Transcript – Hunter’s Party

[The Pensive Tower theme plays]

Scroll & Dagger presents
The Pensive Tower
Episode Twelve: Hunter’s Party

[A click, and the strange whirring of the venoscribe begins]

This is the memory of Jalissa Dayle. Taurox, aged eighteen, identified as female. Memory regards a peculiar group of guests who stayed for a time in her mother’s inn, The Anchorage, and was donated on the first of Leafturn, in the year 698. Inscribed by Paxton Ferox on the twenty-fifth of Baretree, 729.

We Begin.

My mother thought she should give you this. She thinks she knows what happened better than I do, understands it better. I eventually convinced her to let me do it. I was closer to Hunter, I told her, I saw more of what he was up to, makes more sense for me to donate the memory.

She doesn’t know the half of it. That I wasn’t just closer to Hunter, I saw it all. I was there for some of it and, if it hadn’t been for some quick action, I might not have come back from it. But I can’t tell her that, of course. If I had, she’d have never let me leave the house again, never mind come here to tell you about it.

So, this all happened four years ago. We live over on the Pascorrean coast about a couple hours trip to Whitport. My mother runs a roadside inn, name of the Anchorage. She says it’s because we get so many sailors coming through, which we do, but there’s plenty of others stop by for a night or two and still more come in from the nearby hamlets and villages for a good drink of an evening.

It’s a lot of work, ‘specially with only me and Mother running the place, but we get by and everyone who comes seems happy.

It’s a nice place. On a clear day you can look out into the sea and see the Black Mountains on the other side. I’ve always wanted to go over there, to Sangland. Mother always gets upset when I say that. She says I shouldn’t go back, that there’s nothing over that side that will do me any good, only harm. And then she usually tells me there’s too much work needs doing around the inn to be wasting time daydreaming.

She really doesn’t seem to like Sangland. Won’t tell me why. She won’t tell me why we she left there, before I was born, nor who my father was. It’s like she’s afraid of it but if Sangland was so bad, they wouldn’t let it be part of the Federation, would they?

I also don’t see why, if she doesn’t like Sangland, she bought a place just across the sea from it. Wouldn’t it make more sense to get far away? Maybe to the Wind Islands or something like that? But I’ve never asked her about that. I know she’d get upset and I don’t want to do that.

I always thought, maybe when I came of age, I can cross the Pascorrean Sea and find out for myself why she doesn’t like Sangland.

Anyway, sorry, four years ago, it was just getting on to late summer. And it all started with the stranger who turned up on the Anchorage’s front door in the early afternoon.

I was working in the garden at the time. Mother was inside with the few who had come by for an afternoon sip of wine. There were never more than she could handle at that sort of time, so that was when I took care of my chores.

I heard him before I saw him.

He had a rough and raspy voice and was using it to sing a song that I didn’t know. It was a shanty, I think. Went something like; “Oh over the next horizon go, and away and away to the break of day! Oh my boots know the touch of grass and snow, and away and away run away!”

I looked to the source of the song and there I saw the strangest man I’d ever seen in my life. He looked tall and strong. His hair tied back in a pig-tail that hung down the back of his wine-red coat. His hands were scarred and those scars were all the more noticeable since they ran through thick fur that was as black as the nails of his fingers. His right hand rested on the hilt of a long and curved side-sword.

His head was covered in the same thick black fur and he had long, pointed ears to go with his long, pointed jaw. I couldn’t make out much of his face because he wore this mask. The mask was white, or it had been once when it was new, it looked old now, like it had been through a lot.

The same could be said of the worn leather knapsack he had slung over his shoulder.

He saw me then and stopped his song.

“Ho there, lass,” he said, smiling widely, and I saw then that his mouth was full of teeth that were gleaming, sharp and yellow. “You know the owner of this establishment?”

I stammered at first but was eventually able to tell him that yes, I did. My mother was the landlady here. He seemed pleased with that, asked me to point me in her direction.

