Geistjager

Gideon's Log: Sept 30
Restore and Destroy

The new batch of hunters are an interesting bunch. They took the bounty on the graveyard, did a nice job of cleaning up and matching the bodies with the graves.

Tiz came by again. I swear, that little critter is going to be the death of me, no matter what goddess she worships. She took the bounty on the Mayor’s house, came back with that same new group. They were hurting bad and down one, their Man of Letters. Don’t know what an academic like that was doing in the field, but I’m making sure his ashes get back to his order.

Tiz left a note with me for them. Her planet-side church contacts have sent an acolyte into the field. What is it with these groups and their desire to get their youngest ones killed? Anyway, she’s out there and hasn’t checked in for a few days. Tiz asked me if I could make sure someone finds her (or her body) and gets her back to safety. She left a nice cash pile for the bounty and a few odds and ends that aren’t like anything I’ve ever seen before. But that’s Tiz.

The church of Ragathiel is sending a cleric to look for her, too. I’m keeping an eye out for him. The followers of Ragathiel and Feronia are a weird bunch, much closer to each other than most orders devoted to demigods are. I suppose it’s on account of Ragathiel being Feronia’s son, but still. Even the worshipers look out for each other.

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Letter to Gideon
Your Bother in arms, Curtis Calvin

So the hunters you sent were something else. They tracked the wolves back to Devil’s Rock and took down three dire bats. When I met them in the bar, the younger one, Katrina gave me a good talking to about the danger in fighting werewolves. One of the local thugs tried to sleep with the Courtesan without paying her fee. Well Katrina flung herself over the railing and kicked him in the back of the head right before Mazrim wrapped a metal whip around his throat and dragged him head down the stairs and planted his face at in the landing. Meanwhile Elsa hit one of his cronies on the head with her elbow while popping the chair out from under him. Evan just looked at the last guy and told him to stay out of it.

We went to hide out at my hit to avoid any backlash from Mayor Derby’s men.

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Ill Met by Moonlight

Letter from Fox Wedgewood to Ryan Awful at Awful Publishing, October 28th

Please find enclosed the pictures and narrative for a Werewolf story

“The Frontier is a dangerous place, but just how dangerous is often beyond the power of the mind to grasp. Two homesteaders found this out the hard way. Victor and his wife Mary moved out to Doven Glen to live a simple life. Victor had sold his suit shop and used the money to purchase a small plot of far land. For two months they lived and farmed prosperously. Their farm produced enough food to feed them and to sell in town. Mary’s flower garden was the envy of all around. But all of this did not help them when disaster struck.

While they slept one night the monstrous wolves of the frontier broke into their home and began to tear them apart. Victor’s throw was bitten. The blood spurted across the curtains. He tried to yell, but only a sick gurgling noise came out. Mary was pulled from the bed. Two of the wolves fought over her, tearing open her stomach. When Victor passed out from blood loss he and his wife were pulled from the house. They were never seen again.”

Bounty Log of Gideon, Morning October 28

I sent out Evan Williams, Katrina Jennings, and Mazrim Taim to hunt and capture the Lycantropes that attacked the homesteaders. I will pay them for 40 gp for dealing discreetly with this and the researcher will pay them 1000gp for bringing one back alive. I am allowing Even, Katrina, and Mazrim to borrow by cart and horse after they subdue the werewolves.

Record of the Lore-mistress, Evening October 29

Cordel Gave his account of his hunt saying:

I was in the forest for sometime. I called out with my howl and was sometimes able to get an answer from the mature werewolves. By this I was able to get closer to them. I came upon a dead human female. The wolves may have intended on turning her, but she dies from their initial attack. I heard a conflict over the next hill and ran to investigate. On cresting the hill I found three humanoids fighting three werewolves with one unconscious between them. I bound in and helped the half-elf down the Werewolf Alpha. The half-elf then went to help the Human male with the Shewolf. I assisted the the Human female with the adolescent. Within short order the Shewolf was down, and I downed the adolescent and removed his head. I was about to do the same when advised by the Human male to not. He introduced himself as Evan Wiliams, and I introduced myself. He said that the werewolves were to be given to someone to research. Possibly even find a cure for this. Seeing this a possible a good thing I agreed, but only if I could accompany them. They accented and we bound the living wolves and lashed them to a cart the half-elf retrieved for us. We burned the bodies of the adolescent and the human female.

