January 8, 1CR
I waited outside the temporary dormitories for my brother. I had arranged for him to take me outside the colony walls, despite his protests. The last week had been difficult to say the least. Marius was available only infrequently, and even the poverty of the refugee sector had not prepared me for the spartan lifestyle imposed upon the people of the colony. Tomorrow I would have to start my job, running the small first aid clinic during the previously unstaffed night shift.
There were three nurses, including myself, and a doctor who had been a general surgeon at the local hospital. We were well equipped in terms of bandages and disinfectants, but as in the “refugee sector”, there was very little good medicine. Despite that, the other nurses seemed fairly nice, not that I would work with them for more than an hour every day, and Dr. Krantz was a really nice guy. Then there was the pay. I swear Linne went almost literally green with envy when she handed me my ration card. As a nurse, I was entitled to 3 large meals a day and double weekly credit towards luxury items. I didn’t get it entirely; I only knew that Linne said I was in the top portion for rations.
Either way I couldn’t say I was overly impressed with it. Even in the refugee sector, nursing had paid decently, but here my double portion would be enough for about one book a week. I didn’t mind so much that I had to expect less, though I will say that anyone looking with envy on the ability to purchase a single book was living a far harder life than I had ever had. Marius was the real high earner of the bunch though. Because he had two jobs, Marius got the rights to five meals a day, two of which he brought to the injured hunters in the clinic every day to try and help them regain their strength. His luxury item credit was the real stunner around here though. He got three-and-a-half credits. Apparently, he used some up on fresh flowers every week. Given that they had to be brought in from the refugee sector this time of the year, they were more expensive than books in winter.
Marius appeared right about when my legs were starting to tire from standing still. As usual, Marius wore jeans and a white t-shirt under his coat. Last week he had been wearing a simple leather coat, frayed and stained, but today he wore a duster which concealed the long hunting knife he seemed to always wear strapped to his thigh. At his waist he wore a pistol, it looked like a standard police sidearm, and tied to his back was a quiver. There were three others accompanying him dressed in similar fashion, though their coats were riding jackets and typical leather coats rather than the duster. One carried an extra bow, the one my brother had carried while we made our way to the colony. I recognized one as Barius, though the other two were new to me. They spoke among themselves in the Hunter’s language in hushed tones. I still couldn’t understand a word of what they said.
“Shall we go?” I ventured.
“Not yet. There is one more person joining us today.” My brother’s response surprised me somewhat.
“I thought four hunters constituted a party?”
“Well ordinarily that would be true, and if we were in a standard party, Patton would have to come along as well, given that he is my partner.” Marius’s expression looked amused, “Linne wanted to give him a lecture today on the finer grammar of ‘Linnean’ and he could not be spared. So I gathered an honor guard to join us. Today you are technically a hunter in your own right.”
I smiled at my brother’s sarcasm. ‘Linnean’ was what Marius and Patton called the language when they were trying to make fun of it. I gathered that Linne had invented it with her daughter, and Patton got in trouble with her for writing it with English grammar. It wasn’t that he was unaware of how to write it properly, in fact he was one of the few who didn’t have to refer to a guide sheet while reading it, he was simply too lazy to care.
Marius went on to introduce me to the other three. Barius, whom I knew already, was tall and lanky, with blonde hair and a certain energy about him that made him seem almost like an overeager puppy. His partner, a man named Simon, was much shorter with dark skin. Simon seemed quiet and controlled, but he had the air of a man who was strong. The last of the three, who carried my brother’s bow, was Garvus, one of the oldest of the hunters. Garvus wore his hair cropped in military fashion, as opposed to most of the other hunters who wore their hair long, and though much of it was still the dark brown that appeared to be its original color, the edges were already grey. His face wore a hard expression, and though he looked strong enough, he was clearly not a man in his prime. All of his clothes were leather, and they fit him well, almost as though they had been made for him
After being introduced to the other members of our team, there was a sound like bells coming from behind me and a woman named Irena stepped out from the temporary dorms.
“Ah Irena. So then it looks like everyone is here. Am I forgetting anything?” Marius spoke in a mild tone, as though there was nothing strange about the whole situation. Irena looked quite capable of course, but given that in the week I had lived at the colony, I had never come into contact with a female hunter aside from Linne, her inclusion in our party came as a bit of surprise.
Irena and I had never spoken, but Minnie had told me that she was the one responsible for the dorms. The times I had seen her, she had been tending the dorm almost as though she were a maid. And yet, here she was; dressed in leather like the other hunters and carrying a quiver and a pack.
“You will need this.” Irena told me as she handed me a necklace with two bells on it. Given her accent, she had to have been from Eastern Europe. “The bells will make sure that Marius and myself shall be able to find you at all times.”
“Some Fallen Ones too.” Barius said under his breath.
Ignoring him, Irena turned to Marius, “So, where are we taking the girl today milord?”
“I intended to take her back to our childhood home, and maybe to see if we can’t scout out the mall on the way back.”
“And you’re sure that you wish for the girl to enter our safe homes?” Irena looked doubtful of the possibility. Marius only shrugged in response and led the way to the armory so that Irena could collect a bow. Upon her return, I noticed a pendant hanging from her neck.
“What is that?” I ventured to ask her.
Irena wrinkled her nose at me and finally said, “It is a mark of my station, all of the masters wear one while on the hunt. Have you not seen one, girl?”
I will admit to being fairly embarrassed that I had never noticed that my brother wore a similar pendant around his neck almost every time I saw him. The difference lay only in that Marius wore a pendant with a bright golden sheen, and Irena’s looked to be made more of iron. Despite my embarrassment, I was starting to be frustrated that she always called me “girl.”
“She hasn’t been here long Irena, give her a break.” Garvus smiled good-naturedly at me.
“Right. Now, let’s be off while the sun yet rises, eh?” My brother stepped pointedly between me and Irena, ending the conversation before anyone had a chance to get angry. Once more going to the front of the party, Marius began to walk towards the main entrance of the building. Passing through the nearly empty section where Marius had his room, I could smell the flowers he kept fresh at all times. This week he must have gotten lavenders; the smell made me relax.
The morning was not yet fully bright, but the walls surrounding the colony were still visible through the gloom. Garvus gave the spare bow he had been carrying to Marius, and we emerged into the outside world. The bells tinkling softly around my neck and my own feet crunching in the snow seemed to be the only sounds around us.
As we made our way through the abandoned town beyond the walls of the colony, it struck me just how much everything had changed. There were no cars noisily shuttling people between work and home, and the pavement was covered in a layer of snow and ice that would have been unthinkable when plows frequented the streets. Every once in awhile, a rustling sound at the edges of the roads would alert us to the presence of a mouse or rabbit. Whenever the beasts appeared, I had to hold back laughter as Barius and Simon inevitably jumped. Marius never even blinked, and Garvus and Irena would raise their bows only slightly.
“Turn left at the next street.” Marius’s orders surprised me; our house was still much straighter on, and when we had gone to the colony, we had kept to the roads. No one disobeyed however, and so we went left. When we had gone some ways down the road, Marius quickly notched an arrow and turned. Looking in the direction Marius’s bow was pointing, I was startled to see that behind us were two Fallen. I hadn’t even heard them approach, despite the quiet that surrounded us in the morning. Garvus and Irena stayed facing forward, bows now at the ready as Marius loosed his first arrow. It connected with the Fallen on the left, right between his eyes.
As it fell, I noticed a small scrap of green tied onto its neck. The next moment my vision was obscured as Marius turned me away.