The first thing I'm aware of is pain. My head hurts with a pressure pushing outward and inward at the same time. For several minutes, I just lie here, feeling the pain in my head and adjusting to it. Then I become aware of other sensations.
Cool air on my bare chest and my face and left arm, the softness of the bed beneath me, the warmth of the blanket that's covering my legs and part of my stomach. The warmth of a small form beside me, clutching my right arm, keeping it warm. The smell of berry pie, dried tears on my clutched arm. The sound of birds chirping outside the window.
Slowly, I open my eyes. When the pain doesn't increase with the light shining through the window, I look at the person clutching my arm. Liam, curled up in his night clothes. How long was I out? A short while? A long while? It probably scared him, and he's likely only left to wash, use the pot, and eat, if me waking took awhile. He might even have just eaten in here.
Looking around, I confirm that I'm in my bedroom. Liam probably moved the blankets as we slept, he has a hard time sleeping under them once it starts warming up.
Holding up my right hand, I attempt to generate a small ball of flames, a gentle breeze, a spark of lightning, but nothing happens. As I expected, I'm unable to use my sacred power. As I know, it will last some time.
Hopefully not too long, but even if it does take me a long while, that is fine. The town is safe, Liam is safe. Everything worked out, and I didn't have to sacrifice myself to do it.
I inhale deeply, then slowly exhale, before detaching Liam from my arm, doing so carefully so as to not wake him. Once I'm free, I climb off my bed and walk over to my dresser, pulling out a pair of shorts and a shirt. Whoever took off my shirt left my pants on, but they need washing.
After checking to make sure Liam is still sleeping, I change into the shorts and shirt, drop the dirty pants in my clothes basket, then carefully leave my room without making too much noise. I head downstairs, where I find Cam, Kain, and an old man sitting around the table. A steaming pie sits on the center of the table, Cam cutting into it and serving the pieces to everyone.
The old man has green eyes and grey hair, and I can see his resemblance to Kain, especially with them sitting beside each other. Is this our grandpa? Why is he here? How long was I out?
My mind returns to what the monster said. There was an old man and a young woman traveling this way, escorted by five Hunters. Our grandpa was coming here?
"Rex!" Cam notices me first, and as soon as he exclaims that, the other two look at me. "You're awake!"
"I am," I nod. "How long was I unconscious?"
"Three weeks," Kain answers. "You fought a Star-Level monster. How did you survive?"
"You wouldn't remember if I told you," I answer, and he frowns. "It's complicated."
"Does it have to do with that golden aura you had?" The old man, my possible grandpa, asks. "I saw it on our journey, along with you and those golden wings you held."
"Yes, it does," I answer. "Though as I said, you won't remember the reason, even if I told you. It's complicated, but that's it."
"Okay," Kain says. "Well, let's do an introduction. Rex, meet Ben, our grandpa. It seems he began moving out here a couple of months ago, and was on the final stretch when the monster attacked."
"I was traveling with some Soul Strikers," Grandpa Ben tells me. "Who promised to escort me all the way here. We sensed the Star-Level monster not long before you destroyed it. They left after the storms ended to report to the Guild about what happened."
"How many Levels did you gain?" Kain asks me. "You killed something you shouldn't have been able to."
"None," I answer.
Even though I can't even feel my sacred power right now, I know for sure I acquired no Levels from that. The angel killed it, it was just using my body to do so. Because of that, I received no experience.
"Really?" Cam asks. "But that was-"
"It was the power of that golden light which killed it," I say. "I benefited none from using it."
I sit down at the table, and Kain pours me a glass of wine as Cam serves me a piece of pie, then takes his seat.
"It's been three weeks, huh?" I ask. "How did they verify there was a Star-Level? He-there are no remains left."
"We Soul Strikers have a way of verifying," Kain tells me. "The presence or recent death of Star-Level monsters. It takes five of us and an Elder Hunter. It allows the Elder Hunter to view the events which occurred in an area, and the local one confirmed the monster's status as a Single-Star."
