The Hunt

Jan
23

The Hunt

When Geir the Giant walked into a town, sensible folk sought shelter. There were many warriors who would relish in the ability to cause such dread by simply being, but Geir didn’t particularly care. His mind was focused on far more important things: the preservation of the Skels; the destruction of the Winter; and, on most nights, the hunt.

Night had usurped day, but Geir saw the world clearly with his runesight. His eyes glowed a sickly green, wisps of magic trailing from them as he surveyed the entrance to Halland.

The town was an important trade crossroads that had recently flourished under the oversight of an avatar named Oris. Avatars were few in number but great in power, and usually moved from town to town. It was only natural that the Huntsmen would strike at one that had begun to settle. As a prominent member, Geir had taken it upon himself to hunt the twisted fusion of eauath and man that called itself Oris. Besides, it was growing clear that the inhabitants of Halland were being wrapped around Oris’ finger—though whether it was due to an honest but misguided infatuation or manipulation of emotion was unclear.

It had taken several days to lay the trap, but Geir was a patient man when it came to the Huntsmen’s cause. The Winter was a deadly opponent, and half-measures and rushed actions had sent many souls to the Wintersea. Geir had no desire to join them. Besides, he wasn’t keen on fighting an entire town alongside the avatar. Fortunately, he knew the clan who had founded this town by their superstitious reputation, and had managed to convince several clan guards to assist him. Two of them had led Oris to Geir, and the Huntsman had struck a single blow before the avatar could react. Fortunately, a single blow was all that was required for the gravebringer runes to take effect.

Geir could see them now, carved in swirling patterns on his two inky Winter Crystal axeblades. After use, they pulsed with energy, green stars amongst an obsidian backdrop. For centuries, the use of such runic magic was forbidden, their effect viewed as dishonorable and needlessly cruel. Now, such words were used to describe the Winter, and turnabout was fair play.

Against commonfolk, the runes did little more than disorient, but against magical foes they were another beast entirely. The gravebringer runes made forming even the most basic of spells an arduous task, clouding the mind and suppressing magical bonds.

They were most of the reason Geir was still alive. Oris had recently managed to subdue a rampaging ancient, and power like that was too much for any single Huntsman to handle. However, once the runes were upon her, there was little the avatar could do but flee.

Through his runesight, blood gleamed like lanterns as he stalked Oris at his leisure. The longer the runes had to work their magic, the less danger he was in. He stopped outside of town next to one of the clan guards.

“Thought you’d finish her off in the woods,” the man said.

Geir didn’t look at the man as he spoke in a low rumble befitting his stature. “No reason to risk that. She grows weaker by the moment.”

The guard shrugged, “you’re the expert.”

“Where’d she flee to?”

“The inn, she owns the place. Anyone who’s in there will probably try and stop you,” the guard gave Geir a good once-over. “Well, maybe not you. Suppose you’re used to that though. Right, big guy?”

Geir grunted a response. He was used to the comments about his size. His namesake came from his father’s side, though unlike true giants, he had eventually stopped growing. Nevertheless, at a bit over eight feet tall and over four hundred pounds, it was immediately obvious he had giant blood in him.

The half-giant started to leave when the guard spoke again. “I don’t much trust the eauath—nor anyone who bonds with one—but…make it quick if you can. You Huntsmen have a reputation to, um, play with your prey. Oris has done right by this town, I’d rather she not suffer.”

“I don’t do this because I enjoy it, I do it because I must. It’ll be quick.”

“You’re better than the rest then,” the guard said, giving Geir a nod. “Good hunting.”

The Huntsman passed the guard and entered the town, focused on the glinting trail of droplets. Faces peeked out of windows at his passing, but they were more curious than concerned. He paid them no mind. If the clan guard was right, anyone foolish enough to fight would be at the inn. The other commonfolk were inconsequential.

Halland was a fairly large town by Skellic standards. Over two thousand people called it home, and Geir passed by several closed storefronts. Multiple buildings had been recently damaged from the ancient’s attack on the town, including one shop that had been speared by a titanic tree trunk. The attack had happened a fortnight before, but the town had already repaired most of the damages. As much as he hated to admit it, the town had been lucky to have Oris at that moment; not even Geir could have stopped an ancient so easily.

