Chapter 2: I Know Why I'm Out Here. Why are You Out Here?
Clandestine said, a little too chipper. "Would it be alright if I came
along? I was hoping I'd be able to make it back to Bone before sundown,
but things with the wind wolves took a lot longer than I'd planned."
She watched as the man - very briefly - assessed her, and then shrugged, offering a very small smile.
"Sure," he said.
Clandestine was practically beaming in contrast, even though her nerves were buzzing.
didn't trust this man, but she couldn't deny that despite the unspoken
tension, she did look forward to meeting new people. And there was
something about cowboys and their rough edges that she always found
oddly comforting. It reminded her of home, even though, these days, she
wasn't sure what 'home' was anymore.
"Thanks," she said, adjusting her hold on Billy's reins while she watched Matt tie the cow to the horn of his horse's saddle.
his horse over, she noted that the horse seemed far more cared for than
the man himself. Its light, golden coat shimmered in the flickering
firelight of her torch and its long, cream-colored mane was neatly
brushed to the side.
"You have a beautiful horse," she decided to say lightly. "What's its name?"
The man hopped up into his saddle and glanced at her.
"Elliot," he answered.
here's 'ol Billy," she said, patting her horse's neck. "He's a good
horse. I got him a few years ago when I was going through a rough patch
but he's been really steady. People tell me he's one of the calmest horses
they've ever seen. I suppose all the monster hunting taught him he can
trust me to take care of him even when there's some pretty crazy
monsters running around. Isn't that right, Billy?"
looked down at Billy and patted his neck again with a small smile. His
ears turned towards her attentively and bobbed his head a little bit.
She thought she caught a small smirk on Matt's face in the corner of her
eyes but when she looked up, it was gone.
started riding up the hill, and the cow lazily followed with a low moo.
Clandestine rode Billy around to the other side to stay out of the
cow's way and kept pace with Matt and Elliot.
she thought of launching into several different questions, she knew
it'd be a minute before they were around other people and would be
interrupted, so she kept her mouth shut.
Matt had stumbled upon her even a minute or two later, this would all
be fine. She could introduce herself to the cowboys, greet them, be
friendly, and be on her way. She wouldn't feel as pressed to stay if she
didn't feel like someone was about to walk away with one of her biggest
secrets. And it wasn't just that it was personal. Getting caught using
magic got people killed. It wouldn't just ruin her career or her
livelihood. If she got put on the mage hunter's hit list, that'd be the
end of it for her. She'd have to go in hiding for the rest of her life -
and that was if she didn't get caught and killed first.
they got to the top of the hill, she could see a fire pit lighting up
the small camp below. The dim light, unobstructed in the barren
hillside, went far enough to shadow the mass of cows on the left and
leave the other horses as silhouettes looking on. Three other figures
sat around the fire, with one sitting a bit closer, reaching into a pot
with a ladle.
They were only a few yards off when Clandestine decided to speak up.
"How long have you all been traveling through the prairie? To get to Bone and all."
"About three weeks," Matt said.
3 weeks. That was a long way to travel with cattle, it sounded. Not that she knew that much about ranching.
"Have you run into much trouble on the way?"
"A few wild beasts here and there," Matt said. "But nothing we haven't been able to avoid or drive away."
That was vague. But they were both being vague. Maybe Matt was just a vague man who needed more specific questions.
"That's good," she said with a small nod. "If you went north it'd have been a lot worse."
Matt looked over at her with an odd look. Or maybe it wasn't so odd as it was simply unreadable.
"We came from Tin Can," he said. "Not Lettera."
Clandestine laughed a little too forcefully.
"Oh, I--I know that," she said. "No one would make that trip through the wilds--"
stopped abruptly when she realized everyone's eyes had turned to them.
They stopped a few feet from the fire, looking down at the three men
huddled around it.
was a brief silence in which the collective bewilderment between the five
of them was palpable. There was an older man - who looked to be more
experienced, and likely the boss - who looked at Matt with searching
eyes. But the other two men were staring at her.
was a bigger guy with a darker complexion, brown, like hers. He had
long black hair that stuck out under his hat. The other man seemed a lot
taller, even while sitting, and was a pale, freckled man, with bright
red hair, short and messy. They were just as dusty as Matt was but
seemed a bit more... open. Interested would be the better word.
The big guy was the first to open his mouth.
like he found more than just the cow," he said with a little smirk. The
red-headed man immediately elbowed him in the side after that comment,
but the big guy just shoved him away.
wasn't sure if there was any kind of story behind that comment, but she
found herself raising her eyebrows and rolling her eyes.
older man got to his feet and hurried over to Matt, and before he could
ask a question out loud, Matt hopped off of Elliot and began to
one wandered to the north," he said, gesturing to the cow. "As chance
would have it, there were wind wolves being led in that direction."
He looked to Clandestine, gesturing to her in turn.
a monster hunter. She was directing the wolves away from Bone. We ran
into one another. Or rather, the cow ran into her first, and I followed
after. Clandestine, this is my boss, Gregor. That's Percy and Kenneth."
