Do you know what happens when two timelines collide? I didn’t. To this day, I am confused as to what occurred on that fateful day in October. According to the ‘experts’ time paused and then sped up. We leapt forward over twenty thousand years in the blink of an eye.
We went from a planet that had one species of humanoids on it, to being surrounded by dozens of new, alien lifeforms. On Earth, we were the only species around, in this new timeline we were the new guys. As usual, we did what we had done time and time again throughout our history. We started a war.
Our elected officials, calling them jackasses seems petty at this point, signed off on it and away we went. Nukes were dropped, rail guns were discharged, and blood was shed. So many people died that the ground was forever damaged. Between the radiation and bloodshed life was forever altered.
I, Jayce Wellspring, was conscripted to fight in the war as a scout, hunter if you prefer. The war lasted days. The species of this new timeline banded together and wrought massive casualties on the ‘new guys.’ Somehow, I survived it. I don’t know whether claim my existence as good luck or bad.
Come to find out, there are two races of Dwarves on this ‘new Earth.’ The Righteous Dwarves live underground. They spend their lives overseeing the development of their culture. Some say they’re the elite when it comes to the economy and trading. Personally, they’ve always seemed prickish to me. “A little too self-absorbed for my taste.”
The Shunned are their Dwarven brothers who aren’t allowed to live underground with them. They’re shunned. Why? Well, it has to do with their criminal nature. The Shunned are master criminals. There is nothing they can’t steal, smuggle, or con you out of. The Righteous Dwarves, for all their elitism, can’t help but fall prey to one scam or another. Hence, the shunning.
Then there are the Elves. Their skin is golden. Guess how self-absorbed these clowns are. They are magic wielders. Some are healers, others are all about destruction. We had no way to defend ourselves against these guys.
They are the political influencers of this time. The Elves and Righteous Dwarves make up The Council. The lesser species, humans included, are not allowed to sit on The Council.
Lesser Species serve as cannon fodder to be thrown against whatever enemy arises. Or they can be ‘monster hunters’, or lastly, they can be criminals. I chose to hunt monsters. Well, I didn’t choose, starvation chose for me.
When you’re shot through time and wind up on the same planet, just in a different timeline, it takes some getting used to. Like I mentioned earlier, we showed up and started a war. On the day of our surrender to the Elves and Dwarves, I was discharged.
“What am I going to do now,” I thought as I pushed through the growing throng of Dwarves and Elves on the pier. They’d shown up to celebrate their victory over the rag-tag humans. Staffs and war hammers were everywhere. The Dwarves raised mugs of one type of alcohol or another and shouted. I slid through unnoticed. Well, mostly unnoticed.
My stomach growled and reminded me that it had been days since my last meal. “Yeah, I know stomach. Let me get out of here, and I’ll steal something.” A rough hand grabbed me by the arm and spun me around. A black-haired Dwarf stared at me from his one good eye. An eyepatch covered his right eye.
“Where are you going, human?”
“Anywhere but here.”
“You don’t like it here? Leave.”
“Trust me, if it was that easy I’d leave today.”
The dwarf scoffed at my remark. At a campfire I was told that Dwarves are an all-male society. At that time, it meant nothing to me. What did I care? I wasn’t a Dwarf. This Dwarf seemed bent to get me riled up. Between the growing throng of celebrants and this guy, I was on my last nerve. I turned to walk away.
“Hey human, I’m not done talking. Get back here.”
“I’m a female, human.”
I stared at the Dwarf. It was the first time I had seen a female with a beard to the floor. I rubbed my forehead and uttered, ‘oh.’ The dwarf stepped close to me and grabbed a handful of my shirt. She yanked me down to her eye level.
“Do you have a problem with me being a female, human.”
“Nope. Not at all. You have fun with that.”
“You’re not scared of me at all,” she said. I shook my head no.
“Nope. You can only kill me once.”
“Wrong, human. I can kill you, then go get one of the Elves and have them resurrect you, then kill you again. I can do that as long as my money holds out.”
“Surely you have better things to do.”
“I do. I recognized you from the Battle of Sentient. You were a hunter.”
I sighed. “Talk about crappy luck,” I thought. “This beastly Dwarf is going to end me here on the docks.” She let go of my shirt and drank from her mug.
