The Beast Hunters

Other submissions by :
If you want to read their other submissions, please click the links.
The Beast Hunters (Fantasy, Book Award 2023)
The Beast Hunters Dark Sovereign (Fantasy, Book Award 2023)
The Beast Hunters Blood Oath (Fantasy, Book Award 2023)
Book Award Sub-Category
Award Category
Book Cover Image
Logline or Premise
When a monster brutally kills her parents, Ara is saved by two beast hunters. Becoming their apprentice, she discovers serums, secret bestiary knowledge, and remarkable abilities-all to save unsuspecting souls from the same fate her parents suffered.
First 10 Pages


Supper was cold by the time Ara got to eat. Her mother, Nadia, had made her restack the timber outside the house, which had taken until sundown. Ara found it peculiar that it had fallen over. Her father blamed the night’s strong winds, but Ara knew the night had been calm because she hadn’t slept.

Her body still bore marks from the beating her father had given her the day before, when he’d stumbled over her misplaced shoe. She had no idea how it ended up on his bedroom doorstep, but he didn’t believe her. Though no one was in the messy old kitchen, she tried to cover the bruises with her tattered shirt, tucking it around her while slouching in the chair. She hated how they made her body look.

Despite being cold, the soup tasted good; Ara was so hungry that anything would have done. The small portion went down quickly, luckily before either of her parents walked into the kitchen, disrupting her peace with more chores. She cleaned up after herself and set the bowl down as quietly as she could.

No reason to antagonise either of them.

There it was, that faint sour smell. Is it me? She sniffed her armpits. But the scent disappeared as quickly as it had appeared.

Nadia entered the small kitchen, tugging on her long dark hair with one hand as she always did when stressed. With her other hand, she began to search through drawers. Ara sat quietly, hoping her mother would leave her alone. Nadia found a dirty washcloth and returned to the living room, without a glance at her daughter. Ara sighed in relief. Her mother wasn’t as harsh as her father, Tom, and sometimes they even laughed together, but around her father, Nadia was subservient. “There it is again,” her father said, annoyed, from the living room.

The door between the two rooms used to shield her from his sight when she ate alone, but it had broken off its last hinge. Luckily, a damp newspaper with faded print was in his hands. She dreaded the very thought of walking past him to get to her creaky bed. Standing straight, and letting her shoulders slump, she tried walking through the room without making a sound.

“Ara, you smell like piss,” her father said sharply, his eyes still on the newspaper.

She flinched. “Father—”


“Sorry. . . Tom.” He had told her a few days ago not to call him father anymore. His need for control annoyed her, but she still complied. “I checked myself and I don’t think—”

He glared at her. The muscles in his jaw tightened as he gritted his teeth.

“I. . .” she tried again, staring at the floorboards. “I will wash in the stream tomorrow morning.” Come on, let that be all.

“Mr Mourey needs me to deliver an early shipment tomorrow,” her father said as his eyes fell back to the partially ruined newspaper. “I need you to make it ready. The list is on the table.”

Ara tightened her hands into fists. She would have to go to the marketplace before sunrise, make multiple trips back and forth with her small, broken wagon, and load the wares onto her father’s large cart. Her exhausted muscles ached at the thought, and a word of protest threatened to leave her mouth.

“Your much-needed bath can’t wait until tomorrow,” he continued. “Do it now.” He glared at her.

She met his eyes. He knew she wanted to oppose him, which would give him an excellent reason to release some pent-up aggression. His square jaw flexed. She needed all the sleep she could get before running to the marketplace for the items on the list and could bathe after her father left. There was no reason to be clean for a run to the market. Her mouth opened, her tongue about to form the words.

“If you do it now, you won’t be wet while buying the wares,” Nadia interjected to mediate the situation.

Ara looked out of the window, it was already dark, and the streets unsafe. He knew this.


“Ara!” her father bellowed, standing. He was a tall man and he hovered menacingly over her. “You will do as I say and you will do it now!” He slapped her, now that she had given him a reason to, his elbow accidentally striking her mother’s cup which toppled off the armrest, crashing to the floor.

