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Authors: Rose Estes

The Hunter

BOOK: The Hunter
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“That which is begun may be ended, by death or by default. There is no dishonor in default, nor is death necessary. He is
the winner who is left standing at the end of the contest.”

Braldt and Batta Flor rose to their feet and began to circle, arms held apart from their bodies, eyes probing, searching for
the first sign of weakness.

The lupebeast made his first move, a lightning slash that was finished before Braldt even sensed the movement, leaving a welter
of crimson stripes across his belly. Braldt wiped the blood, feeling the rough scar tissue bequeathed to him by Batta or.

Once again they began to circle, only this time, Braldt was careful to keep a greater distance between himself and his opponent

Braldt slipped in close behind Batta for and brought his hands up in front of the lupebeast’s arms and linked his hands behind
the creature’s neck, exerting a steady downward pressure. But the deadly hold did not even phase his opponent

Batta Flor turned to face Braldt and gathered him up in an embrace, hugging him tightly to his chest.

Braldt felt his feet leave the ground, saw Batta Flor’s face whirl beneath him, heard a bone snap in his arm and knew that
his death was fast approaching…





Copyright © 1990 by Warner Books, Inc.

All rights reserved.

Popular Library ®, the fanciful P design, and Questar ® are registered trademarks of Warner Books, Inc.

Warner Books, Inc.

Hachette Book Group

237 Park Avenue

New York, NY 10017

Visit our website at

First eBook Edition: November 2009

ISBN: 978-0-446-57015-2

This book is dedicated

to the memory of

Joe Orlowski,

Master gamer, fellow dreamer

and a fine friend.




Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28



The chase had gone on too long. It seemed to Braldt that
the lupebeats were growing craftier and more difficult to kill in recent years. Braldt had been tracking this one—from the
depth and spread of its tracks a large, heavy male—for five dawnings and six moonsets, ever since he had discovered what was
left of the kill.

Braldt closed his eyes briefly as though to shut out the sight of what would be fixed forever in his memory. No amount of
blinking would erase the memory of that bright splash of dark blood staining the smooth sandstone upon which the torn bodies
lay, the bodies of Hafnor and Solstead, his two elderly friends whose habit it was to sit on the rocks during the heat of
the morning, absorbing the welcome warmth into their brittle bones. Their presence would be missed at the Council meetings,
but Braldt knew that he would miss Artallo far more.

Braldt clenched his jaw and squinted down at the tracks, now merely faint imprints in the red dirt. He was determined that
he would not lose them, and that he would have revenge on the beast who had robbed him of Artallo’s friendship with one scything
sweep of its immense curving incisors.

There had been little left of the bodies, the flesh gnawed from the bones, even that of the skull, and the bones themselves
had been ground between powerful molars and cracked to extract the last bit of sweet, white marrow. Artallo had been granted
leave following the morning’s exercises and he had been seen in the company of the two older men as they left the camp. Solstead
had been his grandfather.

There had been little left but the torn and blood-drenched robes. There had also been the ring that held the robe at the shoulder,
the ring that Braldt had given to Artallo when he had passed the last of the tests and joined the warrior ranks. Even the
ring, which now rested on Braldt’s third finger, bore the deep imprint of the lupebeast’s teeth.

Braldt had been sent for as soon as the bodies were discovered, but he had been alerted by the outcry and the wailings of
the crowd and had arrived on his own. Little remained other than the torn and blooded robes and broken bones. What clues there
might have been had been destroyed by the footprints of those who had discovered the scene.

Braldt had ordered the horrified onlookers away and had studied what was left, trying to harden his mind against the grief
that threatened to overwhelm him.

Artallo had been the very best of the young men. The best that Braldt had ever seen. His reflexes were sharper and quicker
than others and his strength a match for that of Braldt himself. They had shared an uncommon meeting of minds; to look into
Artallo’s eyes was like peering into his own soul.

