With the thrill of the hunt, all manner of beasts will face judgment - vampires, werewolves, witches, and ghouls - once the peace is disturbed.
The Hemlock Hunters are a specialized army of hunters - vampire hunters, witch hunters, werewolf hunters, and so forth.
Each is trained to hunt either magic users or magical beasts. Using things from stakes, fire, and various experimental weapons, the Hemlock Hunters serve both the vanguard and police force of Hemlock Gardens.
The origins of the Hemlock Hunters came from a singular witch hunter who forsook his oath when he was tasked to murder a witch he loved - ordered betray her, to have her burnt alive in town. This witch hunter went by the name of Derrick Lang. Traveling to the original site of Hemlock Gardens - a small garden around the roots of a Hemlock Tree - Derrick had led his squad into an ambush by the small congregation of witches. Derrick let none of the fanatics live. It was his lover - the witch he was tasked with killing - that convinced the small group to spare him. From that day forth, Derrick swore to protect his future wife and her coven. Hunters that grew sick of ratting out witches - real or not - were Derrick's targets of recruitment, knowing he couldn't hold off people alone.
The Hemlock Hunters are exceptionally trained killers that keep watch over Hemlock Gardens, perform extraction on innocent magic users or people falsely accused of using magic in the first place, and shepherd any aforementioned and magical creature who wishes to be left alone - to live in peace - to Hemlock Gardens where they can join a society accepting of magic.
These Hunters are born from thieves, spies, assassins, woodsmen, and soldiers. With their military training, specialized equipment and scholarly insights, fighting one is no easy feat. You'd be lucky only to fight one, given they never go in less than groups of five.
Ranks and Training
The hunters run strict education and training, assigning certain ranks to threats and sending the right troops in accordance.
- Initiate: a beginner who has no place on the battlefield against an actual threat. An initiate is given initial scrutiny by a member based on first glance and a mental assessment. People who show high levels of aggression, impulsiveness or recklessness face rejection, especially those who aren't physically or mentally fit. If their personality and mental assessments prove a suitable match with the criteria, they are given a physical exam that tests how long they can run, can remain balanced, and overall strength of will. When accepted into the hunters, he is allowed to visit the barracks, libraries, and canteens; the armory is prohibited and may not be accessed. An initiate begins training by doing strict physical regimens that test their strength, reflexes, and cardio. After a lunch break and extensive period in which they are allowed to rest, the initiate continues training with an extraordinarily long study period regarding certain creatures. Once a week after two, they are asked if they are willing to be tested. If the initiate says yes, he must declare what he’s confident in – vampires, werewolves and the like. First, a mental test is taken by having them look at images and quizzes to test their knowledge on what they’d be fighting. If they pass, then they are allowed to spar against their instructor in training. Volunteers from Hemlock Gardens will meet with them and put them through a real fight. However, if this is the initiate’s first, the second part of the test is never revealed. It starts with an instructor taking the initiate to a training ground with the intention of testing their physical capabilities. If proven that the initiate has good form and ability, the instructor will give a signal for a volunteer to ‘attack’ them. As the instructor plays dead with their student locked in, the instructor leaves the trainee to fight their new threat. If proven successful in fending off not just an actual threat but also an ambush, they credited extra towards becoming a cadet – after the rank of rookie. If they fail, his instructor will then explain to what happened, and they only ever have to fight the target they were training for in subsequent tests.
- Rookie: the lowly foot soldier that is trained to fight a specific enemy – witch, vampire, werewolf; we’ve been over this – and likely hasn’t finished his training. If you see one, they may be a specialist, or on their first hunt. After completing all training both physical and scholarly, and with one successful duty performed for each threat, the rookie receives his promotion.
- Cadet: a threat to almost anything. Having both the knowledge of the supernatural creatures of this world, and dealt with them before, these are the ranks who begin to pose serious threats. While not weak, they’re not the strongest in the line of duty in comparison to higher ranking units. They are often seen using defensive tactics and tools to their advantage until the cadet gains more confidence. After serving fifty contract cases and working a minimum of six months in the field, a cadet is eligible for promotion to a solider.