Ara covered her reddening cheek, refusing to cry in front of him.

“Look what you made me do! Your disobedience shattered your mother’s cup.”

“It’s fine,” Nadia said quickly.

“Take the cup,” her father commanded, sitting back in his chair. “She’s seventeen now, it’s time to learn her actions have consequences. Clean up your mess.”

“My mess?” Ara frowned. “It was your—”

“Don’t make me hit you again,” he growled.

“Please, Ara,” Nadia begged.

She begrudgingly picked up the pieces and put them on the table, before gathering the smaller pieces one-by-one into her hand.

“Use the broom,” her father said.

Ara looked around the room, but it was nowhere. Her breathing quickened.

“You truly are hopeless. Your sister could have done it all without breaking anything,” her father said. “If you’d only watched out for her.”

Ara choked every time he mentioned her sister. “That’s unfair—”

“If you’d protected her as any big sister should, she’d still be here with us. Instead, she’s dead. The broom is outside.”

Shaking with anger and sorrow, Ara opened the outside door, the cold wind finding its way through her thin clothes. He brought up her sister whenever he truly wanted to hurt her, knowing the sting of guilt was still as sharp as ever. The faint smell seeping around the house was stronger outside and dragged her from her trail of thoughts.

What is that?

The broom was propped against the wall of the wooden house. She grabbed it but hiding behind the brush was an iron snail that retracted.

Iron snails were helpful creatures. Their armour kept them safe from many predators, and they ate dangerous insects common in large cities, like heartflies. These nasty creatures were usually dealt with before winter when their eggs hatched, causing huge problems for the inhabitants of the Rundowns, which was a less sanitised area. They laid eggs inside people’s mouths. The hatched larvae—thin, brown ghastly creatures— crawled down their throats, slowly eating away at their hearts.

As far as Ara knew, there was no cure, only preventative measures like a patch of cloth with two strings between the ears to keep them out. She carefully wiggled her hands under the iron snail’s slimy body and it clung to her warm hand. She placed it under the long-since collapsed well and rearranged some of the bricks into a shelter for it.

“Ara!” her father bellowed from inside. “Close the door. You’re letting out the heat!”

She sighed, grabbed the broom, and jogged back through the door, crashing into her father’s chest.

“What is wrong with you today? Give me that.” He snatched the broom from her hand. “I’ll do it. Go bathe in the stream. If you don’t come back smelling decent, you won’t get to sleep in your bed.”

He closed the door in her face.

She swallowed dryly to contain her anger. The quicker she did as asked, the better. Her district, the Rundowns, was especially unsafe at night. Kalastra was a beautiful city, but Ara lived in the most worn-down area.

It was only a ten-minute walk to the small stream, but it felt longer. Every individual she passed gave her uneasy stares—or that was how it felt. She didn’t want them to see her marks from the beatings.

A pack of gnurgles following a man in dark robes approached her. Ara didn’t know much about gnurgles, only that they imprinted on someone early in their lives, so the robed man was likely their master. The small, brown scaled creatures—about the size of a hand—had two tiny feet, large droopy ears, a pair of narrow black eyes, a thin mouth, and an overly large nose. Ara found them cute. They halted next to her feet, smelling her curiously before screeching and shying away, hurriedly returning to their master.

It wasn’t long before Ara reached the stream at the very end of the Rundowns. Three guards patrolled close by. She pulled her hair in front of her face as stories of corrupt guardsmen having their way with young women flashed through her mind. Luckily, the stream was unlit, and the guards didn’t see her sneak away from the road. She undressed and quickly washed. Still shaking from the cold water, she put her dirty, smelly clothes back on, and left the stream.

She hurried home, praying that her father would be asleep, but when she approached the house, sounds of fighting and shattering glass came from the open windows.

What’s happening? Had father snapped?

Nadia screamed in agony. Ara stormed through the front door, stepping into a living nightmare. Her father was on the floor wrestling a giant six-legged beast. The beast’s green scales shimmered in the dim light. With a short neck and a long head, its wide mouth glistened with sharp teeth, its long tail whipping around the room like a serpent. Sharp, menacing claws dug deep into the wooden floorboards.

