To be perfectly honest, I had expected it; from the very beginning, I had known it would had made little difference. The mask served other purposes, of course. But for this? Well…
“I’m sorry, little Miss—”
“Miss,” I interrupted the woman, emphasizing the word clearly for all to hear.
“Uh, right.” The receptionist hesitantly nodded. She gave me an apologetic smile, and continued. “As I was saying, Miss. The Hunters Guild does not allow anyone under the age of 16 to register as a Hunter, so unless you can provide any documentation of your legal age, we can’t give you a license.”
“So Goblins aren’t allowed to become a Hunter? Because I’m pretty sure they’re already old and dying at that age.”
That was a lie. A blatant lie which anyone who knew even a little bit about Goblins would know; however I was hedging on the fact that this was a Human country. Maybe people here could have seen the occasional Goblin once in a while, but I doubted that they knew too much about their biology.
I was wrong.
“I understand what you’re trying to say, little— uh, Miss. But Goblins can live for more than 30 years,” she said, the smile slowly slipping from her face.
Honestly, I should have realized that the spread of information in this world was not the equivalent of the middle ages back on Earth the moment I saw the television in the corner of the room. Not a plasma screen TV, of course— it was a large wooden box with a small screen, and had two antennae sticking out at an angle from the top. I knew they existed in this world, but it was still my first time seeing one, which told me that they were not quite common just yet.
Unsure what to say next, I began grasping at straws. “What about Elves? Can they become Hunters when they’re barely even a teen? Or Dwarves, huh?”
“Miss, our regulations regarding joining the Hunters Guild clearly covers all these points. As you said, Goblins mature faster, so they’re allowed to become a Hunter at age 10. Elves are double that at age 20. And while Dwarves do live longer than Humans, it’s by a negligible enough margin that we apply the same rules for Humans to them. Same goes for most other species, which is why 16 is the general age required to register with us. The rest are exceptions.” The woman took a deep breath, and sighed. “And forgive me for assuming, but I don’t think you’re either Elf or Goblin. Not that being the former would help your case at any rate.”
I raised an eyebrow, only to realize I was doing it under my mask. Then I shook my head so she could clearly see my displeasure. “And how exactly am I going to prove that? I don’t have any identification.”
“If you can just take off your mask to prove you’re a Goblin, I’m sure there would be no problems whatsoever.”
“…who said I was a Goblin?”
I saw the receptionist’s eye twitch, and I could not blame her for it; I was being incredibly frustrating to deal with, so maybe she would relent and register me as a Hunter, regardless of whether I was telling the truth or not.
“You did, Miss. You quite clearly implied it to me.”
“No I did not,” I said simply.
With the last of her strength, the woman managed to muster up a strained smile as she asked the logical question to follow. “If not Goblin or Human, what are you then?”
She waited for a response, but never got one. I am exercising my right to remain silent! Unfortunately, I was not in America, so it did not work. The receptionist finally had enough.
“Well, Miss, if you can’t provide any identification to me and you don’t want to tell me whether you’re a Human, Goblin, or just an annoying child, I would have to ask you to leave.”
“Can’t I just—”
“Come on, little Miss. Stop harassing the poor lady. You’ve had your fun, you can go home now.” A voice came from behind me; I turned around to see who it was, and saw a man casually approach me from a table. “I know you kids love to play your little pranks, and I found it quite entertaining for the first five minutes. But it’s been over a quarter of an hour now. You’re just making Agnes’ job more difficult now— she already has to deal with us every night!”
There were a few snickers, and even the receptionist snorted. I cast a quick glance around the room, taking in the scene at the Hunters Guild for the first time since I arrived. Unlike the smaller branches I went to before— which basically just had a front desk, a board filled possible job offers, and a few tables and chairs— the lobby for Locke’s Hunters Guild actually incentivized Hunters to hang around.
The layout was very similar to a tavern: there was a bar in the corner of the room with some barrels of what I assumed to be beer, and a proper waiting staff going in and out of the back to bring out simple food and drinks. And, as previously mentioned, there was a television at the front, although it seemed to be either turned off right now or broken.
While there was space at the front desk for multiple receptionists, only one was on duty right now. It was quite empty in general, with only a few groups of Hunters mulling about the room. Either the Hunters Guild was falling on tough times, or fewer people came in during the night for whatever reason. Regardless, everyone in the room seemed to agree with the man when he told me to leave.
“It’s late, little Miss—”
“Whatever, little Miss. It’s time for you to go home to your parents. They’re probably getting worried sick for you,” the man said, patting me on the back.
“I’m not leaving until I become a Hunter.” I stood, both my feet firmly planted on the ground.