He reached the center of the crossroads and the blood trail turned north, ducking into a broad, two-story building near the edge of the town. A freshly-mounted sign identified the building as the ‘Ram and Rogue Inn’.

Geir reached into his cloak and unclasped a small leather satchel. He begun to mutter a prayer as his hand curled around a soft sphere. He was a Huntsman, but his first duty was to the druidic order, and he drew power from Yore as all other druids did. To them, Yore’s blessings were simply a way to end the Winter so that Vanoc, god of mists and the creator-god of the Skels, could return. Geir could not disagree more. They believed Yore did not interact with the world because he was silent. In Geir’s mind, he interacted with the world through him. Yore spoke through Geir, he decided who lived and died through Geir, he combated the Winter through Geir. The half-giant was nothing more than a vessel for a greater force.

“God of what should have been, may what is about to occur one day become a grand memory in your name. If what I am about to do is wrong, may I fade from memory. And should my path be true, bless me with your might.”

He finished the prayer, took the seed of Yore from the satchel, and tucked the softly glowing sphere under his leathers—just above his heart. The warmth that radiated from the blessed seed calmed Geir, and he took it as a divine sign that his path was just.

Yore on his side, Geir entered the inn. He had to crouch through the door, but was relieved to find the ceiling was high enough to allow him to stand. He had expected five or six men to be waiting for him. Instead, a dozen sat at various tables. Most wielded axes, or at least kept them close by, and all seemed to be able-bodied warriors. Grim, bearded faces surveyed him as he took in the silent room. It appeared Yore wanted a show.

Several gripped their weapons tight, sliding into fighting stances while doing a poor job pretending they weren’t. Most simply watched and waited.

Geir nodded at the room. “Gentlemen.” His basso tone shook several empty flagons.

The inn was large, thank Yore for that. The center of the room was clear of furniture, and most tables were placed against the walls. A fire crackled at the far end, next to a set of stairs which twisted out of view. To his left, a long bar stood, populated by three men and one wary-eyed barkeep.

The Huntsman moved and watched four of the warriors twitch in anticipation. Good, now he knew which ones were eager. He made his way calmly to the bar and pulled two barstools together to take his weight. His axes scraped against the bar, and he shifted so the oversized weapons were easily reachable.

He made eye contact with the barkeep, who had a befuddled expression on his face, one most of the men shared. The barkeep was young, with oily blonde hair and a stub nose.

“Ale?” Geir asked.

The barkeep blinked. “What?”

“This is an inn, isn’t it? I can smell the ale. I would like some.”

“You’re a Huntsman, right?” Geir rolled his eyes and his parched mouth grew more noticeable. Hunting avatars was thirsty work.

“And you’re a barkeep. Only one of us appears to be bad at our job.”

One of the other men at the bar—all of whom had scooted to the opposite end—snorted. Geir looked at him with a bored expression.

“He has a point Sigfast. Give the man his last drink,” the man said. A wicked grin spread across his face, like a drop of blood in water. The man had a patchy red beard and there was a cocksure gleam in his eyes, the confidence of an experienced warrior. Geir smiled back.

“You have a back kitchen?” the Huntsman asked the barkeep. The man nodded. “Go back and cook me up some meat, don’t care what kind. I’ll be hungry in a moment. But, I’ll have that ale now.”

The barkeep placed a flagon under a spout and filled it with an enticing golden-brown liquid. He placed it before Geir, who gripped it gingerly in his giant hand and took a swig. Foam dripped from his black beard as the Huntsman grunted his approval and shooed the barkeep towards the back with his free hand.

“You’re awfully confident, aren’t you, Patchface?” Geir said without looking at the man.

“That’s not my name, Huntsman,” Patchface spat.

“That’s a strange answer to my question.”

Patchface laughed. “You know what my favorite part of fighting is?”

“Nope.”

“It’s teaching men like you their place. I don’t care who you are, no man fights twelve to one and lives. So yes, I’m confident.”