The ceiling lantern swung violently, showing parts of the room in flashes. Her father was on his back, trying to fend off the creature. Ara saw blood, but not its source.

Where’s Mother?

On the beast’s back, faint wisps of black smoke emanated from two nostril-like holes. Her father slammed his fist into the beast’s stomach, but it didn’t seem to bother it. The monster was the size of a bull and looked just as strong. Neither her father nor the beast had noticed her.

Ara ran to the kitchen, crushing broken plates and glass underfoot. Grabbing a knife from the knife-rack, she darted back, stumbling over one of the toppled chairs, landing heavily on her arm. Pieces of broken wood, cutlery, and glass surrounded her. She felt warm liquid on her forearm, but the light was too dim for her to see clearly. Her father still wrestled the scaled beast a few feet away.

The creature had her father’s arm in its mouth. He screamed in pain as the creature’s teeth dug into his flesh, frantically punching its flat head with his other fist. Ara got up, struggling to keep her balance, and lunged toward it, attempting to stab the monster in its back. The knife didn’t even penetrate its scales. She stabbed again and again, but nothing happened no matter where she tried, not even a scratch in the monster’s natural armour.

The creature ripped her father’s arm clean off, spraying blood everywhere. The sound was terrible, like thick taut strings tearing. The monster raised its head and gulped the limb down its throat, its claws digging into her father’s legs, creating pools of blood on the floor.

Ara finally plunged the knife above its leg, digging into the tender flesh beneath the armour. The monster shrieked in pain as thick purple blood flowed from the wound. It shook its head in agony and scuttled away from her father, smoke gushing from the holes on its back, drowning the room in blackness.

The thick smoke made it hard to see and breathe, but Ara reached her father, coughing with the smoke filling her lungs, as the creature’s tail slid over his thigh and disappeared. It was a few seconds before her father noticed her.

“Ara?” he said in wonder. “What are you doing here? We need to go!” He tried to grab her with his phantom arm and screamed.

She went around to her father’s back and started dragging him away. The creature continued shrieking in pain somewhere within the smoke, thrashing about the room. Her father was heavy, so they moved slowly. Ara peeked at her forearm. There was blood, but it wasn’t hers. Glancing over to the kitchen, the swinging lamp lit the area enough for her to see the source. Her mother was on the floor, her torso completely separated from her lower body. Her father fell as she let go and stumbled backwards, letting out a horrified scream.

“Ara,” her father begged. “Help me!”

Was that Mother? It couldn’t be. She can’t die. The light flashed over the kitchen, showing a body split in half. “P— please, not. . .”

Her father grabbed her shirt and pulled her close. “She’s dead, Ara.”

The creature went silent—the room eerily still. The lantern’s light wasn’t strong enough to penetrate the thick blanket of smoke shielding the beast from sight. She peered into the darkness, trying to make out its ominous shape.

Like an eagle swooping down upon its prey, the creature leapt from the shadows. Its mouth sunk into her father’s head, its serrated teeth digging into his neck. The beast shook its head violently and her father’s skin began to tear, his hand waving wildly. With yet another violent tug, his neck ripped. Blood spurted, and Ara fell backwards, horrified, into a corner. The massive beast swallowed the head whole.

Her father’s headless body slumped to the floor. The swinging lantern shone upon Ara and the beast shifted its focus. Yellow eyes peered directly at her. It crept slowly towards her, keeping low to the ground. Cornered, Ara pressed back against the wall, wishing the creature would just disappear. It readied itself for another lunge.

The door behind the creature blasted open and in stormed two men.

“We’re not too late!” one exclaimed. It was hard to make out any details besides his long trench coat, dark skin, and large, round hat. “Quickly, get on it, Topper!”

Topper threw himself at the creature, landing on top of it. He was taller than the first man with the hat, but with a slimmer build and dark hair.

The beast twisted from side to side trying to shake off its attacker. It started climbing the wall, lifting Topper along with it.

“There we go,” the man with the large hat said.

Ara sat completely dumbfounded, watching the events unfold before her.