He takes a deep breath, then lets it out.
"I'm so glad you survived that," he says. "That was terrible luck, it showing up before the estimate."
"Had I not noticed the attack," I say. "I'd have died. There was a lot of luck involved in that, and I'm grateful to be alive. If it weren't for the golden light… I'd be dead, the wall would be partially destroyed, and we'd have lost people from the town before Grandpa's escorts arrived."
I look at Grandpa Ben.
"I take it you found me on the road?"
"Yes," he answers. "We almost didn't, though. The wind and rain were strong, and there was very little visibility. If we hadn't been blasting light out looking for you, we probably would have simply run right over you."
"I'm glad you were being careful," I say, then start eating the pie.
"I am, too," he says. "And I'm grateful to the powers that be that you survived, Rex."
"They care for their children," I say automatically, before realizing I'm echoing words said by another who shone with the golden light.
It's not some spell making me do that, though. It's the honest truth. The powers that be care for their children, humanity, and the angel helped because he serves them. He, too, cares for humanity.
Kain and Grandpa Ben seem to know about those words, the way they react, but no one pushes me for further information, and I'm glad. I'd rather not say stuff just to have them not be able to perceive it and perceive something else instead.
"What happened with the storm?" I ask. "How bad was it?"
"It was pretty bad," Cam tells me. "It lasted a week, and half the town was destroyed. Everyone is still recovering, and it's going to take some time to."
"However," Kain says. "It helps to alleviate worries. Not many know a Single-Star showed up, and the excuse for why you've been missing is that you're recovering from taking a pretty hard blow during the storm."
"A pretty hard blow?"
"I said you were hit by a tree," Cam mutters.
"A tree would have been gentler," I say. "But that's fine. You two aren't helping with the recovery?"
"We've done some," Cam tells me. "But the townsfolk would rather their protectors not assist unless necessary. We already do enough for them, and just the help we gave with preparing for the storm was enough, in their eyes."
"That," Kain says. "And they want us ready to go outside and fetch resources that might be needed, though they won't say that."
"That, too," Cam says.
"How much has Liam done?" I ask. "Since I went unconscious?"
"Getting him to leave your side wasn't easy," Cam tells me. "But we managed for meals and cleaning up. He hasn't slept very well, either, so I'm surprised you were able to pry yourself free of him without issue."
"If he's been like that for a few weeks," I say. "He's exhausted, so it doesn't surprise me."
Though it does surprise me, now that I think about it, that I can move around normally after being unconscious for three weeks. Does it have to do with the angel who possessed me? I'll probably never know, but I'll take a guess and say it's so.
We finish eating our pie, and as Cam is cleaning the dishes, I hear the rapid thumping of footsteps on the stairs. A few seconds later, Liam comes into view, spots me, and charges over to me, wrapping his arms around me.
"You're awake!" He exclaims.
"I'm awake," I tell him.
"I'm so happy," he says softly. "I thought you weren't ever going to wake up."
"Well, I'm awake now," I say, then look at Grandpa Ben. "The monster mentioned that you were traveling with six others. A young woman in the wagon with you and five Hunters."
"My wife," Grandpa Ben informs me. "She's a Hunter not much older than you, though she's rather new to it, having only begun a year ago. I'm sure she'll fit in here, with what the Elder Hunter has told me is your style. She's outside the town right now, collecting some resources to help with the restoration."
"I think," I say. "It will be difficult to see her as my grandma, since she's not much older than me. We could use an additional Hunter here, too. I can't use sacred power for awhile."
Liam's hug around me tightens as Cam and Kain gives me surprised, confused, and worried looks. Grandpa Ben, on the other hand, does not appear to be surprised by the news.
"The other time the golden light was seen around someone," Grandpa Ben says. "She lost her ability to use sacred power for a few weeks after she woke."
