On the Hunt

by Michael Bard

Late October, 707 CR

Oberon was not a happy giant white tiger. He should be back, he had work, duties, but this was about honour.

One of his weapons had been used to murder and he was honour bound to deal with the problem.

It seemed though that the watch had beaten him to the unicorn. Well, once she was imprisoned, he could deal with her as he needed to. Maybe their methods were better than his looming and demanding information. Lutins were so much easier to deal with — find them, kill them.

Oberon pushed through the crowd, though they more just moved away from him. The only thing comparable to his size was an oxen, but even he gave way.

Just a bit longer— No! No!

The unicorn leapt from the roof she was trapped on into the stench of a harbour.

Mindless of those around him, Oberon bounded through the mud and barely slid to a stop on the worn wood, his claws tearing into it. A few last struggles and she sank out of sight. "By the blistered backsides of the three Forsaken Ones—" Oberon just stared as the water bubbled and gurgled, and then stilled to match the rest. His claws snicked in and out of his fingers.

"She'll survive somehow—"

Half drawing his sword, Oberon spun around, to see the goat who'd come to question him standing a few feet away, other armed forms behind him. Oberon forced himself to relax. She couldn't have lived— and yet— he knew she still lived. She still had one of his daggers and that told him. "She lives—"

"This is the business of the Euper Watch, not the Longs."

Oberon growled, looking down at the goat who stood his ground, though some of his men stepped backward. "It is a matter of my honour."

"I don't care! When she's captured you can question her. Until then, just let us do what we have to! For all any of us know maybe this supposed cult is real—"

Oberon stared, tail whipping back and forth even though he slowly slid his sword back into its sheath.

The goat called out an order, and the guards turned into formation and marched away. Watching them was the crowd, though none were throwing anything.

Oberon clenched his fists and stalked back to the keep.


Oberon stood as Misha, in his 'taur form, paced back and forth in front of him. He was still looking down at the old fox, but—

"Oberon, I know you're new here, but, by Eli, you can't just forego your duties on a whim!"

"It is a matter of honour—"

"I! Don't! Care! After the Battle of the Three Gates, relations have always been a bit touchy with Euper. They lost a lot of trade because of the curse. We only operate there with their permission!"

"It was—"

"I don't care about your Eli damned honour!" The foxtaur was standing before him, his muzzle pressed into Oberon's chest just below his neck. The stench of his rage filled the room as he waved his arms about, looking up at him, poking a clawed finger into his chest. "You have duties! And, such duties are far more important than any insane personal ven—"

Oberon hissed out through clenched teeth. "She murdered children!"

Misha shoved a clawed finger into Oberon's chest so hard that a drop of blood appeared. "She is suspected of killing children. The Euper Watch will deal with it. And, when they deal with it, then and only then will you have a chance to talk to this unicorness!"

"If they ever do—"

"Oberon, if they want or need our help, then they will ask for it! Our purpose is to deal with lutins and threats against the state — not some wacko murdering thief down there! If we're told to, then we will do so. But, nobody has told us! So—"

"She is using my weapons to murder! To murder children!"

Misha growled and turned away. "Are you sure? I've read the reports — the Euper Watch sent them to me as a courtesy. The evidence is based solely on a magical identification of a dagger. There are no witnesses. No other magical evidence. Maybe, just maybe you should hear her side of the story."

"But—"

"I think I met her, and if I'm right, Madog liked her. Won't hold up in court, but that's not my problem." He turned around and shoved the bloody claw back into Oberon's chest. "Nor is it yours!

"I let you into the Longs not only because you're a good fighter. I let you in because you had command skills, and could follow orders. I put my neck out for you! And now— now you ignore your duties, tromp around in Euper when you should be working!"

"But—"

"I don't care! But then, I told you that already. Get to your damn forge and don't leave until everything is taken care of. I mean everything!"

"But—"

With a visible effort, Misha forced some calm, though his tail still looked like a bristling rats nest of hairs. "Fine! You are restricted to the Long House. You can order food, you've got your forge, you've got your quarters. Now just haul your Eli-forsaken ass out of here!"

