Chapter 1 – The Hunter
The door opened with a soft murmur and the hunter strode into the empty room. His nostrils breathed in deeply in the chilled air, absorbing the sweet smell of blood. “Marvelous,” he grunted under his breath, “Just marvelous.” He reached for the pistol strapped to his hip, reassuring himself as his other hand steadied the broad brimmed hat perched atop a nest of black and unruly hair.
A sharp and screeching whistle blasted the quiet night air. “Come out where I can see ya,” the speaker demanded, “And no funny business. I got a gun.” So do I, thought the hunter wryly to himself, and I know how to use it. Yet, without a word he complied, backing out towards the speaker.
There was a harsh hiss that broke the silence, and night air of the small town lit up with the red glow of a flare in response. In the flare’s light the hunter could see that the man was indeed holding a long rifle, tipped with a bayonet. He’s bloody holding it in one hand – amateur! The hunter did not dare speak however, because the man was dressed from head to toe in a distinctive and newly-pressed uniform, marking him as one of the town watch. A police officer.
“What is the problem officer?” the hunter’s voice rang with musical depth. “Can I help you at all?” He took a step forward into the light of the flare, allowing it to illuminate his broad shoulders and dark skin to the fullness of his imposing height as he towered over the officer. A gust of wind blasted past at that moment, dramatically billowing the tail of his long leather trench coat. The hunter cocked his head quizzically to the left, scratching his stubbled beard.
“Well,” the officer stumbled over his words, “I seen that you was entering this here house. And with the horrible murder and all I puts one and two together.” He faltered, “I’m armed – this here is a silver gun!” He pointed the shaking weapon towards the hunter.
The hunter smiled, sharpened canines jutting out from his lips as he turned his gaze directly on the officer. His unnaturally violet eyes flickered and glowed in the light of the flare, washing over the officer. The hunter took a slow half-step forwards, “So, which do you think I am? Vampyre? Were-beast? Hag-man?” he paused dramatically, “Perhaps I am one of those murderous Wilder-Elves you fear so much out here in the provinces.”
“Well sir,” the officer halted, “You seem to know an awful lot about such unnatural creatures.”
The hunter laughed in the face of the man’s tact, “I suppose I do. What is your name officer?”
“Hopkins,” the officer growled as he ran a hand down an unkempt beard, his other clutching his rifle against a stocky chest.
“Well Officer Hopkins, my name is Mason Hex,” the officer’s face turned pale, “Ah, yes I see you have heard of me then, despite being a rookie.” Mason continued slowly, “I am here to hunt down whichever manner of beast committed the atrocity in this wretched excuse of a hut.” Mason paused, searching for words. For the right words. “Your superiors no doubt alerted you to this fact, so although I commend you for doing your job promptly, I have no time to deal with your presence and fulfil the promptness of my own job. So please, if you would, Officer Hopkins, leave the monster hunting to me.”
“I am sorry mister Hex. How can I make amends?” Hopkins sheepishly shrugged his shoulders, as if he could hide between his shoulder blades.
Mason Hex, waved his hand, “I do not care Mister Hopkins, please set about looking after more mundane problems. Go back to your job and leave me to mine.”
With a small huff of disgruntled embarrassment, the officer turned and strode off, the light from his flare fading quickly into the dark night as he trudged through soft snow. Mason Hex likewise turned, moving back to the darkness of the empty hut. He stooped through the doorway, and his eyes quickly adjusted to the limited light. He took a deep breath, tasting the heavy scent of blood that dripped across everything.
The hut had one main room, which opened onto an adjoining kitchen area littered with pots and pans. These utensils were scattered haphazardly, thrown about in fury. There was a separate door, connected to the main room, which was slightly ajar, revealing the frame of a bed and bundled sheets. The main room itself, Mason noted, was sparsely decorated. There was a small wooden stool (one leg cracked and splintered) and it lay on the ground lopsided. There was a reclining couch (faded and torn) and a simple tattered rug covered with an unhealthy layer of oozing blood.
Mason walked directly towards the bloodstained rug, allowing his expanded senses to observe the scene. Beyond the range of ordinary human observance, Mason could see the outline the blood cut on the woolen surface. He could smell the faint hints of iodine and cyanide tainting the bloody stench of iron. Emotional resonance, the sensation of fear and hopelessness, flickered across the air, rippling from the blood itself.
As with all monster hunters, Mason Hex was a man blessed with what most dwellers in the provinces considered ‘unnatural talents.’ It was a thought that he often chuckled about in his more reflective moments. How could backwater dwellers and farmers with their superstitions, understand the beauty and power of the coming-of-age rituals of the cities and the magic with which the citizens were imbued?
