Lucy opened her eyes and looked at Lilith. Lucy was small for her age. Riful called her petite. But the girl in front of her was even smaller. 'She looks so innocent ... so fragile, like a porcelain doll. It is hard to believe she is an insane killing machine.'
'Looks can be deceiving. I should know. After all, in my previous life, I was an Abyssal One and my human form was an innocent-looking girl.'
'Yes, but look at her. She looks like an angel.'
'Yes, she does. However, she is unstable. I believe we must be careful around her. Anyway, what did you think about their talk?'
'It seams we were successful in hiding the extent of our abilities. This apprentice thing is interesting. Perhaps it makes our little theory from the forest void. After all, having a master-apprentice relationship would result in an opposite compared to the test.'
'Perhaps, little one. But keep in mind that having an apprentice might be an old tradition. The particulars of the graduation test might be something introduced recently. Perhaps it was different in the past. In any case, we will listen and gather data for now. We have too little information.'
The office door opened and the man in black and the Claymore came out.
"Lucy," he said, "this is your new uniform."
Lucy took the armored uniform from the man and nodded.
"You - Lucy and Lilith will be apprenticed under Ariel, number 36. That is all," he said and left.
"Come," said Ariel "We have a long journey ahead of us."
The apprentices followed silently.
'Riful, you said she is an average hunter, but she is number 36.'
'Yes. This means one of two things. One is that warriors are much stronger in this age; that is unlikely. The second is that there are more than 47 hunters. Our number probably doubled or tripled. Based on what I saw until now, I would lean toward the second possibility.'
The three hunters walked in silence the rest of the day. Before nightfall, Ariel drew her claymore and threw it in some bushes, killing a rabbit. "We will camp here," she said as she walked towards the rabbit. She made a fire and cooked the small animal.
After the rabbit began to cook, Ariel drove her claymore into the ground, in front of the fire. Lucy and Lilith followed her example.
"I think I should properly introduce myself. I am Ariel - number 36. I received my number two years ago. You are assigned to me as my apprentices. This means that it's my job to show you the ropes. We are assigned to a sector in the west, so it will take us some time to get there. Any questions?"
"I have some questions. Do we have a number?" asked Lucy.
"No you do not. You will stay with me for one or two years. After that, you'll get a number, if you survive."
"I see. How many Hunters are there?"
"There are one hundred Hunters who have a number. Also, there are at least fifty unranked Hunters like you and Lilith. Usually, they are paired with lower ranked numbers."
"One hundred and fifty ... isn't that too many?" Lucy asked.
Ariel shook her head. "It may seem so, but it is not. The continent is divided in five areas: the Center, East, West, South and the North. All of them, with the exception of the north have at least one major city and a few big ones. They always have at least a Hunter permanently stationed in them. Rabona - the capital of the continent has up to ten Claymores, with one or two of them being a single digit. The smaller cities and towns must wait for a patrol or send a request if there is a yoma. The larger cities are also gathering points and serve as reserves. In the past, our numbers were lower, but that meant that sometimes we even had to walk for weeks until we reached our destination. Having a higher number of hunters allows us to react faster to the needs of the humans."
'It is different from how it was in my time,' Riful said thoughtfully. 'It is also a good strategy. A few awakened beings could raze a city in only a few hours. Stationing Hunters in strategic locations like big cities is a very smart move.'
After a long silence, Ariel took the rabbit from the fire. She took a small piece for herself, cut the rest in half and gave the bigger pieces to Lucy and Lilith.
Ariel nibbled on her small amount of food, but Lilith practically devoured it.
' Riful? She is eating even more than I do when I'm hungry.'
'When one becomes a hybrid, the need and instinct for food mostly disappears,' Riful replied. 'You eat more than normal hybrids for two reasons: the first, I believe, is due to our unique situation; and the second is that I made you eat a lot of food and you got used to it. Usually, warriors lose the appetite for food as soon as their bodies begin to Change. They have no one to tell them to eat. After the many weeks of isolation, they begin to get accustomed to eating extremely small amounts of food. Their bodies adapt to the lack of food and the only times they eat more than they are used to it, is when they are injured.'
'Yes, but she isn't like us. And she eats even more than I do.'
Lucy could feel the sadness radiating from Riful. 'In my previous life, I met many of our kind. Those who ate as much as her all had something in common: they were close to becoming an Awakened One.'
