By Willow Taylor
The night was dark and cool. Most of the border town was dark and silent, deep in repose for the long hours of the night, shuttered behind locks and wards. But behind one set of shutters, a light yet burned. A well trimmed lamp sat on a table, and a young woman sat beside it.
The woman's skin was the color of toffee and just as smooth. In the lamplight, her hair was coal, divided into six sections in the front, three on each side of her head and a larger one down her neck, each bound by two gold bands, one at the top, one at the bottom. Her bangs were divided again, into five tiny bundles that matched the ones that framed her face. Serious silver eyes watched her fingers, where she was embroidering an intricate guild badge onto the back of a warm woolen glove in threads that were just barely on the thick side of gossamer. She had been working for hours, eyes never moving from the project except to select a new strand of thread from the skein spread over her knee. She wore a wrapped tunic and loose pants, both of soft warm material. But laid out carefully near by was a suit of body armor, and a simply hafted sword rested beside her work pouch on the table.
A vampire hunter, even a young one like Charu Ahare, could hardly afford to take chances while traveling. And Charu herself couldn't take the chance that her mind could get away from her, so instead of trying to sleep, she worked on the gloves.
At last, she couldn't help it - Charu set down her project, and stretched, slowly. Her silver eyes closed, she listened for sound - any sound to keep her mind busy. It wasn't any use- everyone else in the inn had retired hours ago. Memories crept into her mind like a thick fog, obscuring the darkness with flashes of violence. She collapsed back into her chair and gripped the locks of hair that framed her face. "No!" she swore at herself, throwing her slim form onto the bed.
"No thinking! Sleep!"
She curled up into a ball. "Sleep..." She should be tired enough now, the darkness of sleep would claim her, and she could flee her memories into the arms of blessed darkness.
The world was so big. It had been interesting to travel these last few weeks. She wasn't really sure what she thought of the grumpy smelly man that Mama had handed her to a few days ago telling her 'it's your Grandpa - be polite.' He smelled funny, and his eyes were all wild, especially when he looked at Da. She watched him now as the continued to journey, but stayed hidden behind her mother. It was getting dark, and that interested her a lot. Suddenly Da bellowed a warning, and Mama had clutched her up against her chest. The horses had collapsed in a billow of blood, and the man she'd been told to call Grandpa screamed for them to run. There were monsters all around them, dark horrible visions with eyes that glowed and voices that cackled, but Mama tried to run, carrying her along. She tried not to cry, but she was so afraid that little sobs came out in spite of her efforts. One glowing eyed creature turned and lashed out - Mama made a small choking noise and her chest hurt so badly. Mama collapsed forward, covering her with her own body. The weight knocked the wind out of her, and now she couldn't cry, and she really wanted to, because she was all dirty and sticky and red, and the ground underneath her was all muddy now and it clung to her legs. And Mama wouldn't move, just lay there, crushing her. The monsters turned and loped away, seeming to follow something with vast amusement, and there were screams in the distance, but she still couldn't move, not with Mama on top of her. She tried to push away, and was met with her mama's pretty silver eyes, eyes just like hers, only they were empty and staring into the distance. Suddenly the heavy weight moved, and something grabbed her roughly under the arms, but she couldn't look away from her Mama's pale face, and the thin trickle of red that came out of her mouth. When she finally did, it was worse - because now, held tight to someone else's chest, hand pressed to her breast bone - she could see the horrid mess the monster had made of Mama's back when it had torn out her heart with one hand. Now she began to cry and struggle fiercely, not liking the feel of the blood that covered her, or the smell of the man who carried her swiftly away from her Mama's body. Only after it was out of sight, did she realize that some of the blood covering her was hers - and how badly it hurt to breathe. She looked down and saw a star shaped grouping of wounds where the monster's claws had scraped her chest while killing her mother.
"Little Sister?" came a voice. Charu rose up out of her old dream, panting, at the sound of that familiar voice, and light tap. Rubbing sleep from her eyes, she smiled wryly. Kelan was always very recalcitrant to intrude upon her when she was sleeping. One would think that he was courting her, not taking her through her first experiences as a hunter.
"Come in, I'm decent," she called. Once an invitation was tendered, the door opened readily enough, and the older hunter came in. Kelan was tall, easily topping six and a half feet, his hair was a pale, golden blond, and despite long hours in the sun, his skin remained a stubborn, shell-like pink. It amused people that he referred to her as 'little sister' with how little they looked alike. That, and he was obviously old enough to be her father.
"Did you sleep?" he asked, knowing better than to ask if she slept well.
"Some," she replied. The older hunter sighed, and shook his head.
"Charu..." he started.
"I should get dressed," she said suddenly, averting the conversation that was sure to follow that tone of voice. No one quite understood what she meant when she said she had to keep working. Multiple explanations had fallen short. So generally, when her instructors talked to her in that tone of voice, it was followed by a gentle suggestion that she'd sleep better if she didn't spend so much time doing crafts. The mere concept of her getting naked, however briefly was enough to get Kelan to drop the subject, and leave the room.
Now dressed in her armor, Charu came down the stairs, with her pack and cloak over one arm. Kelan was speaking with someone by the entrance to the common room. Seeing her come down the stairs he motioned her to wait, and continued his conversation. After a few more moments, the conversation ended, and he came over to her.
"Are you ready for some more hands-on experience?" he asked.
"If I wasn't, would I be here?"
"You might be," he said, chuckling and taking a seat. "But this is serious, little sister. We've got some riding to do."
"Oh?" She poured the tea.
"Someone a bit north of here is getting a bit big for his britches." He wouldn't say anything more all through breakfast.
