Saturday, November 16, 2013

Unnamed Short Story

Four men dashed through the woods after their prey. After tracking it all night, they had finally found the beast’s hiding place and flushed it out. This werewolf had been harassing the nearby village for weeks, but no more.

The four men were Venators, elite warriors who specialize in hunting and eliminating dark magic. In a world full of witches, sorcerers, demons and monsters, the Venators stand sworn to destroy all who use the power of darkness.

The four Venators now chased the werewolf, drawing their Phoenix Rods. The three foot red sticks at first didn’t look like much, but these were blessed weapons, and highly effective against the creatures of the night.

They chased deeper into the woods, but they were falling behind. No matter how hard they trained, human legs could not keep pace with a eight foot tall very powerful werewolf. The Senior Venator called for his men to split up in an attempt to corral the beast in the direction it was already going.

The men spread out, and sure enough the beast had attempted to run around and flank the group. Instead, the beast ran right in the path of one of the Venators, Rod ready to repel this monster. Man and beast ran at each other, their respective weapons drawn.

The man was brave, but his act was foolish. The monster swatted the man aside, where he collided into a tree and was out cold before he landed roughly on the ground. The beast was about to finish him off when the other three men ran up behind it and engaged. The battle was ferocious, but neither man nor beast noticed as a quiet figure appeared from the brush and dragged the injured Venator away.

The Venator woke up just completely sore. Every inch of his body ached, but some places more than others. His entire left side was in agony, but he didn’t have the strength to do more than groan.

He felt a presence hover over his left side, talking softly to herself. It sounded like a woman, but the Venator couldn’t effectively turn his head or open his eyes without putting himself in pain, so he just kept groaning.

“Go back to sleep,” the voice softly insisted. “Save your strength so you can heal.”

The Venator heeded her words and tried going back to sleep despite his pain.

When he woke up again, there was still pain, but his left arm and side was mostly numb. It was better than pain he figured, and he slowly propped himself up on his right side to inspect his surroundings.

He was in cabin of sorts, two stories high but one huge room. In the middle of the space was a fire crackling, and along the walls were plants, vials, animal parts, and shelves of ancient looking books. Each wall had a door in the middle, and the roof had a hole right above the fire to allow smoke to escape. The ground was dirt, and his bed was more of a nest of sticks, twigs and leaves put against the wall, but it was incredibly soft.

He looked down to inspect his body. Someone had removed his shirt to work on his wounds; his left arm was in a bandage, and several parts of his left side and chest had been patched up. The bandages themselves were just cloth, but they seemed fresh, indicating they were replaced while he was asleep.

Right then, the door opposite the man opened and a figure rushed in quickly, closing it behind them as if they had been followed. The man watched this figure intently; he knew he didn’t have the strength to escape, but if this was bad news he would fight with everything he had left.

The figure removed its cloak to reveal a beautiful young woman. Despite the state of her clothes, worn and dirty, she held herself with dignity and grace. The first thing she did was turn to the man. “Good,” she exclaimed, “you’re awake.”

The man grunted in response, trying to push himself up further. The woman rushed to his side and laid soft but unyielding hands on his chest. “Don’t try to move around so much. You’re still recovering. Please, lay back down.”

She softly pushed him back down, not that he had the strength to resist.
“My name is Aveline,” she said. “Can you tell me your name?”
The man tried to speak, but found his throat too dry. Aveline gave him some water to sip for a minute, holding the leather waterskin for him. When his mouth was well moistened, he said, “Henry.”
Aveline stepped away to check on some plants growing along the wall. Henry pushed himself back up and propped himself against the wall behind him. “What happened to me?” he asked through the pain of moving.
“You were bested by a werewolf,” Aveline said as she inspected her plants, plucking some leaves off of them. “You were incredibly lucky its claws missed your heart.”
Henry remembered the werewolf. His team had been sent out to take care of it just the other day. Suddenly he remembered his team. “Did you see three other men?”
“The other Venators fought the beast but it got away from them. They gave chase to it, and I haven’t been able to find them since.”

So she knew who they were, and therefore who Henry was. He probably should’ve expected it; the Venators were highly respected and well recognized around the world.

Henry watched her work for a little bit. She took the leaves she had plucked and took them over to the next area, which had what looked like cooking utensils. She minced the leaves and added them to a pot of water and presumably other ingredients. She then took the pot over to the fire and set it straight in the flames, moving fast so she didn’t get burned herself. Lastly, she added some powder to the mixture and walked back over to Henry.

“You’re a witch, aren’t you?” he asked.

Aveline kneeled next to the bed, grabbed his hurt arm and gently lifted it up to inspect the bandages. “So I am, Venator,” she replied without making eye contact.

Henry watched her work suspiciously. She finished inspecting his bandaged arm and went back to her brew over the fire. Henry looked around the cabin once again, looking for his weapon, but he couldn’t see it anywhere.

