"Hunter, stop reading for one minute and help with dinner!"
Hunter put down his textbook with a sigh and went downstairs to the kitchen where his mother was making pie crust. "I'm glad you're so determined to study," she told him, "but if you want to eat anytime soon you'll chop up those vegetables there."
Hunter nodded and did as he was told. While he chopped the vegetables he glanced out the window, hoping to see Scout coming back. It had been two months since they moved to Frome, and Scout had been working at the newspaper office for a month now. She liked her job, and the extra income was helpful, but it meant that Hunter had to help out around the house more, and it cut into his studying time.
He shook his head and concentrated on chopping when his mother noticed him daydreaming and lectured him. "You'll cut off your fingers like that!"
It was incredible how much life could change in such a short time. When he had returned to Mount Serene with Callisto, they went directly to the statue terrace and Callisto returned all the girls to life, but not before asking Hunter to keep her identity a secret. "I know it's selfish, but I want the Beast to die," she told him. "If you want, you can say you killed her."
Hunter had agreed not to reveal her identity, but he wouldn't claim to have killed the beast. No one would believe him anyway, but mostly he didn't want that on his shoulders. People would expect him to be something else.
The girls were all very disoriented when they returned to life. They were all weak and they couldn't stand for a little while. They spent the first night there, eating Granny Tango's vegetables and huddling together for warmth. Callisto didn't stay; as soon as everyone was back to normal she disappeared. Hunter had wanted to thank her, or at least to say goodbye, but he never had the chance, and in the moment, he had been too excited to see Scout alive and well, and he hadn't actually noticed Callisto leaving.
They all returned to Hillside Village the next day, and they were greeted with incredulity. Hunter hung back and let others try to explain what had happened. He just wanted to go home. Their parents hadn't been into town for a long time, and he was worried about them. He and Scout left as soon as possible.
His parents, who had believed they'd lost both their children, had them both returned in one day. The house was a mess when Scout and Hunter got back, but it wasn't until later that they noticed, and by then it didn't matter anymore.
Being sacrificed to a beast didn't leave much room for warm thoughts, and the whole family agreed to move away from Hillside Village and all it meant as soon as possible. Scout refused to go into town after her ordeal, and Hunter was the one who went with his parents to sell their livestock and belongings. It was a little sad, but incredibly freeing, to get rid of their possessions and start over. They decided to move to Frome, to get away from small town living. Hunter wanted to go to school, and there was work to be had in the city, so they took their few remaining belongings on the train to start anew.
Hunter grinned when he heard the jaunty whistle that meant Scout was returning home from work. "Scout's back!" he said, hoping she could take over for him, though he had pretty much finished chopping all the vegetables.
"That doesn't mean you're off the hook," his mother told him.
"Hello everyone!" Scout called as she opened the door. They had a small two story townhouse, and the kitchen was just off the entrance, with a living room next door, and a steep staircase just off that, towards the back of the house. The kitchen opened out onto a small courtyard that led to an alleyway overhung by sloping apartments. Scout hung up her jacket by the door and came into the kitchen to watch them working. "Chicken pot pie for dinner?" she asked hopefully.
"Minus the chicken," her mother replied. Between them they didn't have much of an income yet, but they got on well enough. They had a roof over their heads and food on the table, even if they couldn't always afford meat. Secretly, Hunter was glad for this, but he didn't say anything because he knew Scout would disagree, and loudly.
Their father soon returned from work, and the family sat down to dinner together. Hunter looked around at his family, and he couldn't help smiling, even now, months after their separation.
He was walking to school one day when he saw a girl riding by on a bike who looked awfully familiar. Before he knew what he was doing, he was yelling her name and running after her. "Callisto!"
The tall girl nearly fell off her bike, but she put out her foot and caught herself. She stopped and glared at him, scaring him at first, but then her face lit up with recognition and she smiled. She got off her bike and walked it over to him. "Hunter, what are you doing here?" she asked. She had her long hair tied back, and she was wearing plain clothes, but there was still something about her that suggested something more, something powerful.
"We moved here a couple of months ago," he told her. "We didn't feel comfortable in Hillside Village anymore."
Callisto laughed. She seemed happier somehow, in the way she carried herself, the way she moved her head. "Understandably," she agreed. "I dare say all of those girls and their families should have done the same."
Hunter nodded and he found himself smiling stupidly, lost for words. He shook his head and forced himself to talk. "But you, what are you doing here?" he asked. "Didn't you go back to your parents?" He wanted to ask her why she had left without saying goodbye, but she didn't have to explain herself to him.
She nodded. "I did; that was quite the reunion I tell you. You have no idea how upset they were about you thieving all that stuff from my room!" She laughed, a sharp, loud laugh, punctuated like the Beast's. "But I want to do more with my life than live with my parents," she said.
"I could guess that much from…" Hunter trailed off, realizing he was about to admit to reading her journal. He coughed to cover up his embarrassment, but she had noticed.
"From what?" she asked. "From my life in your mountains perhaps? Or my willingness to destroy a man?" She didn't need him to answer, and she kept talking. "I'm here finishing my studies," she told him. "The Magician's Academy is here in Frome, so I'm here to take my exams and get my certificate, finally."
"Oh, neat. I'm here studying too actually," Hunter said. "At the University."
"Good! What are you studying?" she asked. "How are you doing?"
"I'm in engineering," he said. "Or at least, I hope to-"
Callisto frowned suddenly and pulled a pocket watch from her pocket. "Damn! Listen Hunter, it's been great seeing you again, but I'm actually on my way to an exam…"
Hunter nodded understandingly. "I wouldn't want to ruin your studies," he told her. "Maybe I'll see you around." She smiled and held out her hand.
"I'm sure we will," she said, and they shook hands and she climbed back on her back and rode away. Hunter watched her go with a sinking feeling in his chest. How would he find her again in this huge city? He sighed and kept walking. He was on his way to the University Library. What he had been about to tell Callisto was that he wasn't yet in the Engineering program. He had a lot of basic education to catch up on before he could even apply; life in the country hadn't given him much chance to educate himself properly.
He looked over his shoulder down the road she had gone. "Well, she probably doesn't want to see you again anyway," he muttered to himself. "It just brings up bad memories I bet."
As he walked he considered how strange it was that he didn't find them bad memories, the time he had spent with the 'beast'. How he even missed it a little. He shook his head and kept walking. The past was gone, gone away on a bicycle never to return.
He left the library late in the afternoon, his bag heavy with books and his mind full of facts and ideas. He hadn't quite forgotten about Callisto, but his brain was so full of other things that he was startled when she appeared in front of him again as he was walking down the stairs of the library.
"Care to go for a cup of tea?" she asked with a bright smile. "I feel like celebrating; I think I did very well on that exam."
"How did you find me?" Hunter blurted out, and he blushed. "Not that I didn't want you to! I mean…"
Callisto laughed and patted his shoulder. "It wasn't hard," she told him. "I just had to ask around the university; does anyone know a country boy studying to be an engineer who talks to himself all the time? You're not as invisible as you think."