Hunter's Beginning (Veller) (2 page)

“You have to go in there… that is… if you still want to go.”
The guard informed her. Kile noticed he didn’t get any closer than the outer ring of the courtyard; in fact he never even set foot upon the black stone of the courtyard.

“Thank you… for everything.” She replied trying to sound as calm and as brave as possible, even though her heart was beating hard in her chest. The way the guard was looking at her, she was sure he could hear it. If it wasn’t for the fact that he was standing right there, she would have probably run in the opposite direction,
but then she would just be proving everyone was right all along, that girls could never become Hunters.

Kile situated her brother’s old hat upon her head, pulling it down, just above her eyes. She gripped the strap of her pack tightly and stepped up on the first black stone of the courtyard. She wasn’t sure what to expect as she closed her eyes and tensed up, and then felt rather foolish when nothing happened.

“Everything alright?” The guard asked, looking at her strangely.

“Uh… yeah… everything’s fine.”

“You’re still going?” He asked. “Even without a sponsor, they’ll never let you in.”

“I don’t have much of a choice.” She said as she looked back toward the door and the grinning oni that now appeared to be laughing at her. “I have to try.”

It’s not like she had anyplace else to go.

“What’s your name kid?”

“Kile… Kile Veller.”

“Kile Veller. I’ll remember that. I have a feeling it will be up there with the name Silvia someday.” The guard replied with a smile.

She wasn’t sure if he was mocking her, or trying to give her courage, but the idea of the Veller name being known by every soul in Littenbeck was a little overwhelming, and even harder to believe, but it did give her the confidence
she needed to take the next couple of steps. She thought to ask the guard for his name, it seemed the polite thing to do, but when she turned back he was gone.

“That was quick.” She said to herself as she strained her neck to look back down the street, but there was no sign of him. She had started to wonder if he was eve
r there at all, but she didn’t have the time, nor the energy to ponder that as she turned to face what she hoped was her future.

The courtyard stone was
surprisingly smooth and looked like a black sheet of glass that reflected her face back at her, along with the tower framed in the night sky. The moon was bright and the stars were shining like small flickering candle lights just below the surface of the stone, the only problem was that it hadn’t even gone past noon yet, and the sun was still up. Magic wasn’t natural she said to herself as she pulled her gaze away from the courtyard stone and turned it toward the door, but that wasn’t any better.

The closer she got the more the oni smiled, looking down on her with that self righteous grin. She could see her father’s face in his features, his nose, how it turned down, and his pointy chin and narrow eyes. He even bore that same surly look. The one that told her she was going to fail, the one that
asks why even try. There was no way she would ever become a Hunter, there was no way they would ever let her into the Academy. The Hunters would never accept the likes of her. It was the same look that her father had given her almost every day of her life, the look of disappointment. Useless, the word echoed in her head, filling her with shame each time he said it, Useless. She stood under the doorway and stared at the oni. How easy it would be just to turn around and go home, to live the life that her father had planned for her.

“I’m not useless.” She told the grinning face as she stood up straight.

She defied the oni and stepped through the threshold, into the darkness beyond, and it was dark. It was unnaturally dark, and the hallway was narrow and damp, pretty much what she had come to expect from viewing the exterior of the tower. She was forced to feel her way through the twists and turns, keeping one hand on the wall, slowly putting one foot before the other so as not to trip on something unseen in the gloom. She was positive that even if she had a lantern to light her way, it wouldn’t improve the situation, and it might even make it worse. This had to be more of the mystic arts. Only through the use of the arts could darkness be so perfect. She hated the mystic arts.

As she continued through the darkness she was beginning to think that maybe the guard had led her to the wrong place. Was it an accident, or was it done deliberately?
Could it be a trap, could someone be waiting for her somewhere in the darkness, ready to grab her, maybe hold her for ransom. She had heard of such things happening to naive individuals who visited the larger cities. The idea should have made her laugh but she wasn’t laughing. Her family were farmers, if what you could call the land back home a farm. It was more dust than dirt. No, they wouldn’t hold her for ransom, she wasn’t worth anything.

