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Exterminator

TimoBurnhamFeb 25, 2021, 6:48:55 AM
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A short story I wrote taking inspiration from several video games I enjoy including Witcher 3, the elder scrolls and the souls games.

 

Dellar’s knee was beginning to ache. It always ached when it rained—at least, ever since that damn basilisk had sunk its venom-filled fangs into the joint. He’d taken a Stoneblood potion and seen a healer as soon as possible, but apparently even that wasn’t enough to prevent some lasting damage. Dellar sighed and shifted his large pack to center on his back. It always felt heavy, but with his knee throbbing, the weight was particularly noticeable. 

Ah, the life of an exterminator. He turned left down a wide street and spotted his destination ahead—a sturdy-looking barracks. The city’s guard house.

Finally. Dellar moved quickly down the street, not bothering to try and stay on the stones as his boots sloshed through the mud and water. They were as close to waterproof as was possible, something that had cost an entire purse of coin. He’d learned very quickly, traveling from city to city, that there was a huge difference between a bad and a good pair of boots.

Dellar reached the door and pounded several more times than was necessary. He was ready to be out of the rain. He raised his fist to give the door another blow, when it swung open to reveal a middle-aged man wearing a faded brown uniform, one hand resting on a sheathed sword. 

The man scowled and looked him up and down. The weather seemed to have put him in an irritable mood as well. Finally, he stepped back and motioned Dellar inside.  

Dellar stepped into the dim barracks’ interior and removed his hood, shaking drops off his clothes. 

“So, you’re him?” The man said. He had a smooth voice that didn’t seem to quite match his grizzled looks.

“I am him.” Dellar said, wiping water off his face before giving the man a lopsided grin. He tossed the man an oversized gold coin. The guard caught the coin, his eyebrows rising at the sight of something so valuable. 

“Dellar Windell. Exterminator. Eradicator. Iconoclast?” The man said, reading the words underneath the exterminator symbol. He gave Dellar a sideways look.

“I added that last word, a bit of personal branding.” Dellar said, holding out his hand for the coin.

The man grunted and handed back his exterminator sigil, staring for a moment at the matching symbol that was branded into Dellar’s palm. The scarred skin from the brand had been tattooed in black, making it visible even in the gloom of the lantern light. Dellar closed his hand and pulled it away. 

“Thought you’d be a bit taller, if I’m honest,” The man said. 

Dellar gave a short laugh. “I’m at least as tall as you. How tall should I be?”

“I don’t—It's just, my daughter, she got a painting of you. Damn expensive too. Cost me several weeks' pay. Anyway, you look bigger in the painting.”

“A fan?” Dellar was suddenly interested. “I think I’d enjoy meeting your daughter.” 

The guard seemed to pick up on Dellar’s change in demeanor and his eyes narrowed to slits. “You’ll stay far far away from my daughter, exterminator.”

Dellar didn’t let his disappointment show, putting a smile on his face. “Of course, of course.” It was time to change the subject to something less personal. “And you are…”

The man looked suddenly embarrassed. “Ay, apologies. I’m Captain Berdon Reinholt.” He held out his hand to Dellar who shook it, hiding the pain he felt from the captain's crushing grip. This was not a man whose daughter you wanted to get involved with.

“Well met, Captain Reinholt.” Dellar slid off his pack and let it fall to the barracks floor with a solid thud. “On to business then? I hear you have a pest problem in the sewers.”

The man eyed his oversized pack for a moment. “Ay, we do. One of my men went missing down there last week while looking into reports of animals disappearing. We eventually found the animals bodies down there, but no sign of my man. Then I lost another while we were looking for the first. On top of that, I just got a report that little Elly — the spicer’s daughter — hasn't been seen since yesterday morning.”

“Hmm, yes. It sounds like you’ve got something that’s made its home down there.” Dellar scratched at his chin, thinking back to his many monster lectures at Whiterock Academy. Something aquatic or semi aquatic, but large enough to prey on grown men. Probably semi aquatic then if it’s chosen the sewers. Drake Adder? Maybe. Basilisk? Dellar felt his knee throb. Better not be. “River roach?” Dellar asked.

“That’s what some of my men were thinking. Nasty things. Once saw one pull a horse under, rider and all.” 

Dellar saw the captain shiver at the memory. He brought his hand up to the top of his ear, absently feeling the jagged edge where a he’d once gotten a little too cozy with a warg. “A river roach is a definite possibility, though it would have to be a big and very hungry one to be preying on grown men.”

The captain swallowed loudly at the suggestion.