'I see,' Lucy said sadly.
'Since we will be with her for the next two years, we must be careful. I think this can be a good opportunity little one. If we manage to somehow prevent her Awakening, we will come one step closer to us becoming immune to the instincts that take control after Awakening. Perhaps we can even save her from the curse.'
While Lucy and Riful were having their silent compensation, Lilith finished her food, but she still looked hungry. Lucy cut her piece in half and gave one of them to Lilith with a slight smile. "Here, I can't eat it all and you seem to be hungry."
The girl stared for a second at the offering; she glanced at Lucy for a long moment, and then took the food and begun to eat it.
For two weeks, the three travelers walked towards the center of the continent without stopping in any of the villages they passed by. Neither of the two young apprentices complained on sleeping under the stars.
It was certainly better than the cold cells in Sutafu and the three hunters did not relish the thought of sleeping among humans, though none of them said anything.
When they neared another village, Ariel stopped and frowned while staring in its direction.
Lucy, realizing Ariel sensed something, extended her senses.
"Lucy? What did you sense?" Ariel asked.
"There is a faint yoki in the direction of the village. Is it another Hunter or is it a yoma?"
"I do not know," Ariel replied nonchalantly. "We shall see."
The three travelers headed towards the village.
As soon as they entered it, they stopped and tried to find the source of the yoki.
"What do we do now?" Lucy asked.
"We head to the church," Aria answered.
Lucy and Lilith followed their master through the village, ignoring the frightened looks of the villagers.
'It is an interesting change.' Riful said when they entered the church.
'What?' Lucy inquired.
'After all this time, we still take orders from the men in black, only now they are also priests besides their more unsavory skills. The men in black of that time were not very nice. In fact, in some ways they were worse than the yoma. Are these guys better? Did the mantle of the church change the old organization for the better?'
'The legends say that the old organization was destroyed,' Lucy said.
'They do. But I see too many similarities to them. I do not know what happened all those centuries ago, but it is unlikely they were completely destroyed as the legends say; more likely, some of the members begun to work with the church. I do not think it was a hard change. Their clothes were already similar. All they had to do was to carry the Bible of the God of Rabona.'
A priest approached them. "Hunters," he said nodding. "What happened?"
"Father, is there another Hunter in the town?"
The priest shook his head grimly. "No."
"I see. There is a yoma in the town, then."
The priest grimaced. "I see. We do not have any victim as far as I know. Let us hope you can kill the yoma before it does."
Aria nodded. "We shall search for the yoma then."
The three hunters exited the church and glanced around the village, searching for the source of the yoma.
Aria frowned slightly. "The yoma is good at hiding his yoki. Since the two of you seem capable of dealing with a single yoma, we will split and search for our target. I will take the north side of the village; you will search the south."
Lucy nodded in confirmation, but Lilith gave no sign of confirmation; she just headed toward the south side of the village.
The two apprentices wondered through the streets of the town. Whenever someone saw them, they fearfully moved out of their path.
Lucy glanced at her companion whenever she heard the mutterings of the humans. While Lucy had Riful as a companion and friend, thus keeping her sane (in their opinion), the rest of the Hunters did not. Taking Lilith's behavior into consideration, it was doubtful Lilith had any friends or any form of positive feelings, relationships or memories. 'Dealing with scorn, fear and hate from the people you protect is quite saddening, especially when you have no one to anchor you like I did,' she said.
'This is always the fate of the more unstable warriors,' Riful agreed sadly. 'This especially happens with the very strong. Too much power is usually accompanied with some form of instability. No one would risk getting close to them, because even experienced, powerful Hunters are afraid of the strong and unstable. Those who are unfortunate like her, who lack any form of positive reinforcement from anyone become more and more unstable. This results in more fear from their peers, which leads to even more instability. It is a vicious, unending circle.'
Their silent conversation was interrupted by their arrival into the marketplace. 'The yoma is here,' Lucy said, feeling the yoma's yoki in the vicinity.
'Yes,' Riful replied.
Lilith begun to breathe deeper, faster, and Lucy turned her head towards her comrade. The perpetual stony, angelic look on Lilith's face was changed into a bloodthirsty grin that made even Riful shudder. She was grinning like a sociopath, staring at a man and licking her lips in anticipation.
Author's Note: Sorry for the late update...
Thank you for reading and reviewing. Any input would be appreciated.
Published: February 07 2008.