The Garden of Bones

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic

Chapter 2 (v.7) - The City of Angels

Submitted: December 28, 2017

Reads: 100

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Submitted: December 28, 2017

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Aveile was a land of treacherous mountains but the northern inland was home to an enchanting city in a great valley, surrounded by forests and the Blue Mountains to the north.  The city was partially flat, but then it started its incline up the mountainside.  A blue glow fell over the waking city from the dancing blue and silver auroras, and small snowflakes diligently fell from the sky onto the cobblestone street.  The many buildings were made of stone, looming, gothic architecture.  A city of winding streets and twisting staircases, connecting bridges overhead and a dozen small canals running through the streets. 
 
The thousands of trees within the city were covered with a thin layer of snow, and frost clung to the house windows that had protective beads hung up.  Smoke rose up from the chimneys and the bakers threw back their windows to let the smell of their fresh baked good waft into the streets that were already bustling with energy. 
 
Magnolia Bistro was a hidden gem in Shoal's End, one of the many districts in the grand city.  Blue and white lights were still strung above head from the last festival, and the cobblestone streets were dusted in a light snow. 
 
RJ Lechance was arriving late, pulling the dark oak door open and stepping in out of the cold with a final shiver. 
 
"God kveld.”  The waitress called over with a smile. 
 
"God kveld.”  He returned with a smile, walking up to the counter. 
 
“Your Lumren accent still isn't good.”  She teased.
 
“It's been a long time since I was taught.”  He admitted with a chuckle.  As she laughed and wrote up his usual order, he reflected that it was at least three years, when he had that hunt with four other hunters.  One of which had been Adrian.  They ended up stranded at a mid-way station for the night after a blizzard hit, and Adrian taught him some common Lumren and in exchange, RJ helped him brush up on his Collien. 
 
“You look lovely as ever, Marita.”  He said softly as he paid her the usual amount. 
 
She chuckled, “Please, RJ.”  Marita Rinara had been working there for two years, a pretty girl with lavender dyed hair and deep brown eyes.  “You can have your seat, I'll bring it down.” 
 
“RJ!”  April sprung up from the table in the corner to run over and pouncehug him, making him laugh.  “You made it back okay.”  She enthused, letting him go. 
 
“Does everyone forget I'm a good hunter?”  He teased. 
 
“Sometimes.”  She teased.  April was shorter than him by a few inches, with long and dark curly hair.  Her eyes were a chocolate brown, as warm as her smile.  A yellow clip kept a part of her hair from her face, the bright colour contrasting her espresso coloured skin and matched her yellow oversized sweater. 
 
Quinlan Dalgaard and Micah Havaak were already sitting in their usual place, mid-banter.  “They're not extinct, they're just--” 
 
“There are like three left, maybe.” 
 
“So they're very nearly extinct.” 
 
“Yeah, endangered, dumbass.” 
 
“Maybe we shouldn't interrupt this important moment in history.”  RJ teased, taking his seat by the window.   
 
“RJ,” Micah pointed at him with the fork he was using to eat his piece of cheesecake, “are lycan extinct, or not?" 
 
RJ debated, knowing his answer would likely end the argument.  “In Aveile, yes, but I think there's still a few in Esmer.” 
 
“See?!”  Micah pointed at Quinlan. 
 
RJ and April exchanged playful looks as they continued their banter about the meaning of the word extinct
 
The four had been in the same graduating class four years ago, and RJ noted that as much as they argued, Quinlan and Micah rarely left each other's side, and never took a hunt without the other.  After the first two years of hunting, you would become entrusted to take hunts yourself if you so choose.  Some of them did every now and again, but they tended to stick in pairs anyway. 
 
All except for one. 
 
Quinlan gave an exaggerated shrug.  “I don't know, Micah.”  He was the taller of the two, only by an inch but he found a way to always bring it up.  He had darker hair slicked back on the left side but not the right, and caramel brown eyes, his skin more pale like most Lumren.  RJ, on the other hand, had amber skin and semi-long dark brown hair parted from his eyes. 
 
