My dark haired friend paused to ask me, “What are you on the hunt for today?” I shot his question out of the air with a booming, “Nothing!”
“Why nothing? He asked. My “friend’s” left eyebrow is raised. A timely glint bounces from the sun before reflecting off his dark eyes. “Everyone is searching for something Mari.” He knows me and I know him; we are both Hunters.
I paused a moment before continuing. I want to speak deliberately; I need to speak carefully but I don’t. Instead I blurt, “I don’t like hunting. I don’t need to hunt. I have everything I need in my garden.”
I am not lying… technically. That word “technically” I don’t know what that means but it sounds good.
My “friend” continues to take jabs at me, “What about the adrenaline rush, the crushing boom of the rifle, the smell of fresh blood?” My “friend” paused and turned to stare at me with that spine-twisting glint. “What about all that?” My friends’ name is Mendacium; he and I have known each other since we started hunting school many years ago. He had never failed at being my friend but for some reason I was skeptical that I was his today.
Not because I am frightened. The truth is quite contrary. I crave what he describes in the most inhumanly way possible. My flesh crawls for the kill but I have learnt that the kill is not nearly as satisfying as my symptoms may suggest. I tell him I must leave and I do, dragging my memories behind me and into the wide open clearing with me.
I stand with my hair catching tufts of the breeze and remember the one of the many animals I could not kill. There are many creatures that have escaped my grasp. I am not a skilled Hunter. For some reason, the fact I cannot catch this particular animal irritates me much more than my inability to kill the others.
It did not matter how many strategies I tried to catch it in its’ so called “vulnerable state”. I could not do it. Some of the oldest Hunters I know have claimed to have shot and skinned the animal. This seems to be an unnecessary claim, as they haven’t the slightest sliver of proof for their accomplishment.
I stand and shiver as I remember the creature. It had long horns, sleek black fur and a surprisingly pleasant scent about it. Unlike the other animals when it came close it would lure the Hunters into a trance-like state. According to what I have heard from my parents, in its’ presence they were convinced they could not kill and keep the animal for themselves. If a person talked to any one of them in this state they would say for themselves, “I only want to be in its’ presence.” When dim-witted visitors asked the Hunter, “Whose presence in which do you wish to stay?” They would respond as such, “Protesto. The presence of Protesto.”
Protesto is the animal that feeds on the rare, swaying reeds called Pretium. As a child I was warned countless times and heard countless stories about Protesto sneaking into a Gatherer’s yard. According to legend, the creature would take large patches of the reed with it while leaving. Thankfully, the grass would always grow back.
In my opinion, it is Pretium they seek and not Protesto. This is why I must gather instead of hunt. This is why I must not wish to kill any longer… but daily my tastes betray the true desire of my heart.
I have not experienced this but have heard how sweet and tender the taste of its’ flesh is. Perhaps one day I would catch it…
For now I stand in the clearing with a gun small enough to shoot .17 HM2 and I wait.