Hunter's End - A Shattered Fiction

bear

Grunt
Shattered Core Backer
#1

HUNTERS END
PART 1


The rain came down in droplets that felt like lead weight.

Each step was getting easier than the last, but this new, piecemeal body was still alien to Raal. He was not sure how much time had passed, nor what had become of the rest of his troupe, but the head of his quarry dragged behind him, gripped firmly by its matted, muddied hair. He had no idea how long he had been walking, but something in the back of his mind told him that his destination was not far.

Bells were heard long before the blurry image of the village had reached his brain. Shaking his head, Raal rubbed at his eyes with his free hand, and paused when he felt the layout of his face. Things felt different yet oddly familiar. He was aware that something was wrong, but yet he did not seem to care. He had a job to complete and a task to fulfil. His resolve drove him forward, even as the slam of window blinds and the pattering of feet running into homes lay at the outskirts of his hearing.

УHold your stride, Corpse-Cutter

The local slur for the people who called themselves Rekindled did not go amiss. Raal knew the truth of what he had become, but to be called it gave him pause. He stopped his trudging, unending march and stood straight. Rain and mud dripped form the ruined remains of what was once clothing, and as he finally took stock of himself, he turned his black boned, partially reformed arm over to look at it, then looked up at the small group of armed villagers before him.

Raal opened his mouth to speak, but his body was turned over with wracking coughs. As he fell to one knee, he realized that he had not spoken for some time. Not since he had started his journey back to the village. When he managed to get control over it, he breathed, tested the sounds from his throat and when he realized that his voice was not working, he looked up at the group of concerned famers before him and something in him told him to speak anyway.

A fine welcome. You called me much more complementary names when I set out on your task, Mallan.

The words sounded out, but they did not leave his throat or his lips. The unnerving lack of motion of his mouth and the dark, ricochet of sound seemed to pale the farmers and hunters before him. Perhaps it was a combination of the voice and the familiarity, but the tone had changed to one of confusion and fear.

УIЕ I donТt respond well to tricks, stranger.Ф A man said, his weathered face seeming more run down than normal Ц at least to RaalТs eyes. УHow do you know me?Ф

Mallan was a self-appointed leader, although right now, he seemed less like a leader and more like a confused, old man that did not realize why he had been called forward. He gingerly took two steps towards Raal and seemed to narrow his eyes in confusion. The men around him were armed and some of the people present were not familiar to the pained mind of the outsider. Others were moving in the background, but between the headache and the buzzing sound in the back of his brain, Raal was having a hard time focusing.

You hired me, Mallan. Told me of a marauder who had kidnapped your wife three years prior. You wanted us to hunt him down and bring back his head. The words came out like a rumble of stone scraping against concrete, but it didnТt reach the ears, as much as bypass them directly to the brain. The buzzing was getting louder and the pain behind RaalТs eyes was growing. Reaching up, a black, clawed hand gripped his face and tried to squeeze out the discomfort and focus on his task.

Well we found him, Mallan. Your wife and all, at least... what was left of her. He killed most of my crewЕ killedЕ me. But I came back. Back to collect.

Mallan took a step back along with several other villagers. Gasps filled the air, but the sounds of something else came to the edges of RaalТs perceptions. His brain was muddied, but it was growing clearer. Things were starting to take shape, and voices not entirely spoken were starting to make sense. Had it been that long since he had made contact with another being?

УY-youЕ you were the hunter we hired to find Rosa?Ф Mallan asked, his voice broken and confused. УThen you are responsible for this!Ф he suddenly barked, the fear starting to give way to anger. Raal looked up as he tried to rise from his kneeling position, confusion at the sudden hostility in the manТs voice. Mallan pointed a finger at him accusingly. УDid you come all this way to bathe in the misery you caused us, hunter?Ф

Raal stood slowly, shakily, but anger started to power him. Things were developing quickly. His brain was starting to drift out of the monotone drone of a simple task and was starting to awaken, clearer perhaps than it was in life. Looking about the village with renewed vision, Raal saw the changes. Where once there were open doors and market stalls, there were now metal bars and gallows.

WhatЕ what happened here? Raal asked as he started to realize his surroundings.