Aveline turned back to him and said, “I didn’t pick it up. I know Venators can track each other via your special sticks and I didn’t want your friends to find me.”

Henry focused back on her. “If you didn’t want Venators to find you,” he asked, “why bring me here, then.”

“Because you had just gotten mauled by a werewolf,” she said simply.

She added another ingredient to her pot that Henry didn’t see. “Witchcraft is illegal punishable by death, you know,” he reminded her.

She turned back to him with a stern face. “Witchcraft is the only reason you’re even alive right now,” she said frankly. “If you’re going to be ungrateful then I can undo everything I’ve done for you. You’ll bleed out where you sit if you like.”

Henry shut up after that and let her work. When her brew was finished, she ladled some into a wooden cup and brought it over to Henry. “Drink this,” she insisted, pushing the cup into his hands.

Henry looked down at the strange green liquid cautiously. “What is it?”

“This’ll make your bones heal faster, and it’ll numb you to the pain a bit more.” When he still didn’t drink it, she added, “It’s not dark magic, just herbs and healing minerals I gather.”

“Does it work?” Henry asked, smelling it. It honestly just smelled like wet leaves.

“The recipe has been in my family for generations, so yes, it has worked before.”

Henry thought about it for a second, but decided to drink the potion. Aveline was just trying to help him, anyway. Besides, if it worked like she said it would, the sooner he’d be able to get out and back with his team.

He took a sip, but Aveline insisted that he drink it all, so he gulped the mixture. It actually tasted better than it smelled, but was definitely nothing more than water with hundreds of little bits of plant matter floating in it. Aveline said it would take a few hours for the mixture to fully take effect, and she insisted that he just go back to sleep while it worked in his body. Henry heeded her words and closed his eyes again.

When he woke up again, Henry felt stronger. The majority of the pain had subsided. Aveline helped him put his shirt back on, helped him get to his feet and put his arm in a sling. She warned that while his bones would heal quickly, his arm would still be weak for a week or so.

Breakfast consisted of nuts and berries Aveline found around the woods. It was a meager meal, but there was something satisfying by the simplicity of it.

After the meal, Henry sat by the remains of the fire in silent contemplation. Aveline noticed after checking her plants that he hadn’t moved. “What are you thinking about?”

Henry didn’t answer right away, but quickly came to his decision and stood up. Bowing his head to Aveline, he said, “Thank you for everything, but I must go.”

Aveline turned suddenly to face him. “You can’t leave,” she protested. “You can barely walk.”

“Yes, but I can’t stay,” Henry insisted.

“Why can’t you stay?” Aveline asked, walking toward him.

“Because my team will have resumed their search for me by now,” he explained. “And if I find them, they won’t find you.”

Aveline seemed surprised by his reason. “What do you mean, Henry?”

Henry looked down and readjusted his sling. “You’re a Witch, and I’m a Venator, Aveline. My instincts told me to kill you on sight once I knew, and you knew that, too. But you decided to help me, so now I’m going to return the favor.” He looked up into Aveline’s face. “If I find my team first, they’ll never know about you, and you’ll be free to go.”

Tears began forming in Aveline’s eyes. “But I don’t want you to go,” she said, almost crying. “I’ve been alone in these god damned woods for too long.” She walked over to his side and held his good hand in both of hers. “Stay with me. We can run away together, to somewhere no one will find us. We can make a life for ourselves, live in our own world.”

Henry slipped his hand out of Aveline’s hands, wrapped it around her back, holding her to his body and kissed her on her forehead affectionately. “I would love nothing more,” he whispered to her, “but they wouldn’t stop looking for me. We’d be on the run for the rest of our lives until they found our graves. And if they find you they will kill you, and I will not let that happen.”

“Then I’ll die alone in these woods like the rest of my family,” she whispered in his chest.

“But you’ll live longer than today, and there will be hope for you.” He disengaged and headed for the door. Gripping the latch, he turned one more time to see Aveline standing where he left her. “I truly hope we meet again, and until then, on my word and by my life, they will never find you.”

He let himself out and quickly disappeared into the woods. Aveline thought about running after him, but heeded his warning. From that day on she held his final words in her heart. Years later she was forced to leave the place where she had lived, settling into a town where she could hide her practice in plain sight as a florist.

She kept track of Henry through news whenever she could. She read as Henry saved many lives from dark forces and became a respected Venator and a voice for peace and mercy. He was killed at age 39 when his team was hunting a coven of vampires, and he was buried with all honors.

Years later a young Venator was out in the Venator Memorial Graveyard the evening before his first mission. He visited the graves of his father and grandfather, Venators before him, and was leaving when he spotted an old woman standing before one of the tomb stones. He wanted to walk over to her, but she noticed him before he could and started walking away. Then, before his very eyes, she just disappeared.

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