We went to the road and me the researcher he put the Werewolves in his cart and began to drive away. The human female fired at him with her crossbow and then gave chase on the cart horse. The half-elf chased after her. After a short conversation with Evan, I ran after them, as I did not know their intentions or if the werewolves would be inadvertently freed by this action. When I finally caught up with them they had killed the researcher, the human female claimed he was a vampire. They permitted to kill the remaining werewolves. I decapitated both of them and burned the bodies.

Bounty Log of Gideon Deray, Evening October 28
Evan, Katrina, and Mazrim Killed all of the werewolves and disposed of the bodies. I payed them 400 gold. They did not retrieve the werewolf for the researcher as he turned out to be a vampire, as such no payment was given for this task.

WhineBrass Whiners Obituary, November 1
Victor Dello passed on last night do to injuries sustained in a wild animal attack. His wife Mary died in this same attack. Mr. Dello passed quietly in an opium induced sleep after setting all of his affairs in order. He left his estate to his closest surviving relative, a Cousin living in Newport. Mr. Dello was 43.

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Cormac's Journal

Upon their return to Tiande to locate the presumed late Hunter Cormac, Elsa and Evan managed to locate his former campsite. Alongside what they assume to be his skeleton, some chain mail, a broken longsword, a rusty knife and 120gp, they found found a book that was apparently kept by the deceased.

The following is an accounting of the notes taken by the late Hunter Cormac, of some renown in the supernatural community of Whinebrass Heights. The journal, if it can be called such, was found with his body and is the best lead Elsa currently has for acquiring the knowledge that was lost when Cormac was killed. The journal seems to have been a supplement to Cormac’s personal memory and also serves as a ledger of sorts — both for accounts and for grudges. It lacks specificity and was apparently not designed for use by anyone not already familiar with the situations described. General overviews of the contained entries are provided below.

Earliest entry: Cormac takes technical notes about a series of deaths in Whinebrass. Tipped off by a Captain LaFruge. Suspected to be the work of an intelligent undead creature. Notes reference cooperation from someone named Natan who seems to have been an acquaintance of either Cormac or the perpetrator. Concludes with Cormac trapping the killer and, despite its mundane nature, fighting him to the death. No reward could be collected.

Second entry: Unexplained drownings along the Leesee. Anonymous contract posted through Troll Whiskers. Cormac journeyed north and found inhuman tracks. Research showed them to belong to a pair of scrags. Not familiar with scrags, Cormac researched both his library and one belonging to someone named Brooks. A net-based trap was set that would keep them from contacting water, and Cormac shot them to death before they could escape. 50gp collected without incident.

Scribbled margin: “10gp property taxes. Neighbourhood gets nicer each year. Gonna have to move.”

Scribbled margin: “Fistfight at Troll Whiskers. Asked to stay away for a few weeks while things cool down. No way to treat a regular.”

Third entry: A job for the Krall Clan in exchange for acquiring the True Name of Bill and having a shot at breaking the contract. Several Krall agents had gone missing west of town with a sizeable sum of gold destined for the East Branch. Tracked easily enough, killed by bandits. Bandit camp located, location reported to Krall contact. 20gp, True Name recorded “at home in the Archive,” given a vault at the deepest level of the East Branch.

Fourth entry: Strange happenings and occasional random fires at a warehouse recently acquired by the Lintillus Guild. Zephyrus Lintillus was sent to Cormac by a Krall contact. Simple haunt, unburied bones in the attic, simple phantasm effects. Took the bones to the Temple of Pharasma. 30gp collected after some haggling and assurances that the haunt could return unless enough gold changed hands.

Scribbled margin: “Purchased new warded housekey for Adric. 200gp. Practically banditry.”

Fifth entry: Rash of deaths in Whinebrass, mutilated corpses, no apparent commonalities between victims. Called in by Renault. Contacted Kenson who seems to prefer lamb and sage placed by the Dawnflower since the New Year. “Opaque blighter” pointed Cormac to an empty house not far from his own where a vrock was nesting. Posted notice at Troll Whiskers but “all good sorts” out of town. Notified Orsini contacts, banished the demon with help. Three allies killed, six days of rest to recover, last CSW potion used, no reward available. “Too much for one Hunter.”

