Chapter 8: The Summons
Days and nights passed in the blink of an eye for Britan as he trained under the tutelage of Sir Hughes de Lafayette and Cal Oree. As single days turned into weeks, Britan slowly learned about the Hunters and how they thrived together: Hunters together could not reproduce, since their reproduction was unfortunately sacrificed to grant them their Blessings. However, a Hunter and a normal human could have a child just fine; but even at that, having a child who was also a Hunter was not a common occurrence. Britan's case wasn't entirely rare, but it was rather unusual. However, if a case like Britan's did occur, then as his father had explained to him, that Hunter child's Blessing would bear some sort of similarity to the parent's.
Britan also trained physically with his master and his fellow apprentice. Mock battles were held every three days, and in between them, he was taught how to fight and control his Blessing.
"Listen up, ya shitty bastard!" Cal shouted one day during the middle of a mock battle. He threw a fast punch that whistled through the air at nearly twenty miles an hour, and which smacked Britan square in the face. "Blessings aren't just something to fling about as you please! There are many which can easily kill people, and the stronger, more intensely you use your Blessing, the more drawback it's going to have on you, anyway. Your drawback is getting super-exhausted, right?"
Britan shook off the punch, surprised at how resilient he'd been getting these past few days, and sidestepped another of his opponent's fists. "Yeah, that seems true!" he shouted out, lashing out with his foot at Cal's stomach. "I managed to hold back somehow when I punched you that one time, but when I used it accidentally against both the wyvern and you, it was with everything I had. Both times, I got super tired, and both times seemed like they could've torn you to smithereens."
Cal blocked the kick by quickly striking the purple-haired boy's leg with his lower arm. "That's what I'm talking about!" He quickly changed the block to a grab, twisting his arm to grasp at Britan's leg, and let out a huge grunt as he lifted the newer apprentice into the air. "If you get into a fight with another Hunter or any Eagledalians, you're not gonna be able to do much except your baseline abilities without either killing someone accidentally, or putting yourself in a bad position."
With a heavy flump, Britan's body slammed into the ground and he coughed blood; he'd bit his tongue by accident. Not one to give up easily, however, he squirmed out of Cal's grip and rolled onto his feet. "So, then, how do I control the output of my strength? HYA!" With a sharp kiai, Britan jabbed his elbow at Cal's face.
Sir Lafayette, who was overviewing the fight with a cup of coffee and a smile, pointed at Britan from his spot leaning against the door. "It's different for everyone, but there's something that's very similar in most cases: emotions. Emotions commonly strengthen augmentation-type Blessings like yours. Imagine your emotions like water in a bag. You can control the flow of the water coming out by bringing the edges of the bag closer together. In this scenario, water would be your Blessing, and the bag would be your emotions. Tilt the bag upside down and spread open its edges too far, and the water will all rush out at once; however, keep the edges of the bag closer together—don't let your emotions control you—and the water will flow out in a smaller, much more controlled stream. That's only for lessening the strength of your hits, however. There will, of course, be some cases, like fighting against Asager Shells, where it is of the utmost importance to let loose your full power without knocking yourself out."
During this explanation, Cal raised his hand to block the elbow jab, only for Britan to plant his feet firmly on the ground, twist, and throw out a straight punch that powered up to Cal's face. The redhead had to use his Blessing to dodge it, and he smirked. That hadn't been a bad feint at all; it had, in fact, been a good strategy. Cal threw his weight into a roundhouse kick, but when it was narrowly blocked, jumped into the air and turned it into a flying windmill. His heel at last smashed into Britan's face, and he fell backwards several feet before landing.
Pain flared in Britan's face, and images flashed over his eyes: ice covering buildings, grotesque sculptures screaming silently. His heart beat rampantly, and a cold sweat coated his face. He took a couple deep breaths and shook himself out of the memory.
"Ouch… my loss," Britan admitted, getting to his feet and grinning weakly at Cal. "Nice fight!"
The pale boy rolled his scarlet red eyes. "Yeah, yeah, punk." He frowned. "You're pale. I didn't hit you too hard, did I?"
"No, no, you're fine," his friend assured him. Britan then turned to Lafayette. "Anyway, how can I let loose my full power without knocking myself out?"