"But—"

"Talk to me in a month!"

Looking as sheepish as a giant monster white tiger could look, Oberon turned and left.

Misha was right. He had obligations. He had family now — he needed to pick up little Garen from day care. But— but—

The daggers made with his soul were being used to murder children! In their beds. In the most cowardly way imaginable!

He wanted to scream out his frustration, but he'd gotten enough warnings already over his volume.

This Yvarra didn't deserve a trial!

But—

Oberon stopped, tail whipping back and forth. He'd poked around for a couple of weeks, and found nothing. There was no way he could go into the harbour after her. All he did know was that she wasn't dead. And she was still fairly close.

A warrior fights with his mind.

Oberon needed information. The goat had mentioned something about a cult. Maybe Cutter would know something. Maybe the old librarian would give him some idea of where the murderess was hiding.

Maybe—

Shoving his rage into a small box, he forced a smile onto his muzzle and went on his way to get Garen. The little monster probably needed changing, but that was life. And, he did have forging obligations. Smithing always helped him think.

Get intelligence and then kill the murderess.

Pushing open the door to the day care he smiled and little Garen bounded and ran into his arms. "Papa! Papa!"

And yes, he did need to be changed—


*clangclangclinkclang*

There was a large backlog. Nothing major, just general wear and tear. The Long's had needed their own smith for a long time, and now that they had one they were making use of him.

*clangclinkclangclang*

He couldn't blame them. There were few smiths of his quality. At least it was mostly minor things — normal wear and tear.

*clinkclangclangclink*

And, the last few weeks as he'd concentrated on his work had calmed down. It was painful when he was wrong and someone else was right, but it did happen on occasion.

*clangclang* He tossed the arrowhead into the cooling oil. *gurzzle* Another one down, a thousand more to go. With that he gave a long long stretch and put down the hammer. Just a bit more today and he'd be done. He picked up a blade nearly done and began filing and polishing its edge. It wasn't a new one, just dull from wear. It didn't take long, and then that was it for the day.

A warrior fought with his mind. And, to deal with this Yvarra, Oberon needed information. It had taken him a while to ferret out information — Misha wasn't talking about what he knew — but Oberon had finally found out that the goat down in Euper and gotten the whole story of what the murderess had said about a cult. That might be a place to start — it might give him something to go by, or, at least, some idea as to what her aims and tactics might be.

At least it was something.

And, at least, as far as he'd heard, there hadn't been any more murders.

Going to the water basin, he dipped in a cloth and wiped his facial fur and arms, then pulled off the heavy leather apron and hung it up. Talk to Fox Cutter first, then maybe a bath, then pick up his son, and—

Chucklesighing, he remembered that his life had been so much simpler only a few months ago. Go out. Kill lutins. Come back. Resupply. Repeat. Oh well—

It didn't take long for Oberon to make his way through Long House to where the library was. Probably the main Keep library would have been a better place to go, but Oberon had heard about Fox from Misha and wanted to meet him. And, this is as good an excuse as any. Stopping at the door clearly labeled in gold Library, he knocked

"You don't need to knock you know," came through the heavy wood, muffled. Oberon thought it was Fox Cutter's voice, but he'd only been introduced once so wasn't sure.

Shrugging, he pushed the door open. The room before him was filled with numerous bookshelves arranged in neat rows crowding the room almost to claustrophobia except for the corner by the door. Shadow was everywhere, the only light source a glowing magelight hanging above the open lounge in one corner. The lounge was the only open area, though even it had a small fireplace. It was lit to keep out the winter chill, the books and scrolls protected by a metal screen in front of the flames. There were two large thickly stuffed chairs that just screamed comfort,and a large table buried in books with more chairs around it. The only occupant of the room was a fox, one leg propped on a cushion, the cloth of the pants he was wearing hanging oddly. He was sitting by the fire, cane propped beside him, a thin book in his lap. From the colour on the binding, it looked like one of those CSI: Metamor books that were being printed.

"Well, come in," said the fox. "You're letting a draft in, and it's already cold enough."

Oberon walked in and pushed the door shut behind him, the wood booming loudly against the frame even though he'd tried to be gentle.