The beast climbed onto a beam in the ceiling with Topper still clinging to it.

“Are you ready?” he screamed.

The man with the hat brought out something from a holster in his belt. “Ready!”

Topper poked his thumb into the creature’s eye, making it screech and open its mouth. A loud bang followed, and Ara closed her eyes.

When she reopened them, the creature lay motionless on top of the man. His friend walked over and, with great effort, dragged the massive beast off him by the head.

Ara’s hands shook, the contents of her stomach threatening to spill onto the bloody floor.

What just happened? Who were these men?

“Thank you,” Topper said.

“Not gonna let you die today as well,” the other one answered with a chuckle. He examined the creature. “Female, about eleven years old and yes. . . it’s definitely a rura. You owe me a gold chip.” He cast a smile at his companion who rose from the floor. “I know rura-piss when I smell it.”

“Too bad we couldn’t get here sooner,” Topper said. “Might have been able to save them.” The lantern light flashed over Ara, and he finally saw her. “Or maybe we actually did save someone. Khendric, come over here.”

Khendric glanced at her. “Oh, by the craven’s mother!” He rushed over and looked her up and down, narrowing his dark eyes. Then he surveyed the surroundings, locating her dead mother and the remains of her father. His frown deepened. “You poor, poor thing. I think you should come with us.”

Come with them?

Ara couldn’t piece together what had happened. Was the monster really dead, just like that?

“Poor girl,” Topper said with an anxious look.

Ara’s eyes darted from the dead beast on the floor, to her dead parents, and to the two men standing in her ruined living room. First she couldn’t protect her sister, and now her parents. She really was useless.

Khendric looked at her, pity in his eyes. “It’s going to be alright.”

Her mind was blank. This didn’t feel real. This couldn’t be fixed. Never again would she hear her mother’s voice, or peer into her warm eyes. In their last moment together, Ara pushed her away. “H—how,” she began, her lips quivering, “will this be alright?”

Topper gave Khendric a blanket which he wrapped around her. “I don’t know, but we’ll help you.”


The Nature of Things

The light drizzle came to a stop. After riding on horseback for eight solid days, Ara’s behind was sore. Her legs were the worst, and she was anxious to get off her horse and stretch. Her long hair was wet and plastered to her face. Her horse, Spotless, neighed and shook his head; he had many spots and was thus, not spotless at all.

Khendric took off his large, brown hat and brushed his hand over it as if that would somehow dry it. He ran his fingers through his black curly hair and gazed up towards the sky. Altogether, his strong cheekbones and jawline made him look determined.

“Finally, I thought the rain would never yield. Do you know where we are?”

Topper took in his surroundings. “I think we’re only a day or so away from Cornstead.”

Despite being in his early twenties, Topper often seemed boyish compared to Khendric, who Ara guessed was in his thirties.

“It’s been quite some time since I was here last but as they say, ‘the man who travels the world soon has the world in his pocket,’” Topper said. Khendric frowned. “That didn’t work?”

“Well, it wasn’t too bad. Surely better than ‘a thief’s aptitude is measured by his pocket change’. Or your worst one yet, ‘the secrets of the past are always hidden in the future.’” Khendric laughed.

“I said that?” Topper blushed.

“You sure did. One of your many supremely wise sayings.”

Ara smiled, trying to keep herself from chuckling.

“I need to remember that one,” Topper said. “Because ‘nothing keeps the mind as occupied as unwritten ideas’.”

“And that’s the last one for today,” Khendric declared. “We haven’t come this way in years. Are you certain we’re close to Cornstead?”

“I’ve travelled this road more times than you in my many years,” Topper said. “I have a great memory.”

Many years? Ara wondered. When you were a child?

“And you remember that at exactly this spot, you were around a day away from Cornstead?” Khendric asked.

Topper scratched the back of his head. “It’s more of a gut feeling, so more or less.”

Topper’s character was hard to pin down. Sometimes he talked as if he had been around for ages, other times he seemed as dim-witted as a child, struggling to lead a simple conversation with her. Not that Ara had been talkative—she spent most of her time in silence. What interesting conversation could a beaten-down seventeen-year-old girl offer? She’d make a fool of herself or bore them with her problems.

