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TheWildHunt

Now turn around thrice Widdershins, spit, and touch iron...

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When night falls, the people shudder, and the Sluagh sip lukewarm tea.

 

~*~*~*~*~

 

Veelos is already a place of double-takes and over-the-shoulder glances as it is. It teems with crime and fear, and where many may recoil from fear, others may feast on it. Perhaps that is why the creature has come here, because of the fear, because it thrives off of it, and because Veelos is a dining table filled from edge-to-edge with terror and paranoia and sheer unease.

 

Bon appetite.

 

Those who have seen it swear that it is nothing but a twist of shadows and screams. Its claws are wisps of cold mist that chill the soul and tremble the spirit. Those who have heard it know it only by its whispers and scratching-nails against the floorboards. Others are left with nothing but a memory of their deepest secrets scrawled along the walls or their greatest shames knit within the spider webs.

 

"One minute, it's there in the corner of your eyes, its nasty breath against your ear," the rumors say. "The next minute, it's gone, like a bad memory. The stench remains, though. You never, ever forget that awful smell. It's like. . . musty oranges and. . .and old fish."

 

No one ever seems to crawl away scratched or bleeding, but the damage is done anyway. The people  -as superstitious as they are- have taken to carrying religious amulets, throwing salt over their shoulders, and trying to pretend that it's all in their heads, but when night falls, a cloud hangs over, and they know to keep their wits about them.

 

~*~*~

 

It's evening again; Nandag smiles and takes another sip.

 

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The Saint Mary arrived with the tide, and Pyrite on it. Having too much luggage to carry, he hired a carriage to take him to the The Fishing Hole tavern. He’d heard from the ship’s captain that there was a tavern ship on the docks, but it had a lamia bartender. He dealt with enough monsters professionally, and didn’t want to be around one on a day off, even if it was supposedly tame.

 

As he rode through the cobbled streets Pyrite was impressed by the grand stone architecture. Even more striking though, was the oppressive atmosphere. Even at the height of the day, people were hurrying along as if moving through a bad neighborhood at night. There was hardly any conversation to be heard anywhere, least of all from his driver who remained silent throughout their trip.

 

Upon arriving at the Fishing Hole, Pyrite rented himself a girl and a room. It was only later, when he returned to the bar, that he heard the first whispers of a nameless fear.

 

Evening was drawing near as Pyrite left the tavern. Following up on the rumors hadn’t been hard. Everything he’d heard led him to believe that a fear spirit was responsible. Birthed by the fear haunting this town, it was now working to create more, then growing fat on the diet of terror it created.

 

First stop was the governor’s office. It was a short one. Turned out the governor wasn’t interested in hiring a monster hunter. Pyrite was pretty sure he’d gotten lucky just to get out of there without being tossed in jail or beaten.

 

Back at the Fishing Hole Pyrite nursed a drink, considering his next move. Was it worth looking into this without any promise of reward? A woman sat next to him. “You’re hired.” She grunted.

 

Pyrite looked over quizzically. “What?”

 

“Heard you’re looking to hunt down the local spook. You check out. Governor won’t pay. I will.”

 

He wondered how this woman knew so much. “What do you mean I ‘check out’?”

 

“Went through your stuff.” She said matter-of factly. “Don’t look so shocked. You’re in the Guild’s house now, or didn’t you know? Now run along, and don’t look for me again until the job is done.”

 

Pyrite tried to follow the woman as she got up, sputtering objections. He knew it was probably dangerous to chase down a thieves’ guild member, but right now he wanted answers. She disappeared around a corner, and when Pyrite turned it she was nowhere to be found.

 

The sun was setting, and there was work to be done. Pyrite headed for the neighborhoods with the most reports of haunting activity.

Edited by Red is my name

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As the sun sinks, the neighborhood begins to thin, the sounds of closing doors and windows resounding down the streets. There are those precious few that brave the foreboding night, subscribing to the belief that it's just a prankster or maybe the after-effects of a good time down at the local bar. Either way, streetlights are being lit and passing words are being exchanged.

 

~*~*~

They speak in whispers, one masculine, the other girlish. Just another pleasant conversation over fine, chipped china.

 

"You have been keeping yourself busy lately."

". . . ."

 

"And it is not even Samhain yet."

 

She drinks quietly, considering, conspiring. He continues:

 

"And of course you know the rules?. . . ."

 

"'No one gets hurt?'"

 

His response is an assuring nod before they both return to their meal of ground fish and soggy, aged vegetables.