“No man, perhaps,” the half-giant said. Calmly, he slid his axes from his waist and placed them gently on the table. Each one was longer than a normal man’s arm. “I assume the avatar is upstairs?”

“Doesn’t matter, you aren’t leaving this room.”

Geir huffed. The bravado small men exuded irked him. He turned his head and addressed the room. “I’m only hunting one person tonight. Leave now and you can keep your lives.”

Two chairs scraped against wood and Geir readied himself. His head whipped towards the source of the noise to see two of the men had left their tables and exited the inn.

“If the rest of you wish to make widows of your wives, feel free. But, I would suggest following in their stead.” Geir motioned towards the door.

“What’s the matter, afraid to fight us all at once?” Patchface asked.

The half-giant finished his ale and let out a satisfied sigh. “I didn’t join the Huntsmen to kill innocent men.”

“I appreciate your concern,” Patchface snarled. “But we aren’t backing down.”

Wood began to creak behind Geir. He cracked his neck.

“Shall we begin?”

There was the sound of scuffling boots and Geir grabbed his flagon, whipping it towards Patchface while the other hand gripped one axe. He spun and slashed blindly behind him. Warm liquid splattered across his brows and his first kill of the night came into view, a dark-haired man with shock painted on his face. He held the shaft of an axe that had been effortlessly cut in half, and his throat had been parted with equal ease. Black mist trailed from the wound, and around the edges—beneath the streaming lifeblood—green runes began to creep across the man’s skin.

Geir lifted a heavy leg and sent the still-standing corpse careening across the inn with a kick. It flew into two men, taking them all to the ground. He glanced toward Patchface and the other three men. One had tried to block the thrown flagon, and received a broken forearm for his effort.

The warriors had closed the distance faster than he liked, and even his prodigious strength couldn’t ward off so many men at once. The half-giant let loose a bellow which shook the room and gave half of them pause. It would hopefully give Geir enough room to breathe.

One of the more well-muscled men raised both of his axes and readied a strike. Geir swung his weapon towards them, ignoring the man for now. He hooked the two shafts with the bearded end of the black crystal axe and tore them from the man’s grasp, launching them towards the back of the inn. He reversed his direction and sunk black crystal into the man’s chest. He yanked out the weapon and heard the hiss of a punctured lung as more blood splattered his leathers.

A battle cry behind him alerted him of an attack. Sloppy, Geir thought as he turned and blocked the attack with the shaft of his right axe. He swung his left underhand and sent it through the man’s leg, severing it at the hip. The man toppled and the trajectory imbedded Geir’s axe deep into the underside of the bar.

He tried to wrench it out, but the angle wasn’t conducive. As he attempted to retrieve the weapon, he took a quick glance at the situation. The two men had recovered from having their friend’s corpse kicked at them; Patchface’s posse was coming from behind him; four more stayed back, wary of the situation; finally, one gangly man with a knife had leapt onto the bar and charged at him.

The Huntsman swore and swung his axe at the man’s knees. The gangly warrior was more nimble than he appeared, and leapt over the attack, slashing at Geir’s face.

His size was a useful tool in a fight, but sometimes it made him just a bit too slow. He reacted too late to completely dodge the knife, but managed to lean backwards far enough to avoid most of the edge. Still, it tore into his right brow and blood immediately clouded his vision.

Geir swung a colossal fist at the man. It hit him square in the stomach and launched him into the back of the bar. The man sat in the smashed remains of the two casks of ale anchored there and groaned. He wouldn’t get up for a while.

Two men accompanying Patchface swung at his head, and he managed to bring the thick axe shaft up in time, stopping the blades inches from his skin. Both men leaned into their assault and Geir struggled under their combined pressure.

Suddenly, he felt a sharp pain in his right side. The leathers had taken most of it, but a sword had managed to breach his armor and strike a glancing blow. The half-giant grimaced, the sensation of cold steel scraping bone shocked his system. His body reacted on pure instinct, trying to get the blade out as quick as possible.

