Demon Hunter

Disclaimers/Acknowledgements: The characters in the story are the property of Namco, and are just being borrowed. Thanks to Nemean, whose request for ideas for Taki fan fiction inspired me to write it. I hope that he is successful in his own story. I also have my fingers crossed that my own relatively simple treatment of the complex Soul Calibur mythology won't be treated too harshly by knowledgeable readers.

Ch 1 Huntress

The dark mass of the demon flowed between the crags, like black water through a gorge. Within it swirled tongues of flame, surrounding an orifice that might have been an eye, or a mouth or neither. In the light of the late afternoon sun, it was a blot, a polluted stream, an obscenity.

Talim ran. She sprang like a young deer, leaping over rocks and fallen logs as if she fled a torrent, a mountain stream in spate, seeking ever the higher ground. But this was a river that flowed upwards, showing that it cared no more for the laws of nature than it did for youth, or beauty or virtue.

Except to devour them.

The wind was with Talim, lending her its wings, spurring her onwards. It had been her friend since childhood; it would not desert her in the hour of her greatest peril. With a gale at her back, she ran as she had never run before. Yet still the demon followed at her very heels, hissing over the stony ground like molten lava, whispering its mockery of her vain attempt to escape.

At the foot of an overhanging cliff, she was finally brought to bay. A large boulder, flattened by the downpourings of centuries, offered a temporary refuge, a place to make her stand. A handspring and a somersault took her instantly atop, where she stood, feet planted apart, the solid rock beneath her the only security. Around her flowed all evil.

She was beautiful as she stood there, her two black pony tails blowing in the wind, clean-limbed and youthful, her dark brown eyes smouldering with defiance, the sun glittering from the bronze medallion she wore on her breast, her fluttering garments dazzling white and green, her arms, legs and midriff bare and proud. In her right hand she held Syi Salika, and in her left Loka Luha, the hallowed weapons granted to the Last Priestess of the Winds, the short elbow blades an extension of her arms, like the claws of a young tigress.

The pool of dark matter spread out to surround and enclose the rock upon which the Daughter of the Wind waited, heart pounding, for the attack to begin. But like a cat with a trapped mouse, the demon cruelly prolonged the torment of its prey. The black substance simmered awhile, as though salivating before consuming its meal. Then from its midst there began a gelatinous swelling, attaining a more solid form which, though constantly dissolving and changing, became roughly moulded into the appearance of a hooded figure, extending bulbous arms upwards and outwards. In its centre was a fiery wheel, from which the darkness seemed to ebb and flow, as spume from the mouth of a sea cave.

Three more shapes emerged at each of the remaining compass points, like to the first save that they lacked the element of fire. From three directions they moved forward to slobber and lick at the foot of the boulder, then gradually oozed up the sides, beginning to solidify as they reached the top.

Talim struck out with Syi Salika and Loka Luha. She could not tell whether her weapons would be effective against a creature of such liquidity, but her instinct was to fight in whatever way she could. There was almost no room to manoeuvre or jump in her preferred style, so she was mostly confined to a series of clawing and slashing attacks.

And where the elbow blades struck home, the substance of the demon seemed to dissipate and waver and fall back.

But each blow came at a cost. The dark material bubbled and steamed against the metal like acid, and Talim became aware of a strange emanation from the guard of her weapons, sapping away at her strength. She felt the mind of the demon, its hunger, its desire to reach out for a young, tender and innocent soul, to feast on it like a rare and succulent morsel.

The black forms would dissolve and retreat, but always regrouped to advance again, whilst Talim grew weaker and weaker. Yet still she fought, and while she could hold up her weapons, she continued to hope. She knew though that it would not be long before her resistance must end. As the battle allowed her a brief pause, she looked up to the blue sky for what she feared might be the last time.

And there at the top of the cliff, looking down on the scene with folded arms, stood the figure of a woman in red.

She was equipped as a warrior, with prominent shoulder and shin guards, and sheaths for two swords; one in a high baldric, the other slung somewhat lower on her back. Her hair was raven black, confined in a single ponytail, and the sun glinted off the metallic points of her armour and weapons.

Seeing Talim's plight, or perhaps for some reason of her own, the woman made haste to descend the cliff face, abseiling from a rope she had made fast to a rock. The real prospect of rescue made Talim fight all the harder, pouring out all her last reserves of energy; Syi Salika and Loka Luha formed twin blurs of steel around her, a whirlwind of blades, hands and feet.

Having descended three quarters of the precipice, the woman swung out again, finally letting go the rope with an ear-piercing shriek. It was clear this was a challenge rather than a sign of distress, for she landed easily beside Talim, one foot in front of the other. Instantly drawing both swords, she remained in a low crouch, chanting strange words, as an aura of energy seemed to radiate from her body. Even in the midst of combat, Talim became aware that she was in the presence of a person of great beauty and dignity. She also noticed that the naked swords were of an unusual design, resembling a samurai's katana, but with shorter, straighter blades.