- Soldier: the standard grade of Hemlock Hunters, these slayers are permitted to venture out of their garrison’s jurisdiction and outside of Hemlock Gardens itself. These are the most common you’ll see traveling the streets. These groups are highly coordinated and have likely earned many mental and physical scars from both training and experience. Many will show a cold demeanor from having seen and performed several jarring things in their line of work but are still good people.
- Praesul: a leader of an entire militia. The highest rank, they coordinate large groups of hunters, manages supplies, tools, contracts, and training. Seeing one in battle is a bad omen, for their duties keep them from dealing with matters personally almost always. They only associate themselves in a fight against an extreme threat. If you are a civilian, run. If you’re a soldier, prepare yourself. If you’re their target, pray. These hunters are highly experienced, having served at least ten years and dealt with several contracts, cases, and displayed leadership. Going into battle means they’ve gathered the entire militia to deal with a single threat; their target’s survival is nigh impossible if caught. It isn’t uncommon for Praesul to work with another under the same garrison, but a Praesul tries to cover the maximum ground possible.
- Ascended: the rank assigned to werewolves, vampires, cryptids, demons, and undead. Many of these are trainers but will be asked to deal with high-level threats on occasion.
- Bewitched: specialized hunters that have undergone mutation with specific creatures, not too unlike witchers. While they aren't real witchers, vampires, lycans or otherwise, the bewitched boast more strengths than any other soldier and treated with extraordinary caution. Not many live, however, for they can at times contract the same weaknesses without any of the strengths if the mutation goes wrong. Many bewitched subjected to a vampiric mutagen wound up burning in the sunlight without any of the speed, strength or senses actual vampires had when the process was refining. While such tragedies are now much fewer in number per procedure, fewer people agree to bewitchment just due to the risk.
Appearance and Clothing
Wearing a specialized armor alloyed from dimeritium, orichalcum, silver, and steel, Hemlock Hunters have a superb physical defense, bolstered further by large leather coats worn over these plates treated to protect them from magic. Alloyed armor plating, however, is worn over the leather. Their uniform consists of different gothic-style duster coats that are with embroidered hemlock branches and flowers to signify their origins. They wear specialized full-face helmets with treated masks to prevent gas attacks, goggles to keep the eyes safe and another treated leather cowl surrounding it to ward off magic. You can tell rank by how decorated their gear is.
- Rookies wear simple versions of the coat and just the base cowl.
- A cadet wears a mariner's hat and may have further embroidery on their coat.
- Soldiers wear cavalier hats and almost always have embroidery on their outfit and decorated face masks. It's not uncommon at this point to see claws or fangs sewn into their uniform; serving as both warnings and display of trophies.
- Officers will wear bicorn hats that are fashioned to have very little lip on the font, and what look to be spread wings at the back. For each successful duty, raven feathers adorn the hat's crest. Their coats are highly detailed, yet will not reflect any light.
- Praesul - the highest rank - are leaders of personal militia within or without Hemlock Gardens. You will recognize one by the full mask that covers their helmet, intricate patterns resembling Hemlock Gardens' heraldry that take on the style of irezumi.
- Ascended are recognized with officer-style outfits themed on their mutation.
- Bewitched can wear either soldier or officer rank clothing with specified themes or modifications to factor for their new strengths and weaknesses after mutation.
Equipment and Tools
The Hemlock Hunters use only the most specialized and well-crafted equipment for their tasks.
Bombs and grenades
- Incendiaries and napalm explosives; utilized for anything with a critical fire vulnerability. The creatures specialized include vampires and lycans. One such bomb includes white phosphorous.
- Shrapnel, the generic bombs used for any task. According to their hunts, hunters fashion these from silver, steel, orichalcum, or other metals that would be the most effective against their target.
- Cryogenics are used against undead and living target exclusively for slowing them down if not entirely freezing them solid. The discretion of these explosives is due to the strength of lycans and vampires being able to shatter ice that attempts to encase them, or fur being able to keep them warm. Hunters ignore use against spectral undead due to their unnatural properties which permit them to phase through solid material.
