September 13, 2017

Process of elimination

Bruised, beaten, and weary, at your feet slumps the last grunt slain. Looking out into the impenetrable dark, there's a faint anomaly, a glimmer of something convulsing in the shade. The presence of something lurking, finding refuge in the ruin of their destruction wrought. The accomplished harbinger vindicated. Placed on their head is the bounty you chase, and your pursuit is drawing to a close.

In a recess, a dark corner of a ramshackle dwelling, the pool of ash settles once more. The revelation it bore, now looping over through your mind. The acrid smell of a tallow candle fills the room and your hands shake as you unfold the map. You mark off Alice Farm as having harbored nothing more than a trace of your target. In light of the revelation, you strike through two more.

You tally them up; now the names struck through outnumber the names unvisited. Eleven down, five to go. Each stroke is a relief, bringing you closer to the target's lair. Each stroke is an uneasy realization; other Hunters are doing and have done the same. But you've seen some dead, heard evidence of firefights erupting in the distance. The unknown few remaining are set to converge in one place, a final showdown of the most cunning and vicious. It was lucky that this time there was only one target, though it's unclear so far whether that luck was good or bad.

But that could be in one of five places; their names a melancholic reminder of purpose lost. You go through them: Lockbay Docks, sagging back into the mud, its foundations rotting and the boathouse slipping beneath bracken water. Reynard Mill & Lumber, standing for the first time silent, the sawmill long having stuttered to a stop. Darrow Livestock, fields rotting, livestock slaughtered within their pens. Port Reeker, clogged with mud drifts, waterways winding like a labyrinth under preserved canning factories. And Healing-Waters Church, the congregation laid slaughtered before the altar.

Five remain. To get this far, you've passed graves dredged to the surface, contents bare to the world. Scattered houses stockpiled food, now spoilt, now convulsing with larva. The rafters filled with the full-grown flies, crawling over one another in search of escape. Hovels sunk back in to the water, deluged in a distant storm. Places you'd rather forget.

Folding the map back up, you decide on Healing-Waters Church being most likely. Shouldering your rifle, you head back into the night and toward more cramped spaces where hulking masses of headless flesh reign supreme; their desecrated bulk offers no escape. On across open marshland, where dormant swarms erupt from sunken chests to chase you across the wetland. Across pits and channels, where chitinous scavengers can't be outflanked. Each space holds different terrors for different beasts.

Handcrafted by malignant demiurge to challenge you at every obstacle, these are the Hunting Grounds.