The Hunter's Bane: Chapter 1 - I Rodeo with an Otter
Disclaimer: I do not own the rights to the Percy Jackson series or any of the characters within it. Rick Riordan does, I am just a humble fan of the series.
Rated T, or PG 13.
Warning: the plot of this story takes place after The Last Olympian, so if you have not read through the series and don't wish to have things spoiled you may wish to stop reading until you have.
First of all, let me just say that I never asked for any of this. Those adult types that chuckled to themselves and said that life wasn't fair; they didn't have a clue just how right they were. The disturbing thing is that as of late I've started getting used to it, or as used to it as anyone can get under such circumstances.
Anyway, my name's William Hunt, my friends, when I had them anyway, called me Will, but that was years ago. Well technically Hunt isn't my real last name, but then I never knew what that was so this is as good as any other I might have. See, I don't really have a family, not like most people do. My parents, whoever they might have been, died a long time ago, long before I was old enough to remember what they looked like, felt like, smelled like, anything. I'm what people call a product of the system, been moving through foster homes my whole life and let me say that I've built up an impressive record. I've never lasted a year at any one foster home; came close one time when I was seven, they must have been tough skinned since that couple held onto me for almost nine months before demanding my removal.
They say that I'm a problem child, a demon's spawn, proof that the Anti-Christ walks amongst us, you think of an analogy I've probably heard it. Personally I don't see it. Ok, maybe I see it a little, but most of the time it's not my fault, well sort of but that's a long story. How best to explain it… all right, according to Mr. Gibbons, my 3rd Grade elementary school teacher I am a pyromaniac who enjoys setting things on fire. Now this isn't true at all, I mean sure I like fire, who doesn't, but it's not like I carry a matchbox or a lighter on me, it's just that whenever I get really mad, scared, or feel several other strong emotions things just seem to burst into flames… like his Honda Accord.
I'm fourteen years old, those critical development years when a boy starts to become a man or some other nonsense. People talk about moments in life that change everything for a person, well I've had a couple of those and while I could spend… let's say a long time describing all of those moments, it's probably best to go straight to the one that set me on this path.
It was a clear summer's night, I'm pretty sure it was June but by that point exact dates were hard to keep track of most of the time. The forest was alive with the sounds of insects and other nocturnal creatures moving about, but the half-moon shown down through the trees above my campfire helping to illuminate things beyond the glow of the flames. I'd created a makeshift spit and was letting my less than satisfying catch of a cottontail rabbit roast over the warm fire. There were deer in the area, but while catching them wasn't impossible, without a gun or something for long distance it wasn't easy.
If you're wondering why I was in the woods by myself in the middle of the night it wouldn't surprise me, but the answer is a bit complicated. Life up to now has been tough, but up until three years ago that was fine, I'd grown used to being despised, accused of every wrong doing that you could imagine, but at least back then no one really messed with me. Oh my fellow schoolmates had tried in the past, but one thing I'd learned was that whenever I got moved to a new school the trick was to locate the school bully and once he tried to push me around, beat him to a pulp, and if necessary break his arm. A little extreme, maybe, ok it is, but my life was extreme and the peace and quiet of being left alone was worth it. Besides, not having people to bug me meant that the chances were better for me to hold out for at least an entire semester without something or someone around me spontaneously combusting.
I'd actually had hopes back then, my foster home at the time had been pretty good, Travis Hunt and his wife Sharon had been warned about my past but they'd wanted to help me get my life in order, and to be honest after so many years of evil looks and fear from previous foster parents, it was a very pleasant change to be wanted by someone. Sharon had come to the conclusion that I just had a lot of repressed anger from my experiences and had gone to work on teaching me breathing techniques to help me keep my temper in check. She'd also tried to get me to talk about my feelings, you know the ones she felt I was repressing so I could confront and get them out; that part wasn't so enjoyable, but at least I didn't burn anything down. And I'd tried, oh believe me I'd tried harder than any other time in my life to make this work, and I'd been doing remarkably well. In the past the fire had just appeared without warning, and admittedly I wasn't usually too concerned as usually when it happened someone had done something to deserve a little scorching.
