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Shadow of the Skull

A Monster Hunter’s Int. Fan Fiction (sort of)
Thom Potter, 2020

“Well, you don’t see that every day.”

No, Buck,” Connie said, “I see them in my dreams everyday since I was little.”

“No, Buck,” Connie said, “I see them in my dreams everyday since I was little.”

“You are little.”

“No, I’m not!”

“Perspective,” I offer, “’n so? To that new family of squirrels you are simply gigantic.”

They both look at me. Strange, they both seemed caught between the fears of almost dying and the fear of me. They heard me yell with my mind, everyone did. Crystal thought I just yelled like everyone else. You know, Warren has his doubts, being a block away and buried in music. Mario is too interred in regrets. His mom is gone with a good part of his house. That argument just doesn’t seem as important, now. Mark wants to get him to help with stuff. Might take a bit. At least when my folks died they left bodies to remember them by, ‘n so?

Until then, I’m studying two toddlers unlike anything I’d seen before this week, ‘n so? They don’t look quite like horses. Fair sized skull, larger than a horse would have. Four hooves on the ground, each with two toes and what looks like another hiding under the skin. The mane flowing from head to withers and off the tail looked neatly braided, if the smaller one would stop fingering his. You know, if they were human I’d say they were two and three, ‘s so? My eyes followed a trickle of white contrasting her roan coat leading from the larger one’s finger up to an elbow, then to a shoulder mounted between the head and whithers.

I could feel Connie want to make a new friend here. You know, not a bad idea. They’ve just been through war, so let’s do this right and take our time.

You know, about the time I’m ready to squat and see what that does I kind of hear another approach behind me. I turn and see this one, I’d say about my age. That one stood there doing pretty much what I was doing, taking my time and thinking happy thoughts. Except this new one’s mind felt fluid and open, like Jimmie’s without all the chains.

She—no xe spoke a few words to the toddlers. They nodded. They’re friends now.

I stay on my heals, smiling, warm mind. “We have breakfast.”

“You expect them to understand you?” Buck said.

“The toddlers, no. Their new friend, well, maybe not the English.”

Xe stepped up to me, hands held out. I roll onto my knees. Xer eyes face forward, not like a horse there. The emerald iris nearly fills xer eyes, barely veiling a bluish sheen behind them. Xer muzzle projected a little farther than mine would. Good choice, with a body that big it would take forever to eat or breath enough if it were like mine, ‘n so? Xer long, sharp, ears, though, fly around to catch any stray sound that might happen by.

I hold my hands out, thinking to learn xer customs. You know, different kind of people with different kinds of greetings, ‘n so?

Then xe puts her brow next to mine. Rather friendly. Except it didn’t stop there. I felt my mind loosen up. I could remember my mom, her voice, her cooking—empanadas. Mixed into the memory is a new born—they call themselves, ‘qintari’-suckling, listening to xer own mom sing.

You know, it didn’t stop with just food and nursery rhymes. You know, xe’s bullied by siblings, class mates, xe’s too different for their likes. Xe takes it, what’s xe to do? Sometimes xe breaks and heads for a pond do talk with the frogs and swim.

Xe’s picked up on my folks coming home dead. And my newest scar and how I got it. That caught xer

We broke. I offered my hands, “Has the day mastered your stomachs?”

“We could eat.”

“Let’s see who masters our food for you, first.”

That’s when I felt Mark standing just behind me. You know, he had a question, “They speak English?”

ThrÍsa offered a smile, “I do now, Sir.” Xe turned to me. “Rest, let it settle. And thank you.”

“The gift is open.”

You know, I woke from a quick nap to the strangest discussion. At the picnic table, now cleared of that branch and loaded with breakfast, Aunt Eddie had managed to get a conversation going with the baby. Oh, not a “Hay, how you, doing?” kind, no. She just sat there holding the baby on her knee with her hands saying nonsense stuff while the baby squealed with delight, ‘n so? I could tell the little one had another concern—hunger, ‘n so? But he trusted in this new person and squealed with delight. You know, fear of these strangers had dissolved, completely, ‘n so?

I took in a deep, refreshing breath and rolled onto my knees. You know that landed my eyes into the hat-sheltered, smiling face of a—well, lady from the breast size, but gent from the whiskers. Xer leather britches seems well worn, and might be the only ones xe has. Xer sweat stained linen tunic looked well cared for while the dark green apron looked covered in, um, other kinds of stains. I get the feeling xe’s tired, and happy to not have to put another body back together again, or worst.

Hello,” I said in my new language.

Xe grunted.


Xe shrugged. Then said something I did not understand, but know what xe meant, ‘n so?

“Aunt Eddie,” I used my coat to reach into that special place. “Have you tried feeding him yet?” I hold up a can of condensed milk.