“Have you been this far away from home before?” Khendric asked her.

Ara shook her head. Khendric had seen where she lived so he must know she wasn’t a traveller. Her father had also asked questions he already knew the answer to, questions that made her feel stupid, and she feared that Khendric was doing the same.

Ara had not told either of them about her past, how her parents had treated her, how her father had beaten her. She didn’t dare. Khendric had taken her ‘under his wing’ as he put it, and for now, he treated her well. But so had her father for a long time, when times were good, and her sister Alena was alive. He blamed her death on Ara and had stopped considering her his daughter, but rather a reminder of what he lost that day. And he was right. It was Ara’s fault. Alena’s pure joy would light the darkest days in a way Ara never could, and because of her she was gone.

So Ara decided not to show weakness to the strangers. She hadn’t even shed a tear for her mother. Instead, she locked her emotions deep inside.

Ara was more relieved to leave the city than she would admit, leaving the root of all her torment behind, even if it was with two strangers who’d stormed into her house one night. They had, after all, saved her.

Khendric rode closer. “So, what do you know about beast hunters?”

“You hunt beasts, right?”

“What gave it away?” He smirked. “Do you know what a rura is?”

Ara shook her head.

“We were working on another case when we passed your house. I smelled the urine of a beast known to live in swamps. After closing the case, we hurried to your house in hopes of dealing with the monster before it attacked.”

“You knew it would attack?”

He nodded. “Ruras mark the places they intend to attack with urine, and we couldn’t get back quickly enough.”

“I smelled it,” she said. “But I didn’t know what it was.” “You couldn’t have. They rarely enter urban territories.”

I knew that smell wasn’t me. She found comfort in knowing. And the wind didn’t blow the timber down, it was the rura.

Grim thoughts of the beast surfaced. Ara didn’t know how to feel—she had hated and loved her parents, but sometimes it felt great to be free and out in this new world. She had already seen so much more these past days than her whole life in the Rundowns—forests, pastures, creatures she had no idea existed. But then she would have moments where she felt guilty for her happiness. After all, she had lost her parents and had no family.

“Ara?” Khendric said. “I’m sorry if I’ve upset you. I thought maybe you’d like to know a bit more about how we found you.”

She shot him a glance. He almost looks sincere. Was he sorry he upset me? But why would he care?

“I’m sorry,” she said reflexively.

Khendric frowned. “Sorry about what? You’ve said or done nothing wrong.” He clapped her on the shoulder causing her to flinch, but she tried to hide it. “So what do you think of the world? If you’ve only seen the walls of Kalastra, then you haven’t seen much. What do you think about all of this around you?” He stretched out his arms.

“Umm,” she began. “It’s. . . very nice and a little exciting.”

“Now, even that sentence is more cohesive than any of Topper’s wise sayings.” A smile spread across his face.

He smiles a lot, she thought. Too much. He’s planning something. He only brought me along for some devious plan—the thoughts were stuck in her head. Her gut said they would betray her. But even with these thoughts, she couldn’t convince herself to leave them. Where would she go? What would she do? She was nobody. So she stayed, with a glimmer of hope. Maybe her gut was, for once, wrong.

“I like these giant forests that surround the road,” Khendric said. “One wouldn’t know which creatures hide in there, and that’s part of the excitement. Ara, have you ever seen so many trees in your life?”

She was astonished he found the uncertainty of unknown beasts in the forest exciting. “No, I’ve never seen this many trees.”

“That’s a shame,” he said, shaking his head. “You’ve lived in a great city all your life, but never got to walk outside to actually explore the world and all its gifts.”

“Mother said I could never go outside because of the beasts.”

“Bah! Typical city-folk. You’re all telling each other of the dangers outside the walls, but very few go outside to see for themselves. We’ve been on the road for days and so far, we’ve only seen a few narworms, browlers and a couple of treehowlers. Not much to be afraid of. Besides, there are just as many beasts inside the walls, as you would probably agree.” He caught himself. “I’m sorry, sometimes I talk so much I forget what I’m saying.”