His free hand enveloped the man’s head and heaved it into the bar. Both wood and bone cracked and the sword slipped out of him, clattering onto the ground. Geir pulled the man’s broken head back and brought it down onto the bar again. The man’s head splattered over the counter.

A lancet of pain shot through him and Geir looked down to see a bloodied blade had erupted from his chest. Almost immediately, his vision began to fade. One final look at the wound revealed a faint green mist curling around the sword.

Geir dropped his weapon and let the two men sink their blades into his flesh, tearing at his right shoulder. He needed to conserve his strength, and—more importantly—he needed to get the sword out of his heart now.

His legs wobbled and he gripped the bar with his right hand, readying his left behind his back. With a smooth and practiced motion, he slammed his chest into the edge of the bar and felt the blade slide out the way it came. His left hand grabbed the hilt as it projected from his back and he tore it the rest of the way out before collapsing entirely onto the bar.

Sounds dulled and blended together, and his senses faded. The first to go was touch, and he was floating in a void. The pain went next, for which Geir was thankful. It was peaceful being so close to death, like coming home after a long day of work. Gods, it had been a long day.

But it wasn’t over yet. The scent of blood began to flood the peaceful void, and the dull noises sharpened and evolved into screams and triumphant cheers. Next came the pain, colliding with Geir like a solid wall, taking away what little breath he had. All at once, every part of his body let him know it was wounded, or tired, or weakened. Even the little pains, the kink in his neck from sleeping on the ground, the constant backache, his sore feet—it had all come back with a vengeance.

His vision returned and the pain began to subside. He was still face-down on the bar, and the men had begun tending to their wounded and dead. Geir’s heart swelled, Yore had proven once more that his cause was just; the seed tucked away in his chest had released its healing mist when he had needed it most.

There were five warriors left. One was tending to the man with the severed leg, dangerously close to Geir’s left hand. The Huntsman would deal with him first. Without moving, he shifted his gaze and saw his Winter Crystal axe had been kicked across the floor.

As soon as the half-giant felt his sword wounds close up, he swung his hand down and grabbed the man by the nape. He shifted his body and gave the man’s neck a sharp twist, leaving it resting at a savage angle, almost completely turned around.

“Gods, he’s still alive!” Patchface screamed as Geir turned towards him.

Two men attacked in tandem, charging towards him from the front. Geir had to use what was available to defend himself, so he tightened his grip on the dead man’s neck and swung him like a fleshy mace. One of the warriors managed to roll under the corpse-turned-weapon, but the other dropped like a stone when the dead man’s boot collided with his temple.

The warrior who had rolled under the corpse had thick black braids and a streak of gray in his beard. Geir lifted his leg up and delivered a brutal kick to the man’s chest, but not before the braided man sunk his sword into the Huntsman’s inner thigh. His braids whipped about violently as he slammed into the floor, tearing the weapon out as he went.

A geyser shot from the severed artery in Geir’s leg, but it took only a few moments before it was repaired completely. For the worthy, the seeds of Yore did far more than grow forests.

As the braided man tried to catch his breath, Geir stepped forward and brought his enormous boots down hard on his head.

“How?” Patchface asked with furious wonderment. “How are you alive?” The two remaining warriors began to encircle the half-giant.

Geir picked up the braided man’s sword, it felt like a child’s toy in his hands.

“Because my god is with me. Is yours?”

In the depths of his spirit, Geir felt that sentence was true. Yore’s grace filled him and poured outwards, through the meager weapon in his hands. The blade crackled with green energy and then became a glimmering portal into the distant past. Yore’s domain was the past, including the idyllic past, the one that had never occurred. Through the sword, Geir could see what this place had been like if the Winter had never begun. Where they stood was a beautiful clearing, covered in daisies and sheltered by looming oaks.

The warriors lowered their weapons, briefly entranced by the sight. Geir readied himself to charge, and suddenly felt a cold pain in his calf. He looked down to see the man whose leg he had removed holding the shaft of a large axe, which had sunk into his leg.

It was his axe, and the wound began to seep black mist as Geir realized it.

This was bad.

