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Genesis 💫: Episode 1 – Hunt
Gene seeks the cause of some recent disappearances
This is Episode 1 of Genesis: Until The Stars Burn Cold, a fantasy story written in a psychedelic magepunk setting. It explores mental health through allegory along with an array of deeper themes: war and peace; love and loss; anger and forgiveness.
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Episode 1: Hunt
Gene knew that soon, the sun would fall behind the mountain, leaving the forest shrouded in darkness. He needed to set up camp somewhere safe before nightfall, or else he could easily turn from hunter into prey. He picked up his pace, seeking a hollow beneath some boulders where he had camped several times before.
His boots sent loose stones clattering down the path as birds sang their early evening songs. A cool breeze stirred the branches high above, carrying the earthy scents of moist soil and decaying vegetation up from the valley below.
The enormous redwood trees stood several meters away from each other. In the spaces between them grew many ferns, large mushrooms as tall as a man, and a variety of smaller pines, bushes, and shrubs. The ground on either side of the path was carpeted by a layer of fallen foliage, dead branches, and cones.
Here and there, some of the great trees had fallen, and woodland creatures – or perhaps men – had hollowed them out to create primitive shelters where they could hide from the frequent winds and rain. As he walked, Gene saw frogs leaping near a shallow stream, squirrels scurrying up and down tree trunks, and hawks flying above searching for a meal.
A few times, he caught sight of wild goats fleeing through the brush, and at one point, he noticed a two-tailed fox watching him with curiosity from the top of a weathered gray boulder. He stopped briefly to make a sign of blessing, then bowed his head slightly to the fox. The creature tilted its head in Gene’s direction, then leaped from the boulder and pawed away into the shadows of the forest.
Gene maintained a consistent pace, stopping only occasionally to sip water from his hip flask and scan his surroundings. The shadows steadily grew longer and darker, and the air grew colder. Despite his best efforts, Gene couldn’t contain a brief shiver, so he paused near a tree and set down his bow so he could fasten another button on his jacket and pull his sleeves down to cover his arms. After adjusting the straps on his pack, he picked up his bow and continued along the mountain path.
The clouds above began to turn orange, and the forest came awake with the sounds of evening. Gene slowed down a bit, listening carefully to the forest and searching the ground and surrounding woods for signs of his quarry. Travelers lately had spoken of being harassed by strange creatures in the area.
They were said to be built like small men, but with surprising strength, thick fur, and gnarled horns on their heads. Apparently more than a few lone hikers — and even some children — had disappeared in the area in recent months. Gene suspected that a pair of satchi had claimed the area in preparation for the coming winter.
He soon came across evidence to confirm his suspicions. First, he found a partial print. Then, he saw several five-toed tracks along with lines in the dirt suggesting something had been dragged. He eventually found a partly eaten goat, and even a pile of dung, signaling he was indeed on the right trail. The air, too, seemed to take on a new smell, less like wet soil and decaying plant matter, and more like spoiled meat. It was faint, but still, it was hard to miss.
Finally, Gene saw his destination. Near a bend in the trail, a pair of mossy boulders leaned one against the other, forming a natural shelter. The alcove was a common stop for travelers, making it the perfect place for a predator — or perhaps a thief — to prepare an ambush.
Gene took some time to explore the perimeter, where he gathered twigs and dead branches he could use to prepare a fire. He walked the circle twice to ensure he had a good familiarity with the area, then approached the boulders with a small bundle of wood. In the final rays of sunset, Gene set to building a fire.
He feathered some twigs with his knife and made a pile of dry tinder under the shelter of the boulders, then crossed several larger branches in a pyramid above the mass. From his pack tucked against one of the boulders, he fetched a small box of matches. He only had a few left, so he was glad when the feathered sticks took a steady flame after only two strikes. Slowly, a warm campfire came to life.
He fetched a small pot and a folding camp stand that hung from the side of his pack, then set them up over the flames. From a pocket on his pack, he pulled out a tin of butter and a wrapped length of dried sausage.
