The breeze whispered of tranquility in the leaves. Vibrant tall grass swayed in the field as a woman stood still. The rich green fabric of her floor length dress rippled. Twin ribbons held her long white hair up in relaxed knots. Stray strands floated in the moving air. Her battle cane held loosely in her right hand as the left absently toyed with a cracked hematite pendant. Her earthen colored eyes squinted as she watched the Hunters party ahead of her. Resting and in high spirits, their laughter could be heard.
“It’s as if I’m not even standing here,” she thought. Tears pearled in her eyes. The bond should have dispelled once the pendant cracked. She could see the truth now. Yet she loved him still. She let the tears fall as she watched him, the thief of her heart. “Azrael… is this to be my fate?”
A menacing growl chilled her spine. Turning, she faced a snarling beast of fang and claw. “Boomas… I thought they cleared this glade?” Cursing her foul luck, she stumbled back. Releasing a Foie too weak to slay the beast, she watched as the two more close in. “No…” Fire burst from her palm as she aimed at the beast. Its death cry rang in her ears. Panic fluttered in her heart as the rest appeared undaunted. More flame ignited as she focused, slaying another. The smell of sulpher and burnt fur gagged her. “One more…” Again fire spewed forth as she backed further away. Two more shots, the beast fell and she was spent. Panting, wiping the sweat from her brow, she looked down the hill. The party had already moved on. Crestfallen, she made her way to follow.
He watched her from just outside the glade. He knew he could have assisted her but he was interested in seeing how she fared. It disappointed him to see that she was still just a novice. “Azrael spoiled her.” He saw her go further into the forest when she should have gone back. She had already spent all her energy. Unless she could wield her cane better than her spells, she didn’t stand a chance. “This could be bad,” he thought. He had known her father when she was still just a child. Before her father’s untimely death, he asked Crow to watch over her. She probably didn’t even remember him, but he had watched her from afar ever since. He even followed her onto Pioneer 2 and came to Ragol to keep his promise. He watched her train as a force as he sharpened his skills as a hunter. He was there, in the shadows, when she completed her training as a FOmarl and joined the Hunters’ Guild. He was there to witness when she met Azrael. He took care not to interfere nor invade but he still watched as she stood in his shadow ever since. That affair came to an end recently. He frowned. There had been rumors of a charm that beguiled her and whisperings of the cracked pendant she still wore. Is it possible that Azrael had in fact captured her heart with a spell? He wasn’t against a little seduction, but charming hearts with spells? Kind of kills the sport of it. Why it even upset him at all eluded him. Why did he care? “All is fair in love and war.” Grunting, his black armor reflected none of the daylight as he marched off to follow Quina, his reckless charge.
The brilliant sun bathed the field as Quina trudged forward. Her skirts felt heavy and her skin shimmered from sweat. She wished she had paid more attention to her father’s lessons in tracking. Why would a force even need to track people the way her father had? If a force wielded techniques to kill and protect, why couldn’t they track down and find people or things with techniques? Quina felt the academy should look into more useful applications of forces’ abilities.
She paused in her march, scanning the area. The field merged into the trees again. Looking into the darker, gnarled forest, Quina quivered. “Azrael never let me in this far,” she thought. Instinct told her to turn back. She resisted the urge and kept looking. She spotted broken branches and matted grass. “Someone went in there,” she muttered, “and so can I.” Ignoring her pounding heart, Quina took the freshly made path.
Crow cursed as he watched her creep into the darker trees. Each sector had been marked by Pioneer 1. Areas cleared for habitation were now invaded by creatures native to this planet. Few hunters ventured into the unclear sectors, crawling with fearsome predators. Even he was fond of the hunt and knew all too well the risk of venturing in. He scowled. No novice force should ever be going in there alone.
“She must be crazy,” he thought. He recalled the rumors. Perhaps they are true. What if she really had been charmed? He also had been tracking the party. It appeared they knew they were followed. Signs indicated the party tried to conceal their trail. Although Quina’s father, well known to be a master of the hunt, taught them both, she lacked the skill. Nevertheless, she marched on as if homing in on them. Was it possible the charm wasn’t broken? He watched her disappear into the trees and thought of how many forces tend to navigate their party. Maybe it hasn’t anything to do with the charm? He acknowledged the setting sun. Greater danger comes with nightfall. He needed to get Quina back to the ship soon.