But the Hunt's were good to me, and I didn't want to leave and the breathing techniques had helped immensely. Looking back on it I think it also had something to do with my being a bit older too, more in control of myself and my resolve had been steeled to behave. Rumors about my history had gotten around to the other students as it always invariably did, but I'd endured their taunts and harsh treatment for seven months without incident. School was never easy anyway with my dyslexia and ADHD, my grades were abysmal, not that I ever lasted long enough to get final grades. Gym class was my only good subject, I was the king of dodge ball, no one could hit me and being in motion like that left my mind strangely clear.
Travis had come up with his own ideas about how to help me adapt and signed me up for Tai kwon do. His view had been that martial arts could teach me self control and act as an outlet for the anger I felt. Why I couldn't have been sent to the Hunt's sooner I never understood, and the weekend camping trips were a blast. Trekking through the forest of the Midwest United States, fishing the local rivers, the feel of nature around me, it was heavenly, something I'd never really known. Another thing Travis believed in was incentives for good behavior, and if I could last through the school year he'd promised to take me deer hunting, and maybe even let me fire his rifle.
Really I should have known better than to think that it would last, nothing good ever did for me, but I'd given myself over to hoping that my luck had changed and Travis and Sharon had been filled with pride at what they'd called my remarkable progress. The pride was mine too at how well I'd done to keep things under control, and perhaps that's why it had to end.
Let me just say that monsters have very bad timing as they tend to show up when you want them the least. In my case I'd be perfectly happy to never run into them at all, but they seem to like me for some reason. It started with one of the camping trips that Travis and I went on, and as it turned out as well, our last. We'd set up camp near a small creek and Travis had made his way down there to get some water to boil. There was still about an hour or two of sunlight left but the sun had begun its arching turn toward the western horizon meaning that in a short while we'd be roasting hot dogs and marshmallows over the campfire. Travis had given me his cell phone and I was calling Sharon to let her know we'd arrived and set everything up all right. She'd always worried when we'd go out camping, something I'd thought was plain silly of her as it seemed perfectly safe to me; I'd been quite innocent back then.
Travis was making his way back into camp with a pair of buckets filled with water so I'd said my goodbye's to Sharon and hung up to head over and help him bring the water back. We'd just gotten the buckets to the makeshift fire pit we used when camping here when a growl had erupted from the woods. Given the noise I'd thought it had to be a bear, sure they were rare these days but some of them were still out in the woods, and upon hearing that Travis and I had taken one look at each other before he'd gotten up and headed off toward his truck to get his rifle, leaving me standing there with the water buckets at my sides.
Now given my expectations, imagine my surprise when an otter made its way through the trees and into the clearing. Now if you're thinking about a cute little otter like you see on the discovery channel then you're wrong, this thing was the size of a lion or tiger like they have at the zoo, and it was staring straight at me, its teeth bared.
Remember those movies where the action is done in slow motion, everything seeming to happen at half speed, well that's what this moment felt like. The hairs on my arms stood on end, my vision seemed to expand as I began picking up details, the glistening of its pointed teeth, the specks of dried mud spotted on its fur, the slightest movements in the creature's eyes. My brain cleared and sharpened into focus on the beast before me, thoughts catching up to what my gut had already surmised, this… creature, wanted me, was going to kill me unless I killed it first.
A screeching growl echoed from the otter and then it leapt at me, gaining great hang time for something so massive, but when its claws came down where I'd been standing there was nothing there but dirt. The otter whirled, knocking over one of the buckets as it turned to follow my leaping sidestep and lunged for me again with incredible speed. I was faster, and as it leapt passed me I could have easily spanked it on its hindquarters, but it seemed prudent not to antagonize the monster otter that was trying to kill me already. Instead I did something just as futile, I swept up the other bucket of water and splashed the water in the otter's face as it turned again.
