Authors: Garry Spoor
Garry T. Spoor
Copyright 2013 Garry T. Spoor
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A fourteen year old Kile Veller stepped off the carriage into the dusty and rather populated streets of Littenbeck. It was the first time she had ever been away from home, it was the first time she had ever been alone as she stared up at the tall buildings that seemed to close in around her. The streets were covered with debris, the smells were stifling and the sounds were near deafening. How could anyone survive in such a place she wondered as she stared at the people pushing past one another trying to get to wherever it was that they were trying to get to? Everyone seemed to be in such a hurry. It was as if their paths and their destinations were more important than the person they had just pushed aside. There were more people on this street at this moment than there were in the entire town of Riverport back home, and even with all these people, she felt so alone.
“Excuse me sir.” She said as she turned to the coachman. “Could you help me down with my…?”
There was a loud thud behind her as her pack hit the road in a small cloud of dust, spilling its meager contents along the side of the street. She didn’t own very much, so there really wasn’t that much to fall out.
“Thank you.” She replied as she walked over to retrieve her pack. “I don’t suppose you know the way to the
Hunter’s entry examination?” She asked, but there was no reply. She turned around to see the back of the carriage as it disappeared down the street, quickly swallowed up by the traffic.
She mumbled to herself as she bent to retrieve another article of clothing that had managed to escape from her pack.
Kile looked up just in time to avoid getting struck by a team of horses as she threw herself backwards, landing hard in the most undignified manner. The horse drawn wagon never slowed as it raced down the street carrying boxes and barrels that bounced around upon the back, threatening to fall off. The driver, lashing out at the horses, didn’t even notice her. She sat there for a while, almost afraid to move as she looked around to see who had warned her, but the people passing by weren’t even looking in her direction. They hadn
’t noticed, or hadn’t cared. She had only been in the city for a few minutes, and already she was regretting it.
“No.” She said to herself, gritting her teeth. “I came here to be a
Hunter and that’s what I’m gonna do.”
Kile got to her feet, dusted off her pants and grabbed her bother’s old hat. She looked both ways before proceeding to grab what belongings she could still find scattered on the street.
Why was everyone in such a rush, she wondered as she stuffed an old shirt back into her pack, she cinched it up and slung it over her shoulder. It was like the entire city was racing to get somewhere and yet nobody was really moving. It seemed like a pointless existence, was this the way most people were, if it was, she had a lot more to learn than she had previously considered. Riverport was positively motionless when compared to Littenbeck.
She wasn’t getting anywhere just standing around, if she was to find where they were holding the entry examinations, she would have to get moving, and one way was as good as another to someone who didn’t know where they were going. She took a deep breath and stepped into the river of people, and it didn’t take long before she was swept off her feet, bouncing between one pedestrian to another, apologizing each time until she managed to find a safe harbor in the doorway of a clothing shop. Pulling herself in, she waited a moment to regain her bearings and looked out at the people, knowing she would have to try again.
“You lost young lady?”
Kile turned to see a tall man dressed in the king’s colors, wearing a silver helm that covered most of his face. The shine off the helm made it difficult to actually look him in the eyes, but he sounded pleasant enough, and she could
just make out the fact that he was actually smiling, something she hadn’t seen much of since leaving the farm, but was he smiling because he was genuinely happy, or was he smiling because of how foolish she must have looked?
“I guess I am, I’m not use to this…
it’s nothing like back home.”
Where’s home?” He inquired.
“Oh, that would be Riverport. Have you ever been there?”
She asked with a hope of forming some connection with the city, regardless of how small.
The guard thought for a moment, and then reluctantly shook his head. “Can’t say that I have, it doesn’t sound familiar.”
Suddenly home felt even farther away, not that she ever looked fondly upon the place.
“No… I wouldn’t think you had.” She said with a slight shrug. “It’s a rather small town, but then… anything is small when compared to… this.”
“Too true.” The guard replied his smile growing broader. “Littenbeck is one of the largest cities in Aru. Where was it that you were trying to get to?”
“I’m here for the
Hunter’s entry examination.” She replied, trying to stand a little taller, which was difficult for her height.
The guard turned slowly as he looked down at her, and now she could see that all too familiar look forming on his face, even behind his shining helm. She had seen that look before, and she was starting to get
used to it, even if she didn’t appreciate it. It was the same look she had gotten back home, the same look she had gotten from the man at the station, the same look she had gotten from the coachman, the same look she had gotten from her father, the look that simply asked “Are you serious?”
She was not typical of a cadet at the
Hunter’s Academy, or even a would-be cadet. For one thing she was not as tall as kids her own age, almost a head shorter. She was not as broad, or as heavy, but rather thin, too thin by some people’s standards. Then there were those that said she was too kind and gentle to be a Hunter, but she never really understood that augment. All the Hunters she had ever met had been very kind, although she had only met one, but above all else it was because she was a girl. It was not that the Hunter’s Academy was closed to girls, it was just that there had been so few to ever make it past the front doors, let alone survive the three years of training and one year of probation to graduate as a certified Hunter.
