The Master Hunter


Shadows.

That was all he could see. All he would see, in this hellish dungeon.

Something scuttled about in the blackness and he whirled around, jabbing blindly in the dark. But his spear met only empty air, and the Purgatorium was silent again.

The Purgatorium. That was what this hellhole was called. That was where he was.

He felt a numbing coldness spread beneath his feet and stumbled back, expecting a Stalker to impale him. Instead he saw his own reflection, and frowned in bewilderment. The image frowned back; curiosity aroused, he smiled at it experimentally.

Then the smile turned into a snarl, jaws agape, teeth gleaming, face twisted into a mask of hunger and hatred—

A desperate cry was torn from his throat and he fell back, swiping at the monster with his spear. The reflection shattered into a dozen little ripples and the realization dawned upon him: Only a puddle, he told himself. Only a puddle.

Only a puddle, but I'm going to die like this. Raving mad and frothing spit and insanity.

Strangely, that thought held no fear for him; only a sense of hopelessness and rage. The goddamn Blue Bible thumbers, complacent in their worship of a heathen god! he howled within his mind. It was they who were the traitors, they who defied the Doctrine, doting over an Apostle that was stealing away their sanity! So he killed an Archbishop. For that alone, he could accept his expulsion. But they were blind to the bloody stains that defiled the Temple. They did not see the knife descending upon an acolyte still loyal to the Order. They were turning into monsters, slowly, surely—and nothing could be done to stop it.

And now they had tossed him into the Purgatorium to rot.

Revenge, a voice whispered in his ear. You must have your revenge…

Yes. Yes, he should…he should break out of this accursed prison and hunt them all down, one by one. He should tear apart those heretics, rend them limb from limb, bathe himself in their blood, and then, and then—!

No! he screamed, clutching his head with clawed fingers. I cannot lose control, I cannot lose control, I cannot, I cannot—

I can.

It's the black magics of this place, he thought. Its darkness; its evilness.

By the gods…was he turning into a monster too? He couldn't even remember his own name.

My name!

A low snarl interrupted his thoughts and he spun around, spear at ready. But still, he could see nothing but shadows.

Then a face appeared, and another and another, each a mask of hunger and hatred.

Hunters, he knew, and a shudder of fear slithered through his whole being. Creatures that were cursed by demons, with claws embedded in their flesh, forever condemned to admire their delusional beauty.

Monsters. Every last one of them.

Yet they hung back, hesitant. He was surrounded; in the blink of an eye, they could have lunged and torn him apart. But they did not.

Then one Hunter approached him, its nails click-clacking on the filthy stone floor. It was no larger than the rest, its face no less hideous, yet its eyes gleamed with a keen intelligence that its brethren—no, its followers—lacked. It seemed not only to detect his presence, but to welcome it. As if it were waiting, patiently, for him.

A few feet away, it paused, tilting its head to one side. And for a long moment, it watched him, and he watched it, until he began to wonder if it would do anything else when it leapt, its claws raking downward.

With a cry, he fell back, swiping at the beast with his spear. A line of blood was drawn across the Hunter's chest, but still it charged, slashing through empty air where his head had been a second before. Desperately, he dived into a roll and drove his spear up.

Thick red blood gushed over him and he heaved the corpse off his body. He stumbled to his feet, and that was when he noticed the Hunter's claws.

They had been torn out of its hands.

A wave of burning nausea rippled through his body and he convulsed, collapsing on to the ground. Dimly he was aware of the creature's talons, now gouged into his back, taking root.

Fusing with him. Becoming a part of him.

He knew now why the beast had expected him. Why it had chosen him. It needed a successor. Another Hunter to lead the pack. A Master Hunter.

My name, my name, my name my name my name my name my name…

What…name…?

He roared, and his Hunters roared with him.