The Fae Worlds

Four Hunters

The Other Treasure Hunters

The girl wasn’t an idiot, which was a good sign. Deotis wasn’t a safe world. Everyone knew that. Yet there were four of us who’d made the decision we were going, probably having been hired by the same person. Once I realised there were four of us I knew something was up. It was possible, albeit unlikely, we were going to different worlds, so I waited. Someone would make the move. We were the sort of people who watched more than we acted. Most hunters took their time, thought their plans through, did what made the most sense, and those who didn’t died when they screwed up. I had no sympathy for a hunter that died due to their own stupidity. Hunting for as long as I had meant I’d seen it more than once, sometimes even actively choosing to hang back when an ally ran into a situation they weren’t ready for.
Raking a hand through my hair I stood. Drink in hand, not bothering to put on an act the way she had, mostly because there was no point. I was who I was. When I reached her table she looked at me. “It’s a pleasure to have you on board.”
I shook my head as I sat. “Don’t assume that any decisions are made yet.” My drink went down in front of me, and I glanced over at the other two. “Ruarc isn’t gonna be an easy one to convince to join up with us.”
“You know him?”
“No, I know of him. He’s mostly a loner.” I laughed. “That describes all of us, to be honest, but he’s much less likely to work with other people than any other hunter. An old friend of mine once tried to convince Ruarc it would be in their best interest to work together. Maybe it would have been. Unfortunately that friend was someone who should probably never have been a hunter, and ended up having his leg chewed off by some big creature he could never describe.”
“Probably because it had nothing to do with some big creature.” Ruarc’s voice came from across the room. “It had everything to do with the fact he wasn’t careful enough. Had I not found him when I did he probably would have died.” His eyes met with mine when I looked at him. “You know why I made the choice, Mael, so don’t act as though you don’t.”
“Knowing him the way I did I would have made the same decision.” I shrugged. “Like I said we are all mostly loners. Working alone… well, it’s more natural for us than working together. We are what we are.”
As Ruarc stood, he nodded, walking over with the other kid. If he made the decision to accept us as allies then I’d at least have someone by my side I knew had similar skills to me. That was better than being stuck with two unknown kids. “True.” He sat down, looking at the girl as he did. “Okay, I’m sorta convinced you might have a point, but I don’t know why it matters.”
“We have a chance it doesn’t matter.” Her voice was measured, and she looked at each one of us in turn. “I’m not going to count on it. For now what I know is we have four hunters all on the same ship, all going to the same place, probably with the same task. That, to me, says there’s something more to this, but I can’t tell you what that something is.”
Glancing at Ruarc, and the kid, I nodded. “She has a point. I’ve been doing this for long enough I know how unusual it is for four hunters to end up in the same place at the same time.”
“Okay, so we have a chance that we’re being thrown into something.” Ruarc shrugged. “I’m not convinced that means I should work with the three of you, or that Mael’s even planning on working with you at all.” His eyes were on Layla for a moment. “You’re an unknown, and a female unknown at that. Beau, I’ve heard of you, but that doesn’t tell me much. What I know is that I’m probably better off alone, the way I have been before.”
Laughing, the girl shook her head. “Oh, man, I should have been expecting that. It’s not as though it hasn’t happened before.” She sipped her drink, her eyes showing more emotion than pure amusement. “Look, Ruarc, I don’t appreciate it when someone judges me by the way I look, because that has nothing to do with what I’m capable of. Yeah, I’m female. Doesn’t mean I haven’t been to worlds as dangerous as Deotis in the past and come out of it alive.”
“Who helped?”
“Mostly, I work alone. Ascario was… complicated, but I made it out, and whole.” She shrugged. “I know I can survive Deotis alone. I don’t need to work with anyone. This has nothing to do with my skills, and everything to do with the fact I have a feeling we’re being thrown into something more. Something that’s more complicated than it seems. Being able to survive a place like Deotis is relatively easy, as long as you’re prepared to fight, but surviving whatever else it is we’re dealing with… that’s an unknown. I don’t like unknowns.”
For a few seconds I stared at her. “I know who you are.”
“Epic.” She studied me. “Does that have some sort of effect on what choice you’re likely to make?”
“Darling, you’re one of only three hunters that’s ever come off a world like Ascario alive.” I smiled at her. “That has an effect. That has a lot of an effect.” I glanced at Ruarc. “You know too, judging from the silence.”
He raised an eyebrow. “Yeah, I know.” He looked at Layla. “I never would have thought you’d be her. Stories I heard…” He shook his head. “I should know better than to pay attention to hunter stories. Elaboration is a given, but they make you seem bigger. Less feminine.”
