"The Hunt, Part Four: The Rot": After encountering the Hunters Three at her home in San Diego, Ellen Baker packs her son Cliff into the car and has their acquaintance [[Karl Krenshaw (Prime Earth)|Detec
- I always said if he brought any of this stuff back home with him, that'd be the end of it. But what can I do? I love him.
- -- Ellen Baker
Appearing in "The Hunt, Part Four: The Rot"
Synopsis for "The Hunt, Part Four: The Rot"
After encountering the Hunters Three at her home in San Diego, Ellen Baker packs her son Cliff into the car and has their acquaintance Detective Krenshaw drive them both to Sacramento where her mother keeps a farm. However, Ellen is not aware that one of the hunters has assumed Krenshaw's form, and that the real detective has been stuffed into the trunk.
Meanwhile, in The Red, Ellen's husband Buddy is fighting with the other two hunters. Unfortunately, he is plainly outmatched. The totems of the Parliament of Limbs appeal to his daughter Maxine, who they know to be the next Avatar of the Red, to make a stand and save her father. Reluctantly, she approaches the attackers, and with her mind on protecting Buddy, she uses the power of the Red to blast away the hunters. The totems admit that despite the hunters' apparent disappearance, they are not defeated. Buddy, meanwhile has been very gravely injured.Arriving in Sacramento at the farmhouse of Ellen's mother Mary, the third hunter struggles to maintain his form, knowing that he must feed soon. Ellen goes inside to greet her mother, leaving Cliff outside with the hunter. When Cliff realizes that there's someone locked in the trunk, the hunter grabs him.
Again, the totems call on Maxine to use her abilities to heal her father. She is incredulous, as she is only four years old, and knows nothing about biology. Even so, she leans over her father's wound, and feeling that it is much like clay, she moulds her father's flesh back together and he is healed.
Recovered, Buddy demands to know what purpose the Hunters might have with a little girl, regardless of her apparent power. Using fleshy tendrils, the totems pass on information directly into the pairs bodies. The Hunters Three were once human Avatars of the Red, just as Maxine is meant to be. They protected the lifeweb from threats, and when their time had ended, they were to take their place among the totems in the Parliament of Limbs. However, a corrupting force led the three of them astray to a deeper, darker place: The Rot.
For the first time, the hunters have an opportunity to lay claim to a living Avatar, as they are all dead. If they were to take control of her, nothing would hold the Rot at bay, and it would spread throughout the lifeweb. It is Buddy's task to protect Maxine at all cost. While he cannot himself become an Avatar, it is his duty to protect the next Avatar as her father and as an agent of the Red. The totems reveal that Buddy will not be alone in his efforts against the Rot, as there are other forms of life outside the Red. Alec Holland can help, though he may not yet realize his role. Additionally, a totem - a cat - decides to accompany Buddy and Maxine, despite the cost of being unable to return to the Parliament of Limbs.
Back at the farmhouse, Ellen vents to her mother about the chaos she has faced recently, with her husband's powers acting up, and Maxine apparently developing her own at such a young age. Mary blames Buddy, naturally, arguing that he has brought this chaos down on his family by choosing to become a superhero. Ellen admits that despite having warned that if his heroics brought any strangeness home with him, it would have to stop, she loves him, and can't put her foot down. Suddenly, Ellen looks out the window, and realizes that Cliff has gone missing.
In the woods nearby, the hunter drags the unconscious body of Detective Krenshaw and Cliff to the edge of a lake. He demands that Cliff draw his father and sister out, so that he can gain control of an Avatar. Krenshaw wakes up and tries to escape, but the hunter notices and grabs him by the neck, preparing to feed. Ellen hears Krenshaw's screams and grabs a rifle from the shed, heading out to save her son.
Meanwhile, Buddy, Maxine, and the cat fly back to their home in San Diego, confused to find their front door and garage open. Maxine asks the cat its name. Though it was originally called "Socks" in its past life, it prefers the name it gained in the Red: Ignatius. Naturally, Maxine prefers Socks. Buddy and Socks realize that the Hunters Three were at the house, and when they head inside, they find the place torn apart, and no sign of Ellen of Cliff.
Ellen rushes through the woods, and arrives at the lake's edge in time to see Cliff cowering behind a rock as the hunter devours Krenshaw's body.
- This book was first published on December 7, 2011.
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