Dellar tilted his head, still feeling the top of his ear. There was a problem. If it was a river roach, the guards wouldn’t have found the animals’ bodies. Roaches digest the entirety of their prey.

The one-eyed face of Grimdoen, his old mentor, appeared in Dellar’s mind. If you don’t know what it is you’re hunting, then you’re not the one doing the hunting, Grimdoen’s voice said. 

Dellar scowled and pushed his mentor’s advice out of his mind.

“Well then, I’d like to get started as soon as possible. Do you have a spare room somewhere? I’ll need to prepare. Alone.” 

Captain Reinholt ran a hand through thinning hair. “I, uhh…you can use my office, at the back of the barracks. I’m never in there anyway.”

“Don’t enjoy bureaucratic life? A man after my own heart,” Dellar said with a grin. He hoisted his pack and started to move down the barracks hall.

“Don’t you want to discuss payment first?” the captain called after him.

“The agreed amount is acceptable. I prefer to get the job done, then settle the papers and payment.”

“Right then.” Captain Reinholt moved past Dellar, leading the way to his office. 

*

Dellar sat in the captain's chair, staring at his collection of potions, laid out on a strip of leather on the table. It was the part of the job that always brought back memories of Whiterock Academy. He’d had to complete mock preparations for every kind of creature, monster, mutant, and fiend. In total he’d probably gone through the preparation process hundreds of times, if not thousands. 

Dellar reached out and grabbed a vial of blue-grey liquid. He put the Stoneblood potion in his belt. River roaches had no direct venom or poison but a bite almost always caused serious infection from the filth living in their mouths. Plus, one was likely to pick up some kind of infection simply by wandering around in a place as disgusting as a sewer. 

Dellar grabbed a second Stoneblood potion. Better to have extra and not need them. He looked over the vials of different colored liquids and grabbed a bottle of Mermaid’s Kiss, crinkling his nose at the thought of having to breath sewer water. Really hope I won’t need that

He grabbed several more vials—Stomach Scorch, Warriors Call, Cat’s Curiosity and Rog’s Regret—then wrapped the rest back up, placing them in his pack. Next, Dellar picked up a circular glass canister, filled with dried gorgon saliva. A gorgon grenado had near universal effectiveness, and Dellar always remembered to have one handy. 

He made a quick check of his golem skin armor then turned to his weapons, sliding a dagger into his belt. Lastly, he hefted his sword, Night’s Shadow, strapping it to his back. Night’s Shadow had basic enchantments for every type of creature, but Dellar had spent extra to add several mutant-specific enchantments. If there was ever something he wanted to be ready for, it was one of those half-human half-monstrosities. Dellar felt a cold chill slide up his spine at the thought. Luckily, he wouldn’t need to deal with anything that dangerous for this contract. 

He adjusted several straps, making sure everything was secure, then grabbed his golden exterminator sigil. He brought it to his lips and gave it a kiss, lips tingling at the strong magic that linked the sigil to himself. He tucked the coin safely into his lucky pocket, then turned for the door. It was time to exterminate.

*

The smell of filth was enough to threaten the ejection of Dellar’s lunch from his stomach. He forced himself to keep breathing through his nose, knowing from experience his sense of smell would eventually acclimate to the disgusting tang of the sewer. He pulled the vial of Cat’s Curiosity from his belt, downing the contents in one quick gulp, wincing at the taste.

Cat’s Curiosity? More like cat’s piss. Dellar spat in a futile attempt to get rid of the aftertaste. When he looked up, he could already see much further down the pitch-black sewer tunnel. It works fast at least. Dellar began moving down the tunnel, the ankle-deep water splashing loudly around his boots. Whatever is down here, it was going to know he was coming. He continued down the maze of twisting stone tunnels, his vision now almost as good as if it had been broad daylight. 

He heard the grinner before he saw it, the sound of its large teeth snapping bone echoing off the stone tunnels. Several moments later he spotted it, facing away and hunched over its kill, hungrily gnawing. 

The creature continued its noisy feeding as he moved closer, but Dellar wasn’t fooled. Grinners were a goblinoid subspecies, all of which had extremely sensitive hearing along with a strong sense of smell. 

Dellar stopped about fifteen feet away, his hand going instinctively to his dagger. He paused, then grabbed the vial of Stomach Scorch from his belt. When he glanced back up the grinner was facing him, its mouth revealing a giant set of dirty, stained teeth, displaying exactly why it had its name. 

The goblinoid was about two thirds the size of a man, with spindly arms that seemed too long for its short body.  Its giant pointed ears protruded from either side of its wide head, drooping downward under their own weight. Dellar scrunched his eyebrows, trying to remember the lectures on goblinoids. It was getting harder and harder as the years passed.  From what he recalled, grinners were more solitary than their mountain or forest cousins, and it was debated constantly whether they were lesser or greater when it came to intelligence. 

