Monthly Archives: May 2016

Cazador, Pt. 4

The boys had been part of the group that Pol was leading. Where Iohan had set out with three novices, the older hunter had left with four and a principianta to help manage the novices. Maria, her name was. She was older, was almost a proper cazador. Iohan had been one of the first to test her when she ignored her family’s wishes and sought to become a cazador. Iohan knew her well.

Iohan did not know the names of the boys that lay decapitated and dismembered at his feet. But his own novices did. “Jordi, Teo, Miguel, Duarte… Was this beasts? Did beasts do this?” Bartolome asked. There was anger in his voice, but it rang hollow, a front he put up to mask his fear.

Jimeno shook his head. “I don’t think so.”

Iohan nodded. “Look at the wounds. They are all clean. The head is severed from the body, but it was cut, not torn. The slashing and stabbing wounds all came from a single edge, so they could not have been inflicted by claws or fangs. The entrails have not been dragged around, but instead they lie where they fell. And there is no rhyme or reason to the attack.”

“But beasts are stupid, senseless creatures,” Bartolome said. “Why should there be reason behind their actions?”

“There is an animal’s logic to their workings. They attack out of hunger, or fear, or out of self-preservation. These bodies have been set upon with fury. If there were any purpose to it, it was only the expression of that fury. Or perhaps to intimidate anyone who might come along and discover the bodies later. It was a human hand that did this.”

“A paleta?” Santi asked, his voice trembling and uncertain.

“No. Look at the wounds. They were not made with some crude implement like an axe or a scythe or a pitchfork. They were made with a proper weapon of war, a sword.”

“Then–”

“Then it was either Maria or Pol that did this. Or both of them working together.”

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Cazador, Pt. 3

Iohan raised his nose and shut his eyes. Now that his attention had been brought to it, the scent was faint but unmistakable. The stench of evacuated bowels, of spilled entrails hung in the air, too.

“Is that–” Jimeno began.

“It’s death,” Iohan said. “Something was slaughtered. If a wild animal did it or if it was a beast, we don’t know yet. And so you will be doubly cautious. A bear or a wolf will kill you just as surely as a beast will. Now, we march in silence. Use your eyes and your ears. Spread out and stay within a quick sprint of each other.

“Consider this your first real test. Go. Double time.”

* * *

Santi found the source of the stench first. He announced it with a strangled yelp unbefitting a cazador, but one that was to be expected from a novice. When he cried out for the others to come and join him, Jimeno and Bartolome let out their own startled gasps. Iohan arrived last, sword, drawn ready to chastize the boys for their weakness.

Were he a younger man, not numbed by the horrors he had faced and the friends he had watched die, by blood and by time, he would have cried out, too. Instead he met the sight of the dead novices with stillness and with silence. His ears strained to hear any potential threat. His eyes scanned the shadows even as they darted back towards the dismembered corpses. He prepared himself to face some new enemy even as he mentally said the prayers necessary to thank the souls of the departed for their service and guide them to their final rest.

That was the way of a cazador.


Cazador, Pt. 2

Then why did you–” Jimeno began to ask.

“Don’t misunderstand me, boy. Any beast is dangerous, no matter how large it is or how far along in the transformation it is. Their claws and fangs are as sharp as knives. They’re stronger than most any man you will ever meet in your lives. But this one did not have the heart of a predator. Its transformation had just begun, a boy no older than yourselves becoming a monster. It was frightened and too inexperienced to know that it should have run away rather than attack.”

“What if–”

“No more questions. Bartolome, I want you in front. Keep your weapon ready. I’ll take up the rear. Jimeno, Santi, a sword on every side is not an excuse to let your mind wander. Cazadores who are careless do not survive long no matter what kind of creatures they face. Now, march. Pol and the others are waiting for us, and cazadores do not keep their brothers waiting.”

* * *

The lessons continued as the cazador and the novices marched through the forest. The air was still, the only noise the sound of their voices, of leaves and branches being trampled underfoot. The birds and the woodland mammals were oppressively silent, the buzzing and flitting insects that called the forest home long since dead or hibernating. The sky above was as dark as slate. Their breaths held in the air, spirits clinging on before passing to some other world. This was the way of the world, greying and withering and dying. The shortening days brought winter. Winter brought beasts. Beasts brought death.

Time. Time and blood.

“Paletes are useful, but they are not cazadores and they never will be. Instead, you must see them as another tool at your disposal. They can be a weapon or a shield, bait or a trap. A woodsman with an axe or a farmer with a pitchfork is easy prey for a beast, but a group of them might, if they are lucky, slay one. They will still suffer casualties.”

“Why are the paletes so… ineffectual, Iohan?” Jimeno asked. He was a smart boy, the smartest of the three. He always had questions, his mind always burning to comprehend the world around himself. It was hunger, a hunger of a different sort than Iohan was used to, but still hunger.

Iohan understood hunger. All cazadores did.

“Jimeno! Call the cazador by his proper title!” Bartolome shouted. “And don’t ask such stupid questions. Paletes are worthless because they are worthless. It’s in their blood. That’s why they’re paletes and we’re nobleza. We’re better than them. That’s why they don’t become cazadores; they can’t. That’s why they’re more likely to be stricken with beasthood; they’re already closer to beasts.”