She preceded a litter farther into the darkness, and doubt se
emed to close in on her. Could this be her father’s doing? Was this another way to keep her from becoming a Hunter? Did he have this whole thing planned from the start so that she wouldn’t arrive at the exams on time? She could turn around now, she should turn around now, she might even be able to find her way back to the entrance, this had to be the wrong place, this couldn’t be where they were holding the examinations. She was foolish to even come here, foolish to even try. Her father had been right from the very beginning. She was useless. What would the Hunters want with her? She could never become a Hunter, she wasn’t good enough, she wasn’t strong enough, she wasn’t smart enough, and she was useless. She should give up, go home, and marry that little troll of a boy that lived next door like her father had told her to do in the first place.

The darkness became thicker
, like thick black strands of molasses holding her back and every step she took was a struggle against some unseen force. It was whispering to her, telling her to go back home, that was where she belonged, not here, not among the worthy. They didn’t want her, they would never want her, she was useless.

This wasn’t right. What was happening to her? Why was she suddenly filled with so much doubt and self loathing? She forced herself to face the darkness. She had come this far, she couldn’t turn back now. She just had to take one more step.

The path was suddenly lit by the flicking light of torches lining the walls before her. The heavy feeling of the darkness had passed, and she wasn’t quite sure what had just happened, why she felt what she had felt, but it was gone now. She could feel the dread, the doubts and the fears slowly drain from her heart and soul. The torches may not have chased all the shadows away, but those that remained were real, and those she could deal with.

It also appeared that the lights had chased away her belongings. She no longer had her pack over her
shoulder or for that matter the hat on her head. She was sure she had a firm grip on it, but it was gone. Her first thought was that somehow she must have dropped it back in the tunnel where whatever was happening to her had happened. That pack had everything she ever owned it in, and although it wasn’t much, it was still valuable to her. Her only choice now would be to go back into the darkness and look for it. As she turned she was surprised to see the entrance of the door leading outside. She couldn’t have traveled more than three feet total into the tower, and yet she felt as if she had been walking for hours. She knew she didn’t drop it in the courtyard, and if she walked back through that door, back past the grinning oni, would she have the courage to return? Her only choice now was to go forward.

Kile moved slowly down the lit corridor. If that had been part of the examination it was something far beyond what she had anticipated. She was thinking more in the lines of a written test, maybe some calisthenics to prove fitness, something in the way of the mundane. It had never occurred to her that the
Hunter’s Academy would employ the aid of mystics. Now she wasn’t sure what to expect. She continued forward until she was standing in the entrance of a large room. It was difficult to gauge the size, do to the lack of lighting, but she could feel the emptiness and the grandeur of the place. High in the ceiling a glowing orb produced the only source of light, and even that was confined to a single shaft that illuminated a small circle upon the floor. As she stepped into the room she suddenly became aware that she was not alone. On the far side, against the wall, a man sat behind a large oak desk, filled with stacks of books, piles of scrolls and the odd sheet of paper. She was sure neither he nor the desk was there before she had entered, but where else would they have come from? There did not appear to be any other way into or out of the room other than the way she had come in, and surely she would have noticed a man pushing a desk past her.

She could just make out the paleness of his hands as they hovered over an open book. The rest of him was little more th
an a silhouette in the dark, wrapped in his black robes sitting against the wall. He didn’t look up as she entered but just waved for her to come closer.

“Step forward… into the light.”

His voice filled the room, but it wasn’t a loud booming voice, it was rather soft and calm. It didn’t sound as if it came from him but from everywhere at once. Kile did as she was told and walked slowly across the room. She hesitated for a moment before actually stepping into the circle of light, but when she did a sudden feeling of warmth came over her. It wasn’t so much from the light itself, but from within. She felt completely isolated from the coldness of her surroundings. There was a strong feeling of safety that she had never felt before. It was as if the light was burning off those last lingering doubts from the ordeal in the darkness. The man behind the desk said nothing as his finger moved slowly down the pages of the open book.