Micah's hair was also semi-long, a light grey with dark roots and messy bangs over hazel eyes, like RJ.  He was also skinnier since he spent much less time at the gymnasium at the Crescent Moon Academy, and more time meditating. 
 
“I won't be here for way too long.”  RJ started, looking at April.  “I have to catch the train in an hour.” 
 
“You have a hunt?” 
 
He nodded.  “A goblin in Roselake.” 
 
“Well, good luck with that.”  She smiled. 
 
“How's Oskar?”  RJ asked April once his coffee and blueberry muffin was brought to him. 
 
“She's well.”  She answered, smiling and picking up her own hot chocolate she had already half-finished.  “But, she heard from Neari that there's been an increase in demons the last few years.  You wouldn't be able to tell looking at the number of hunts given out, but the rifts are growing larger.” 
 
“That can't be good.”  He muttered while adding copious amounts of sugar to his coffee. 
 
April shrugged.  “Master Varga says that it happens sometimes, but over time they just... deplete again.” 
 
“How can there be more demons?”  Quinlan asked frowning and joining the conversation.  “With a hunter like Martel running around, you'd think they'd be running for the shadows.” 
 
RJ frowned.  “What do you mean?” 
 
“Come on RJ, have you seen the guy in Astra Valley for more than a day?  He's a complete freakshow.” 
 
“You're so rude, Quinlan.”  April sipped her hot chocolate. 
 
“You're too easy on him.”  Quinlan shrugged. 
 
“I don't think it's our place to go hard on him.”  RJ ruffled his hair. 
 
“You'd like that.” 
 
RJ nearly spewed his coffee and Quinlan and Micah started laughing, April smiling a little.  “You two only get along when you're ganging up on someone else, aren't you?” 
 
“It's how we bond.”  Micah finished his drink.  “Should we take another hunt, Quinlan?  It's been a few days.” 
 
“Might as well.  See you two when we get back.”  They both started getting up and putting their jackets and scarves back on. 
 
“Good luck.”  RJ waved them away while sipping his coffee. 
 
Don't let them get to you," April suggested while leaning on the table a little. 
 
“Oh, I've already let it go.”  He chuckled.  “Are you going anywhere after this?  I can walk you if you like.” 
 
“You're sweet.”  She smiled. 
 
When they finished their drinks, they returned to the cold air, RJ immediately shivering and fixing his scarf around him.  April was just turning down her street and waving goodbye when RJ turned to see the Steaming Hollow coming into the train station at the southern end of the city, heavy smoke trailing behind it and blending in with the cold grey sky as it settled. 
 
~ ~ ~
 
Adrian jolted awake when the train came to a stop.  The unbalanced schedule he had made him incapable of sleeping when he lay in bed, but he easily slept anywhere that wasn't home.  He cracked his neck and rubbed his eyes as he grabbed his satchel and slung it over his shoulder. 
 
As he stepped off the train, it was the chill that welcomed him home, and the magnificent sight of the city before him.  It had been a week and a half since he left for his initial hunt in Brekka, but it always felt strange to him.
 
This is not my home—I'm a ghost, and I have no home. 
 
He started crossing the Pale Bridge into the city while shoving his hands into his coat pockets, the cold scratching the still new cuts on his cheek.  He left prints behind in the snow, the cobblestone underneath it cracked from its hundreds of years of use.  The left side of the bridge overlooked the lower part of the city, also known as Shoal's End with a small canal running through, while the right overlooked the larger part of the canal that past underneath. 
 
“Hey, Adrian!” 
 
At the sound of a familiar voice that carried a Collien accent, Adrian stopped and looked up from the ground.  As expected, it was RJ Lechance making his way over, a long green scarf trailing behind him, his nose and cheeks red from the cold. 
 
“Hey.  What are you doing here?”
 