Sixth entry: Request from apothecary Gerald for vaguely defined spirit. Easily caught in a properly warded bottle. Brought Adria along due to low risk. 20gp, three flasks of alchemist’s fire.

Seventh entry: Series of impossible break-ins discussed at Troll Whiskers. Offered services as private investigator to several victims before being hired by Lady Montbank (10gp retainer). Clearly supernatural, not enough evidence to work from. LaFruge unable to provide assistance. Rough sketch of triangular pendant of some sort. Space left for further information.

Scribbled margin: “Saraneth too expensive, not enough paying work in town.”

Eighth entry: Word around Troll Whiskers of deaths in the Orrent-owned town of Tiande. Decent reward from Orrent, mostly livestock deaths, little local constabulary to speak of. Three days of travel, apothecary in town Hunter-friendly. Bodies investigated, exsanguinated but not by a vampire. Couldn’t track creature, camp made on a bluff to avoid townsfolk. Concerned about lack of information. Space left, entry unfinished.

Scribbled margin: “Pick up warded key from vault after Tiande job.”

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Following Cormac
A letter from the Hunter Brooks to Renault Bulleit, a paladin of Torag

Renault,

Cormac is dead. Thought I’d open with that so you’d go ahead and read the letter. Whatever you still have against me, I thought you should know. The priestess of Faronia that folks have been talking about actually came to Troll Whiskers asking after him and confirmed that she really did find his body. Or something like it, but if it’s not him, then where is he? And it’s not like it’s that surprising. No Hunter ever died in his bed.

They managed to breech his house, too. They sought out the key from me, but I didn’t turn it over without some kind of trial of proof. Turns out they found another way. Don’t doubt it has to do with the commotion at the East Branch a few nights back. Cormac once mentioned he had a vault there, but how they’d get in is beyond me. The only other option would be getting a copy from Nola, and that might be harder than breaking into the bank. They’d best hope the Kralls don’t find out.

All in all, they seem capable if a bit unusual. At least one of them isn’t quite human, but we both know that’s not so uncommon. They claim to have defeated a vukodlak in Tiande, the beast Cormac was hunting. Seems odd for him to fall to something like that when he’d faced down much worse, but that’s the narrative. They claim to have also killed a vampire and some werewolves, and word at the tavern is Gideon out in Doven Glen has been prolifically using a team that sounds a lot like theirs. Might be worth keeping an eye on. Looks like they’ve taken possession of Cormac’s old place if you’re interested in finding them.

They also claim to be looking for a contract devil and that Cormac was looking for the same one. Maybe you know more about it than I do, but there had been rumours for some years to that effect. Don’t know if the pact was his or someone else’s, but there’s not much to be done now.

Anyway, thought you should know since you two were close — at least as much as Cormac was close to anyone. I’ll raise a glass to him for you down at the tavern. You’re welcome to join if you get the inclination.

Brooks

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Debutante Debut

Nov 25th (and year) From the hunters diary of Katherine Elizabeth Forthright

Dear diary,

Today I presented my trap plan to the others. Though they were initially opposed to the event, when Katrina heard there might be vampires, she quickly worked to convince the others yo help.

During planing everything was going fine, until I asked about the food options. All of them found this detail to be below them, excepting that they wanted tons of garlic in the food. I compromised this with a logical food arrangement.

Hired Fox Weadgewood as photographer.

Hired a homeless hunter by the name of Otis to help in the kitchen. Strange fellow required that I call him Otis the Hobo. He refused to accept any other title, even simply Mr.

Must remember to tell the caterers of Otis.

Nov 28 Business log of Fox Wedgewood, recorded on phonograph

Hired by the the Women for Society for Women for Women for Society, or something like that. Had to send headshot as proof of compasity. Work on the evening of Dec 2 at the Manner House.

