Outstretched Hands

Hunting Darkness: The marked trees near Mellsciff, as described in From the Bay of Fangs episode Outstretched Hands.

Join Adept Mahala as she leads her squad to Mellsciff, the first town to send for the Hunters of Fenblith after two of its Foragers disappeared. Written in 8 A.S.



We arrived at Mellsciff in the afternoon, the early autumn sun casting subdued light across the town. A humble village, home to a few hundred people and surrounded by a single wooden palisade, it stood in stark contrast to the City of Fenblith, home to several tens of thousands and protected by two granite walls. The bustle of labour was the same, however, and the town was so similar to Fenblith in layout that it felt instantly familiar regardless of its size.


We disembarked our boat, my squad members Sister Susanna, Sibling Charlie, Brother Malcolm, and Sister Wesley following my lead through Mellsciff’s riverside entrance. We watched as children darted between the trees lining the road and clambered onto the rooftop gardens atop the houses. Then we watched as those children noticed us and stopped their play, staring in awe at the five black-clad Hunters of Fenblith, steel on their heads and bodies, daggers and sabres strapped to their hips, muskets hanging from their shoulders. Adults, too, stopped and stared, their labour forgotten as the promise of safety walked by.


We arrived at the eating house at the heart of the town. We were awaited by Chief Peggy, the Master Trader chosen to lead Mellsciff. Considering the town has few local resources and must sustain itself off its position as a gateway between the trading hub that is Fenblith and resource-rich towns upriver such as Nescetan and Gettildow, the decision to choose a Trader as Chief is a prudent one.


Chief Peggy welcomed us with open arms and an easy smile, ushering us into the eating house, where we were treated to roasted apples and stewed pears. As Cookers laboured in the corners of the building to turn their harvest into food, Chief Peggy told us how excited she was to meet these Hunters of Fenblith she had heard so much talk about the past years. In between mouthfuls of warm, sweet fruit, I assured her we were eager to show her exactly what those years of dedication had bought us, but that I needed to know more first. I asked her to tell me what she could about the reason we were called here.


Her face darkened slightly, and she continued in a lower, huskier voice. She spoke of an incident one moon ago. A foraging party had been attacked by Beasts. The Defenders had done what they could, but had been unable to save two of the Foragers.


I nodded, asking Chief Peggy if she could give me a description of the Beasts that had attacked, as knowing our foe was vitally important.


Chief Peggy explained they had apparently been resurrected boars, but more slender and with longer tusks. However, it wasn’t the Beasts that had assailed the foraging party that had prompted her to become the first person to barter for the aid of the Hunters of Fenblith. I exchanged glances with my squad members and asked what had prompted her then. She swallowed, then stated the two dead Foragers had come back as one.


I winced. Charlie clicked their tongue. Susanna beseeched Saint Margaret to give us strength under her breath. Everyone knows that people, too, can come back as Beasts. We are of flesh and bone, after all, and the Dark Ones’ ability to turn corpses into their horrid servants makes no exceptions for people not burnt after death. Still, the prospect of Hunting a Beast made from our kin was a harrowing one. My training prevailed, however, and I managed to process the news and ask Chief Peggy what else she knew.


The Master Trader sighed. She explained that, with the attacked foraging party’s work left undone, she had been forced to send out another party the day after. This time, she had seen to it that extra Defenders went along, intending to retrieve the slain Foragers and burn them. When they arrived at the site of the attack, however, there was no trace of either one of the fallen. Then, moving in the copse, they saw a figure. It had been vaguely human, but longer, moving in a disturbing, gangly way, and sporting extra limbs. Horrified, the party had fled back to Mellsciff. Whispering of the Beast they soon called Twins, Mellsciff’s Foragers were unwilling to forage any further until this new horror had been dealt with. However, the Defenders lacked the Starsteel – and of course training – for a Hunt, so Chief Peggy had called upon the Council of Fenblith to send its Hunters.


She finished speaking, looking expectantly at me. I nodded reassuringly and prompted my Hunters to share their thoughts. Wesley pointed out that even if we had been called to slay only this Beast called Twins, we mustn’t forget the boarlike Beasts Chief Peggy spoke of, lest we be surprised by them. Susanna then stated that boars had tough hides, so a blunderbuss might not injure them at a distance. Charlie agreed, adding that Twins should be a large enough target to be taken down with musket balls at a distance. Malcolm wondered about the odds of a clear shot at a distance in the woods. Charlie countered that a musket would also work at close range, while the reverse could not be said for a blunderbuss.


I agreed with their assessment and said we would use the muskets we carried rather than retreat to our boat to retrieve our blunderbusses. I then rose, my squad members following suit, and told Chief Peggy to ensure her people remained within Mellsciff until we returned. After receiving directions to where Twins had been seen, we strode out of the eating house. 


We made for the town’s exit, a small gateway set in the palisade and guarded by a group of Defenders with regular steel spears and a single gun. They were clearly amazed at the sight of our equipment and were already stepping aside before I told their leader our purpose. With some words of luck, they removed the beams locking the door and swung it open for us. The moment we were through, the gate closed again, the rumbling of the beams being slotted back into place resounding through the wood.


