I remember what it used to mean. The intensity of the hunt. How my senses could be so sharp, I would taste the blood in the air. The strength I would get from hunting with the best compatriots anyone could ask for. Over time that strength is slowly replaced with exhaustion and loneliness. Those I used to fight with either died or made the smart decision and quit while they were ahead, settled down and made a peaceful life for themselves. From time to time I would visit them, get a taste of the simple life, and I have to say there is something appealing about it. But I know deep in my being that I would sooner survive a run-in with an army of goblins than that. To this day I soldier on, one beast at a time.
“Could I top you off sir?”
I tapped my mug, “I suppose it couldn’t hurt. Thank you miss.”
She nods and pours a fresh drink and went about her other duties, not that there was much to do. The Silver Stallion was a humble little tavern; usually occupied by regulars, but with the Harvest Festival starting well underway most of them were forced back to their stalls or shops getting ready to draw in as many customers as they are able. I suppose I should do the same. The drink is sweet and cooling as I chug it down and the coins clatter on the counter before I brave my way through the door. The morning sun berates me with its judgmental rays forcing me to shield my eyes. The streets are littered with hundreds of people; smiles adorned on their eager faces. Vendors are shouting out to the void trying their hardest to attract customers. Truly a sobering experience.
I gradually navigate through the streets, weaving through the horde and dodging a parade of pedestrians before returning home. The old wood framing the brown bricked walls filled with vines finding homes in the cracks, the blue and pink of the freshly picked flowers sitting in the window sill bathing in the morning sun, and the sign hanging above my head, Birdie’s Familiar Boutique. Can’t help but smile at the sight of it. Past the door the shop was humming with activity. Dogs are chasing each other, cats are pouncing from shelf to shelf, and pseudodragons fly from room to room with enough energy to burn a star. Chaotic as usual.
I struggle through, making sure not to step on any tails, and find Eleanor in the back entertaining the local kids. She is showing the kids a displacer beast cub that arrived a few days back. Every time I saw Ellie it struck me how much she looked like her mother: the long summer dress decorated with bright yellow sunflowers dyed in, the bangles that her mother would wear, and her dark brown hair tied in a braid hugging her neck like a scarf.
“Now when a displacer beast is fully grown it will have these very very long tentacles that they use to defend themselves.” The children are completely mesmerized at this point. “But see when they are this young, they have these small little tendrils that are only useful for tickling.”
You could feel the energy from these kids. She always knew how to bring smiles on peoples faces, especially children, and damn it all if they weren’t beaming.
I finally speak up, “Hello children.”A series of “Hellos” and “Hello sir’s” fly at me at once.
“Is Ellie teaching you all about that little troublemaker?” A flurry of double syllable “Yes’s” damn near shattered my eardrums.
“Well good, displacer beasts are dangerous creatures when they mature, and one would do well to learn about them. I faced one myself back in the day. More than twice my size it was, and boy did this creature know how to move. What people sometimes forget is that these beasts speciality lies within their natural talent for illusory magic. So what it did was circle around tryin’ to figure out my weaknesses, how better to catch me off my feet. Luckily for me, I was at the right age where I was young enough while also having a good amount of experience under my belt, but even then it got more than a handful of hits in forcing me to make a tactical retreat. When I got it right where I wanted, I forced it into a trap that immobilized it, and I went in for…”
I felt Ellie’s glare burning a hole into my face, it was then that I noticed half the kids were staring at me with confusion, half were hiding behind their notebooks, and then there was Annabelle sitting right in front of me with stars in her eyes.
“..for a friendly hug and then we ate lunch and had some tea.”
After far too much time had passed in utter silence I did the only thing I could and walked past them into the store office. Naturally, everyone erupted into laughter; I managed a chuckle myself. I always seemed to know how to trip over myself. Couldn’t help it I suppose, I was passionate about the job.
“You certainly know how to entertain the young masses.” Ellie had her devilish smirk drawn across her face. She was leaning in the doorway spinning her cane.
“Yeah, now I’m doin’ your job on top of mine,” I said.
“Well if you’d like we can switch, you can teach the kids all about owlbear cubs, and I can be the one huntin’. I’m sure I can whittle the end of this to do some damage.” She pokes her cane in the air fighting off her invisible foe.
I always feel warm when I see her so energetic, today’s a good day. “Were they good today?”
“When are they not? The only thing of note was Annabelle scaring the kids with the hunting and feeding habits of Umber Hulks.”
“Oh yeah, I forgot I showed her my journal from last month’s hunt. What can I say? I have a soft spot for the kid.”
“Yeah and now I’m probably gonna get an ear full from her parents. Thanks for that.”
She sat there eyeing me as she does while I went through the morning post. A few local papers were detailing the political climate or some such nonsense, but at the bottom of the pile, there was an envelope with no other information on it besides the stores address. Inside was a small piece of parchment with a wax seal of a golden bowl with black streaks pouring from the brim. Written on it was a short message: ‘Sharpen your blade.’
Ellie seemed to notice my discomfort, “Is everything alright father?”
I rubbed my temple trying to refocus, “Seems a job has come and found me, and, unfortunately, it is not one I can reject.”
“How long this time?” She said with disappointment on her face.
“Not sure, but I need to go now.” I was already at my locker donning my gear: the worn chain mail, the torn leather bracers, the battle aged broadsword. “I’m sure it won’t be longer than a week.”
“I can handle things here. You just make sure you come back in one piece.” She takes her place at the desk with an air of authority flowing from her.
I give her final kisses and hugs before wandering back into the clustered streets towards the docks. A walk I’ve done so many times before there should be a worn trail embedded in the stonework. The same familiar warehouse looms over me, taunting me. I swear I can hear the walls saying ‘Yet again dragged into the abyss’ with a snake-like hiss.
“Good to see you again Meric.” I turn to see Sloan in his colorful robes and his white sinister grin hovering behind me. “Ready to get to work?”
I retreat into my mind trying to think of a clever response, a way to throw him off his edge, something besides bashing his sparkling teeth in. All I can muster is, “What’s the job?”