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Authors: Larry Correia

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Monster Hunter Alpha-ARC

BOOK: Monster Hunter Alpha-ARC
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MONSTER HUNTER ALPHA

Larry Correia

Advance Reader Copy

Unproofed

Baen

Baen Books by Larry Correia

Monster Hunter International

Monster Hunter Vendetta

Monster Hunter Alpha

The Grimnoir Chronicles

Hard Magic

Spellbound
*

*forthcoming

Monster Hunter Alpha

This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental.

Copyright © 2011 by Larry Correia

A Baen Books Original

Baen Publishing Enterprises

P.O. Box 1403

Riverdale, NY 10471

www.baen.com

ISBN: 978-1-4391-3458-0

Cover art by Alan Pollack

First printing, August 2011

Distributed by Simon & Schuster

1230 Avenue of the Americas

New York, NY 10020

Printed in the United States of America

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

PART 1: THE MONSTER

Prologue

The night that Deputy Joe Buckley got disemboweled by a werewolf had started normally enough.

The patrol car’s radio chirped just after one in the morning. It was dispatch, reporting a 911 call. Buckley laughed when he heard the description. Something was scaring Nancy Randall’s horses. It sounded like a complete waste of his time, but since Nancy held a seat on the county council, she became the priority call of the evening. Buckley, being the nearest available deputy, took the call.

The Randall farm was up the 26, way out on Cliff Road. Since it was raining and the roads were slick, it took nearly twenty minutes for him to get there from Copper Lake. When he arrived, the farm was dark and quiet, shrouded in the miserable freezing drizzle. Buckley left the warm comfort of his Crown Vic and hurried for cover of the front porch.

Nancy answered the door with a shotgun. She stuck her head outside and glanced quickly in both directions. “About damn time you got here, Joe.”

What did she expect? Copper County only had a handful of deputies and she lived on the tail end of nowhere. There was nothing out this way except for a few abandoned mines, scattered farms, and a whole lot of trees. “Easy, Nancy,” Buckley chided. Though she had a reputation for being levelheaded, Nancy was pale and shaking right then. “Just put the gun away and calm down.”

“You calm down! Did you hear anything on your way in?”

“Like what?”

“Growling,” she answered, watching over his shoulder.

“Growling? What kind of growling?”

“The scary kind…And screaming. Lots of screaming.” Buckley laughed nervously, but Nancy was dead serious. “At first there was some crashing and banging, then they started screaming. I thought somebody was hurt behind the barn, crying for help, but when I went to look I heard…something else…Hell, I don’t know what it was. So I herded the kids to the back room and called 911.”

“Probably nothing out of the ordinary.” Buckley sighed. Some regular old animal probably got caught in something, got scared, maybe hurt, and made a racket. It could sound spooky enough. Calls like this weren’t too unusual, though he expected better from a longtime local. “I’ll check it out.”

“Just be careful.”

Buckley bid Nancy a good night and went to work, expecting to find evidence of either a raccoon or petty vandalism. Surprisingly, he discovered that the horses in the barn were freaked out about something, snorting and kicking at their gates. Their genuine fear was a surprise and made Buckley think that maybe Nancy wasn’t completely wrong to be concerned.

He did a sweep of the property. It was too dark and wet to spot any tracks, and none of the equipment looked like it had been disturbed. After wandering fruitlessly around the barn in the dark with only his flashlight for illumination, poking around, tripping over things, and getting generally soaked and frozen in the rain, Buckley decided to call it a night. Whatever had been out there was gone now. He returned to his Crown Vic to call in, thankful that it had a good heater and a thermos of hot coffee.

There hadn’t been any snow yet this year, but this was northern Michigan, which meant that when it came it was sure to be extra nasty. Moisture fogged the windows solid within seconds. Turning on the defroster and jamming his hands deep into his pockets, he decided to wait until his teeth quit chattering before calling dispatch.

The Crown Vic suddenly lurched on its shocks. He looked up, but with the windows fogged, he was blind to the outside world. Puzzled, his initial suspicion was that someone was screwing with him, but then there was a thud as something big struck the hood.

Screeeeeeech.

The sound sent an involuntary shiver running down his spine. Something had just scratched the hell out of his paint. He reached for the door handle. “Son of a—”

The windshield ruptured, pelting him with safety glass. Black limbs shot through the hole. Buckley yelped in surprise as black fur engulfed his face. Stunned, he tried to jerk the door open but was torn away and pulled against the steering wheel. His hands were swatted aside as long claws flailed, tearing him open. Blood struck the dash as nails sliced through his scalp. Paws clamped down on both sides of his head, and squeezed until his skull cracked.

He was dragged thrashing through the glass, down the hood, and hurled into the cold mud. The claws released, and Buckley shoved desperately against the mass of heat and hair, splashing and rolling in the muck. He ended up on his back. The thing towered above him in the headlights, and Buckley knew that he was going to die. Terrified, he struggled to get his gun from its retention holster as blood poured down his throat.

The animal seemed to smile six inches of razors as the Beretta came out in slow motion. The pistol disappeared into the night as a claw laid Buckley’s arm open from elbow to palm. Then the animal was on him, and Buckley watched in shocked disbelief as it drove its long snout under the bottom edge of his Kevlar vest and bit deep into his abdomen. Fire lanced through him as the animal wrenched its head back and forth.

“That’s enough.”

The animal tore its bloody head free, something red dangling from its teeth. In shock, Buckley stretched out both pieces of his hand, as if to ask for that bit of himself back, but the creature was already retreating out of the headlights. He tried to speak, but all he could do was cough on the blood in his mouth. He felt as cold as the puddle he was squished into.

A figure walked into the light. He was saved! Somebody had chased off the animal. The man would call for help. He just needed to hang in there.