He scooped some of the butter into the pot, then chopped off several pieces of sausage and tossed them in with the melting butter. Soon, a strong aroma filled the air in the alcove under the boulders. He knew that in a matter of minutes, the air all around the area would smell like smoke and frying meat.
He pulled a thermos from his pack and opened it, taking in the soothing aroma of coffee, still decently warm thanks to the thick-walled flask. He poured some into the lid, which also served as a small cup, and then he drank it quickly before closing up the flask and stowing it back in his pack. As the sunlight finally disappeared, he began to see his breath in the cool night air.
After several minutes, the coffee kicked in, and Gene felt his energy pick up and his focus sharpen. He tightened the bandolier on his chest, then went to his pack and unhooked his quiver. By the firelight, he took a moment to check the condition of his arrows, making sure none had been damaged during the hike up the mountain.
Once he was satisfied with his inspection, he fetched his bow, then stepped out from beneath the boulders. Holding his bow and quiver in one hand, he reached into his pocket and took out a small bandana, then held it above his head. The chill night wind blew the bandana in the direction of the mountain peak.
Gene walked a few dozen meters up the mountain, navigating away from the worn dirt path and finally taking a position near a giant tree with a tangle of roots and ferns jutting out around its base. There, he leaned his quiver against the tree before taking a seat on a sturdy rock next to the trunk.
He pulled a small metal vial from a pouch on his chest, uncrewed the top, closed his eyes, and swallowed the contents in a single gulp. The fluid was thick and bitter, and Gene could barely stop himself from gagging.
He followed up the disgusting potion with several pulls from the water bottle on his hip, then shuddered at the lingering aftertaste of bitter herbs. He kept his eyes shut and counted out the seconds for nearly two minutes, then he opened his eyes again slowly to take in his surroundings.
The forest had nearly lost all its color, but everything that had previously been obscured by shadow had taken on much sharper detail. The breeze stirred the ferns around him, making them dance mysteriously in the scattered starlight.
On a distant branch, an owl stood perfectly still, just like him, as it searched the area for prey. Gene leaned calmly against the tree and steadied his breathing, emptying his mind of all thoughts and focusing on the sounds of the forest.
In time, he noticed the noises of wildlife slowly taper off. The crickets and frogs started to echo from farther away, and the calls of nighttime animals grew faint, as if they had all left the area immediately around him.
He pulled a mask over his face to keep off the cold and to hide the cloud of his breath, and then he remained as still as he possibly could. Soon, in the quiet, he heard the approach of something that seemed to be moving as if it didn’t want to be heard.
He noticed the crack of a branch, and then the sound of small rocks rolling down the path. Then, he finally heard what he was waiting for; a stifled muttering that resembled the faint giggling of children, but at a slightly deeper pitch.
Gene turned his head slowly toward the boulders where he’d made his simple camp. He was behind them, so he couldn’t see the flames of the campfire, but from his higher vantage point he could see above them and down to the path below.
He worked his way into a crouching position, grabbing his bow and a single arrow and moving around the tree. He stood up silently behind the cover of the massive trunk, then cautiously leaned out to gaze down at his camp below. He could see them now; two shadowy ape-like figures with twisted horns on their heads.
They moved on four limbs, slowly climbing the mountain path while staying as low to the ground as possible. Complex markings on their thick fur provided excellent camouflage; whenever they stopped moving, they practically disappeared into the brush and debris scattered on the forest floor. Without the night-eye elixir, the creatures would have been impossible to see.
Gene ducked back behind the tree and readied an arrow, preparing himself to draw as soon as he had a clear shot. He leaned out again, watching patiently. Soon, one of the satchi approached near enough to the firelight for Gene to see the single, large eye on its forehead peering out from between its two horns.
In the brush nearby, the second satchi, slightly smaller than the first, came to the edge of the firelight. The creatures looked curiously at the camp, sniffing the air with their mouths open, revealing long, pointed tongues. The larger one made a sound like snorting laughter, and then, together, the beasts charged the camp.