I don't know what I was expecting, maybe to hear it scream as it started to melt, but instead all it did was shake its head sending droplets in every direction, growled and charged. This time I leapt up into the air and as it passed under I kicked my foot down into its head. The otter's head buckled under the blow and slammed mouth first into the fire pit as I landed behind it in a crouch. I had no idea how I'd gotten up in the air that high, but at that moment I wasn't exactly contemplating that question as the blow had done nothing more than daze the thing. The real problem was that while it seemed unable to catch me for the moment I had no way to kill it either, nothing reliable anyway. This was just a game of keep away, and that could only go on for so long.
Then as the thing pushed itself back to its feet a shot rang out and struck the creature in the side and I looked over toward the sound's origin to see Travis standing there with his rifle, taking aim to fire another shot. Unfortunately the otter seemed more annoyed by the bullet than injured, and while the good news was that it wasn't after me anymore the bad was that its attention was now on Travis.
My foster dad fired again, striking the otter in the shoulder this time, but again it just seemed to daze the beast, not actually harm it. Shaking off the impact, the otter snarled and then took a step toward Travis.
I don't know why, but the sight of that thing moving toward my armed foster father sent a ripple of anger through me and the next moment I was doing the stupidest thing I could have done. Snatching up a rock in my hand I shouted out, "Hey ugly, over here!" and then charged before it could turn to respond. Leaping at the otter, I landed on its back as my left hand slid around its throat and squeezed, then brought my right hand down hard with the rock, smashing it into the side of the monster's skull.
The beast bucked and twisted, trying to dislodge me as my right hand came down again and again, my left arm sliding this way and that around its neck as I tried to grip its sides with my legs to no real avail. Off to the side I could hear Travis yelling at me to get off and give him a clean shot although I didn't know why, it'd been pretty obvious that the bullets weren't really hurting the thing, although he kept saying he wouldn't miss this time.
At last the otter made a swift spin and turn and my right hand opened as I was spun and nearly thrown off entirely, saved only by my right hand grabbing hold of the beast's slick fur. A squeal filled the air and I took that moment to readjust my grip with both hands as I held on for dear life while the monster flipped me this away and that in an attempt to toss me.
Fear gripped at my mind with its icy fingers, but a fiery resolve swam up to meet it from the core of my being. I am not going to die, I am not going to die, you hear me, I am not dying! The resolve emanated out from every pore in my body, covering me like a warm blanket. As if in answer the otter suddenly screamed in pain, and its bucking became frantic, swinging around the way a person with an ice cube down the back of their shirt might act, except where that person might be screaming in frustration, even irritation, the monster was screaming in agony.
That's when I realized the cause; we were on fire. The flames rolled over my hands, my arms, my whole body and seared through the smoking patches of fur into the creature's skin, the putrid smell of burning animal hair rich in the air around us. My first thought was to let go, to drop and roll to put out the flames before they roasted me alive, but then it hit me that I didn't feel anything, whatever else they might burn, I was immune to the flames.
Emboldened by this discovery I gripped tighter around the otter's neck, my muscles aching as I squeezed, my flaming hands branding the otter's throat and the flames increased until they engulfed us both entirely. At last the otter collapsed down onto the ground, its legs kicking at its sides as if they were trying to escape the funeral pyre that had been their body.
Lying there on the monster's back, submerged in my warm friendly flames I had an epiphany, the kind that alters your life forever. Up until now I'd had no real control over this strange power, I knew I caused it somehow but never had there been any means of harnessing it, the fire would just appear. As I watched the inferno flow through me, surround me, the truth became apparent. I'd been mistaken to think that I was creating the fire, like some magician summoning through incantation, I was the flame. They weren't rolling over me, passing me by to leave me unscathed, they were flowing out of me, the living flame within me.
