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Hunters Hunted is a book found in Tarant's University Court Library. It weighs 30 stone. Accessing the library's books requires membership.

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THE HUNTERS HUNTED

By Eli Baskir

When I approached Vermilion Station, my case full of schematics, I paused briefly as I have many times since first coming to the city of Tarant five years ago.  I never have ceased to appreciate its size and splendor.  Grinning mildly, I moved to enter the station, passing through its courtyard and fountains.  I had to remind myself not to loiter about the beauty of Vermilion's statuary, for I had a train to catch, and not more than minutes until it arrived.

Passing through the doors of the great station I became aware of a disturbance behind me.  A man, dressed in an ill-fitting jacket of which the sleeves had been cut, was running through the courtyard waving his arms about and causing a scene.  As the man approached, short of breath, it became apparent that I was the object of his exertions.

"Excuse... me...," the man puffed out, leaning over and clasping his knees, "Been... chasing... you through the... whole bloody city..."

"Chasing me?" I asked, shocked.  What had I done to earn the attention of this ruffian?

"Yes," he said, huffing and coughing for a final time before straightening up, "Been chasing you.  I notice you are a practitioner in the devices of 'Technology', is it?"

I was taken aback as to how this complete stranger knew of my background in the field of Technology, yet I replied simply, "Yes, that is correct."  He smiled a smile as broad as his face, until I was sure his skin would split.   

"Good, good," he said, clearly pleased, "So you work with gun-smithing, explosives, and the like?"

"No," I replied, for in truth, I had very little experience in those fields of study.

"What?" the man said, darkly, no longer as pleased, "You study Technology, don't you?  What do you know about then?"

"Therapeutics," I replied, "Discovering the effects of new substances we can create."

"Like... gunpowder, maybe?" the man asked, his mood starting to lighten.

"Well, no actually," I was forced to admit, "That would be more in the field of chemistry, which I have dabbled in as well."

The man's face lit up again, and he turned his head and asked, "Will he do?"

I suddenly became aware of two others who had approached me from behind, standing silently during the exchange.  As I whirled to regard them, I realized from their sloping brows and jutting jaws that I faced half-orcs.

One of them nodded, "Yeah, he'll do.  Now come on, eh?  Baumer's already on the train.  Hurry up and get him loaded."

"Train?  What train?  I have a destination of my own, and I can assure you chaps that it is not the same as yours." I said, indignantly.

"It is now," the other half-orc said, "Now come on, professor, before we have to get rough with you.  We promise we won't take up more than a week of your time.  All we want is your professional opinion on something."  He grabbed one of my shoulders and began to push me towards the train while the other half-orc seized my other shoulder and did the same.  I realized I should play along with these miscreants, at least for the moment while they seemed to offer me no real harm.

"Very well," I said, "Where are we going?"

"Stillwater," the first half-orc replied.

During the train ride, I was able to learn about my companions.  The two half-orcs were Wilheim and his older brother, Klaus.  They were loud and boisterous companions, possessed of great physical strength.  Baumer was an immense half-ogre of middling intellect, barely able to form coherent sentences.  The brothers spoke little of his background, only that they had found him hiding out in an abandoned farmhouse.  The human member of their group who had stopped me in Tarant was Jacob.  He spoke little during our trip, preferring to let the brothers do all the talking.  Not one of them would tell me their purpose, nor the reason for my going with them.  Instead, they seemed to argue only about irrelevant things.  They were silent now, though, as we disembarked near Stillwater to finish traveling by wagon.

Stillwater was as still as its name implied.  It contained none of the loud, noisy bustle of Tarant, a growing and advancing city. Nothing suggested that this was the town where Gilbert Bates had first constructed his steam engine that had so shocked the Magickal community.  The streets were mostly empty. I spotted a dwarf making his way through the town, doubtless traveling here from the Grey Mountains to trade for food and other sundries. There was a shopkeeper, shoveling the snow from in front of his shop. And there was one fellow, lurking near the entrance to town, that seemed to me to be up to no good. He stared long at our company, especially Baumer, with an unpleasant smile on his face.  Then Wilheim drew something long and thin out of his coat, which blocked my view.  Whatever he brandished, it made the bounty hunter hurry on his way.