“You don’t want to become a Hunter, little Miss. It’s a dangerous job. Me and my friends get into trouble all the time. Why, just the other day I almost lost my right hand to a Kobold! It’s definitely not something you should ever get into, even as an adult.”
“Why are you a Hunter then?” I asked, giving the man a blank stare. Well, as blank of a stare I could give beneath my mask; even with the holes for me to see with, my eyes were pretty obscured and not visible to everyone unless they really peered into it.
“Because we’re a bunch of broke idiots who can’t get a better job,” he laughed.
No, you’re a bunch of broke jerks who can’t just leave a girl alone!
…well, maybe I was the one being the jerk here. The man was genuinely concerned for my safety, and he was only trying to help the receptionist who I had been bothering for a while now. Still, I folded my arms, refusing to move.
“And who says I’m not a broke idiot who can’t get a better job?”
“Well you could always apprentice with this friend of mine. If you want, I can introduce you—”
“Not happening,” I said, voice final.
The man heaved a sigh. “Listen, I know you hear stories about how amazing of a job being a Hunter is, but let me tell you as a real professional Hunter— it’s not a fun job at all. When you’re out there, fighting Monsters, you’re putting your life in the line just to earn a little bit of gold. And these aren’t like your everyday animals, they’re ferocious beasts that can kill you in an instant.”
There were a few murmurs of agreement coming from the Hunters in the room.
“For the last two weeks, a Chimera has been terrorizing the nearby towns and villages outside of Locke. Even with the increased security from both town guards and the Hunters Guild, it’s still out there right now, having killed two Hunters and dozens of innocent people. This is not a job for children. Please, never become a Hunter.”
His eyebrows arched darkly over his eyes, as if he were repressing a grim memory. I saw the man’s expression. I glanced about the room, noticing the overcast looks on almost everybody’s faces. Then, I whispered.
The man blinked. “Did you say something?”
“I said: what towns have been getting attacked by this Chimera?”
“Oh, it’s just a bit to the northeast of here— wait, why do you want to know that? Where are you going?”
The man called out after me, but I ignored him; there was no point in talking anymore. Arguing with words solved very little when there was no evidence to back it up. So I was going to procure just the evidence I needed.
I headed out of the city of Locke, and to the towns in the northeast. The city’s gates did not close at night, so I was not worried about being locked out if I did try to return.
I stopped some guards before leaving, getting a more specific direction as to where the Chimera might have been. I was vague with it, of course; they would not have told me anything otherwise. After I followed the road they pointed me in for a few hours, I found myself in a village that looked like it provided the food to the city.
I asked some more questions there— once again, in a roundabout way so as to not raise any suspicion— before entering a forest where someone most recently disappeared two days ago. I wandered around for a few more hours, more lost than anything. Maybe I would not have found anything, or maybe I would have. Considering how things usually went for me, I believed that it would be the latter tonight; but on that same token, getting attacked by a Monster was not exactly considered good fortune. So when I finally saw something in the shadow of the night, I was not really sure whether to thank my luck, or curse it.
There was a glint of light, and I knew it was there. Just like the first time I was attacked by a Chimera, the Monster came out from between the bushes. It had lain low in waiting, so that despite being bigger than a lion, it remained stealthy.
I brought a hand up, and a magical barrier flashed into existence. The Chimera bounced off the blue shield, confused as to where it had come from. It backed up quickly, as I released the spell, drawing both weapons on my belt. A pistol and a dagger. And with that, I stood across from the Monster as it cautiously inspected me with its glowing eyes from afar.
So you’re that stupid dumb idiot Chimera that’s been terrorizing these people.
Just like last time, its goat head was mounted on a lion’s body. Its snake-like tail was thrashing wildly at its back, as it took a step forward, seemingly coming to the conclusion that I was not a threat. It was large. Bigger than any lion. But I thought it was smaller than the one I last saw. Or maybe I had just gotten bigger since then; that would have made more sense, considering kids my age grew quite a lot in a few months. And, speaking of growth…
The last time I fought a Chimera, I was completely overwhelmed, even with a pistol and with Adrian helping me. Sure, I ended up killing it in the end. But it did not feel like a victory. Not when I lost my arm, and would have lost my life if not for my mom.
Maybe it was a draw; that would have been the most fair assessment of the battle’s outcome. But still, I was not an impartial judge. To me, it felt as though I lost against the Chimera.
So it was finally time for the rematch. And this time, I thought to myself with a flip of my gray dagger, and a grin spreading across my hidden face. I’m not going to lose.
The Chimera bounded at me, lashing out with its tail. I managed to fire a single shot before the snakehead struck the ground where I was standing, but I had seen the attack coming. I was no longer there.
