The Hunter had not dealt much with the Fae – the actual people, not the remnants of the lost world or the scuttling beasts they had left behind themselves. He had gathered some knowledge, but most of it came from experience, and especially from an encounter in the forest, five years prior: a tall, gangly creature with horns like a deer and teeth hanging from each of their angles, tinkling in the howling wind. It had turned to look at him from afar, and in its vitreous eyes he had read a depth of sorrow and anger that went beyond counting the time in centuries. Here was a thing that had walked the earth before mankind lifted its first tower to meet the stars, before they cooked its first brick or fashioned its first sword.
He had felt a primeval fear suck his breath out in meeting that gaze. The Eerie could do much, but they were still flesh and cursed bone, and could be rebuked by fire, iron and water.
These things had eaten through a global civilization that reached out to the stars.
Thus he had prayed to the Spirits, and made himself scarce, and that day the thing had looked the other side, or maybe the Heart of the Forest had spared him.
Given how things had gone as of late, he thought the Queen did take a liking to him.
And the Fae that floated in, holding the pulsating golden light in its hands – the needle grin plastered on its face – it did not feel as dangerous as that thing he had met. But the Hunter felt his blood pump anyway, his heartbeat scrape against his chest and his breath come out in shaken spurts.
Back when he had rebuked it, he had felt so confident in his abilities and those of his companions. Now, reliving the same nightmare as before…
There we go.
The Eerie seemed to think as much. They bowed their heads and misshapen bodies to the newcomer as it came down to rest next to the half-eaten corpses of a few defenders, those they couldn’t pull back onto safety.
The golden light pulsated once again, seemingly as hungry as the beasts and monster themselves.
The Fae lifted its left hand and the flesh from the corpses surrounding it quivered, rippled and flew off the bones, squelching into a ball.
He thought back to the strange temple he had spent his night in with Sadja. All those bones, scraped clean.
Back then he used to thing it had been the work of the Eerie themselves.
A flame of rage pushed back against the curtain of fear that smoked it. Those people had given their life to protect their friends, their families and their community. Human life and dignity was a thing to play with, for these things.
No wonder they had to go to war with the damn monsters.
The Fae’s grin widened, reaching up to the tufts of folded skin at the sides of its skull that might have been its ears. Its overturned body made another gesture with its hands and the ball of flesh opened like an egg, spitting down a screeching, blackened creature that had too many teeth and too many limbs.
The golden light extinguished.
Just as an appetizer. This is what future has in store for you, the skittering voice laughed from inside his brain. He embraced his rifle and pointed at the thing. A quick movement, and he shot.
The bullet hit the Fae’s flesh and it passed right through it, leaving a hole that quickly warped itself close.
Now now, let’s not get hasty, it laughed. We have all night to spend together. Why don’t you entertain me, Trespasser? See how well you dance.
He raised both its twisted, mirrored hands and the Eerie rose as one, screeching and howling and scraping against the frozen ground, as they resumed their assault.
“Fire!” Someone shouted from behind and the turrets, rifles, cannons and firebombs, the steam from the holy water came back to meet them.
But this time the Eerie were not just a mindless tide of limbs and teeth and eyes and claws: they recoiled from the explosions, passing through the jets of water and waited for the time between the salves to advance, slithering past the barracks and the defenses, gaining meter after meter.
The Hunter slashed at his chest. He collected the drops and murmuring the same words he had used against Verna, he created thin blood needles, glowing red. He pointed his hands at the advancing wall of flesh and screamed, directing his blood into the fray.
The needles pierced, cut and slashed, but barely slowed down the tide. He slashed again, and again he let go. Many corpses were hit: they wriggled and writhed in pain, letting out tall cries of anguish.
But more climbed over the dead and the slow and with tall screeches they jumped forward – the dark mass began to blot out the stars, even as more and more explosions tried to hold it back.
He slashed a third time.
And a third time, amidst the pain and the blood-loss, he shot piercing needles.
But they were not alone.
Mid-flight, something else began to hail down from above: silvery pellets of mercurial blood.
And when those met with the cursed flesh of the long, long dead, the wall of meat turned into a wall of hissing flame, bursting a white flame that send him to his knees, covering his face as he felt like looking inside a furnace.
Something fell next to him.
He turned to find Sadja, covered from head to toe in a thousand tiny pockmarks, some of them still bleeding softly. She looked up at him, her ears laying limp at the side of her head.
“Did I… learn well?” She whispered.
Elissa leaned against the black pit that would take her to the pillar’s base. The engineer pushed her lamp towards her, but she shook her head.
“I don’t see with light,” she murmured.
Speaking of which… the Threads yanked her attention away from the rope and the shaft and the Generator and towards the battle above. She saw a bleeding Sadja laying in the Hunter’s arms – she was still alive and she was still smiling, but her body was a collection of tiny pearls of silver.
She did not have much time.
Gritting her teeth, Elissa jumped into the darkness.
Pic by Darkfang