Chapter Three: Crossing Roads

I pull out my dagger and twirl it through the air. It catches a glint of light and creates a reflection of my behind surroundings for a split second. I tuck my dagger away again and smirk as a hand slowly reaches around my shoulder. I throw myself to the right and knock away the arm as I bring up my arms in a cross in front of my face, completely blocking a downwards-overhead kick.

"Neat trick," Bynor scoffs.

"Something I mastered on my unaccompanied missions," I shrug as the two of us relax into a stroll together, "what did you have to deal with that I wasn't even allowed to look at?"

"It was rogue Hunters," Bynor bitterly admits.

"I take it from that bitter-tone that they escaped?"

"Unfortunately," Bynor slips through gritted teeth.

"I wonder if…"

"We didn't chance across each other. They knew we were incoming and laid in wait for us. It drives ice through me to know that there are some who are willing to betray their own race, their own comrades and side with the demons."

"So it won't be the last of them?"

"I'm certain that there is a tracker shadowing us. They aren't after you and they aren't after me. They're after both of us. They want both of us dead. Six of them escaped the skirmish in the bay and they will most likely have reinforcements, no matter how meager. In a matter of minutes, we will cross paths with a travelling squad. We will stay with them for a little while, attempt to brush aside this problem and continue."

"A travelling squad?"

"Yes. During the fight with the rogues and demons alike, a scouting Marauder Hunter came to my aid. He gave me the information of this travelling squad. There are nine of them in total. There is a leader elite with two elite lieutenants. Then there are three skilled and three apprentices."

An elite Hunter is what you would imagine. They are those who are completely battle-hardened and reliable to flick all their switches into relentless-murder mode when needed. A skilled Hunter is someone who is fully trained, but has only experience with two or three demon species in combat. A trained Hunter is someone who obviously has been fully trained, but has only participated in one or two major battles. An apprentice Hunter is someone who is still honing his or her prowess.

Then there are the veterans, the elder Hunters. They can choose to continue the battle until death, but they can also choose to retire. Not many find it appealing to defuse into mortal life and many choose to remain on the battlefield, but they can also retire into a mentoring position.

A lot of veterans choose to retire into a mentoring position as they see it as the most effectively they can assist the overall war. If there is a partially decrepit Hunter on the field, they might be a burden to the rest. If a veteran becomes a mentor, they can pass their experience and knowledge onto the next generation and ensure the future fighting capability of Hunters.

"Hey there," a friendly gruff voice echoes from our left.

"How are you guys doing?" Bynor cordially asks the squad gathering in front of us.

Their leader is a hardened blonde haired man, but he's smiling through his roughened complexion. I can single out his lieutenants by simply allowing their demeanours to clash against mine. The tall woman with a hooked spear over her shoulders and a young man with the dual sickles on his belt are the lieutenants. They're both far more confident than the rest of the squad and judging from his and her bodies, they're both more than capable of handling themselves as expected.

"I am Bynor," Bynor smiles as he extends a hand to the leader.

"I am Ayral," the leader smiles in return as they exchange a handshake.

"Wait, aren't you Lord Bynor?" the female lieutenant gawks.

"Oh yeah! You're General Bynor Atrum of the paladin Hunter contingency!" one of the apprentices affirms in awe.

"That's R-Lance and Florilen, my lieutenants. Sound off the rest of you," Ayral begins.

"I'm Teifei and my apprentices here are Risall and Sera-Faye," Teifei waves as she points a thumb at pair that must be three or four years younger than me.

"I'm Nykael and I'm the sorcerer of the group," the one with spiked cobalt hair grins sheepishly.

"Rarken and this is Loratia, my daughter," says the man with a serrated scimitar tied to his back and a young Hunter apprentice by his side.

Loratia seems to be only just younger than me by one or two years.

