The smell of blood and the wretched sound of jaws crunching through bones and other viscera was more than enough warning for the Beast. I pressed myself to a wall and peered around the corner, not daring to step out in full, unarmed as I was.
It was a massive thing. The size of two men. It crouched on all fours, fur matted and filthy with gore. It almost proudly wore the proof of its previous kills. It was hunched over a corpse, gorging itself. Emptied gurneys littered the room, along with other bodies. I had no way of knowing if they had been cadavers before the Beast had entered the clinic. I backtracked to the room where I’d woken. There was another door. Desperate to avoid a confrontation, I tried it.
Of course it was locked.
I spat a curse and turned.
There were no windows. No other routes. All that stood between me and freedom was the beast. I dug through shelves, looking for anything I could remotely call a weapon: a scalpel, scissors, a blade no matter how small - but to no avail.
I steeled myself, and crept forward. There was a vague hope that I could sneak past the Beast, that it would not scent me, or be too preoccupied in its feast to notice the live prey. It was a fool’s hope but it was the only one I had.
I am not a lucky man.
It turned, muzzle dripping with viscera as its cold eyes locked with mine. I raised my fists. My time in the military had given me rudimentary training, but…against men. Not monsters.
It lunged, and I stepped to the side. I hurt - still weary from the transfusion I had received. It leapt again, and I felt its claws come within inches of my side. I stumbled - the gurneys. I hadn’t minded my steps. I stumbled, and it pounced.
I remember its fangs, tearing into my neck. The pain - the white hot, terrible pain that tore through my person. My vision failed, I saw blackness, creeping in from the edges of my vision and then -
And then I woke.
A cold breeze brushed over my face, and I opened my eyes. There was no pain. There was no Beast, no agony. No blood. I looked down and saw myself in one piece. No sign of having been mauled. I was laying upon cobblestones. I stood slowly, and attempted to survey my surroundings. Had I been saved? Had it been, as the old man had said, a terrible dream?
I rescinded that thought immediately. The horizon stretched on endlessly. Clouds covered the sky, and below. In the distance, impossibly far, pillars rose up connecting an unseen ground to an unseen sky. I stood on an island of sorts. A cobbled path led up to a small house, and to a locked gate. Trees in bloom dotted the path, nicely fenced off. Gravestones lined the path -
Something rose by my feet.
Impish creatures, pale and malformed seemed to rise in a sort of greyish liquid, whispering and groaning in some language not meant for men to understand. They looked up at me with something resembling affection…and they held something aloft, toward me.
It was a weapon. A cane, at first glance. Solid, wrought metal. A sharp point, blunt, more like a nobleman’s stylish truncheon. My inner craftsman stirred - this was something understandable. Something very real despite the…abhorrently bizarre circumstances. There were faint lines cris-crossing the length of the cane. Near the head, there was a small trigger. I pressed it, and immediately the body of the cane loosened along the lines. Everything shifted and it went from blunt, to exceptionally bladed. A faint flick of my wrist, and I saw a tensile length of string - metallic - stretch and contract. It was a bladed whip, that with another click of the trigger, returned to being a cane.
It was quite the trick.
The little impish creatures offered up something else - a pistol, and once I’d grasped the handle, they seemed…pleased, and melted back into the ground, gone without a trace.
Grotesque little things but…they had seen fit to arm me. I continued toward the small house, and noticed to my side a sleeping woman-
A Doll. A painstakingly-made, life-sized Doll. It had a porcelain face of immaculate beauty, fine silver hair, and wore quite a lovely dress. Its segmented fingers were crossed over her-its lap, and it stared vacantly out toward that strange, clouded abyss. Onward.
Inside the house, was a man.
Or, to be more accurate:
Inside the house, were weapons, crafting tools, hammers and tongs, chests, bottles and countless books. An altar, a mirror, and sitting quite comfortably amidst it all like another piece of furniture was a man sitting in a wheelchair. He wore a battered hat, and a tattered scarf. His right leg was missing, a crude peg emerging from a pantleg.
On seeing me, he spoke - his voice attempting to be warm despite the weariness that comes with age.
“Ah-hah, you must be the new hunter. Welcome to the Hunter’s Dream. This will be your home, for now. I am… Gehrman, friend to you hunters. You’re sure to be in a fine haze about now, but don’t think too hard about all of this. Just go out and kill a few beasts. It’s for your own good. You know, it’s just what hunters do! You’ll get used to it…”
I opened my mouth in protest - and closed it. He made it sound so trivial and normal. A Hunter’s Dream? I had been killed and…..fell asleep? I inquired further.
“This was once a safe haven for hunters. A workshop where hunters used blood to enhance their weapons and flesh. We don’t have as many tools as we once did, but… You’re welcome to use whatever you find.” He whispered then, “ …Even the doll, should it please you…”
That, somehow, unnerved me more than my false death.