I led him into the Anchorage common room and, after a bit of looking around, found my mother.

She seemed momentarily taken aback by the stranger’s appearance but quickly righted herself and asked what she could do to help.

The stranger said he was after a room where he might stay and that he was waiting on some friends of his who would also be needing rooms.

“We won’t be requiring much,” he assured Mother, “ale, bacon and eggs will keep me happy and will do for the rest when they arrive.”

He asked how many rooms the Anchorage had free to let at the moment. Mother told him there were three currently unoccupied.

The stranger smiled and reached into his coat.

“That’ll suit to a tee,” he said, dropped a purse on a nearby table. It clinked heavily as it landed. “that’s pay in advance. Let me know when I’ve worked through that and there’ll be more coming.”

Mother, looking a little stunned, pulled open the purse and counted out some coins. Gold glittered between her fingers. She dropped them back into the purse and said, that will serve quite nicely and what were we to call him.

“Oh, to folks round here, I’m known as Hunter,” said the stranger, smiling that smile of his again. Mother nodded and told me to help Master Hunter take his bags up to his room. Hunter needed no help from me in the carrying so I just led him upstairs to one of the empty bedrooms.

He looked around the room and declared that it was just what he was after.

I turned to go but Hunter stopped me with a word before I’d gone too far.

“A moment, lass,” he said. He’d pulled a small tin from his bag and was using the contents to fill a long-stemmed pipe. “Just a quick question about this spot here. I know of a prison not far from here. Does anyone from that place ever come for a drink in this charming establishment?”

I told him yes, sometimes they did.

Hunter grinned wolfishly at that then struck a match to light his pipe.

“Well then,” he said, “I’d be much obliged to you if you’d keep me informed of any time they come here.”

My mother had drilled enough sense into me to ask why. Was he a criminal? Was he on the run?

Hunter barked a laugh.

“Nothing of the kind,” he assured me, “and you’re a smart one for asking, Lass. Don’t worry, you’re not harbouring anything lawkeepers would be interested in. But I have needs of speaking with someone from that place and would be obliged to you to ensure I don’t miss them. Now, would you do that for me?”

I thought for a moment but could find nothing wrong with the request so told him I would.

He smiled, said thank you, then bade me fetch him a mug of beer.

I wondered at how long it would be before these mysterious friends of his began arriving. As it turned out, not long at all.

The first of them arrived with the dawning sun. I was barely out of my bed, getting ready to go about my morning jobs; sweeping the floors, lighting the fires and fetching dirty laundry, when there was this hammering knock at the door.

I went down slowly, fearing highwaymen. Who else would be hammering on the door at that hour? I thought about running to find Mother but before I could decide either way, I saw Hunter, fully dressed already despite the early hour. He had his sword sheathed at his waist which made me feel a little better. If there were thieves about, at least we had someone who could face them.

Hunter swung the door open to reveal a human man who was even taller and broader than he was. He had brown skin with a single scar slashing across his left cheek all the way to the bridge of his nose. He was bald except for a few tufts of dark hair that sprouted above his ears. Like Hunter, this man too wore a long coat, though his was a shabby blue, and he also carried a sword, though his was a shorter, straighter one, probably intended more for stabbing than slashing. On the other hip, he carried a nasty looking mace.

Hunter clapped his hand on the newcomer’s shoulder.

“Monty,” he said, “glad you could make it, good man.”

“You didn’t leave me much choice,” the man Monty replied, sullenly. He spoke like he had a glob of phlegm permanently at the back of his throat.

Hunter chuckled at this.

“No, I suppose I didn’t,” he said, “but I’m still glad you’re here. There’s a lot of work needs doing. Our rooms are up the stairs and if you need anything, the good landlady or her charming daughter here will be able to sort things for you.”

Monty noticed me then. He smiled at me in a way that made me very uncomfortable.

