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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.
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.
Because some of the things we hutsu hunt, we must hunt alone.
Copyright © 2016 Valerie Brook. All rights reserved.