I notice that aside from the apprentices, only Ayral is carrying a bag. His preferred weapon must be packed away in there. The lieutenants have their weapons out in the open and Rarken has his scimitar. Nykael must rely on his abilities as a celestial and the rest simply have dual gladius on their belts. They must rely upon the charity of towns and paladins for basic resources such as food and water.

"We're Squad Blue-Wing. Would you happen to be in need of assistance?" Ayral kindly offers.

"As a matter of fact, I would be extremely appreciative if we could team up for an hour or two," Bynor requests.

"In a spot of trouble are we now?" Ayral teases with a raised eyebrow.

"Rogue Hunters are after my apprentice and I," Bynor explains.

"Kain Venator at your service," I wave with a friendly smile.

"Venator!" Teifei exclaims to my complete and utter confusion, but Ayral holds up a hand.

"Rogue Hunters? Would you care to explain?"

"The Rogue Hunters allied with the rogue werewolves in the area and attempted an ambush as we came to shore. Daresay I fought valiantly, but six of the Rogue Hunters escaped. I know they will have found reinforcements and are still pursuing us."

"So the plan would be simply set up an ambush for them, right?"

"Of course. Our combined numbers should allow us to wipe them out."

"I must warn that my apprentices are not ready for battle."

"Mine can watch over yours. Two veteran Hunters, three elite Hunters and a celestial should be enough."

"Very well. Should we find some sort of fortifications or a building?"

"I reckon we can take them. The maximum-recorded rogue demons are not even half a hundred at most. I must have eliminated two or three dozen. I estimate there'll be around twenty or so werewolves with the six Rogues."

"Excuse me, but that's not even a squad's worth."

"I know, but I want to keep my apprentice conserved."

"Your apprentice? Ah."

Ayral delivers whispers to R-Lance and Florilen. He receives assenting nods from both momentarily.

"Very well. Teifei will go up into the trees with Nykael. R-Lance is to stay with the apprentices. Florilen and Rarken are with Bynor and I."

"Sounds like a firm strategy to me."

I move over to the three apprentices of Squad Blue-Wing as Teifei gives Nykael a boost into the canopy. Bynor extricates Lozia from his pockets and forms a one-sided sabre. He slaps his palms together onto the hilt and pulls Lozia apart into dual sabres. Ayral drops his bag and pulls out a pair of dark emerald gauntlets, donning them. Ayral moves to our left flank. As Florilen moves to our right flank, she twirls her spear over her shoulders and slams it down onto the dirt. Rarken saunters around our cluster of apprentices and stands guard at our rear flank, pulling his serrated scimitar from its straps on his back.

"So, it was Risall, Sera-Faye and Loratia, right?" I attempt to strike up some sort of idle conversation with the other apprentices.

"Indeed, you are Kain right?" Risall responds.

"Yeah," I nod as I extend a hand.

We firmly grasp together and bump shoulders together in the man-hug.

"So you're fully trained right? I can only assume from what Bynor has implied."

"Yep, I've gone through the basics, extensions and some extras, but Bynor still refers to me as his apprentice."

"Extended and extra training?"

"Bynor wasn't my only mentor. I had guidance from multiple veterans. I can only suppose Bynor has some grand schemes for me. By the way, what's your sorcerer's specialty?"

"Nykael? He's a teyrau."

"A what?"

"Tay-roo. It's a combination of teeyre and iaios powers. No one knows how or why, so don't bother asking. His advanced power form is quite impressive though."

"I can only assume he has the laser abilities of the teeyre and he must be a spectacular healer."

Before Risall can retort, there's a snikt as triple knuckle claws spontaneously emerge from Ayral's gauntlets. I peer to the side and see the tips of kusarigama blades beneath his wrists. I can only imagine what else his shape shifting delta gauntlets can do.

The veterans and elites adopt battle stances and R-Lance's hands fly onto the hilts of his sickles. I pat my pockets and confirm my dagger. A barrage of red beams soar through the leaves and there's a distant howl of pain.