“Pretty thing, isn’t she?” the balding man said, softly.

Hunter turned and saw me standing there. He gave me a warmer, friendlier smile. Though while looking at me, I saw his hand move from Monty’s shoulder to slowly and deliberately fasten around the back of his neck. I saw his black nails dig into the flesh there. Monty was a big man but he yelped in pain and dropped to his knees. Hunter turned to look at him, almost seeming surprised to see him down there. His hand did not leave his neck.

“There will be none of that, my lad,” Hunter said, softly. “We are guests here and we will be respectful and polite at all times. If anyone acts otherwise, then our deal is null. Now am I clear?”

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a man look as scared as Monty did in that moment. His eyes nearly popped from his skull and his dark skin went pale as a corpse’s. He looked over at me, almost begging.

“I meant no offence, Miss,” he said, his voice thick with terror, “please accept my apologies.”

Hunter gave me a look, as if asking permission. I told him quickly that it was fine, that he could let Monty up.

Hunter inclined his head and relaxed his grip. Monty pushed himself to his feet looking angry but still fearful.

“Now,” said Hunter, “let’s adjourn to the parlour, shall we? We can have some breakfast and await the rest of our company.”

Monty gave Hunter a hate-filled glare but followed him through all the same.

The rest of Hunter’s company were not long in coming. By the end of that day, all had presented themselves at our door and been welcomed in by Hunter. After Monty came a nervous looking woman with a pointed face and a long, bald tail. She was dressed very proper in a prim white blouse and a long, dark dress. I think she was a teacher because Hunter welcomed her as Professor Moran.

But if I’d thought she looked nervous, it was nothing to the next arrivals. Twin human girls, maybe a little older than myself, each wearing matching pale blue dresses, both with copper coloured hair and both looking terrified. Though they still went and joined Hunter and the other two.

The next one to arrive did not look frightened. He was a small diman man, with dark green, almost black scales and wearing a coat of almost the same shade. He looked more interested than anything else, like he was coming to watch a play or something like that.

The next to arrive was a young taurox man. I’d never seen a male of my kind before so I was interested. He was well built and tall, with two very impressive horns. He dressed well too, in a fine coat that looked like it was tailor made. I showed him through to where Hunter and the others were. He thanked me, and introduced himself as Thesean Mino’Senteri, smiling an incredible smile. I think I was a bit tongue tied when I told him mine.

As soon as she found out he was eighteen, Mother was sure to never leave me alone in the same room with him for some reason. I don’t see why. I don’t think he would have done anything wrong.

Anyway, the last one was the most curious of the lot. He looked like he’d stepped straight out of an old story. He was tall and muscled, like Monty, but his skin was chalk white and he had a full head of hair that was long enough to reach his shoulders and was pitch black.

My mother told me about the northern country, Gelland, and she told me that the humans who live there have pale skin. I’d never dreamed they were this pale though. He came in as if he was heading into battle. He was wearing a shirt of chainmail, and plates of steel around his neck and on his shoulders. At his waist, he was wearing a sword, but it was different to the ones Hunter or Monty carried. It looked older. It was longer and straight with a handle that looked like it could be held in two hands.

He didn’t even spare me a glance as he walked into the Anchorage and straight to the table where Hunter and his group – I could tell they weren’t friends – were sitting.

Hunter didn’t welcome him like he had with everyone else. He didn’t smile, shout his name or clasp his hand. He just looked up, nodded to the newcomer respectfully and asked me to fetch them some ale.

There were no more arrivals after that, none who were there for Hunter anyway. The next day, Hunter and his group stayed upstairs in the larger of the two rooms they were renting. I went up to deliver food, after promising Mother I wouldn’t go inside. One of the girls answered the door, her eyes still wide and fearful even as she took the tray of flatbreads and assorted meat and fruit. I glanced into the room and saw Hunter and the rest sat around a table, the top of which was covered with papers. The girl must have seen me looking because she closed the door quickly.