He reached down and tore the weapon from his leg before slamming it into the crippled man’s head. Geir watched the green mist creep onto the edges of the wound and then retreat from the encroaching runes.

“Well, that was pretty. Don’t really know what good it did for you, though,” Patchface sneered. Geir looked up and saw that Yore’s grace had left the weapon. Normally, he didn’t even need to focus to maintain it, but with the gravebringer runes now upon him, even the shortest lapse in concentration made the portal blink into nonexistence.

He spun around, noting the positions of each of the three warriors. Why had he needed to do that? He had known where they were moments ago.

Geir groaned. He had seen the runes take hold of dozens of his prey, but he had never been subject to them before. Exhaustion ambushed him, and it felt like he had been fighting for days. It would only get worse from here. He had to finish this fast.

“Come on!” Geir shouted, and the warriors obliged.

Patchface charged in and swung his sword when he was beyond Geir’s reach, but the Huntsman felt cold steel cut across his torso. He reacted instinctually, swinging his weapons in a flurry. They hit nothing but empty air, and Patchface slipped back out of reach.

His depth perception was beginning to go. As if fighting three men at once wasn’t difficult to begin with.

He heard footsteps and turned. The man seemed far away, but Geir didn’t want to risk it. He hurled his newly-acquired sword towards the man and it sunk into the warrior’s chest almost as soon as it left his hand. The man toppled and two hundred pounds of dead weight slammed into his thigh.

The half-giant staggered and felt something sink into his shoulder, cutting into the bone. Without looking, he grabbed hold of the warrior’s wrist. His vision may be unreliable, but his instincts were still well-honed.

Geir felt the axe shift within his shoulder and it grated against the bone as the warrior tried to free himself from the Huntsman’s grip. Even as the seed dulled the pain, it was excruciating. Geir gritted his teeth and turned to face his foe.

The man’s face was contorted into an expression of effort, rage, and horror. Defiant eyes the color of faded leaves widened as Geir swung his axe. The leaves were beautiful during the fall, they created multicolored tapestries woefully covered by snow. He remembered watching his children run across the forest’s edge, competing to see who could collect the largest leaf. Geir smiled.

Something splashed across his face and the smile vanished. In his hands was a dead man, Geir’s axe sunk deep into his throat. Where had the leaves gone?

Geir’s thoughts were interrupted as his shoulder was wrenched downwards and a shower of blood splattered the dead men surrounding him. His shoulder popped and shifted, and the axe lodged there was torn free. Geir looked and saw Patchface behind him. Right, Patchface. The inn. He was supposed to be fighting.

In a way, Patchface had done him a favor. The wound almost immediately began to heal, the bone repaired as Geir reset the socket. The green mist emanating from the seed was beginning to disperse into the air, and the pain it had been suppressing began to resurface. It helped anchor Geir in the present.

Geir rolled his shoulder, the muscle was still being repaired, but it would do. With the runes taking their toll and the healing mist fading, any wounds would be permanent. Patchface hurled the bloodied weapon at Geir, and the half-giant fell out of the way, the wooden floors creaking in complaint.

He turned and faced Patchface, who now held a black Winter Crystal axe in his hand. What a coincidence, Geir had an axe just like that. Was Patchface a Huntsman, too? If so, Geir would have to be careful, being struck with a Huntsman’s axe was dangerous.

It would require an adjustment in how he fought. Usually, he just took the hits and hit back harder, but that style would almost certainly lead to his death here. It would be a difficult fight without the now-complete lack of depth perception and the slightly blurring vision. Maybe he shouldn’t have had that ale, though it normally took more than one flagon to feel anything. Was it poisoned? Geir glanced down at his calf, which was now covered in runes. Oh, right. Damn these runes.

He closed his eyes and relaxed. There was no need to worry, so long as his cause was just, Yore would protect him.

Geir moved towards the man, and as he lumbered forward Patchface raised the axe, the black crystal twinkling in the lanternlight of the inn.

