Half-way through fall, Hansen made another announcement: “We have another trip.”
Everyone perked up. Their last trip to the Silver Saviors had been an interesting one. Having their full attention, Hansen continued: “Next week, we will be joining the Silver Saviors on a three-day hunt!”
Confusion and excitement spread through everyone. Adam couldn’t help but state the obvious: “None of us know how to hunt, won’t that be a problem?”
Hansen nodded his head: “You won’t be hunting. You’ll be helping to dress the kills. The sword can only be used for one thing; to kill! It’s time you saw death up close. We’ll see if you can stomach it!”
That put a bit of a damper on their opinion of the hunt. Still, it was something new and Kadara was happy to do anything at all with the Silver Saviors.
Adam felt Vivienne was overly fussing: “Did you pack everything?”
“Be careful out there. Not only are there dangerous animals, but poisonous plants too!”
Adam couldn’t help but feel embarrassed, as he felt the stares of others on his back.
“C’mon mama’s boy, we’re leaving!” Derek teased.
“I gotta go, mom!”
Even as they were teasing him, Adam’s friends felt envious. Among all the orphans at Madame’s, Adam was the only one who still had one of his parents with him.
Hansen led them through the streets to the Silver Saviors headquarters. Each of them had a small pack with a few changes of clothes. The rest of the equipment they would need for the hunt would be picked up at the Silver Saviors.
At the Silver Saviors’, Isley met them: “Hey, it’s been a while. Come this way, we’re almost ready to leave.”
One of the training yards was partially filled by Silver Saviors checking and packing their travel gear and supplies. Isley said to them: “You should all grab a pack and prepare for a long hike. Once we start, we might not stop until lunch.”
Isley reached down and grabbed a pack himself. Franklin asked: “Are you coming with us?”
Isley nodded: “I’ve been more or less designated as your liaison with the Silver Saviors. In short, it means it’s my job to watch over you, figure out what kind of training you need, and make sure you’re all Silver Savior material.”
After they each grabbed a pack of travel gear and the Silver Saviors finished checking everything, they headed out from Hessler. Rather than a disciplined march, the Silver Saviors walked in a disorderly line. They didn’t walk side-by-side as they would end up blocking the road if they all did that. Along their line, an occasional pole was stuck high up in the air tipped with a metal spearhead and cross guard. These spears were specially designed for boar hunting. In addition to the Silver Saviors, there were a few hunting dogs playfully bouncing around.
As the day wore on, the pack on Adam’s back seemed to get heavier and heavier and began to bite into his shoulders. It almost felt like an eternity before the Silver Saviors finally stopped for lunch. Adam threw his pack onto the ground with Alfred and the others following suit. Franklin nearly collapsed to the ground as he groaned: “When are we going to get there!? I don’t know that I can take much more of this.”
Isley chuckled: “Soon enough, but not before you’re thoroughly tired, I expect. No amount of at-home-training can truly prepare you for the life of a mercenary. And if you think just hiking to the hunting ground is exhausting, just think about the hunt itself!”
Franklin groaned again as Isley smiled at him. Someone waved at them from further down the line: “You ain’t giving them too hard of a time, are ya Isley? That grin of yours looks like an evil villain having the time of his life!”
Isley laughed as he said back: “Just the normal new-comer banter. This boy really plays his part well, though!”
The rest of the Silver Saviors started laughing hard as Franklin became embarrassed. It didn’t last long as the Silver Savior that spoke earlier walked over to him and helped him up: “Come on, boy. Let’s get you some grub!”
As it turned out, lunch was only some dry rations with water from a canteen to wash it down. Hardly refreshing at all! After that, it was time to continue the march. At least Adam found something good from all of this. Unlike the Hill Garden, the forest surrounding the road was true wilderness. There were trees and plants and animals galore! It was something different from the constant environment of Hessler he was used to and was a welcomed change of pace. With his Spirit Sight, it was far more colorful than anything he had seen in Hessler. He also detected subtle differences in the way Spirit Essence seemed to interact. It was a vague sense of it being more wild.
An hour after lunch, the Silver Saviors turned off the road and headed deeper into the wilderness that surrounded them. Adam was hopeful that they had finally reached their destination, but they just kept on walking and walking. It wasn’t until three hours later, as the sun fell, that they settled on a clearing they came across.
This time, Franklin really did collapse on the ground! With ragged breathing, he said: “Finally, huph, we stopped.”
