The First Hunt
Nicholas rode towards the large drawbridge gate that was the entrance to Winterria. He brought his horse to a halt, as the guards did their routine checks, then continued into the city. As he rode the streets, he had horrific flashbacks to his dream - his nightmare. It was so real, he thought as he trotted through the city and towards the lower city. It had been a week or so since Nicholas’ vision of Winterria’s fiery demise but it had stuck with him. One part, in particular, had stuck with him: the idea that he had to find Leo Taylor and train him to be a Slayer. He didn’t understand why yet, but he knew that that was what he must do.
The sky was a gorgeous pale blue. There wasn’t a cloud in sight. Children could be heard laughing and shouting, playing games, as Nicholas rode into the lower city. He made his stop when he reached the Taylors’ humble home. It wasn’t much, it was in the lower city after all, but it was nicer than most of the houses that sat besides it. Nicholas dismounted his steed and tied her up besides the door. He raised his hand to knock but the door swung open before he had the chance. “Nicholas!” There was no-one at his immediate eye level, so he looked down. His face lit up as he saw the young boy he’d rescued just under a year ago. “Leo.” Nicholas’ stern face broke into a smile. It’d been so long since he’d smiled. It felt like it’d been an eternity. So it felt good to do it again. He knelt down and embraced the boy’s hug. “Leo, I’ve come for-” Nicholas stopped as he saw Leo’s mother standing in the hallway. “What have you come for, Nicholas?” She looked at him, somewhat disapprovingly. Nicholas got back to his feet, the smile was now gone from his face. He looked her in the eyes, with an unbreaking gaze, “Leo. I’ve come to make good on the promise I made him.”
“Promise? What promise?” His mother inclined.
“He promised me that he’d train me to become a Slayer.” Leo butted in, and answered his mother’s question. “A Slayer?” She said with a slight grimace on her face. It was clear she didn’t approve of these plans. “Aye. That day when I saved your son, he showed bravery like I’ve never seen in a boy. He’d be a natural.” Nicholas explained, “In fact, he was the one who asked me to train him. I had no input.” With what he thought was a smart response, Nicholas gave a little smirk. Mrs. Taylor was having none of what Nicholas was saying. She’d lost her son once, on that night, and she didn’t want to lose him again. “No.” The word was quick and harsh, and her tone was serious. Nicholas was silent for a moment, then nodded. “He’s your boy. I would never force you to give him up.” He knelt down to Leo’s level again, “I’m sorry. Maybe when you’re a little older.” Despite the words leaving his mouth, and them sounding so genuine, Nicholas was lying. He knew he couldn't wait until Leo was older. He didn’t have that luxury.
He mounted his horse and bid farewell, at least that’s what they thought. He spurred his steed on and they began a gentle trot down the street. “I’m sorry, Leo.” His mother comforted him, “I just don’t wanna lose you again.” They held each other tightly for a moment. Leo understood what his mother meant but he still wished to be going with Nicholas to the Slayer’s Guild. Nicholas looked back, and saw their embrace, and turned away. Deep down he knew that he needed to train Leo, but after seeing what he just saw - he couldn’t bear to rip the family apart. It also caused Nicholas to think about his own life. He hadn’t seen his parents since he’d started his training with Robert. It’d been decades. He shook the thought from his mind. Slayers were removed from their families so as to not cause a distraction from their profession. They had to be merciless killers, of both monsters and men. Having a caring family didn’t seem to fit with that life, the Slayers of yesteryear had discovered. Nicholas continued his ride out of the city, and headed home.
It wasn’t too far from Winterria’s capital. The Slayers had originated there, after all, and wanted to maintain a strong connection with the kingdom. The Guild resided in an old stone stronghold. It was perfect for them. They had training grounds and sleeping quarters. There was ample room for the few of them that were there. Nicholas arrived as the sun began to set. The sky was a fiery red, that slowly ascended into the pale, baby blue it had been just hours before. It was a gorgeous sight. “Nick, how are you?!” A voice cried from above as he rode through the gates. Nicholas looked up and smiled as he saw Cedric Ryder, one of his oldest friends. They were raised together and trained together by Robert. They were the youngest Slayers in the stronghold, so naturally gravitated to one another. “Cedric, you fopdoodle, get down here!” Nicholas laughed as he brought his steed to a halt. His friend rushed down the stairs to greet him. He dismounted and gave his friend a great hug. “How’s things been back here?” Nicholas asked as they let go.