 

~*~*~

 

There is a group of men nestled outside, just talking it up after a long day at the docks. They'd go down to the tavern for a spell, but some of them don't want to come home and find themselves locked out by their spooked wives.

 

"Better get out yer crosses and yer blessed water, boys. Looks like we're in fer another hauntin' tonight," a portly fellow with muscled arms and sunburned complexion jokes.

 

"Aye. Keep yer eyes on the lanterns tonight. If they turn blue, get yer knees to the floor and yer hands towards the ceilin'."

 

And laughter erupts.

 

~*~*~

 

"Nostalgia. . .It's a lovely thing," she muses to her mentor as she watches the orange light slowly darken.

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Pyrite was perhaps the only person in the neighborhood walking the streets alone at a leisurely pace. Even without unnamed spooks to worry about, there were always more gangsters than guards on this side of town. However this was a reconnaissance mission, and he couldn't afford to rush.

 

Most of the people he passed conversed in hushed tones or not at all. In stark contrast, a few spoke unnaturally loudly, as if false courage could keep their fears at bay. Neither had any luck avoiding the spirits. By peering through the veil between realms, everywhere Pyrite saw people he could also see motes of fear creeping and crawling among them. A world away and yet frighteningly close.

 

He felt something on his shoulder, and reached up to brush it off. In a panic he saw a spider had crawled onto his hand, and he shook vigorously to dislodge the creature. Normally bugs didn't bother him. Peering around intently, he wondered if his quarry had found him first, and caused him to have that reaction. But there was nothing. Maybe it was just the unsettling sight of so many fear spirits nearby that had him on edge.

 

He shuddered slightly. Dealing with Emotionals was never pleasant. Knowing his feelings were being manipulated by them never really made those fabricated emotions go away. None of the creatures he saw stalking the neighborhood were powerful enough to cause any real effect though. They were babies, not even properly sentient. Certainly none of these was the monster he sought. Something bigger was feeding on the fears of this town. These creepy critters were just eating its table scraps.

 

With night falling and no real leads, Pyrtie decided it was time to take more direct action. He would summon up the nearest fear spirit intelligent enough to converse with, and ask directly for more information on his target. Opening his bag, he looked for a suitable offering, but nothing jumped out at him.

 

Then he thought of the spider. It took a few minutes, but he found the arachnid and crushed it, muttering an incantation. Not long after, he had the audience he sought. A sphere of darkness a foot wide with eight bat wings swooped towards him. It was still in the Hisil, of course, and had no way of entering the mortal realm. It landed nearby, trading the bat wings for lizard's feet, and when it spoke it did so from the face of a wolf that spontaneously materialized from within the sphere.

 

"I am called tenfold-terrors. Speak quickly, summoner." It growled. "For there is much feasting to be done this night."

 

"Too much," Pyrite replied unfazed. "Too much fear, and yet you and your brothers do not grow fat. Tell me why and you may return to your hunt"

 

"There is another competing for that food source." The spirit stated simply, and turned to leave.

 

"Obviously. Tell me where to find it." Pyrite said. When the spirit ignored him he focused his magic, slowing the creature and moving to catch up to it.

 

"That was not our agreement!" The creature spat back. "Release me to the hunt at once!"

 

"You didn't really tell me anything." Pyrite retorted. "And we both know it."

 

Tenfold-terrors snarled, but after a few seconds it finally spoke up. "The creature walks among your people. It is not a spirit possessing a human, but it can pass for one. I hear it frequents the docks, and sometimes targets children." It wrinkled it's nose. "Fleeting prey that frighten easily but rarely for long. But to each their own." With that Tenfold-terror exchanged its legs for a snake's tail and slithered away, muttering curses and promises of vengeance against the rude summoner.

 

Heartened by his newly-won knowledge, and hardly concerned about the ravings of such a minor spirit, Pyrite made his way towards the docks.

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She is as certain that tonight will be a hearty outing as she is of the fearful mumblings of her neighbors from behind closed doors. Centuries’ worth of stalking around in the darkness that bore her and her kin have made their senses keen. All she need do is press an ear to the wall and listen, walk the streets and tune-in to whatever conversation is taking place.

 

Sometimes, she can even smell the fear sweat, but it’s a bit tougher to pinpoint in a crowd.

 

Half the rumors she has heard are ones that she has started while running with the local children. The others are created by the mortals’ own imaginations, born from nightmares that they have conjured. The amusing part is that she hasn’t even met a portion of the ones that have fabricated the tales of a wispy fiend whose claws stretch-out from beneath beds and out of closets. Despite only having just started her excursions some weeks ago, the talk of a fiend that dances to the sounds of their whimpering has stretched across the neighborhoods of Veelos and onto its parting ships, haunting in every shape and form imaginable.

