5 – Ispolin

Goldie Leraje had a reputation at the Hunter’s Union. Blonde and bronzed, she cut a striking figure in a dandelion coat and a wide-brimmed hand over her braided hair. Her blue eyes sparkled with mischief at almost all times, and her tendency to carry gilded weaponry added to her impression of wealth and success, though that was not what garnered her a reputation amongst the Union members.

Few survived working with the Goldcoat. She was known to take a number of apprentices, most commonly three at a time, and simply cycle through them as they were sacrificed on the altar of her successes. But Goldie was a beauty, so she could be forgiven.

Besides, not all of them died. Many simply retired with injuries, or left the apprenticeship early so their bodies and minds would remain mostly intact. 

Suffice to say, Bonnie had some concerns about taking a job with Goldie, but she did so for the reason that most were willing to work with Lady Leraje: She always took high-paying jobs and everyone who worked with her got the best equipment.

The black-coated hunter would never admit it, but some might consider the noise she made when handed her very own Giantsbane rifle akin to a squeal of delight. 

There was little reason for delight though. The rifle was impressive, a large caliber meant for piercing through even steel and putting down the most enormous of beasts, but it was given over for a reason. 

A giant hunt was a significant event.

The depths of the forest was bereft of snow. Evergreen trees kept their pines and leaves. It was a temperate place, not nearly as frozen as much of the land in the depths of winter. There was still a chill in the air that misted from the breath of the dozen hunters walking through the wood. 

Bloodcoat, Blackcoat, Goldcoat. Coats for the cold, for protection, for safety in numbers because the giant had numbers. Not more than one giant, because that would demand even more than they already had. But beasts of great power sometimes lured lessers to their side.

There was nothing proud about a varc. No true wolf had alphas, they were communal, not hierarchical, but a varc would bare its belly to anything strong enough to hold it down. Most often, they lingered around a stronger member of their kind, feasting from what leftovers they could gain from their leader’s kills.

In this circumstance, the pack bowed their heads to a beast a hundredfold mightier than any mere varc.

Through the rifle’s scope, Goldie saw the giant. It was massive, taller than a barn and just as wide. To call its skin brown was not accurate; rather, its skin was soil, roughly textured and covered by moss in the vein of hair, shaggy and greasy. Amber dripped from its drooling maw as it snored, teeth like sharpened stone visible in the cavern it breathed through. Full and powerfully fat, its boarish nostrils flared with the breaths it took, before it snapped awake in a sudden instant, eyelids cracking to reveal eyes like murky green pools that began to run over.

Foul, tepid water curled down the crags of its cheeks, watering the trails of moss that began to sprout flowers with eyes for pistils. In a sudden motion, its massive paw shot out and snatched a varc that strayed too close.

Monster though it was, nearly every creature in existence had an inborn sense of self-preservation, and the varc howled and screeched its terror before the teeth clenched shut around its body in a sickening crunch.

The giant chewed, blood dripping down its chin as it savored the mix of fur and flesh before shoving the rest in, consumed in an instant by its hunger. Then those vast pools called its eyes snapped towards the slightest motion, and up it stood on gnarled feet, its legs like trunks somehow strong enough to keep the monstrosity standing properly. Then it roared and the sound was pain.

No time to recover. The varcs were on them.

A hunter went down almost immediately, ears bleeding before the wide jaws caught his head. As skull shattered and brain splattered, the hunters fired.

More blood soaked the ground. The smart move was to conserve ammo, to only use the Giantsbane for the Giant, but when over a dozen varcs were charging your position, it was reasonable to make a poor decision or two. 

The bullets of the Giantsbane did not merely pierce the flesh of the varcs; it destroyed them. Heads were reduced to little more than gore, chests erupted into blood and meat, and even trees shattered where the bullets hit. 

Bonnie sighted and fired with her Wolfsbane, center mass, no room for error. As evidenced by another hunter who was jumped by three varcs at once and went down screaming, there was no margin here.

Shotgun fire joined the rifles as some hunters switched their weapons. It was handier in some respects, easier to shred flesh, though the distraction the varcs posed was more dangerous than their own threat.

Yes, two hunters had already died at the teeth and claws of the monstrous wolves in human skin. A third died when the giant elected to simply throw a varc at him. No jaws clamped down on his flesh; instead, he was pulped by the sheer force of the beast crashing into him. 

A massive foot crushed a fourth before she could scream, and a fifth had a moment to consider the fist swinging towards him. After that moment, the loose viscera that was once a human person dripped from the tree branch its had slammed into and landed on a sixth hunter’s head, who decided he had simply had enough and bolted in the other direction.

The giant ripped a tree from the earth and turned its leaking eyes towards the hunters. It noticed the one fleeing, snapped its makeshift club in half, and pitched the top of the pine towards the hunter in a truly impressive throw that managed to entirely eradicate the upper left half of the poor bastard’s body.

Bullets slammed into the beast, some smaller than they should have been as the hastier hunters realized they had used up their Giantsbanes before they were truly needed, before a large enough bullet from an unspent rifle crashed into the giant’s eye.

Monster though it was, it still felt pain, and it roared to show it, throwing the tree roots in an attempt to catch who fired. Splinters rained and it slammed its hand down, shaking the earth. Snarling, bestial, it looked through its remaining eye, the other socket now dry. There were flashes of red before it noticed the gold–

And then its second eye was gone. 

Screeching, squealing, it reared back then roared and ripped another tree straight from the soil, swinging with reckless abandon to smash whatever caused it pain. Large bullets pierced through its chest and mud began to leak, dark and viscous in the dirt.

Bonnie fired as fast as she could, trying to catch its heart through the layers of skin and the rocks beneath, before its head snapped towards her with a vicious snarl, somehow recognizing the first hunter to take one of its eyes. It moved faster than she could react, fist flying to smash her into oblivion, yet bullets moved faster than even the giant could react.

Its head snapped back, a hole in its earthen skull, before Goldie strode forward, golden revolvers in hand, and unloaded. 

It was a day of terror, but not tragedy. When the giant fell, that was that. Half survived, and that was fine.

Up until a partially broken tree fell and smashed a seventh. Then it was, as Goldie put it, something of a tragedy. You always wanted to keep at least half alive, after all.

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