“Same as always. Too much work, not enough workers.” Nicholas sighed as his friend gave the news. He knew that he could’ve brought an extra worker back with him, to eventually ease the load, but he didn’t. He began to feel an underlying guilt within, as he dismounted his horse. “Well, I’m sure we’ll find the next generation soon enough. I promised Robert I would.” The two shared a moment of silence for their deceased teacher. “Anyway, how is everyone? It feels like ages have passed since I was last here.” Nicholas grabbed his friend round the back. “As I said, same as always. The old bags haven’t moved!” Cedric and Nicholas let out a mighty roar of laughter as they began to head inside.
“Nicholas! Boy, how are you?!” Ulric cheered as Nicholas and Cedric entered the warm, wooden halls. “A damn sight better than you by the looks of things.” Nicholas jested. The whole room let out laughs in unison. Nicholas sat down at the long table, joining the others. “We heard about your dealings with Ysmay,” Ulric said with an indifferent tone, “I don’t want you doing that again.” His voice seemed a little sterner now, “But I also want to congratulate you!” He chuckled, “That wench has always treated Slayers like dirt. She also thought of herself as higher and mightier than us, until she needed us. You showed her what was what. Good on ye.” Nicholas smiled as all his friends raised chalices in his honour. “Thank you. I did what any of us would’ve.” The men drank, and feasted. Then drank some more. Their welcome party for Nicholas went well into the night.
Nicholas slung his friend’s arm over his shoulder and carried him to their shared dorm. “I met a boy, Cedric.” Nicholas babbled beneath his breath, “He wanted to grow to be a Slayer. He wanted me to train him.”
“Fant-burp-astic. Let’s do it.” Cedric replied, drunk out of his mind.
“I would. I wanted to. But his mother… she’d already lost him once. That’s how I met him. She didn’t want to lose him again. I couldn’t take him from her.” Nicholas let his friend fall into his bed. “He was too young anyway.” He tried to reason his decision to leave Leo behind. “Too young? Don’t you remember how young we were?” Cedric blurted, “Four.” He sat up and faced Nicholas, “We were four years old. Four and taken from our homes to become monster hunters.” Nicholas stayed quiet. His friend was right. Slayers always got their next generation whilst they were young. It’s easier to train someone to become cold and merciless when they don’t know it’s wrong, when they don’t know any different. “You should’ve brought the lad.” Cedric tucked himself up and faced the wall. “Could’ve started training tomorrow…” He dozed off, seemingly mid-sentence. Nicholas lay in his own bed, thinking about what his friend had just told him. He felt an urge. An urge to go and get Leo, to train him and realise the vision he had. But he knew that he shouldn’t kidnap him. He knew that that wasn’t the way this should be done. But it might be the only way, he thought to himself.
The horse bolted down the road. Nicholas held tight as he spurred his horse to go faster. He was leaving the Guild, and heading to Winterria. He was going to get Leo.
Nicholas pulled his steed to a halt as he reached the Taylors’ street. He dismounted, and left his horse at the end, as he didn’t want to be heard. He made his way down the street and to their house. He raised his hand to knock, out of instinct, then brought it back down. He paused for a moment. Was he really willing to do this? He questioned his own thoughts. He questioned everything he was about to do. His hand raised up again and he knocked. There was no response, so he did it again. This time he heard footsteps from the inside. They climbed down the stairs and the door opened. “I’m here for Leo.” Nicholas stated. Mrs Taylor looked at him in disgust.
“You’re not taking my boy.” She hissed.
“I don’t want to. Not forever.”
“But that’s what Slayers do.”
