12 – Aisling

A hunter’s weapons were made to last. 

They were not the best; many could boast greater. They were not the strongest; many weapons were more powerful. They were not the deadliest; they were made for killing monsters, and there were weapons that were much more effective at killing humans.

But they were reliable.

A hunter’s weapons were designed to withstand what the monstrosities of the world could bring to bear against them. They had to be dropped in mud and still function. They had to be soaked all the way through and still fire. They had to be durable, steady, and guaranteed to work no matter the situation. An automatic may fire faster, but if it jammed, the hunter was dead. And many monsters brought misfortune with them.

Even still, no weapon was invincible, and it was inevitable that the brutality of battle would eventually wear down on even the greatest of armaments.

Brutality, or merely the act of being swallowed by a sufficiently large creature. The saliva of a wyrm alone would be fairly damaging, but the larger problem came from fighting one’s way out as the blood and viscera soaked and clung and gummed up the mechanisms. 

Worse, the wyrmlings attached to the mother wyrm’s back took issue with their progenitor being torn open from the inside, and their own lunges resulted in yet more gore coating the hunter who fought to escape the painful death of suffocation and digestion.

Even then, the beastbane held surprisingly well, and Bonnie took a breath of the cool, marsh air, still wet yet not as humid as the mother wyrm’s gullet. She turned and spotted the crumpled form of Larry with a wyrm still on his face.

She decided to shoot him to be sure, and that was when her beastbane fell apart in her hands. It was also the moment when the wyrm, apparently bored, let go of Larry, and it turned out the idiot was still alive as he immediately sat up and praised the Saints for his survival.

That’s another thing Bonnie hated about Larry. Somehow, he always managed to survive the nonsense he dragged everyone else into.

“Gracious Saints, thank you for sparing me from that fearsome beast! I knew if only I played dead, my salvation would–Oh eugh, what happened to you? You look even worse than earlier.”

Bonnie really hated Larry. And now she had to get her guns fixed in addition to getting her clothes replaced. 

The Hunter’s Union had agreements with a number of gunsmithing companies, with the type Bonnie preferred being produced under the “Devil Bane” brand. Wolfsbane, beastbane, giantsbane. The banes of monsters, wielded by hunters. 

It was with that in mind that Bonnie Mercadi went to visit the local Bullet Bane in hopes of getting her guns repaired. 

Instead, she found the gun store had been replaced by what appeared to be a boutique, now called “Dreamweaver”. That was…concerning.

The interior indeed looked like a boutique, so her first impression was not incorrect. Instead of racks of guns, there were racks of clothes. Faceless white mannequins wore outfits ranging from regency dresses to scavenger duds. Some even wore hunter clothing, and one appeared to be facing Bonnie as she entered.

She nearly drew her revolver when it stepped off its podium and moved towards her, though then she remembered her revolver was broken and pulled her knife instead. The mannequin paused, then turned in complete silence and walked to the back of the boutique, its movements smoother than anything made of plastic should be.

Then there was a woman in front of her.

Bonnie was severely tempted to stab the woman in front of her, then allowed herself to relax at the woman’s graceful greeting. She outright curtsied. Bonnie couldn’t stab a lady that curtsied. At least one that wasn’t a monster.

Her name was Aisling. She had pale blonde hair, braided behind her head, and wore a green waistcoat, a long-sleeved red shirt, and a blue skirt. And she had pointed ears. That was a concern.

More of a concern was Bonnie’s equipment though, and she asked the strange woman what had happened to the gun store. 

Put simply, while Bonnie was busy escorting a certain reviled man, the store had blown up. Improper storage of ammunition could be about as dangerous as any given monster, and supposedly a salamander had found its way in. As such, Aisling picked the newly ruined location to be where her own store would be built.

Somehow, she had managed to turn a destroyed building into a rebuilt boutique exceptionally easily. That was also a concern, and Bonnie couldn’t help but think of the tales of fair folk and the hulder, spirits of the wood and the hollow-backed women.

The fair folk were known, strange and eerie, terrible yet terrific, majestic yet monstrous. Beings born of seasons and starlight. The hulder, called huldra when one, huldrene when many, looked beautiful from the front, but rotted at the back. Like open trees crawling with insects, or rotting meat filled with maggots. They had tails as well, like cows or foxes depending on some factor Bonnie didn’t know, and she found herself curious to look at Aisling’s back, if just to check.

Bonnie moved closer for a moment, wanting to see if she could peek around the woman’s back, only for Aisling to curl her nose and a frown to come to her face as she looked twice and took in just how filthy the hunter was. She asked how long it had been since Bonnie had a bath and the hunter briefly felt like punching something.

“Hm, no, this won’t do. Congratulations, Miss, you get to be my first customer!”

Aisling clapped her hands and the mannequins moved. Bonnie found her knife plucked from her hand as faceless white figures surrounded her on all sides, moving in swift, smooth motions as she was dragged into the depths of the store.

About an hour, she stepped out with a new coat, new shirt and vest, new pants and boots, and a new hat. All around…not what she had gone in for, but hey, she was clean and well-dressed, so that worked out pretty well.

Guns might be important, but so were clothes.

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