Mason called upon his gifts, willing heat from deep within, summoning raw power and energy to the fingers of his right hand. The fingers began to glow softly, transforming slowly into a blazing red, as tongues of fire burst from the fingertips. The flames licked gently across Mason’s hand, rolling across the skin in a loving caress, until his fist was a single ball of fire, which illuminated the whole room.
“Let us take a closer look at you,” Mason muttered, reaching into his jacket with his left hand. His hand delved deep, reaching for a particular glass vial. Mason had been gifted the jacket by an old friend, and the pockets contained limited elsespace – dimensions capable of containing near infinite amounts of items, without gaining weight.
His hand was drawn to the vial and he pulled it out, marvelling briefly at the rare creature trapped inside. To any other human eye it would have appeared like a large firefly, internally lit and glowing as a ball of green light. To Mason Hex, however, the humanoid shape with its two pairs of buzzing wings, four arms, and diminutive stature was as clear as anything.
“Hello girl,” Mason breathed, “Time for you to get to work.” He muttered under his breath in the words of a long dead language. Mason did not need to use such words for his magic, but they helped when it came to creatures of trickery such as fairies. And when it took so long to find a fairy, Mason could not afford for the creature to escape his grasp.
The fairy’s green tinge changed as he spoke, its aura slowly shifting from green to blue and settling on a deep violet, a colour mirroring Mason’s own eyes. He reached for the stopper and gave it a brief twist. It pulled away easily in his hand and the little fairy darted forward towards the blood, trailing glittering sparks in its wake. The minute creature touched down and began to skate across the pool of stained blood, sparks of violet light flashing across the blood stain.
As the fairy danced across the blood, the blood thickened and rose into the air, lifted by the potency of the fairy magic. Thick, dark red globules of blood lifted and coagulated together, becoming one floating orb in the air. The fairy finished its strange dance, and then allowed itself to float into the air – rising with the blood. The fairy’s four hands reached out and embraced the orb of blood, then steadily began to spin the floating mass. As the blood spun, a black whispy smoke began to pour out of the blood itself: the venomous hints of iodine and cyanide that Mason had smelled previously.
The smoky venom hung suspended in the air and Mason walked around it slowly. He watched as the smoke hovered and fluttered in the air, dancing round in circles and hovering. The smoke was held in place, contained by the fairy’s own abilities, and it swirled aimlessly in multiple strands. Mason had seen nothing like it.
The smoky trails began to cling together, coalescing into thickened globules until the poison became a single nugget of semi-liquid sludge. Mason stared at the three-dimensional puddle, fascinated. “What manner of creature uses such a poison,” he whispered to himself.
The liquid smoke let out a sudden keen mewl, and leapt in a fluid motion towards Mason. He staggered backwards, watching as it slammed against the fairy’s barriers. The globe of energy holding the poison cracked ever so slightly and the poisonous entity pressed itself to the crack, oozing and sliming until it filled the miniscule gap. The fluid pressed forward, the crack expanding with a sudden fury. The tiny fairy’s wings fluttered faster, straining against a visible pressure.
There was a loud crack, like a gun blast, and the globe of energy cracked into tiny pieces. The poison leapt forward with the explosion, and to Mason’s bemusement it seemed as though the tendrils and droplets around the edge had formed into open fangs. Yet in the second it took for the toxin to leap, Mason was already swinging his right fist: the one blazing with fire.
The screeching venomous entity shattered into thousands of pieces of ash, releasing a powerful boom that flipped Mason backwards. He floundered through the air, smashing sideways into the open doorway. Blood erupted from his left leg, bone breaking through the skin in a sudden slashing sensation.
Mason gritted his teeth in pain and reached for the broken leg, giving it a sudden twist. The bone was forced back by the wrenching motion, and his body began to heal. He swore under his breath, healing from a broken bone would take minutes – but he did not have minutes. Whatever beast had done this, and it was something new, would be on the prowl again, and every minute wasted healing was a minute lost hunting.
He rose to his feet, wincing as the cracked bone began to strengthen and knit itself together ever so slowly. Not for the last moment did Mason Hex curse silently the coming-of-age ceremony that had transformed him into a hunter. Unlike other men and women the Changing was a curse for him, binding him to a life of purposeful monster hunting. It was the only honest work a man like him could pursue. It was work with a fair few scars however: Vampyre bites, were-beast claw marks, drake wyrm burns. Yes, Mason gritted his teeth as his leg regained strength, there were times he hated his line of work.
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