Zincarla looked at the map a handful of times, to be sure that she had found the right hunting trail and was indeed at least starting in the correct direction. She was supposed to follow the path for a few miles and then head north east, no, north west. Zincarla corrected her mental tallying, her plan needing to be accurate. "North west," she said out loud and then surveyed the area in front of her. To her side was the end of an acre of land, ripples in the soil in long parallel denoting it as a place to grow some sort of crop come spring. The ground was hard under her feet, nearly frozen from the cold days and nights of the past week. Finding any sort of tracks would be difficult, and in the end finding any might simply mean finding the preserved frosty prints of days ago. Zincarla had to admit that the map was more useful than she had taken it for initially.
Spits of land jut out between dry weeds and grasses and as the wind blew across the empty field, a scratchy sighing filled the air. Zincarla tightened her guild's robe around her, somewhat remorseful for her modifications on the material because it should have really been so much warmer for her now. In the corner of the field sat a wooden lean-to, probably a small chicken roost, and farther still on the next hill, sitting on the corner of another square set of farm rows, was a modest wooden house. The map had referred to it as Farmer Hyde's old place and Zincarla remembered his name on the list of recently deceased. The Society wasn't mistaken so far and her own instincts suggested that if there was any place to look for and study this new type of vampire, the area between Farmer Hyde's and the hermit-style cottage off in the forest was going to be a prominent start. She folded the map back up and returned it to her pocket, then rubbed her hands together to generate some heat, wishing she had a cup of coffee or tea right about now.
Her boots pressed on forwards into the forest, following the stale dirt path. Normally, the people might have worked hard to keep the path clear of plants for continued usage and travel, but this time of year the plants weren't doing any growing. It had likely been a long time since even hunters traversed this road though, given the bloody attacks nearby. Zincarla's boots crunched against the ground and for a few hours, it was the only sound in the area. There were no sounds of rabbits scurrying through the rough bushes, no scraping of antlers on tree bark, and no massive thumps for larger predators roaming about the land. Even the birds were silent, and although it was not the season known for song, such a level of quiet was in fact disquieting. Zincarla almost winced with the loudness of her breathing and the snaps of twigs under her feet. If she had had any doubts about The Society and their claims, she didn't any longer. A land this soft spoken was no doubt haunted by a very dangerous beast of prey.
The afternoon sun had dimmed through the dense trees, a mix of aromatic pine, lush this year with deep green foliage and an array of skeletal herbage that cast shadows reminiscent of their former bright selves. A hollow wind blew through the branches and sent her shivering. It was only mid-afternoon but this deep into the wood made it truly feel closer to dusk. A glint of silver shined on the ground, interrupting the loud, all encompassing silence of Zincarla's trek. "What's this then?" She asked, leaning forward and squinting. A pointed silver piece seemed half frozen and stuck into the ground. It was as if someone had stuck it in there and forgot about it. As she took a few steps closer and bent down, it was clear that it was the hilt of a dagger. The shine of the silver suggested that it had been well cared for and the ornate designs and initials upon the handle also told a story. This wasn't a normal weapon, it was some sort of heirloom. Perhaps, a desperate attempt to fight, perhaps a desperate attempt to simply stay alive.
Zincarla sat on the ground next to the dagger and closed her eyes gently. She was able to focus and reach out much more quickly than normal, that was one benefit of such a solitary setting. "If the owner of this dagger is here, please heed my call," Zincarla uttered gently. No magic had emanated from the small dagger and she was assured that it didn't belong to any beast or vampire. The initial's engraved were HH and she opened her eyes now to touch the hilt with a single finger, stroking the letters as she spoke again, "Whoever you are, HH. I am here to listen. I am not here to harm you." A small pale blue wisp floated up from the ground beside the trinket, hovering there with a beating sound. It was like an uneven drum beat, a broken melody which suddenly progressed faster and faster until she recognized the sound. It was a heart beat.
"HH, is this you? Whom am I speaking to?" The blue orb flickered out and the heart beat sound vanished with a start. Zincarla shifted to her knees and placed her hands on the cold ground. "HH?"
Zincarla heard the sound of panting above her, a breath that was run rampant from what she hoped were altogether human lips. She lifted her magenta gaze and saw that the blue orb hadn't vanished, not really; it had transformed into the wide-eyed translucent face of a man. The visage depicted a middle aged male, thick hair upon his head, and wrinkles around the eyes. "Hyde Hendrickson. That is me. Or was," answered the ghost slowly, as if trying to both remember and forget the knowledge. "That is my dagger, passed to me by my grandfather, and used to sign the oath of blood brothers with The Society of the Obsidian Hunt." Zincarla sat up straighter. She hadn't known that Farmer Hyde had been part of The Society. And she was right also about the dagger not being meant for a fight. She wondered what his job had been, if not fighting, and how the dagger had come to be this far from his home.
"Nice to meet you, sir Hyde. May I ask, what is your dagger doing out here, so deep in the woods?" Zincarla waited patiently as a minute passed, and then another. The ghost emitted a moan, nearly a sigh, and explained to her kindly. It was nice that he wasn't an old man, or a very old ghost, as conversations with them could take hours. Zincarla didn't want to be out here in the woods at night if she could help it.
"Miles was the fighter. He carried the torch of The Society and our family name. My brother is dead." Zincarla blinked. That wasn't even close to the answer to her question. Her eyes narrowed but before she could ask, the ghost surprised her with a wide toothy grin. "Braver than I ever was. He let me keep the dagger when he moved out into the forest. After the death of my neighbors, I had to warn him. I had to warn him. This foul creature was more than he could handle. I took up my only weapon and charged to get to his house in time." Zincarla watched as the ghost's face contorted with pain then, looking down at the dagger. Hyde's ghost suddenly let out a scream of agony and she could see the memory of blood splashing over his face, his ghost suddenly covered with the dark fluid in his projection. The witch jumped to her feet and lifted her hands in consolation, "I understand, sir. Hyde, Hyde, I-"
The ghost screamed again, swirling in place, the sound of choking, gurgling, growling filling the forest with his death. Zincarla might have been too hasty in trying to call up the ghost of someone so recently and so horribly killed. Hyde was still clearly dealing with his transition into death and the prolonged fear of the vampire which had taken his life. Zincarla felt his pain and guilt overrode her logical sense. She bent and jerked the dagger out of the ground and exerted her magic into it, "Hyde I command you, stop! Stop and rest now. There will be no more questions. I will take your dagger home."
Hydes ghost wailed once more, "I had to warn him. Go home, brother, go home or perish!" His sad wailing softened as his face shrunk. The ghost grew smaller until he returned into the small blue orb from minutes earlier. Zincarla closed her eyes tight as she placed the small dagger into her side bag. The only rest this poor spirit might have was being buried with his body and beside his poor brother, Miles. When she opened her bright eyes once more, the orb had gone. Zincarla set her jaw angrily. She should have asked The Society more questions. Or they should have offered up this information. Why would they not think this is important? The very journal she sought out was that of Miles Hendrickson, brother to the man whose farm they directed her to. Zincarla didn't like coincidences or stupidity. She would have brought the dagger back for Hyde's sake, and she still would turn it over when the time came. Yet, she had half a mind to demand that The Society pay her for that too.
WC: 762+1633 =2395