The Witchhunter Chronicles
By Paul Lucas (Vanity Evolved)
“Lookin’ to be another frigid evenin’ tonight, eh, Betlic? Hopin’ that daughter of yours is back home in ‘er furs. Frost looks to be comin’ down ‘ard,” The sound of splitting wood punctuated the question, enough so for the axe man’s companion to cease his toil.
“Can’t say I’ve seen hide nor hair of her since the morn; went up with that Firan fella’ to fetch some kindlin’ for tonight. Reckon she’s taken quite a fancy to that lad, ain’t been able to separate ‘em all week. Still, I’ll be darned if I know why the nights ‘ave gotten so bitter of late.” The tearing of logs became a duet once more, Beltic hefting his axe high, cleaving log after log with a practiced pace, yet even at this pace, only three had felt his practiced swings before his attention was stolen once more.
“Firan, ya daft begger! Been wondering where you’d gotten yaself lost at,” He exclaimed; around the corner of the modest, winter-ravaged wooden hovel which Beltic called home came the tall, firmly muscled frame of Firan. “Ain’t Esme with ya? Beginnin’ to see just how sharp the weather’s gotten out there.” His face had gone beyond the point of reddening, back to a duller shade of pink. His mouth, however, finally took the chance to open; not a word was uttered before it closed again.
“… What is it, lad? Scrags got ya tongue, eh?” His attempted chuckle was cut short with a simple glance towards his partner. His face had drained similarly, mouth hanging open slightly, about to voice some semblance of thought.
Snow crunched and crumbled in protest as the new arrival slumped to his knees, falling face first into the thick white layers, the first true vestiges of Winter. Sticking bolt upright from his back, solidly placed between his shoulder blades was an arrow, but its proportions were almost that of a ballista; seven to eight inches of dark wood, near black, streaked with with barely visible veins of midnight blue. Its fletching’s were an eccentric mish-mash of leaves, flat twigs and multi-hued feathers, all of which meant far too much to the two men watching in silence.
“Elfkin! Beltic, I-“ Every motion in the man’s body stopped; arms, legs, mouth. Not even a shiver managed to sneak through his freshly terrified psyche. He’d seen it, lounging on the rough-shod roof above them. Hunched over, crouched in on itself, the lone figure roosted above them. Against the darkening skies, few features made themselves obvious; at least eight foot tall, even crouching the creature struck an intimidating figure. Tightly compacted muscles, lean and taut decorated what little of its arms could be seen, lanky fingers gripping lazily about a curve of wood taller than itself!
“Raise the alarm, Beltic. I,” His voice froze for a second, a sudden renewed courage gripping him, steeling him against the faceless creature which stood in wait, merely watching. “I’ll murder this beast myself!”
The fear which had froze his companion moments ago had seemingly passed over Beltic. With no more words of encouragement, the thick leather of his boots began to crush snow once more, pounding through layer after layer with each clumsy yet determined stomp of his heel. Another heavy crunch, however, displayed his failure. As Firan had done moments ago, Beltic fell into the snow, flailing unceremoniously. Out of the trees it had come, two heavy rocks bound with tough vine, capturing leg and foot alike. The axe man, oblivious to his friend’s predicament had made true on his promise – in theory – grasping the worn handle of his splitting axe in both hands.
“Come then! Let me see how intimidating you are when the shadows fail to hide you!” His wish was granted. Slowly, from the shadows cast by impending dusk, the killer revealed himself. What gazed back at him was not the face of a killer; it was a work of art. Every feature resembled that of marble, worked and modeled by the hands of a master craftsman, the sole blemish – a jagged scar trailing diagonally across one eye – still seemed intended, a singular imperfection to contrast the symmetry of the whole. What caused his victim to freeze, however, was another kind of perfection. With a curve of his mouth, moderate amusement painting his features, exposing the pristine, snow-white enamel. Each tooth pointed and sharpened, interlacing into a singular vision: that of the apex predator, sizing up its prey.
“Oh, Rengar, preserve us!” Such a desperate exclaimation barely escaped the tensing throat of the axeman before the barbed head of the elf’s arrow did. Each helpless, choking gasp tinged the snow a more intense crimson, the huntsman dismounting his perfect to land with soundless grace beside the fallen. Belric had only now managed to right himself, his breaths ragged and choke, rolling onto his back just in time to witness the scene before him. Eyes. Eyes uncountable. Eyes which peered from the darkness of the hundreds of thousands of snow-covered pines surrounding them. What blasphemous slight had he committed to deserve such retribution by the fates?
One of the many emerged from the shadows, crude axe in hand, ready to claim his prize. It hadn’t taken long for Belric to accept his predicament, eyes clasping shut painfully tight, warding and denying the pain which he was sure was soon to come. His ears rang. The pain seared and resounded in his head , but death didn’t come; he dared to open his eyes, his executioner stood ready to strike before slumping to his side, a gaping wound bleeding viciously into the snow beside his victim. All heads turned to the small hill, only a couple of meters away. Several figures stood, each shrouded by immense lengths of thick leather, faces covered mostly by the wide brims of identical hats. In the glove-covered hands of the figure closest rested a rifle, its details hidden once more by a heavy coating of shadow. Even though the leather, a burning sigil could be seen, bared on the breast of his savior.
“Witch… It can’t be…” He weakly attempted to mutter.
“The witching hour is at hand,” Came a smooth, feminine voice, tinged with a thick venere of professionalism. Blades whined as they left their sheaths, some reflecting an impromptu ray of moonlight, others bursting into brilliant pyres of blue flame. Her arms shifted. The hollow ping of metal resounding as she cocked her weapon.
“Our hunt begins!”