Completing her spell, if spell it was, the woman made a swift forward roll towards the nearest of the demonic avatars, and thrust with both her weapons. There was a green flash, and the shape in front of her dissolved completely. Wasting no time, she slashed sideways at another with the same result. The third, which had been fighting with Talim, suddenly deliquesced, seemingly of its own accord, allowing the exhausted girl some much needed rest.

With the immediate danger averted, the mysterious stranger turned her attention to the fiery centre of the demon which, perhaps in response to this new threat, was beginning to withdraw its dark waves from around the rock. Shouting in a loud, commanding voice, "Evil begone!" she hurled the longer of the two swords straight at the ring of flames at its heart.

There was an explosion of fire and a noise as of a great wind. The whole mass of the demon trembled and began to pour inwards, forming a whirlpool around the central node, sucking its own essence into itself. With amazing speed, all of the vile substance disappeared into the gaping maw, which then imploded into nothingness. There was a final obscene gurgling noise, then silence.

Panting hard, Talim watched as the woman leapt lightly from the rock and walked forward to recover her thrown weapon. She took up a ritualistic pose, her two short swords held downwards, and pointing slightly inwards.

"Demon captured," she pronounced coldly.

Her voice was harsh, seasoned with the flavour of bitterness. Talim was reminded of the ancient raven that from time to time flapped around the Temple of the Winds, croaking desolately.

She was finally able to obtain a better look at her rescuer. In some aspects her face was severe: the eyebrows sharp and inward pointing, the gaze hard and direct. Yet it remained soft in the perfection of its features: oval, with a straight handsome nose, sensual red lips, skin showing the bloom of health. Her eyes, like Talim's, were brown, but a lighter hazel colour. Physically she appeared supple, although the red, body-hugging outfit that she wore outlined remarkably large, well-shaped breasts and ample, rounded buttocks; the generosity of her figure reflecting her greater maturity. Talim guessed she was about twice her own age, and that she could quite easily have had children.

Looking again, she observed that the woman's weapons were somewhat shorter than the sheaths in which they were carried, presumably to conceal their distinctive design. She remembered it was said that the renowned Japanese assassins known as ninja used this trick to surprise their opponents with the speed at which they could draw their swords. It was possible that the woman was a kunoichi or female member of such a clan, although her scarlet clothing, instead of concealing her presence, rather seemed to advertise it.

The demon hunter bowed once formally in the direction her foe had vanished, then abruptly sheathed her weapons. She gave Talim only a glance, turning to walk up a path between the black, overhanging rocks.

Talim took a few hesitant steps forward. Seeing that the woman continued her relentless progress upwards, she called out, "Warrior, where are you going?"

The woman ignored Talim's cry, still following the winding of the stone track. The cliff walls echoed mockingly, Owing, owing.

Talim took a deep breath, closed her eyes, then opened them. She started to run up the path, dislodging small stones in her haste, kicking up clouds of dust. The wind swirling around the fringes of the rocks sighed into her ears.

The woman had paused at a point where the path widened and flattened, briefly resting her hand on a black boulder. Talim caught up to her, stood in her way, breathing hard with her exertions.

Unsmilingly the woman waited for her to speak. For a while the girl's panting and the rushing of the wind were the only sounds.

Finally Talim was able to say. "I wanted to thank you for defeating that demon when I was unable to do so. I owe you my life."

The woman merely nodded. She made as if to leave.

Talim persisted. "May I know the name of my rescuer?"

"You may not." The woman uttered the words in the same abrasive fashion she had used to banish the demon.

Talim said, "But why …?"

"My name and my business are my own." As she prepared to set off again, Talim in desperation reached out to touch her arm. The woman recoiled as if she had been struck.

"Sorry. I'm sorry." Talim's voice took on a pleading tone. "Look, I'm a plain village girl. I'm no threat to a great warrior like you. I wished only to know your name and reputation so that your deeds could be recorded and sung of at our times of festival."

The woman hesitated. Then she gave a strange twisted smile, folding her arms across her formidable breasts.

She said, "I am called Taki. Is that enough for your songs?"

Talim gave a small cry. Her heart beating fast, she asked breathlessly, "Is it possible, can you be the Taki, known as Demon Slayer? Wielder of the famous swords Rekki-maru and Mekki-maru?"

Still smiling, the woman inclined her head in the affirmative.

"This is most wonderful. I have listened to tales of your adventures since I was a child."

A frown crossed Taki's face, seemingly a more natural expression for her to wear.

"How is this? Am I so age ridden that you remember me in childhood stories? I am not so very much older than yourself!"

Talim held her hands up apologetically. "I am sorry. I am only fifteen."