Sadly my epiphany was cut short by the burning monster I was resting on top of suddenly bursting into a cloud of dust. Coughing as I pulled myself to my feet, brushing at the dust covering my clothes I heard a noise in front of me and lifted my gaze instantly to meet it. Travis stood there twenty feet away, his fingers gripping his rifle so tightly that his knuckles appeared ready to explode out of his hands. That wasn't the scariest part though, it was the look on his face, an expression I'd never seen him use before but had encountered innumerable times. Terror, not at what had just happened although I suspected it was contributing, but terror at what he saw now. Staring across the clearing at me as I stood there immersed in flames, breathing the charcoaled air in like it was a warm summer breeze, a pile of dust that had been a monster otter only moments earlier at my feet, Travis was terrified of me. Given the image, I supposed he had good reason.
The sight was an arrow through my chest, causing me more pain than anything that otter could have done. In fact I'd almost wished for the thing to reappear and skewer me to put me out of my misery. It was over, my time with Mr. and Mrs. Hunt had come to an end, there was no getting passed this, no explanation that would suffice, not that I had an explanation to give. Besides, who wanted to have a living flammable accelerant under their roof?
Taking a deep breath and concentrating hard, I felt the flame shrink back into the core of my chest. Another breath and the flames surrounding me died down, then seemed to dissolve altogether. Finally Travis, his body shaking stuttered out, "W-Will… what… what just happened? How did you… That thing, then you…?"
Making my way slowly off toward the tent where my camping pack sat leaning up against a small tree, careful not to make any sudden movements that might startle Travis into shooting his gun at me, I picked up the pack, slung it over my shoulder and said, "I'm sorry Mr. Hunt, I really am. You and Sharon were the best." With that I'd turned and headed off into the forest leaving my old life behind.
In the three years since then I'd traveled all over the Northern Midwest, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, even went as far East as Pennsylvania one time although that had been a special circumstance. In that time I'd done a lot of thinking about why I'd decided to just leave like that, after all I'd been eleven years old then and trekking around in the woods on my own hardly seemed rational. In the end though I just figured I'd rather be here than back in the system.
Poking at the rabbit with my finger, I gripped the stick the thing hung on and turned it a bit trying to make it cook evenly. Why nothing seemed capable of burning me I didn't know, for that matter I never even felt cold, or at least not the way other people described it. I didn't understand a lot of things, like why I was this way, a lone outcast from the world. In my three year trek I'd never encountered anyone else like me, just more monsters, some more bizarre than others.
Reaching toward my belt I let my fingers run through one of the rings that hung off it to the side, half a dozen teeth and claws dangling on it, trophies of monsters I'd slain. There were two more rings with similar trophies on the left side, and next to those hung my rabbit's foot, taken off a rabbit that had been far bigger and nastier than the one I was currently cooking. Truthfully I'd lost track of how many of these weird things I'd killed over the last few years, but it had to be at least twenty although even that seemed low. As of late I'd been pondering why they kept showing up and after much consideration I was pretty sure that they were hunting me. I hadn't decided just yet what I was going to do about it, but there was a strong part of me that said I should start hunting them back.
Scratching the back of my neck, my thoughts were interrupted by a voice shouting in my head. Incoming! Moments later a flash of blue swooped down from above the tree line and landed on the branch of a fallen oak across the campfire from me.
Sighing as I gazed at the peregrine falcon that had just landed, I shook my head in exasperation. "Always going for the dramatic entrance Ellie, don't you ever get tired of it?"
The falcon shook her dark feathered head. Nope, and you love me for it.
I just rolled my eyes. "Love you sure, but not for that."
Well as long as you love me Will.
Ellie had been the one bright spot in these last three years, probably the one thing that kept me grounded or else I might have gone monster hunting already. I'd found her about a year and a half ago picking a fight with a rather large snake, as in one almost as wide as me at the time. Why she'd been doing that I didn't know or for that matter why I'd decided to intervene on her behalf, but she'd been keeping me company ever since. At first she'd just flown in circles overhead, following me as I made my way through the forest. I hadn't even noticed until I'd been forced to cross a highway separating the two patches of forest and seen her swoop down lower.
