The Hutsu Hunter
In the ancient world of Gwyndor, the mysterious legends of the hutsu hunters are passed down by oral tradition. The hutsu are the centenarians of the Northern Peaks, the witch hunters who protect the land from practitioners of the darkest arts—man, woman, or otherworldly.
Wynd is a seasoned 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 skill she needs to survive?
Our Story Begins...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.