Chapter 5

“Hey, hey.” Kid barely responded as he was in a deep sleep. “HEY”, Kid felt a kick to his feet. His eyes were heavy, but he managed to open them a sliver. He hadn’t realized how much his body longed for a decent amount of sleep. “You awake now?” Kid’s eyes widened once he saw the female hunter’s face. He had slept curled up by a rock for the entire night. “Good, now scat.” The female hunter abruptly stood and walked toward a cart loaded with materials and monster carves. Kid jumped to his feet and brushed as much dirt and rock off him as he could manage. This was not the impression he had wanted to make for his introduction.

As he began to walk towards her, Thunderclap blocked his way. The zinogre let out a deep, guttural growl. Kid stopped for a second to find a way around him, but every time Kid moved in a direction towards the hunter, Thunderclap got in the way. With no other option, Kid walked straight up towards Thunderclap with his hands at his side. Thunderclap roared and snarled, baring his sharp fangs. Kid closed his eyes and resisted the urge to run away. He could feel Thunderclap’s hot breath on his face and squeezed his eyes tighter together.

A string of low whistles rang through the air and before Kid could open his eyes he felt a dull pain in his ear. “You don’t know when to quit, do you?” The hunter had him by the ear and was leading him right out of her camp. “Don’t look for death kid, Thunderclap would maul you unrecognizable. It’s impressive that you made it all the way up here, but it’s time to go.”

“Wait!” Was all Kid could come up with. She let his ear go as she tossed him past the entrance of her camp. As she walked away Kid grew desperate, he had one chance to make his appeal and in a tizzy he, very loudly, blurted out what he had been practicing in his head. “My name’s Kid and I won’t take ‘no’ for an answer…” His words echoed through the caves. Even louder he announced, “You’re going to be my master!” It sounded better in his mind.

The female hunter stopped and scoffed. Her head shook back and forth and only turned to him once the echoes had died. Her eyes were fiercer than her zinogre’s, “Get lost.”

Kid nodded to himself, he knew what he needed to do. “You will be my master, you’ll see.” Kid turned and left.

Almost a month had passed since Kid’s declaration, but the female hunter had not seen any signs of him. She could only assume that his words were hollow, or he had met an untimely end. Either way, it didn’t affect her. She had lived apart from the world a long time, and that was the way of life she had grown accustomed to. Winter would come soon enough and she had preparations to make. While her perch didn’t suffer snowy weather, there would be an influx of large monsters roaming the volcano area to seek warmth from the cold surroundings. Smaller monsters would fall prey to the larger ones, and food would become a more difficult chore.

Most of the hunter’s summer days were spent collecting monster parts for trade or weapon upgrades, meats for curing, seeds for planting, and even wood for home repairs. She preferred wood from special trees as they had a natural aroma that was unpleasant to a large variety of small monsters. It was very hardy, but not easy to work with. Once fall rolled around the hunter would shift roles and focus on population control. The local monsters would eventually be too numerous for the area and spill into the eastern woods, and then Trésor. While she didn’t feel it was her obligation as a hunter to protect Trésor, she kept busy by making sure the village was safe from harm.

Living on the volcano had a few perks, one of them was natural hot springs. The hunter’s home, which had previously been a hunter camp, was located next to a hot spring that she used to bathe in. The water was rich in nutrients, and because it was so close, the hunter was able to build an irrigation system for a garden. Not everything she preferred was able to grow in the volcano’s climate, but she was still able to plant most of the basics. Had Kid explored the area behind the hut, he would have taken notice of the small farm and natural springs.

The female hunter poured hot water over her right arm. Her shoulder had been tight for days and she let it soak under the spring water. Night time would soon fall and she watched the sky turn from a blue to a violet orange. Thunderclap had wandered off to hunt or play, as he normally did, and she appreciated the hypnotic sound of trickling water. As her eyes moved from the skies to the camp, she noticed smoke rising, which was alarming since she had not lit a fire. Quickly she dunked cloth into the waters and ran towards the fire; it was fortunate she was soaking while in her loincloth. She rounded the corner of her hut ready to smother the flames with the wet cloth, but there was none. As she walked closer to the camp’s entrance she was surprised, and annoyed, to find a squatter.

