In the real world, people are seldom so clear-cut as to be good or evil, hero or villain. Often, we are a little of both. My own stories are patterned off of this, along with the knowledge that we each strive not so much for domination or comfort or righteousness so much as we do the comfort of equilibrium. While the diviner himself may carry the story, the predator is, in many ways, the centerpiece of it; enemy, friend, teacher, student, and conundrum. It is fitting to open the story with an introduction to it, even before the protagonist. Even in the classical sense, there are no heroes without villains; and while to make an enemy a friend may destroy the enemy, doing so is always with a sacrifice and a price.
© Michael Eric Oberlin, August 15, 2013
A dark and hungry figure darted rapidly through the water, too quick for any prey to avoid. It moved in synchrony with the wind and the currents, a force of nature in and of itself. It snatched what life it had use for with delight, without fear and without hate, playing its part in the grander meaning of the world and the cycle of life. It swam out of the river and onto the shore, among the rocks and the fungus, carrying a startled fish in the grasp of its claws. Its weapons and tools were many, spines and hooks of polished stone, refined by the erosion of the water, sharpened to lethal points.
Where the myriad creatures of the wetlands were concerned, this beast’s hunger and intent marked the inescapable will of a god. They were the ink where this beast was a god’s pen, they were the paint where the animal was the brush, they were blood where the predator was a god’s heart.
The shadow crouched over the stone, and sank its teeth into its catch. In an act of mercy, it snapped the fish’s spine in its bright white teeth, numbing it to its demise. The beast had no animosity with this creature, only a strong appetite. The dark flesh of its fingers pulled away the skin and bone that it had no need for, as it gnawed on the raw meat. It picked its pointed teeth with a rib, sucked its fingers clean, and buried the remains beneath the deep red soil of the land.
No trace of its prey remained. The beast would come and go in a flurry, straight to the jarring business of its meal. The predator accepted the fish as part of its being now; a teacher, a friend, a lover, and a meal. It stretched, as a beast would, and standing upright and tightening every muscle from its toes to its fingers. That was a good meal, and it was grateful to the fish that no longer was.
It would go on, because of the fish. It would exist in the fish’s place, and continue its life where its prey could not. It thought that there was something strangely romantic about that. It would accept the lessons and responsibilities of its prey, like so many others, as their lives merged together in its consumption. Its stomach had stopped growling. It was complete.
The hunter was the very guardian of the wetlands, the embodiment of all of the things that forbade mortal man from entering. It stretched as a cat would, and stepped more slowly along the stones in its river, with a more casual strut in its legs. The swamp life shimmered around it, glimmers of fluorescent animals and fish shining through the mists; they signaled their cohorts and sometimes drew in their own predators. Sometimes, it was their prey. They formed an orchestra of glow, a language of light, in a world so shrouded by mist and fog that it had never known sun nor moon nor star.
The hunter wondered if it could glow, too, but was only darkness. It was the only one among its kind that it knew. It had no need for communication or schooling, nor even a context for it.
It climbed the rough bark of a tree, and stretched out in its canopy, flexing its lithe muscles. With a full stomach and a sleepy head, it could take a moment to consider the edges of its knowledge. It had learned a great deal over endless time from its traditional prey, but the one thing it could not learn was what it meant to have an equal, or a better.
It thought on this for a long time, and should have, for out beyond the boundaries of its mists and its waters, there was another land. Within it, there was another creature, who complimented its knowledge. This was a land where it could not survive, and a land it was destined to walk among. Someday, it would meet this creature, and with their meeting would come their perfect and beautiful destruction.