She just quietly sang, “Not yet,” without loosing rhythm with the baby.

I ‘pulled’ an opener out and pinch the can open on one side. Before I could pinch the other side the ‘lady’ pulled the can toward her nose and sniffed at it. Xe grunted something.

Aunt Joan beat me to it, “Is it warm?”

I hand it to her, gesturing at the ‘lady’, “You know, xe said the same thing.”

Aunt Joan put it into a pot with water onto the barbecue pit. The ‘lady’ crept up to the baby, gently picked him up, and sniffed at him like a dog might. I get the sense xe was doing a medical exam. Xe starts in on Aunt Eddie, ending with a grunted new question. I gestured that xe follow me over the back fence, which xe negotiated like it was barely there. Xer answer, the dead one was not the child’s mother or father. From just the smell? 

Xe accepted breakfast and showed Aunt Eddie how to nurse the little one, dressed one of the toddler’s cuts after I dressed one of xers. Aunt Joan had poured the milk into a baby bottle with some filtered water to thin it down.

I tried to start that trick ThrÍsa taught me. The qintari held me back—I need to rest or it could kill me. Not to worry, seems the two are getting along famously while the toddlers made friends with Connie. Looks like this new thing is going to be a good thing, ‘n so?

Ya hay, looks like Fall has returned and Thanksgiving too. I run a quick check and note Aunt Eddie and Dregen—the orcish doctor—are in the living room sleeping. Connie is sharing her dolls with the toddlers—Corvus is the elder, ThŻrin the younger.

Mark is helping Uncle Ronnie and Aunt Joan at Thanksgiving preparations, aided by another two who might be Dregen’s kin.

Imagine that, centaurs and orcs dinning with us in New Angels City. I look the darker one over. He’s big and might take on the Skull. He’s sprinkling herbs on some pork chops Mario brought over. Good, he’s a little better. Now we can get him better than that.

I see something hanging from the kitchen door—two flight feathers, one black, the other white, tied together. Must be some of them new customs coming home.

I roll onto my butt and accept huevos rancheros from ThrÍsa. The pork chops make an interesting change. No, don’t worry, the hospital taught me to be careful in my haste. You know, if I weren’t as starved as back then I wouldn’t know it.

Warren has four plates balanced on both hands, offering them to the toddlers. That’s when I notice four others resting under the picnic table. They’re dressed like Dregen but don’t have her build. They’ve been at war, maybe for days.

Curiosity can be restrained only so long. “So,” I ask ThrÍsa while Warren sits next to me with his own brunch, “know who started the fight, and why?”

“Jaden,” xe gestured at the big orc, who glanced at us, “says a dead man.”

That put an empty pit in my heart.

“Doesn’t know why.”

I study the last tortilla on my plate. I guess it’s okay for ThrÍsa to ride my thoughts on that. Xe knows about that scar, how I got it. I’m thinking about the Claw, how he seemed excited about that event. A lot of death, if I could hear the battle I’m sure he could.

That’s when I notice it. That voice is quiet. And still I know he’s there. Like a harmonic on a crystal glass I can sense his master.

“Shit,” I say.

“Creb,” xe answers.

The dark orc turns to us, questions waiting for answers.

I was about to offer them when this sound echoed from a distance. Just about everyone jumped and focused to the west over the harbor. I guess I was the only native to worry over it.

“What is it?” Warren asked.

“Death,” I say. “Death like nothing even the Claw can deliver.”

“What?” Warren asked.

I open my shirt to show him, “The guy who did this is a mouse to the Claw who is a tiger. That scream just came from a brontosaurus.”

“Shit?” Warren and Mario didn’t seem to have much breath to offer.

Jaden said something, and offered plates to some new comers. Neighbors following the smell of cooking.

I saw that. He knows about that scar—his daughter didn’t survive. I just about lost something when I watch Mark take a tray of plates into the house.

Yeah, if this is what ‘just about died’ looks like, I’ll take it over biscuits any day.

“Alert sounded, let’s eat and get ready.

You know, if this ever happened in New Angels it was too long to remember. Just about every survivor in the neighborhood sat in our yard with a plate. Some even brought food they’d reserved for their own Thanksgiving.

Half the houses made it unscathed. Some just missed a piece or two, maybe replaced with someone else’s. Some of them formed a circle near the gate, eating and waiting for the war to start again. The toddlers sat under the tree with ThrÍsa and Dregen, who now had a new flock of children to look after.

The qintari looked like they hadn’t eaten all day. The orcs looked like they forgot what food is and what it’s for.

I just had one worry, at the moment. Do we have enough water?

“We have several five-gallon bottles,” Warren informs me.

I catch Uncle Ronnie’s eye, “Warren has some bottled water to offer. Can we get a detail on that?”