Iohan listened silently as Bartolome gave his little speech. It was one he’d heard a dozen times before. The boy was given to boasts and exaggeration and arrogance, but there was no doubt in Iohan’s mind that the boy believed what he was saying. Many cazadores did. “It’s fine, Bartolome. The woods are no place for formalities. But Jimeno, don’t presume to call another cazador by their name and not their title. Not everyone is as forgiving as I am.”

They trudged through the woods in silent for a little while, Jimeno’s question momentarily ignored, but not forgotten. Iohan turned it over in his head, pondered how best to answer it even as he wondered what he himself truly believed. “Paletes,” he began slowly, letting the words linger in his mouth, weighing and tasting them. “Paletes are not called to greatness the way that nobleza are. The world does not ask nor expect of it them, and so most paletes are happy never to offer it. And virtues like bravery, loyalty, shrewdness, these things are like muscles. They must be exercised if they are to grow strong and dependable.”

“So you are saying that we’re stronger than they are,” Bartolome interjected. “Our bravery and our strength is naturally greater.”

“But even a weak man may become strong if he trains himself,” Jimeno said, the words coming from him with a certain nervous quickness. He did not often interrupt Bartolome, Iohan guessed. “So paletes could become brave and shrewd and strong if they tried.”

“But the world does not ask them to,” Iohan said, taking the reins of the conversation once more. “It does not expect them to. And perhaps it does not even give them the opportunities to. It does not place a sword in their hands and tell them, ‘Go into the woods and slay the creatures that would hunt your family.’ Instead it tells them, ‘Hide within your cottages and pray for someone else to save you.’”

“You can’t trust a paleta with a sword!” Bartolome roared. “Give a farmer a real man’s weapon, and he’s like a child with it!”

“But perhaps if you gave it to him when he was a child and taught him to use it from a young age, it would become as natural to him as it does to you or me,” Jimeno said, a hint of anger beginning to creep into his voice. If he were angry with Bartolome or if he were angry on behalf of some imaginary paleta, Iohan could not say.

Instead, Iohan called out to Santi. Bringing the third boy into the conversation would keep him focused, and another voice would break up the tension between Jimeno and Bartolome. “And what do you think, eh, Santi?”

The boy stopped walking. Jimeno stumbled into him and cursed, drawing Bartolome’s attention and Iohan’s as well. “I think… I think I smell blood.”


Cazador, Pt. 1

New story. I never did go back and finish “Assault on Anomgen Base,” but I’m actually looking forward to telling this particular new piece more than I am concluding the older tale.

Blood. Blood and time. The two were inextricably linked in Iohan’s mind, two sides of a coin that he sensed existed but could not fully name or comprehend.

Blood. Time. They flowed. They seeped. They ran their courses through and around and over human life. They defined human existence.

Time slowed down as the beast lunged towards Iohan, its eyes wild, its lips pulled back from its fangs in a snarl.

Blood sprayed across his face as his sword separated the beast’s body from its head.

As the creature’s body fell limp to the ground, Iohan shut his eyes. He fought the urge to run his tongue across his lips, to taste the blood, to taste the fury of the kill. That way lay madness, he knew. He’d seen too many cazadores lose their mind to the slaughter. Deep breaths. Deep, steady breaths. Slow your breathing, slow your pulse. You are human. You are civilized. There is work yet to be done.

Educate the novices.

Iohan turned around. A group of three wide-eyed youths stood before him, Bartolome, Jimeno, and Santi. Jimeno and Santi looked frightened. That was only natural, of course. As novices, this had been their first encounter with a beast. They would either grow out of it and become cazadores or else they would never lose that fear and they would return home to be farmers or craftsmen or some such profession. Bartolome, though, was grinning, his eyes as sharp as daggers. Already Iohan could tell that this one would revel in the hunt. This one would find joy in the slaughter. This one would either be a valuable asset or a terrible liability. It remained to be seen which would come to pass.

Iohan straightened his back, puffed out his chest. He needed to present a proper figure to the novices, even soaked in blood and viscera. Jimeno and Santi needed to see someone in control of the situation and themselves, someone who could teach them reliable and effective methods of dispatching the beasts. Bartolome needed to see someone strong and fearless. With practiced disinterest, Iohan reached into the small satchel that hung at his waist and pulled out a rag discolored from use. He wiped his face. He wiped the blade. There was nothing to be done for his clothes, his woven shirt and canvas pants and waxed coat.

“There is an inverse relationship between a beast’s devolution and its cleverness. The closer to human it still is, the more clever it will be. The further it has sunk into beasthood, the stupider, but also the more aggressive. If your prey was clever in life, it will be more dangerous early in the progression. If your prey was a brute, then it will be more dangerous as a beast than it ever was as a man.”

“What about that one there?” Bartolome asked, pointing at the headless corpse at Iohan’s feet. “What kind was that?”

Iohan rolled the body over with a nudge from his boot. Its skin was still soft and pink, barely beginning to take on the mottled appearance and the coarse thick hair of a proper beast. Its chest and its arms were thin, lacking in any sort of muscle development at all. The starkest signs of the transformation were the split skin at the lips and the hands where fangs and claws were beginning to emerge.

“This one was a child,” Iohan said with a sniff. “It was never a threat at all.”


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