- Chemical bombs count among the most widely used against anything alive – highly reactive acids and fast acting toxins swiftly kill most beasts and humanoid races. A hunter would laugh at any attempt to poison a zombie, melt a skeleton or gas out a vampire. Acid grenades are useful for almost anything, but if the target won’t react to pain or can regenerate faster than they’d burn away, you’ll be wasting materials.
- Flashbangs are used on near every case. Sudden flashes of light are capable of disorienting any creature relying on eyesight. Some of these grenades are rumored to contain pure sunlight for vampire hunts.
- Spears, arming swords, sickles, machetes, sabers, maces – you name it. If it bears excellent craftsmanship, it’s useful for any creature. The alloy of the weapon is the only thing determining what its use – mundane steel will have less desirable effects against vampires and are worthless against spectral undead, for instance.
- Stakes are used to kill many creatures, especially for vampire hunts. Ignore what the legends say – anything piercing the heart of a vampire will only serve to paralyze it and will not result in their death. The reason hunters use stakes is for the wooden splinters that slow down a vampire’s regenerative properties. Standard stakes are for just about anything – stab away.
- Shiv stakes take a design similar to a pen – used for precision and are balanced for throwing. They will only do a fraction of a standard stake’s damage but are still sharp enough to inflict wounds that don’t close.
- Broad stakes are unable to reach the heart of most creatures due to being shaped similar to a spinning top, used instead for dealing blunt impacts to make the enemy stagger or knock the wind from their chests.
- Metallic stake variants are alternatives for daggers in some situations, but their designs are closer to oversized bullets. Naturally, these leave a lot to be desired due to the cost to make and clean damage but are renowned for reusability.
- Croziers are taken by those capable of channeling their faith into magic. The secondary application of a club or combat staff is an extra benefit the religious monks of the hunters too – and to anyone who becomes disarmed and grabs one in desperation.
- Torches are tools commonly used by angry mobs in literature, but serve to be excellent defensive tools. A hunter carrying one will often wave it in front of himself in a frenzied style while backing up if attacked up close. The embers smoldering on the wrappings will often come loose and burn the hunter’s assailant viciously.
Firearms and Ranged Equipment
- Pistols – the bread and butter of any militia – are manufactured to use specialized cartridges and rounds depending on the situation. The flintlock mechanisms mean that their strength is unrivaled by most tools, but their reliability is held back due to the reload time and finesse needed, which one can lose when wits are nearing their end.
- The blunderbuss sees extra use against more sizeable beasts or those with regenerative properties. One type of ammunition named ‘sun flare’ contains pellets of highly reactive metals and flammable material. When fired, the shot reacts violently and will burn anything it touches. Experiments to make this work with a pistol were more than disastrous; the idea was scrapped altogether after three weeks lacking progress.
- Modified crossbows are quick to load and capable of firing larger projectiles in more rapid succession. As such, they are among the most common tool used by Hemlock Hunters. The hunters purchase and manufacture specialized bolts including chemicals and incendiaries that pistols can’t fire, and blunderbusses can’t use at a distance. While lacking the power of a flintlock, a crossbow is faster to load and more comfortable to prime when one’s nerves are shocked.
- Stake Drivers are special equipment used for delivering more force behind a stake’s impact. With intricate internal mechanisms, a primed stake will burst out when the lip of the construct strikes something. Most stakes are strictly single use. Not a conventional ranged weapon, but capable of packing the strength of a gun behind a stake.
- Slings are portrayed to be mere toys for children, but that’s only due to more powerful weapons overshadowing them. A hunter will use one to toss a grenade farther distances or large objects, including rocks. This benefit allows a hunter to fire over his troops if on the backlines of a fight, giving him more reach with munitions.
- Short bows and composite bows still have their purposes, even if it does restrict what a hunter is capable of holding in his hands more than a crossbow at times. A hunter with enough strength and a keen eye will often keep his distance, capable of firing more shots than a crossbow and delivering more power behind his attacks.
- Blinding powders are often pinched from a container and tossed. With specific blends including phosphorous and salts, a small amount could cause temporary blindness in its victim; a more considerable amount can cause permanent scarring of the eye. Some of which are even capable of inflicting chemical burns against specific targets.
- Bolas are either thrown or fired from a crossbow to ensnare targets, even if only momentarily. Specific materials are used based on particular prey, but frequently used magnetite can result in extremely painful bindings.