I dashed forward at the charging Monster. It bared its fangs at me in an arrogant smile. It was still over ten paces away. Even more, for a regular Human. But in one giant leap, it covered the distance in an instant.
I dodged the Chimera as it pounced at me. I leaned out of the way and took a big step to the right. I held my dagger out as the Chimera just barely missed me. Putting all my strength into this one swing, I slashed at the moving Monster.
I felt the blade connect. I was nearly knocked off balance just from the force of its pull alone. But I steadied myself. My dagger left a long horizontal gash across the Chimera’s side. It landed with a stumble, hurt by the attack, but not badly wounded.
Blood dripped from the tip of my dagger. The magically enchanted blade was able to do far more damage than a simple pistol. The jagged edge only served to worsen the damage, but not enough to kill it. And yet, I knew that that was not a clean hit— it was only a given that striking a moving target was not as easy as striking an unmoving one.
If I had either been more skillful or stronger, I knew that I would have been able to sink the blade even deeper. Perhaps enough to have impeded its movements. But as of right now, the Chimera was still moving without any difficulty. Just, wary.
The Chimera backed up, cautiously circling around me as I stood my ground. It was looking for an opening, I could tell. It let out a roar. Its entire body jerked back as if it was about to jump at me—
But instead, a fireball shot out of its mouth.
A regular fireball. Not a Fireball. But even still, that was still dangerous. I would have fallen for the feint if I did not sense the mana building up in its stomach. Apparently there was some magical aspect to that attack, which only made sense since there was no way a normal living thing could do that.
I rolled out of the way, as the ball of flames continued to a tree at the back. It did not explode as much as it engulfed the area in flames, catching fire to the surrounding bushes.
I was just getting back to my feet when the Chimera reached me. It came at me like a wild dog, clawing, biting—
And I stabbed at its eye. The Chimera just barely jerked out of the way. The dagger struck it across the face regardless, and Monster reeled. It spun around, whipping its tail at me. But I simply ducked under it as it overextended. And with a simple swing of the blade, I felt my dagger cut through the leathery skin of a snake.
Except, it was not a snake. It was a snake-like tail. The one that was part of the Chimera… well, used to be a part of the Chimera.
I severed the Chimera’s tail in that single swing, causing it to stagger. But I did not let up. I ran forwards at the Monster, dodging it as it swung a claw at me in a panicked state. I leaned out of the way, slashing at its limb as it narrowly missed me.
I managed to get another strike into the Chimera before it leapt back, away from me by a good 20 feet. It once again opened its mouth, readying a fireball to blast me with. But I had seen that trick before. In fact, I already knew how to counter it.
I simply held up the gun on my other hand and fired it. The bullet struck the fireball while it was still within the Monster’s jaw, causing it to blast out at its own face. The Chimera flinched. Damaged by its own attack, and its vision blocked by the smoke covering its face.
It could not see. So it was not prepared for me when I swung at it again. My dagger plunged it deeper than before, getting a proper hit in on the Chimera for once. It tried to strike back at me, but I easily countered it once again.
The Monster helplessly tried to fight back, but it was no use. Whenever it swung at me, I countered it. Whenever it tried to send a fireball at me, I blew it up in its mouth. And if I did not— could not— dodge an attack, the one time I parried, my dagger actually cut into the Chimera’s claws instead.
I had known that Chimera’s had a keen intelligence to them when I first met one. One that gave it the ability to cruelly taunt its opponents, and one that would surely tell it when to flee. And right now, it was seriously considering the latter.
The Chimera swiped one paw at me, but I easily ducked under it. It was slower now. More tired. I brought my dagger up at its neck, cutting open a light wound at a vital spot of the Monster. I was about to follow up with a second swing to make an ‘X’ shape, but the Chimera bounded away once again.
I had whittled it down, slowly. Over time, its movement became more sluggish, and its attacks became weaker. Its jump only covered half of the distance it did when I first saw it, despite putting all its efforts to get away from me. The Chimera had lost its tail, and was now bleeding from multiple cuts on its legs and sides. With that final strike to the neck, it must have decided it had enough.
The Monster spun around, the remaining half of its tail between its hind legs, and… it ran.
“Oh no you don’t—”
I raised a hand, and the spell I held at my fingertips the entire time manifested. The very same spell Victor used so often, one of the many I had learned during the months I was traveling alone in the Free Lands.
A blade of wind shot out, moving faster than the injured creature. It struck the Monster from behind, going through a quarter of the way before stopping. It did not slice it completely in half like I thought it would, but it was enough to instantly kill the Chimera.
It dropped dead where it stood, and I walked up to its corpse. I could have used magic the entire time— and I was prepared to use magic just in case— but I had fought a Chimera before; I had killed one before, even without magic. This was just a test to see whether I could do it again.
