LUCKILY, HIS TRIP WAS JUST AS LONG as he had predicted. Since he was going to come home essentially empty handed, except for acquiring the obvious, Sebastian knew his father would not be pleased with his faulty punctuality. As he made his way into the main pathway, he noticed his bag was just where he had placed it, so he wrapped up its contents and threw it over his shoulder. After his fifteen minute walk back, many questions arose in his mind, likely enough to make even Zuri regret giving him the clear to ask anything. He had so many questions that he was sure she would want to go back into hiding; therefore, many of them, he had decided for the first time in his life, would just have to go unanswered.
He still had everything that he left in his bag, except his knife that was drilled into the skull of that beast, which was long gone when he had woken up. His dad wouldn’t be too happy about him losing that knife, since metal was hard to come by, but Sebastian was sure that he could somehow coax him into forgiveness.
Finally, instead of experiencing some synthetic form of darkness, Sebastian’s nerves were calmed when the Sun itself decided to rest for the night. Its rays, no longer bothering him, were barely scraping the top of the trees, and the calm and cool rush of air quickly filled the empty space the heat left. It was refreshing, almost making him forget that he was nearly killed just fifteen minutes ago.
Sebastian had decided that he would tell no one about what happened because, one, no one would believe him, and two, it was probably best to keep the sword a secret. Who knew what kind of people were hiding in the village, waiting for the moment to steal this blade from his grip? Speaking of which, Sebastian would probably have to learn to sleep with one eye open. He never knew that a threat like the Hellhounds existed in these peaceful woods. Yeah, bears were a common sight, but they weren’t nearly as aggressive or numerous as the pack of wild beasts that came into his path.
After a bit of worrying and walking, though, Sebastian just decided that they were indigenous to that part of the woods and wouldn’t bother coming to the village. Besides, there were enough people in the village to fight them off if they decided to pull something funny.
One of the many entrances to the village was now in his sight, and he knew he was home safe. Even though he would have to go right back outside the next day to chop down some more trees, he could enjoy a nice hot meal and some rest before having to worry about such things. While he was trying to guess what supper would be, he didn’t catch some of the others coming back from cutting trees. They seemed to have the same jovial mood that they always did, well, within reason, seeing that they had to deal with trees every day as well, and Sebastian was happy, since they probably weren’t dealing with the same issue as him. That was likely because they weren’t as curious as he was, so they likely lived regular stress-free lives.
Sebastian finally found himself in line to the check-in station, which was one of many associated with the village. Despite this whole place having some sort of disdain for innovation, they were very well organized and efficient with how many materials came in and which were used for building. In the village, there were five main stations and sections of work, which included farming, mining, livestock, fishing, and lumber. This, of course, was the lumber check-in station, and anyone coming in would have a booklet for reporting how many trees they had cleared that day. Each person had a yearly quota for how much lumber they would get, and if they went above and beyond, they would receive more food and tradable goods for their hard work. That’s why Sebastian’s dad was such a hard-ass about things.
Speaking of which, he had to get out his booklet to be checked off, which was likely in his bag. After a bit of rummaging through the bag, Sebastian finally found the somewhat folded booklet near the bottom. He wasn’t the best at organization, but he was always prepared with everything ready to go.
While he waited in line, Sebastian checked off the amount of trees he had cleared that day; luckily, he hit right on the dot for his quota, but he knew he would have to pick it up a bit in the summer, since they were running out of salt to preserve food, and they would need much more from Sebastian’s hard work. Of course, he knew his parents relied on him.
Sebastian finally made it to the counter after the rest of the line cleared out, which was surprising, since he thought he was much later than he actually was, so he could pin his excuse to the long wait time instead of his unruly stroll down the wooded path. On second thought, his dad would probably just brush that off and say, “Well, why didn’t you just get there earlier?” It was a constant struggle with that man, but it couldn’t be helped.
