The morning rays bounced off the clouds that were accumulating on the Eastern horizon after the dark day the hunter community had suffered its greatest lost and defeat. Yesterday seemed like a nightmare that was not going to fade anytime soon. It seemed almost impossible to think two-thirds of the hunting community (licensed hunters and students alike) had been wiped out in the hands of their deceived comrades, and yet it was real, as real as the wounds that were slowly healing in my body and in my heart.
My thoughts felt numb as I watched the peaceful and serene expression in Candravar’s face as he was being taken back to the Academy, oblivious of our victory. Shizuma’s was torn apart inside, and I held her together as she cried in my chest. Even the day mourn that early morning. The progression to the academy was slow, filled with many curious eyes from the normal inhabitants staring at us and whispering sadly among themselves. They too heard the news of Candravar, and as a sign of respect, they had lined up a path toward the Academy.
Salazar wasn’t killed, as much as I wanted to. Instead, a hunter, and prison guard, decided to take him and lock him in the most solitary and rotten cell along with his servants and everybody who had surrendered or defeated when the scroll was destroyed. Hunters loyal to Candravar would take care of them before attending the funeral.
The funeral that was the moment I dreaded, watching Candravar’s coffin descend into the earth, somewhere he didn’t belong. The funeral would take place in less than an hour from now and I hadn’t heard anything from the others. Only Shizuma was with me, her eyes too wearied to produce another tear. We were standing in the Foyer dressed in black. The traditional procession wasn’t going to take place; there weren’t many hunters knowledgeable on the process to do so, and they needed all the help they needed. Many of the nearby farmers came to offer their help with the preparations and the food, which we gladly accepted.
I heard the trampling of feet behind me. It was Rothus, the father of a classmate who had died; he walked to us and stopped, staring us in grave silence.
“Mr. Rothus,” I started, but he stopped me before I went further.
“Aldrest, I know this isn’t the best time to say this, but,” Rothus seemed hesitant, and we both knew what was coming from this conversation. “Our numbers had diminished greatly; all those hidden criminals will crawl out of their hellhole and create havoc, something we cannot afford right now.”
“How dare you,” Shizuma snarled. “You were right; this is no time to discuss this. We’re about to bury Candravar, can’t that wait.”
“Shizuma is right,” I said, wrapping an arm protectively around her shoulder. “I’m sorry Rothus, if your concerns are about the future of the hunting community, don’t worry, we’ll figure it out. I believe the only thing Candravar wants is for us to remain strong and together. We’ll discuss it after the funeral.”
“Very well,” Rothus said, nodded once and turned to leave.
“Aldrest,” Shizuma whispered, “What is going to happen to the Academy?”
I remained in silence, pondering about the fate of my most sacred and only home. “We’ll restore it.”
Every hunter was gathered on the grounds of the academy, where the tombs of all the Elders were located. I glanced at my grandfather’s gravestone and prayed for him to transfer some of his knowledge to me and help me lead the hunting community that was threatening to fall apart.
“Aldrest!” I heard a voice shout behind me.
Startled, I turned around, and much to my surprise, I beamed. “Well, I guess you’re tougher than what I give you credit for.”
“I am alive,” Axel boasted, extending his arms out. “That stupid scroll wasn’t going to defeat me.”
I nodded, “I’m glad it didn’t, because we have a pending fight.”
I was happy to see all of my friends gathered together, alive and well. We would survive what was coming, what was left of the community will.
The funeral proceedings were full of tears and silent remembrance and gratitude, for Candravar was the greatest of the Elders and he proved it even in his last second of life. We watched the coffin descend on the ground, certain that Candravar would rest in peace, watching us from somewhere along with the other Elders that had gone through the path of Death before him. We offered him more than five minutes of silence, before the crowd started to disperse and disappear.
The only thing we could agreed on was that we needed to look for the bodies of the murdered hunters and give them an appropriate burial, and hold a meeting tomorrow with what was left of the hunting community to decide its fate.
Walking through the academy’s grounds was like walking through a broken dream, the walls of the academy were inscribed with Candravar’s spiritual energy. His loss felt terrible in my heart, like dropping a stone into an abyss with no bottom, just falling and falling without never hitting the end.
Two days later, all the bodies were recovered and buried, and the meeting had held place. The surviving students had formed an alliance and resided in the academy, with me as their leader and Albert as an adviser. It was a task too big for me, but I promised to remain focused. We were all promoted to black soul hunters, even our youngest students, because we all earned it. We were marked like the rest, on our right shoulder, to prove our allegiance to protect those who cannot protect themselves. The temporary head hunter was Rothus, for he was the oldest amongst us all. I didn’t quite trust him, but he was a respected hunter in the community since I started my training as a hunter.
This afternoon, I sat under the weeping willow in the main academy ground, just below Candravar’s office, which was mine now. It was depressing being there. Shizuma had found me, as she always did, and kept me company. Candravar’s death had been harder on her, but she was strong.
“You’re a good leader, Aldrest,” she said.
“I’ve only been leading the students…hunters, for the last twenty minutes,” I said.
“You will do great things Aldrest, we all trust you.”
I stretched, not knowing what to respond. Something was bothering me; it was something Salazar had said before he stabbed me in a desperate attempt to kill me. He said he was only a pawn in the game, was there a bigger threat? I didn’t want to think about that. The moment Axel stepped into the courtyard; I knew he would be the best distraction of my eerie thoughts.
“Hey Aldrest, if I see you’re slacking off in your duties as a leader, I’ll be sure to beat the hell out of you.” Axel grinned confidently, shouldering his shining Maelstrom. His sword looked as good as new, inviting.
I moved into the center of the courtyard, reaching for my twin swords. “I believe you came to finish off our battle?”
“Why not?” Axel shrugged. “We’ve been postponing it for much too long.”
Shizuma sighed, “Kids. When are they ever going to grow up?”
A crowd had gathered around them now.
“Be sure not to lose Aldrest,” Axel said, “you wouldn’t want this crowd to witness their leader lose against a commoner like me.”
I grinned. “If I’ve learned anything from you Axel, is that you’re not common.” I flared my swords with spiritual energy and in a split of a second, blue and orange spiritual energy arcs clashed.
THE END OF BOOK ONE.