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In the ancient world of Gwyndor, the mysterious legends of the hutsu hunters are passed down by oral tradition. They are the centenarians of the Northern Peaks, the witch hunters who protect the land from practitioners of the darkest arts—man, woman, and otherworldly.

Wynd is a hutsu, and she wears the battle scars to prove it. But when a powerful enemy from the past lures her to a wayward tavern in a remote village, will Wynd have the skills she needs to survive?

 

THE HUTSU HUNTER

BY VALERIE BROOK

 

Copyright © 2016 Valerie Brook. All rights reserved.

Published by Kickit Press/kickitpress.com

Cover and Layout Copyright © 2016 by Kickit Press

Cover Art: Skitterphoto/Pexels.com

This is a work of fiction. Name, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual events or locals or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction, in whole or in part in any form.

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A GLOSSY RED HANDPRINT dripped in blood from the wrought iron handle, so I used my shoulder to shove a clean area of the solid oak door to the entrance of the Three Seasons Tavern. 

The heavy slab of wood stuttered open on broken hinges, as if the door was experiencing its own personal earthquake. Then it bucked in the sudden throes of death, rocked off its rectangular frame, and slammed cockeyed onto the stone floor with a boom. 

So much for a graceful entrance on my part.

But then, I’m an old woman, and grace took her leave of me long ago. I’m a knot of strong, spindly legs, purple keloid scars crisscrossing my desert-brown skin—which is stretched and cracked over my roughened knuckles—and the long, white, braided hair of a hutsu hunter. 

Though not every witch hunter has white hair, or a long braid, or is even human. 

But we are all old. And we are all professional hunters, if you want to call us professional. We hunt practitioners of the darkest arts, we hunt real evil. 

Man, woman, or otherworldly—the worst of their kind.

My oldest scar is an ivory quarter moon under my right eye, a bloodless memory sliced long ago into my face. My eyes are still the midnight-blue of my birth, a watery hue. 

Two lovers once told me a story about my eyes: they were dark, guarded oceans that almost never revealed my true weaknesses. That I was hiding down in there, under stormy waves. They said that loving me was like floating in a tiny boat over drowning seas. You can look down, but you don’t want to fall in. 

Those two people were murdered. I don’t think about them anymore. I can’t think about them, or I won’t want to go on living and do the job I need to do.

I keep to the shadows. When I squint, my eyes can appear almost black.

I use this to my advantage. 

No one trusts an old woman with black eyes.

When I loosen my spine and focus my chi, I still move lightly on the balls of my feet. Light as a feather like the best of the young kickfighters. But when I’m weary from days of hard travel, the limp sneaks back into my right hip and shortens my gait, just like an old friend who won’t go away.

Because I don’t want any friends. 

Well, they would stubbornly argue that fact, but I’m allowed my own opinion. 

Though I guess I’m not being fair to the three riffraff hutsu who care about me. Shote, a human desert crawler like me, born and baked under the hot suns; Dahl, the merman who prefers land and a breathing apparatus because being one-quarter fish wasn’t enough for the Acasci Sea; and Komb, one of the very last giant dwarfs from the Island of Vale. 

For the record, because it amuses me: a giant dwarf is basically the size of an exaggerated human, but the brawn and moodiness and wooly mammoth body hair is larger than life.

I tell my travelling comrades all the time they shouldn’t care about me. We lose the things we care about in this blackened, perilous world. 

Of course we do.

I’d rather not burden them with another loss. We’ve all had that kind of loss, those of us who scour the land in search of horror. We put ourselves in harm’s way, and we get harmed.

All I get from my three friends when I push them away are hearty scoffs. Well, actually, the verbal scoff comes from the giant dwarf—he’s the only one who can grumble like an earthquake in a lovingish way. 

Over the last few days I’ve caught him watching me out of the narrowest corner of his amber eye, the only one he has left. Even his overgrown hedge of eyebrows couldn’t conceal the concern in his ricochet glances—when he pretended to be looking elsewhere, but was really reading me.

I knew he knew.

Well, he was right. I was planning to go vigilante. I was planning to leave our little travelling group. What he didn’t know was that it would be so soon. 

That it would be last night. 

I slipped my three companions a secret dose of sweetbark as we all sat around the campfire drinking bitter oxbeer, laughing in good humor, mesmerized by the blood-orange coals flickering as we cooked a bladder of muskweed stew under a charcoal sky. 