“Well, Seb, how many trees did you get today?” A tall and scruffy man with pale blue eyes seemed to bellow. Sebastian swore that this man would do that as a scare tactic to get people to clear more foliage. However, after six years of lumber, Sebastian learned that this man wasn’t as scary as he made himself out to be. Besides, they became good friends out in the woods when he was in training, until one of the branches fell wrong and screwed up the man’s shoulder. Since he was pretty much useless as a lumberjack after that, he decided to take up work at one of the five check-in stations.
“Well, if it isn’t Tommy Dean? How have you been today?” Sebastian smiled as the man nodded back. “Hmm, let’s see. I was able to get the usual ten trees today. Nothing spectacular. It wasn’t my best day.”
“Ah, well, that’s alright. At least you met the quota for today. You seem to be a bit later than usual. What’s that about?” He said with a jovial tone.
“Well, I finished early, which in hindsight, I could have probably gotten another tree, but I decided to try out some path I had never seen, since no one had gone down there. There wasn’t anything special down that way, so I came back.” Sebastian said as if the sword sticking out of his backpack wasn’t obvious enough.
Tommy Dean only nodded in disapproval and then chuckled, “I swear, boy, something’s gonna bite your ass one day if you’re too curious.”
He had no idea, but Sebastian then decided to say something a bit riskier, “Well, the real reason I wanted to check it out was because…” He leaned in a bit more and whispered, “...I heard there were strange creatures down there.” Dammit. Did he just blurt that out? Wasn’t it obvious enough that it looked like he saw a ghost? What was he doing?
Tommy Dean looked a bit shocked, more so than usual, but his look of shock eventually reverted to his carefree attitude. He began to laugh, “You and your ideas.” As he said that, he looked down at the ticket and stamped it for the day’s work and handed it back to Sebastian. “You be more careful next time. I don’t want you having to work here with me when you’re so young. I mean, between you and me, the pay isn’t even that good here. I guess I’m just about as useful as one legged man in an ass kicking contest.” He laughed again and put a hand on Sebastian’s shoulder, “Now, you tell your dad that I held you up. I wouldn’t want him getting on you about one of your misadventures.” He winked.
Sebastian nodded and smiled. As he walked away, he turned back and quickly retorted, “I don’t think you’re useless.” He paused and waited for Tommy Dean to smile, then he finally blurted out, “I mean, even a one legged man in an ass kicking contest would fall and bust his own. So he’s guaranteed one point.”
Sebastian laughed as Tommy Dean jumped over the desk to chase after him. After a couple of seconds he just stopped and waved at Sebastian a safe trip home. He finally made it to the house with just a bit of sunlight left in the sky, which was enough for him to still be able to see where he was going without his foot making contact with an unexpected flower pot.
His mom was always about aesthetics, and being one of the main city planners, as his grandfather would say, she always wanted everything down to the last house, and that included their house, to look as good as ever. She was just very infamous for leaving out her stuff after working. Sebastian wished he could have more of a break, but it wasn’t all too bad. They lived in a relatively nice home, and the work was necessary.
He rounded up a few of the flower pots and put them away next to the outside wall of the house. As long as he wasn’t scaling the side of the house, he was sure to not make contact with another stray pot without his knowledge. But who knew, he also thought he wouldn’t find some Hellhound in the forest. There’s a first for everything.
He knew that he wouldn’t be able to sneak into the house without at least one of his parents making a comment on his tardiness, so he just made it a point to enter as casually as possible. He had done this so many times that he could guess what his father’s comment on his arrival would be. Usually it would be “Did you meet the quota today?”, “You sure know how to burn daylight.”, or, his favorite, “I didn’t hear too many trees falling from your direction today.”
As Sebastian set foot into the kitchen, the familiar grunt from his father shattered the quietness of the room, “You sure know how to burn daylight.” HA! He called it!
Sebastian retorted with the excuse that Tommy Dean let him use, “I couldn’t just refuse Tommy Dean’s hospitality. You know him, when he gets talking, you might as well just wait it out.” That was halfway true. If he wanted, Sebastian could end a conversation with Tommy Dean without the man taking offense, but he was just so nice, and Sebastian liked talking to him.