"Yes," I nod. "I'm not sure how long I'll lose it for, but I know it will be at least a few months. It could be a few years, though, but I'll eventually be able to use sacred power again. Until then, I won't be able to use my sacred weapon, either, since I must draw upon my sacred power for it."
That is the cost for allowing an angel to possess me, for wielding power far, far beyond what I can handle. But it was worth it, to save everyone without sacrificing myself.
"I want to look at the damage to the town," I say. "Then report to the Elder Hunter. I'm sure she wishes to speak with me."
"I'll go with you," Kain stands. "Liam, why don't you stay here and help Grandpa Ben and Cam prepare his congratulations party?"
"Okay," Liam releases me, then walks over to Grandpa Ben, looking down. "Sorry for kicking you."
"Under the circumstances, it's forgiven," Grandpa Ben tells him, then looks at me. "I'll see you when you return."
I nod, then Kain and I leave.
"Liam kicked Grandpa Ben?" I ask.
"It was shortly after we moved back into the house," Kain nods. "Grandpa Ben got stern with him, and Liam kicked him, then ran up to your room. Grandpa Ben already forgave him, because he knew Liam was fearful that you were never going to wake up. Cam promised Liam would apologize on his own, once you were awake, and, well, he did."
"He did," I nod.
We walk through the town, and I can see the work on the houses, some already rebuilt, others in various stages of construction. Many of the farms were destroyed by the storm as well, either flooded by the heavy rains or their crops ripped out by the wind. Kain says that even now, the river's levels have not returned to normal because of how much rain we received.
Eventually, we reach the Gate and the Elder Hunter's shop, and I stop to look at the Gate.
"It is good to see you again, Rex," the Gate greets me.
"It is good to be awake again, Gate," I respond.
"Yes, it is," he says. "It is a beautiful day."
"Indeed, it is," I chuckle.
No longer is the power behind the Gate a mystery to me. The heavens are watching over us, and as long as the requirements for certain things are met, they can influence them. The Gates, the suppression power the walls give, all those things we don't understand – those are the heavens. They are still watching us, still protecting us. They do what they can, when they can. But only in a rare and extraordinary situation like what happened with me and the Single-Star monster can they directly interact or provide other benefits.
Knowing this, it doesn't surprise me the last person to be possessed attempted to start a religion around the light. The angels' powers truly are limited unless they posses someone. It took the one a lot of power just to affect the crystal sculpture of an angel, to protect it from an earthquake. He meant it as a sign to me, that I was still being watched, that there was protection all around.
"Come on," I tell Kain, then walk to the Elder Hunter's shop, entering and sitting down, examining the crystal orb.
Another piece of power the angels can grant. They didn't need to do it, but when they realized they could do this and the branding, they chose to anyway. Granting us the ability to use sacred power and grow more powerful through the power of the brand is just another way they are helping us protect ourselves against the monsters.
It was against their wishes for the world to be overtaken by magic, for monsters to form. But it happened, so they work to protect us in any way they can. There is only one record of someone else being possessed by an angel before, but as the angel mentioned, twice has someone accepted the contract.
The first person, they were possessed in a different manner, no sacred power available to them. They were the first Hunter, the one to whom the knowledge of how to build the walls, the Gates, the orbs, and the brands was given.
Though they were lost to mortal history, the angels still know of her. And because I was possessed by an angel, I know of her as well, know everything the angel who possessed me knew.
"Welcome," the Elder Hunter says once I look away from the orb. "It is good to see you moving about again."
"It is good to be moving about again," I tell her. "It is good to know the town has survived, and is recovering from the storms which struck."
"Yes, it is," she smiles. "How do you feel?"
"I feel awake," I tell her. "Though I will not be able to use sacred power for awhile, as a result of the golden light."
"What was it?" She asks.
"The power of an angel," I answer, knowing she won't process that.
"The unknown?" She asks. "How curious. I have already seen the results of the battle, but I ask that you allow me to perform the assessment."