She gave him a thin smile, and he looked away with a hint of embarrassment.

The sun rested on a mountain, its crimson light bathing their surroundings in soft light. Ara looked forward to reaching the village of Cornstead on the morrow, when, for a short time, her days wouldn’t consist of sitting on horseback. The last sliver of sunlight was about to fade over the distant mountains, giving way to the coming night.

“Ara?” Khendric asked. “Can you check out that ledge?” He pointed a finger at what looked like a suitable campsite.

She reacted right away. “Yes.”

“Don’t do that.”

“What?” she asked.

“Don’t say ‘yes’ like that, as if I’m commanding you and you’re answering out of fear of punishment. I can hear it in your voice.”

“It won’t happen again. I’m sorry.”

“Ara.” He chuckled lightly. “You’re doing it again.”

“I. . . hmm. . . I will check out that ledge?”

“Alright,” he said with a hint of satisfaction. “You do that.”

She steered Spotless off the dirt road towards the nearby ledge. The two men were talking, but she couldn’t hear what they said.

He wanted me to go away so they could speak privately, she thought. They didn’t want me to hear.

There was nothing to do about it, and they might be angry if she came back right away.

Stop it. Stop these thoughts.

The ledge seemed like a suitable place to sleep. They could set up camp under it, with the forest above them, though it wasn’t ideal. Anything could crawl down from the trees, but it would soon be too dark to search for anywhere else.

She jumped off Spotless and took a pouch from the satchels at his side. She opened it, and the extreme odour hit her like a tidal wave. No matter how many nights she performed the safety procedures they had taught her, she never grew accustomed to the smell. She grabbed a handful of the powder from the pouch and strewed it around the prospective campsite. Nothing happened. She let out a relieved breath.

The acronal powder, or, as Khendric called it ‘poop-powder’ triggered spikers. Topper had told her of the small root-like creatures which grew from seeds deep in loose dirt, waiting for something to apply pressure to the surface above. With pressure, they shot up through the earth with terrifying speed, bursting forth with their venomous spike.

Spikers possessed a venomous neurotoxin, sufficient to immobilise a grown man, but potent enough to completely paralyse a child. The spiker would then survive on the blood from the wound it created, drinking until either the blood stopped, or the source was removed, at which point it quickly retracted into the earth.

Topper had shown Ara how to spread the poop-powder evenly, making the ground safe from the devilish creatures. The strong odour from the powder subdued spikers; they would stay that way until the next rainfall, or until the powder lost its scent.

After dispersing the poop-powder, she fetched the salt pouch from Spotless’s other side. This pouch was running low, but she managed to create a circle around the perimeter. They hadn’t told her why it was necessary. She wanted to ask but didn’t want to burden them.

The next step was the sharp metal spikes. Pointy on both ends, she placed them in a circle too—twelve in total, to ward off duskdevils. She’d never seen one, but Khendric had told her they were shaped like a twisted human, crawling on all fours, their arms bent forward at an unnatural angle, and a twisted head with their mouths covering their noses. Lacking eyes, they used their sense of smell to track prey and were attracted by poop-powder—thus the metal spikes. The idea was these beasts would crawl into them, impaling themselves. Duskdevils couldn’t jump, so the spikes proved an effective defence—or so Topper claimed.


Stuart Wakefield Thu, 31/08/2023 - 15:18

I loved the way you described Ara's fear and desperation as she went into the outside world. You used vivid language to create a sense of tension and suspense as Ara and her companions faced the dangers of the outside world. You also did a great job of building up the tension slowly and then releasing it in the end. I also appreciate the way you included details about the creatures Ara and her companions faced, which adds a layer of realism to the story. Nice work!

Jennifer Bisbing Fri, 01/09/2023 - 19:27

It's hard to pull off multiple viewpoints in a scene—well done with using Ara's bewildered observations to move the story forward. Such creative ideas, like "the acronal powder, or, as Khendric called it ‘poop-powder’ triggered spikers." No AI could come up with that. Also a big fan of Ara coming of age with a powerhouse of abilities and secrets.