"So— Oberon I think? — what can I do for you?"

Oberon realized that he didn't have a lot to offer, but— "What do you know about secret cults?"

Carefully marking his place, Cutter closed the book. "Well— the colloquial description is an organization devoted either to a divinity, or a charismatic individual. Typically secretive, often considered evil by those not in the know. Doubt that's much help to you."

"I probably should not have come—"

"Of course, you could be looking for information specific to a unicorn—"

Oberon stopped, tail still, ears perked.

"People talk you know, and it's not secret. And, I've gotten interested. Pyat, one of the junior librarians in the Keep, passed some info on to me when he heard what was going on."

"Going on?"

"You know very well!" Cutter winced as he pushed himself onto his one good leg. Picking up his cane, he hobbled over to the table. "I was just looking it up here. Pyat had certain— doubts about the seriousness Mael-Murie treated this with. Especially given what's been going on—" The fox stopped. Putting on a pair of ornate glasses that were sitting on one of the books, he heaved more off a massive tome that covered almost half the table, piling them onto stacks that looked like they should have fallen over eons ago. "Now—"

Oberon walked over, cautious to not touch any of the precarious piles.

"There it is." Cutter opened the book to a scribbled pair of pages, one covered in an eye-searing tangle of lines and shapes forming a sign. "The King in Yellow. Odd— I remember reading a book by that title, Chambers really got Washington in the '20s wrong. Anyway, from what Pyat told me, this is the cult the unicorn is involved in. Nasty nasty thing."

"Oh?"

"One of many doomsday cults. Apparently cults that use this sign are devoted to summoning horrors that are better left undiscussed out of where they rightfully belong. But, there's more—" The fox left the book open to the eye-searing symbol, and pulled a smaller volume off one of the shorter piles. It wobbled but didn't fall. A scrap of parchment marked a spot, and he opened it to that page. "It seems that our friend Kyia isn't just here for laughs. Amongst Eli knows what else, this—" he tapped the page, "— states that the Titan known as Nathales may be imprisoned below the keep. Far below. The elves weren't—"

Oberon leaned over to try and read the scribbled flowing text.

"Don't bother, very old form of Elvish — doubt another book written in this dialect exists. Anyway, the elves knew of something of great power trapped far below us, and believed it to be one of the Titans. The best guess of the writer here is that it is Nathales, but he didn't know for sure. And no mortal alive today knows."

"So this cult could be real—"

"The Titans were some of the most powerful beings created by the Elders, and all have long been insane from their imprisonment. If one was released—" Cutter shuddered and turned to face Oberon. "If this is all real, then you better pray to everything you hold dear that the Titan never ever gets out. If he does, Nasoj will be the least of our concerns. So, if the unicorn is working to free them, she must be stopped. And, if she is working to stop this cult, then," Cutter poked a finger into Oberon's chest, "you better make damn sure she succeeds."

"But— if this is all true— shouldn't the churches, the Longs, hell everybody be working to stop this? At any cost?"

"Oh, if it's true— but— there is no proof. If a Titan is imprisoned here, nobody knows for sure. Kyia isn't saying. Wouldn't she be one to know? And yet—" He sighed. "There are concrete problems others are dealing with. Wounds to heal from the Winter Assault. We all just go on as best we can. All I'm saying is that if you do find the unicorn, you better make absolutely sure you know what is going on before you kill her."

Oberon growled. "How do you know—"

"Misha told me."

"This is a personal matter of honour."

"Is it? If any of what I've told you is true, it is not personal. It affects everybody on this world. Maybe if you thought instead—"

Oberon roared and grabbed the fox by his neck, claws out.

Cutter swallowed. "And— are you going to— kill me?"

With a force of will, Oberon loosened his grip. Turning, he stomped away, opening the door, and slamming it behind him.


Nobody said a world to Oberon as he stalked down the hall. All they did was get out of his way.

How dare Cutter insult his ability to function as a warrior!

Life had been so simple before he came to this place. So damned simple!

He had to go and pick up Garen. But— not like this. He couldn't!