I see the plan drive new solutions in his mind. He just has one question for me. He has just one question for me. He waves at Jaden, “You speak his language, yet?”

I’m tasting some rancor in that. Yeah, he heard me yell and knew how, and doesn’t seem to like it.

Before I could say, not yet, ThrÍsa has passed the idea to all the new comers in a language I could not understand, not in word.

Warren heads for the gate. Some of the orcs begin to follow while some of the older qintari get ready for a fight.

Jaden growls them all into submission. Well, one hefty orc wasn’t convinced until Jaden inched a hand to his khukuri‎.

I looked at Jaden, impressed that such a little violence could stop so much more. Is that what I did projecting the “Skull” into some people’s heads? I just say, in qintari, “There’s a voice whispering in his mind telling him to kill, like he did over there.” ThrÍsa translated that for the others.

Jaden grunted, grasped the orc’s skull, and pointed his eyes at the feathers over the kitchen door.

Meanwhile, Dregen said something. Must have been funny, ‘cause they all laughed. And I watched that one fellow relax and join in.

So, it isn’t the song, just the spirit that breaks that voice.

“Warren says he has just five. Give me two and I’ll catch up.”

You know, I ran to my room and retrieved my tablet. It took a bit longer to compose that note to Jimmie, but it was good. We’re okay, ‘n so, and making friends. The Claw’s daddy had just arrived.

You know, might take him a bit. I may have a signal, he may not. I send a copy to Mike just in case.

I tuck my tablet away and run down the stairs and head for the door. Not going to do it. Uncle Ronnie ran interference. Aunt Joan, Mark, and Buck stood in the way to keep me from running off.

A time for a little violence? But not from me. I see what’s coming. I just don’t know how to settle this puzzle without making it worst.

Uncle Ronnie opened the proceedings with a question, “You like Viscous, or something?”

“What?” That took me a while. I’ve heard of him, crime fighter from the seventies, punished people who hadn’t actually broke any laws, yet.

“Digging through people’s heads for secrets, that’s what.”

Ah, the heart of their fear: Privacy. “No, just a little more aware of what’s in your mind than most.”

“How the hell?”

“Born with it, Sir. Born with it. And then I was murdered. Now, I’m just a little more fluid at it.”

Mark jabbed a finger at me, “Stay out of my head, kid.”

“Then stop yelling stuff at me. I can’t turn it off, I’ve tried. Best I can do is leave you have your space, like a crowd of voices. Then someone shouts and everyone is focused on them.”

“So, what are we going to do?” Buck asked. He’s been feeling set aside ever since I moved in. I now had a share in his room, the love and attention the family could give, that sort of stuff. Then the attention I got with my murder and that feeling just went into overdrive. Not much I can do about all that, just try to be a big brother and work through it.

“It just is,” ThrÍsa said. “The evil you fear comes not from the tool, but the choices of they who use it.”

I don’t know what to say. I try that song, keep my thoughts to myself, and theirs to them. I focus on Mark’s shoe, don’t want any accidents.

Uncle Ronnie broke the mood, “So, why didn’t you tell us?”

I study his chin, thinking about that. Mike knows because of Jimmie. He knows because of that one day. I take a breath. “Didn’t know how without worrying anyone.”

“And pulling that milk out of nowhere?”

“You saw that?” I smirk a little, trying a different kind of humor. “Comes in handy, and I’d like to keep that off the headline news.”

“That’s how you knew,” Aunt Eddie said. “I call, can barely get it out. You—how far can you ‘hear’?”

“Don’t know. You know, what you shared helped us. It did. I used it, learned about them others I told you about.”

“And Jimmie?” Buck said. “Why him?”

“He’s my mentor, and he’s connected, ‘n so?”

I studied ThrÍsa. Strange, I know xer mind is there, but it’s—quiet. I smile, sort of, “Listen, these people were at war before they crossed.”

“My mother,” Mario whispered.

“You know, I can sometimes hear stuff from over there. Not always sure who or what, just hear stuff. Except this, the, um, Ghost driving that war is here, and we have bigger concerns than how much I can hear and how.”

Mark jabbed his fingers at me again, “Just stay out of my head!”

“Or what?” Aunt Eddie asked. “It runs in the family, Baby. Why do you think I like Brawley?”

That seemed to catch Mark off a little. I could feel the struggle. He’d worked it out. Until then.

“Listen,” I say, “bigger troubles. That detail heading for water—”

“—is on its way back—”

“—needs expanding. Maybe ThrÍsa and I can start looking for trapped survivors.”

Into the silence Aunt Joan had her own request. “You have that first-aid kit?”

“It’s in Uncle Ronnie’s sea-chest.”

“Mario, Buck, would you help me rearrange the living room? Might be some hurt people out there.”

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