Braldt had watched the younger man’s progress over the years and guided his training, hoping that when he passed the final
tests he would be allowed to have the youngster at his side. It would be good to be two, rather than one. But now, that hope
was gone.

Braldt shook himself back to the present and stared around him, studying the harsh terrain. The tracks of the beast had headed
due south following the kill and had never deviated in the days that followed. He had followed those tracks though the undulating
plains that were home to his clan. The land had grown sere and the vegetation sparse as they passed the Guardian Stones that
marked the boundary of their lands, the point beyond which no man might venture without risking the vengeance of the gods.
The land had given way to the soft red dust of the lifeless desert basin. Only the slavers ventured here, perhaps beneath
notice of the gods, and, in such cases as this, the warrior protectors.

Still the tracks continued on, the creature who made them always staying far enough ahead to remain unseen. Now the clinging
sands gave way to rougher terrain, the beginnings of the saw-toothed mountains that rose sharply in the distance. The imprint
of the beast’s toes could be clearly seen as the hated creature dug in for greater purchase. Here, the four long claws had
punctured the soil and here was a scraped rock as the beast scrambled up the face of a small outcrop.

Artallo had been sharp of hearing and swift and strong, with short sword and dagger at his waist, yet the sword had been sheathed
and the dagger still in its waist loop when Braldt had examined the bloody remains. So swift and so cunning was the lupebeast,
Artallo had had no time to protect himself or his two elderly companions.

Braldt did not intend to meet that same fate.

The rocks rose up on either side of him now and were drawing close, forming a narrow defile, a perfect place of ambush for
predators. Braldt caught the scent of water borne through the rocky channel by a short-lived burst of cool air. The floor
of the cut had been deeply grooved by the passage of those seeking water. There was no doubt in Braldt’s mind that it was
a site well known by predators and victims alike, the precious water an irresistible lodestone drawing them in, the gauntlet
of predators the price to be paid.

The sun beat down on Braldt’s head and shoulders from its zenith. It was the time that predators and victims alike were lying
up in whatever bits of shade could be found, waiting for the cool shadows of evening. Dawn and dusk were the prime times for
danger, and there was always the night. It seemed likely that the lupebeast’s lair was somewhere among the rocky crags that
abounded in these rugged outcroppings. Braldt did not think that the lupebeast would be seeking food, for its belly was still
heavy with meat, but still, there was always an abundance of creatures
on the prowl and the lupebeast was not the only danger to be considered.

Turning aside from the narrow passage, Braldt sheathed his dagger and sought for finger- and toeholds in the smooth rock face.
He would not go meekly into that defile like another meat animal going to slaughter; he would take to the rocks himself, for
was he too not a dangerous predator?

Climbing the face of the rock proved more difficult than Braldt had anticipated, and he cursed the nimble agility of the beast
that put his own abilities to shame. When measured from the nose to the base of its tail, an adult lupebeast stood at least
six heads taller than a full-grown human male. Its two long, curved incisors were considered its most dangerous aspects, but
Braldt also had great respect for the double rows of sharply ridged molars that lined its jaws and were capable of cracking
a man’s skull as though it were no more than an eggshell. Its teeth curved backward, which had the effect of setting them
like fish hooks once they had fastened on flesh. They could be removed, but only at great cost. The mouth of a lupebeast was
a filthy thing, with bits of rotting meat caught between the teeth themselves, and the slightest bite always produced a festering
infection that frequently maimed even if it did not kill.

The beast had the odd habit of walking upright when it suited its needs. Others, more superstitious than Braldt, whispered
that lupebeasts were the ghosts of warriors who had dishonored themselves in battle and were forced to wander the world in
animal form until they themselves were killed. Braldt had always been careful not to show his disdain for such thinking, for
it did not do to insult one’s comrades, but the lupebeast did not need such animistic baggage to make it more fearful; it
was a worthy opponent, all on its own.

BOOK: The Hunter
9.12Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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