He’d been gone a week and could not wait to see his wife and children again. The hunt had gone well and he managed to find a large Baco lizard. It could feed the four of them for six nights and so he could spend more time at home in the oasis with his family instead of out in the hot dessert sand. The night air was cool and the stars lit the sands as they shifted like liquid gold.
Despite himself Lio smiled. He must have been half a night’s walk away and already he could smell the fires of his village. Dongo must have found a large Sand Boar and decided to share the beast with everyone. He offered a silent thanks to Nah-huma, god of the dessert, as he crested the hill and saw the lights twinkling off in the distance.
He sifted the ropes on his shoulder and took a seat on the carcass of his latest kill. Tomorrow he would be home. Tomorrow he would teach Nisco, his youngest, how to skin a Baco Lizard and make a fine pair of boots. Tomorrow he would finally begin to teach Neltin how to use an ax and why a true warrior kept himself calm and always acted with honor. But most of all, tomorrow he saw his wife and he would sleep with her by his side. How he longed for her touch and the smell of her hair. With renewed energy Lio grabbed the ropes of his sleigh and tossed them over his shoulders once more. He took off down the dunes in a sprint, anxious to be home.
He heard a child scream and he froze, if only for a second. Why were the lights so bright? He shouldn’t be able to see the village until he past oasis grounds. The smell of the fire now made more since, and the sent it carried with it began to become the stench of burned flesh. His feet and hands were quicker than his mind. He dashed forward the rest of the way home, his twin axes in his hands. He knew he would never make it to the oasis in time but still he ran.
It was morning by the time he’d reached the oasis and late afternoon by the time he reached the village. He had never seen such a terrible sight. Men, women, and children all lay rotting in the hot dessert sun. The buildings were burned and caked in blood and the smell of death hung everywhere. Something moved as Lio was halfway down the street. He approached it slowly with his axes at the ready. It could have been a passing nomad tribe that had done this, and if it was then sometimes they left a straggler or two who looted the bodies and brought the treasures to Chulsium to sell at the market.
“Lio?” a small voice asked. He recognized it, a young man barely past his right of passage named Rickter.
Lio knelt next to the boy. There was a large gash from neck to waist large enough to kill a man and the boy was pale. He didn’t have long but Lio wasn’t going to tell him that.
“You’re going to be fine, Rickter,” Lio said holding the boy’s head, “Tell me what happened here.”
“A witch,” Rickter coughed, “Neltin saw her coming first. She came out of nowhere summoning beasts and demons to fight for her. It was so fast and we tried to take up arms but she-“
The boy began to cough up blood and shiver violently midsentence. Lio grabbed the boy around the shoulders as to comfort him as he passed, “It’s ok Rickter. Go with peace.”
The boy smiled up at Lio and his eyes began to glass over. He was gone in seconds.
The sun beat down upon Lio’s broad shoulders as he meditated in the mid day sun. The wind blew softly and every so often rustled his shoulder length raven black hair cooling his brow and threatening to break his concentration. Lio often meditated before big decisions, it was his way of clearing his mind. The last decision he made that was this big was when he chose to marry Wanda when he was only fourteen. Ten years later and he never once regret going through with the marriage of a Chulsian women. She had brought him two happy sons and years of companionship that he would cherish and take to the grave.
His fist clenched in anger and sadness, Perhaps that will be sooner than I had ever expected.
He opened his eyes to look out at the scorched village around him. He had known these people. He had lived amongst them his whole life, this had been his home, his family, and he had failed to protect them. His stomach turned in knots as he looked at the graves of his wife and children. A Chulsian would have come to tears, Lio did not. He was a Barbarian, strong, proud, and full of honor.
He would not dishonor his family with tears.
Instead he would find the witch responsible for all this and bring her head back home. He would need help, as much as he hated to admit it, all he had to go on was the words of a dying man and the symbol carved into the ground at the edge of his village. He should consult a Witch Hunter about it. The closest Chulsian city was a night and two days away and they tended to distrust Barbarians. He didn’t blame them; most Barbarians were nomads, known for their shifty tricks and brutality. Not all Barbarians had been taught the ways of the god Nah-huma.
Lio sneered, perhaps that is why they were spared and his family had suffered. Could Nah-huma be responsible for the death of his village? No, it was simply that Nah-huma did not exist. There was no god to watch over this world. His heart turned hard and his eyes narrowed. He would get the information he needed from the Witch Hunter and slay the witch himself.
First he would need gold.
The Flying Hobgoblin was both an inn and pub in Soveria and if anyone wanted information that’s was the place to go. Or so he’d been told. Lio entered the room and the conversations fell silent. He frowned at the silence but continued on to the bar and tossed a sack of gold and silver on the counter, “Can anyone tell me where to find a witch hunter?”
No one moved or spoke but the whole inn eyed the pouch greedily. Ten seconds past and the bar keep put a mug over flowing with ale in front of him, “Mister, you best put that pouch away ‘fore someone tries to cut your throat for it.”
With one motion Lio flicked his ax out of its sheath and sent it hurtling into the air. The blade bit into the wood of the counter causing it to crack. Lio picked up the mug of ale, “Let them try.”
A man in the back, his hood and long black bangs obscuring his face let out a long hearty laugh, “Well done, my friend.”
Lio turned and narrowed his eyes at the man. He looked to be some kind of a ranger, perhaps even a hunter. Lio scooped up the pouch and tucked his ax back into his belt. The stranger seemed to watch his every move, his feet up on the table he sat at and a large mug of ale resting on his chest. He nodded to Lio and lifted his mug.
Lio approached him and sat across the table, “Are you a Witch Hunter?”
The man smiled, “No, I hunt things much more nefarious.”
Lio frowned and took a long sip of ale, “And what is that?”
“I hunt demons,” the man smiled, “And perhaps any other sort of monster and beast.”
Lio thought about this for a moment, “Aren’t witches beasts?”
The man laughed, “Hardly. Witches, much like mages, warlocks, wizards, sages and sorcerers were once and quite possibly still are human. That’s like me asking you if all Barbarians are nomadic with violent tendencies and no honor. We both know the answer is no but it is still something that has been misrepresented as true throughout the years.”
“You talk too much.”
The demon hunter leaned forward and offered his hand, “My name is Lucian, as I have said I am a Demon Hunter. However, my tall mountain of a man, for all the coin in that purse plus a little more I will help you track down and slay anything.”
“The coin is yours,” Lio said ignoring the hand, “After the job is done.”
“Of course, after the job, and what, may I ask, did this witch do to you?” The man retracted his hand and rubbed it against his shirt. After a long moment of silence Lucian accepted he wasn’t going to get an answer, “Suit yourself.”