Regina Northwind looked around at the battlefield after the monster horde came, and the professional way people were already moving among the bodies, selecting the ones with salvageable pelts, and dragging the rest to large piles, where they would apparently be sold to a magical store that made them disappear.
“Remarkable,” Regina said calmly, and Glendel looked around nervously.
Two leaders from Donnyton were walking over, the 16-year-old chieftain and a huge brute with a steel club the size of a support beam for a house. Alana stood behind Regina, her arms folded, but her still face revealed how shocked she was at the terrible efficiency of the people in front of them.
The people here seemed perfectly content to abandon their previous life and pick up this new one, filled with violence and struggle. Maybe it was just a coincidence, but the weirdos that had founded this village were doing something right.
In addition, the NCC that Glendel talked to was hurrying over, talking with a pudgy man with an irritated expression. Both groups from Donnyton arrived at once, the two duos nodding to each other. Then they all turned to the hospital group.
“The name’s Donny, nice to meet you. You’re the group that’s looking to trade clothes?” The skinny kid said, with a surprising amount of confidence and maturity.
The big one grunted. “Dozer. Strongest Warrior.”
Alana relaxed in a dangerous fashion next to him, and Glendel shivered.
“And I’m Daniel, and this is Ms. Hamilton. Do you really have clothes? God, I want to be in something other than furs so badly. “ The chubby one said, shivering.
“Yes, we do.” Regina said with a slight smile. “And you have two things we need very badly; food…. And access to a class.”
Donny’s mouth twisted slightly. “The food…”
Donny and Daniel exchanged a glance. “That’s relatively simple. Mrs. Hamilton has authority to trade as much as she deems fit. We will basically take as many articles of clothing as you can spare. We haven’t yet found anything like cotton or a monster to farm for wool, so we basically can only make clothing from fur. It's been-”
“Itchy,” Daniel interjected.
“As for classes…” Donny continued, “There are few more... strings attached to that.”
Regina’s smile didn’t change. “In terms of clothes, most of what we have are scrubs, used in the hospital, but we also have the Hospital’s stock for.. Special guests, and we managed to hit up a department store on our trek up here. You say strings… though…” Regina’s smile didn’t change. “Such as?”
But as Donny opened his mouth to answer, a shout came out from the group of gatherers, over by the monster bodies, and the group turned to look.
Walking slowly across the battlefield was a tall, athletic looking man. He was young too, probably only in his early or mid 20’s, but the firm line of his mouth and his piercing green eyes made him stand out.
Glendel noticed that Dozer and Donny exchanged a shocked glance. Regina also noticed, and narrowed her eyes.
However, the most shocking things about the man were the long, jagged wounds on his left shoulder. His entire torso was revealed, his clothing in tatters. His pants were covered with dried blood, and his hair was matted and sweaty.
The man’s green eyes swept to the side, and he beckoned two lounging individuals, who wore two shoulder pads each.
They leapt to their feet like the ground beneath them became lava, and hurried over. The man said something to the two, and then they saluted and dashed off.
Glendel began to hear it then, the whispers around them.
That’s the Ghosthound….!
So this was…. The Ghosthound. Glendel wasn’t sure what he had been expecting. Although the bloody man before them certainly seemed like an intense person, he didn’t seem to be worthy of the almost worship he noticed in the gazes of nearby people.
And The Ghosthound was heading directly for their group, his gait still slow and even. By the time he had arrived, the two men he had sent off had returned with a large table, made of thick wood, carried between them like it was cardboard. It honestly looked like a worktable used to work metal.
The Ghosthound climbed up on it, grunting.
“Dozer, you have an axe?” He grunted, sparing Regina’s group a glance then ignoring them.
“Good. Split open my chest. Right about here. You are going to have to pull back the bone, but try and snap the ribcage cleanly; I don’t want any more internal damage. Oh, Miranda, good. Send someone to bring me several jars of the high quality health potion, just in case.”
While the rest of the people looked stunned, Mrs. Hamilton bowed and made several quick hand gestures at some people standing behind her. Instantly several people dashed down towards the NCC village.
Glendel looked around, abruptly conscious of the fact everyone who was in the area was slowly drifting closer, looking intently at the Ghosthound.
The Ghosthound seemed rather annoyed, and glared at Dozer. “Well?”
“Uh, okay, I just-”
“You shouldn’t do that. If the strike doesn’t kill you, the blood loss will.” Regina spoke up, drawing The Ghosthound’s attention. They made eye contact and held it for several long seconds.
“If you want,” Regina offered. “I could handle it. I was a surgeon, before the world changed.”
