The young man knelt in the small pool of amber light cast by the short candle sitting on the floor in front of him. The flagstones were cold and hard on his knees, and for a moment he wondered if Raleigh hadn’t fallen asleep.
Then the harsh voice cut out of the darkness.
“Who are we, boy?” The words echoed in the room.
“We are blood hunters.” His scalp itched, but if he gave in and scratched he knew that he would earn a smack with Raleigh’s cane – maybe worse, given how important this moment was.
“What do we hunt, boy?”
“Monsters and devils and abominations. We hunt the darkness from within itself.” For a brief moment, memories of the white and gold of a temple and armor rose to the front of his mind, but then they all appeared stained with red. He pushed the memories back down into their box and focused on the situation at hand. Those memories and emotions would lead to doubt, and now was not the time for that.
“How do we hunt, boy?”
“With senses honed by anger at what the darkness can do.” He was starting to hurt, in his back and knees.
“How do we kill?”
“With steel and blood.”
“What is our greatest tool?”
“Our allies.” Not that Raleigh put much stock in that; he had been a recluse for years before the young man had found him.
“What are we without conviction?” His mentor’s sharp voice drew his attention back to the present.
“We are lost.” Though there were other ways to be lost, ways that hurt worse than any physical blow. The mental box opened and the images of white and gold and blood and teeth returned, and again he shoved them away.
“Alastair Grey,” Raleigh finally said, “Are you ready to receive the Hunter’s Bane?”
He swallowed nervously. “I am.”
A small vial rolled out of the darkness, clacking against the stones. It wasn’t as large as he had expected. The ugly maroon liquid within sloshed as he picked up the vial. Hesitation now would be a sign of weakness. Raleigh would beat him worse than ever before and toss him out to whatever heartless fate would take him. Alastair popped out the cork and tipped back the vial, letting the contents slide down his throat.
Immediately, it began to burn. He grunted in pain, doubled over. His ears started ringing, his vision blurred – and what was that smell? Raleigh had said it would hurt, but he had never imagined it would be this bad. It felt as though the Hunter’s Bane were carving its way through his insides.
Two rough, scarred hands reached out of the darkness. In their grasp was his sword, Archangel, named at a better time in a better place. The hands gently set the weapon on the ground. “The rite must be chosen.” Raleigh’s voice thundered in his ears, though he was sure the older man wasn’t speaking as loudly as before.
Alastair’s eyes stung as he reached out and grasped his sword’s hilt. He struggled against his spasming muscles to bring the blade up to his left palm. He knew what rite he would choose, a fitting one for his old life. He drew his palm along the edge. The magic took hold, a sort of unnatural tension between his blood and the sword. He would later swear that for the briefest moment, the steel blade flared crimson.
He was going to pass out. It was inevitable. There was no harm in letting the memories out now. One last time before everything changed. Alastair opened the box, images spilling out.
He wasn’t conscious long enough for it to mean anything.
Joshua Bratton was born in Lakewood, Colorado and first fell in love with fantasy stories when his father read The Chronicles Of Narnia to him. From that point on, he read as many stories as he could get his hands on, which eventually inspired him to start writing such tales.
When he isn't writing, Joshua enjoys tabletop roleplaying games, movies, and reading. He can be found on Twitter @jbratton1124 and on Tumblr at @kaleladin.