The Ravener’s hunter had been seeking its quarry for a long time now.
At first, it hunted with its siblings, each staying in close communication as they moved beyond the territory of their master. But—as they dispersed—they grew too distant from each other to maintain communication.
And now, the hunter was alone.
First, it had explored the sea, seeking its quarry on one of the great boats its master’s enemies had left their homeland in. The hunter had been given careful instructions etched into its instincts at the moment of its creation. Attack none, except the quarry.
Do not be seen and move with all stealth.
Do not kill unless for sustenance or to defend its life.
The quarry was its only purpose, and if anything stood in the way of destroying the one who had usurped one of its master’s cores, then it should strive to evade it to avoid attention, and only destroy it as a last resort.
So, it silently swam the waves—only killing fish to eat—and sending out ‘pings’ of magic to seek the tell-tale sign that one who’d made contact with the dungeon core was in range. After a long while exploring the sea, it moved toward the land to the east and south, while others had spread out to the west and north, and to the lands of the northeast.
It reached land in the dead of night and began its journey inland.
As it travelled, it began to learn.
The voice boxes within the throats of the hunters were unlike any that lay in other creatures its master had ever birthed: they were malleable—almost as soft as mud—and could form any shape. While the hunter could not disguise its form, it could mimic any sound that it heard.
As it crept deeper into the wilderness, it began to copy the sounds of the beasts of the land and birds of the air, attracting prey within reach of its hiding places to catch its meals with piercing claws and venomous teeth.
The farther it travelled, the more it learned of its surroundings.
People made different sounds than the beasts—communicating in a range of varied words and tones and pitches. While it could not comprehend their speech, it had the ability to mimic them.
As it stalked its quarry it would repeat words over and over again that it had heard, imitating a range of voices and perfecting its ability to sound like anyone. It thought that would be a good way to deceive and lure its prey when they were finally cornered. The hunt was slowly stretching into weeks without any sign of the one it was seeking, and each passing day became more and more mundane. While it remained single minded in purpose, it began to seek ways to alleviate the tedium.
And so the hunter developed something that could be called a ‘hobby’ of sorts, pausing to observe people from hiding places in the wilderness, and copying them as they spoke to each other. It grew increasingly absorbed with this hobby, at times straying too close to those it was observing.
Then—one early morning—a ping returned something.
A faint sign.
Its quarry, at some point, had passed this way.
At last it had something to investigate, but its distractedness nearly proved to be its undoing.
The creature had travelled unseen across four mountains—one that burned, one that floated, one that wept and one studded in jewels—yet it was here in this quiet, rustic countryside that it was spotted.
A human on horseback had seen it and began shouting, wheeling his horse away.
Snarling, the hunter had pursued—falling to all fours to match the speed of the mount—and leapt upon the man’s back. It had wrestled the struggling prey to the ground.
It was larger than most humans and far stronger than its size would suggest; it had no problem pinning the man to the ground and biting deep into his shoulder to send its deadly venom in to do its work. For good measure, it used its claws to rip him wide open.
Unfortunately for the hunter, the struggle and screams attracted more people walking along the road and—while some fled—others hurled whatever was close at hand while shouting at it. Some were armed and armoured, and as its instructions returned to its mind, it ran instead of engaging further.
It lost days hiding within forests while cautiously trying to follow the trail of the one it sought.
That trail eventually led to the sea.
Excitement built as increasing pings showed that it was nearing its prey.
Soon, it would be able to fulfil its purpose and eliminate the one who had defiled the core, and no thought thrilled it more than this. The Ravener’s hunter did not know which of its master’s enemies had usurped his core—many of them were dangerous—but it had been created to battle many foes. It would use stealth and cunning as its weapons and—if those did not prove sufficient—it would seek tools and even monsters to subjugate for its cause.
What it did not expect was where its quarry would be found.
No such place existed in the instincts and knowledge granted by its master: the pings led to a place of power.
It was a city—that much it knew from its travels—but the sheer amount of magic blazing from it threatened to overwhelm the hunter’s senses. Worse, the pings revealed that the usurper was deep within a part of the city—one that was protected by wards and powerful mortal magic users. Glaring at the city from the choppy sea, it dove deep beneath the water and howled its frustration.
After its long journey, its quarry lay so close…but infiltrating this place would be a formidable task with many pitfalls. The chance of being discovered was high, which could lead to its end. Its purpose would be unfulfilled. Floating beneath the waves from daylight to darkness and back again repeatedly, it carefully ‘observed’ its prey through the pings, learning some of its habits.
Most of its quarry’s time was spent inside the highly defended sanctum within the city. Sometimes it would emerge and travel to the city, though rarely far from the defended place. And within the city itself, The Ravener’s hunter could sense a host of powerful magic-users.
Too much risk to strike at the usurper on one of their journeys.
At other times, they would disappear beyond the range of the pings. It considered this: its prey had left The Ravener’s territory without leaving a trail, just as they now seemed able to appear and disappear at will. Could they transport themselves freely across distances?