I turned to Wilheim as Jacob entered the hotel to procure rooms.  "Now may I know why my presence is needed here?  Or what the purpose of this trip to Stillwater is?"

"We're hunting," the half-orc replied.

"Yeah, huntin'," came the lower and slower voice of Baumer, riding in the back of the wagon behind us.

"Hunting?" I asked, "Which makes you bounty hunters?"

Wilheim seemed to dislike that term, but nodded reluctantly, "In a sense.  We like to think of ourselves as 'Hunters of Occult Beasts and Villainous Monsters'."

"We kill weres," Baumer offered.

"Does he mean werewolves?" I asked, after a long, confused pause.

"Aye, werewolves, and other, less famous types of werecreatures," Wilheim replied, tapping the side of his slightly upturned nose, "But we fight other beasties too.  We've gotten our share of mad animals, and even a few things that'd curdle your blood to tell you about them."

"Oh really?" I said, not quite sure this ragtag band could bring down anything larger than a sheep, "And what are you hunting here?"

Wilheim gave me a surprised look, "Guess you've never heard of the Stillwater Giant... It's an old tavern tale here, but Jacob believes there's more to it.  He wants to kill it.  Frankly, I do too, on account of the damned thing being known to eat orcs."

"A giant?" I exclaimed, "I had thought they were all long extinct!  What good am I against a giant?"

Wilheim looked sheepish and cast his eyes to the ground, "Er, well, we use a lot of Technological things in our line of work, mostly guns and such.  Trouble is, on our last hunt, old Klaus over there had a slight accident and now most of our equipment is-"

"That's enough!" Klaus roared from in front of us.

"Needless to say," Wileim whispered, "We need you to fix some things."

At this point, Jacob returned from the inside of the hotel.  "We're all set.  Everyone come inside. And Baumer," the half-ogre slowly turned his shaggy head to regard Jacob, "Try to be quiet on your way in.  I may have not quite let on that we have a half-ogre with us."

I studied their equipment that night, and as expected, their things were not in my area of expertise. Combined, they had six types of guns, ranging from a heavy pistol to some type of gigantic repeating rifle that I could only assume was Baumer's.  Three of the guns were damaged, and all of their arms were running low on ammunition.  The ammunition was easily restored, for I did have some degree of explosives and chemicals with me, and their group had excess supplies with which to make the ammunition.

As for the weapons themselves, I did my best.  It appeared that they all had misfired due to a lack of repair.  I used what little knowledge I had to try to fix their triggering mechanisms and repair some of the more grievous burn damage.  I only hoped that my meager repairs would be enough for what this group needed.

In the morning, Jacob awoke us all.  Each of their group was given a pack of provisions, as well as a gun.  True to my expectations, Baumer got the big one.  The two brothers also carried additional pistols.

"You're coming too," Jacob said, referring to me, "Just to make sure you made proper repairs."

"That's all right," I said, only slightly annoyed, "I might as well see this adventure through."

"That's the spirit," I heard Jacob mutter as we began our trek into the mountains.  We had all been dressed in greatcoats to protect us for the cold, save Baumer, who seemed comfortable no matter the clime.  We rose into the hill lands that day, and the day following.  We ate the packed provisions, and I struggled with the labours, for my body was not used to such strenuous activity.

On the third day, we were well into the snowy regions of the mountains.  We reached a smoother region of the rocks and snow where Jacob said we were to make camp.  The group did this with their practiced efficiency, quickly setting up tents and assigning watch duty.

As I lay in my bed that third night, it was hard to get sleep due to the mountain air.  Whatever rest I would have gotten was shattered as a loud, braying, inhuman cry echoed through the still mountain air.  I know not what made the cry, and to think of it still terrifies me to this day.  

The camp scrambled into motion at once.  Baumer stormed out of his tent in full gear, while Klaus, who was standing watch, was already prepared.  Jacob and Wilheim soon followed suit.