11.29.205,482 C.E.C.R account of Operative Regulus Parish
Acquired aide of one Mazrim Taim for the upcoming break incident by use of the Quest ring, one charge expended. In return required to resurrect Evan Williams. Completed the resurrection using the Wand of Resurrection, two charges expended. Evan Williams quit himself of his former allies finding them too chaotic. Possible recruitment option to be considered by the elders.

Dec 2nd diary of Celia Fitzwizle

Dreadful evening. I have no idea why father and mother made me have my coming out party with those merchants daughters. Fenilus Howard was staring at me all night. I’m not surprised given the way his father ogled the whore. I told Fenilus to meet me in the wine cellar. When he got there I locked him in. Apparently, someone let him out. Pity.

Charity Blue snuck off to get high with her “boyfriend.” But what more can you expect from a military brat.

The nun argued with Madeline Ott about religion. Pharasa take them both.

Talked to a charming and handsome man named Alexander. Father found it most impertinent that I danced with him twice. He feels Alexander is below us. I agree, but he might be useful to get Pony a sister.

Dec 2 Business log of Fox Wedgewood, recorded on phonograph

Photos taken, eleven debutates with parents and escorts, nine young men with their parents, one married couple.
Total number of photos 21

Additional photos requested by Richard Fitzwizle. Photos taken and charged to him.

Note to self. Have all persons with glasses remove them before photos are taken. The glare was horid.

pause pop pause fizzle

In other business the Debutante Ella Cinderton was missing for a while. According to the other hunters there, she was lured away by an Attic Whisperer. Luckilly Katrina and Gwythyr were able to free her and kill it. Sadly they burned all of the remains. I would have liked to have gotten photograph of that for my files.

Later that same day…

On developing the pictures I found that one of the debutantes, her brother, and mother were all some kind of fey beings. I saw Katrina expelling them from the Manor so i will assume the matter is dealt with for the time being, i will keep the negatives and the prints in case they become an issue again.

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The Cost of Living

Brooks slogged reluctantly down the cobbled thoroughfare. Though just a few streets from his frequent haunt of Troll Whiskers, he considered this a very different neighbourhood — one he strongly disliked. The houses sat too close together for their size, and despite their opulence, very few of their residents were wealthy. Anyone of means had moved away from Flinders Lane in the past 40 years. None of them could tell you why, of course. A feeling of unease, the inexplicable impression that the neighbourhood was somehow going downhill, everyone else of note was moving further north, so on and et cetera. Brooks had a more logical explanation, not that anyone would believe him if he were to share it. It sat at the end of the street, marginally the highest point in Flinders, against the old dwarven wall. It was three stories high, built of brick and enchanted to instill a mild dread in anyone nearby. A useful trick to keep travelling salesmen and overzealous clergy from your door, and if it also chased away your more privileged and inquisitive neighbours, then so much the better. There was unfortunately no exception for invited guests, however.

It was, in Brooks’s estimation, never a positive experience, being summoned to the Men of Letters bunker. On his most recent visit some three or four years ago, Dog had refused to accompany him further than halfway down Flinders Lane. Between that and the local park being completely unoccupied by wildlife and devoid of birdsong, Brooks thought to himself, not for the first time, that animals were likely wiser than humans. Steeling himself against the illusory fear radiated by the house and the very rational concern inspired by any communication from Sinclair, Brooks thumped his gloved fist on the door three times, declining to use the grotesque brass abishai knocker.

Quiet footsteps and a louder intermittent clicking approaching the door told him his host was answering her own door today. Though not yet out of her thirties by most human estimation, Sinclair had walked with an apparently ornamental cane since she’d first come to Whinebrass Heights. He suspected she used it primarily as a herald, announcing her presence when she deigned to walk among mortals such as himself.

The door swung inward, relieving the house’s unnatural aura somewhat and replacing it with an herbal scent Brooks thought might have been intended to smell like thyme. Or sage. Or something one cooks with.

“Good of you to come,” Sinclair said, her attempt at a welcoming smile quickly faltering. “Though you might have done so sober.”

As always, Brooks was struck by how little Sinclair had changed in the past few years, something he never quite got used to. She didn’t seem to be making any effort to cover her slightly pointed ears with her many-plaited hair, and her throat prominently displayed an ivory cameo that bore no resemblance at all to the Man of Letters herself. Otherwise, she looked exactly as she had however many years ago Brooks had first met her. Now with his fiftieth year behind him, it took an effort to not resent her for it.