All the half-giant needed to do was close the distance and grab hold of the shaft, from there he could twist the weapon out of Patchface’s hand and end this. He moved to do so, and pushed hard off his good leg. Patchface brought the axe down but Geir caught it just in time. Now to do…

Do what? There had been a plan, and it was sitting right at the forefront of his mind, but he just couldn’t visualize it anymore. He paused, confused, and Patchface reacted first. His hand dropped to his belt and came back up with a knife. A knife? Those were bad. It was coming towards his wrist. That was worse. How to stop it?

Something made his hand go weak, probably the knife. Geir looked, and for a moment he couldn’t comprehend why there was blood pouring from his wrist.

Right, the knife. Damn these runes.

His axe was coming towards him; that definitely shouldn’t be happening. When had he let it go? Sloppy.

It should have slammed into his chest, but somehow Geir deflected it with his own weapon. His eyes widened in surprise. Thank Yore for muscle memory.

Patchface spun away and hoisted the axe for another swing. He needed to capitalize on the next opening, there was no telling when—

Why did that man have his axe?

Geir backpedaled and the black crystal sliced the front of his leathers, nicking a few hairs on his chest. He grabbed hold of the shaft with his one good arm and wrenched it from the man with the patchy beard.

Patchface stumbled forward. Who named their child Patchface? Beardface was much nicer.

A knife came into view, stabbing towards Geir’s eye. His hand intercepted it and it slid cleanly into his palm. Geir grit his teeth and let out a snarl. Hand wounds took forever to heal.

Beardface just kept attacking. Weaponless, he swung fist after fist into Geir’s face, none of them hurting more than the knife still in his palm. The bewildered half-giant stared at the knife as he felt more blows land. Beardface was beginning to bore him. Bore. Bjor. Bjor was a good name, much better than Beardface.

Geir looked at the man and smiled. More pain from his palm and something heavy was in his other hand and suddenly Bjor’s neck was spurting blood, a knife stuck down to the hilt in the flesh.

“Farewell, Bjor,” Geir mumbled. Bjor looked pained and confused and then didn’t look at all, falling limp to the floor.

The Huntsman bent down and gathered his axes. He looked around, embarrassed. Ashild was sure to throw a fit when she saw the mess he had made. Geir began to limp towards the door, smiling at the thought of her. Gods, she was beautiful when she was mad, with her fiery mane and eyes the color of lake ice.

Ice. Geir remembered as he touched the door. She was in ice. Entombed in it. That boy was there, his face alight with blue runes, just as terrified as she was. But he wasn’t dead. Not yet. Not until Geir held him in his hand and squeezed. The winterborn had done this. The Winter had done this. The Winter. The mission. The prey.

Geir turned around and limped up the stairs, head swimming with half-ideas. Each thought was snatched away right as he began to unravel it. Each footfall made more black mist creep from the wound. He tried to swear in frustration but the words couldn’t come to him, so he instead uttered a deep, animalistic growl.

The door was ajar, and the Huntsman practically fell through it onto the floor, happy to have weight off his leg.

Oris was laying upon a bed, a large part of the mattress had been stained with the black ichor which oozed from her wound. Her too-wide eyes were all white and blue and reminded Geir of an injured doe. Standing next to her was a reflection of Oris, its body swirling with dust. The eauath crooned over the avatar, brushing sweat-stained blonde hair away from her eyes.

Geir’s growl turned into a snarl as he saw the eauath. Sheer determination drove him forward. A thought pierced his foggy mind for a moment. He had to strike now, or the runes would make it even harder to think and act.

“N-no,” Oris whimpered as she saw him. “Wait. Please.”

The eauath turned, some of the dust tumbling from her as she struggled to remain solid. She stood between Geir and his prey, staring defiantly.

“We helped build this town. We brought in trade. We helped defend against bandits. We built this inn to make people happier. We even subdued an ancient. Without us, this town would be in ruins. Why do such actions carry a death sentence?” the eauath asked. Geir caught about half of what she had said. He looked at her silently with half-open eyes.

“Winter must die,” was all Geir could manage. He raised an axe.

“Wait!” the eauath shouted. A hewn chunk of Winter Crystal, white and pure, soared through the air to rest in her hands. “I’m of the Winter. Not her. Please, if you have any mercy, leave her be. If I’m gone, she’s just like everyone else.”