The grinner gave a screech and charged Dellar, cutting off any further search through his memories. He popped the cork off the Stomach Scorch and poured the liquid down his throat. True to its name, the magical liquid began to burn, stronger than whiskey. The grinner had closed half the distance now and had its arms raised, showing talon-like claws at the ends of boney fingers. 

Dellar lifted his hand, palm facing forward. For a normal person, drinking Stomach Scorch could be fatal. With nowhere for the potent magic contained in the potion to go, it would cause serious internal damage. But he was no normal person. He was Dellar Windell, graduate of Whiterock Academy, and exterminator extraordinaire. And, more importantly, he had a conduit for releasing magic. 

Just as the grinner reached him, Dellar released the energy from his stomach, feeling it travel down his arm and out the brand on his palm. Intense heat and yellow sparks of light shot from his hand, hitting the grinner point blank in its smiling face. The shockwave of magic stopped the creatures charge, causing it to let out a scream of pain. An instant later the scream was cut off as its throat melted away. The creature fell back, landing with a splash on the sewer floor. 

Its face looked as though it had been shoved into a burning forge.

Not too far off actually. He pointed his palm at the sewer ceiling and fired off another burst, depleting the last of the Stomach Scorch. He’d learned in a very painful manner early on that it was not a good idea to leave even a bit of the potion sitting in his stomach. 

Satisfied that the potion was completely used up, Dellar moved to examine the grinner's kill. He realized he’d wandered onto the creature's lair, seeing the remains of several cats, a small dog, some fish, and a pigeon. Dellar poked through the pile of bones and half eaten carcasses. He frowned and rubbed his ear, thinking. The grinner was certainly capable of killing those animals, but goblinoids preferred to scavenge and steal rather than risk harm by hunting live prey. Unless of course, they had a significant numbers advantage. The only reason the grinner had attacked him rather than running was because it was defending its lair and food. Dellar stood and sucked in a deep breath, immediately regretting it as he choked on the acrid sewer air. 

I need to find a potion that dulls my senses. He gave a last glance around the area but saw nothing else that stood out. No, the grinner wasn’t what he was looking for. There was still something else loose in the sewers.

*

The water was getting deeper now. Dellar felt wetness spill over the top of his boot and pour down the inside. He grabbed the Mermaid’s Kiss and drank the potion, savoring its sweet, juice-like taste. At least not all potions tasted revolting. 

Mermaid’s Kiss did more than just allow a person to breath underwater. It also made the skin resistant to water rot, something that would otherwise have set in quickly with him splashing around in the disease-filled tunnels. After another dozen feet the water had risen to mid thigh. Dellar pulled his dagger from its sheath, moving more cautiously. The water was high enough now that it could hide something big. Something like a river roach. The creature’s favorite hunting tactic was to lay just under the surface, waiting until some unsuspecting prey bumped right into it. 

At the moment, a form caught Dellar’s eye, floating on the surface ahead. He tensed then relaxed a moment later he realized what it was. Another grinner, a dead one, its still body face down. Dellar took a step towards it and realized too late that he’d made a mistake. 

The water around his feet erupted in motion. Dellar stumbled back as a river roach broke the surface lunging for him, its mouth open, showing row inside row of curved fangs. He tried to move back but the water slowed him too much to evade the surprise attack. There was only one way to keep it from biting down on his head. 

Dellar stabbed with his dagger. His hand, the dagger, and part of his arm disappeared inside the roach’s mouth. He felt the blade of his weapon dig into flesh just as the roach clamped down on his arm. A dozen points of pain appeared as razor sharp teeth tore through his glove and sleeve. He tried to stay upright, but the full weight of the roach landed on him, knocking him back. Dellar hit the water and was immediately pushed under by the weight of the roach. River roaches were not actually insects, though their many insect-like legs and antennae made them seem like it. He felt the many legs trying to wrap around him and pin him under the water. 

If something’s too big to kill in a straight fight, river roaches will just drown it instead. The voice of Grimdoen said in his head. 

He was new very very glad he’d brought Mermaid’s Kiss. Dellar fought back a gag as he breathed in sewer water, struggling against the spiny limbs. He got a foot under him, pushing off the sewer floor, breaking the surface. 

With its mouth still trapping his arm, the roach jerked back and forth, trying to knock him down and pull him back under. Dellar clenched his jaw, his body straining against the thickly muscled creature. His boots slipped on the slime-covered bottom then caught on an uneven crack, giving him a stable surface. He felt the roach's teeth tearing through the skin and muscle of his hand as it attempted to yank him forward. Dellar reached his free hand up and pulled Night’s Shadow from his back. 