RJ just kept his wide smile, sticking a couple of feet away from him.  “I was going on a hunt.  You want to join?” 
 
“No thanks.” 
 
RJ was a hunter, only a few months older than Adrian but the same height and build, with darker skin and brown hair instead of black.  His hazel eyes were soft and forgiving, the colour of sunlight shining through a glass of whiskey.

“You sure?”  He insisted.  “It's just a goblin.” 

“Then you should have no problem.”  Adrian suggested, and RJ stared at him blankly.  Adrian wasn't the easiest person to talk to, not anymore. 
 
"It's just nice to have company sometimes." He said softly, still smiling. 
 
Adrian hesitated, then shrugged.  "Be careful on your hunt."  He turned past RJ, who watched him walk away. 
 
“Hey, when I get back you wanna grab a drink or something?” 
 
Adrian looked back at him.  “If I'm not half-way across Aveile on another hunt, sure.” 
 
RJ beamed.  “I'll give you a shout when I get back!”  RJ called after him, waving. 
Adrian waved back, but he knew full well it wouldn't happen.  Most people he could give a flat out no, but he would at least soften the blow with RJ. 
Sometimes Adrian wondered if RJ was oblivious to how clearly Adrian didn't want to talk, or if he was just pushing.  Ever since their days at the Academy, Adrian had always made it clear he didn't want to be bothered by anyone, and aside from a handful of antagonizers, they kept their distance.  RJ had, until their third year, and he turned it into his personal mission to talk to Adrian every chance he got, no matter how obviously he didn't return the favour.
 
There was a time he would have—there was a time when he helped RJ learned Lumren, there was a time when he helped Oskar shop and him and April sparred. 
 
But that was then. 
 
The gaslamps floated overhead, gradually turning off as the city became brighter, old inventions from the previous era, in fact, one of the only inventions that were brought across seas to this land of demons and torment. 
 
He exhaled a visible breath, watching the people begin to come from their homes and begin their days in warm coats and scarves to chase away their chill.  Some who caught his eye gave a smile or nod, a brief sign of respect.  After so many years, the people of Astra Valley began to know the hunters by their face—at least the ones who survived the first couple of years. 
 
The city was known for it's winding streets that anyone could easily get lost in, and most people did within their first year or two of living there if they didn't have a map, and the city had too many staircases for carriages to be useful, so everyone travelled by foot. 
 
Adrian lived in the city for around seven years, and even still he looked up at it in awe, the mountains acting like protective arms with the Sleepy Maple to the western outskirts and the Moonrise Forest to the eastern outskirts.  Overhead the protective barriers set up by the Adrire shimmered a soft blue, a thin layer that went unnoticed to the untrained eye, but even most hunters had to strain to see it.  Some of the major cities of Aveile had a similar barrier, but for the most part, demons could still find a way in.
 
But there hadn't been a demon in Astra Valley for centuries. 
 
He started the incline up the stairs to the Astral Castle, stopping at the midway courtyard.  There was a fountain in the centre, a grand piece with depictions of the Sharuu, the watchers of the battlefield who chose who lived or died.  A fitting host for the Castle of Hunters. 
 
The Crescent Moon Academy was at the most northern end of Astra Valley and was partially built into the Blue Mountains that it rests against.  It was made of a light grey stone, several stories with multiple towers piercing into the heavens.  Past the first gate which was already drawn up, was the first, and largest courtyard that opened up to the main part of the castle, the Academy itself.  Vines latched onto the ancient stone, and presented further steps up to the front door, with scattered statues of more Sharuu, and other minor Gods and Goddess' often worshipped by hunters. 
 
The courtyard branched off into further areas, but straight ahead was the front door.  The door was black as tar, with inscriptions of roses and their thorns that nearly blended in. 
 