“That’s what they used to do. I want to change that.” Nicholas asked Mrs Taylor if he could come inside, with just a single look. She let him in and closed the door behind him. He sat himself down at the table, and pulled his hood back. “I don’t want to take your son. But I want to train him. He has real potential.” Nicholas explained, “He’d be gone for three days at a time. The other four, he’d spend at home.” Leo’s mother nodded, she was following along so far. “Then, when he’s of age, the boy can decide for himself.”
“Fine. I can live with that.” She gave in, “But be careful with him. He’s only young. He’s only eight. I don’t want him seriously injured.” Nicholas smiled, and let out a quiet chuckle, “I promise, whilst he will get some bruises and scrapes, he won’t succumb to any serious harm.” Mrs Taylor smiled, and gave Nicholas a hug.
“Thank you.” She whispered as she held him close. Her voice was gentle. It was fearful but also happy, and proud. She was scared of her son leaving but she knew, deep down, that he’d do great things. Nicholas stood up and threw his hood back over his head. “I’ll be back, tomorrow morning. I’ll take him and we’ll start his training. Good night, Mrs Taylor.” And with those words, Nicholas left. He hopped back onto his horse and rode into the night.
The sun rose. Morning arrived and the land was, yet again, blessed by the warm rays of the golden sun. Leo mounted Nicholas’ horse, after saying his goodbyes to his mother, and Nicholas got on behind him. He made sure that Leo was secure and safe then spurred on his steed and began a brisk gallop back to the Guild stronghold. As they rode, there was silence. It wasn’t an awkward silence, no, it was one filled with nervous energy. Nicholas could feel Leo’s excitement as they rode the path. “We’ll start with the basics today.” Nicholas informed his student, “That means we’ll cover the basics of the monster - monsters now - that you’ll face in this life. How to properly kill them. How to find them. And so on. Then we’ll cover some sword fighting basics, and that should do the day. Tomorrow we’ll continue with the sword fighting lessons and I’ll show you the armoury.” Leo looked back at Nicholas with a smile on his face.
“Great. Sounds like I’m going to learn a lot.”
“Aye, you will. But first thing’s first. We need to introduce you to the other Slayers.”
Nicholas walked into the dining halls of the stronghold, with Leo by his side. “Lads, this is Leo. He’s the first of the next generation. I’m going to be training him. Starting today.” Ulric, Cedric, Rulf and Cassius gave their most welcoming smiles to Leo - which isn’t saying much. “Welcome, boy. I’m glad that our profession won’t die with these two buffoons.” Ulric chuckled as he looked at Nicholas and Cedric. Cedric, being the closest of the two, smacked Ulric round the back of his balding head in return for the cheeky remark. “Cheers Ulric.” Nicholas sneered.
“As Ulric said, welcome, Leo.” Cassius chimed in. Nicholas gave him a solid nod in response. After all the pleasantries and welcomes had been exchanged, Nicholas took Leo back out into the training grounds.
“This is where you’ll train. We have some dummies to use, but we also like a good sparring session. So, if you ever fancy a fight, just ask one of us.” Leo chuckled as Nicholas continued to show him round. They headed upstairs where Nicholas showed Leo his semi-permanent lodgings. Then they headed back to the training grounds for Leo’s first lesson.
“Today, I’ll show you how to fight. Or at least how not to die.” Nicholas handed the young boy an iron blade. Leo looked at the weapon in his hands in disbelief, “You didn’t think we’d be using wooden ones, did you?” Nicholas chuckled, “Don’t worry, we’re not swinging them at each other. You’ll be fine.” Leo lifted the blade up. It was heavier than he expected. “Right, now the first move we’ll learn is a simple strike. Swing your blade like this.” Nicholas unsheathed his blade and gracefully slashed at the air. Leo watched, then did his best to imitate it. Nicholas smiled. He knew, in that moment, that Leo would make a fine Slayer. His basic strike was almost perfect, and he was only eight. “Great. Now, let’s try a thrust.” Nicholas demonstrated a basic thrust to Leo and he replicated Nicholas’ demonstration perfectly. “Impressive stuff, Leo. You’re a natural.” Leo smiled at Nicholas. He was proud of himself. “Now let’s try to piece them together, got it?” Nicholas didn’t demonstrate anything this time. He wanted to see what Leo would do. He wanted to see his natural instinct. Leo didn’t disappoint. He readied himself then slashed once, from right to left, followed his attack up with a pirouette then finished with a thrust. “I don’t think you even need training.” Nicholas half-joked. He truly was impressed by Leo’s natural skill and instinct for sword fighting. “I tell you what, let’s go out. I have an idea.” Nicholas tossed Leo a scabbard for his short sword, as he passed him. The pair saddled up, on Nicholas’ horse, and rode out into the forest.