The Ghosthound hesitated, and shook his head. “Impossible. Time is of the essence. Dozer, cut.”
Dozer raised his axe, but Regina stepped forward, frowning. Glendel sighed to himself. If Regina was anything, it was stubborn, and being so quickly dismissed did not sit well with her.
“You’ve lost a lot of blood, and are behaving foolishly. If you insist on this, you will die, and will have no one but yourself to blame.”
The air around them stilled. Glendel was uncomfortably aware of how many people were looking at them.
But the Ghosthound just chuckled. “You won’t understand easily, will you? Fine. Cut me open. Right here, I need something removed.”
The Ghosthound pointed to a spot midway through his right pectoral muscle, just above where his lung would be. Regina nodded and removed several instruments from her bag. A needle, scalpels, rubbing alcohol.
Shaking his head, the Ghosthound said. “Don’t worry about that stuff. Just cut. I don’t have long.
Regina bit her lip, but set the alcohol and needle aside. Instead, she walked forward with her scalpel and stood over the patient's body, her emotions falling away from her face. Instead, she took on a practiced stance and pressed down with her scalpel.
The Ghosthound chuckled. “Now do you understand? Yes, you would be more exact. But you have no strength to wound me, even when I’m like this. Even with the sharpest knife, you cannot penetrate my skin. Now, Dozer…. cut.”
Regina stepped back, her face stiff, and Dozer stepped forward, raising his axe. He brought it down in a smooth arc, the blade sinking about an inch into the Ghosthound’s stomach.
Hissing, the Ghosthound narrowed his eyes at Dozer. “That was close; you took it too easy. Hopefully you can fit your hand in that small cut to break my ribs yea? Reach in and pull them, snapping them open. Shouldn’t be too hard, they are already partially fractured.”
His hands trembling slightly Dozer reached in and gripped the inside of Randidly’s ribs, setting him groaning. He tested his strength, but to his surprise, found the ribs resisted him. So he pulled harder, and then harder. Blinking, Dozer readjusted his hands and yanked, grunting, finally rewarded with a loud snap, The Ghosthound’s ribs cracked at the side and opened up, revealing most of his chest cavity.
He beckoned, and a jar of health potion was brought to him, which he guzzled down. About halfway through the jar, he said. “You should see a pink tongue wrapped up by a thorny vine. Pull them both out and throw it on the ground. Stay away from it afterwards, and don’t touch it for very long.”
Glendel wasn’t sure what surprised him more, the strange things he was saying, or that Dozer really did reach into his chest and pulled out those two objects, both of them wiggling wildly. Dozer hastily threw them to the side, and the nearby people scrambled backwards, away from the strange things. Then Dozer pushed the cracked ribs down, back into a semblance of place, and removed his axe.
The Ghosthound drank the rest of the potion, and the wound slowly healed back up. Panting, he collapsed on the table, eyes closed.
“Doggy...., how much of that is your blood?” Unbeknownst to everyone, Lyra had snuck through the crowd, and was staring down at the Ghouthound.
The edges of his mouth quirked up in a grin. “Less than half, only the fresh drops.” With what seemed like a great effort, he heaved himself to his feet.
“And where is the thing that did this to you?” Her voice lowered to a dangerous note, her eyes beginning to glow a clear blue. Strangely, as this happened Glendel began to feel the strangest sense of impending danger, and had to fight an abrupt instinct to flee. But the Ghosthound just waved his hand.
The space directly behind the table, which was once mostly empty, was now filled with a strange creature of mangled flesh, the size of a small bus. It resembled the top half of a lion, with the bottom half of a jellyfish.
Glendel paled as he realized that it wasn’t a jellyfish, but that most of the bottom half of the body had just been reduced to hanging, torn strips of pink flesh.
Lyra stilled, then giggled, rolling her eyes, the tension sliding out of her. “You save all the fun things for yourself.”
The Ghosthound chuckled, walking over towards the tongue and the thorny thing. The tongues struggles seemed feeble now, and as The Ghosthound approached, the thorny thing slid off of it and over towards The Ghosthound, climbing up to curl around his shoulders.
Blinking, Glendel noticed that a strange, unassuming man had appeared above the tongue. His eyes sparkled as he stared down at it. Slowly, he reached, meaning to grab the tongue.
But then The Ghosthound snorted and flicked his fingers, an explosion of heat spreading out in a wave, the tongue wizened and shriveled, disappearing to nothing,
“My kill.” The Ghosthound grunted, before returning to the table and laying back with a sigh.