"It came from there," Klaus said pointing off into the night.  I myself had been unable to discern a direction the cry might have erupted from, for it had seem to originate out of the thin night air itself.  They set off into the dark, and I followed, not wishing to be left behind.  They moved over the sharp and treacherous rocks, until Baumer held up his hand for them to stop.  His ogre senses had smelled something.  They all clutched their firearms tighter.

Then, something bright flashed furiously and explosively behind us.  Wilheim, who had been bringing up the rear, was thrown screaming against some of the more jagged rocks that littered the ground.  I threw myself to my feet as the survivors wheeled and discharged their weapons into the night.  It was horribly loud and I was almost frightened enough to cry.  I was unable to move as their weapons thundered, especially Baumer's repeating gun, which clamored like the horrible chattering of a demon.  Spent ammunition shells clanked as they reached the ground.

Then all was quiet.  They paused, and Klaus went to inspect his brother, whilst Jacob moved to check the area of night behind us.

"He's burned to death," Klaus said quietly, "Giants don't burn people.  What manner of monster really lurks up here?"

He stood, and announced, his voice wavering slightly "We have to move on.  Jacob and Baumer, switch places."

Baumer trundled over to where Jacob had been exploring, but from Jacob there was no response.

"He's gone," Baumer said, confused.

Something that might have been fear flooded Klaus's eyes, but it left quickly, "We're leaving him.  Come on."

It was almost too much to get to my feet and continue, but I did.  We continued going further into the dark, and I was sure we were lost. And then Baumer began to fire madly into the air.  As I watched, something in the night shook him and threw him out of our light.  Klaus sprang forward and fired his own weapon, which clicked as it jammed.  Apparently my repairs had not been so good as I would have thought.

Meanwhile, Baumer's shouts had faded, and his gun been silenced. Klaus roared with frustration and fired his pistol above his head, all of his composure lost.

"Come get me!  Come on out, you burning thing!"  His gun fired into the air, and as I watched, to my horror, the bullets seemed to wobble and slow in the air.  Only one thing destroyed the trajectories of bullets like that: a strong Magick field.  Something up here was very destructive and very magickal.  I did not wish to see what it was, and I fled blindly into the night.  I heard all of Klaus's shouts until they culminated in one final scream.  As I fled, though, I passed our campsite, its fire almost burned out.  In the distant shadows that it cast, I could have sworn to see some enormous hairy creature edging its massive body into the light.  But when I looked again, it was gone.  I forced myself to believe that it was the illusion caused by the speed of my flight and the flickering of the dying campfire.

When I returned to town, I took whatever money I could find that the group had left in its rooms back at the Stillwater hotel.  Doubtless they had expected to return triumphant and spend more days in the town as heroes.  I planned to take the wagon and return to the train, where I could return to my beloved Tarant, so far away from these accursed mountains.

As the wagon slowly pulled away from town, I saw the bounty hunter who had grinned at the wagon our first day here.  He was conversing with another man, dressed only in light cloths, who wore a wide brimmed, floppy hat.  As he talked, I saw him open a pouch and draw out a severed ear; A half-ogre ear, I realized coldly.  He then produced two more ears, smaller and less pointed.  He handed the bounty hunter a large repeating gun that could have only been Baumer's.  As the wagon moved by them, I overheard him speak:

"That took care of that band of three half-men right for you.  Their new-fangled 'Technology' was no match for good, old-fashioned Magick.  I even salvaged their arms, just as you asked.  Now, as to my payment...," the wagon pulled out of earshot then, and it began to rain.  The two men cursed and retired to the tavern to discuss their vile business.

It had been a mage, I thought, as the rain fell upon my head, a mage with illusions, fire, force and other enchantments. But no Magick I knew could replicate the sound I had heard. And what had I almost seen in the dying firelight of our deserted camp?  Why weren't there four ears?  What had taken Jacob, then?  All I know is that there is definitely something lurking in those tall, snow covered mountains above Stillwater, and it chills my blood to think of it.

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