This went on for days with her landing when I set up camp and just staring at me while I tried to go about my routine. Finally I'd blurted out, "Why are you following me?" in frustration only to fall backward when she'd answered in my head. Because you're interesting. Having a talking bird for a friend had taken some getting used to, but Ellie was as loyal as any human I'd ever known, more even, and she was quite useful at scouting for food sources or approaching monsters. It was thanks to her that I'd escaped that dragon, or at least I thought that's what it had been, it had breathed fire, not that it was a problem for me, but the teeth that came with the fire had been, and so for the first time Ellie and I had decided running away had been our best option.
More than anything though Ellie listened to everything I had to say. My doubts and frustration about who and what I was, my lot in life, my concerns about the seemingly never-ending supply of monsters pursuing me, worrying about Travis and Sharon, anything I could think of she would listen to and comment on.
Ruffling her dark blue feathers, Ellie watched me for a moment with her black and gold eyes, then lifted her one talon while balancing on the other to reveal the spoils of the night. Glancing up at her as I gave my rabbit another poke, I flicked my head toward her meal. "Looks like you did well, nice… bat?"
Ellie giggled in my head. Hehe yep. Stupid flying mammals think they can escape me, well I showed them, no creature on land, under the sea or in the air is faster than me.
A grin slid across my face despite myself, Ellie's enthusiasm was always contagious. "I know I know, not even the Gingerbread Man can escape you Ellie."
I wasn't sure how she did it but Ellie scoffed at that remark. Please, don't be bringing up that stupid fairy tale again. 'You can't catch me, I'm the Gingerbread Man', I'd show him, be on top of that idiotic doughboy before he could blink his little candy eyes.
I just shook my head and laughed. Peregrines were extremely fast creatures and Ellie liked to boast that she was the fastest of them all. That's why she'd found that story so annoying when I'd first told it to her, the idea of being outrun by a cookie seemed to insult her pride, and I loved chiding her about it every now and then. "So would you like me to cook that bat for you or do you want it…" My voice trailed off as Ellie gave me what I'd come to recognize was her version of the evil eye. "Right, raw it is."
Giving the rabbit one last poke, I reached into the campfire and lifted the spit out, then pulled out a bronze knife from my pack and began removing the meat from the bone. The knife was just one of many trinkets I'd picked up along my journey, and my pack currently carried the pair of medium length steel blades I'd traded my last weapon in for. Translation, the monster I'd slain either had a nicer set of weapons than I did, or mine had been bent, broke, or in some other way lost during the fight. These blades in particular I'd taken from a pair of weird snake women in Greek battle armor, a nice prize really. The blades had been their back up weapons as both had carried spears, and while I'd liked the spears just fine they were just too big and bulky to carry around.
It was too bad that my bronze knife wasn't bigger, it seemed especially effective against the monsters I encountered these days, although why that was I had yet to figure out.
We ate in silence, not that it took me very long to pick the rabbit clean, and then I went to my pack and pulled a small mirror along with my toothpick. Actually I should say one of my many toothpicks as I tend to go through them rather quickly. While over the last three years I'd gained a pretty fair degree of understanding and control over my flame one of the side effects has been that flammable things like wood tend to ignite if I concentrate on them for too long. I'd tried plastic toothpicks one time but had quickly discovered that melted plastic does not taste good at all.
Something else that I ought to mention is my eyes, as in they aren't exactly normal. The rest of me, sure I look just like any other kid, light skin, dark hair, ten fingers ten toes, and so on, but my eyes are the exception. I have a condition called central heterochromia, that is my eyes are multi-colored. Over the years I've learned a lot about it, like how the condition itself is more common in animals than humans, or that it's caused by the wrong amount of melanin in the eyes. In my case it results in two different colors in each eye. Thus while my eyes are light green, the inner iris around my pupils are golden-orange, like a ring of flames surrounding a black sun. The doctors always told me it was just a weird fluke of nature, rather like a kid having a big red birthmark on their forehead or something. To me though it was just one more in a collection of things that made me weird, even when some of the kids at school would try to convince me that they were cool.
