overview Etain glanced up from the barrel of fish she’d been examining as a smile slowly spread across her lips. It seemed she’d finally found her lead. She had spent the better part of the afternoon walking around the city, listening to every piece of gossip she could catch. Most of them were trying to forget their current dilemma. Only a few of them were whispering about the beast plaguing the outskirts of their city, and those whispers mostly revolved around the failing crops and livestock lose. Though perhaps it was her appearance. She wore her hunting gear, the only clothing she’d taken with her; dark leather pants and boots with a dragon scale fitted breastplate and a wool shirt beneath that, with leather bracers on her forearms. It was thin and flexible to make her hunts easier while providing enough protection to keep her alive as long as she was careful. The dark colors looked odd though, especially when she walked tough a crowd. She turned and started toward the man who was chanting his call for aid, weaving through the crowd. He was a middle aged man dressed well compared to most of the men in the crowd; pudgy with the tuffs of a beard on his face he’d forgotten to shave that morning. In his right hand was a waded up handkerchief which he routinely swiped across his forehead, while his left aided his speech with elegant sweeps and flourishes. It was a shame no one paid him any attention, he wasn’t half bad. Etain dared say she would have found him convincing had she not already been looking for the job. She wandered to his side and his eyes were on her in seconds. He immediately halted his chant and turned his full attention on her with a forced smile on his face, grabbing her hand with both of his own, “My good lady, you look like a woman who can handle herself. Would you be interested in aiding our town?” ‘He’s certainly friendly,’ Etain noted, looking down at the hand he’d trapped in his grip. In the past, she received less than enthusiastic welcomes in the past when she’d shown an interest in jobs. That was mostly due to the caliber of work she’d been trying to take. Freelances with no past were rarely welcomed by towns who were facing anything greater than a small infestation of ghouls. Unfortunately part of this solo hunt meant she could not use the connections her name would have given her. One mention of Taggart and she would have had most any job she wanted, but that would go against the whole point of the solo hunt. She had to prove she was good enough to get a job and complete it without any help from her family. To be honest, they would have accepted a simple job like an infestation, but Etain refused. She would not return with a simple ghoul slaying as her first kill. This hunt would be one they talked about for years to come. She smiled sweetly at the man, hiding her discomfort, “I would be very interested. Is there anywhere I can get more information on this monster you’re dealing with?” The man’s smile widened into a ridiculous grin, “Yes, please go wait in the Sleepy Bunny. There you will be given the details later this evening. They will also give you free food and drink; just mention you’re there for the hunt. Good day, good lady, and bless your hunt.” He actually leaned down and kissed her hand before releasing it, waving her off and going on with his speech. Etain walked away, rubbing her hand on her pants. She felt like she needed a bath after that encounter. ‘I don’t know if I should be grateful they’re desperate or worried about it.’ Chimeras were a bit challenge to freelancers who tended to hunt alone, but not usually too much of a challenge. Perhaps they’d been having a hard time getting hunters out this far from the major cities. She headed for the tavern, deciding it would be easier to wait there and see if anyone came in before the meeting. She walked in the door, ignoring the sign over head which depicted a rabbit slumped under a table with a grin on its face. There was probably a long story behind the name, all very tragic and meaningful, but Etain thought it was easily the dumbest tavern name she’d ever heard. She headed up to counter and sat at one of the stools, rickety but usable. She glanced around and noticed a group of men playing some sort of chance game a few tables over, but otherwise the place was deserted. The barkeep turned around, her face set in a frown as she eyed the newcomer, “What’ll you have?” The woman looked like she could have been here for the meeting the man in the market had talked about. She was built like a bull, no doubt thanks to her years of keep an inn. Dark hair was pulled back behind her head, revealing hard lines on her face which accompanied her seemingly permanent frown. She didn’t seem to be too concerned with helping her customers relax. “What do you have here?” Etain asked, finding her tone a little flatter than before. “Ale.” Etain grimaced, “Anything to eat?” “No.” “Ale it is then. I can’t wait,” Etain replied sarcastically. The barkeep didn’t care. She poured the ale, dropped it on the counter, and continued her work. ‘Nice talking to you too,’ Etain thought, lifting the cup to her mouth and tasting the drink. She grimaced again, but swallowed. The tasted was terrible, but at least it was something. She’d run of water earlier that morning and free drinks beat hours spent searching for a well any day. “I heard this thing’s taken three hunters already.” Etain glanced over at the three men playing their game, noticing their weapons for the first time. It seemed the man in the square had found a few others besides herself, though they were far from the being the cream of the crop. The one who had spoken was still baby-faced, barely past his eighteenth year no doubt. He glanced at the old man sitting next to him, a veteran perhaps, but long past his glory days, “Are you sure we can take this, gramps? You’re still healing after that last incident with the werebeasts.” “Mind you own head, boy,” the old man replied, “I can handle myself.” “You ought to listen to your grandson, old man,” the third one said, his voice slick with a face that almost resembled a weasel, “This job ain’t your run of the mill game. They say beasty’s smart and angry. The past hunters screwed up and ended up in its belly. If you don’t want this to be your last hunt, you and your grandson had better skip town.” The veteran frowned, “Yet you think you can take the beast alone?” The man snickered, “I got ways and I don’t share them with others. Every heard the name Amos Reaper? That’s me.” “Should I have heard it?” The veteran replied dryly. Amos frowned, “Watch your mouth, old man. I ain’t got the patience I used to have. My hand might slip and land a dagger in your wrinkly gullet. Ah!” Etain started when a hand came down on the hunter’s shoulder. The barkeep stood behind the man with her hand planted firmly on his shoulder, “No fights.” “I was only joking. I swear,” Amos raised his hands off the table, smiling to hide the fear, “These men are my good friends. I wouldn’t touch one hair on their heads.” Etain turned back to her drink, staring into the liquid as she leaned forward on the counter. So this creature was proving to be a challenge. She frowned at her reflection. This job might be harder than she’d anticipated.