“I have a proposition, human. You were a hellion during the battle, so maybe we can work something out.”
“What do you want,” I asked.
“You’ve got three choices, and two don’t count. You can stay in the military and be a meat shield for one of the ‘superior races’, or you can be a criminal. I don’t recommend either of those choices. The last one is you can be a monster hunter.”
“Un-huh. What’s the catch?”
“The catch is that you have no idea how to catch monsters. I could train you, for a fee.”
“Look, I appreciate the gesture, really, I do. But I haven’t eaten in days. I’ve got to find some food.” The Dwarf handed me what I assumed was a sandwich.
“Here. Eat this and follow me.”
She led me to a table that was far from every other table and sat down. I was munching on the food she’d given me when I arrived at the table. I sat across from her.
“This is really good. What is it?”
I stopped chewing and swallowed it. “What is feetal?”
“It’s a slug found in the marshlands south of here.” She laughed at the face I made. I ran my tongue around in my mouth and washed the slug down with what I hoped was potable water. She waited until I found some tiny bit of composure before she continued.
“I’m Hekla,” she said by way of introduction. “I am with the House of Wolves.”
“What is the House of Wolves?”
“We’re a clan of monster hunters. The House issues contracts for monsters and when the contracts are complete, they pay you. They serve as both contract issuer and bank. You could even store your money at the House. It simplifies things.”
“I would be what to you exactly? An indentured servant? A slave?”
“You would be a novice monster hunter. Forms of slavery are allowed here, but I’m in disagreement with those who practice it.”
We had zipped twenty thousand years into the future, and slavery was still in effect. It wasn’t even frowned upon in this timeline. “What I wouldn’t give for a time machine, so I could go back and smack those race-baiting idiots.”
“So, what do you say, human? What do you choose? Are you going to be a meat shield, a criminal or a monster hunter?”
I bit into the feetal and chewed while I contemplated my future. “I’ve seen enough carnage to fill three lifetimes, and I don’t want to be a criminal, regardless of what timeline I am stuck in. I’m left with monster hunter.”
“Looks like I am going with you to the House of Wolves.”
“Good choice. Here’s how it works. For every contract we complete, you get 15% of our gross to start. That will put food in your belly. The more you learn and the greater an asset you prove to be, the higher your percentage grows. It will cap out at 45%. At that point, you can take contracts for yourself.”
“Is there a time limit to reach the max percentage?”
“No. You can work it at your own pace.”
“Okay. What of armor?”
“It’s on you to purchase it. For now, I will purchase you a set. You will pay me back upon completion of our first contract.”
I finished the feetal and non-potable water. Hekla watched me eat the slug. She nodded approvingly.
“Your desire for survival is strong,” she said. Hekla hadn’t mentioned what type of monsters we hunted, and I really didn’t want to ask. It was enough that she wanted to help me. After all the bloodshed, the carnage, and the mental scars, having someone take me in was a godsend.
“Jayce Wellspring, monster hunter.” It didn’t sound half bad when I said it to myself. How bad could it be?
I was about to find out.
After my disgusting but life-saving meal, Hekla and I walked to a small beige tent. A wolf was painted on the canvas. A skinny, I don’t know, lizard/dinosaur looking humanoid stood behind the counter. It stared at me with its red eyes, like it was sizing me up for its next meal.
“Hekla the Brave, what is that following you around?”
“This is my apprentice, Jayce Wellspring. He was a human hunter during the Battle of Sentient.”
The thing chuckled. It shook its head, rows of sharp teeth flashed when it grinned.
“It survived Sentient. Survival must be important to it. What do you need today?”
“Do you have any human hunter armor?”
“I have one set, but it’s bloody. My scavengers found it on a battlefield.”
“We’ll take it. How much.”
“Thirty gold pieces.”
“Not even. I’ll give you twelve.”
They settled on 17. The lizard handed over the armor. It was scratched up, bloody, and smelled faintly of death. Hekla handed it to me.
“Go change,” she said. I walked to a corner room and put it on. Nothing fits like good armor. This wasn’t good armor, but somehow it made me feel complete. I walked out and Hekla nodded.
“Now, we can get to work.”