Adrian pushed the doors open, and slipped into the warmth of the castle.
The foyer was magnificent, a massive compass designed on the stone with candelabras keeping it well lit, with a wide staircase and hallways overlooking the foyer.  The large stained glass windows allowed in the light that made colours dance on the dark floors as he made his way up the stairs, and gradually reached the door to the headmaster's office, a smaller version of the front door. 
 
He knocked three times—any more or less and the headmaster would pretend not to hear you or yell at you for “not being considerate of his quirks”, and then demand you knock specifically thrice. 
 
“Yes, come in!”  He called out. 
 
Adrian opened the door and stepped into the headmaster's tower, which wasn't exceptionally large.  A stained glass bay window on the further side behind the large oak desk covered in little terrariums, while the walls were lined with either bookshelves or maps that had frayed edges and coffee spills.  There was a hearth to the left side, burning warm, and two leather chairs before the desk, and another chair closer to the corner.  Across from the fireplace was a small counter space with a kettle, and several disgruntled boxes of tea. 
 
"Ah, Adrian, velkommen!”  He brightly smiled.  Jules Salvesen was a young man, no older than thirty, with ash blond hair slicked back and fog grey eyes under glasses.  He sat back in his leather chair comfortably while fixing the sleeve of his dark grey pin-stripe suit.  “Back to report your last two hunts, it appears.” 
 
Adrian nodded, walking up to the desk.  “The hunt in Brekka was dealt with right away, but I'm afraid there was a victim while I was in Byshade.  Someone left their house past nightfall.” 
 
“They never fail to do so,” Jules replied lightly.  “You seem fine, however.  All except for...”  He motioned to the cuts on Adrian's cheek, making him involuntarily reach up to them. 
 
“Just a scratch.”  He answered.  Four years of hunting had left him nigh on a hundred scars on his arms and torso, what was a few more?  The most he had ever gotten hurt on a hunt was the time a Blemmye broke his wrist, but the attempt proved futile considering he was ambidextrous. 
 
“Naturally.”  Jules shrugged.  “So Brekka's Abassy is dead, and Byshade's Black Annis is dead.  All can sleep peacefully.  All is well in Aveile.”  He chuckled.  “So are you here to get someone to look at that,” he motioned the cuts again, “or did you really come all this way just to report two cut and dry hunts?” 
 
Adrian thought of the redhead in Byshade, but all he saw was her salute and the possibility of fangs.  That wasn't anything, and even if it was enough to prove she was a demon, it wasn't that simple.  A demon roaming Aveile wasn't news—there had been reports of demons avoiding the killer's life, but ever since the War of Purification it was rare.  Still...
 
“I'm saving you the trouble.  I want another hunt.” 
 
Jules sighed.  “My boy, shall you ever rest?” 
 
“I'll have plenty of time to rest when I'm dead.” 
 
“Tell that to the demons.  They've all been dead for years, centuries even.” 
 
“For now... I would like a hunt.” 
 
“Of course you do.  I even did you that favour of sending you on an extra hunt on your way home from the last, how foolish I was to think that would be enough for you.” 
 
“Jules, I'm just doing my job.” 
 
“It's always good to do what you love.  The problem is, most don't get obsessed with this job.” 
 
“We can do this dance again, or you can just give me a hunt and be done with it.” 
 
“You realize it's okay to spend more than 12 hours away from a demon, right?  You're not the only hunter in the world, Adrian, you can take a day off every now and again.” 
 
“I get plenty of days off.  The train ride to my next hunt, for example; send me to southern Aveile and that's 14 hours right there.” 
 
“I resent that.”  Jules smiled.  “Don't you have anything else to do?” 
 
“No, I don't.”  He said softly.  “You know that.” 
 
Jules inhaled, then exhaled.  “I will give you a hunt early tomorrow morning.  I promise.  Just please get a good night's sleep in a real bed.” 
 
Adrian ran his fingers through his hair.  “Fine.  I'll see you first thing in the morning.” 
 
Jules gave a light smile as Adrian left. 
 
“Oh, Adrian, I forgot..” 
 