Isley was once again grinning as he nodded his head: “Yup! Now it’s time to set up camp! There’s no time to be lazing around!”
“Urgh.” Franklin could only groan in response. Isley happily muttered to himself: “The funnest trainee I’ve ever had!”
He hoisted Franklin onto his feet: “Come on, I’ll show you the ropes!”
For his own humor, Isley actually showed him the ropes they would be using to secure the tents that they were going to pitch. Derek, Bruno, and Clyde also helped with the tents. Hansen took Adam, Alfred, and Kadara out to scavenge for dry wood to help start a fire. As it turned out, Adam’s Spirit Sight was perfect for this! He could easily pick out the dry dead wood out from among the living greenery. Compared to the thriving and lively Spirit Essence that made up everything else, the dry wood seemed rather dull and dim.
The next thing to do was to actually start the fires. After preparing a pit and throwing the wood they found into it, Isley pulled out a tinderbox and showed them how to use flint. Adam found it rather interesting as he watched Isley strike the flint. Each spark showered red Fire Essence across the dry wood. Shimmering, the Fire Essence began to dance among the wood as the fire lit!
Adam and the others collapsed in exhaustion. Seeing this, Isley decided to make the stew by himself and let them rest. The stew was made from dry meat and a few things the Silver Saviors had found around the campsite. It didn’t taste very good, but they were ravenous for the food, so they gulped it down!
As the day finally died, Adam and the others fell into their sleeping bags. But, for a few Silver Saviors, the day wasn’t done quite yet. Even though it was unlikely anything dangerous would find its way to their came, it was still prudent to set up a night watch.
In the middle of the night, Adam awoke with a start! In the distance, he could hear wolves howling into the night! Adam immediately used his Spirit Sight to fill the void around him as he got up. Adam peeked out the tent, but none of the Silver Saviors seemed alarmed to hear the wolves as they continued to sleep soundly. Even the dogs were calm. The two Silver Saviors who were awake and on watch merely remarked at how far they thought the howls might be. Adam stepped out of his tent and walked over to them.
Hearing him approach, one asked: “Did the wolves wake you up?”
Adam nodded: “They won’t attack, will they?”
The two men laughed: “No, not unless something has gotten them riled up. We still got a fire going, and we have quite a few people on our side. We’re not an appetizing meal they could easily gobble down.”
The other man spoke up: “They do sound a little odd tonight, though.”
“Odd?” Adam asked.
The man nodded: “yea, but I can’t put my finger on what it is.”
Adam listened to the intermittent howls, but couldn’t hear anything besides a wolf howl. Shaking his head, Adam yawned while saying: “I think I’m going to try to go back to bed.”
The two men nodded: “Tomorrow may just be worse for you than today was!”
With that depressing thought, Adam quickly went back to his tent to get some more sleep in before the morning came.
Before the sun was even up, Isley went around knocking on the sides of their tents: “C’mon, time to wake up! Let’s get something to eat, so we can start the hunt!”
Adam groggily managed to scarf down some bread and dry meat before he and the others were dragged along by the Silver Saviors. Isley spoke to them as they walked: “Do any of you know anything about hunting?”
Of course none of them knew, but it was a small surprise when Hansen also said: “I do not.”
He was walking right next to Isley and seemed so sure of himself. Adam could tell Hansen wasn’t being dishonest with his Spirit Sight, but the rest doubted his words. Isley merely took it in stride and began to explain: “Well, the first thing you need to do is to find your quarry! Depending on the animal, you’ll want to look for tracks along the ground, game trails, feces, or any signs of nesting that might have been used by them. Today, we are hunting down some boars! Their populations have been getting a little large, and they’re one of the more dangerous animals to hunt. Thus, the Silver Saviors are here instead of regular hunters!”
“You’ll want to keep an eye out for any flattened land where boars might have rested as well as any patches of uprooted plants. Since we’ve got dogs with us this time, it will be a simple matter to track the boars when we find their scent!”
It didn’t take long for the experienced Silver Saviors to find the first tracks. However, tracking them to the boars themselves took several hours! They were moving slowly and quietly, so as to not spook the boars and cause them to flee before they could encircle them. It was just before noon when they finally caught up with their quarry!
It started out with the dogs running off and barking a lot. Having already gone over their plan earlier, the Silver Saviors didn’t need to discuss their next step. They immediately began to spread out with the spear bearers standing at the front. Despite their exhaustion, Adam and the others perked up at this sudden development.