But this man didn’t seem upset. He didn’t call for help. He didn’t tell Buckley to stay calm. Instead he just squatted next to him in the mud. His features were obscured by the shadow of a wide-brimmed hat, but somehow his eyes were visible, glowing like molten gold. The stranger studied the giant hole in Buckley’s stomach and frowned. He made a
tsk-tsk
noise, and behind him the animal let out a mournful howl.

Buckley had lost too much blood to be afraid. He was just very cold. The man plucked the gold name tag from his shredded uniform shirt and studied it. “My apologies, Deputy Buckley,” the stranger said. He tossed the nametag into the puddle with a little
plop
. “I doubt you’re going to make it. The pack could’ve used you. Maybe I’ll be wrong, but that doesn’t happen too often. For now I leave you to the
vulkodlak.

The stranger rose, adjusted his overcoat, and walked from Deputy Buckley’s darkening vision.

Chapter 1

I’ve been shot one hundred and fifty-three times. Stabbed, cut, or bit so many times I’ve lost count. I’ve been blown up, electrocuted, frozen, buried alive, set on fire, and was once hit by a train. I’ve fought in both world wars and a few others. I’ve killed men on all but two continents. I’ve killed monsters on them all. Other dimensions? Twice.

I guess you can say I get around.

Husband, father, grandfather, and now great-grandfather, I’ve seen whole generations come and go. I’ve loved, protected, and watched over my family, the Shacklefords, for decades. With a couple of notable exceptions, most of them have turned out pretty good. Which is important, because in the grand scheme of things, the Shacklefords are a very special bunch. This particular journal is not about them.

I run Monster Hunter International, the best outfit in the business. You work for MHI for very long, and you’ll see some things. I’ve run into some of the weirdest beings in God’s creation and killed a whole mess of them. You wouldn’t believe the shit we’ve fought. There are a lot of innocent folks alive right now only because one of my Hunters stepped up and did what had to be done. The bravest men there have ever been look at me to be their leader, and that’s a humbling thing. But this journal ain’t about them, either.

I’ve already written those things down. Now I need to focus on the hard part. This is the third journal I’ve attempted to write. If you are reading these words, then I can only assume that you know the truth about me. This book is about things I’d rather not share, things I’d rather have forgotten. But no one lives forever. I’m hoping that some of the things I’ve learned might help after I’m gone. A wise man once told me that we’re no smarter than the Hunters that came before us. The only reason we’ve got a clue is because those guys bothered to write stuff down. So here goes.

I’m a werewolf.

You’ve got no idea how remarkably hard that was to write. I stare at those words and want to tear the page out and burn the evidence. We tend to be a secretive bunch.

See, I bear a curse. You learn to deal with it, or it deals with you. Crying about it won’t change a thing. Embracing it will destroy you. I have stared into the face of evil, and I’ve been the face of evil. I’ve done some bad things in my life. Good thing I’ve lived a long time because I’m still trying to even that score. Some folks would call it penance. I call it my job.

I am a Hunter. I am a Monster. I was born Raymond Earl Shackleford Jr., son of the greatest Hunter who ever lived, in the year 1900. I’ve held many names since.

Today they call me Harbinger.

* * *

“Well, ain’t you Mr. Melodramatic?” Earl Harbinger muttered to himself after rereading the first page of the journal. Frankly, it was surprising that he’d managed to fill so many pages in it already, and reading through them had given him something to keep occupied while waiting for the meeting. The leather-bound book went back into an internal pocket of his battered bomber jacket and a pack of Marlboros came out. Shaking one loose, he put it to his lips while pondering on the book.

Writing his personal history had been Julie’s idea. Originally he’d been resistant to the idea of chronicling his life, but the fight with the demon Rok’hasna’wrath had cost him dearly. Earl pulled out his Zippo and lit the cigarette. The lighter was a perfect example of the damage the minor Old One had inflicted on Earl’s mind. The Zippo had been engraved with the MHI logo, and he knew it had been a birthday present, but for the life of him he couldn’t remember when he’d gotten it or who it was that had given him the gift. It was one of hundreds of little things he had lost. Random memories had been ripped from his mind and swallowed whole or torn into indecipherable shreds and scattered. Rocky, devourer of souls and reaper of worlds, had been a real asshole that way.

There were gaps, blank spots, fuzzy bits where the original events were lost but he could recall telling the stories to others, like a weird secondhand report. He didn’t even know the entirety of what was missing. The journals had been started as tools to find out just what had been taken away. He’d written one chronicling the Shackleford family history and another about Monster Hunter International. The realization of the sheer number of events he could not recall had been a slap in the face.

Thinking about it left Earl bitter. It was too bad that Z had driven Abomination’s bayonet through Hood’s black heart. Martin Hood had gotten off far too easily for Earl’s tastes. Rocky had robbed him, but that creature had only been summoned to perform the job. It had been at Hood’s bidding, whereas his old friend had wanted to make it personal.

Ironically, the thing that had brought him here was also about personal business. Once again, the past had come back to haunt him, but when you’re over a hundred years old, you build up an awful lot of past.

The bar was kept purposefully dim. It hid the grime and, once the crowds came in the evening, would help mask the unattractive. There was an old-fashioned jukebox playing country music. He had picked a table in the back. It was still early in the day, so the only other inhabitants were the solitary types with nothing better to do than down a couple of beers before lunch. Earl took a slow drink of his. It was just the kind of out-of-the-way dive that somebody like Conover would pick for a clandestine meeting.

It had been decades since they’d last spoken, but Earl had not hesitated to drop everything when he’d gotten the message. Making up some excuses, he’d told the rest of his team that he was taking some vacation time—which had shocked everyone—promised he’d be back before the full moon, loaded some gear in his truck, and driven the six-hundred-some-odd miles to rural Illinois.

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