Clandestine followed suit and hopped off of Billy, taking his reins in one hand and waving with the other.
to meet you all," she said with a warm smile, extending her hand to
Gregor. He mirrored the smile and offered a quick, firm shake before
monster hunter all the way out here," he said with a genuine sense of
awe. "Rare they come out this far. Small-town folks like us normally
can't afford them. Thank you for your service to our community."
Clandestine's smile grew tighter as she laughed lightly.
"Oh, well, you know. Someone's gotta look out for the little guys," Clandestine said with a shrug.
much appreciated," Gregor said with a nod, and then gestured to the
fire and the bubbling pot of what smelled like beans. "We were just
about to have dinner. There should be enough for one more. Would you
like to join us?"
Clandestine did feel like she was mildly intruding, Gregor seemed
genuine in his friendly offer to share food, and she couldn't deny that
the smell of fresh food pulled on her stomach which was almost always a
little empty. But what tugged on her hunger the most was the smell of
meat. Sausage, it looked like, fried in a pan.
Well, she wasn't one to say no to free food.
"I wouldn't want to--" she started to say anyway, but Gregor cut in.
"It's fine! It's fine!" Gregor insisted with a wave of his hand. "It's always nice to have new company."
Gregor gestured for Clandestine to join them all around the fire,
Clandestine looked over to Matt, only to realize he wasn't where she
last saw him. He'd silently walked off with the cow, leading it back to
the herd, and was already tying up his horse beside the others.
let out a faint hum in the back of her throat but followed Gregor,
watching as their shadows danced in the flickering firelight. It was a
short walk, but by the time she made it there, Matt had circled back to
meet them and sat down opposite the other men, not looking at anyone in
particular. As Gregor sat beside Percy and Kenneth, Clandestine decided
to plop down next to Matt. It would make it easier to initiate
a conversation with him later.
Clandestine," Gregor spoke up as Kenneth started to pull out some
bowls, mugs, and spoons. "I know Matt already said it, but my name's
Gregor. Some folks call me Greg, but most call me Gregor."
"What about Cowboy Gregor?" Clandestine asked with a small smile.
I've never considered 'cowboy' much of a title in that way," Gregor
said with a chuckle. "But Mr.Gregor works if you insist on being more
"Mr. Gregor it is, then," Clandestine nodded. "So how long have you been working with cattle then, Mr. Gregor?"
I was a boy, really," Mr.Gregor answered. "My father kept a ranch all
my childhood, and I inherited the trade. And the cows. Later hired these
He gestured to Percy and Kenneth.
"Picked them up about five years ago," he said. "They've grown to be good trusty ranch hands. Real naturals, now, I'd say."
looked to Mr.Gregor with a small smile and scooped out some beans into a
bowl, and Clandestine could see bits of sausage had been mixed into it.
"It's only because Mr.Gregor is a good teacher," Kenneth said, handing the bowl to Percy.
"So how long have you been monster hunting?" Kenneth asked as he scooped up another serving.
I'm not that old, so it's only been a few years since I've been doing it
professionally," Clandestine answered, eyeing the bowl as Kenneth passed
it to Gregor. "But I spent most of my younger years training for it
before I started hunting on my own."
"Wow," Kenneth whistled, pulling out another bowl. "You've been working up to this your whole life, then."
"Yeah. I guess so," Clandestine shrugged.
got a cousin who's a monster hunter," Kenneth said, filling this bowl
up more than the other two. "She serves in the Western Isles. They've got
a whole fleet just to take care of sea monsters and keep the waters
clear for merchant's vessels."
offered her the bowl, and she noticed he'd been generous with the
serving, giving her a higher proportioned amount of meat than the rest.
She took the bowl with a grateful nod.
never had a chance to hunt monsters on the water like that. That's
amazing," Clandestine said, stirring her bowl up with her spoon.
"And dangerous," Kenneth added, handing another bowl to Matt.
"True," Clandestine admitted. "But that's part of the job."
"Someone's gotta do it," Gregor chimed in."Else our cities would get overrun with all kinds of beasts and critters."
"You know," Percy cut in, pointing his spoon at Clandestine. "My stepmother is a monster. Can you hunt her for me?"
had just poured himself a bowl, but he went out of his way to look at
Percy and dramatically roll his eyes. Gregor just laughed lightly and
shook his head, but Matt didn't even look up. He was entirely
preoccupied with his food.
Clandestine offered a light laugh.
"Only if she's classified as a monster in the official monster hunting manual," she said.
"Oh, it's official," Percy said.
"I'll have to look her up then," she humored him. "What's her name?"
Percy opened his mouth to answer but Kenneth beat him to it.
"If your mother heard you talk like that--"
"But she ain't!" Percy interrupted.
Kenneth looked to Clandestine in the same way a longsuffering older brother might when their sibling was getting out of control.
"Sorry for him," he said. "He's always like this."
Clandestine only laughed and finally took a bite of food, before it started to get cold. It wasn't anything fancy, but it was heavy, and she knew when she was done with the bowl it'd fill her up.