The Hound of Kal-roth can be identified by the characteristic bite marks around the abdomen. Common beliefs declare that the Hound bites out the stomach and drains the soul. My own investigations indicate that the Hound is attempting to devour energy using the channels that are present outside of the stomach. To put it more succinctly, the major arteries that run in the proximity of the stomach act to convey the form of energy that is used in what is commonly referred to as spellcasting. Due to this, I believe that the victims of the Hound are all either spellcasters, or those with the propensity for spellcasting, which is why I have named the creature the Hound of Kal-roth, after the god that devours magic. To be certain in the identification of the Hound, the bite marks should measure precisely sixty-nine centimeters, or approximately two and one-third feet in circumference. The teeth should all be marked as canines and should measure precisely twelve centimeters, or approximately four and three quarters inches. Also…
Verusa set down the notebook and measured about the right circumference in the corpse’s belly. The stomach was missing and there was an enormous amount of blood around the victim, the spray pattern consistent with arterial blood loss, at least in Verusa’s experience. He flipped the notebook closed and set it in his coat pocket, standing and casting his gaze towards the village headman, who was ringing his hands and looked terrified.
And well he should, since he stood in the presence of a Grey Magistrate; or at least someone that he thought was one, at any rate. “Headman, this woman was the village healer, correct?” Verusa’s voice was schooled in just the right way to sound both intimidating and soothing, compelling anyone that heard to spill their guts.
“Y-yes, Lord Magistrate. Amayelle was a very gifted healer, she could cure almost any ailment with the right herbs, a-and the States’ prayers, of course.” Sweat was beading along the man’s head and he seemed as if he would faint if someone said ‘boo.’
Verusa knew why he was so scared; magic being a criminal offense in the State, and this Amayelle woman had clearly used magic to help in her healing, just as Master Holstom had written about the Hounds desire for magic users, means that the entire village would have been liable for prosecution and execution. But that was hardly any of Verusa’s concern, even if he had been a magistrate, the Hound was too important. “Did you hear any signs of howling in the night? Did any of the local animals make a commotion?”
The headman shook his head. “No, sir, there was no howling, and the animals were actually abnormally well behaved the previous night. My cat Foo-”
Verusa waved a hand. “That is all I need, Headman. You can take the body and bury it at your convenience; the State has no need for it.” The magistrate imposter turned around and left the village without waiting to hear a reply. As he walked through the field, he could feel dozens of eyes on his back as he left, a mixture of hate and fear boring into him. The title of Magistrate really was a kind of golden ticket to any kind of information or service. Verusa was glad that he had taken the documents off of the drunkard all those months ago.
Verusa waited until he was out of sight of the village, and then slipped into the forest at the far side of the village. Almost the instant he was in the forest, two figures appeared in the trees. One male and one female, they were twins with dark eyes and dark hair, their movements precise to the point of being ethereal. Hansel and Gretel, named after the mythical hunters, were constructs, artificial people, created by Master Holstom. Verusa had found them when he discovered the cache of journals written by Master Holstom decades before in an ancient temple.
“Sooo, was it your Hound?” Gretel started the conversation; her voice was sweeter than her personality. Verusa cast an eye at her, keeping the other on Hansel. Master Holstom might have made them, but not even Verusa could credit his taste in personalities. “You’re thinking about the old loon again, aren’t you?” Hansel’s voice was just as sour as his personality. “We can tell because you get this dreamy, worshipful look in your eyes,” was from Gretel.
Verusa let it go, withdrawing the notebook from his coat. He turned to the relevant page, reading “The Hound of Kal-roth does not howl, it does not make noise, and even animals around become docile in reaction to it’s presence. The Hound has a particular effect on thinking creatures around it, causing a form of mental anesthesia that drastically slows the thinking process.” He shut the book and returned it to his pocket. “The evidence matches up, but it has before. We’ll see what happens when it happens.”
“Mmm, you know, you could create a cult of Holstom and preach from his writings all the time and people might actually listen to you.” Verusa ignored Gretel and looked at Hansel. “Did you pick up the subject of interest’s trail?” Hansel and Gretel were both hunters, but their specialties were very different. Gretel was a master of urban hunting; she could track a target through any city for months and never let it know that she was following it. Hansel was a more traditional hunter, specializing in woods, caves, fields, any kind of terrain.