Brooks waved his hand in a vague gesture at the house. “I needed a drink or two to work up the courage to approach your blighted haunted mansion. Any sane man would. Don’t see why we couldn’t have met at Troll Whiskers, anyway. It’s as neutral a location as one can find in the city.”

“Because it smells like beer, piss and tiefling,” she responded. “Not that this place’ll be much better by the time you’re gone. But under the circumstances, I’ll have to risk it. Please, do come in.”

The foyer had been redecorated since the last time Brooks had been asked to the Bunker, though the general feel and theme had been carefully preserved. Lots of polished wood and uncomfortable furniture punctuated with arcane-looking objects: a fleder skull on the mantel, an ancient spellbook on an end table, a gnarled staff sitting in the corner. Brooks knew from experience, however, that the staff was just another polished bit of wood. The spellbook was an old Onosyllian dictionary. And the skull was a plaster replica. The Men of Letters dressed their foyer for show to impress their few visitors and even fewer initiates, keeping the truly arcane locked away much more securely.

Sinclair led him down a slightly curving hallway before stopping at what Brooks idly counted as the fourth door on the right. After turning two numerical dials next to the door to “72” (Brooks filed the information away, though he’d likely never have cause to use it), Sinclair turned the knob and pushed the giant slab of wood inward. Brooks followed her into a well-lit room surrounded by concave windows. The only thing visible through them was blue sky and clouds. Having been called to several such meeting rooms in the past, Brooks was pleasantly surprised. The motif was usually that of an underground cell or cave. At a glass table surrounded by glass chairs (How’d they manage that? thought Brooks. Or why bother?) sat Renault Bulleit, paladin of Torag and the only other invitee to the meeting.

Especially next to Sinclair’s near-perpetual youth, the last few years weighed heavily on Renault, etching lines into his face and a strand or two of grey into his hair that would have looked more at home on a man 10 years his senior. His sense of style hadn’t changed, however; he still wore the same old-fashioned blue-and-white tunic and blue leggings favoured by many of Torag’s faithful. Another sharp contrast to Sinclair, Brooks mused. While she was a picture of sartorial elegance — some of her accessories and articles of clothing so new and fashionable that Brooks didn’t even know the name of them — Renault could have borrowed his wardrobe from a theatre specializing in medieval drama. “Brooks,” he said tentatively as he rose to offer his hand to the Hunter. “It’s been some time. But with things as they are, I hoped we could…”

Brooks took up the conversation as his erstwhile Hunting companion trailed off. “At least bury the hatchet? It’s long past due. Forgive me or not, it’s up to you. Even if we share a common goal, your ways and mine won’t ever be the same. I did what I thought best under the circumstances and can accept that maybe there was a better way. Who knows? But with Cormac gone, Whinebrass doesn’t need Hunters divided over a matter of semantics.”

“The life of an intelligent creature is never a matter of semantics!” Renault, quiescent until now, took a half-step closer to Brooks, bringing the two almost nose-to-nose. It was all Brooks could do to not roll his eyes at the display of chest-thumping masculinity.

A tap of Sinclair’s cane on the stone floor ended their brief staring contest in a tie. “Didn’t someone say something about burying a hatchet? This is too important for your squabble. And don’t involve me in it, either way.” She took a seat and gestured for the men to do the same. “And you’re wrong, Brooks; Cormac isn’t gone. At least, not as gone as he should be.”

Brooks sat down warily. “What do you mean by that?” He caught himself looking for a tankard or glass as he sat down, both as a matter of habit and as a reaction to what could only be imminent bad news.

“Renault?” Sinclair said, inclining her head slightly to the paladin.

“A few days ago,” began Renault, finally retaking his seat, “I had cause to defend a parishioner — Selwyn, a very successful brewer — who I believed was being pursued by hell hounds. I called in a team of Hunters to aid me, the ones you mentioned in your letter who have taken up residence in Cormac’s old house.”

“Yes,” said Brooks, his expression brightening in recognition. “A decent crew, if a bit impetuous. They’ve inherited quite a few of Cormac’s effects.”