“LET GO!” He shouted, reversing his grip, driving the blade down just behind the roach’s head. The magically enhanced weapon stabbed through the animal, burying itself completely to the hilt. 

The roach continued to twist and jerk, but its motions were slowly losing energy. Finally, after another minute of twitching, it stopped, jaw locked around Dellar’s arm in a death bite. With some effort and struggle, he was able to pry it open, the hooked teeth turning outward as the jaw unhinged like an intricate animal trap. He let the roach's body drop and float away, examining his hand. His glove and sleeve had both been shredded to nothing, the hand underneath was a bloody mess of skin, muscle and exposed tendons. Nothing seemed broken or disconnected, and his tattooed brand was undamaged. Dellar tried to flex the fingers but stopped, hissing in pain.  

You won the battle, roach, but the war goes to me. He returned his dagger to its sheath then grabbed one of his Stoneblood potions, drinking it. Stoneblood didn’t have much taste to it, which he was grateful for, considering how often he had to use it. A surprising number of creatures had some kind of venom, poison or toxin. Dellar realized he was shaking now, likely both from exertion and the shock of his injury. He grabbed the Warriors Call potion and downed it as well. 

I’m going to have serious potion sickness after this. Dellar did his best to use Warriors Call sparingly. He’d seen too many other exterminators become addicted to the pain relief and feelings of invincibility that the substance provided. Even if he didn't become addicted, Dellar never wanted to have to rely on any one potion. 

After a few moments he began feeling the potion’s effects. The pain in his hand receded, replaced by a growing sense of confidence. Dellar felt strong. He felt powerful. He was an exterminator after all, trained at the best school in the five lands. He should feel powerful.

Dellar stopped himself before he could fall further into the potion’s alluring trance. Warriors Call made you feel unstoppable, but it didn’t actually make you unstoppable. 

 He took his healer's kit out and began awkwardly cleaning and bandaging with one hand, doing his best not to drop anything into the water. Once he’d finished, Dellar began to retrace his steps down the tunnels. 

The job was done. He’d exterminated the roach and despite his wounded hand—as well as the mix of too many potions swirling around inside him—he felt good. Of course, that might just be the effects of the Warriors Call. Still, there was the slightest bit of nagging at the back of Dellar’s mind. His exterminator training was telling him he’d missed something, that the pieces didn’t quite fit. 

Trust your gut, boy. Extermination is as much about feeling as it is facts. Dellar frowned at the memory. He’d always hated it when Grimdoen had called him boy. 

You aren’t my mentor anymore, old man, and I’ve become more popular and successful than you ever were. He pictured Grimdoen giving his usual disapproving scowl, made more menacing by his wyvern hide eye patch. For a moment, he almost felt like he missed his mentor. Dellar quickly forgot the thought and hurried on towards the sewer entrance. While he could keep old memories of his mentor away, he still couldn’t shake the off the nagging doubt about what had killed the captain’s men. 

*

The sewer entrance was in sight when he felt the unnatural chill in the air. Dellar froze, feeling a sense of dread wash over him, despite the Warriors Call running through his blood. What at first appeared to be a brown bulge stuck to the ceiling unfurled its leathery wings and dropped, twisting and landing on large taloned feet. 

No. Dellar’s heart began to quicken as he stared into the glowing eyes of the vampire. It was a male, a big one, towering at least two feet over him, even while hunched forward. The mutant looked like exactly what it was—part human and part bat. Its giant ears pointed upward taking in even the smallest sound. It opened its mouth to reveal a pair of finger length fangs, letting out a scream in a range beyond what the human ear could hear. 

I am not getting paid enough for this. Dellar drew Night’s Shadow in his good hand, which unfortunately was also his off hand. 

The vampire crouched and took a step towards him, putting its weight on an elongated front arm. It was about to take another but Dellar moved first, grabbing the grenado from his belt, ignoring the pain in his hand. He tossed it at the vampire's face. 

The mutant snapped an arm up defensively, unfurling the leathery membrane. The grenado shattered on the winged arm, crystallized gorgon saliva hissing and smoking where it touched vampire flesh. The mutant flinched back, flapping its arm frantically, trying to get rid of the crystals that were burning its skin. 