“Your name?” He finally asked.

“Kile Veller.” She replied in what she thought was a positive strong voice; unfortunately it came out as little more than a dry squeak. This time the man did look up, she couldn’t make out much of his face, he was wearing one of those robes that all mystics seem to enjoy wearing, the ones with the hoods that are pulled down over the head, obscuring any facial details.

“I beg
your pardon?”

Veller… Kile Veller.” She replied again.

“Veller?” He repeated the name over and over, each time sounding more and more confused as his finger slid down the pages of the open book. “Who is sponsoring you?” He asked.

Now what? She could try to lie but if her name wasn’t in the book it wasn’t in the book, and how far could a lie get her? She could use Erin Silvia’s name, but she feared that would do more harm than good. It would be a poor start on her path to becoming a Hunter.

“I don’t think I have a…”

“Oh, here it is. Kile Veller… fool put it in the wrong column again, that’s what you get for hiring a teenager.”

Kile stood in silence, staring at the man who was now scratching something in the book with a large quill pen. A door on his right
, that she would have sworn wasn’t there before, slowly swung opened and a shaft of pale blue light entered the room, created a path from the lit circle to the open door.

“You may enter the next stage of the examination.” The man said with a wave of his hand that clearly said she was being dismissed.

“Seriously?” She heard herself say.

“I beg your pardon?” The robed man asked, looking up one more time.

“Um… nothing, thank-you.” She replied and quickly made for the door.

“Good luck.” She heard the mystic say as the door swung closed behind her.
She suddenly remembered her belongings and quickly turned to ask the mystic about them, but found herself staring at a solid stone wall.

She really hated the mystic arts.

The hallway was empty, except for a light at the far end, and seeing that there were no other doors or any other directions she could have gone in, she headed toward the light.

Kile stepped into a room that was even larger th
an the last, well lit and full of people, all of them about her age. These must be the rest of the hopefuls taking the examination she reasoned. Some of the other kids turned to see who had entered, but that was about as much interest as they gave her. There were a few groups of two or three standing off to the sides and talking in hushed whispers, but most stood alone. They were staring at the walls, the floor even the ceiling, anything to keep from looking at each other. If Kile wasn’t so nervous she would have found some humor in it.

It was the table on the far side of the room that caught her attention. It was filled with an assortment of fruit
s and cakes along with pitchers of what she hoped were something to drink. She wasn’t really hungry, she was still too nervous to be hungry, but her mouth was dry and she could use something to satisfy her thirst. As she walked among the other kids, they appeared to go out of their way to avoid making any kind of eye contact with her. It seemed a bit odd, but at the moment she didn’t really care as she reached the table. She had just picked up one of the pitchers of what looked to be a type of juice when the sound of laugher caught her attention. It seemed so out of place in such a tense atmosphere, but it wasn’t a laugher of mirth, rather a laughter of spite.

She quickly looked around the room, and it didn’t take her long to find the source of the commotion. A dark, greasy haired teen, older th
an the average age of the room, was picking on a much smaller boy, someone even smaller than Kile if that were possible. She could tell from where she was standing that the greasy haired teen had taken something from the other, and was refusing to give it back. There were even two other boys standing off to one side laughing as they egged the greasy haired boy on. One was a rather round child with a haircut that looks as if it had come off the end of a mop, the other was a tall, thin kid with a long neck and sharp nose who stooped were he stood. It wasn’t so much the idea of an older boy picking on a younger boy that surprised her, that was to be expected. There were bullies on every playground. What really annoyed her was how everyone else in the room was looking in the opposite direction, as if nothing was happening. It wasn’t as if you couldn’t see what was going on, but these wanna-be Hunters were acting as if it was perfectly normal. A Hunter’s primary responsibility is to serve and protect the people, and yet no one in the room was getting involved, surely this was too stupid to be another test.

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