 

Not a bad start; however, Nandag is a perfectionist, and the nagging pull to continue is ever-strong.

 

Dinner down and the taste of tea still fresh on her breath, the Sluagh slithers into the descending night by way of the attic window. There is a feeling like static in the air that gives Nandag pause as she climbs her way onto the roof tops. There is a break in the glamour that encompasses her grounds, choked-out by what she credits as an annoying lapse in belief.

 

She stays the course, shrugging off her concerns for the moment. In time, they will all come to know the Sluagh.

 

The barking men down below briefly catch her eye as she moves from roof-top to roof-top, forgoing her wings until the night has ripened. She offers little more than a salute to their bravado, casting an Art on their minds that turns the orange light of the burning streetlights a glowing blue.

 

“Di-. . .Did you see that?”

 

Nandag stays long enough to revel in their shaking voices before slinking away for new grounds.

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It was well and properly night now. Thinking the streetlights in this neighborhood were a little too far apart for comfort, Pyrite drew a small lantern from his satchel and put a match to it. He was nearing the docks now. A sea breeze carried the smell the salt air and rotting fish. Shivering slightly, Pyrite drew his coat more tightly around himself.

 

A lone figure materialized out of the shadows up ahead. Pyrite’s hand strayed to the the hilt of his dagger, but as he approached he saw the figure was small. A young boy. The child took off, running into a nearby alley.

 

“No, wait.” Pyrite called after him, removing his hand from the dagger. “I’m not going to hurt you.” Tenfold-terrors said the monster he sought targeted kids. Maybe this one had seen something. “I just wanted to ask you about the monster.” Damn, that probably didn’t sound very reassuring.

 

That was when he noticed the not-so-small figure. The one climbing out a warehouse window, holding a crowbar. Twirling it menacingly and coming straight towards him. Pyrite turned and ran back towards the street. The kid had been a damn lookout.

 

Pyrite made it to the street, but his pursuer didn’t give up the chase, and the footsteps were growing louder. Drawing his dagger, he said a brief prayer, coaxing the blade’s spirit to wake up and aid him. Spinning around, he tossed the blade almost without aiming, but it still hit its mark, burrowing into the figure’s thigh with a sickening thud.

 

A woman’s cry pierced the night. Pyrite could see now that his pursuer was a wiry red-headed lady. With a grunt she ripped the blade from her leg, causing a fountain of blood to shoot forth. Then she resumed her charge, wielding the knife in one hand and her crowbar in the other, glaring at Pyrite with drug-addled eyes.

 

This time the footsteps behind him grew quieter as he ran. Though it hadn’t dissuaded her from chasing him, the leg wound was clearly slowing the woman down. Rounding a corner, Pyrite ducked into a fishmonger’s doorframe, dousing his lantern. His pursuer passed by without a second glance. Pyrite breathed a sigh of relief.

 

His escape had brought him to his original destination- the docks. Up the street he could see bright light and hear the sound of laughter issuing forth from an old ship. It was The Rusted Corsair, the very tavern he’d decided to avoid upon first arriving. Now it seemed a welcome haven from the hostile night.

 

The horrendously watered down drink he was served still seemed to warm his bones like strong whiskey after tonight’s harrowing events. The bartender happily gave his own variations on some of the stories Pyrite had already heard about the local mystery monster. But there was a new tale floating around as well.

 

“A cackling demon, down Vincent Street.” One man began, and his pal eagerly chipped in. “Doused all the lamps, replaced them with this cruel looking blue witchlight, the devil’s own fire!” A third raised his fists, bobbing them about like he was a boxer. “We stood back to back in a circle, ready for the worst, but the cowardly beast never showed its face. Looking for less courageous souls to feast on, I wouldn’t wonder.”

 

 Apparently this had all happened barely half an hour ago. Sounded to Pyrite like he finally had somewhere to start.

Edited by Red is my name

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There's a playful tap-tap-tapping of a long nail against a window pane.

Jacoby's head turns on a sharp swivel, but the boy sees nothing outside his window. No cat, no crow, no- What's that? A small light as brilliant and fleeting as a star bursts within the dark of the night. He's almost sure he hadn't seen it until it happens again, and this time the boy moves, feet sliding out of the covers and onto the floor quietly. His parents are sleeping just downstairs. If they hear him still up and about, it'll be half-a-dozen whacks with the wooden plank.