His dad looked up from his book and stared directly at Sebastian. His dark brown eyes, which had bits of golden light sprinkled in them, slowly focused on Sebastian. It was almost as if his dark blonde hair moved with the swirling air in the room, which was probably imagined by Sebastian. He could feel the air in the room getting sucked out of the windows as his father’s pupils narrowed. Damn, it felt like a Hellhound was staring him down. Here it was, the dreaded speech from his dad:
His dad set down the book and slapped the table he was sitting in front of. He began to laugh as if he heard the funniest joke. “Ah, you’re damn right. That man could talk the hide off a cow, but that’s just how it is. He’s better company than some in this village. You know, he and I worked together for years when I still was cutting down trees. I quit about thirteen years before him and went on to some construction in the town square. It was better pay than the woods, but you didn’t get that leaf coverage. And you know what? After a bit of work, your mother was in charge of our team, and we instantly hit it off. After that, it was no time before we found ourselves——”
“DAAAD, come on, get a room.” Sebastian rolled his eyes, but he couldn’t help but smile. His dad was ornery when it came to his son’s work schedule, but he did care about his family. He was pretty quiet most of the time, but get him talking about his family, and he could fill a book.
His dad stood up and just smiled back at him while heading to the kitchen. “What would you like for supper, Seb? I was pretty busy today reading a report for the new meeting hall that’s under construction that I forgot about making anything to eat. Your mom is still out in the main part of town planning some, so it’ll be just us eating supper. I guess the rest of that beef would be good. I know it isn’t much, but it’ll hold us over until breakfast.”
Sebastian and his father sat down at the table, which was previously covered in blueprints and miscellaneous papers, eating away at the remainder of the beef. It was dark outside at that point, so the kerosine lamps were lit in the kitchen and dining room. That was a thing that Sebastian had to fight hard for. After its use was finally approved, kerosine was still shoved to the back of the shelf while candles were being used, but a couple of accidents here and there and a shortage of wax one year finally compelled everyone to use the lamps, which were safer and brighter.
The beef was nothing spectacular, but Sebastian wasn’t complaining. After that encounter with those beasts, he needed something to fill that pit in his stomach, so that would do just fine. He looked over at some of the papers that had found themselves collected at the edge of the table, and many of them were rough sketches that only the person drawing them would understand, and when his eyes ran across something with legible writing, it was usually just covered up by the papers stacked on top of it. “So, how much lumber would be needed for this new meeting hall?” The words escaped as he was chewing up some beef.
His dad looked up at him, and his surprised look was comparable to that of someone who was pulled out of a trance, but it seemed like his ears had still lent their attention to the noise in the room because he answered as quickly as he heard what Sebastian said. “Hmm, that’s what I was working on a while ago. Your mom said about forty trunks at least, but I just wanted to check her numbers.”
Wow, it was that much? Sebastian had assumed that the trunks his father was referring to were likely the big ones that took a whole day to cut down, so he didn’t have to ask a question with an obvious answer. “I see,” he said, still thinking, “When do they expect this thing to be finished?”
His dad, after finishing the final amount of food on his plate, stretched back and exhaled, “Oh, we’d probably be working on it until next spring. It’s a big project.”
Sebastian thought as much. He would have to get cutting. One would think that the village would have a massive stockpile of logs, but it was famous for being able to use them up as quickly as one could supply them with the logs. “Phew, sounds like a lot of work, but nothing good came out of idleness. I think you said that once.” Sebastian said as he picked up his and his dad’s plates to bring to the wash bin.
“You are right, my son. You do listen every once in a while.” He laughed and got up. “Well, I’m shutting down for the night, and I hope you do soon as well. It’s not like cutting down trees is easy in the least.” He said as he headed for his room.
Sebastian finished cleaning up the two wooden plates they used to eat with, and he gave them a good dry and placed them where they were supposed to be. He grabbed his bag, which obviously had a sword sticking out of it, but somehow managed to obscure itself from prying eyes, and he headed up the creaky wooden stairs that were right outside of the house. His room was on the upper floor, but he had to access it from the outside, which wasn’t too big of a deal, unless it was the dead of winter.