Taki gave a loud bray of harsh laughter. "Fifteen! You are yet a child." She pointed down the track. "Go home, child. Even now the sun sets. The darkness may bring much peril."

Talim said, "Please, before I go, may I know what it is you do in these lands? If it is not something you wish to keep secret."

The demon hunter gave her an assessing look. Then she said shortly, "I am on quest. By chance I came upon the demon's spoor, and pursued it to this place." When she saw that Talim was expecting her to say more, she added, with reluctance, "I seek for the weapon named Soul Edge."

Talim put her hand to her mouth in excitement. So Taki was searching for the legendary blade that was rumoured to grant its wielder ultimate power while at the same time corrupting their soul! She exclaimed, "I knew it! I knew that you must be on a mission of importance. It is fitting for a warrior of your skill. Destiny awaits no one."

So saying she closed her eyes and placed her palms together. A slight humming came from her lips. Taki watched, looking a little puzzled.

Talim opened her eyes again. She announced confidently "I will join you on your quest to destroy the evil blade. Allow me but an hour to gather my possessions and say farewell to my mother and friends."

Taki raised her eyebrows. In a slightly mocking tone, she observed, "You have made this momentous decision with great speed and apparently little thought."

Proudly the young girl said, "I am Talim, daughter of the Wind God. I go where the wind takes me. I have spoken with him, and he has given me his blessing."

The warrior woman put one hand on her hips, rested her chin on the other, nodding to herself. "Indeed, indeed. And you led me to think you were but a simple rustic. Now you say you are the Wind God's daughter. Such a pedigree can be claimed by few." She wagged a reproving finger in Talim's direction. "Tell me why you believe you are his child, and how he speaks to you."

It was Talim's turn to be circumspect. "I cannot describe it to you. He speaks in a way only I can hear."

Taki gave her twisted smile. "Somehow I thought that was what you would say. Who was it taught you of these things?"

Talim said, a little uncomfortably, "My mother, Lidi, the shamaness. She has instructed me in all the rituals proper to my status."

"And it was she who told you of your extraordinary birth?"

"Of course she did." Talim spoke with defiance.

Taki's shoulders shook uncontrollably with mirth, her coarse laughter echoed around the rocks.

"You little fool! She was seduced by some peasant, some nobody who abandoned her once she was with child. She made up this tale of divine conception to cover for her shame, perhaps to gain her standing in the village. You have as much godliness in you as I have in my back passage!"

Enraged by Taki's humiliating suggestions and shocked by her crude language, Talim shouted furiously, "That's a lie! I have had many, many tokens of my true parentage."

Taki cocked a sceptical eyebrow. "Name but one."

Displaying Syi Salika and Loka Luha, Talim said earnestly, "These holy weapons were bestowed upon me by my father. With them, I have repelled evil time after time."

"These are the daggers with which you failed to defeat the demon?"

Talim said, blushing, "I cannot account for it. They have always served me well in the past."

Taki pursed her lips doubtfully. She said, "Give them to me."

With reluctance, Talim handed over her treasured elbow blades. Taki held them gently between her fingers. To Talim's surprise, she began muttering words in a strange, guttural language. Her eyes rolled up in her head, and she seemed to be in a trance. A little sweat broke out on her brow.

After about thirty heartbeats, she shook her head and blinked. In a remote voice, she intoned, "These have the virtue to protect against evil and have some power over minor demons." Giving the weapons back to Talim, she asked, "During the battle, did you feel the creature trying to draw your soul from your body?"

Talim shuddered. "Yes. I sensed that it hungered to do so, and was weakening me each time I struck it."

Taki said, "Without even the little protection you had, it would have fully possessed you, and feasted on your soul. But as for trying to destroy it, these are no better than twigs." She looked seriously at Talim. "So you see, unless you have weapons such as I carry, you are of little use to me. Whether or not you are the Wind God's daughter."

Talim said, "I will come with you and find better weapons."

Taki sighed heavily. "Why do think it would help you to accompany me?"

Talim took a deep breath and considered. She said, "You are a great warrior with much experience of the world. I have lived only in a small village. There are many things I could learn from you."

Taki shook her head. In a bitter voice, she said, "When I was four years old, bandits attacked our village, killing everyone except for me. I was taken in by a clan of ninja, who fed me, clothed me, and trained me. I became a warrior and a demon hunter. For the most part, I know only of fighting and killing. I can scarcely remember what it is like to live an ordinary village life. So you see, you have nothing good to learn from me, and already know of better things than I can teach of."

Talim bowed her head. She did not know how to respond to Taki's hard words.

Again Taki pointed back down the trail, along which the sun was finally setting. She said, "Go home, Talim. You think because I am a demon slayer, I am a good person. No, I live as I must to survive, because it is the only way for me. Go home."

Tears sprang from Talim's eyes. Sobbing, she ran back down the path, the last red rays of sunlight shining through the glistening tears like blood drops.