Isley motioned them back saying: “Remember to stay behind. If a boar somehow breaks through the line, don’t close in on it. We don’t want any of you becoming a victim of its charge.”
As they moved behind the Silver Saviors, they slowly came to see the scene. There was a small group of four boars cornered by the barking dogs. Behind the dogs, the Silver Saviors were approaching with their spears pointed at the boars. Advancing forward, the Silver Saviors each made a skillful thrust with their spear, hitting the boars’ vitals. Pinned under the cross guards of the spears, the boars quickly died.
The methodic ease of it slightly disturbed Alfred and the others. Regardless of the fact that they weren’t human, they were still lives that were reaped before them without any reluctance on the Silver Saviors’ part.
While Alfred and the others looked rather discomforted at what they witnessed, Adam actually looked horrified! As he watched with his Spirit Sight, the colors within the boars began still as an inky blackness quickly pervaded their bodies! It was the one color Adam hadn’t seen since he got his Spirit Sight and it only represented one thing: death!
That creeping blackness seemed to be calling out! It was as though it wished to corrupt the whole world and turn it into black! Adam turned his Spirit Sight off as he shuddered. Noticing his sudden paleness and trembling, Hansen asked: “Are you alright?”
Adam could hardly hear him. ‘Does that happen to everyone who dies!?’
That creeping blackness was like a sickness, a plague. Just thinking of that stuff spreading through his own body- Adam turned to the side and hurled up his breakfast.
Alfred and the others finally noticed something was wrong with Adam: “Adam, are you okay!?”
Isley mere nodded: “Some become sick at the sight of killing animals. It’s nothing unusual. We just need to let him calm down. Why don’t you take Adam to the side while the rest of us start the process of bleeding the boars.”
Alfred didn’t have time to ask what Isley meant when he was shooed away with Adam. He led Adam a small distance away. “Are you really okay, Adam?”
Adam shook his head as he told him what he saw. Alfred was as equally disturbed by what he heard as he was from watching the boars die: “That’s… I don’t even know what to say.”
Adam shook his head: “I just want to forget about it. What are the others doing?”
Alfred looked back at where the boars had died and secretly became relieved that he had been told to help Adam. The boars had been strung up by their back feet and the Silver Saviors were having Bruno, Clyde, Derek, and Kadara slit the throats of the boars. Vast amounts of blood spilled out into shallow holes dug beneath the boars. Unfortunately, Bruno and the others couldn’t avoid blood spilling over their hands and instantly became as sick as Adam was earlier when it happened!
Alfred gave a weak laugh: “Well, as bad as what you saw was, I don’t think it’s as bad as what they are going through.”
Isley walked up to them: “Adam, are you good to come back over?”
Adam took a deep breath; “Give me a moment.”
Adam slowly built his Spirit Sight back up and tentatively looked back at the boars. Thankfully, it wasn’t as bad as he thought. The Death Essence that had invaded the bodies of the boars was evenly spreading throughout it and mixing with the other Spirit Essence. Instead of seeing an inky blackness invading the body, the Spirit Essence that had once been lively inside the boars had become dim and lifeless. Similar to what the dry wood, and even food, would look like.
Adam nodded: “I’m good.”
Isley brought them over to watch the next step. A few experienced Silver Saviors stepped forward and started gutting the boars. They separated out the more useful organs while throwing the rest into the shallow holes that had been dug before. After the waste had been placed in the holes, they were filled back over with dirt.
Isley explained to them: “Leaving blood in their bodies for an extended time can ruin the meat of the boars. We also take this time to remove any of the less useful parts of the boar to lighten our load. However, the smell of blood attracts predators. By taking care of this work as fast as we can and burying it under the ground, we reduce the chance of predators coming by to find the source of the smell.”
After that was done, what was left of the boars were strung to the spears used to kill them. Two Silver Saviors then lifted the spear on either end before they began carrying them back to camp.
By the time they were finally back, the day was well into the afternoon. Adam and the others were even more tired than the day before and desperately wished to wash themselves. Not only were they sweaty, a few of them were covered in blood! Isley told them: “There is a small stream nearby that we grabbed water from for the stew last night. We’ll be heading over there in rounds to clean up. Then, you can rest. Tomorrow, you’ll have to rise bright and early to help us tear down camp before we head back!”
Synopsis: Somewhere in the universe, there was an altar. On it, laid a bloody eye as big as the sun itself. It burst with light and bathed the entire star system in red.
"The aura of an ancestral artifact!" Someone's voice rose in surprise.
The Great Galactic Era had begun.