When he made it to his room, Sebastian took off his work clothes and washed his face and arms to be ready to jump right into his bed. After that half-assed bath, he felt refreshed enough to actually get some shut eye. It was a while since he had talked to Zuri, so he thought it would be a good idea to see what she had been doing for the past couple of hours, so her name exited his mouth and shattered the silence in the room, “Zuri? Are you there?”
For a second, he thought the call hadn’t worked, but that inevitable blue light filled the room, “Yes, Bash? Is there anything I can help you with?”
Sebastian sat up and rested his back on the wall, “I just wanted to check in on you. You know, since you were alone for five hundred years, you might want some company. I’m not the best, I guess I’m better than nothing.” He had hoped that didn’t make him sound like a dick.
She giggled and responded, “You are more than enough. You seemed to have a good relationship with your dad, and that other guy, Tommy Dean, is a real nice man.”
“Huh? You saw all of that? I don’t know what to say. Now I’m kind of embarrassed.” Sebastian looked to his left a bit.
“Yeah, I watch over you all the time, Bash. Our souls are intertwined, so we have to rely on each other now.” She smiled.
A knot formed in his throat as a bead of sweat formed on his forehead, “So, you saw everything? E-even when I was just——”
A look of surprise washed over her face, and her eyes widened. She stuck her hands out and immediately spoke, “N-no-no-no-no! That’s the only time I wasn’t looking! I don’t want to invade your privacy. I promise!”
A cool rush of relief went through Sebastian’s veins after she said that. He didn’t even realize she was present the whole time, but he was still confused about something. “I have one more question. Why was it that no one was bothered by the sword sticking out of my backpack?”
“Oh, that’s an easy one. The only time people can see the sword is when it is ready for combat and when you want them to see it. You are the only human in five hundred years who was able to see it when it was not drawn for battle. That’s why you’re special.” She smiled again and asked, “Would you like to know anything else?”
Not wanting to bother her, Sebastian shook his head calmly and said, “It’s okay. It seemed like that attack on the Hellhounds might have used a bit of Azure’s Edge’s energy up, so I’m guessing you’re tired, and even if you aren’t, I am.” He said that last part as politely as possible.
She nodded understandingly and said good night. Sebastian lay there for about thirty minutes before he could drift off, but he still couldn’t forget what he had seen. Those things were surrounding him, and they were in the woods, not so far away from the village. To make matters worse, Zuri had said that there was a large concentration of these things on the planet. He could barely even imagine the village, let alone a planet.
Finally, his nerves had calmed down enough for his mind to shut off for the night, which was probably the best for his health. Most of his dreams were nothing spectacular, mainly being as cryptic as always, so he paid no mind to them. One dream, however, did kind of shake him. It was brief, but he imagined this massive open area with some towers (stone, maybe?) shooting up into the air. The clouds surrounding them made many of the towers blend in with the sky. Near the base of each of them, there were dark grey paths, torn up over time, no doubt, stretching wherever the eye could see. Farther in the distance, there were those same beasts that he saw in the woods, just standing there, looking back at Sebastian, eight in total, one with red eyes, three with white eyes, one with brown, one with yellow eyes, one with black eyes, and one with blue eyes.
Before he could even explore the landscape, his eyes were forced open by the sound echoing from the door outside. It was his dad, calling for him to come down and eat breakfast.
‘Dammit, what time is it?’ He thought to himself. Was it already 5:30? If so, he would have to gobble down breakfast and make his way to his tree site. He made it downstairs to pack up whatever his dad had prepared for him for breakfast, dinner, and a snack, and he then headed to the site. For the first half a mile, his vision was slightly blurry, likely from his abrupt wake up call.
He made it past Tommy Dean with a good morning and headed towards the tree site. After a couple of minutes, there was that familiar path that almost got him killed, so he knew where he wasn’t going to go. Finally reaching his section, Sebastian set his stuff out and grabbed his axe.