When my companions slipped helplessly into a paralytic sleep, I chained up Komb’s stubborn sandcat, named Garange, who hissed savagely at me with her jade eyes. Her chameleon fur went from its natural translucent shimmer to the deep red of smoldering embers, and she flattened her ears and bared her ivory fangs. Saliva even dripped off of them. I’d have to say that cat was mad. She’s enormous—her boulderish head is level with my chest—but she’s felt the crack of my whip and doesn’t dare bite me again. 

I have enough scars, we don’t need to be adding to them.

I chased off my comrades’ horses—and now here I am, a hard night and a harder day’s ride away in the Whistler Valley, in a migratory agricultural village called Machu, near the Elopian Mountains.

Alone.

Because some of the things we hutsu hunt, we must hunt alone.

A frightening supernatural witchcraft, called makukun, has gained power across these lands over the centuries. A black magic that can perform unusual horrors, such as reanimating the corpses of children and—well, it’s all gruesome stuff.

I know because I was forced to train as a makukun practitioner with other children long ago. 

Now—I’m reconditioned. 

(That’s a story for another time.)

The legends go that the hutsu are old souls called to save the future, and they speak in the language of the ancients, The Invisible Ones, from whom they draw some of their traditions. The hutsu are esoteric wise folk who have lived many lives on Gwyndor, and are given extreme hardship in life to prove an allegiance to serve the Light. 

Now to be honest, the last thing I’d call myself is wise. No wise woman ever feels wise enough. And to be even more honest, I took quite the circuitous path toward goodness.

Just like any good hutsu.

But the less the villagers know about their mysterious healers, the centenarians of the Northern Peaks, the better. We wouldn’t want to scare anyone.

Though we are true medicine healers, as varied in shape and size and race and temperament as the wind blows, and true enough—we heal with our hands.

But the same hand that giveth, also taketh away. 

So don’t ask me to save your life, I may not be in the giveth frame of mind.

And now, with the bloody tavern door laying broken on the floor behind me, I wasn’t sure I could even see my own hands right in front of my face. The abandoned building was as pitch black as the starless night behind me. The apple fragrance of the nearby orchard carried in with the cold night air and battled the warm, coppery rise of fresh blood. 

My stomach clenched.

The tavern was eerily quiet, too. 

I stumbled forward blindly and met a solid wall with the tough end of my leather travelers boot. A hollow thud reverberated and gritty dust sprinkled my forehead, tasting acrid and making me sneeze. 

I tried to spit but my dry mouth was spitless.

I reached to the waist of my leather pants and unlatched my twelve-foot bullwhip. It trailed straight behind me, perpendicular to my hips. The familiar grip fits perfectly in my palm, the smooth leather worn to the curve of my fingers. I’ve done target work all my life. I can cut, strike, or tie my target in a split second, and I’ve got a cracker on the end of the fall that sounds like the devil himself. 

Or herself, as the case may be.

I stood still as granite, swallowed up in shadow. Closed my eyes so I could sharpen my sixth sense. 

I sensed nothing.

But I knew she was here. Had to be the one here. I’d risked everything for her to be physically here.

The visions had started a year ago. I’d be in a room with my travelling comrades and suddenly she’d be standing alone in a corner watching me, like a ghost, but not a ghost. No one else could see her. Hatred trembled in her midnight-blue eyes. Trembled and trembled.

We were both spellbound.

After all these years.

I don’t know what she saw in my eyes, but I bet it was fear. 

I’m not above fear.

Time passed and the visions increased. I learned to focus my meditations, to find her somewhere far across Gwyndor in a foreign land, I knew not where. I studied the wrinkles around her eyes, the way the darkness pooled in impenetrable layers, and I thought of our childhood. And I thought of injustice. 

We were magnetically fascinated with each other. Addicted to this morbid new cat-and-mouse game. What would it have been like to be the other if the tables had been turned? If she had been rescued, and not I?

My fascination became my obsession, my dirty little secret. 

Because I didn’t tell my travelling comrades of my visions, and sometimes an omission becomes a lie. Not always. But sometimes.

The secret visions got stronger. She was first to manifest the ability to speak into our mind. We cut each other with words. Threatened and teased: but threatened more. The only thing we never did was laugh, not really. All the smiles were jousts.  

I felt as though she hated me.

I didn’t want it to be true.