The little lantern next to his bed is lit before he slips across the room, watching the twinkling in a curious, albeit suspicious fashion. When he gets to the window, the boy can make out a small, circular object nestled along the wooden sill. He squints, sure of what it is but questioning how it got there. He checks the corners of the window, looking for the shape of the something out there that had tapped on his window. When he sees nothing, he lifts open the window and reaches for the colorful, glass marble. The make of it is so pretty -magenta, yellow, and orange overlapping like licking flames- that Jacoby is sure that a marble like this has to have belonged to a nobleman's kid.

"Finder's keepers," he mumbles to himself, closing his fingers over the treasure. The snobby nobleman's kid probably has a hundred marbles just like this one. Jacoby bets that they buy 'em off pirates who got 'em from royalty in the desert lands. Wait 'til his friends see this one!

"Do you accept my gift then? . . ." A small voice whispers out of the night. The boy startles but doesn't run. Instead, he pokes his head outside and finds a slight figure perched on the roof.

"Hey," he whispers back, not wanting Mom and Dad to wake up. "How did you get up there?"

The figure smiles. He knows this not because he can see it but because he can hear the twist even in the being's words. "I climbed." Jacoby watches as it stretches its legs and allows them to dangle off the side of his roof. They swing back-and-forth, back-and-forth, a childlike action that seems familiar to the ten-year-old boy.

["What're you doin' up there anyway?"

"I'm playing a game," it says with a hushed tone, and now Jacoby can tell he's talking to a girl. "Would you like to play too?"

"You must be daft," the child scoffs, "my parents'd have m'head. I'm goin' to bed." He slips the marble in the pocket of his pajama pants. A slight chill runs the length of his neck, a smell hovering around his nose, and he remembers that the window is still open.

"You're right. . .I need to get down. Can I come through your house, please?"

"Why don't you just go the way you came," Jacoby asks, hands on the window, ready to shut it.

She chuckles with embarrassment. "Iii. . .I can't find the right footing. I promise to be quiet." Jacoby stares at the sill in front of him and then looks down at the flooring beneath him, the ceiling to his parents' room. Finally, he scowls.

"Fine. . .but you better not make a sound. Got it?"

"Of course. I promise." His eyes still to the floor, he only looks up when a blurry shadow drops in front of the open window, the sounds of rustling alien to his ears.

The sight he sees immediately sends him tripping backwards, mouth opening and then slammed shut by an invisible force that keeps him from hitting the ground. His screams resonate against his throat, the sound muffled. His eyes want to close against the. . .the thing that perches before him. He wants the darkness to swallow its pale face and its wide, empty eyes, its long, crooked nails, and that black mouth grinning with puckered, dry lips. Bird wings rustle in the night breeze, the sound comparable to a thousand, dead leaves shaking in the wind. Mostly, he wants the smell to go away, that choking odor that clouts the air.

It's staring at him -into him- one finger held to its lips. The other hand is beckoning . "Quiet now, Jacoby. Your parents will have your head if you wake them, remember?" Its tongue flicks, dark eyes gleaming. Something slithers around his mouth, hugging tightly, and the smell- god the smell- is no awful that he feels like he's going to throw-up. . . .


~*~*~

One too many bumps in their ceiling tell them that Jacoby is awake. His mother is the one who goes upstairs to give him a tongue-lashing, but what she finds sucks the air right out of her body, dries her tongue and sticks it to the roof of her mouth. The boy's closet door is wide open, his clothes a scattered trail to where his unconscious body lays. He is bound and gagged but alive. Jacoby's mother feels herself screaming for her husband.

~*~*~

Nandag perches on the roof of their home, bending an ear their way. She hears their questions, but the boy only stutters -"m-m-m-m-monster. B-b-b-birdssss"- bits-and-pieces of the evening already lost to him. The enchantment is lifting. The Mists have begun to cloud his memories, but his parents will remember what they've found, and they'll know. She has left behind all she needs for them to know.

Scraped into the wall next to the window is the word "slew".

Edited by TheWildHunt

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Pyrite strode away from the inviting glow of the Rusted Corsair’s lanterns and into the inadequate lighting provided by the too-far-apart street lamps of the poorer districts. He untucked his shirt, pulling it down over the top of his scabbard. A casual observer might not realize there was no longer a dagger contained within.

 

Vincent Street was on the border between residential and industrial neighborhoods, and was altogether unremarkable. If the streetlights had been blue before, the only notable thing about them now was that one was busted, the glass shattered perhaps by a meddlesome child tossing stones. Pyrite walked up the street, then cast his mage sight spell and walked down it again, but there was nothing for him here.