Kid had returned with all his belongings and decided to set up camp right next to the female hunter’s home. He was tired and hungry from the journey and sat on the ground barbecuing meat. Still dripping wet, the hunter slapped the wet cloth on a large rock and approached Kid. The sound the cloth made against the stone alerted Kid and he removed his meat so it wouldn’t burn. The two stared at each other without saying a word. The only sounds that seemed to stand out were the crackling fire and plops of water dripping from the hunter’s cloth. Though intimidated, Kid stood his ground and kept eye contact with her. He could tell she was deciding what to do with him, and it didn’t seem like any of her ‘solutions’ would be desirable for him. Still trying to keep firm, he broke the silence; he feared he would buckle to her will if it remained a silent battle.

“I get that you don’t want to be bothered, but I swear I’ll be a good student. I’m a novice, but I’m still a hunter, and what I lack in experience and skill I’ll make up with determination. When you become my master I’ll do whatever you say, even if it’s really hard and scary. And to prove that I’m serious about everything I’ve said, I’m going to sit in front of your camp, from dawn till dusk, until you agree to become my master. Starting tomorrow, for as long as it takes.”

The hunter closed her eyes to keep Kid from seeing them roll. She pressed her fingers against her temple as though she were having a severe migraine. Still, with no word, she turned back to her camp. Kid’s heart was pounding, and after the hunter disappeared behind her hut, he let out the breath of air he’d been holding. His hand was shaking slightly from the adrenaline that released into his system from their confrontation. ‘I did it’, he smiled to himself, ‘I did it!’. Kid’s smile grew larger as he cooked his meat; his thoughts were far from his spit, but he was aware enough to not burn his meal.

Dawn cracked and as Kid promised, he was sitting on his knees, by the entrance to her camp. He hadn’t gotten a lot of sleep that night because of Thunderclap’s constant pacing and growling outside of his small tent. Kid imagined the zinogre would tear right through the sheets to disembowel him, but he had remained deathly still and quiet through the entire night. When Kid emerged from his tent just before daybreak, the zinogre was no longer in sight. Kid assumed Thunderclap must have gone to rest in his stable, which was perfect for him. He had prepared rations for the sit-in and ate something before he took the position he’d frequent until he became the female hunter’s student.

To avoid Kid, the female hunter left her camp the back way. She was very annoyed that a punk drifter had the nerve to be so intrusive. And not to mention his presence caused Thunderclap to be on edge. She had to work twice as hard to keep him from mutilating Kid while she wasn’t looking. Thunderclap was well trained, but he wasn’t fond of other human scents. Which was to be expected since she found him half alive in a malfunctioned shock trap as a pup. The trap never broke and was too strong for him to escape. It seemed he was trapped on it for days and it caused severe wounds on his backside. She nursed him back to health, and tried to find his mother, but with no signs of her, the hunter concluded a party had killed her.

It took a long while, but eventually, the zinogre came to trust her. Even though Thunderclap lived with the hunter, and obeyed her commands, he was still a wild creature. The hunter could only do so much to protect Thunderclap from other hunters and keep bystanders from an unfriendly encounter.

The female hunter spent most of that first day in her secret quiet place. At the mouth of a large spring was an open rock face that led to an underground cavern. She had discovered it years ago while on a mining expedition. The cave was home to natural bioluminescent fungi and algae which reflected off the crystals covering the ceiling to illuminate the entire space. It wasn’t bright, but it was beautiful. It was her perfect place for quiet reflection.

Since it was too small for Thunderclap to enter, he waited close by the entrance for her to re-emerge. As night began to fall the female hunter climbed out to find Thunderclap had gone. While in her quiet spot she decided to stay at one of her smaller camps so she wouldn’t need to bother with the annoying boy.

