled, unsheathing his blade. “We only did it as revenge for our dead brothers! You killed them without a damn reason, you bastard. We only want to pass through. We did no harm to the Forest until you started slaughtering us.”

Leon gripped his bow harder. “And for that… three may leave to rejoin your brethren across the mountains.”

The orcs looked at one another, confused.

“Is this a trick?” said the Boss.

Leon shook his head. “No. Three of you may leave. One must stand for the Murder.” It was justice. His heart started pounding. It disgusted every fibre of his being, he wanted to slay them all. Watch the life drain from them. See their mangled faces for what they did to the forest. But justice is what Fae would want. Right? Leon didn’t know anymore.

He looked up, his black eyes defeated, “Three may leave. Now go. I won’t offer it again.”

The Boss unslung his pack, “Go on, boys. I’ll handle this.” He tossed the pack to the Gunner with the scars. “You’re the boss until I catch up.” He retrieved a shield from one of his underling’s packs. A broad domed shield of wood and metal. Its face emblazoned with the crude visage of a roaring orc. Its broad tusks climbing up the sides of the shield. In the other hand he had his jagged sabre.

The others ran past Leon and up into the pass. Each one spat at the waystone Leon sat on. He sighed, I deserve that. They disappeared up the track.

Leon and the Boss were totally alone.

Not even the birds sang.

Thunder rumbled in the distance. The storm was near. Leon needed to finish this. The Boss rolled his head and shoulders. The cable-like tendons of his neck and arms bulged as he worked himself up for the fight. He slammed his sabre and shield together. The metal crash echoed across the clearing. The Shield’s face glared at Leon.

“Well, come on, Pointy-Ear.”

Leon stood up on the stone. With his back straight, he bowed to his opponent. This was a duel, like the ones from Leon’s youth. A proper duel, with precepts and etiquette to follow.

The Boss returned the salute by crossing his blade over his chest.

They paused for a long time in the mutual salute.

One of them was going to die.

Leon’s heart pounded in his chest. He waited. Fae, let me kill this creature.

Rushed footsteps broke the silence. Leon looked up. The orc had cleared the distance faster than he expected. Leon leaped off the waystone, narrowly avoiding the orc’s blade which struck the waystone, chipping the rock.

Leon landed on the other waystone, an arrow already drawn. Leon drew it halfway and released. The orc was close, Leon did not need his full power. The orc raised his shield just in time. The arrow struck the orcish glyph in the eye.

Leon leaped off the waystone and ran further into the forest, nocking a fresh arrow as he sprinted. The orc’s heavy footfalls were close behind. Gods, he’s fast. Leon ran through the opening under a twisted root. The orc growled, using his blade and his mass to crash through the foliage.

Leon turned around just as the orc was halted and loosed the next arrow. It struck the boss in the space just under his shoulder armor on his sword arm. He roared, his red eyes wild with fury. The orc was certainly a powerful beast, he ignored the wound even as red-purple blood dripped down his arm. He crashed through the root’s splintering the wood.

Leon nocked another arrow as he retreated further. His body acting on pure instinct. He had spent decades in fights like this with far larger and strong beasts, this was no different. He just needed to keep halting its progress and taking his time to whittle it down.

He dashed behind a tree just as the heavy footfalls resumed. The orc’s speed was remarkable, it almost matched Leon’s. Leon stepped off another root and launched himself into an arch. I have to kill it. His hearted pound in his chest. In the air, time froze, his balance was perfectly steady as he drew the arrow to his cheek. He released the arrow. It’s perfectly smooth flight aimed at the orc’s face.

It struck the edge of the shield. The orc raised it just in time.

Leon landed hard on his feet. “No! No! Why won’t you just die already!?”

The orc charged, its heavy shoulders propelling it forward. “Angry are we?”

Leon’s eyes went wide, as he retreated further. “No.” He dashed over another log, the orc was forced to go around. Leon loosed another arrow, but again, it just struck the shield. Leon swore. This beast was the leader for a reason. His frustration built, he had to kill it. He wanted to. The sweet sound of the arrow striking flesh. The calm after its body collapsed. He needed to see it.