УThey came shortly after you left us,Ф Mallan spoke, his voice wavering with a mixture of sadness and fear. У...Told us that their leader had killed the men we had sent for them and now they were going to take what they wanted from us. And they did, hunter. All because you could not finish the job.Ф

УShut that fossil up!Ф The shout came from the side, followed by a blur of movement too fast for Mallan to avoid as the butt of a trigun collided with the side of his head. The act of violence made Raal snap his gaze to the men who had approached from one of the houses in the back, all armed with various weapons. Each of them looked as if they were outsiders; warriors, not farmers. Bandits, most likely.

УSo what are you miserable peasants looking at?Ф the loud, obvious leader of the small troupe spoke. When his eyes turned to look at the shakily standing creature before them, the smile that rose on his face could have split his head from ear to ear. He was a vampire by the looks of it, his pale skin and bloodstained lips gave his nature away.

УWell nowЕ look what the dogs dragged in.Ф he almost purred in amusement. УItТs been a while hunter. I barely recognize you after yourЕ rebirth, but I recognize those eyes. You managed to keep the originals, I see.Ф He seemed to smirk as he took a few steps forward, the rest of his gang pushing villagers aside, some planting kicks into the stomach of the fallen Mallan.

Images flashed in front of Raals mind as memories hit him like punches to the cerebellum. The picture of him standing over the corpse of his quarry, the feeling of getting shot from behind, and then the sensation of his blood draining. His last images, the flashes of sight before death. This man was in them. He was the missing piece. He had tried to fight it, but the battle against his mark Ц a Wretched, bandit leader Ц had left his party dead and his own body riddled with injury. It was a weakness the bandit second-in-command took to usurp the leadership of the gang.

With an easy motion, the Vampire drew out his firearm and aimed it casually at Raal as he stood, gripping his head and trying to make sense of the images. The buzzing was fading the memories were coming back in hard, thunderous claps; hard enough to make his movements sluggish and easily readable by the vampire lording over him at that moment. Raal wheeled his arm back and without even realizing what he was throwing, hurled the head of the former bandit leader at the Vampire weakly.

Without even flinching, the Vampire snagged the head by its mane of cables and hair and held it up to admire the rotten, worn visage of his former superior. Decay had taken its toll. Whatever flesh had remained was scored into the bone and metal implants. Disfigured parts of bone and jutting spikes where teeth should have been gave the vampire a nostalgic feeling as he remembered the face of his former Wretched master.

УYou have dragged this with you for how long now, hunter?Ф the Vampire asked. УSevenЕ eight years, perhaps?Ф

DonТt be a fool, I have only been gone forЕ forЕ

How long had it been? Raal could not remember. There was always the road. The main camp had been miles away. Weeks by caravan to the center of this gangs power. He had not ridden, he had not given transport. No, he had walked the whole wayЕ some of those days crawled there, all the time dragging that head. The dawning realization hit Raal like a heart attack. The only thing that mattered was to return to the village and claim his reward. He had lost all of his friends, he had lost his own life and he wanted his pay.

Was it anger, revenge or greed that motivated him back to the land of the living? Everything suddenly seemed to hollow, and yet so clear. Looking down at his hands, he couldnТt help but make a snort of disgust which then turned into a laugh. Soon that laugh turning into a howl of emotional pain and then back to anger. Shaking, Raal seemed to stand taller, straighter. The dark power that held parts of his body together seemed to glow more intensely.

But my job is not done, is it? You... you are still alive. Raal asked angrily, his unspoken voice thundering around the edges of buildings like a coming earthquake.

The men with the Vampire started to take a step back, readying weapons and looking to their leader for orders. The Vampire looked unfazed however, still holding his firearm like it was an extension of his arm. Finally turning his bloodshot, lifeless eyes away from the head, he seemed only to smirk in answer.

УNor will it ever be, hunter. Not even with your second lease on life.Ф

A loud gunshot was followed swiftly by blackness.
 

bear

Grunt
Shattered Core Backer
#2

HUNTERS END
PART 2


Darkness gave way to pain and anger.

Raal awoke to the buzzing of flies and the smell of rotten meat. Thinking him dead perhaps, the bandits had tossed him in a mass grave to the side of the village. People Ц none recognizable Ц lay about underneath him. There was a flood of something hitting him; a feeling long felt lost and it came in droves. Anger. Anger in levels that made his ears ring as his pieced together jaw clenched and his teeth grit with a scraping sound.

