“I tell you, it’s a beast like any other,” said Theron, thumping his mug of ale down onto the grimy planken table. “It’s no fable, no legend, just a creature like any other. No mystery about it.”
“You must be blind and deaf as well as stuped,” grumbled Zelwiss. He took another large mouthful of bitter, brown liquid. “It’s plain as the nose on my none too pretty face that a Deathshadow is a spirit. It’s not a simple animal you could track and kill.”
“A spirit doesn’t leave footprints,” said Theron, refusing to rise to the bait. “A spirit doesn’t bleed.”
“But a normal creature doesn’t make little lightning sparks when you cut it too deep,” answered Zelwiss. “And a plain dumb animal doesn’t leave little bits of metal behind. And it doesn’t disappear into black mist.”
Sanae’s ears pricked up as she heard that, but she held her peace as she listened to the two hunters talk. She had her own ideas, but they’d forgotten about her in their zeal for argument and she didn’t want to attract attention to herself. Better to gather information and add it to her own store of lore. She pulled her cloak tighter around herself and sipped lightly at her wine.
“True, true,” said Theron. “But what if it wasn’t a normal animal, or a spirit, but something else entirely? Something we’ve never seen? It doesn’t have to be a thing of mist and smoke and foolish fable. Just because it isn’t something we understand, doesn’t make it magic!”
Indeed, thought Sanae. I want to hear more about the lightning.
“Fine,” said Zelwiss. “Think what you will. I’ll be keeping a sprig of oak in my pouch and a clasp of iron on my cloak, all the same. You never know when some wizard has been about, mucking around with natural things and turning everything inside out.” He drained his mug, clattered it down on the table, tossed a coin down beside it, pulled on his cloak, and made for the door. Theron stayed where he was. As the door closed, he turned his gaze straight to Sanae, sitting at her table in the corner.
“Come over here girl,” called Theron, not loudly and not unkindly.
Sanae rose, walked over, and took Zelwiss’s abandoned seat. “You noticed me, did you?”
He nodded, pulled fingers through ragged beard. “You’re trying to become a Hunter.” It wasn’t a question.
There was no use lying. Sanae shrugged. “And if I am?”
“No matter,” said Theron. “Only, if you are going to be a hunter, you’d do well not to listen to superstitious types like him. Always pay attention to what your senses tell you. If a thing looks solid, don’t treat it like a ghost. If it vanishes into mist, it’s likely nearby and just made you think it did. And try something easier before you go after Deathshadows. Like man eating mountain cats, or berzerk bears, or quick-biting adders. Try for something that wn’t make your horse run out from under you, or melt out of the shadows before you can even draw your sword. Either that or stay home and learn to knit.”
“I can’t,” she said quietly.
“And why not, girl?”
“Because I think I know what these things are, and I have to prove it, because if I’m right, I know how to beat them. There’s more every year, and they’re starting to take livestock, aren’t they?”
“So they say,” allowed Theron.
“Then I will do what I must.”
Theron nodded, in grudging respect. What she said next surprised him.
“May I ask you a favor?”
He raised an eyebrow. “What?”
“Tell me every thing you know about the Deathshadows.”
He looked at this slip of a girl, who looked so innocent and guileless, and he saw determination in her eyes. He thought of his own daughter, and his own flocks back home. He furrowed his brow. Then Theron called for another round, and quietly began to tell every word of what he knew.