And, as I pulled my hood down to wipe some sweat off the side of my head, I was pretty sure I passed the test. Considering that I did so without getting grievously wounded, and with only a few scratches across my body, I was pretty sure I did so with flying colors.
I glanced down at the dead Chimera. At the Monster that was almost ten foot in length, probably weighing a thousand pounds. Then I realized the folly of my ways.
…how am I supposed to bring you back?
It was morning. Or rather, dawn. This was an important time of the day for most people. It was when farmers got up to plough their fields, when gatherers went out to collect their herbs, and when hunters went out to catch their prey.
But truth be told, that mattered more so in the village than in the city. Cityfolk did begin their day early, but not to follow nature’s schedule as they went about their day. Instead, they created an artificial schedule to follow, one where a regular person would miss all the hustle and bustle which would inevitably lead to the loss of opportunities.
Such a thing— a construct of peoples’ affairs— was what the Hunters of the city had to follow. They did not just hunt animals for their pelts or meat to sell or eat. These Hunters were part of the Hunters Guild, and were tasked with Monster extermination, bodyguarding rich nobles from Monsters, or selling off prized Monster parts to the guild or in an auction.
As was quite obviously spelled out, Hunters mostly dealt with Monsters. Not all the time, of course. But generally speaking, if a Hunter was involved, surely Monsters had to be involved as well. And with being in such danger all the time, it was no wonder so many Hunters would want to take the easier, safer jobs.
Because of that, the Hunters Guild was almost always most packed in the morning. Hunters came in searching for a job that was posted overnight, that they hoped was good and safe. If there were none— which generally was the case, since such jobs did not just appear into existence every single night— they would wait until someone came in with a job they found appealing. And like a pack of wolves— which was ironic, considering the metaphor and their jobs— the Hunters would pounce on the job, trying to be the first one to get it.
Some Hunters were even willing to accept less pay than others to get the jobs they wanted. This would lead to arguing and bickering, which would end up with a receptionist calling the Guild Master/Mistress down, and sometimes involving the job-posters themselves to make the final decision. Today was no different.
Two teams of Hunters were huddled around the job board, arguing over who should be the one to take the request to exterminate a group of Horned Rabbits, as other Hunter teams or individual Hunters watched on with mild amusement, and some with boredom, desensitized to such a common scene. The first team believed they had won the task on a first-come-first-serve basis, which was generally how it worked. But the second team had been there all night, and they were unhappy that no one informed them that such a job had even been posted while they were there.
The Guild Master had just arrived, and was trying to resolve the dispute, although he was failing pretty bad at it. One of the receptionists, a woman called Agnes, had just finished working the night shift, and was definitely not going to butt into this pointless argument, opting to quietly leave instead.
However, just as that was about to happen, there was a sudden commotion. No— not the one from inside the building. But from outside of the Hunters Guild.
There were sharp gasps. People— both Hunters and regular cityfolk alike— began to gather in a crowd and whisper to one another. The source of whatever was causing the disturbance slowly made its way closer to the building, before finally, a figure appeared at the doorway.
It might have been a child. Or it might have just been a really short and thin man. Or an emaciated Half Dwarf. Or even a Goblin, rare as they were in Laxis. But it did not matter.
Whoever it was had a hood up, and was wearing a mask to cover their face. Furthermore, it seemed as though they had just come from a fight, since their clothes were stained with blood and gore. And while that was not exactly an unusual scene in the Hunters Guild, what the hooded figure brought with them was indeed quite odd.
It was the head of a Chimera.
The exact same Monster that had a bounty on it for the last two weeks, yet no one had completed. The child, or Goblin, or whatever they were, dragged the head slowly across the floor of the Hunters Guild, approaching the front desk.
The severed head, which was still leaking some blood, left quite a mess behind as the hooded figure finally reached the receptionist. Everyone in the guild had already stopped what they were doing, even the two bickering groups and the Guild Master, turning to see this masked person as they hefted the Chimera’s head onto the long table.
The receptionist just stared down at the head in shock, before being startled by a sudden noise. The masked person jammed a dagger down into the Chimera’s skull, squirting more blood out of its side and onto the wooden desk.
“Wh— huh? What do you want?”
“Hi,” Melas said loud enough for all to hear. Then with a deep breath, she repeated her opening line from 12 hours ago. “I’d like to register as a Hunter, please.”
She glanced about the expressions plastered on everyone’s face across the room, stopping only at Agnes as she gaped back at the little girl. Seeing that, Melas felt her lips curl into a smile beneath her mask.
She was satisfied. Content. Because she knew now that she had won the rematch.
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