The usual stench of Boney’s haunt seemed heavier tonight. The sweat of hunters, the reek of cigarettes, and stale beer, it clung to the skin on normal nights. Tonight, Chelsea imagined it soaking into her hair.
She had the feeling the increased smell might have something to do with Scott. She’d been crowded in close to him, due to sheer number of hunters. The older hunter never seemed to shower or change his clothes. Still, according to Amber, nobody planned a better hunt.
She wiped at her nose, sipped her beer, and tried to relax. She didn’t really like crowds, not even crowds of hunters. She and Amber had volunteered for this oni hunt over a week ago, though. They needed to know the game plan.
Chelsea glanced around the room for her girlfriend. Amber sat at the bar, a scowl on her face and beer in hand. Chelsea nearly laughed, but caught herself before Amber met her gaze.
For the last few weeks Amber turned unbelievably grumpy whenever they left their apartment. It was too cute. Chelsea didn’t blame her. She hated getting out of bed as well.
Oh God, I love a honeymoon phase.
“All you bastards, shut it and listen. We have an oni to kill.” Scott’s bellow silenced the bar. “We’re talking about nine feet of muscle, topped with two horns, and carrying a tree it banged into a club. They crave fresh blood, and humans aren’t hard for them to swat. Lastly, unlike most predators, they like the taste of human.”
A trickle of sweat ran down Chelsea’s spine, and her stomach twisted. How was she supposed to fight a giant with an ax she doubted would pierce its hide even if she knew how to use it?
Scott rubbed at a filthy patch on his neck. “We found it’s cave last week, and have been leaving food for it. It’s well fed and getting used to us. That means it’s getting careless. For the last two days, after a big meal, it’s gone to sleep with us in plain sight.”
In the crowd, random people nodded. A sense of ease ran through her. It seemed quite a few people here knew about hunting this oni. The fight suddenly felt a lot more doable.
Scott continued, arms crossed over his huge belly. “Now, we have metacine, but not enough to kill it.” A small groan came from the crowd. “I know, I know, but that’s why we started pulling in people last week. This is gonna get messy.”
Chelsea’s unease was back, stronger than ever. She glanced towards Amber, still at the bar. A dark scowl twisted her face.
“So,” Scott sucked in a deep breath. “We’re going to poison a nice, big deer for it. And once it’s knocked out, we’re coming in with weighted nets.” A few protests came from the crowd. Scott lifted his hands, silencing them. “I want this thing beheaded and fast, but without metacine it’s a gamble. We have to assume it’ll wake up. So we’re going to reduce our odds. That means tying it down before getting in close, and a large contingent of pole arms, just in case.”
Chelsea heart began to pound. She barely knew how to use her ax. She had no clue how to use a pole arm. Based on the muttering around her, she wasn’t alone.
Scott looked around, rolling his eyes. “Everybody calm down.” The muttering died down, but didn’t stop. “Trust me, folks. Pole arms aren’t all that scary. And if you get assigned one, you are the extreme back up, the last line of defense. If everything goes well, you won’t even be needed.”
Some of her fear abated. Chelsea looked again for Amber. Her girlfriend’s scowl had turned to a thunderous glare. Chelsea craned her neck, trying to see what had Amber’s attention, but the thick crowd, in the already dark bar, made in impossible to know.
“But,” Scott continued, “just in case, we called in a polearm expert to run a crash course tomorrow. Nothing showy, just how to work as a team, and few basics in case things get hairy. Everybody, this is Sonja.”
A woman at the front of the bar stepped onto a table. Chelsea immediately flashed to Venus rising from the sea. Not Botticelli’s specifically, simply the motif, as the woman seemed divine.
Tall, not for a woman, just tall. Well over six feet, with broad shoulders, and obvious muscles. Yet, she had feminine curves and a gorgeous face, devoid of make up. A bold nose, yet on her it fit, only making other women look drab and uninteresting. Her hair hung in a single loose braid that brushed at her hip. She smiled and Chelsea had to catch her breath.
Then she spoke in a low, dark voice. “Tomorrow, noon, out at Judith’s. You guys have one afternoon to learn to work as a unit. Let’s kill us a giant.” A few people in the crowd whooped as Sonja jumped off her table. “I need a beer.”
“Hold up, you bastards.” Scott fought to his feet. “Before you all get drunk, I have everybody’s assignments listed at the wall behind me. Go find out where we need you to be and try to remember it in the morning.”
Chelsea laughed along with everybody else, but she avoided the bar. Instead she beelined for the back wall. She wasn’t sure where she wanted to be in this fight.
I know I don’t want to hang out at Judith’s for a few hours.
She pushed away the bitter thought. She didn’t like Judith only because of Jackson HawkChelsea Childling Goes to a Funeral, and she’d sworn to leave that man in the past. Where he belonged.
For both me and Amber.
The three pages of torn notebook paper held Scott’s neat printed block capitals. Chelsea quickly found her name on the pole arm list, and determinedly put her mind on getting a few reference photos of Sonja for sketching.
She scanned the lists until she found Amber, also on pole arm duty, then she hurried over to the bar.
As she fought through the crowd, she couldn’t help but notice the tension in Amber. Her normally full lips had thinned to almost nothing, and her right leg constantly twitched.
Chelsea slipped an arm around Amber soft waist. “We have pole arm duty.”
“Yay.” Amber’s flat tone matched her glare. Chelsea couldn’t help but follow the glower.
Amber’s hostility sat firmly planted on Sonja.
Well, this just got more complicated.
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