That we would one day physically meet alone was clear. Destine, because we wanted that destiny. Thinking back on it now, I don’t know why I made that decision. I felt guilty, that was why.

When we’d realized our individual travels had led us from distant lands into the same valley, led us into a physical proximity that was too utterly tempting to refuse, we’d agreed on this tavern as a meeting location. 

Tonight. 

But this bloody handprint on the tavern door—I hadn’t known what she would do. I promise I hadn’t known or I wouldn’t have allowed it to happen.

It was too late now.

I took a few blind steps, the wet mud on my traveler’s boots sloughing off with my first footfalls into the establishment, creating a soup-slurping noise against the stone floor. 

Oddly appropriate, considering I’d noticed the sign outside for seasonal apple-and-lamb stew.

I turned a corner and continued down what must have been a hallway—sensing my way in the dark, my fingers interpreting the surfaces of splintered wood, cold, cracked stone, and goopy wet substances that I wiped off on my leather pants.  

I tripped over a tumbled chair, climbed through a maze of objects; moving deeper into a building that only a few hours before had been a brightly torchlit roadhouse full of hungry folks. 

To my left, a weak yellow glow spilled against a wooden wall like the early light of dawn from an unseen window, and then, around a final corner, a mighty fire roared in an enormous stone hearth, orange-and-purple flames writhing like snakes in the logs. 

Though the perimeter of the cavernous room lurked in shadow, an army of giants could have served their ranks supper and still had room to dance the jig.

Now the establishment lay in smoky ruins.

I coughed as the smoke burnt my throat.

I guess I was late to the party. 

There wasn’t much time before a posse of local horse riders, alerted by the survivors of this chaotic scene, would encircle the Three Seasons Tavern to deal with this bizarre situation in their own, not exactly wizened, way.

Swords and battle-axes and rope darts would be drawn, and those weapons would be useless against the supernatural. More people would die tonight. 

I needed to be done and long gone by then. 

The ghostly purplish firelight flickered over splintered wooden tables, high-backed chairs, and hand-carved benches, all tossed hither-thither and snapped like matchsticks in a hurricane. The fire popped and crackled, the oxygen-sucking hiss of an engorged blaze greedily smacking its lips for more food.

What was burning so hungry in that hearth besides the wood? 

I could almost hear the haunted echoes of the evening’s patrons as their joyful, hearty laughter had mingled with the clank of metal spoons and the harmony of the musical bards playing their windy instruments. 

All of that hubbub would have slowly turned into shocked silence in the moments just after the psychic destruction began—until the first screams caused a cascade of panic and everyone ran.

Well, the smart ones ran, because those who stayed to fight would be dead bodies under my feet.

Far across the room, a lone female stood before the flames, unsteady on her feet, an orange-colored flange outlining her silhouetted skin like an eclipse of the sun. Her head tilted oddly to the side. 

Her back was turned to me.

A naked woman, from the curve of her hips. A new woman. 

She’d hadn’t seen twenty winters yet.

I felt a strange squeeze in my chest, as if an unidentified emotion was building there, wanting to get out. An uncomfortable disgust.

The firelight sparkled through gaps in her long hair in ripples of molten copper. Her bare arms hung at her sides, firelight streaming through thin, sickly, long fingers. 

I wasn’t sure what she was, exactly. 

In witchcraft, things can be deceiving. 

Every hair on my neck stood up and flushed me with warning. My fingers had a death grip on my whip handle. A normal person would run for their life. I can run like the wind, but it’s too late to save my life.

I’ll save myself in the next world, I hope.

I’ll finally have gotten things set right by then.

I stepped forward, darkness blanketing the floor like a black void. My boot sank into something mushy, which almost held my weight, but popped like a bladder. A wash of unseen liquid gurgled out in the shadows, and the updraft of bile saturated the air around me. Okay, not a bladder. A full stomach.

Nausea punched my guts. 

A salty line of sweat beaded across my upper lip, the moisture slipping between my lips. I sucked at it. 

Salt is a good flavor. I focused on the taste of salt.

There is only salt.

“This is wrong, Kata.” I shouted into the room so my words might carry. “These people were innocent.” My usual strong voice came out weak in the cavernous black space, as if the blackness had eaten it.

I stepped forward again, kicking my boot out so that some of the tissue slung off and splattered somewhere. I heard it smack.