If so, that would increase the likelihood of their escape.
The hunter needed to observe for a longer period of time.
It would also need to discover the defences around its prey and—importantly—learn when they would be most vulnerable.
For now, it would be patient.
It would wait and observe.
Under cover of darkness, it swam from its hiding place at the bottom of the bay, emerging onto shore—away from the city—and journeyed deep into the countryside. It would find a place far away from people and magic users. It would make a lair. It would find resources and beasts that it might be able to dominate through fear.
And it would wait.
“I ain’t never seen tracks like these before,” a gruff voice said. “Think it’s the mana vampire?”
The hunter’s eyes cracked open.
Voices were drifting through the trees from somewhere far from its hideout. Since carelessness had let it be seen in the other land of humans, it was now far more cautious. It constantly listened and constantly watched.
Now, it had been nearly asleep when it heard the low tramping of booted feet and the quiet voices of people on the hunt. Stealthily, it abandoned its lair in a bog and climbed high into the trees, crossing from branch to branch.
At last, it peered down on those entering its domain.
A group of people—perhaps ten or more—and all well-armed and armoured. Each moved with confidence, and the one in the lead had eyes that were hard like stone. His large, curved sword was gripped tightly in one hand, and his beard and hair were tied.
“It might or might not be the mana vampire,” the man in the lead said quietly. “I don’t know these tracks at all. Either way, if it’s a monster, there’s probably some bounty for it: there’s plenty of them for us to make some coin from.”
The hunter watched them in complete stillness.
Though it heard and could mimic the words they spoke, it still could not understand them. Instincts and their weapons told it that these were dangerous people. It knew well that it could likely kill them: it was an assassin birthed to slay The Ravener’s enemies after all, but a fight against multiple foes might cause it injury, making it less likely to succeed in its purpose.
There was also the possibility that chance would favour them and it would be slain. Or, even if it destroyed every last one of them, they might be missed by others who would come seeking them.
Weighing the options, it decided against open conflict and began to move away through the trees.
Something cracked against its leg, striking at it like a jellyfish.
An arrow had bounced off its armoured hide.
“There! I think I see it!” one of the people below cried.
The creature snarled, and kept trying to escape through the trees.
“After it! Payday’s here! Take it down!” one of them shouted.
The hunter moved swiftly, wanting to put distance between itself and its pursuers. But they were moving quickly across the forest floor—like experienced hunters.
Still, the more they chased, the more it grew the distance between them.
Behind it, arrows snapped against branches, but they too were left behind.
When the voices finally faded, the creature dropped from among the tree tops and sprinted along the forest floor. It ran, crashing through rivers and streams to hide its tracks, and concealed itself in woodland and thicket, keeping well away from open ground.
Once it could no longer hear the threat, it slowed and began to seek out a new lair.
It paused, then moved toward a walled place of heat and dust.
Its escape had taken it south, close to where the green fields ended and the dusty plane began. Strange mana flowed from that direction, and there were few settlements close by. It was a far distance from the waterways it preferred.
Abruptly, a ping sounded from close by—coming from the dusty plane.
It dropped to all fours and hurried toward the ping.
The Ravener’s command would finally be fulfilled. The ping repeated once, twice, three times: each time closer and louder than the last. It stretched its claws out, longing to pierce the usurper with them. Suddenly, there was an overwhelming surge of mana, stopping the creature as if it had been struck by a mighty blow. A being who overflowed with mana had appeared adjacent to the pings, and the hunter’s survival instincts screamed for caution. Its quarry was so close, yet still far from reach while one with such dangerous levels of mana was present.
So it backed away, waiting for its prey to leave the dusty plane. Its pings continued steadily, then suddenly disappeared, abruptly reappearing inside the city.
It had been so close to catching its prey.
But, close would not fulfill its purpose. Weeks of creeping near the city walls had not revealed an easy way to enter: it had not found a way to bypass the powerful magics near the walls, nor avoid detection through the city. That did not mean a way did not exist, it just meant that it had not found one yet.
And while its quarry might be more vulnerable in the place of dust, the magic wielder it had travelled there with would likely be a very fatal opponent.
This called for different measures.
It wavered, unsure if stealth should be continued or if calling attention to itself would work better. If it terrorized the countryside, that might flush its prey like a beast fleeing fire. Or it might make them hide deeper within the protected walls. Killing mortals might also bring more of them to pursue it, interfering with its purpose.
No. Stealth was the better choice, but it needed resources.
First, it would leave this area for a time. It was clear that its quarry had set down roots here and would remain. So, it was time to go north and seek its siblings.
Then it could return, but with greater numbers.
Once that was done…
It peered at the wall that separated the green lands from the place of mana and dust. It could feel other sources of mana coming from within. Beasts, not mortals or others that would oppose its master.
With greater numbers, they could dominate and subjugate some of the beasts. They could be used as a distraction while the usurper was slain through stealth.
Yes. That would ensure success.
Snarling, it sprang away, eager to return to the open sea.
It would be back.
And then its purpose could be fulfilled.