He saw another opening beneath a root. He spat at the orc. “You beasts deserve to die. You’re filth. The humans should have burned you all!”

The orc roared. “You honourless scum. Your head will top my banner!” Leon ran just as the orc resumed the pursuit. Leon dashed back and forth, never allowing the dumb beast to cover the distance it needed.

Leon changed direction and dashed through the opening. He turned around, bow drawn.

There was no one there.

Leon heard the footfalls on his left. He tried to dodge or realign, but it was too late. The orc’s monstrous face, twisted in wild anger, charged Leon. He had sprinted around the tree! The Boss smashed his shield against Leon’s face. Leon felt his nose break and his jaw dislocate. Blood filled his mouth.

Through the blur, Leon tried to draw his bow. The orc dropped his shield and grabbed the bow with his free hand. His mitten-like fist crushed Leon’s fingers. The Boss pressed his face right into Leon’s. Its jagged teeth were pearly white, its eyes were the colour of warmed coals. The orc tore the bow from Leon’s grip and crushed it in hand. The pulley-system, the synthetic arch and plastic handle, fell crumpled and broken to the ground. The orc smashed its fist into Leon’s face.

Leon stumbled back, drawing both knives by instinct. “I’ll kill you! Monster!” It hurt to speak. He rushed forwards, blood pouring down his chin.

The Boss chuckled. “I think you’re the only monster here. So full of piss and vinegar.”

Leon rushed forward with both knives. The orc backhanded Leon across the face, sending fresh pain through his dislocated jaw. Leon rushed forward again, his face red with fury. The orc swatted each clumsy attack away with effortless counters.

Leon was struck again and again. His fury bouncing off the Boss’s quiet precision. The beast didn’t even raise his sabre.

Leon was sent to the ground for the sixth time. He spat blood on the ground, “I hate you. I hate you! You monster! You destroyed my home!”

“No,” said the Orc. “You did. You’re so full of shit. So self-important. Pointy-Ear, you ain’t even worth my banner.” The great beast stood over Leon. The sky was dark. The storm had arrived. Thunder rumbled loudly overhead.

Leon gathered the last of his strength. The orc was near. He could. He could still win. Just needed to get the right spot. He made it seem as if he was done.

The orc kneeled. “The forest deserves a better Guardian.” It spat. “Piece of shit elfling.”

Leon thrust his knife upwards, but his arm halted. The orc had his wrist in its immoveable grasp, it squeezed harder, the pain shot up Leon’s arm. The knife fell to the ground. Leon tried to pull away, then jerk and twist himself, then he tried to punch, then scratch, then he tried biting the orc’s fist. It was like steel. He exhausted himself. His limbs felt so heavy. He couldn’t lift his arm anymore.

“I hate you… I hate you…” said Leon, his voice cracking. His mind was on the edge of delirium. He kept mumbling. “Die. Kill you. Hate.”

The orc frowned. “Goodbye Guardian.”

It’s slipped the sabre into Leon’s stomach. The pain exploded through his entire body. He screamed. Hot wetness spread down his tunic and down into his trousers. He felt the life bleeding from him, his vision grew blurry. He felt weightless as he fell to the ground.

The orc gathered his weapons and left, marching nobly towards the pass to rejoin his brethren.

Leon lay in on the ground, his bright red blood pooling around him. The last thing he felt was the cold drops of water kissing his face. It soothed him. Cooling his dying flame of hate and anger.

Fae watched from a distance, her arms crossed. Her white dress quickly became soaked as the rain began to pour harder than hail. Her blonde hair hung past her waist.s “Dumbass didn’t learn.” She turned and headed deeper into the Deepwood. The blackened splotches of infection already growing smaller.

In the pool of blood growing from Leon’s body, a single green acorn shoot erupted from the ground near his palm.

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