Yanking the door open to his forge, Oberon stalked in. Some work, get the rage and frustration out of his system. This was a matter of honour! And, and—

And there was a new door that had not been there before. Something placed there by Kyia. She was always doing that — and never without reason.

Oberon walked up to it.

The door was like nothing he'd seen before. Not made of wood, it was made from a single piece of rough-hewn stone. The handle was a hole drilled into the rock, and he could see it turn downwards so he could grip onto something. There was no sign of hinges. And no labels, no signs, no dust— Though the stone glistened with water.

Right after he got information on this cult from Fox Cutter this door appears. The two had to be related. Assuming any bit of what Cutter had said was true, why had the door not appeared sooner? Unless—

Unless he needed to know.

It didn't matter! All he knew was that this meant he had to go and he had to go now. So—

Action calming his soul, Oberon turned and walked down to pick up Garen. Holding the cub tight, he turned to Lisa. "I need your help."

"What can I do?"

"I need to go. And— and have you seen Kristinai around? I need to talk to her?"

"Papa has to go?" Garen asked.

Oberon kissed the child's forehead. "I'm sorry— it's important. I wouldn't go otherwise."

"Actually I'm right here, Oberon."

Oberon spun around to look into the eyes of his snow leopard mate, "Kristinai?"

Garen's eyes glistened. "Papa— papa come back?"

Oberon hugged his adopted son fiercely. "I will come back. I promise you."

"Where are you going?" Kristinai asked. "Do you know how long? Does Misha know?"

"I—" Oberon swallowed. "A— door appeared in my smithy. Right after Fox Cutter told me that whatever this unicorn is involved in, could be critical to the fate of the world. I do not know what to believe— but the coincidence is too much. It is like— like I can feel time pulling at me"

"What if it's a trap? A test?"

"It could only have been Kyia. And do you think she'd trick me, trick any of us?"

"I— no." She looked away. "And let me guess— I have to stay here, take care of Garen whilst you get all the glory."

"Papa leave?"

"I— It's not for glory!" Oberon sighed. "I— I wish you could— but Kyia made the door in my forge, not our rooms. It— I do not know how— and it is personal! A matter of honour!"

"Honour? Is that more important than us? Than our son?"

"No! Yes! It's— it's just something I have to do. Here." Before he could change his mind, Oberon pulled his son's arms from his shoulder and passed him over to Kristinai. "Take care of him— I have to— have to go."

"Papa?"

"Oberon! Don't you do this! Don't—"

"Oberon turned and fled."

"Papa?"


Oberon was back in his forge, getting ready for war. He had his sword, his bow, helm, what body armour he had — he really needed to make himself a proper suit — he'd grabbed rations, a lantern, other equipment. And—

And he realized he had everything.

"Oberon, what are you doing?"

The white tiger spun around and looked at Misha standing in the open door to his forge.

"Do you not ever knock?"

"I told you specifically not to leave! And, do you have any idea how Kristinai felt when she found me?"

"And what do you want me to do?" Oberon pointed at the dripping door behind him. "Kyia puts this here, Cutter tells me about doomsday cults and imprisoned Titans. Why would this door appear now?"

"If this is a threat, if, we'll do it together. Come with me, let's talk to Cutter, get more information, figure out what we should do—"

"And why is the door in my forge?"

"It—"

"If it was for all the Longs would not it be in the hall? Or anywhere else? But it's here! It is a stain on my honour, and I must deal with it! And I can feel time pressing—"

"Honour— who the hell cares about your honour? How do you know this isn't bigger than that?"

"It does not matter!" Oberon spun back around and shoved his paw into the handle. With all his strength he yanked, and stone ground on stone with a sound that shook his bones. Leaning into it he dragged it open, further and further.

"Don't do this!"

The gap was finally big enough for Oberon to fit through. Stalking over, he lit the lantern from the forge and stomped back.

"Oberon—"

"Do not ask me for what I cannot do." With that, Oberon walked through the door. On its own it ground shut behind him.

Misha stared, and, after a minute, turned away. "Good luck."

"On the Hunt", copyright Michael Bard