"I'd suggest that you focus on strengthening the bag in my previous metaphor." Sir Lafayette reached down beside him to where two cups filled with water rested and picking them up. He then crossed over the lawn to where his two apprentices stood panting and handed both of them the cool, clear liquid. "A person's body is connected very closely with their emotions. If their emotions are too strong for their body to handle and run wildly, that person will tire themselves out easily. It's like a child who cries himself or herself to sleep, but can cry just as hard when he's a grown man and not get tired. Strengthen that bag, make yourself unwavering and firm in how you feel, and you won't exhaust yourself as easily. A good way to do that is to redirect anger and hatred at Asager Shells; it's a common practice in Hunters, and it often works."
"I see," Britan said, sipping his water carefully. At the thought of the horrible monsters he and Cal had been born to fight, a sudden river of anger washed through him. He gripped his glass a little tighter and desperately cleared his head. "Like water in a bag…"
At first, in their mock battles, Cal would always win, despite Britan's overwhelming victory the first day. It was a bit frustrating to have won so largely and then lose so often. But he didn't let this get to him, and instead, kept pushing himself and pushing himself to continuously do better. As the first month of his apprenticeship under the famous Sir Lafayette passed, Britan finally started to at least tie a few of Cal's and his bouts. He was still leaps and bounds behind Sir Lafayette, however, who would occasionally spar with him, or with both Britan and Cal; when this happened, he would always wipe the floor with them. The man was a monster in hand-to-hand combat, let alone with a sword. Both Britan and Cal were slowly improving over the month, however, and that was the only thing they cared about at.
And then, one morning at the close of the month, a letter arrived on their master's doorstep, postmarked with a rainbow stamp and no return address.
Britan found it, having been the first to wake up and thus having the unwanted job of weeding the garden which Sir Lafayette grew behind his house. Groggy and sleepy-eyed, he opened the door and made to step out only to see white on the two-step ledge down to the ground; white that should not have been there. Intrigued, he looked down and saw the letter, which was addressed to Lafayette.
"Sir!" he called loudly, grabbing the letter and running back down the hallway to his master's study. Lafayette had had a late night the previous night doing paperwork, and had fallen asleep in his study. This was much less of a rarer circumstance than one might think; the blond man liked to overdo things. "Sir, you have a letter! I don't know who it's from, but it's got a rainbow stamp!"
He skidded to a stop in front of his master's study, and hesitated at the closed door before rapping his knuckles against it a couple times.
Weak and sleepy, a muffled groan rose through the door. "Come in and give it to me…" Lafayette's voice said groggily, laden down with early-morning exhaustion. It was still early enough that the birds were still singing their waking songs, and a cool dew clung to the blades of grass outside the house, so it was understandable why he'd be so tired.
"Alright. Pardon me, Sir…"
Britan slowly and quietly opened the office door so as not to disturb his master any further. Creeping in, he saw Lafayette half-passed across his desk, chest rising and falling in rhythm to the blond's breathing. His pink eyes were still closed, though he was clearly awake from the disgruntled groan that he gave as Britan shuffled across the floor and laid the letter beside him.
"It's probably from the Hunter General," said Lafayette through a yawn, sitting up and stretching at last. With his body now not covering much of the desk, Britan could see that the Hunter's normally impeccable workspace was littered with important-looking documents and all kinds of paraphernalia. The blond picked up the letter which Britan had brought him and rubbed his eyes. "Yep, yet another letter from the Hunter General. He doesn't send me anything."
"Contradiction," Britan deadpanned, not even bothering to say anything more than that. He blinked, then shook his head. "Anyway, the Hunter General… I think I remember you saying that the Hunters aren't just a race of people, but an organization dedicated to fighting for peace and the end of Asager Shells. Is that our leader?"
"Got it in one," his master replied as he pulled open a drawer in his desk, withdrew a letter opener from it, and cut it across the letter's top. His sleepy, pink eyes blinking away the last of his exhaustion. "The Hunter General takes care of organizing us and sending us the locations of Asager Shells or bandits that have been spotted roaming the countryside. He's also currently the most powerful Hunter, and the last line of defense for our kingdom if things were to somehow really go south. He's in charge of the group who deal out Hunting Licenses and is able to revoke them if a Hunter breaks our rules. Most importantly, he keeps all the different types of Hunters working together to benefit the whole organization, whether they're Recon, Recruit, Reaper, or whatever else they may be."
Britan hummed, interested in what these three types of Hunters might entail, but Lafayette fell silent as he skimmed over the letter, eyes flicking back and forth with line read.