Staring into them now as I held the mirror up and went to work with my toothpick they seemed to glow in the reflected light of the campfire. I'd tried to explain the condition to Ellie once but she'd had little patience for it. They are what they are and you are what you are. What does it matter what color or colors your eyes are? I'd been forced to admit that she'd had a point.
Finishing up my tooth work just as the sliver of wood ignited, I flicked the pick into the campfire and then stuck my hands into the flames and closed my eyes with a smile. Having never experienced the sensation of being burnt before it was hard to imagine what observers would think of me just sticking my hands into a campfire like this, but for me it felt warm and comforting. Sometimes when the wind would pick up it would tickle just a little bit too like a feather being run across the skin, but the best word for it was refreshing. No matter how tired or exhausted I might feel, the fire made me feel alive.
Withdrawing my hands at last, I looked over at Ellie who was just finishing up her own meal with her usual vigor. Leaning back against my pack and resting my hands behind my head I said, "We should probably make it an early night, I want to see if we can't get the drop on that small herd of deer you spotted earlier today, have a real meal tomorrow. After all I can't just live off…"
A loud roaring scream ripped through the woods interrupting me but I didn't care at the moment as my hands reached back from my head to the handles of the two blades attached to the sides of my pack, my eyes staring off toward the east where the sound had come from. Eternity seemed to pass in silence as even the insect nightlife had gone still, then another scream rang out, this one much different, higher pitched than the first. Along with it were the faint muffled sound of voices.
My eyes gazing fixedly into the wood toward the sound, I sat up fully, bringing the two blades with me as I said, "Ellie."
On it. With that she took off into the sky until she was a speck upon the half moon in the sky. Getting to my feet I stepped toward the fire, waiting for word from above. At last it came. Monsters Will, five of them, and a couple of them are pretty big. I cursed, just great, so now they were hunting me in groups. That's not all though, Ellie continued, it looks like they're fighting someone else, a group of humans. It's a battle.
Well that's the end of Chapter One. To those of you who are reading my other story The Never-Ending Road, do not fear, that is my primary story and I will still be devoting as much time to it as I can. This story I am writing because after reading the Percy Jackson series I have found my work nights plagued with this storyline developing before my eyes to a point where it's interfering with my ability to focus on other stories. It is therefore my hope that in writing this out I can purge it from my system and return to my other works. This will be much shorter than TNR, probably closer to twenty chapters when all is said and done.
To those of you who are new to my stories, welcome and I hope you enjoy this. While I cannot give promises on how long a break there might be between chapters I can say that I can write in first person faster than I do in the third person style I use with my other stories. I am only using first person here because the original series was written that way and I am paying homage to it. I will have some terms in later chapters to help any of you through things that might be confusing, although in this style explanations are a bit easier to include in the story. In a sense writing in first person ought to be a nice change and new direction I can push the boundaries of my writing in.
Heterochromia: As explained in the chapter this is a condition where a person or animal has two different eye colors. Though rare in humans, the complete form of this condition would have a person with one eye of one color and one eye of another color, such as one brown and one green. Another example would have a part of one eye one color say the right half of an eye while the left is another color. This can be caused either naturally from birth or by a disease or injury such as an object penetrating the eye and leaving behind particles of some type like say rust. As stated in the story it is caused by either a lack or excess of melanin in the eyes, which is responsible for pigmentation.
Feel free to write as long a review as you like, and ask whatever questions you want as long as they do not involve the plot and I will do my best to give you an answer. Also I will be posting this on my yahoo group with the rest of my stories so feel free to join it if you wish, the link is on my profile page. Your patronage is greatly appreciated. R&R