Simply put, this part of the forest was just plain creepy to her. “This can’t be right,” she thought as a cobweb brushed across her face. She searched the path she was on for any signs of the party. A few paces back, she found what she was looking for. A boot print veered off the path, going deeper into the wood.
Clouds of gnats surrounded her, biting her when they could. Tears swelled in her eyes. Why was she out here, alone? Her courage dwindled with the waning light. It would be completely dark soon. Quina wasn’t equipped for night time adventuring. Surely they had seen her earlier in the day. Why hadn’t they invited her to join then? In fact, she thought, it seemed as though they were trying to avoid her. “Until now,” she thought. The tracks were obvious, even she could follow them. Did they assume that she wouldn’t come this far? Quina’s jaw clenched. She wouldn’t be beaten. She wouldn’t be broken. Stubbornly she pressed forward.
Up ahead, Quina saw the trees breaking into another clearing. She slowed her march and crept up to the edge. Peering through the brush she spotted the party. Dismayed, she saw only two men. Azrael and the woman weren’t there. She sat down on a knotted root to rest and wait. Lost in her own fatigue, she barely paid attention to the men’s conversation.
“You think we lost the girl?” one asked.
“Probably,” the other answered with a snort.
“Maybe we should go look for her and make sure she’s alright.”
“Why? She probably didn’t even come into this forest.”
“Azrael said he doesn’t want her getting hurt.”
“Then maybe he shouldn’t have left her behind in the first place.”
“Yeah, but, you know, she’s just a kid.”
“Yeah, well, that kid has been at his side everyday for a few months now. Azrael is a good hunter. Surely she has learned a few things in that time. If she was smart she wouldn’t go in here unless she was ready.”
“I bet she isn’t far from us, just watching in the shadows somewhere.”
“Doubt it. She tracked us tracked us this far. Azrael couldn’t lose her earlier today. My bet is she figured out we split up and she’s still tracking him.”
Quina jolted from her stupor. Angry tears fell as she silently slipped away. Her hand gripped the pendant as she made her way back.
Crow had seen the party’s trail diverge. Quina’s small footsteps followed the obvious set of tracks. He took the other, guessing it would be Azrael’s. He was curious why Azrael would avoid her. Quina was kind, energetic and earnest. From what he could tell, she possessed the potential to be as great as her father had been. He just wished she wouldn’t get distracted with such foolish romances. “That’s women for you,” he thought. He found a clearing, almost blinding walking in. He stopped and saw Azrael embracing the woman in the party. He didn’t understand what it was he felt. “So, he had already found a new lover,” Crow thought. The lovers, partially dressed, stared at him. His gaze met with Azrael’s. They both knew it wouldn’t be long before Quina would catch up. Crow turned away from the couple as they hurried to get dressed. Although Azrael deserved her rage, her heart had been broken enough. She didn’t need to see those two embraced like that. Darkness shrouded the woods. Quina was still out here, somewhere not far. He backtracked a few paces and waited to intercept her. No sooner had he settled into the shadows, Quina stumbled through the brush.
Her face was scratched from wayward branches. The hem of her dress was tattered. Her hair, typically well kept, had begun slipping from the ribbons. Seeing her reminded Crow of the days when her father still lived. She was spirited and feisty back then. She had become a refined woman of dignity. Her father would have missed his little tomboy, but he would have been proud of her. With a backward glance, he noted the couple was still busy. Crow stepped out from the shadows before she could pass him.
“Night has fallen, Quina, the forest is dangerous enough in daylight. We should be getting back to the ship.”
A tall dark figure blocked her way. She must keep going before the trail got cold. “Let me pass,” she said quietly.
“Where are you going?” he asked, “It’s dark. It can wait until tomorrow, little one.”
Quina looked up sharply. The light was too dim to be sure, but the voice she recognized. “Crow?”
“Yes, it’s me, Quina. It’s time to go back. You need more training before you venture this far.”
