The hunt had started well, but the last day was much harder. There were few animals in the area, and those that had been spotted were very skittish. The hunters were not able to get close enough to make any good strikes, let alone get any kills.

It was Gao’s first time out hunting with the group. The first day had been great for him; he killed a number of smaller animals; they had cooked and eaten one of them that first night. Today, however, he was growing more frustrated with the lack of prey. The other hunters were frustrated, too, but they controlled themselves better.

“Why no animals?” Gao asked Jor, the hunter who was training him that day. Jor just shrugged as he looked in the distance for any signs.

Something nagged at Han. Something in the stories that old Zun had once told long ago. He was distracted while they traveled along the hills, trying to remember the stories. When animals disappeared….

The hunters stopped for a small meal. Meat cooked and lightly smoked the previous night was passed around and eaten in silence. Cool, clear water from the nearby stream helped calm some of the frustrated hunters. Gao wanted to ask questions, but nobody spoke as they ate so he kept quiet.

Jor jumped up suddenly and shielded his eyes against the sun, peering into the distance. Han got up and stood beside Jor, trying to see what he was looking at. He saw a faint dust cloud and a few sparkles near the horizon.

“What there?” Han asked.

“Other hunters,” Jor responded quickly.

Han’s eyes went wide. Yes! Other hunters in the area would scare the animals. Nobody had seen any other hunters for a long time. Now he remembered the ending of the story Zun told: it is important to scare off other hunters to preserve hunting areas for the tribe.

“Shining spears?” Gao asked. He had heard stories about the tall hunters, but few had seen them.

“Shining spears, yes, but not tall. Like us.”

Han frowned. Other hunters had shining spears? Only the tall ones knew the secret of the shining spears….

“Listen,” Han clapped his hands to get everyone’s attention. “We scare other hunters. Protect our hunt for our tribe.”

The other hunters nodded. They understood the importance of keeping their hunting areas for themselves. Allowing another clan to hunt would hurt their tribe during the times when the hunting was hard.

The group quickly packed away the food and filled some skins with water. They took their spears and started running in the direction that Jor had seen the others. They ran hard and fast to cover as much ground as possible, to establish a larger boundary for their hunting area. Pain was growing in Gao’s side, but he ground his teeth together and kept running with the group.

The sun was low to the horizon by the time they could see the other group clearly. One from the other group turned and pointed a shining spear toward them. Gao saw that they looked like they did, not tall and thin like the stories said the shining spear hunters were.

Han motioned for the group to slow down as they approached. They took a moment to catch their breaths as to not appear weak in front of the other group. As the two groups approached, they noticed that the other group didn’t quite look exactly the same. The other group looked pale, and some of them had reddish skin or hair. A few of them wore leather clothes, even in the late season’s heat, and one even had a heavy fur cloak wrapped around him. There were eight hunters in the other group.

The one that strode forward to meet them was tall like Han, but with pale, almost white hair and skin. The other hunter and Han stared each other down. Gao held his breath as he watched the confrontation.

It was Han who finally made the first move. He held his spear over his head and yelled, “LEAVE!”

The other hunter raised his spear and swung it over his head. He yelled something back. The other group of hunters started repeating the yell. Jor started yelling back, “LEAVE!” and the rest joined him.

The two groups lined up with their leaders. They shouted and yelled, jumped and swung spears. Only the one in the heavy cloak from the other side stood back, his face turned away from the groups. Eventually some of the hunters of the other group started jumping toward Han’s group, brandishing their spears before returning back to the line.

“Be ready!” Jor said to Gao. “When they come, use your spear.”

Gao looked at Jor in disbelief. Use his spear on another person? That could hurt the other person, Gao thought. He looked back at the other group, gripped his spear, and hoped that he wouldn’t have to.

Suddenly, the other leader gave a frightening yell. He barked some sounds and the other hunters stepped back, grinning. Han looked at the other leader, trying not to show the confusion he felt. Han’s hunters started murmuring as they stood, low and ready for an attack.

It was the figure in the heavy cloak that finally turned toward the groups. He walked toward the leader with unsure steps, stopping and finally looking up.

Gao gasped as he saw the disfigured face. One half of the face was a dark, mottled color. The mouth on that side was twisted into a mocking grin, and the eye was missing entirely. None of the other hunters flinched; they held their ground.

The man then threw open his cloak. He gave a fierce scream as he lifted the animal skull above his head. Bits of rotted flesh still clung to the gruesome trophy. Large teeth grinned as the dark eye sockets stared out in death.

Then all hell broke loose.

The man’s scream seemed to change into a fierce roar, and the skull seemed to glow with unnatural life. The eyes burned with a feral fury, and seemed to leap out toward the group. The hunters turn and ran for their lives.

Gao’s was certain that a fierce feline had leaped out of the cloak where the man stood. He only knew fear, and that had to run for his life. If the beast caught him…. He ran in a wild frenzy, not looking where he was going.

The sun had set before the hunters had finally all gathered back together. They spotted each other in the distance, then found each other by calling out to each other in the gloomy, fading light. Everyone was together, except Gao.

It was fully dark when Bo heard the crying in the bushes. She gave a yell as moved toward the place where Gao was cowering. He sobbed quietly in the bushes as Bo moved to pick him up. She carried him out to the open where the other hunters were waiting.

“It eat me… It eat me…” Gao just kept sobbing.

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