“…so you’ll just have to sign this contract, and you’ll officially be licensed as a Hunter.”
I glanced back up at the Guild Master as he finished speaking, and nodded slowly.
The contract was not long— it was only two pages full of me agreeing that they would not be responsible for any harm I put myself into. Nothing unexpected. Just long enough to protect the Hunters Guild from any legal action by the loved ones of Hunters who perished in their jobs, while giving them the right to terminate the license of any Hunter who were criminals or violated the terms of their contract.
So I lifted up my pen, hovering it over where my signature was supposed to go; I had written down my legal ‘name’ there, and all I had to do next was sign right next to it. And while giving a fake name was already a breach of contract, I had no choice: my safety from being hunted down by the Church was my primary concern above all else. Thus, I had given the Hunters Guild a fake name.
It was a rather common name. There was even a saying about it. It was the equivalent of meeting someone named ‘John Smith’— it sounded almost fake. But it was a real name, and it was used widely enough that I was confident I could not be tracked down with it. These were the practical reasons as to why I used it.
There was, however, a reason beyond just pure pragmatism for why I chose that name. In this world, I never owned anything with any sentimental value; no object that I had lost truly felt like it meant something good to me. Even my Witch hat would not be deemed a true loss if I had somehow misplaced it: the symbolism behind it was more important to me than the actual hat itself— getting it replaced would quickly fill the void losing it entailed.
Yet, there was meaning in the idea of a purple pointed hat, just as there was meaning here. I stared down at the name written on the paper, and felt a smile creep up on my face.
I brought the pen down, signing right next to it, signifying that that was who I was supposed to be. And with that, it was complete.
My mom’s name. Or her fake name. It might have been commonly used, but there was meaning there for me. Something intangible. Something that made me prouder of myself than anything I had done before. Because now, it was my fake name.
I walked out of the Guild Master’s office with a card. It was just a plain card, with a name and a serial code printed on it, along with the words ‘Hunter’ displayed above it all. Although it did not have one of those black and white pictures which the new cards issued by the bigger branches of the Hunters Guild usually did, it had enough identifying information on it for me.
I felt myself beaming as I held the card in my hands, not paying attention to where I was going; not only was I officially a Hunter now— which meant that I was no longer unemployed and jobless— I was also using my mom’s name, and that made me feel like I was doing something meaningful. She might have been dead, but I was going to carry on living in her name… literally.
I went all giddy at the thought, and almost ran into an almost five foot tall brick wall. Well, not a brick wall, but it might as well have been the same thing.
Gennady, the Dwarf from earlier, stood with his arms folded in front of me. I blinked as he tapped a finger impatiently on his forearm.
It took me about a second to realize what he wanted, then another for me to remember something. Deciding that coming off as slightly racist was probably the last of my worries, and that I actually had valid concerns regarding my safety and my future, I decided to ask the question anyways.
“Hey, are you from the Taw Kingdom by any chance?”
“What?” The Dwarf seemed caught off guard by that. “Of course I am, why— wait, don’t change the subject!” he snapped at me.
“Oh, right, you wanted to know what the ‘Rank’ this Chimera is,” I said, nodding my head. “Well I think it’s D Rank, since it’s a stupid dumb Monster.”
Gennady sighed, exasperated. “That’s not how this works! You can’t just ascribe a danger level based on how intelligent it is. Sure, it does play a part, but the threat level is what’s important.” He placed his arms on his hips, then added, “oh, and by the way, Chimeras are generally considered smart. I don’t know why you insist on calling it ‘dumb’.”
“Because it is,” I replied nonchalantly. “It assesses threats to it based on size alone, which is no different than most wild animals. The only reason why it appears intelligent is because it’s a coward, choosing only weak prey— and that makes it even less dangerous to Hunters who are strong enough to actually kill it, no?”
“I…” the Dwarf hesitated. “That actually makes a lot of sense. I never considered looking at it from that perspective,” he said, rubbing his crimson beard.
“What, did you think I was giving you a fake answer on purpose? I just didn’t have time to elaborate because I was busy. Trying to get my Hunter’s license.” I indicated the card in my hand. “You were the one being rude to me, grabbing me when I had something to do.”
I scowled underneath my mask, unhappy with the rough treatment he gave me; his iron grip around my hand brought up some unpleasant memories from something less than a year ago.
“I do apologize about that, lass. Your answer just sounded so… insincere.”
“I was in a rush,” I said simply. “But I can see where you’re coming from. So let’s just let bygones be bygones, how about that?”
“Of course! Us Dwarves don’t hold grudges very easily,” he said with a booming, but lighthearted voice. “As I said earlier, my name’s Gennady. B Rank Hunter. What about you?”