“Inherited or looted?” asked Sinclair with a slightly mocking smile.

“In our community, there’s not much difference. I doubt that new cameo of yours came from your grandmother’s estate.” It was Brooks’s turn to smile as he watched Sinclair visibly suppress an urge to raise a hand to her throat to cover the jewelry as her own expression faded to neutrality.

“If I may?” Renault said somewhat impatiently. “They’re quite capable. We moved everyone else out of Selwyn’s estate for the night and set up a defense around him. Sure enough, at midnight, three hell hounds came to collect. But they weren’t alone. Cormac accompanied them.”

Renault paused for effect, but Brooks would have interrupted him anyway. “Impossible! Even if he weren’t dead, why would…? You’re mistaken.”

“It was his contract,” Renault said, shaking his head. “The devil you wrote me about, the one Cormac was rumoured to be after? The contract was with Cormac. And apparently it’s using him to collect souls for it now. A twisted, perverted mirror of his life as a Hunter.”

“Gods,” Brooks breathed, stunned. “Are you…?”

“Sure? Yes, they even found his copy of the contract. I helped them research it, and it turns out there was a clause that allowed that allowed the devil to collect Cormac’s soul if he ventured too far from where the contract was signed. Hence his disappearance in Tiande.”

“Damn. Always knew a vukodlak wouldn’t have been a match for him.” Brooks stood up and began pacing the room. “So what about Selwyn? He’s one of the better brewers in town. Will I have to find a new favourite stout?”

“Of course that’s where your mind would go,” Renault said, amusement warring with a sneer for control of his expression. “Cormac took him. I always knew I wouldn’t have been able to beat Cormac in a fair fight. He was obviously reluctant, but even though he’s still himself in some ways, he doesn’t seem to have much control over his actions.”

“The matter is being treated as a homicide,” Sinclair interjected. “The brewer was apparently beheaded — quite cleanly — so we don’t even have the usual ‘wild animal’ explanation that the hell hounds would have lent us. My contacts in the Watch are trying to cover any indication that Renault and the Hunters were there, but it’s possible too many people saw them entering the estate. We may not be able to keep a lid on it. Which would mean moving forward while under pressure from the Watch.”

Brooks, temporarily distracted from the conversation by what looked to be a flying whale passing by some distance outside the window, snapped back to awareness. “What moving forward? Cormac is on the other team now, and there’s no way to trap his spirit or free him. The best we can do is stay out of his way.”

“Not an option,” Sinclair said definitively. “Renault also learned why Cormac’s ‘inheritors’ are after the contract devil. Turns out one of his contracts is responsible for the surge in vampires around Elim lately. A termination clause that has a dread vampire creating 1,000 spawn to free herself and the fool who signed the contract. That’s not something we can turn a blind eye to.”

Sighing in discomfort as he assimilated the new information, Brooks stood and made his way to one of the windows. The creature he’d viewed earlier was nowhere in sight, and he was surprised to find that nothing else was, either. The concave nature of the windows allowed him an impressive visual radius — one that didn’t include any other structures or even the ground below. “Makes sense,” Brooks nodded understanding. “Everyone knew something was happening involving vampires, though I doubt that’s the whole story.”

“It’s a large enough part of it to warrant attention,” Renault countered. “And our new associates intend to bring it to a close. Apparently they have a history with vampires and a particular dislike for them. But the contract is fairly iron-clad; the only termination clause anyone can find is the aforementioned 1,000 spawn. So I’ve sent them to Saraneth. They already have the True Name and should be able to summon the devil.”

Sinclair picked up where Renault had left off. “Even that will only get them an audience under controlled circumstances — and not a very long one. Supposing that they could kill him, he’d just reform in Hell with a powerful grudge. You remember Kellan, 15 years or so back? He found out the hard way that killing a contract devil is worse than useless. The osyluth that caught up with him demonstrated that thoroughly.”

Brooks did remember but didn’t dwell on it. No Hunter ever died in his bed. Kellan had taken a risk, and it hadn’t paid off. “Doubt he’ll cancel the contract if you ask nicely. What are you proposing? Some kind of trade?”

