With paint and blade, the man hunts in the woods. His feet step lightly, and no twigs break below him. The night forest has no sounds. There is just a heavy stillness. The sound of his breathing beats against the blanket of silence and returns unsuccessful back to him, filling his own ears.
The tribe waits for him, waits for him to prove his age. He must hunt the tiger and bring him back to the men. Breathing can be a crime in the woods at night, he knows that. A fatal mistake. There are only the enemy beasts that walk the woods at this time. The black panther breathes, tense and alert, hiding in the bush. The serpents lie coiled on tree-trunks, tongues tasting the air and what the east wind brings through the leaves. Owls don't even hoot so deep inside the forest. It is all so still.
His bare feet find soft spots on the earth, free of twigs and stones. Slowly, quietly, he finds his blind way through the forest. He must find his way to where the tiger can be found.
Man eyes are not meant for the night. He must travel by sound or by instinct. His skin is easily broken, without fur to protect against cold or guard from minor scratches. The body is too small, with no natural muscles to ward off carnivorous attacks. The limbs are too weak and cannot outrun the smallest of natural foes. No dilating pupils, no retractable claws, no vicious teeth, no brute strength - man is not meant for the jungle.
As he unsheathes his knife, the hunter wonders how far man's singular superior weapon can take him - his mind. The mind that brought fire to the darkness of night, made sharpened claws for hands to hold, and brought intelligence and training to a hunt between unequals. The hunter knows how servile he is before a magnificent tiger beast. He has no such command in his gait, he has no roar to strike terror in his enemies, he has no such arrogance to dismiss a fresh carcass as mere sport.
Stories, sung by the mad shaman by the fires, told of how man was once united with the beasts. He hunted alongside friends and brothers of the animal kingdom. He was part of that animal kingdom. He was strong and tall and quick and proud - he could be a tiger himself. But the time came when he abandoned the path. The oneness was destroyed, as man took hold of his mind and sneaked for the first time. Hunters respected the kingdom, which gave them their food and their lives. But man peeled the skins, cut the tusks, burnt the children and tamed the weak. Carving ivory for art, stitching skin for ornament and using his fellow animal for amusement and petting - man forgot his place in the kingdom. He was banished. And left for lost.
And since then, he has been an outsider. The one who betrayed the secrets once learned, once taught by the beasts themselves. The shaman sang of the lost trust and the glorious days of the oneness.
The hunter wonders if the emancipation is worth the cost. He thinks of how it would be to be one again. To worship nature as She was meant to be worshipped. The outsider will always remain out of place. The outsider fills the gap with mindless pursuits. Only the outsider, the exiled, wanders place to place, land to land, looking for an answer to the question set before him. The answer, that the question need not be at all, will stay lost forever.
The hunter stops. A pair of yellow eyes glint at him through the bushes. A swish in the air tells him the tiger's tail is moving in the bush. Dry wood cracks under its paws. It does not need to be silent anymore. The hunter holds his knife behind him, circles the spot cautiously, and wonders for a last time - Who is the true hunter tonight? And who is the hunted?
Tonight, and for every night.