Another month passed and the female hunter had not returned to her home. Instead, she wandered from camp to camp until curiosity got the best of her and she settled at a small camp overlooking her main one. It was high above her home, but she could still see it from the cliff with a scope. She hoped Kid had packed up his belongings and left, but it was not so. As he had promised, he was sitting in front of her camp from dusk till dawn. For two weeks she watched him sit there all day and then after sunset he’d quietly return to his own small camp and prepare a meal for the night and the next day. Some nights he’d have to go hunting to replenish his food stocks and water supply. Sometimes he’d return with fresh wounds, small and large.

The female hunter realized he would not be easy to get rid of and after another week and a half passed, she returned to her home. Fall was fast approaching and she still had some things to do before it came. She half expected Kid to make a big fuss at her return, but he sat quietly as he had on any other day. The next few days after her return she spent mostly cutting and shaving timber to have on hand in case she needed to make home repairs.

Kid was excited the hunter had come back but did his best to hide it. While she was gone he was terribly bored, but spent most of his days thinking about the monsters he had read about, or going over battles in his head. Sometimes he’d let his mind go blank as he simply watched the clouds roll by. But when he exhausted his mind, he found himself listening to his surroundings and in the worst moments, counting down the seconds.

Now that she had returned there was something to keep him occupied. Sometimes she talked to herself, other times she talked to Thunderclap. Though, those times were mostly to keep him away from Kid. But even so, Thunderclap seemed less interested in him with each passing day. He liked to watch as she worked outside; there was much to learn. Kid kept a mental record of everything he saw her do, preparing meals, tanning, woodworking. If there was one thing he was confident in it was working with his hands.

At night he’d try practicing what she did. He started by trying to tan a small hide. After a few nights he felt confident enough to move onto a larger hide. Though he messed up a few steps in the beginning, he kept trying until he had a decent hide. He beamed with pride as he stretched in on his makeshift frame. The female hunter passively noticed his collection of hides growing each day she passed by his camp. However, she gave him no words of encouragement.

The day was a particularly hot one. It seemed like summer did not want to end without a last hurrah. Even Thunderclap and the female hunter stayed in the shade. The spot Kid picked to sit was rarely in the direct sunlight, though it was still very hot it wasn’t terribly bad once he made a hat to shade himself with. He’d try sitting as still as possible, though certain days were harder to endure than others. However, by noon on this day Kid was in direct sunlight and the ground burned as much as the sun. Even the mat he made to sit on seemed to steam and the shade from his hat gave him little comfort. Kid already used most of his water to keep himself cool, but he felt as though he might pass out.

The female hunter fanned herself on her bed and used a cloth to wipe away the sweat. She could hear Kid shifting around; it was a subtle sound, but since there was no noise in the camp it stood out. Perhaps the sweltering heat made her irritable, but even his slight shifting noise grated on her ears. Without provocation, she tossed her fan onto the bed and grabbed a small water barrel nearby. She marched towards Kid and when she got close enough she emptied the entire barrel on him. Kid, who had been in a haze, jarred back to his senses. He was so startled and disoriented that he took an attack position. Realizing what had happened he looked up towards the hunter; he couldn’t see her face since she was backlit by the blazing sun.

“Once you hit the base of this slope there is a trail of jagged rocks that leads southeast. Follow that for two miles and you’ll reach a cave entrance that looks like a Gobul’s mouth. Inside there is a cold pool with clean water. Fill this up and bring it back.”

Kid was unable to speak and just nodded. He slowly reached for the small barrel and was just grateful he knew what a Gobul was. He thanked Torsten in his mind for the collection of books. Before his hand touched the bucket she dropped it and walked back to her shaded bed. Maybe now she could get some peace and quiet.

Kid’s reflexes were slow, but he managed to grab the barrel before it rolled away. He peeled his legs off his mat and went back to his camp to get more water. He drank some and poured the rest over himself. Kid secured the female hunter’s small barrel, and his own, to his cart, took his blades and started down the mountain.

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