I smiled slightly, and stuck out a hand; this time, the Dwarf accepted it with a gentle grip, not squeezing my hand too tight, but firm enough that it did not hang loosely with the shake.
“Aria,” I said my fake name, “and just a regular Hunter, since Ranks aren’t an actual thing.”
“Hah, good one,” he laughed, “but it will be in the future, you’ll see!”
With introductions finished, we sat back down on our table to chat a bit. I was getting tired, since I had not slept all night, so I kept the conversation brief and asked him all the things I wanted to ask him about.
First, he explained the basics of being a Hunter. It was pretty much everything I had already known, with a few extra tidbits about what requests I should generally avoid— ones which were vaguely worded, especially escort jobs. Apparently, some people would hire Hunters, citing a need for protection from Monsters when traveling, while casually omitting the fact that there were bandits in the area, or they were being chased after by some enemy they made like loan sharks or a rival business/noble house.
Hunters were required to protect their clients from bandits and the like once they had taken up the escort missions, but the point of a Hunter’s job was to fight Monsters, not people. So Hunters who saw an easy job where they were being paid in silver to bring a client through a road with sparse Monsters, had to do their due diligence to ensure they were not being exploited as cheap Mercenaries.
Extermination jobs were a lot more straightforward than that, with the Hunters Guild putting up a bounty for a specific Monster that had been terrorizing an area. That was what I did with the Chimera, and the 8 extra gold sitting in my coin pouch testified that it was as simple as that.
Sometimes, however, there were extermination jobs to wipe out a Monster nest that was growing too big; typically these types of requests would pay incredibly well, and would require multiple Hunters or Hunter teams working together to complete. Otherwise, however, the Hunters Guild did not pay you for going out into a Monster’s natural habitat and killing it for no reason— that was what auctions with rich nobles, merchants, Alchemists, and the like were for.
After learning all that, I began to question the Dwarf about his home country of Taw, pretending that I was curious about going there (which was not a lie).
“The Taw Kingdom is a far better place than this damned country. Hah, you think this place is great and its mana tech advanced? Look at it! It doesn’t even have a working television!”
Gennady stood up, and kicked the side of the wooden box. The screen flickered to life, a dull gray static covering the screen for a moment, before the outlines of a vague figure began to take shape.
“…and the storms clouding over the Capital city of Luke for the last month seem to be clearing up, which could see more pirates—”
“Oh,” the Dwarf said, voice flat.
“Hey, looks like it’s working now,” I giggled, grinning to myself.
Gennady stomped back to our table, as heads turned to watch the now-working television broadcast the news. “Stupid machine,” he grumbled. “How does hitting it get it to work? Bah, ours in Taw are far better, and they even have color unlike this black and white crap.”
“Maybe just touching it with your Dwarf hands fixed it since you guys are so much better with technology than us,” I said sarcastically, rolling my eyes.
“Hah, I wouldn’t be surprised. It probably hasn’t felt the touch of a real Tinkerer in so long, that’s why it stopped working properly.”
“So you’re a Tinkerer then?” I asked, glancing at his mountain of a backpack.
“Why yes I am. Although I would prefer the term inventor, since I actually create new stuff, and don’t just work off of shoddy old trash like most of the Tinkerers here seem to do.”
“Is that why you like Taw so much? Because their Tinkerers are better?”
“Hmph, not really. On average? We are the best in the world— better than even the Holy Xan Empire, producing higher quality mana tools and even using a large amount of golems for security. But it’s all the same. The Holy Xan Empire leads the world in innovation, and we’re still trying to play catch up. However we’ll never catch up when they call my creations crazy, but accept that mad Scientist Bertrand without a second thought.” The Dwarf scowled, leaning back on his chair.
I was interested in what the man meant when he referred to his ‘creations’; he prided himself as an inventor, and I wanted to know what kind of tools he made. However, my focus was on the Taw Kingdom— I had to know more about it. Necessity trumped curiosity in terms of importance.
“This Scientist, is he from… the Holy Xan Empire?” I garnered a guess, remembering what Felix had told me.
“Bertrand? Yes he is,” Gennady said, shaking his head. “A fool exiled because of his insane ideas. Honestly, I don’t understand why we’re even giving him refuge.”
“But aren’t the Holy Xan Empire allied with Taw? Why provide asylum to an enemy of one of your allies?” I asked, confirming my suspicions.
“We’re not allies. Hardly. That damned Empire likes to throw its weight around as if it ruled the entire world, but it does not rule us. Our common enemies are the only reason why we’d work with them, and you best believe we’d spit at their faces any chance we got when it benefits us.”