The hungry fire continued to flick too high up the edges of the hearth, a thousand ravenous serpent tongues licking the flat stone masonry, trying to reach up to the thatched roof. 

The unfamiliar silhouetted figure bent down like a jerking puppet, folding awkwardly in half in the dark and disappearing for a moment, then standing exaggeratedly upright. Off-balance. Her long fingers flicked something liquid into the hearth that made the flames roar and hiss.

Some kind of accelerant. Maybe bakcumoth. Or another flesh ferment.

The coppery skin of her back glowed in a sweaty sheen in the reinforced heat. Her spine curved, vertebral ridges undulating. Long black hair fell past her shoulders, the tips curling up, frizzing a little. 

Or maybe even singeing. 

The smoke smelled bitter and rank. Not just rank—it smelled revolting.

I was halfway across the dark room by now and I could see a little better in the growing purplish light. 

A fractured table blocked my path, one wooden leg sticking straight up from a round belly like a dead pig in rigor mortis. I sidestepped it.

Just a little closer than twelve feet now, because I measure the world around me by the length of my whip’s strike. 

The naked figure turned to face me. Beads of sweat dripped off her taut breasts, down her stomach, where heat rashes pooled in growing rings. Her eyes were swollen, vacant. Mismatched pupils, so that she looked as if her head had been shaken and her eyes dislodged. 

One arm hung cockeyed, disjointed. A white gleam of fresh bone poked out of the skin at the elbow.

In her fingertips she held a man’s severed head, clutched by his curly black hair, his eyes bulging out like sheeny obsidian stones.

The reanimated corpse of a girl—holding the dead head of a man.

Fortunately, there was more salt drenching my upper lip.

Salt.

Salt.

There is only the smell and taste of salt.

The girl corpse turned her back to me again, lobbed the heavy head with both hands, its hair streaking, mouth agape, yellowish teeth barred in death like a strange donkey. The forehead thudded into the top of the stone hearth with a sickening smack, like an overripe pumpkin, but the head still fell into the flames anyway.

The face boiled and melted off its bones.

I got chills. Worse than chills. Fingers slid in between my ribs with an icy squeeze and pressed out all my breath.

Evil really goes all out for the hideous, extravagant performance. Now that I am on the side of Light, I can tell you we keep things simple over here.

“Won’t get what you want.” A strange voice gurgled out of the corpse’s crushed throat, her jaw flapping, chewing her own tongue like a pink piece of meat. “You shouldn’t have come here, Wynd.”

I’d had enough.

I flicked my wrist. 

My bullwhip cracked out like black lightening and cinched around the poor dead thing’s ankles, yanking her feet from under her, slapping her to the ground. The corpse didn’t get up again.

Sometimes you have have to disrupt the evil performance, part the curtains, and get backstage.

“Enough, Kata,” I said. “Come out.”

“Haven’t I given you what you wanted?” A familiar voice spoke from behind me. We had the same voice. Except Kata’s was deeper, smokier. “A little show and tell?”

I had the distinct feeling something supernatural had gathered behind me in the dark, something hulking and huge. 

I felt the first pinprick on my exposed neck, the sharp edge of a single splinter. Then another. Then another.

I slowly cranked my head to look over my shoulder.

A swarm of splinters hovered in the air, tiny tips reflecting in the firelight, a million angry spikes of wood ready to pierce my eyes, porcupine my face, wiggle and swim and stab every cell in my body.

“Really?” I said. “You’re so insecure you have to act like a show-off?” If I’m not above fear, I’m not above bluffing bravado, either.

The splinters dropped to the ground with a delicate, tinkling sound. Sneezy dust rose and settled. And there she stood behind the first act: my long-lost twin.

My heart pounded. 

Memories crawled out of the tumult of my mind—the brutal makukun trainings, how we were forced to manifest supernatural power. And fight other children. Fight each other to death.

Now I was the blackened silhouette against the fire, and she was illuminated by its glow.

“I just wanted for us to see each other, to talk,” I said stupidly.

“How quaint, that you wanted to talk,” Kata said. She wore a royal-purple cloak, deep-set hood over her head, giving her that Grim Reaper impression. Even in the shadows I could still see her familial features, as the firelight danced in copper tones over her high cheekbones, and her eyes mirrored my own midnight-blue.

I was looking in a mirror. A fascinating, distorted mirror.