They kept to themselves for the most part, up in their rooms, although sometimes one or a few would leave and go walking along the coast or through the surrounding countryside. Hunter went every day and I sometimes caught glimpses of him standing at the top of one of the nearby hills, something glinting in his hands.

The only time any of them came close to disturbing the other guests was in the evening when Hunter might have taken a little too much ale and start singing that shanty of his again. He was the only one who ever sang it, I don’t think anyone else knew the words, not even his group.

But even on those times, he was not the only person singing drunkenly to himself so his song just mixed together with the other caterwaulers.

As the days went by and nothing much happened, the presence of Hunter and his group in the Anchorage stopped being an oddity. Since they hardly made their presence known, they were easy to ignore and soon enough them being there became normal. They paid rent on time, never made trouble, though that was hardly surprising from the way Hunter had dealt with Monty.

I was still wary on the rare occasions I saw him down in the common room but he seemed just as nervous of me and was always quick to leave whenever he saw me enter a room. I was also a little scared around the black-scaled diman and the pale human. Neither had been anything but polite to me. Well the diman was always polite, the human acted as if I was part of the furniture. Him and that teacher woman never said a thing to me, at least during those days. But both him and the diman had an air of danger about them, as if just being in a room with them could be deadly.

I also got a little nervous around Thesean, but that was just because I’d never seen a male taurox before. I didn’t fancy him or anything… though he was very good looking. And he was nice and polite and funny… on the few times I was able to talk to him before Mother called me away.

The only two I really got close to were the girls. Their names were Mara and Milaina. They wouldn’t tell me their last name or why they were there but they would come and chat with me while I was doing the washing. They were nice, though I don’t think they were very clever.

This went on until one evening about two months after Hunter had first arrived. I’d not forgotten my promise and had been sure to watch out for anyone from the prison calling into the Anchorage but so far there had been none. That night, however, I saw two men come in dressed in severe grey uniforms with crests on the front that I was sure was the symbol of the lawkeepers.

I set down the tray of empty glasses I’d been carrying and quickly made my way up to the larger of Hunter’s rooms.

I knocked and was bade to enter. They were much as I had seen them that first and only time I had looked in. Monty looked panicked to see me there and shrank down in his seat, his eyes on Hunter whose teeth flashed as his dog-like mouth widened in a grin.

“‘Lissa,” he said, that was what he’d started calling me, “this is a pleasure, what can I do for you?”

“There are two men downstairs,” I told him, still standing in the doorway, “I think they’re from the prison.”

When I said that, I saw Hunter’s eyes widen with excitement. He said something, I think it was “Kal’Szamus.” I think it was the name of the diman man because when Hunter said that, he pulled out this thing. I don’t know what it was, but it looked like a long, thin piece of yellow glass.

I saw the tip of the thing spark and then, just like that, he was gone. Vanished before my eyes. A second later I felt something gently but firmly move me aside.

Hunter chuckled at my amazement.

“Nothing to worry about, Lass,” he said, “Szaemus just using the tools of his trade, that’s all. Stay there a moment, if you would.”

He said it like a request. But I think I knew it was a command and that, if I disobeyed, then I might not be safe. I stayed still as a statue.

Nobody spoke. Or even moved. I don’t know how long it took, it felt like ages.

Eventually I felt someone walking past me and the diman, Szaemus, reappeared, tucking that twisted yellow glass thing into his coat and holding something else in his other hand. Whatever it was jingled as he moved it and as he held it out to Hunter, I realised that what he was holding was actually four hefty looking keys on a metal ring.

Smiling, Hunter reached out and took the keys.

“Any problems?” was all he asked, to which Szaemus shook his head. “Good, then in that case, we’d best be off.”

Hunter stood up. So too did everyone else. They all looked so serious, even the twins. They began to file out, the pale man taking the lead.