He prepped for a good swing, and his torso, full of stored up energy, released it all and sent the axe flying into the side of the tree.
Sebastian didn’t realize it at first, and he would have thought he was seeing things if he had not experienced what he did the day before, but the axe he swung was broken in half.
Sebastian tried to locate the other half, but his search led his eyes to the trunk he just hit, which was split apart. He had to quickly gather his belongings to get out of the way, since the tree came tumbling down right where he was standing, and before the dust of that tree had finally settled, another one, right in the path of his axe swing, had begun to make its fall, right in line with the tree he just brought to his mercy. Only after the second one hit the ground did Sebastian see the axe head buried deep into a tree that was a good thirty yards away from him. He grabbed his stuff and rushed towards it, and it was a good three inches deep into the trunk.
Sebastian looked around in shock, and unsure of what just happened, he called for… “Zuri, can you help me with something?”
“Of course, what’s the matter?” She seemed nonchalant for someone who just witnessed a seventeen year old clearing two trees in one swing.
“What just happened? How...how did I do…this?” Sebastian pointed to the trees in his distance and the axe handle that found itself in the third tree.
She just smiled and answered, “Since our souls are intertwined, the block on your energy has been significantly reduced, so your true strength has been revealed. Bash, you have always been strong enough to do this, but you just weren’t able to activate your strength.”
Sebastian’s eyes were wide open, and he decided to take refuge on one of the stumps of the recently fallen trees to take things in. Had he just done that? Maybe he was just dreaming. Yeah, it was just a dream. No one could be that strong.
“Bash, I promise you’re not dreaming. This is your strength. Don’t be scared. I can help you control it. It’s okay.” Her mood was as calming and reassuring as usual.
Millions of thoughts were running through his head at the moment, and not a single one of them was telling him to be calm and controlled. “I just——” His head looked up after he felt a rush of dread fill his chest.
“Zuri,” He whispered.
“Yeah, I feel it too.” At least they were on the same page then and there. That thing, that feeling. It was familiar to that giant Hellhound he felt the day before, but this one was much larger than the one before.
Sebastian struggled to his feet, probably out of fear, and rummaged through his bag to get Azure’s Edge. Before he could take a step forward, a hand went over his mouth.
Filled with momentary shock, which was no more than what he was already feeling, Sebastian decided to calm down and turn his head. For some reason, he was so distracted by the monster in front of him that he wasn’t able to sense Tommy Dean from behind.
“Seb, don’t go near that thing. It’s dangerous.” He rushed Sebastian to the closest tree for cover. Well, duh, of course it was dangerous, and hiding behind a simple tree wouldn’t stop its approach.
“What are you doing here?” Sebastian whispered. He was not expecting anyone coming to those parts of the woods, especially not a Hellhound and Tommy Dean. “I thought you were working the check-in?”
“I was until I felt this ungodly presence near your area. Truth is, I went down that path once, too, Seb. The one you went down, and I’m pretty sure I ran into the same thing as you. The atmosphere darkened, and before I knew it, my shoulder was struck. I was never able to put much use to that thing anymore, but I made it a point to drive my axe into its head before I got the hell out of there. I’ll never forget that noise they made when they were hurt. It scarred me. When you said you went down the path, I knew you saw them, and I knew that you would meet up with them the next day.” He said to Sebastian, sporadically checking in on the monster that seemed to be closing in on them.
“Why didn’t you tell anyone about them?” Sebastian asked with a loud whisper.
“I knew no one would believe me, so I just said a tree hit my shoulder. Probably the best bet for me. I got a cushy job and a free ticket out of the looney bin.” He dropped his hold from Sebastian to get a better look at the Hellhound. “This one’s big. Too big for what I was facing all those years ago.”
After putting two and two together, Sebastian finally blurted out, “They grow stronger whenever they are harmed. Any conventional weapon would be no good against them.”
Tommy Dean was taken aback and looked at Sebastian, “What? Then how do we kill something without a weapon?”
“I have an idea,” Sebastian pulled out Azure’s Edge and showed it to Tommy Dean.