Out on the road, he shared the information. A town had banded together, nothing thinking much of a nearby vampire lord's sudden expansionist tactics. They had sent out a messenger in the direction of the last report they'd had of a vampire hunter's passage. The messenger had found Kelan - and even now was already on his way back with the news that he'd found a hunter. They would probably overtake him, but then he had a courser so it wasn't a certainty.
"From what the messenger said, he's just getting a power base in order to carve out a better territory."
"Right," Charu said, nodding.
"So now is a decent enough time to strike, given that he doesn't have the power a more established noble would have."
"But he has gathered lessers and no few werewolves to serve him."
Kelan glanced over, and saw her foot was tucked up around the saddle horn, and the young woman was immersed in a book balanced on her leg. He sighed.
"His minions take the shape of large house cats with three tails."
"Riiiight." Charu looked up from her book, and met the older hunter's eyes.
"One of these days you're going to get in trouble by not paying attention," Kelan warned.
"I am paying attention," Charu defended herself.
"You're reading a book!"
"I'm learning a new language!"
"You're reading a book. While riding. Again," he repeated.
"Uhm... at least I'm not knitting this time?"
"Put the book away, Charu."
She slid the volume into her saddlebag, and didn't say anything further.
"Little sister," he said softly. "You know I'm not trying to be mean."
"I know." She sighed. "And I am paying attention, honest I am." She settled back into the saddle and wouldn't meet his eyes, looking anywhere else available.
"I'd like to believe you."
"I was!" she said, turning to look at him now. He raised his eyebrows at her, and she proceeded to repeat everything he'd just told her. Kelan rubbed his temple with a gloved hand. He should have really known better by now.
It was a decent enough sized town - not large, but certainly not small. Large enough to be sure of it's own power - but small enough to still worry about possible repercussions. Their appearance caused whispers of delighted scandal and hope in the pre-dusk dimness. The cemetery hill had fresh graves. Obedient to her elder's wishes, Charu wasn't reading, and was instead calmly watching the passing towns folk from under her hood- memorizing their appearances, and the layout of the town for lack of anything better to occupy her mind. The sheriff was the appointed representative that they were to deal with.
"There." Kelan pointed, and she looked up, pushing her hood back. A small building was set apart in a flagstone courtyard. The sheriff in this town headed the town watch, those who made sure that drunks were kept off of the streets, and that thieves were apprehended. Charu dismounted, walking her horse forward to work the kinks out of her legs, and took Kelan's reins as he dismounted, tethering their steeds to a hitching post.
"Ah, thank you, little sister." He dismounted without any visible sign of pain, but she could tell that he was feeling as stiff as she was. Charu was interested to see him talk to the sheriff. This was one of those technical parts of the job that she hadn't mastered quite yet.
The sheriff, unsurprisingly knew they were there. He was even waiting for them. Or rather, he was waiting for Kelan.
"Who's she?" demanded the sheriff.
"This is Charu. She's also a hunter." Kelan was not going to explain the differences in rank.
"A little girl?" asked the sheriff skeptically. "No offence sir, I just find it hard to believe that this little girl is a hunter." Charu cleared her throat, and stepped forward, throwing her cloak over a shoulder, displaying that despite her small stature she was an adult.
"First, I wonder what you must think of the Hunters that they would send a 'little girl' into battle," she said, voice cold. "Second, I can assure you that I am hardly as small as you seem to think."
"Burrr," said the sheriff. "She's got a cold set of eyes on her."
Kelan raised his eyebrows. "She's also correct. She's been training for longer than you've held your office, I'd wager. However, if you don't want our help, we'll understand."
"No, no!" the sheriff said, suddenly very concerned. "That's not what I meant at all."
Kelan's mouth quirked in a half smile. "Alright then."
Later, Kelan chuckled to himself. "You do have a rather cold glare on you, little sister."
Charu hunched herself up briefly, then straightened up, chin jerking defiantly. "Well if they can't respect me, how will they respect hunters at large?"
"Don't worry," he said, smiling again. "I'm sure you're going to prove them wrong."
"I don't know," she replied gloomily. "I'm not going to get any bigger, that's for sure."
"Size isn't everything."
Kelan sighed and raised the spy glass again, taking a long look at the huge manor, the vampire in question lived in. The amount of movement was rather disconcerting. He had rarely seen that many wolven featured people in one place without fighting. It did not speak well for how powerful this vampire was. Charu also was watching, but for anyone sneaking up on their hiding place. Fighting was not a good plan when one had been riding all day. Possible - but it was better to stop and think before engaging the enemies. Of course - fighting during the day was good too.
"Hmmm." The fair hunter rose, folding the spyglass away. Charu looked up at him, and he nodded. They both slipped away.
"Well?" she asked.
"I could ask you the same thing. What would you do?" Charu's eyes opened wide, and her eyebrow quirked.
"Uhm..." She blinked a few times. "You said there were lots of werewolves?"
"Yes. Don't worry. It won't hurt you to get a little experience fighting them."
"Little Sister - " Kelan said seriously, giving her a cool measured stare. She correctly read his tone, and became serious.
"Since they're so active at night, chances are the mortals, I mean the werewolves will probably be sleeping during the day as well, except for a minimal guard. So I'd wait until morning, probably an hour and a half past dawn, so the light's good and bright, and then go in."
Vaguely amused at her quick rattling off Kelan tucked one of the tiny braids that threaded through his hair behind one ear. "Sounds like a decent enough plan." He stretched. "Well then, perhaps some sleep is in order?"
"Surely you're not planning on fighting without sleeping first?" He smiled over his shoulder.
Charu sighed, and settled down. "I hate it when he does that." She tried to sleep, but her memories kept flashing through her mind. The small battles she'd been in before, the fights she'd gotten into as a child. So much blood.
Memories faded into dreams without her even realizing it.
design ©2001 by Cindy Rosenthal
Learning Experiences © 2003 by Willow Taylor
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