The forest surrounding Mellsciff had been beaten back, giving the Defenders a perimeter to see Beasts coming. The ground was cut with pits, many of them sporting spikes. We walked the winding path between them and entered the forest proper, unhitching our sabres and bringing our muskets across our chests.


The trees near Mellsciff are thin specimens, the ground unable to raise up the mighty species growing around Gettildow. Still, they were plentiful, and vision was limited. Thus, we went slowly, each of us carefully studying our surroundings. The woods were full of sounds, of course, but our training has taught us to filter through those. We heard no trace of a threat, though, and pushed on smoothly.


Wesley was the first to see the boar. It lay dead near where the foraging party had been attacked. Its flank was scored with a lattice of cuts, its fur matted with only partly dried blood. I kneeled next to the creature, studying its wounds. They were made with claws no local animal possessed, long and thin and close together. I rose, certain we were on Twins’ trail.


As we were about to move on, however, the boar suddenly began to shift. With horrid twists and jerks, the dead animal began to change. Its limbs and body popped and groaned as they were pulled into a new form, the Dark Ones kneading their latest charge into shape.


Without me even having to give the signal, five muskets were brought to bear, their fiery breath bursting out. Five Starsteel balls shot into the boar’s body from all around it, releasing it from the Dark Ones’ clutches before it could even open its eyes again.


The reek of gunpowder smoke filled the air. Satisfied the Beast-to-be was dead, I looked around, checking on my squad members. I saw a figure looming up behind Malcolm.


It was easily eight feet tall, standing on four gangly, elongated legs. From each side protruded two similarly stretched out arms, its extended fingers ending in thin, long claws. Its torso was jagged underneath the torn clothing that had stayed on as the bodies of the dead Foragers were forced together, wrapping around and even into the melded flesh. Its skin was a blotchy patchwork of separate complexions kneaded into one. Two faces glared out together from atop the horror, their features crushed into each other, mouths and noses and eyes overlapping, blonde and brown strands of hair framing the terrible result.


I called out to Malcolm as Twins leapt for him, but it was too late. Two long hands grasped his shoulders while two more wrapped around his face and throat. Malcolm screamed as the Beast squeezed, crimson blood gushing out over its claws.


With a roar, I jumped over the dead boar and swung my musket, cracking Twins across its face with the stock. It let go of Malcolm, who fell onto his knees clutching at his ruined face and throat. The Beast glared at me, its twisted face even more disjointed from the fractures I had struck into it. But the wooden stock of a musket could never harm a Beast for long, and the wounds I caused immediately healed, broken nose, mouth and eye socket shifting back into their horrid positions.


I tossed my musket and drew my sabre, ordering Susanna to do the same and telling Charlie to reload and Wesley to stabilise Malcolm. I then closed on the Beast, stitching together the cuts of my blade so that I was always moving, always slicing, black ichor jetting from the wounds I made. Susanna was next to me then, bringing down the same flurry of blows, the movements drilled into us. Twins mewled and snapped, its voice croaking and unstable but still sickeningly human. It lashed out, claws mostly sliding off tough cloth and hard steel, but making a burning cut across my cheek just before Charlie called out they had reloaded.


Susanna and I leapt aside, Charlie’s musket snapping the moment our feet touched ground again. Twins jolted as the shot caught it in the gut, a garbled groan its only response before turning to flee.


With practised footwork, Susanna and I darted forwards, cutting down at the Beast’s legs. It stumbled, but it kept running, its long legs pulling it away from us with large, gangly steps.


Resolved not to let it escape, I ordered Wesley to stay with Malcolm and for Susanna and Charlie to follow, ordering the latter to reload as they went. Then I ran after the Beast, chest pounding and breath racing. We followed over twisting paths, the slender trees closing in on us. Soon, Twins was lost to sight, then to hearing. Conscious it might seek to surprise us, I slowed down, Susanna and Charlie stopping next to me.


We moved through our breathing exercises, steadying our bodies before pushing forward with regained strength.

Susanna pointed out that some of the trees bore strange marks. Looking around, we noticed she was right, Charlie noting the scope of the markings: first saying that every tree sported a mark, then breathing they all sported many. We halted, something about the marks seeming significant somehow. Some of them were straight, while others suddenly angled partway up or down. They reminded me of tales I have heard of Darkhearts using odd symbols to mark the dens in which they secretly worship the Dark Ones. I shivered at the thought of having walked into such a den.


Looking closer at the symbols, they seemed to move, the marks and the trees they were carved into stretching, reaching for something. A sinking feeling descended on me, as if I were cut off not just from my home, or Mellsciff, but even my Siblings, including the ones standing right next to me.


I was alone.


Then Twins burst out from between the trees, pouncing while I was distracted. By muscle memory alone I forced my sabre in front of me. The Starsteel caught the Beast's chest as it plunged into me, impaling itself on the blade as its weight bore me down, its arms striking and cutting at me.


Dispelling every sense of me being alone, Charlie stepped forward, levelling their musket at Twins’s head and blowing it open. Susanna spun around me and, with a single arcing cut, lopped off the burst remains. The Beast’s body sagged onto me, but Charlie and Susanna pulled it away and helped me steady myself. There we stood, among the marked trees, tired but victorious.


The Beast was dead.

Hunting Darkness: Twins, as described in From the Bay of Fangs episode Outstretched Hands.