"...Urgh, not again," Lafayette complained as he finally folded the letter and slapped it down upon the other various papers covering his desk. He groaned and leaned back in his chair like an annoyed little kid.
Blinking, the blond's newest apprentice raised his hand. "Um, what's the matter, sir?"
"There's been another Asager Shell spotted near Georgetown," said Lafayette at last, getting to his feet and straightening the mess on his desk. "The Hunter General wants us to go head it off since we're the closest people he's got on the job; Georgetown is normally a few days' walking distance away from here. If we load up Cal on high-calorie food and have him pull us in a wagon, though, we should be able to get there by tomorrow."
A groggy voice from the second floor shouted through the floorboards, "I'm not your damn horse, Sir!"
"He can somehow always hear my plans for him for this sort of thing," Lafayette whispered with a grin and a hand held up against his mouth, like a boy telling a secret. "He's deaf as a doornail."
Britan rolled his eyes at the pointless contradiction, but grinned nonetheless. "Anyway, you sounded annoyed at the news that the Asager Shell was going to Georgetown," he pointed out as he and Lafayette left the study. "Why's that?"
Lafayette's fists clenched and his pace increased as he made his way to his bedroom, which was several feet down the hall from his study. "Georgetown is the single city with the most documented Asager Shell attacks in history. I myself have stopped no less than fifteen of these attacks since I built this house years ago. Georgetown is the only known place in history to have dealt with over fifty of them and is still standing. Part of that is due to the fact that the people there know about Asager Shells and Hunters, and the other part is that the majority of its citizens are as ruthless as the Asager Shells themselves. Law is as existent there as dodo birds are everywhere: very."
"That's not even a contradiction—that's just false," Britan deadpanned. "Just say that it's lawless; that's easier to understand and uses less words."
"Regardless," said his master, the man's flaming pink eyes twinkling in response, "the citizens of Georgetown have had to find ways to survive both the constant attacks and the ruthlessness of their neighbors, so many of them have become remarkably skilled fighters. But even despite how horrible the living conditions are, I think this might actually be a productive trip for us."
"Really?" Head tilting, eyes blinking, Britan paused. "I get the feeling you're not talking about training to fight Asager Shells."
"Right on the money," Lafayette declared. Due to being several heads taller than his young apprentice, his shadow covered Britan as they walked. "This will be a fantastic opportunity for you to see how a real fight against such monsters goes."
Britan facepalmed. "Sir…"
"Okay, okay, in all seriousness, you're both correct and incorrect. I do believe this will serve as a good training exercise for you and Cal, but more importantly, I'm talking about finding you both Seconds. A good Hunter is nothing without a good hunting partner, and that's where Seconds come into play. Despite Georgetown's general hatred for Hunters and everything involved with us, should you somehow manage to befriend someone there, you won't find anyone more loyal." Lafayette, now standing before the door to his quarters, twisted the knob and pushed said door open. "Now, if you'll excuse me for several moments, I need to change. And you still need to water my garden! Those crops aren't the least bit thirsty."
His apprentice's lips twitched in amused annoyance. "Ugh… okay…"
Wilting, Britan staggered back to the house's exit and entrance, which he'd left wide open, and went to grab the bucket from a toolshed Lafayette had erected near the edge of the woods.
He never saw the spark of sunlight that bounced off the glass lens of a pair of binoculars held by two calloused, tanned hands that fell to the sides of a short man concealed within the morning shadows of the spruce trees… Nor could he possibly have heard from such a distance the words this man spoke to a second man, whose full body was concealed in the darkness of shadows.
"Master Bomani," the man holding the binoculars said, "they have taken the bait."
A low, crusty voice, like dried leaves in the desert sun, crackled into the air, a horrible sort of laughter that chilled one to one's very soul. "Good… Now, come with me, young Bennu. We must rejoin our comrades at the city of chaos. If we are to overwhelm the prey, we must make haste."
"Of course, Master Bomani."
The shadowed man reached out and grasped Bennu by the arm, gripped him tightly, and there was suddenly a flash of golden light. When it cleared, the duo were gone, as if they had never stood there at all, and were now instead nearly twenty feet away. Another golden flash burst out, and Bomani and his apprentice had again disappeared only to blink into existence another twenty feet further from Lafayette's house. And so on it went, until they were miles away, not a trace of them remaining near the home of the Hunters.