To Hunt A Husk
“Where are you, Floater?” Jusuf shouted into the dark cavern. “I know this is your lair.”
A white blip appeared in the ether about three feet above Jusuf’s head. He took a few steps back as the blip began to spread and open into a wide white ring that lit up the cavern with an eerie orange glow.
Large chunks of rock bigger than Jusuf began to form around them and hovered in place as a humanoid shape began to shimmer into sight. It was the general shape of a person which was a relief to Jusuf. He had half-expected to see an ogre or large beast.
Jusuf squinted as he looked up into the bright light, trying to see the Floater’s face, but the being was faceless. As the humanoid solidified from the ether around him, the light from the large circular portal dimmed enough so that Jusuf could look up at it without having to squint.
A small white circle of light covered the area where his eyes, nose, and mouth should have been. The image had solidified enough that the young warrior could make out eight, large tentacles protruding from the Floater’s back. Each tentacle ended in a sharp point.
The warrior pulled his sword and took a step forward. The Floater didn’t flinch or pull back. It simply spread its arms to the side. A terrifying sense of dread and helplessness filled Jusuf’s entire being.
His legs felt like jelly and wobbled as he attempted to take another step forward. Jusuf dropped to one knee and groaned at the weight pressing down upon him. He tried to raise his sword, but it felt so heavy that he couldn’t use it to threaten the creature floating before him.
“What do you seek, human?” the floating being asked as its tentacles wriggled around behind its back like worms seeking earth to dig into.
It was strange hearing the Floater’s words without it actually having a mouth to speak from. The words felt strange, almost as if he weren’t even hearing them with his ears. It felt as if the words simply formed inside his head, directly in his mind.
Jusuf felt the pressure growing in the atmosphere around him. It was all he could do to breathe.
“I. Come. To Avenge. My. Sister’s. Death.” Jusuf barely managed to gasp.
He felt the Floater moving around in his head as if sifting through his thoughts. A visual image of his sister appeared in his mind. Her sixteenth birthday. A time that the entire family had come together. Each member laying aside their differences and fragile ego to celebrate the coming of age of one of their own.
Jusuf thought the entire ritual completely ridiculous. They called themselves family. Banded together against anyone that opposed them. But when they didn’t have anyone else to fight against, they began to attack one another.
The constant bickering and petty fights were so trite, that he often confronted them. But that never resolved much. That would simply cause them to turn their pettiness on him and speak ill of him to the rest of the family. Often to the very person he had been trying to defend. And then both of them would turn their pettiness on him.
He didn’t like confrontation and normally apologized just to keep the peace, even though he hadn’t done anything wrong. He had quickly learned his lesson and learned to stay out of the fray.
It was ridiculous that they could only stand together when fighting a common enemy. Jusuf thought they should always stand together and seek to get along in harmony. He had left home for a time and tried to make a life for himself outside the village. But it was hard and lonely surviving without allies, even if they did make life difficult for themselves.
So, he ended up returning to the village to be close to his family again. His sister’s birthday celebration had been the perfect excuse to return. Then, three days later, this tragedy occurred.
“I did not harm your sister,” the Floater spoke into his mind. “She was killed by a husk. I have come to seek the husk and return it back.”
Jusuf had no idea what the Floater meant by the word ‘husk’.
The mental image of a being floated into his mind. It looked like a ghost but then morphed into a dog. Then it morphed into a crow. And after that into a human.”
“You mean a shapeshifter?” Jusuf asked. “Like the legends of the skinwalkers I heard as a kid.”
Jusuf felt the Floater rummaging through his memories. The stories he had referred to came to the forefront of his mind in a very visual way that was almost chilling.
The Floater acknowledged them but didn’t seem to agree. “Only legends. Warped by lack of knowledge.” The Floater said.
“Husks are much worse and much more pervasive than your stories speak of. Once unleashed, they are difficult to capture and return to where they belong. Your entire village and your world are in grave danger.”
A sense of dread and terror filled Jusuf’s being as his sense of awareness of the damage it could do began to grow in his mind.
“How do I capture and return it?” Jusuf asked although he had no intention of doing so. His entire being was consumed with anger and hatred for this thing. All he could think of was killing it and avenging his beautiful sister’s death.
“Husks are impossible to kill. You only kill the form they inhabit. But it can only be captured. And even that is almost impossible once they are unleashed.”
The Floater hovered lower until its feet touched the floor. It moved toward Jusuf without actually taking steps. The pressure on the human’s body intensified.
But when its hand came to rest on Jusuf’s head and the young man felt a surge of energy flood through his entire being. Strength returned to his legs and he was able to stand once more.
“I sense that your heart is pure and your love for your sister is great. I will give you the strength of Airidai greater than any mortal in your land if you swear to use it to help me find the husk and return it to where it belongs.”
“I swear,” Jusuf said. And he felt that he meant it with all of his heart. “How do I find this husk.”
“You can’t find the husk directly. You wouldn’t recognize it if you were looking straight at it. It takes the shape of other creatures and people. It changes form frequently. And if you kill the form it has taken, you only release it to take another.”
“Then how will I recognize it? And how can I capture it?” Jusuf asked.
“Ask the villagers about pain and suffering and grief. And when they seem to relish talking about it, you are getting close. Bring them to me, and we will deal with them accordingly.”
The Floater reached down toward Jusuf’s sword. As the young man raised it to give it to him, the blade reflected brightly in the light from the ring of light overhead. But when the Floater touched it, an even deeper glow seemed to come from within the weapon itself.
“Go,” the Floater said directly into Jusuf’s mind. “The sword will help ward off the husk’s influence on you and those you love. But be wary of those in your family who may have already fallen prey to its control.”
“My family? But why?” Jusuf asked.
“Because your sister was the bait used to lure the husk out. It will feed off the grief of those closest to her among your family.”
With those words, the Floater moved backward under the ring of light and rose back up into the portal.
“Wait,” Jusuf called out. “How do I find you? What is your name?”
“Aridai,” the Floater pressed into the young man’s mind. “Return here, and I will reappear.”
As Aridai floated up through the ring of light, the circle closed in until it became a single white blip that faded out of existence along with the stones that had surrounded them.
Jusuf looked down at his sword before sliding it into his sheath and promising himself to do everything within his power to find this husk and bring it to justice.