Excerpt from the bestiary of Thomas Bookbinder: There is a race set apart from the rest of us, who are in appearance half Man and half demon. They call themselves The People and their function is to maintain the balance between good and evil. They are a force for the right, and they are said to speak with Angels…
When Aascko son of Aasgo became a fully fledged Hunter his pride knew no bounds. He had learned diligently, and his Teacher had even managed to shake some of the moral certainties that a rigid and unimaginative upbringing had rooted in his head. He was no longer the arrogant youngling who had reported for training, and he knew that his further development would depend on who had been chosen to partner the greenest rookie in the pack. His first winter saw him paired with a stolid oldster, who steadied him and taught him who might be trusted and who he should be wary of.
Then the old Hunter retired, leaving Aascko partnerless and vulnerable. He went on a couple of low grade jobs before being called to the home of the Master Hunter to meet his permanent partner. He found himself more nervous than he had been since his first day of training and was forced to wipe sweaty palms on his trousers before knocking on the door of the Master’s office. The old Hunter stood up to greet him.
‘Welcome Aascko. Come and meet Aaspa.’
Aascko felt a cold finger on his spine. Of all the Hunters in the pack, he was to be paired with the Abomination. He steeled himself and held out a hand. A slight figure uncoiled itself from the chair in the corner of the room and he beheld her for the first time. She was beautiful, slender and strong, with silver-grey skin, aristocratic features, and a crest of night black curls. Then he saw her eyes and it was all he could do not to recoil. He held firm, and kept a smile of polite greeting on his face. Even so, she saw the revulsion in him and the pleasant smile on her own face faded.
‘Forget it’ she said shortly. ‘This one has too much baggage.’
The Master a Hunter held up a hand. ‘Please Aaspa. Do this for me. Aascko deserves a chance.’
‘With respect, Master, I don’t think he wants a chance. He can barely bring himself to touch my hand. What sort of a partnership will that be? How should I trust a partner who thinks my very existence violates the rules of being? The first chance he gets he’ll betray me.’
Aascko felt his cheeks flame with embarrassment. ‘No lady. I would not sink so low.’
She turned to look at him and he saw the hurt that lurked in those blue eyes. It hit him like a hammer blow.
‘The eyes of The People are brown and no other colour’ she said bitterly. ‘I expect you were brought up reciting that alongside the other commandments.’
‘I was. But I’ve already had most of my certainties shaken. That one is about due to be amended too.’
‘Why should I believe you?’
‘I can give you no reason, save my oath.’
‘And why would you give your oath to Abomination?’
He met her gaze straightforwardly. ‘Because I need a partner and so do you. Also, I have heard of your skill and I would learn from the best. I would not offer friendship to anyone on first meeting, but I would promise my loyalty. Will you accept my word?’
She regarded him solemnly for a moment then nodded. He bent his knee before her.
‘Huntress Aaspa I pledge my fealty from this day forward.’
Then he stood up and offered his hand. She took it, and he noticed how finely boned she was.
‘I’m sorry’ he said honestly. ‘I find myself ashamed.’
She favoured him with a twisted grin.
‘Forget it. It happens all the time.’
‘I dare say. But that don’t make it right. It makes it worse.’
‘Maybe we do have a chance at forging a partnership’ she bumped knuckles with him. ‘We’ll give it a go.’