“That’s… vindictive,” I pointed out the obvious. But I felt slightly relieved, knowing that Felix had not lied to me about this; the Taw Kingdom and the Holy Xan empire might have had an alliance, but they rarely acted the part.
“Us Dwarves may tolerate insults, but we do not appreciate condescension. Remember that the next time you meet one, because that would save you from getting a hammer to the back of the head when you turn around,” the Dwarf chortled, as if he made a joke which only he would understand.
I was not sure how serious that warning was, so I made note of that and stored it in the back of my mind. With the conversation finished, and me feeling tired from a lack of sleep, I decided that that was enough information gathering for the day.
I had not inquired about anything regarding magic to Gennady, and would not unless the flow of the conversation naturally shifted in that direction; I did not want to arouse any suspicion, especially not so soon after meeting him for the first time. Maybe once I had gotten to know him more, I could go prodding further, try and ask the question at the right opportunity.
From what I had gathered from speaking to the Dwarf, it seemed as though he was probably looking to expand his bestiary— confirm the rankings of as many Monsters as possible. And that might mean I would have seen more of him.
“Will I see you around?” I asked, standing up to take my leave.
“‘Course!” he said as heartily as ever. “I mostly travel about, but Locke has been a good base of operations for the last month. I’ll leave soon, though not before I investigate that supposed Abomination infestation up at the foot of the Incen Mountain Range.”
“Abomination… infestation?” I cocked my head.
“Oh haven’t you heard? That’s the reason why there are so many Monsters in the area. Or at least, that’s what the guild thinks. They suspect that Abominations must have taken over a Monster’s nest or something up there, causing an exodus of Monsters to come down here. They have sent a few Hunters to investigate, but none of them have returned. It’s worth quite the reward.”
I frowned, casting a glance at the job board. Sure enough, there was an open bounty for 20 gold to simply scout out the area, and report back with as much information as possible; as for the extermination of the Abominations, it was stated to be at 50 gold, however depending on how big of an infestation it was, the reward could have gone up to even double or triple the starting price.
“And you want to wipe them all out?” I shuddered, remembering those corpses infected and conjoined by the blue bulbs.
I had seen some Abominations out and about while I was leaving the Free Lands; they were not as terrifying as the horde which brought down Bys in a night, but they still sent shivers down my spine. The faint yellow glow they emitted only made them more eerie, while their chirping shrieks would have sent any grown man running for their life.
“Hah, I am not insane,” Gennady chuckled, “but I do want to assess what kind of a threat they are. The Church has said there are various types of Abominations, but they have withheld exactly what are the differences between them. I have to know— to add it into my bestiary.”
“Surely there’s a safer way to do that,” I suggested. “If these Abominations can evict so many Monsters from their homes, they can’t can’t just be a small group. It’ll be dangerous— what happens if you die?”
The Dwarf snorted. “I told you, I’m a B Rank Hunter, I can hold my own.”
“And I told you I don’t know what that’s supposed to mean.” I sighed stepping away from the table and towards the door. “Just… think about it. They are dangerous. An entire city— one of the biggest in the world— was destroyed overnight by them.”
“Which is exactly why I have to do this,” Gennady said, his voice firm, and his eyes blazing with determination. “The job of a Hunter is to protect innocent civilians from Monsters. And this is a new type of Monster. One that threatens all the towns and cities in the area. If I just let it continue, I won’t be a very good Hunter, would I?”
I held the man’s gaze for a moment. The B Rank Hunter seemed like he would refuse to back down. So I did instead. “I… you’re right. Just don’t get yourself killed.”
I turned around to walk away. I did not know why I cared so much; the lives of others were not in my hands. Hunters probably died every day all across Vitae. It mattered not to me if another one threw his own away because he overestimated his own abilities.
But something still called to me. A voice whispered in my head, telling me I was wrong. Telling me that Gennady was wrong. Because—
These were not Monsters.
They were Abominations. Created by a false god and unleashed upon this world for whatever reason he had in mind.
So as I fell asleep in my bed. Inside an inn protected by a city and all its guards. I could only dream of one thing.
A mannequin with a wig. Or a god. His malicious smile spreading across his face. The three men in the woods, praising ‘Him’. And the two figures in Bys— one that brought the Abominations into the city, and the other that saved me.
Whatever it all meant, I knew it had something to do with me. It was not my responsibility, but I was involved in it somehow. That must have been important… I think.
And when I woke up, I saw the twilight sun setting over the horizon as evening turned to night. Then sighing, I gathered my things and prepared to leave.
I could not help it; something within me compelled me to act. If it was something else, maybe I could have ignored it. The reward would not have been worth it then. But these were Abominations, and it was not like they were capable of hurting me anyways… I think.
Regardless, it was my first proper mission as a Hunter, and it was time for me to go hunting.
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