He stops and looks back. 
 
“I did the bi-yearly check on the hunter's logs.  Everyone that graduated with you is doing exceptionally well, I would say without flattery that it's the best year of hunters I have ever seen.  They've all logged more hunts than most other years, they had the best test scores, it's incredible, in fact.” 
 
“Ok?” 
 
“Well, their jobs average out to about two hundred and twenty each, that's about fifty more than most years.”  Jules leaned forward on the desk, looking at Adrian.  “You alone have done three hundred and hunts.” 
 
Adrian remains silent. 
 
“I believe that by the New Year in a measly three months, you will have gotten past four hundred hunts.  After that, I swear by all of my mistakes, you are cutting back on hunting.” 
 
What?  Why?” 
 
“Because you are nineteen years old, Adrian, and I quite frankly, sometimes...”  He sighs.  “I worry about you, alright?  Is that what you want to hear?” 
 
No, it's not.” 
 
“Well someone has to.  You have three months to adjust to that idea.”  He had a satisfied smile now that irked Adrian, so he looked away with a sigh. 
 
“Adrian, you're the best damn hunter I know except for...”  He trails off, then sighs.  “Look, I beg of you to try and find something else other than hunting, get Seishin to teach you origami or some shit.  You just need to slow down before demons start learning your name, do you understand?” 
 
He hesitated.  “I understand.”  He pulled the door open and left the office.  When he closed the door he exhaled.  Three months.  That gave him enough time to convince Jules otherwise, but for now, he needed another distraction until the morning. 
 
The Eclipse Library was an extension of the castle on the side.  Standing at five stories, with areas for study and reading on each floor and pillars.  The center remained mostly open, surrounded by tall bookshelves and a grand hearth, with bridges connecting the upper levels.  Oil lamps were on the desks, with a massive wrought iron chandelier in the arched ceiling.  On the top floor was large glass doors leading out to a balcony over-overlooking the city, but that wasn't where Adrian was headed. 
 
On the third floor in the inner corner was a section on the War of Purification, an area Adrian had been frequenting since he graduated.  Before that, the books were in the second-floor restriction section that only Mavens, Paladins and Jules had the key for, but Adrian found a way, and it didn't take long for the books to become welcome to any viewer.
 
In their perspective, the Purification War might include some conflicting teachings.  After all, it wasn't very often humanity could turn around and admit a demon was in the right. 
 
Deirdre—also known as the Bloodrose of Vengeance, a bloodthirsty killer and Devil of the Underworld. 
 
After the government was swayed by a man with a silver tongue, the Crescent Moon Academy was abolished and instead the military was built up.  Hunters who followed General Valerian's “cause” for vanquishing all demons became known as Crusaders and were the more dangerous of the military. 
 
Concentration camps were established, using demons as slaves or simply executing them all regardless of any crime, or the lack of crime in many cases. 
Deirdre was the one who stopped the war, she and her band of Hellions overtook an airship they named the Hell's Collector and put an end to the war.  After killing her way through Kaerndale Castle in 1733, she beheaded the General, only to be killed by the next line of Royal Guard. 
 
He opened up one of the books and flipped through the pages until he came to one of the only clear pictures of Deirdre, but only found in black and white.  In Nauskal, an Esmer city, a child is handing her a winter rose that she is accepting, still dressed in her road-weary uniform and a mask, long hair falling over her small shoulders. 
 
Adrian grabbed a handful of more books and laid them on the desk.  He took off his jacket and slouched back in one of the chairs to read. 
 
He glanced down on the lower levels every now and again to see students coming and going, other hunters who spent their time reading as well.  Eventually, he pulled his hood up, yawning, and slouched even more shortly before finding himself falling asleep. 
 
An endless cycle of hunting, and waiting to hunt.  No more, no less.  As he drifted to sleep he decided he would have his last hunt soon.  No more excuses.


© Copyright 2019 Alex Winters. All rights reserved.

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