As soon as they disappeared behind the boulders, Gene stepped out partially from behind the giant tree and raised his bow, bringing up his elbow so he would be ready to draw. It didn’t take long for the satchi to realize that there was no one in the camp.
For a few moments, Gene heard them shuffle in the dirt, then he heard their snorting laughter, much louder now than before. One of them started howling, and it was soon joined by the second. Gene took a deep breath and then whistled loudly, keeping as much of his body behind the silhouette of the tree as he could.
The creatures paused for a moment, and then Gene heard more shuffling. One of them emerged from one side of the boulders and climbed up, standing on top and sniffing the air. The wind carried the rotten stink of the creature uphill.
Gene drew his arrow back and breathed deeply through his nose, frowning at the repulsive scent, and then exhaled and held his breath. He steadied his aim at the creature’s chest, then released his grip.
The arrow flew fast and struck home. The satchi yowled in pain and clutched at its chest before staggering and falling backward off the boulder and into the camp below.
Gene leaned over and pulled another arrow from his quiver, then stood up and scanned the mountainside for the second satchi. After a few moments he saw the brush shaking between him and the camp, and he drew his arrow back. He held his breath and waited for the creature to appear.
Suddenly, the creature stood up from the brush with a howl and Gene released his arrow. It struck the creature in the torso, but didn’t put it down. The satchi gibbered at him with its maniacal laughter, then lowered its head and began to charge.
It covered ground quicker than a man, but the arrow in its shoulder prevented it from charging at full speed. Gene stowed his bow behind the tree and drew his knife, placing the thick trunk between him and the creature.
When the satchi drew near, it slowed its charge to maneuver around the great tree. In its moment of hesitation, Gene leaped onto its back with his knife in hand and thrust the blade as many times as he could into its neck and right shoulder.
The creature thrashed for a while beneath him, but soon, its injuries made it too weak to support Gene’s weight. It collapsed underneath him. Gene gripped it by one horn, forcing it to turn its head, and finished it with a final blow to its eye. The satchi writhed and screamed for a few moments before giving a final exhale and going still.
Gene stood up and brushed dirt off of his pants and jacket, then wiped sweat from his face with the bandana from his pocket. At his feet, luminous steam flowed out of the beast’s wounds, and then its whole body began to turn black and crumble like sand until nothing remained but a pile of dust.
Gene crouched over the dark pile and combed through it with his blade until he struck something hard. He reached his hand into the black debris and pulled out a glowing stone roughly the size of an egg, but perfectly spherical. He opened a pouch on his belt and tucked the stone inside, then filled several empty vials from his bandolier with the black ash the satchi had left behind.
He stood up, collected his bow and quiver from behind the tree, and headed downhill toward his camp. As he drew near, he paused for a few moments; slowly, the sounds of distant wildlife were growing louder.
Satisfied he’d dealt with the threat, he rounded the boulders and searched the area around his camp for another pile of black sand. He sifted through the dust until he found another glowing stone, then stowed his prize in his belt pouch and started cleaning up his camp.
The pot and cooking stand had been thrown to the ground, and his pack had been tipped over with its top flap opened, but it had managed to hold against the satchis’ claws.
Gene scooped up the bits of fried sausage strewn over the ground and tossed them into the woods a few dozen meters away his camp. Then, he returned to the fire and used a handful of black sand from the remains of the satchi along with water from his hip flask to scrub the cooking pot clean.
From a pouch inside his pack, he fetched several bars of dried fruit, nuts, and grains, along with the rest of the dried sausage. He savored the simple meal and sipped slowly from his water flask while watching dozens of tiny bats chase bugs in the starlight.
By now, the sounds of frogs and crickets had returned in full force. After finishing his dinner, he pulled a cloak from his pack to cover himself, then he lay down near the glowing remains of the campfire until finally, he closed his eyes and fell asleep.
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