“Woah, where did you get that beauty?” He was shocked.
They heard a giggle, and Zuri exited the blade, “Thank you for your kind words, sir, but Bash here found me in the woods and drew this blade, which cleansed about one hundred of those things.”
He was taken aback, and he mouthed the word, “Bash?”, to Sebastian and then shrugged it off. “So you’re telling me, you two are capable of killing that thing? If I didn’t see you coming out of that sword, I would think you were crazy.”
Sebastian smirked, trying not to remember the previous night, while putting on a brave face, and placed his hand on Tommy Dean’s shoulder, “Don’t worry, Zuri here is strong. She gave too much credit to me. She was the one who released her power.”
Zuri put her hand on his other shoulder and reassured him, “And have more faith in Bash. It was he, after all, who was able to draw this sword and also cut down those two trees with one blow with his axe.”
Tommy Dean looked behind him and exhaled as he did, “One...blow?” He turned back around and looked Sebastian in the eyes, “I hope you know what you’re doing. If you get hurt, your dad will have my head.”
Sebastian nodded and tightened his grip on the sword, “Don’t worry, I’ve got this——no, we’ve got this.” Sebastian smirked as he looked at Zuri. They both smiled at each other as if they were just enjoying a conversation under the stars, but this was an uncanny event that was anything but.
Not wasting any time, the two of them headed towards the beast, which had seen them and started making its way towards the pair. The sky around them began to darken drastically, and the air came to a standstill around them. It seemed like Sebastian would have to move around to collect oxygen to breathe, since none of it was returning to him, or at least that’s what his nerves felt.
Sebastian took the sword and dug it slightly into the ground. With a dramatic and theatrical movement, as if he were a magician revealing his final trick, he grabbed the handle of the sword with two hands and pulled it up, screaming, “Divine Light!”
‘Huh? Why isn’t it working?’ Sebastian stuck it in again and tried it one more time, but there came the same result: nothing. The beast sped up and bolted towards him, so he grabbed the sword and made it out of the monster’s path. “What the hell is happening?! I thought this would work!”
Zuri responded, every word escaping her mouth as they were just able to dodge an advance of the monster, “I forgot to tell you, I’m sorry, Bash, but the sword was storing up energy for so long that some of it needed to escape the blade, which was the reason you cleansed those monsters. Don’t worry, though, you can develop that skill soon enough, but you’ll have to rely on a simple strike. One should be enough, though. It still cleanses as it strikes the monster.”
She was right, it would have been good to know that before he made an ass out of himself, but, no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t seem to be able to get mad at her, much less remain so.
A few more times dodging strikes finally set him up for the perfect counter against the Hellhound. He advanced towards it and finally charged up all of his strength, remembering what he was capable of against those trees. Those things weren’t as durable as a tree was, so he could make easy work of it.
Finally, Sebastian released his energy and struck the monster. In an instant, the slash, shining with its familiar azure glint, tore through the thing and made quick work of it. After an instant, the darkness surrounding the tree site had disappeared, and the monster had been instantaneously obliterated.
Sebastian, trying to make it seem like he knew what he was doing, placed the sword on his shoulder and looked over at Tommy Dean, whose eyes were glued to the action, and smirked. 'Good grief, that was close.’
“Zuri,” Sebastian said.
“Yes, Bash?” She answered softly.
“Are you ready to cleanse this world?” Sebastian, filled with a new sense of enthrallment, ‘bravely’ said.
“Oh, yes I am.” She responded confidently.
“Tommy Dean, I’m sorry for the trouble today.” Sebastian sat down at one of the stumps.
“Don’t sweat it, Seb. You saved my ass. I’ll even give you my once in a lifetime deal.”
Sebastian looked up at him, confused, “What’s that?”
“You can take the day off.” He sat down as well, likely as stressed out as Sebastian was.
It was his first free day in six years. He laughed and quickly responded, “I never thought those words would escape your mouth.”
“Well, enjoy it, since tomorrow I expect you to cut down twice as many trees.”
“Ughh, there’s always something, isn’t there?”
They both laughed.