Dellar took the opening, lunging and thrusting Night’s Shadow at the thick layers of muscle on the vampire’s exposed abdomen.  His awkward off-handed attack made his thrust weaker than it should have been and the tip only pierced an inch into the tough hide. More smoking rose from the stab as the anti-mutant enchantments activated. As the mutant twisted around screeching and flaying, a giant winged arm slammed into Dellar, sending him flying through the air. The shallow sewer water did little to break his fall and Dellar’s head spun as it bounced off solid stone. He groaned, rolling onto his side, face half-submerged in the disease-filled liquid. 

Dellar reached for his knife at his belt, having no idea what had happened to Night’s Shadow. He tried to stand but his own body seemed to be fighting him as much as the vampire was. Before he could make any progress, strong non-human fingers grabbed him by the neck, lifting him off the ground. Dellar’s body accelerated through the air before smashing against the wall. His head now throbbing like it had been used as a blacksmith anvil. He blinked, trying to see through blurry eyes. His vision began to clear and he saw the vampire’s face, right in front of him, watching with hyper intelligent, animistic eyes. 

It opened its mouth disturbingly wide and Dellar began to struggle, fighting against the arm that pinned him to the tunnel. He’d be damned if he went out as a vampire’s evening snack. It was little more than wasted energy, though. Even if he was at full strength and uninjured he’d have no chance matching a vampire muscle to muscle.

The mutant’s gaping maw moved closer, wide enough now to easily fit Dellar’s head inside. He had only one desperate chance left. Dellar reached his good hand into his lucky pouch, fumbling around for his sigil. With saliva-dripping fangs inches from his face, Dellar grabbed ahold of the gold coin, yanking it out. 

For the second time that day, he shoved his hand down the throat of a monster. He let go of his sigil and this time managed to yank his hand out just as the vampire’s jaw clamped shut. It swallowed reflexively and Dellar could feel his connection to the sigil as it moved down into the monster's stomach. With the last of his strength, focus, and desire to live, Dellar willed power into the sigil. It filled with energy until it was bursting, but he didn’t stop. He poured more and more energy into the coin until finally even the powerful magic used to create it couldn’t hold it together.

Burn, you ugly bastard! There was a muffled bang and the vampire's belly expanded. It dropped Dellar and opened its mouth to screech. Instead of sound, black smoke billowed out along with the horrid smell of burnt organs, even stronger than the sewers stink. 

Sword. Dellar searched around frantically for Night’s Shadow. He doubted what he’d done would be enough to finish off something as strong as a vampire. A heartbeat later he spotted a gleam of metal halfway submerged in the muck. He grabbed the sword then stood and faced the mutant. It was kneeling on misshapen legs, spitting globs of partially cauterized blood and flesh. Dellar shook his head in disgust, locking eyes with the vampire. 

“Have I ever told you how much I hate mutants?” He snarled and swung Night’s Shadow down on the vampire's neck with the full weight of his body.

*

Dellar dropped the vampire’s head down onto the table, startling Captain Reinholt awake. The man yelped and had his sword half drawn before he realized the head wasn’t attached to anything. 

“What in the name of the five lands is that?” the captain said, backing away from the table. 

“Vampire.” Dellar said.

His eyes widened as he studied the mutants face. He looked up at Dellar and they widened even further. “What happened to you?”

Dellar wiped a bit of sewer muck from his forehead. “Nothing much. Just had a nice swim in your sewers.”

Captain Reinholt seemed to not pick up on his sarcasm. The man was back to staring at the vampire head on his table. “You…you killed a vampire? Just you? Alone?”

Dellar stood straight and adopted his usual lopsided grin. “I’m an exterminator. I exterminate.” He said it as casually as he could, trying not to show any sign of distress. In truth, his body felt like it was going to collapse at any moment. His head was pounding, his hand was missing large chunks of skin, and his stomach was starting to reel from potion sickness. On top of all of that, he stunk like an ogre’s backside.  

The man looked at him with awe as well as newfound respect. “All those tales my daughter’s been telling me are not just tales after all.”

“And, now you’ve got a new one to tell her, straight from the source.” Dellar said. 

The captain nodded slowly, staring with wonderment at Dellar. “Ay. That I do.”

“Excellent. Now, could you point me to the nearest bath?”

The man sniffed the air and immediately grabbed his nose. “Right away.”

“Oh, and one last thing.” Dellar said.

The captain gave him a questioning look.

“I want double our agreed amount.”

“Double? I’m not sure if I can—”

Dellar grabbed the head and tossed it. 

Captain Reinholt caught it and for an instant, stared into the face of the dead monstrosity. He dropped the head to the floor, face a mix of horror and disgust. “Alright, you made your point. Double it is.”

“Perfect.” Dellar said, giving him a tired smile.

 

 

Art credit--Anna Podedworna, Wayne Leung Hou-wai and Jason Martin