Hunter took up the rear but before he left, he turned to me and said, “Thanks for your help, Lass. I hope we meet again.”

And with that he was gone. I heard him and the others as they went down the stairs, their footfalls heavy on the wood.

And the next thing I knew, I was chasing after them. I don’t know why. I think I just wanted to know what it had all been about.

I ran through the common room, ignoring my mother, out of the back door and into the yard. The evening was settling in, it was dark but not too dark to see Hunter and his group heading in the direction of the road.

I called after them to wait.

It was Thesean who heard me and turned to see me coming. He smiled when he saw me and called to Hunter. He turned around just as I drew level with them.

“What are you doing here, Lissa?” he said.

He didn’t sound angry. I actually think he was pleased but it was hard to tell sometimes because of that mask.

I told him I wanted to come with them. I glanced at Thesean. He had a strange expression on his face, like he was confused about something. I noticed the twins then. Mara was shaking her head, which upset me a little because I thought we were friends. Milaina made as if to walk to me but Hunter held up his hand. He was still looking at me.

“Well,” he started to say something but then that pale skinned warrior moved. He moved like a hunting dog when it sees a rabbit. The armour he wore barely made a sound. His sword made this soft, whispering noise as he drew it from its sheath.

“No.” That was all he said. And he wasn’t saying it to me, he was looking right at Hunter. They both just stood there staring at each other. I couldn’t see much of Hunter’s face, obviously, but I think he was angry. But then he just shrugged, as if he didn’t care. Then he turned and walked away. The others followed after him.

Thesean gave me a kind of regretful look. The twins looked pleased. I think that hurt the most, that they were so happy to be rid of me.

The last one to go was the pale man. He looked down at me and I noticed for the first time that his eyes were as black as his hair. Except for a ring of white in each one where the colour normally is. He said, “Best you ignore the wind.” That was it. Then he put his sword back in its scabbard and ran to catch up with the others. And that was the last I saw of them.

Final Notes. There are a few interesting points here. First of which is the fact that on the twenty-ninth of Leafturn, 697, one Major Sim’on duSeldd escaped from Federal Prison Whitrock, seemingly without a trace. He was never recovered and a warrant remains out on him to this day. Whitrock Prison is the only prison anywhere near the location of the Anchorage and this would have been about the time that this “Hunter” was staying at the inn. I’d be willing to bet the keys mentioned by Miss Dayle played a role in his escape.

Another point of interest is some of the people this Hunter was travelling with. Szelia, who’s a bit of a fanatic of unsolved mysteries, told me that Mara and Milaina SinHaalin were the daughters of a merchant lord who were abducted from their home in Yjorienn, like the major, without a trace. The curious thing there is, that happened in the year 653. So, while it’s not impossible that the twins would still be alive at the time of this memory, they would not have been anywhere close to the age of fourteen. Thesean is another name I know, the lost heir of the Mino’Senteri, who disappeared more than a decade ago.

[Paxton rustles some paper]

Uh… Yes, turned out he was murdered by an uncle who wished to inherit the position of family patriarch. The uncle received the death penalty. My guess is this Thesean was using an assumed name. In fact, I think it would be safe to bet that they were all using false names. Hunter is, after all, not exactly a common name among canrians.

The most interesting part for me though is this pale man Miss Dayle describes. Obviously, he was not a Gel. By the sound of it, he was a Warder of Raak, and not just someone who took the Oaths, but a true Raakian. What would one of them be doing hanging around with a crowd like this? Breaking a criminal out of prison is hardly the sort of honourable goal a Warder would swear themselves to. And just who was this Hunter? And who were these people travelling with him?

We were unable to contact Miss Dayle. According to her mother’s letter, she left home not long after donating this memory, to go and serve at the Federal base in Saiagrass City in Sangland. She never arrived at the base and remains missing to this day.

Inscription Complete.

[The venoscribe clicks, and the whirring stops.]

[The end theme plays and the Announcer recites the credits.]