Looking at himself, Raal felt the small amount of damage in his body, but thankfully the damage was more impacting on the surface. It was hard to tell when his Rekindled, reassembled body was truly hurt, but his exhaustion and fatigue had caused the gunshot to put him down without killing him. The VampireТs arrogance and confidence was his saving grace this time. Pushing himself up on one arm, he shakily felt around and discovered that his clothing, his weapons and his gear were all gone. Cursing in words that probably would have tainted the taste of any Marshall, Raal clambered over the mass of corpses. As he moved, he realized that eyes were on him.

Mallan.

The old manТs face was bruised and bloodied. He was laying on the side of the pit, apparently waiting for Raal to awaken. His look showed various emotions, but the one that surprised Raal the most was apparently relief.

How long has it been, Mallan? Raal asked as he clambered shakily to the side of the pit. Digging long, black digits into the mud and clay, Raal started to pull himself out towards where Mallan was laying. The old man looked close to death himself. Probably a punctured lung or internal injuries beyond Raals ability to heal. Mallan looked sad, as if the very thought of time pained him.

How long, Mallan? How long had I been gone? Raal demanded from the dying man, and with a cough, the old man closed his eyes, the long streaks of water through mud on his face showing the tears he had shed since Raal had last been conscious.

УSeven years andЕ a handful of months,Ф Mallan wheezed out between wet, pained coughs. УPerhaps it would have been better for you to have stayed gone. To see a hunter come by again was too much hope for me to bearЕФ Mallan added sadly.

УThere is no saving us now. You were our last resortЕ and it seems that our hopes died with you.Ф

IТm not dead yet. Raal growled as he rose out of the pit, his voice like a peal of thunder to the mind.

Kneeling for a moment as he regained his posture. He must have been out for a few hours. It had been years since he had stopped moving and he had forgotten what it felt like to feel rest. His body was wounded still, but some patching up meant that he was at least partially fit to fight. Reaching down, he pulled a worn, leather cloak off of one of the bodies to his side, shaking out the remains of the corpse and wrapping it around his shoulders to cover the mas of fused bones, flesh and metal that made up his Rekindled incarnation.

УHave you no shame?Ф Mallan asked, trying to hold his anger, but wavering due to the pain. УЕSome of these people were my friends. My family!Ф

This is the reason why you needed me in the first place, Mallan; youТre pathetic. Raal snarled through his soundless voice as he finished wrapping his body up in old, dusty partly-oiled leather. If you were more concerned with surviving and less on the niceties, youТd be able to deal with your own issues.

Raal was finally ready. His Rekindled form, black boned and glowing with dark energy, was now partly covered in a dusty brown leather cloak and some strapping to help keep at least some of the perils of brawling away. It was no set of armor, but it was better than the air. Next came a weapon and Mallan looked less than well-equipped.

УWhat now, hunter?Ф Mallan asked, his breath failing him. УWill you survive? Run?Ф he bitterly spat.

Raal paused for a moment, looking at the human even as the life was leaving his eyes.

You hired me to do a job. IТm going to finish it.

Mallan used his last breath to laugh, a long, bitter smile on his face before he faded. Pupils dilated as his motor neurons stopped firing. Raal watched the life finally leave him as the body failed, losing bladder and bowel control, and Raal remembered what it had been like to feel that essence attempting to leave his physical form. Raal didnТt let it go though.

Mallan however seemed to find his peace in death.

Moving to the side, Raal used his foot to push the corpse into the pit with his friends. Mallan was gone. The spirit that made him up passed to another place Ц perhaps even into oblivion. What was left behind was just rotting meat. It reminded him that life for many was just a fleeting moment. He should do as Mallan suggested; run, leave and let them think him dead. But then again, he had pride in his work.

It was that pride that kept him from leaving as Mallan did.

Fixing his exposed, bone jaw, the Rekindled redoubled his anger as he moved to the outskirts of the village again. This time he was aware of what was going on and what he needed to do. There was a job to finish.

First, however, he needed the right tools.
 

bear

Grunt
Shattered Core Backer
#4

HUNTERS END
PART 3


The walk back to the town was arduous. With a mind recovering from shock and trauma, along with the flashes of images of his old life, Raal found it hard to keep his pieced together body walking a straight line. He stumbled a touch as his leg caught on the leather of his newly-found clothing. Falling forward, he caught himself on a scarred rock, lowering his body down to one knee.

There was a moment in that time of mental exhaustion where he took stock of everything that had happened. Looking down at his hands, he didnТt recognize the scorched, clawed fingers that flexed at his mental commands, and the arcs of dark energy keeping them together felt as comforting as they did alien.