 

A spike of power to the south caught his attention just as he was about to let his divination expire. Something was practicing magic, and this didn’t feel like the work of a human wizard. The power tasted primal, that of a creature born into magic, or perhaps a rarely gifted mortal with more raw power than skill. He followed the sensation deeper into the residential neighborhood, but in a matter of seconds it had disappeared again. Pyrite sighed audibly in frustration. He was so close, he knew he was, but the thing could have been anywhere on this street, or the next street over. Maybe he could find a trace if he searched hard enough, he thought, slowing his pace and turning his gaze one way and then the other ponderously.

 

A woman’s scream pierced the night, offering better direction than a meager trace of magic ever could. Pyrite rushed toward the sound. “What’s going on?” he called out, dashing through the tiny front yard to knock on the door. Dimly he could hear voices, but not from the first floor. Turning to the right, he hopped over a short fence and into the cramped alley between this house and the next. The voices were coming through an open window on the second floor, alternating between urgent, concerned tones and terrified murmurings, though Pyrite couldn’t make out most of the words.

 

The head and shoulders of a man appear leaning out of the high window. At the same time, Pyrite noticed something perched on the roof above. It had a swirling aura unlike anything he has seen before. Not a spirit, or a mortal sorcerer, or a vampire or demon. He lifted his lantern high to try and get a better look at the thing pointing with his free hand. “Behind you!” he called up.

 

But the man in the window kept his gaze fixed firmly on Pyrite. From the deep shadows of the house his arms emerged, a crossbow grasped firmly in his hands, and he levelled it in Pyrite’s direction. “What’s wrong with my son?!” he bellowed.

 

Pyrite pressed his back flat against the wall of the house, making a difficult target for someone leaning out of a window directly above him. “I’m a monster hunter!” he shouted back. “An exorcist! It’s all right!” But he wasn’t feeling too confident in his ability to calm this man down, considering the haggard mental state most of the town seemed to be in. Perhaps it was time to make a hasty exit.

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That old static-feeling from earlier bubbles up her arms and legs, distant glamour breaking apart, shattering. Nandag scratches the itching on her wrist. Strike two. . .Is it coincidental? The childling stares off into the night, eyes scanning the tops of buildings. Suspicion pulling, tugging.

 

Fly. Crawl. Disappear.

 

She remains.

 

Instead, Nandag takes delight in the way that the mother screams and the father panics, allowing herself to relish in the chaos thundering down below.

 

No one gets hurt. . .? Her own words echo across her alien conscience. Confused and frightened he may be, Jacoby is not hurt. It may be days before she sees him out on the docks again, but the boy will not need a healer. He is not bleeding, and his bones are not broken; therefore, he is not hurt. The Sluagh satisfactorily nods at this train-of-thought, beginning to bend toward the roof once more when a man's voice breaks through the night. Her head snaps in the direction of running feet, the tug to run coming-on strong.

 

She spots him before he spots her, as he's coming around that corner. The light of his lantern and his pointing finger unravel her sense of well-being. She feels her insides recoil and hiss at the man's presence, her lips curling back in a grimace as the changeling's mortal body tenses and stills. Escape is an action detached from her thought-process. It is pure instinct. The panicked father's yelling is her cue. Nandag slips away, feet tapping across the roof as she nears the front  of the house. The last words she hears as she leaps off the edge of the roof and lets her chimerical wings lift her into the night air are "monster hunter."

 

~*~*~*~

 

The hands of a scared-sick mother run over Jacoby's face, trying to calm, trying to comfort, bring some sanity back to the boy who keeps muttering. Mother's worried eyes follow her armed husband as he rushes to the window and then fall on the writing on the wall (slew). A glitter in the corner of her eye draws her attention to the nightstand where Jacoby's lantern sits. Nestled beside the nightstand is a colorful, glass marble that looks like a ball of flames.

 

She's never seen it before.

 

Something runs across the roof. Jacoby shrieks. His mother pulls him into an embrace as she watches the ceiling, heart pounding, marble forgotten in that moment.

 

"What was that? . . .Malcolm!! Did you hear that?"

 

~*~*~*~

 

Monster hunter. . .

 

It was only a matter of time, of course. She had bet on the mortals gathering the courage to fight back, but so soon? She'll have to tell Neil about this. He won't be happy. They'll have to move.

 

But -buuut- she doesn't have to tell him right away. She wants to see what this monster hunter will do with the clue she left behind.

 

The dark sky swallows her frame as she flies, nearing home. Her work for the night is over.

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