She waited for the comment
s, the jokes, the insults, the remarks that usually followed such a look, but there were none. The guard just nodded his head slowly.
“I see.” He replied, but he clearly didn’t, she could
hear it in his voice, he was just trying to be polite. “Well then, if that is the case, you’ll be wanting to go to the mystic’s tower.”
The guard stepped into the river of people which surprisingly parted, flowing each side of him as if he was a rock in the middle of the river, they avoiding him as he stood there pointing to the northern sky.
She followed the direction of his finger and saw for the first time the dim shadow of a huge tower looming high over the rooftops of the city. It looked twisted and gnarled, more like the trunk of an old tree rather than that of a man made structure.
“There?” She asked and she couldn’t keep the tremble out of her voice.
“It’s not as bad as it looks.” The guard reassured her. “The Academy holds their testing there every year, ever since the mystics agreed to aid them in the entry examination.”
“Aide them, how?”
“Can’t really say, I’m not a Hunter.”
It was a foolish question she realized, the
Hunter’s examinations are a secret known only to the Hunters, and the rumor is that some of them don’t even recall the examinations, which she could never really understand but she had to admit, it did add to the whole mystery of it.
“Well, thank you.” She replied with
a polite nod as she tightened her grip on her pack and stepped back into the river of people. Now she had a direction to head in.
Kile pushed against the crowd but the crowd pushed back, it always appeared to be moving in the opposite direction of which she was trying to go. Did they know something she didn’t she wondered as more and more people kept pushing her aside. Eventually she was forced to stand against the wall to catch her breath. She looked up to the northern sky and the dim shadow of the mystic’s tower. It didn’t appear to be getting any closer. She turned around to see the guard still watching her. He didn’t appear to be getting any further away.
“You appear to be getting nowhere fast.” He laughed as
he slowly approached. “Here, follow me.” He said, and he cut a swatch through the crowd like the bow of a ship through rough waters. Kile had to run to keep up with his long strides but she was making good time.
“So, why is it that someone like you, wants to become a
Hunter?” He asked casually, not even looking back to see if she was still there.
What did he mean by someone like
her? Why couldn’t he just ask why she wanted to be a Hunter? That was a fair enough question. Why did he feel he had to single her out? She was about to comment on this, but though better of it. He was helping her out after all, and that was more than anyone else she met had done for her.
“It’s really something I always wanted to do, Ever since I first met Erin Silvia.”
“Have you heard of her?”
“Young lady, there isn’t a soul in Littenbeck who hasn’t heard of the Lady Hunter Silvia. You say you met her?”
“It was a couple of years ago, back home in Riverport.”
“Is that who’s sponsoring you?”
She asked as she stopped in her tracks. He must have realized now he was no longer being followed as he turned to face her, the people moved around them as if they were just another obstacle to avoid in the streets. They didn’t even appear to be paying any attention to them.
“Well yeah, all
Hunters need a sponsor in order to take the examinations. Someone of influence that says you’d be a good cadet. It's in order to keep the number of entries down to a bare minimum, otherwise every kid that turns fourteen would be flocking to the front doors of the Academy trying to get in… surely you knew that?”
“Well, no… not really. I… don’t think I have a sponsor.”
“Oh!” He exclaimed, and there was a genuine look of pity on his face. “I’m sorry to hear that. They won’t let you take the exam unless you’re on the list, and you only get on the list if someone sponsors you.”
The young guard turned and started walking. Kile reluctantly fell into step behind him.
This was news to her, nobody told her. She had come all this way to take the examinations and now she wasn’t even going to be allowed in, they weren’t even going to give her a chance. Did her father know? It would probably delight him to no end if she came home defeated before she even began.
“Well, this is it.” The guard said as he stood to one side, snapping Kile back to reality.
The first thing that she noticed when she looked up was the surprising lack of people. She had gone from the crowds of the city to a place that appeared abandoned, then she turned her gaze up to the dark tower looming high above her and she knew why. If she had her choice she would be anywhere but here.
The tower just radiated a kind of power that made her feel ill at ease. She was never comfortable around those of the mystic arts, not since that traveling showman came to town with his little bag of tricks.
It made her uneasy, it was unnatural, magic was like cheating nature, like getting into a house through an open window instead of using the door, it just wasn’t the right way to do things, and what was it with mystics and black towers anyway? Did they own the rights in the black stone quarries?
She looked up at the tower, following it to
its summit high above the ground. It was an enormous structure that didn’t appear to have any true reasoning behind it, like the mystic arts themselves, the structure was a contradiction of nature. It twisted and curved more for whim than practicality. There were windows scattered about carelessly, entire rooms that appeared to grow off the sides, gargoyles protruding from every surface, strange effigies and relief carvings in every dark corner and she would swear that there was a door some thirty feet up the side of the wall that lead out to nowhere. Around the base were smaller buildings, stretching out from the center of the tower like the roots of an old tree, it was here that the guard drew her attention.
On one of these black roots was a large wooden door that stood open. The face of
an oni was mounted over the threshold, and he looked down upon the entrance and anyone foolish enough to enter.