I place a hand on the orb, and she does the same, closing her eyes. After a minute, she opens them and frowns, looking at me.
"There is nothing there," she tells me. "No record of what occurred at all."
"I assumed as much," I tell her. "That is fine, though. I received no Levels from it."
"Nonetheless," she tells me. "A reward is being sent from the Guild for you. Everyone who slays a Star-Level monster receives a reward. It will take some time for it to arrive, though, as it comes from Lucielis."
"That's fine," I tell her. "I don't do it for the reward."
"I know," she smiles. "You do it because you enjoy protecting this town and supplying it. You were willing to sacrifice yourself to buy others time. That is what it means to truly be a Hunter. I am proud to be the Elder Hunter of this town, to see fine young men like Cam, Liam, and yourself undertake such an adventure."
"Thank you," I say. "Did you want me to tell you everything I knew?"
"There is little I do not already know," she says. "Go, enjoy the day. And rest yourself, Rex."
"I will," I stand. "Enjoy your day as well, ma'am."
Kain stands as well, then we leave.
"I'm glad you're alive, Rex," Kain tells me as we walk again.
"I'm glad I'm alive, too," I tell him. "Where's your team?"
"Out hunting," he answers. "They're helping collect supplies as well."
"Are you staying?" I ask. "After what happened?"
"Do you want me to stay?" He asks.
"Only if you want to," I shake my head. "You have your job, I wouldn't ask you to pull away from it."
"Okay," he smiles. "I would, though. If you asked me to."
"I know," I tell him. "But I'd feel wrong, asking you that. I know you love traveling around, protecting different areas and hunting the more powerful ones. You'd feel confined here, wouldn't you?"
"Maybe," he shrugs. "But I'd adjust to it."
"No," I shake my head. "Do what you love, Kain."
"I will," he tells me, then pulls me into a hug. "Just promise that next time you receive an ominous threat like that, you let me know immediately, not wait until you've had a bad feeling for awhile, okay?"
"Okay," I promise. "I'll do that."
He releases me, then we continue walking through town. We stop by Cam's parents' house and see his ma, who's starting to show. She gives me a smile.
"Twins, Cam says you think," she tells me.
"I do," I nod. "I pray to the powers that be that they'll make it through infancy."
"I do as well," she tells me. "Thank you, Rex, for protecting this town. Even if no one will say what really happened, some of us do know that it wasn't a tree which knocked you out."
"Only doing my job, ma'am," I tell her.
"Of course," she smiles. "Have a good day."
We leave, resuming our walk through town. Things are a lot different now than I had expected my life to be when winter ended. I've participated in a Swarm, survived fighting several Tier Six monsters, fought against a Star-Level monster, and was possessed by one of the powers that be, gaining insight into the magics that protect us and allow us to use sacred power and grow in strength.
The adventures of just the last couple of months are more than enough for me. I'm not going to dream of one day setting off and fighting Koraminal, the only Nine-Star monster to ever be recorded. I don't plan on becoming a Soul Striker, traveling around and protecting many towns from monsters. I don't plan on becoming a Scavenger, a special type of Hunter who looks for ancient ruins and scouts them out.
No, for me, just living here, being a Hunter is enough for me. Other people, like Kain and his team, can do that stuff. For me, protecting this town and supplying it with valuable resources is enough. I have no grand dreams.
I'm looking forward to my life returning to normal, with just a few a changes, such as meeting Kain from time to time and getting to know Grandpa Ben and his wife. May the powers that be let the adventures be for others, and that no other major events occur here in my life.
Support "Soul of a Hunter"
When I first saw the default image...I thought it said 'canon lvl 1' and immediately wanted to know how to level it up. I was quite disappointed when my brother told me it was 'anon' with a < in front of it. Does that tell you enough about me?
July 10th, 2021: My stories can only be legally found on Royal Road, Patreon, and my website. Any other site hosting it has stolen it.