- Sedatives and anesthetics serve to keep a hunter fighting or to hold their sanity and health together proper medical treatment.
- Oils are used either for cooking or preparing for burning. Consecrated oils serve especially effective against undead targets, often heated for purification before - and thus bolstering - its use.
- Tonics, potions, brews and any other alchemical means of applying effects via consumption or applying to the skin for gaining the upper hand in battle.
- Nullifiers can refer to any matter of dust, ammunition or explosives meant to prevent any mystical abilities of a supernatural enemy. A vampire may lose his speed, werewolves may be out of transformation, and spectral undead are bound to a physical form. Due to the difficulty of making nullifiers they are reserved strictly for absolute necessities.
- Bait – including raw meat, large quantities of blood or a spell-containing totem meant to mimic a soul – is used to get the attention of a target. There are frustrating cases where said target gets the bait and escapes, though a few examples pop up where the creature hunted will take the bait and become remarkably placid afterward.
Armaments and Treatments
- Couters – or elbow guards – will often have a protruding spike that points upwards on the arm. While crafted carefully that a hunter will be unlikely to harm themselves, the blade can be used to strike whatever is behind him once the hunter bends his arm. Especially handy if something gets the jump on him from behind; letting him get deep shanks into anyone trying to grab them.
- Gauntlets and vambraces will have heavy cushioning to prevent damage to the wrist, with thick plating which allow hunters to deflect incoming attacks, and add extra power to their punches. Some can have spikes and blades attached to them for more cutting power.
- Fireproofing is one of the first things applied to their armor. While it’s a rarer than rare occurrence for their targets to be pyromancers, fire-breathing dragons or other flame wielding creatures, their equipment utilizes fire frequently. Reliable protection against anything fire related, including themselves.
- Nullifying herbs and plants, woven into treated cloths, are the primary material used for their outfit. While not effective against a sword, the fabric will reflect any spell – regardless of its effects or caster’s intention – when hit. Trying to curse someone when they wear this has not only revealed the location of rogue magic users in the past to the hunters but even killed them on occasion.
- Goggles made from unique quartz absorb most light, keeping their eyes safe. No one’s sure where the quartz originates from, but it allows one to stare at the sun for up to two minutes without much effect – still highly recommended, though, that you do not try this under any circumstances.
- Face masks are up to seven layers thick of varied materials, able to keep most gasses, smoke, and poisons from passing through to the nose and mouth of the one wearing it. They don’t last forever though, and inspections are mandated to avoid damaged equipment from costing a hunter’s life.
Trinkets and Paraphernalia
The hunters aren’t without a sense of artistic humor or symbolism. Many will go into battle wearing things to either show off who they are or perhaps to even confuse the enemy.
- Garlands are worn by hunters to have psychological effects on themselves or their enemies. Certain smells can be calming to the hunter, allowing him to keep his sanity, or foul to their enemies which can ease their assault. One tale tells of a cadet who wore a garland of garlic when facing a vampire. The vampire was amused but did not have the last laugh, since the cadet wore it only to make his prey think he relied on superstition alone to take down his target. This act of symbolism and trickery is supposedly the start of this unusual trend.
- Marks of gods and religions are used to pronounce one’s faith when going into battle, and to give confidence to a hunter during duty.
- Family heirlooms and reminders are frequently carried by hunters, often for personal reasons that vary per individual. External arguments from observers and passers-by question if this practice is mandatory, or something the hunters are just permitted to do. The truth is, there are no rules to what you bring into battle when prepared. The trinkets that remind a hunter of home to bring him comfort are just another tool to help. If the hunter falls, then they can be used to notify next of kin.
- A branch of hemlock or pussy willows is used to display what a hunter’s intentions are when meeting his target. The former is meant to signify that there is no negotiation – their bounty is to come quietly or face immediate execution. Pussy willows show that there is a warning issued, and answers are demanded; that the hunters wish for a peaceful conclusion. If a hunter carrying a pussy willow branch does not return or shows up dead, the target is immediately pursued, for questioning or execution, as this is treated to be the same as an assault, murder or abduction of an ambassador.