“No one is proposing anything in specific,” Renault said. “I brought this information to Nora, and she thought that you, as Cormac’s closest friend, should know. And as something of an elder statesman among the Hunters of Whinebrass, you needed to be informed about new developments regarding the influx of vampires.”

Brooks noted the familiar use of Sinclair’s first name and wondered if there might be some significance to it. Her pragmatism and Renault’s idealism seemed like a poor match, but one never knew. Sinclair continued. “It’s up to your new associates how they handle this. Keep your ear to the ground and offer any assistance you can, but this is their fight, at least for now. The Old Men wouldn’t want me to interfere, and it’s not as if I have the resources right now anyway.”

The old Hunter quirked an eyebrow at her. “Where are Jakob and Wilhelm? Shouldn’t they be jumping at something like this?”

“Out west, investigating an invasion of fey. Though those two would ride across the continent at the mention of a pixie, so who knows how worthwhile it is. At any rate, it’s our place to observe and orchestrate. And this time, I want you to do the same.”

Still curious, Brooks surreptitiously used a detect magic spell to scan the windows. Nothing. So if it’s not an illusion… “An odd suggestion for someone who just said—”

“With you, options are usually limited to doing nothing or decisive and unyielding action,” she said, cutting him off. “Wasn’t it you who burned down Faith’s apothecary? Broke her gems? Those would have been invaluable in our hands.”

“They were trapped souls! You would have had me leave them like that? Her entire enterprise reeked of evil, and I did what needed to be done. You’re saying you knew about her and did nothing?”

“Faith was evil, but she was a lesser evil. And it would have been useful to know what she knew. That door is closed to us now, and while your time to be directly involved in this may come, I don’t need you slamming more such doors in the meantime. But you may be called upon to act against Cormac — or whatever he’s become — and I need you to be prepared for that. Withholding the information from you would have just made things more difficult down the line.”

From the decidedly neutral expression on his face and his uncharacteristic silence, Brooks could tell that Renault hadn’t been informed about the events leading up to the fire at Faith Healer or Sinclair’s prior knowledge of the apothecary’s nature. It was no mystery which side of the argument he would have come down on, and Sinclair didn’t need the paladin and the Hunter aligned against her on something. It was sloppy of her to bring it up in front of Renault and would undoubtedly lead to an unpleasant conversation between the two of them later.

“So I’m to be your pawn and wait until you’re prepared to move me?” he asked, sounding a little petulant even to himself.

“You’re to trust, as Cormac did, that I know what’s best for Whinebrass Heights,” she retorted. “You said yourself that your new friends are capable. A ‘decent crew,’ I believe? Trust them to handle the situation. Or at least to make its nature more transparent to us. Maybe they can succeed where Cormac failed and come out on the better end of a deal with a devil. It’s been known to happen.” Sinclair seemed about to say more but apparently thought better of sharing her full thoughts on the matter.

Brooks didn’t like the suggestion but had planned on standing back and letting younger Hunters handle the influx of vampires anyway. Now that a contract devil was involved, why should that change things? He’d never admit to a Man of Letters that she was right, but she wasn’t necessarily wrong. “Agreed. I’ll stay out of the matter for now and gather what information I can. But in exchange, you’re to keep me informed. And not,” he gestured to the unusual room they were sitting in, “here. Come down to the tavern like a normal person. Or hell, we can meet at the Temple. But what even is this place?”

Sinclair smiled, allowing her enjoyment of Brooks’s discomfort to show on her face for the first time that day. “Fair enough. I’ll call on you at Troll Whiskers if I learn anything new. It’ll do me some good to see Mac again, and the scent will likely wash out of my clothes. Eventually.” She rose and gestured to the door. “Gentlemen, if I may see you out?”

Brooks rose, muttering something about flying whales, and followed her to the exit. While he often repeated the truism that “no Hunter ever died in his bed,” it was to comfort him when a friend or associate passed. Personally, he was perfectly content to pursue that fate. Or at least he’d thought he was. Maybe it was his personal connection to Cormac or the apparently increased stakes that made this Hunt more appealing to him than anything else in the last 10 years. But for whatever reason, Brooks had found something that seemed worth risking his life for — if it came down to that.

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