Quina scowled. “I’ve completed my training! I’m a hunter now, just like you.”
“Yes, but you haven’t the experience you need yet. A novice like you shouldn’t be out here alone.”
“A novice! I’m more than a mere novice!” Quina faltered as an eerie howl filled the chilling air. “Besides, I’m not alone.”
“Who are you with? And where are they?” Crow asked.
Quina hesitated before confessing, “I’ve been following Azrael. He’s just up ahead. I would like to catch up.”
“Why weren’t you with him to start with?” Crow asked.
Thankful the darkness concealed her tears, Quina answered, “He doesn’t want me anymore.”
“Why are you following him then?” he asked.
Quina remained silent, her tears falling.
“Quina?” Crow placed his hand on her shoulder.
Before she could respond, a woman’s scream came from behind Crow. Howling cut through the trees. Quina pushed pass Crow as Azrael’s battle cry rang out. “Azrael!”
The woman’s body was sprawled in the grass darkened by blood. Her throat had been torn out. Azrael stood over her swinging a scythe wildly. The insect-like creatures totaled to a count of three, with another already dead. They cut him down with their long talons, ripping him open with their mandibles. Quina screamed, bringing their attention to her. She unleashed a series of rapid Foie. As they came closer to her, she cracked one in the leg, bringing it down. She swung her cane down onto its head. The wood splintered in half. She flung the useless piece at the next as her victim struggled to stand. Quina darted to the right. Her skirts held up, she circled back to Azrael. Without thought she unleashed Resta, her strongest spell. Azrael remained still, his eyes blank. Quina screamed again and grabbed the scythe. It sang in her hands as she swung it. Her father’s scythe, the Soul Eater, drew upon her own life as it cut into the shell of the creature. She kept swinging, unaware of the electricity that jolted between the beasts. Their death cries mingled with her raw voice.
As the last creature fell, Crow grabbed Quina. She was still screaming. He held her tight. “It’s over Quina, they’re dead.”
“No!” Quina pushed him away. Her hair fell free from the ribbons as she crawled to Azrael’s body. Her hands never let go of the scythe.
Master Quinton’s Soul Eater gleamed in the moonlight. Charm or no charm, Quina’s love was real. She never would have given up her father’s legacy otherwise. He checked the woman’s body as Quina shook in grief.
“No! No! Azrael!” Quina sobbed, “Why did it have to end like this?”
Crow looked up from the body to see Quina screaming into the heavens.
“See? See, god damn you? This is real! This is real, damn you!” Quina snapped the chain of the pendant, “You never needed this!”
Crow watched it sail across the clearing. It landed in the brush, glinting in the weak light. So it was true and she had known. She surprised him. When Azrael fell, Crow watched her transform in seconds. The dignified woman gave way to a queen of raging death. She had much to learn but the power was definitely there.
Crow walked over to her, gently placing his hand on her shoulder, just as he had when she grieved her father.
“Will I ever know the truth?” she whispered through her tears, “Will I ever know if he had truly loved me?”
“Do you truly love him?” he asked.
Quina clutched the scythe to her. She huddled over it. Her sorrow dulled its sheen. Crow recalled years ago she had done the same over her father’s grave. He knew the answer.
“I’m sure he did love you in his own way,” Crow said, trying to comfort her.
Quina wiped away her tears. “You don’t have to lie to me, Crow. That woman was his lover, wasn’t she? That’s why you blocked my way. You didn’t want me to see them together.”
Crow remained silent. The agony in her voice pained him.
Quina grunted as she leaned upon the scythe, trying to stand. “I will not be broken!” She straightened, turned to face him and collapsed into his arms. Her eyes rolled back as the scythe hit the grass.
Crow gathered her up, collected the scythe and activated a telepipe. He paused to study the pendant. He carefully placed Quina in the grass next to the pipe. Crow then went to the brush, plucking the pendant free. He returned to Quina as he put the pendant into his pocket. He lifted her up and took them both though the pipe. Upon arriving on Pioneer 2, he carried her directly to the infirmary. She had so much to learn. Her real training had only begun.
Archived on LiveJournal @ 14 May 2009
Archived on WordPress @ 5 March 2017