Nicholas knew that what he was about to do was incredibly dangerous. It wasn’t a good idea, but it would teach the boy so much more than a classroom could. They stopped as they were deep into the nearby woods. “Don’t show any fear. Don’t be afraid. Use what you just showed me, and you’ll be fine.” Leo didn’t quite understand, at first, then he saw them. Nicholas dismounted and helped Leo off. “Nicholas, I don’t-” Nicholas placed a finger to his lips and Leo stopped speaking. Nicholas took the lead, and began to head towards the small group of daemons that was surrounding an injured deer. He yelled nonsense, and they looked his way. Nicholas drew his blade, and Leo followed his teacher’s actions. “I’ll take all but one, okay?” Nicholas planted his feet firm in the ground and readied himself as the 4 daemons charged. “Okay.” Leo trembled. They soon got within range and Nicholas swiped and slashed. His movements were as graceful, yet effective, as usual. Leo, even in fear, was a natural. As the daemon charged him, he took a deep breath and used what he’d just been taught. He threw a basic slash first and created a large gash across the monster’s chest. He followed it up with another slash and finally a powerful thrust, that penetrated the daemon’s skull. He removed his blade and looked at Nicholas, who had a look of pride on his face. “Good. You did well.” Nicholas wiped his blade clean under his armpit and Leo followed his lead. Nicholas chuckled to himself as he watched Leo mimic his actions. It was a strange feeling but he liked it. Nicholas felt a connection, a kinship, to Leo. Even in the day they’d spent together, Nicholas knew that he’d made the right move. They mounted his horse and headed back to the Guild’s stronghold.
The pale moonlight illuminated the dining hall. “I took him on his first hunt.” Nicholas mentioned as the older Slayers ate. Ulric looked up immediately, and in disbelief, “You took that boy on a hunt?” He almost choked on his food.
“Aye. He’s a natural, Ulric.” Nicholas continued to eat, “He’s already mastered the basics of sword fighting. It took him less than an hour.” The other Slayers looked at Nicholas in disbelief. Never in their history had a new student mastered any of the Slayer’s basics in that fast a time. “And why did you feel you needed to train the boy, again?” Cedric asked Nicholas.
“I had a dream. Winterria was burning. It had been under siege. It was destroyed.” Nicholas began recalling his vision, “Robert appeared to me, as I wandered the flaming ruins, and told me to find the boy and train him.”
“Robert told you this? In a dream?” Cassius Lothar asked, making sure he understood correctly. “Aye, Cassius. I don’t know why but I think Leo is important. I think he’s special.” Nicholas paused for a moment as he drank, “I think he’s the key to our future. I’m not sure how, or why, yet but I need to train him.”
“None of us disagree with you, Nick. He seems perfect. But your dream… Winterria’s demise. Did you see what, or who, caused it? Are you sure it won’t actually happen?” Nicholas looked away from his friends, although he could feel that they were all still looking at him. He took another bite of his bread and a sip of his ale. “I don’t know,” he finally responded, “but I hope it doesn’t. It was horrific. It was as if Hell had been raised and had taken over Winterria. Daemons everywhere. The streets were littered with corpses. It-” Nicholas struggled, “It was awful.” The Slayers looked at Nicholas with concern on their faces. No-one made a comment on what he just described to them. They all just sat quietly and kept their thoughts to themselves.
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