“Isolde…” Oris moaned in argument.

“Please, Huntsman. If you want to kill the Winter, here it is.”

Geir looked at the eauath, and then at the girl. A few pieces of fine debris glittered on the eauath’s face, forming lines on her face. Geir knew better than to think them tears, the Winter didn’t cry. The girl was reaching out, face contorted by grief.

The eauath looked back at the girl. “Oris, I lo—”

Black met white and something shattered. Geir wondered why the girl was crying.

The Huntsman limped downstairs. He noticed he was covered in blood and his armor was in tatters, though it seemed his skin was unblemished beneath it. Strange. His hand hurt quite badly, and when he looked, he was shocked to see a bloody gash. Right, he should fix that soon.

Someone sat at the bar, a woman. Geir recognized her, but he couldn’t recall why. He grew worried when he saw her—not threatened per say, but wary.

“Is it done?” She asked, not bothering to look up at him.

“What?”

She turned her head and gave him a quick scan. Her thin lips spread into a menacing grin and her black eyes gleamed, excited and sinister. “Why, Geir, you’re leaking.”

Her voice was enticing, like the urge to leap when standing on the edge of a cliff. He remembered who she was now. Sigrunn Frostbane. A Huntsman who loved her work.

What’s a Huntsman doing here? It must be a dangerous area. Wait, right, nevermind.

“What’re you doing here?”

“Passing on a message. You’re to lead a hunting party to Valefall, something about a pair of survivalists who claim to be able to reach the Crystal Peaks. I was in the area, so I figured I would stop by and send you on your way.” The smile on her face grew wider. “I also thought maybe I could have some fun with the scraps you left.”

Scraps? The foodscraps would be out back, composting. Besides, he hadn’t eaten anything. No, not what she meant. Geir grunted, he had to focus.

“No scraps left. Leave.”

“Hmm? There’s still a few of them alive down here, darling. I’d call those scraps.”

“If they live, then it’s Yore’s wish.”

Sigrunn laughed and Geir’s hair rose. She slid a small axe from its sheath and placed it on the bar. Bad, those axes were bad. Panic rose, he had to leave now before he felt another one.

“Oh, my sweet, devoted Geir. If Yore wanted them to live, why would he send me?”

That panic vanished, and suddenly there was rage. It was pure—so pure it burned straight through the fog of the runes. Now he remembered why he hated Sigrunn so much. He couldn’t tell which was crueler, her or the Winter.

Geir moved towards her, but only made it a few steps before having to steady himself on a table.

“They’re innocent.”

“They fought you to defend an avatar, they get what they deserve. Besides, you’re in no position to stop me.”

Geir glared at her, and she matched his gaze with one of such pure disregard it almost staggered him. She drummed impatiently, waiting for him to blink. Had she said a hunting party? Geir always worked alone, why would he be the head of a hunting party? No, focus, save that for later.

“The Crystal Peaks are a ways away, I suggest you get moving. And fix up your hand, it’s hideous.”

Geir looked down at his hand. When had that happened? Right, the knife. Geir hated knives.

A door opened and the half-giant looked into the darkness outside the inn. When had he gone to the door? He shook his head to try and clear it. The mission, had he completed it? Geir chided himself, of course he had. He always caught his prey, and besides, why else would he be leaving the inn?

Geir the Giant limped into the night, and the darkness swallowed him up. He stumbled when he tried to walk on his left leg. He investigated and found a strange wound creeping along his calf. Wisps of black smoke curled from it, and faint green runes coated his skin. He touched a finger to the injury and then brought the digit to eye level. It was coated in a black substance. He touched it to the tip of his tongue. The coppery tinge of blood was clear, but there was an aftertaste that made the Huntsman shiver, like peppermint mixed with ash.

Now when had that happened? Geir thought to himself as he limped down the road. Far in the distance, like a candle in a window, he could see the shining peak of a tall, narrow mountain. Instinctually, he knew his duty lay in that direction. There was work to be done.

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About Jake Dardzinski