Except the scar. She doesn’t wear my facial scar, because she was the one who cut me with the stick tip as a child. As accidents happen—honest, childhood, stick-sword-fighting accidents. 

We were thinking the same thought.

Kata pulled back her hood as if she were brushing away a heavy cobweb. The fabric sloughed around her neck like dead skin. Her white hair flowed over her shoulders. Spiritual darkness pooled inside her eyes, almost a viscous substance, a soul having lost itself.

Her back bowed where mine straightened.

Sambalah is gathering,” she said. “The Dark Queen will rule these lands soon enough.”

“Not if I do my job,” I said.

Her lips pulled back, baring a flash of teeth. “If I do mine.”

“I thought if you met me in person…” My voice faded. “Come with me to the Northern Peaks. It is never too late to change, to heal.”

And then Kata didn’t look quite human, in the manipulative orange firelight—she didn’t look like the twin I remembered when we’d held each other, naked, latched in terror, feces ripe under our fingernails, sucking damp, mildewed pebbles to moisten our cracked throats, as horrid screams echoed in the catacombs outside our cell, not human, not even animal, and the splinters in our tongues scratched the roof of our mouths.

“I don’t want you to choose the dark side,” I shouted.

My bullwhip cracked. Black lightening. And Kata’s legs flew out from under her, robes billowing as she body slammed onto the tavern floor.

The head knock sometimes makes that pumpkin sound. Knocks people unconscious.

This time it didn’t.

Of course nothing is ever as simple as I want it to be.

* * *

I rushed over to where she had stood, stumbling over debris, and found only her heavy, empty robe. I gripped the soft material in my hand, felt her body heat.

“Kata,” I screamed into the cavernous space. I spun in a circle, disoriented in the dark. “We can leave here together, go to the healers. People with medicines—soul medicines. They will cleanse your wounds, purge out the disease. You can find your soul and the higher path like I did. Please, I beg you. Please come with me.”

“Never.”

“But I came back for you that night,” I shouted. “I ran back into the domiciles, searching and screaming for you and you weren’t there in the catacombs, either. Not in the ossuary. I tried!”

“You left me.” Her voice echoed from every direction, a haunting reverberation.

I tripped over a vessel. Inhaled a fruity, alcoholic wash of fig wine that twisted my stomach into a knot.

“I didn’t mean to leave you,” I called out. “I just wanted to escape the cult. Escape the rituals. I couldn’t do it anymore, I couldn’t hurt people, can’t you understand that?” 

The huge fire crackled and roared like a banshee. 

Then I heard laughter dribbling in a corner, a thin snicker, growing louder, streaming out like the soft ooze of insanity. 

That laughter, that vocal trill; she needled deeper into my head with that trill than a million splinters ever could. 

The hard slap of reality hit me. She was mocking me. Playing my guilty conscience. 

Because she had none.

“Oh, my poor, poor twin,” Kata said, still lurking in the shadows. “I lured you here to kill you, and you just want to talk.”

But I thought I heard jealousy in her voice. I thought I heard regret.

“I loved you,” I whispered. “I still do.”

“Fool. I ran away from you,” she said. “Mother and I escaped through the sewers, along with the others.”

Silence grew between us.

I agreed with her. Fool is right. I am good-intentioned but stupid.

The engorged fire billowed out with a whoosh, drawing my attention. The logs shifted. The glow brightened.

Look, it said. Look around you at the truth.

Slowly, softly, my mind allowed me to become aware of the piled-up ring of dead bodies encircling me. The bodies had all been previously shuffled just outside the illumination of the firelight. A grotesque perimeter. 

A horrid death count.

More horrid than I had realized.

Severed torsos, guts distended. Limbs jacked up like jigsaw pieces that would never connect again.

I stood, boots soaked in a river of blood. 

There would be no survivor’s posse on its way. 

Everyone was dead.

I closed my eyes. I focused my chi and called upon a brilliant, spiritual shield. It rose around me in a golden glow. Evil gets all extravagant and love is just simple. As a hutsu, my shield is the only supernatural ability I use. 

Kata screamed in demonic fury. 

She tried to kill me with every supernatural thing she had. Some evil people get too mentally sick in this world to ever choose to heal.

I knew nightmares would plague me for months.

My bullwhip took her life.

* * *

I carried her body in my shaking arms, gently to the edge of the fire.

The rabid heat scorched my skin. 

I kissed her face in the wild glow. Her skin stuck to my lips for a moment. 

