Todays writing practice is once again a very short pulpy story. Reading time ~9min.
Hunan Jag’s footsteps sounded out loudly around him. Despite his best efforts, his impressive physique just was not suitable for quiet movement. It couldn’t be helped; it was just one of the costs one had to pay when one wanted to be as strong as Hunan was. It had never bothered him in the past that he was not as stealthy as others, but here, now, in this place, Hunan noticed and wished it was different.
The birds had stopped their songs and calls. The living maze of browns and greens, usually full of life, had turned deathly silent as Hunan got closer to his goal: the ancient temple of Ruk.
“Well, this isn’t ominous at all, is it?” He thought to himself as he heard another branch loudly splintering apart under his weight, reverberating through the jungle. “Not ominous at all.”
Hunan’s senses were on high alert. Sweat ran down his thick muscled neck, and he could feel his heartbeat in his ears. Hunan couldn’t help but check that his massive double-edged axe was strapped to his back, ready to be drawn at a moment’s notice.
The temple was old, ancient even. Hunan had followed rumors of whispers and old hag tales to narrow down its location. He had spent countless hours listening to pointless rambles of goatherders and cutthroats alike, who all seemed to complain about similar things. Hunan allowed a smile to appear on his face. He had loosened tongues by ale or threat, yet he had only gotten vague hints of mights and maybes. Others would have dismissed the tales and given up. The rumors were as thin and watery as the ale in the shittiest of bars, barely worth pursuing for anyone less determined than Hunan. Even with his effort to put together all the bits and pieces, it had taken him days of wandering in this oversized thicket to get here. Hunan had almost mistaken it for another patch of nature running wild. The temple was so overgrown with vines and leaves that it seamlessly blended into the surrounding jungle. The stone beneath, barely visible through the overgrowth, was as brown as mud and so weathered and chipped that you could easily mistake it for bark. The efforts of whoever built this place were losing the battle against nature, slowly but surely.
Hunan stepped inside the ancient temple. His breath caught when the darkness swallowed him whole. He could not see his hands in front of his eyes for a moment. The outside light penetrated only through holes in the ceiling where nature’s claws had dug through, casting eerie shadows on the walls.
The air was thick and had an old and rotting taste that lingered. Hunan felt the weight of the air settle on him as if someone had placed giant hands on his shoulders, ready to grab or strangle him. But he had faced worse than the unknown and darkness before, so he was not afraid. He moved deeper into the temple, his senses alert and every muscle in his body ready to spring into action.
As he moved deeper into the temple, the distant growls of some wild animal echoed through the hallway he was in. Deep, throaty sounds rumbled, but he couldn’t quite place where they were coming from. The noises were coming to him too distorted. Hunan sent every ounce of his attention outward, but he couldn’t determine anything else. There was nothing but the overgrown stone under his feet and the cracks in the walls that guided his hands. And that growling animal sound that echoed through the hallway he was in.
As he rounded a corner, he came face to face with a beast just a short sprint away from him. His mind went blank, and his instincts took over. He had learned not to simply react when encountering a predator. “Assess your surroundings, come up with a plan, then act on it.” He reminded himself.
A giant creature with thick fur covering its body, short legs, and long arms held a mountain of muscle aloft. Tiny black eyes stared at Hunan. He could tell the animal was just as surprised as he was by this encounter. They both looked at each other, neither moving even a tiny bit as if caught in a spell while assessing the situation.
The beast moved first. “Screw making plans.” Hunan thought to himself as he firmed his stance in reaction. The creature let out a fierce roar. Hunan could make out finger-long, thick teeth made to penetrate deep into prey and tear flesh apart. Hunan drew his axe and relaxed his grip, ready to act. The two charged at each other, exchanging mighty blows. Hunan swung his axe with a scream, cutting through the thick air effortlessly. The creature barely dodged the first blow, losing nothing but a little of its flesh to the bite of Hunan’s axe. The wild animal used its long arms to lift itself out of Hunan’s reach. It roared again, but this time Hunan responded in kind, letting out a bellowing roar himself. He accepted the challenge and issued one himself at the same time.
The beast jumped down suddenly, struck out at Hunan, and quickly climbed back up, making the best use of its reach and familiarity with the surroundings. The fight raged on, and Hunan realized, “This isn’t working. He’s up there moving freely while I’m stuck on the ground.” They traded more blows, both landing strikes that would have brought death immediately to lesser creatures, but Hunan and the beast continued.
Hunan’s breath came heavy, and his ears rang from the rock the creature had thrown at him, glancing off his head. His focus was waning. “Time to change things up. I must take his advantage away, or I won’t make it past this big guy,” he thought. As the beast charged at him again, Hunan stepped forward toward it. He taunted it. “Your long reach doesn’t get you anything now, does it? I’m already close.”
The animal was caught off guard by Hunan’s sudden movement and was unable to react in time. Hunan crashed into the beast, using all his strength and momentum to lift it from the ground.
The impact of their clash cracked the stone beneath Hunan’s feet, and he felt the ground shift slightly. For a moment, he lost his balance, but he quickly regained his footing and focused on the task at hand. With a fierce grunt, he heaved the creature up and threw it with all his might.
The beast flew through the air, its massive body slamming into a nearby pillar with a deafening crack that echoed sharply off the walls. The temple shook with the force of the impact, and Hunan could feel the ground tremble beneath his feet. He watched as the creature lay still, its chest rising and falling slowly.
Hunan approached the beast carefully, his eyes fixed on his seemingly vulnerable opponent. He did not trust the creature’s stillness and was ready to defend himself at a moment’s notice. As he lifted his axe to deliver the killing blow, he heard a loud cracking noise from deep underground.
Hunan hesitated, unsure of what was happening. Leaves and vines shook violently. Small chips of stone fell from the ceiling, mixing with the rotten moisture to make the air unbearable. Suddenly, the ground gave way beneath him. He felt his stomach lurch as he started to plummet. Hunan let go of his axe and reached out blindly. His fingers immediately gripped tightly around a vine that he was falling past. He hung there for a moment, suspended in nothingness. Hunan realized he had to get out of there as more rubble fell past him. He heaved himself up along the vines and ran.
His heart pounded in his chest as Hunan emerged from the temple. Behind him, a high-pitched screeching sound emerged. Hunan could feel something tearing inside his ears. “Argh,” escaped his lips. The whole temple sagged and then suddenly lunged upwards by almost a barrel’s height. Odd-colored clouds of mist burst through the cracks and holes, and the rotten smell that had imbued the innards of the temple spread outwards with an intensity that made Hunan’s stomach cramp. Hunan sprinted forward again. It was clear to him that something terrible had happened inside that temple. “Fuck this,” he thought and recklessly forced his way through the brushes. Nothing mattered to him other than to get away from the temple. Adrenaline was still pumping through Hunan’s veins when the last of his strength left him. He fell. Not even eating dirt could push away the eerie feeling left by that forsaken place.
Slowly, the sounds of the jungle reappeared and registered with Hunan. Still lying on the ground, he noticed that he was breathing clean air. Scattered rays of sun beat down on his lying form and pushed the dread away to make space for another sensation that arose inside him. A smile formed on his lips. He might not have found a treasure, artifact, or anything else valuable to show off or sell, but he had fought a mighty creature and bested it. That was something, at least. He felt alive. “One more story to tell, one rumor to add,” he mumbled quietly.