"Ayral with me! Everyone else hold!" Bynor shouts as werewolves barrel in from the distance.

Bynor explodes into a sprint with Lozia low by his sides and Ayral tails him. The werewolves seem to be coming from directly in front of us. Florilen and Rarken move from their posts to our front. I glance at Risall, Sera-Faye and Loratia. Judging from their teeth grinding and overly tense bodies, Ayral is right. These three aren't ready for battle. R-Lance on the other hand is relaxed, but wary. He's already accustomed to battle.

Bynor and Ayral descend upon the werewolves. Lozia hacks and slashes as the claws of Ayral rip and shred at the werewolves. They quickly dispatch all of the werewolves and Bynor points behind us with a grunt.

Something tackles into R-Lance as Rarken and Florilen dash around me. Rarken's scimitar clashes against a broadsword of Rogue and Florilen impales another. A fourth slashes at Florilen with dual spatha and she rips her spear to the side. The hooked blade destroys the Rogue's insides and the blunt end slams into the spatha wielding Hunter.

R-Lance kicks the limp corpse of the Rogue off him and yanks his sickles from his sides. I scan our surroundings. The fifth and sixth are nowhere to be seen. There's a feminine cry from the branches and a grappling pair tumble down. Teifei kicks the Rogue from her and a flurry of red beams burn through him.

The sixth Rogue drops from the branches and dives at the apprentices and I with a swinging sabre. I shoulder-slam Risall and Sera-Faye either side of me as I dash to Loratia. I shove Loratia to the ground as the sabre catches the ends of her hair, leaping over her. I catch the blade with a hand before it runs through me and ram a punch into the chest of the Rogue. He soars backwards with a crack and ploughs through the dirt.

"Venator!" he snarls with an agonised tone.

As he staggers to his feet coughing up blood, another flurry of red beams soars down and burns through his neck as Florilen's spear thuds into his chest. I peer down at my left hand as everyone recollects himself or herself to see the scars on my palm already fading. I wonder if anyone will realise that you can't catch a blade without being cut.

Florilen wretches her spear from the corpse of the Rogue and Nykael drops down from the trees.

"Nice punch," Ayral praises genuinely, "I heard his ribs breaking from all the way other there."

"Well done on protecting the apprentices," Bynor follows up as he cleans off Lozia.

"Now since that has been dealt with, I suppose we're going to head off on our separate ways?" queries R-Lance.

"Separate wouldn't be the word I would use," Bynor smiles, "Hunters stand united always and forever."

He holds out a fist and leaders of Squad Blue-Wing oblige Bynor with gratified smirks.

"May I ask what are you planning to do?" Ayral asks.

"I have a lot of hopes, but no spoilers. I assume you are a freelance squad?"

"Yes, we were originally from the south and we've never gone north enough to join up with the Marauders."

"Can I propose a mission for you and your squad?"

"If it is within reason, then we shall see."

"I want you to head to Gyrda. There you can enter the Tau Sector of the caverns. If you don't know or can't find an operational access hatch, find the Legion Tavern. Just ask one of the paladin guards if you can't find it. At the Legion Tavern you should be able to meet with someone by the name of Melodia. She should be able to guide you. Once you're in the caverns, travel north and you'll end up at Sigma Sector. I warn you that the caverns will be infested in certain areas, but once you make it to Sigma Sector, just bunker down there until further orders."

"You haven't reclaimed your general's title, but you've already got something in the works. Very well, Squad Blue-Wing accepts your mission."

As the last word flows from Ayral's mouth, an ice-white flame sparks at Bynor's boot tips. Bynor clicks his fingers and the flames flicker out.

"I have to attend to something seemingly urgent. Squad Blue-Wing, you have your mission and Kain, you have your quest."

Bynor gives me a friendly punch to the shoulder and he disappears to the south. I bring my right fist to my left shoulder and partially bow. Squad Blue-Wing returns the Hunter's Salute and they start heading northward, quickly fading into the forest.