My tears rained into her lifeless, midnight-blue eyes—and spilled out again over her own cheeks. With my palms I kindly swept her eyelids closed. I brushed her long white hair back with my shaking fingers. Her hair felt brittle. I thought: I wish I could have shared my moisturizer with you. Because we have our mother’s wiry hair.

The Dark Queen.

And you were your mother’s daughter.

And I am not.

I said I’m sorry over and over.

When I looked up, the fire was almost out. Just coals glaring at me with red, pulsing eyes.

In the dark, I found the liquid accelerant.

* * *

I escaped the roiling gray smoke that chased me out, hurrying over the wobbly tavern door, taking a big gulp of fresh, apple-fragranced air—the same passageway I’d come in, but I would never be the same again

Komb, the giant dwarf, stood easy across the dirt road.

He blended into the layers of shadow—his familiar outline leaning against an enormous oak tree, his thick arms folded across his broad chest, as gnarled and cantankerous as the bark. His ax blade gleamed in a crescent moon grin along with his one good eye, narrowed, which reflected the raging blaze of the monstrous crematorium behind me.

I’d never been so grateful to see him. I’d never felt so ashamed.

I tried to hurry across the dusty road, but my limp came back suddenly, a sharp catch of pain in the hip socket. It shortens my gait. 

Step-hobble. Step-hobble.

I thought about the paralytic sweetbark. 

It took a hundred years to reach the other side of the road.

“Didn’t swallow it,” he said. “And I followed ya. We’ve all had ta do it, Wynd. Had ta face the evil of our bloodlines any way we know how. And I don’t take no offense.”

A flood of gratitude for Komb’s acceptance flushed my whole body, a tidal wave of relief. I thought it might carry me down to the ground, but I stood.

I caught the flicker of the sandcat’s back-and-forth tail, loyal beside Komb’s chest, punishing the air, her fur the color of stormy sky and stern disapproval. Probably an apology to the wild beast would take more time.

“That was a hard one for ya, Wynd. We give them the choice, we can’t make ’em change. You get it done?”

I knew he was asking, Did I kill the witch? I started to say, She’s dead, but I choked on the smallest amount of saliva, and the words strangled up into a strange sound.

So I nodded, Yes.

I looked up at the sky. My tears fell back into my ears, drawing spirals.

“It’s parta the hutsu path.” Komb’s voice softened. “It’s multigenerational evil we’re trying ta clean up here. An evil don’t want ta do right.” 

I bit my upper lip for comfort. But all the salt was gone. Only the bitter taste of sorrow and ash.

“Can you imagine these lands if no one did nothing? They’d usher in a demonic hell. They may do it, anyway.”

A wind picked up. Tossed leaves and smelled like pine sap. Fed the blaze.

“We’ll go back to the Northern Peaks now. Back ta where you can rest and heal and find peace again with it.” Komb turned his attention away from me, intrigued. “Much as the fire is burning, it’s all contained. Won’t spread ta the countryside.”

I looked back over my shoulder. Black wood hissed and popped in a volcanic red embrace, a blaze that would consume everything, leaving only a pile of smoldering rubble under the sun’s first morning rays.

Ash and bones. 

Bones and memories.

“Late-night travelers rolled a cart wheel up the eastern route.” He laid his gaze on my face again. “But they’ll be round about here soon. We best be gone. My horse is down the hill in the orchard with yours.”

It was impossible to tell, but I think he winked at me.

We walked together. The fragrance of new apples. Crickets chittering. The snap of twigs breaking under our feet.

“I left a note for our comrades before I took chase a’ ya, and they’ll meet us at Red Castle. We’ll have a healing circle for you, Wynd. You’ll be okay. We won’t leave ’til you feel right ta travel again. You were a tortured child, ’member that. We all were. We understand.”

I don’t know what came over me then. I reached out and took his hand. I took the wind out of that giant dwarf; he lost his breath for a step or two, I could tell.

His hand was warm as baked bread, rough as coral stone. 

He squeezed me back.

“I don’t want friends,” I whispered.

Komb scoffed; that deep, loving rumble he makes. I almost smiled.

I folded the sound up and put it safe in my heart to mend where it was broken. I’m a hutsu hunter. The Dark Queen was rising.

Now I knew who she was and what I would do.

Copyright © 2016 Valerie Brook. All rights reserved.  

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