“To be expected.” Her eyes met with mine for a moment. “Okay, so what is it we’re going to do? Like I said I could survive Deotis. I have no doubts that the three of you believe the same thing, otherwise you wouldn’t have made the decision to take on the job. Maybe you don’t believe there is something more to this, and my worry is all for nothing, but I don’t think we’re ready for whatever that something more might be.”
“I agree.” The other kid spoke for the first time, and I looked over at him. His silence hadn’t been entirely unexpected. “What we have right now is a puzzle missing several of the pieces we need to be able to put it together. Layla’s right when she says it could be nothing, but considering what I know I don’t believe that’s the case. Normally I don’t care all that much about who it is that hired me. I do the job, take the money, and move on. I don’t care about why I was asked to do it. I don’t care about what it is they’re going to do with whatever it was I got for them. This time…” He looked at me, then at Ruarc. “There are too many of us for me to think that I can do this job the same way I have done before. Had we all been going to different worlds I would simply be doing what it is I do, but now I question why it is this one thing needs the four of us. Especially considering the amount of money that has to have been spent to hire us.”
“People are strange, sometimes.” Ruarc shrugged. “Obviously our employer is someone who knows how dangerous Deotis is, and made the decision that they would be more likely to get what it was they wanted if they hired more than one hunter. I’m not going to look at this too hard. It is what it is.”
“Only it’s us.” I looked at Ruarc. “Yes, Deotis is dangerous, but four strong hunters?” Assuming the other kid was strong was logical, considering how badly I’d misjudged Layla. Prettiness wasn’t a sign of how good a hunter I was dealing with, which was something I should have known, considering some of the female hunters I’d worked alongside. “Two of us would be more than enough if this wasn’t something complicated. I can only think, keeping in mind what I know of what we’ve done, whoever hired us probably isn’t expecting all of us to walk away. Whoever it is knows more than we do.”
“Deotis, once, was home to a colony of people, who, for some inexplicable reason, believed they would be able to build a home there. I’m not sure if they were planning on working around the wildlife, if they were planning on destroying it, or if they thought they might be able to tame it. Either way they quickly found the life they might have been able to live on a safer would wasn’t the life they’d be able to live there. According to the records they sent out an SOS. They needed help, only the help didn’t get there quickly enough. Apparently.” Layla ran her tongue over her lips. “Everyone in that colony died, killed by the wildlife. That was what the general public was told.
“What the general public wasn’t told was an entirely different story. Some of the colonists were still alive. When they realised a ship was there they truly believed they would be saved. Only the ship wasn’t there to help them. It was a drop ship. More supplies were dropped, and then the ship left, leaving those colonists to fend for themselves. The government that made the decision came up with some logical reasons for what they were doing, but those logical reasons were mostly just an excuse not to do anything more than they did.”
“Another world to be had.” Ruarc shook his head. “Only a lot of the time it’s nowhere near as simple as people believe it is going to be.” He sipped his own drink. “Dealing with people, sometimes, can be more complicated than just dealing with the wildlife. Diplomacy isn’t one of my skills.”
Layla smiled. “Fortunately for you it is one of mine. I can’t make any promises. Being diplomatic can help, but then you find yourself dealing with people who are incredibly stubborn, and believe that their way is the only way. If I can get us out into the world I will. If I can’t then we’ll have to find a way out.”
“You seem to be assuming now that I’m planning on working with you.”
“I assume nothing, Ruarc. What I’m doing is sharing my skills with three other hunters, because that’s the person I am, and if you decide once you’re out to go your own way there will be no hard feelings. I don’t want anything in return. Should you find there is something more to this I would appreciate a heads up, but one way or another we need to get out of the town I believe is down there to make a start. There is a chance they did all die after that last drop. I have no way of being certain. What I read was enough to make me uncertain anyone would be able to survive down there, and yet I know how easy it is for people to surprise you.”
Ruarc looked at me, and I looked back at him. My decision was made. It had been made ever since I realised who Layla actually was. Not allying with her on a planet like Deotis would be a mistake. “We do what we have to do. That’s what we’ve always done, and always will do. You need to decide what it is would be best for you, the same way we have all decided what it best for us, but those things are not necessarily the same.”