“I followed the trail from the village and found something that might match the description but there was some evidence that it might be a shapeshifter. Also, I wasn’t the only one to find it.” Verusa cursed at the bad luck. “Did you see them? Did they see you?”
Hansel shook his head. “No to both. They were using something to camouflage themselves, but they weren’t experienced woodsmen. They were staking out a cave that might be housing the target.”
Verusa sighed, waving away his own concerns, and recalled an excerpt from one of Master Holstom’s journals. One thing that you must always bear in mind is that the nature of the creatures that we hunt makes them the targets of many. If one person wants a creature, then there are a thousand more that are not there who want it just as vehemently. Ware the hunters of Mystery’s children, for they follow only their desire.
“Alright, Hansel, look in on these Hunters, watch them, but ensure that they cannot watch you.” Hansel flicked his hand in annoyance. He knew his job. Verusa looked at Gretel. “Gretel, go to the cache and remove a load out of class four weapons and armor. We will meet back here in three hours. Go.”
When desire exceeds judgment, folly is born. When philosophy exceeds ability, folly blooms. These sayings are nonsensical, of course. Folly is a matter of perspective, not of fact, it is a human construct. The only things that one must be concerned with is whether or not you can live with what you do, and more importantly, live with what you fail to do. Beyond that, there is no particular reason to do or not do something. This is a primary philosophy in Hunting, being that the one who comes out on top at the end is the victor. Always be wary of other Hunters, for most will do anything to achieve their own goals and desires. Hunters are most vulnerable when they are moving in for the kill, whether metaphorical or literal, the time to strike at a rival is then.
Verusa was perched on the edge of a thick branch overlooking a tiny cave. Verusa could make out more than a score of figures around the cave, each one wearing a particular device that masked their bodies, basically a kind of invisibility field. Verusa knew the moment that he saw them that they were Hunters from a different world. Their technology was far superior to anything else in this time period.
“Should we interfere, or let them be?” Hansel was in an adjacent tree and was just as invisible as the Hunters in front of the cave. Verusa was not particularly concerned that they would be spotted, but he still kept his voice low. “We don’t know if this is our target. Keep your weapons ready just in case.” Verusa and his Hunters had superior equipment from what he could see on the other Hunters, due primarily to the rigorous study and devotion of Master Holstom, but Verusa knew that a firefight could turn either way after a certain degree of technology is reached, no matter how powerful one sides weapons are.
“They’re beginning.” Gretel called up to the two of them. She was leaning against the tree that Hansel was in. She claimed the she didn’t care to make a fool of herself by sitting in a tree, but Hansel and Verusa both knew that the real reason was because she was afraid of heights.
They all turned their attention to the Hunters by the cave as they began to smoke out their prey. These Hunters were well trained and they knew how to flush out prey. Smoke came out of the cave mouth; Verusa had no doubt that there were lots of nasty chemicals mixed in with the smoke, and two more Hunters burst from the cave. It only took a few moments for the creature to charge out of the cave, mauling several Hunters as it came.
Verusa’s exhaled explosively as he saw the creature. It was some kind of boar, not the Hound that he had spent so many years hunting. “Damn it.” Hansel looked at him, waiting for orders. Verusa waved him down and they both exited their respective trees. “These goose hunts are starting to get very fun!” Verusa gave the saccharine Gretel an Evil Eye before looking back to the other Hunters.
These Hunters had managed to subdue the boar; Verusa couldn’t identify it by sight though he knew of several different creatures that shared that form. The Hunters had their prey wrapped up in minutes, stuffing the unconscious creature onto carts and moved it to where a slight rippling effect could be seen in the air. Master Holstom called these the Aether Ways, the Ways between the Worlds. The creature disappeared into the Way, and the Hunters gathered their dead, disappearing into the air just a few minutes after the scuffle began.
Verusa watched the smoke rise from the cave mouth and recalled a passage from one of Master Holstom’s journals that he had reread more than any other. Become accustomed to failure, for being a Hunter is marked by countless failures and an occasional lucky find. Failure is the mark of a successful Hunter, for it marks an indomitable will and a willingness to endure. Usually. Sometimes a failure is just a failure, from my observations of people.
Hansel and Gretel both looked at him. Verusa gave silent thanks to the man that had died centuries before, and had given Verusa more than anything he could ever desire. “Let’s look for the next clue to continue the Hunt.”