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A Hunter’s Wrath

by Jeremy Szal

Snow, snow everywhere. On the hills, on the trees, on top of huts — everywhere. It covered the entire world under its chilly embrace. Zimm licked his cracked lips and reached for his wineskin. There was no wine in it now, just melted snow. He opened the flask and took a quick swig.

He could see the village in the distance. He had forgotten its name. All he knew was that he was going to leave with a sack of gold.

His shoulders burned from the weight of the sword strapped to his back. Snow trickled through boots that he had worn for far too long. This is the last time I travel this far for a job. But that was what he had told himself the last time. And the time before that. Hunger made you do a lot of stuff you’d never do otherwise.

The snow gave way to frozen grass, crunching as he trod upon it. He could smell fresh meat being roasted and beer being brewed in the village. His stomach growled in protest. Soon, he thought, I’ll eat soon.

Sudden screams pierced the air, laced with terror. He broke into a run, ignoring the numbness in his legs. He skidded to a halt at the outer fringes of the village. Several men in thick jackets were dragging two screaming women to the edge of a half-frozen lake. Zimm strode up to them, sword-hand itching.

Don’t get involved.

One of the men spun around, dagger in hand. ‘Oh. It’s you.’ The dagger went back into its sheath.

‘And I thought you’d forgotten me,’ Zimm said, ignoring the women’s screaming.

‘Saul Ryndrek is a man of honour,’ Ryndrek snorted indignantly. He turned to the men behind him. ‘Hey, leave them whores for a moment.’ He nodded at Zimm. ‘Remember this guy?’

‘Yep,’ the man with the broken nose said. ‘You promised to do somethin’, eh?’

‘Yeah,’ the red-haired man sniggered. ‘It doesn’t look like you did.’

‘Really?’ Zimm reached into his satchel and brought out the head of a Wildcat. He threw it at their feet, blood dripping into the snow.

Ryndrek grinned, showing blackened teeth. ‘Aye, good job.’ He tossed Zimm a sack of gold. ‘Four hundred pieces in there. Now be on your way.’

‘What have the women done?’ Zimm asked.

‘None of yer bloody business,’ Broken-Nose snapped.

‘It’s all right,’ Ryndrek told him. He turned to Zimm. ‘These two little whores used to work my kitchens. Good to them, we were. Gave ’em both food, clothes and a place to lay their empty heads. Then we caught ’em stealing food, from me no less! No one steals from a warden of the town.’

‘What are you going to do?’ Zimm asked.

‘None of your concern,’ Ryndrek snapped. ‘Be on your way.’

Zimm nodded, a blank expression on his face. ‘I’m at the tavern if you need another dead monster.’

‘Aye, got plenty of them. Come back in a few hours when the two whores are dead.’

Zimm turned to go when one of the women called out to him. ‘Help us! Please!’ He bit his lip and ignored her.

‘Shut your trap, bitch!’ the bald one growled, an ugly grin settling on his face. He gripped the girl by the hair and dragged her towards the lake, her desperate screams sending shivers down Zimm’s spine. Zimm sighed inwardly. I know I’m going to regret this.

He spun around and broke into a run, his hand on the sword’s hilt.

Ryndrek looked back at him and scowled. ‘What are you doing back ’ere?’

Zimm didn’t reply. He drew his sword and in a single, swift motion severed hand from wrist. Baldy’s hand flopped to the ground, stump spurting blood as Baldy screamed in agony.

Zimm spun around to see Red Hair charge at him with a dagger. He grabbed Red Hair’s wrist, using momentum to thrust it into his attacker’s throat, boots skidding on ice.

He clenched his fist together and chanted the First Words in a rushed whisper, thrusting his hand forward. Flames streamed from his palm, burning through his glove and setting Broken Nose on fire. Broken Nose threw himself on the snow, shrieking. Zimm sent another burst of fire his way, turning the man into a smoldering crisp.

Zimm felt a heavy blow to the back of his neck and fell to his knees, vision blurring. Red Hair was standing above him, double-edged axe in hand. Zimm’s foggy mind reached for the shortest spell he knew.

The final words of Paralysis passed his lips just as the axe came guillotining down. Red Hair’s paralyzed figure paused, as if frozen.

Zimm reached for his sword, swinging it in a two-handed grip just as the paralysis wore off, taking off Red Hair’s head and half of his shoulder. He dodged a crazed swipe of Ryndrek’s blade, throwing himself to his feet.

Ryndrek lunged again, and this time Zimm was too late. The dagger pierced his clothes and dug into his skin like a hot poker. Growling in pain, Zimm slashed out at Ryndrek, slicing the side of his belly. The man collapsed on the snow, desperately trying to stem the bleeding.

‘Why?’ he croaked as Zimm forced himself to his feet. The dagger hadn’t gone too deep. He would be able to fix it later with a healing spell and an alchemist’s potion. But he had a little something to finish first.

‘Why?’ Zimm repeated.

‘Why did you do this?’ Ryndrek rasped, bloody hand gesturing around at the carnage, snow grotesquely decorated with blood. Zimm noticed the two girls escaping in fright, whip marks on their backs.

‘Why do you think?’

‘We never hurt you,’ Ryndrek screeched. He sounded like a pathetic child. ‘You’re a monster hunter, not a killer.’

‘That’s what I am,’ Zimm said, striding forward, sword raised. ‘I am a monster hunter. And right now, I’m killing monsters.’

Copyright © 2014 by Jeremy Szal

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