The ricochet of images started to overwhelm him and with a grunt, he could feel his grip slipping on the rock. Leaning forward, his aforementioned hand dipped into the mud, pushing him back up as the chemical rain started to fall about him. Despair seemed to be a closing factor, but through all the torment and exhaustion, his wounded soul focused on one thing.

He never failed a job.

Ever.

Something within Raal snapped back into place. His jumbled body seemed to find its center and with a sudden flare of power, cracking energy seemed to spark through his limbs, bringing back the mix of bone and metal into a solid form. Taking in a deep breath Ц an action more of habit and self-assurance than need Ц Raal rose to his feet again, pushing off of the stone and moved back towards the town, his partially formed jaw set and his mixture of synthetic and natural teeth screeching as they ground together in anger.

The first guard to see him did not live long enough to warn the others. A rusted length of rebar came sailing out of the darkness and drove right through the WretchedТs throat. The mutant gargled and clawed at the metal lodged there, but to no avail. Raal casually strode to the body as the two other guards stared at the bleeding corpse in horror, watching it fall, rather than concentrating on where the attack came from.

Such a lack of focus was the undoing of many untrained fighters, Raal recalled. Stepping past one of them with a motion that was both smooth and practiced, the Rekindled hunter grabbed a sword from the belt of one of the guards and in the same motion, twisted Ц the blade held in a reverse grip Ц and turned to deliver a killing strike to the neck of the second guard. Still physically weak from coming back from death, the blade lodged in the spinal column and wedged itself between vertebrae, lacking the power for a full decapitation.

Grunting in annoyance more than anything, Raal tugged at the blade, but it was lodged tight. The last remaining guard managed to pull his brain together enough to realize he was in danger and drawing a Trigun, he leveled it at the Rekindled. With a twist and a pull, Raal managed to interject the quickly falling body of the man lodged onto his blade between the gun and himself. Three loud shots rang out as the first two bullets tore into the corpse of the dead guard, the third managing to clip Raal in the shoulder.

The pain was solid, but it was far outweighed by RaalТs anger and conviction. The click-click-click of the panicking guard pulling the trigger instead of reloading gave him some breathing room to act. Following the body down, Raal reached down to pull a throwing axe from the corpses belt and with a rising motion, lifted himself along with the bladed edge up to catch the last guard under the chin. With a dull thud, the blade found purchase in jawline but split the flesh over the bone. Reeling back, the last remaining guard looked like he was about to turn and run, but an overhead swing and a toss buried the axe head deep in the spine of the bandit, causing a spasm, a cry out of pain and then whimpering as the blade severed the nerve endings leading to the legs, dropping the man to the floor, face first.

Steadily, Raal made his way over to the now-crippled guard and crouched down, finding his balance as he felt his power trickling back to him. The pain of the gunshot, the smell of blood, all of these things brought back flashes of his old life. The bandit looked up at him pitifully, whimpering as he tried to crawl past, to the bell on the far side of the watch post.

The irony of all this, Raal said darkly, his voice not hitting the ears, but the mind directly, Еis that you had no choice. I understand that. My revenge was already set in motion the moment your whore mother birthed you into this vile wasteland. Perhaps it is her you should blame, because she did not tell you what to do; how you could make a difference.

УGo f-fuck yourself, Corpse-Cutter.Ф The bandit spat in anger, tears rolling down his face, knowing what was about to befall him.

Yes. Exactly.

Reaching down, Raal pulled the axe out of the manТs spine and brought it down again quickly with a dull thud and a crunch. Then another. And another. There was the feeling of blood and bone pattering against his piecemeal carapace of organic and inorganic material, but it felt hollow. Once the corpse had stopped twitching, Raal placed down the axe and returned to the first two guards to claim some weapons.

Two blades had always been his favorite way of dealing with his problems, after taking a moment to unwedge the rusty, rugged blade from the throat of one of his targets, he picked up a second from the other falling corpse and gave them a swing and a flourish. They were dull, ruined beyond salvage and not nearly the quality of the blades which had been taken from him, but if there was anything Raal had learned when he was still alive; the finest edge could not make up for sharper mind.

Finally armed, the Rekindled hunter found his focus. Blades Ц as foreign as these two ruined hafts of metal were Ц felt natural to him; an extension of his mind and body, given edge and set to carve a path through the things barring his way. This was the part about the job he loved the most.

The Assault. The Attack. The Hunt.
 
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