"Welcome, budding hunters!" a loud, confident voice boomed.
The class of hunters stood in two lines of seven, straight and uniform, like a military battalion. Gale stood in the third spot of the front line. She turned and smiled at MIzu, who stood in the sixth place of the second line. He caught her gaze and smiled back. She had always liked his smile, attractive and angelic. She turned back to face the front, in case she was noticed.
Sensei Ryu was pacing slowly before them, a slight spring in each step he took.
"You are here," he began, "to learn the ways of Hunting, from the basics to the extremes. We will give a brief demonstration at the start of each lesson. We will then guide you to certain nearby locations to perform tasks based upon what you have been shown, then follow, observe and evaluate each individual's performance at the end of the time set."
Gale once again turned away from Sensei Ryu's waffling, turning to face Mizu again. She saw the two girls on both sides of him giggling sweetly. Mizu had gotten tired of hiding his toned body long ago, so he just lifted up his tunic for what was probably the thousandth time (Mizu was the "hot" one in the opinion of all the girls in the village, which was ironic as his name literally meant "water").
She had seen muscles before, but even the boy-weary Gale stared in awe at his chest. It was fairly average compared to what Gale had seen previously, but still she blushed shyly. Then Mizu pulled his tunic down again, ignoring his mini-entourage, meeting her gaze with an earnest stare, that practically shouted at Gale, I've only got eyes for you. At least, that's what she hoped.
She turned back again. "Today, we start with Gathering. Gathering is the most basic and also most essential skill in a hunter's arsenal. A hunter must also know the difference between helpful and harmful herbs. Gathering is important; nobody wants to be stuck hunting a monster, only to find their rations have all been eaten, and NOT know how to gather. An easy way to tell if a herb or herbs are harmful is....."
Mount Fubuki - a rocky sheet of frozen tundra with sharp winds that could cut the air and chill the soul, and icy obsidian mountains that pierced the heavens. Gale and Mizu were crouching in a little crevice that sat just on the precipice of an abyssal fissure far below. A group of small, snow-covered herbs had grown in the damp nook, and they were sure this would be enough to please Sensei Ryu.
As they were picking the herbs, Gale looked down to the fissure below. Her eyes widened, as it seemed to get closer and closer and bigger and bigger the more she looked at it as if it was coming for her, to swallow her whole. She felt like shouting out, that she was in danger, that -
"Hey, are you okay there?" Mizu interrupted, and as Gale looked, the fissure seemed to shrink back to where it was.
"What's wrong? Are you scared?" he asked, a hint of amusement in his voice.
"Of heights, yeah. Always have been." Gale answered, still staring unwaveringly at the gaping maw.
Suddenly, he put his hand on hers. She jumped a little, but it helped rip her eyes away from the fissure.
"I'm here. You won't fall. I promise." He comforted her.
As Gale stared into his eyes, she felt all the fear in her vanish, like it was never there to begin with. She felt safe, secure... and happy.
Battle Training (1 month later)
"Well, well, well, if it isn't Rakurai, the Lightning Bolt," Sensei Ryu mused, referring to the appropriate title the villagers had dubbed him since he repelled the White Star. He paid no attention to Ryu, simply turned away from him, knowing full well that the fact that he had repelled an Elder Dragon alone had sealed him a place in the search party, and that these tests were just a formality to make it fair on the other volunteers.
"You dullards... will never be able to face up to me." he muttered to himself, and stalked off.
"He's so damn arrogant. I hope that creature teaches him a thing or two about overconfidence when we go off to hunt it." Mizu huffed.
"Me too. He needs to be brought back down to earth. Just because he can do... whatever the hell that lightning stuff was, doesn't mean he's better than us." Gale agreed.
"Next up! Mizu Nagare!" Sensei Ryu beckoned.
"My number's up..." he muttered quietly.
"Good luck." Gale said, sensing a hint of fear in him
Mizu stepped forward, approaching Ryu and his narrow, steely gaze.
"Your opponent... is me!" Ryu barked.
Mizu, taken aback, had only seconds to recover from the shock before Ryu's heel was in his face; a falcon kick had somehow passed by him in the space of about 5 seconds, and he was on the floor. He managed to get up onto one knee, blood dripping mildly from his nose and lower lip.
"Is that it!?" Ryu roared. He kicked Mizu in the chest with such force that everyone heard the Sensei's foot connect with Mizu's chest, a force of such magnitude that he collapsed to the loor again, clutching his stomach.
"Eh!? Mizu Nagare, the great son of Sensei Arashi, can manage no more than writhing on the floor like a worm!?" Ryu bellowed. He kicked him again, this time managing to draw a grunt from the boy, who slid across the sandy floor of the Great Arena about a meter ahead of where he had been.
Gale jumped at Sensei Ryu's shocking revelation. Sensei Arashi...is Mizu's father? she thought.
"Get up! GET UP! Or are you too soft to even manage that!?" He boomed. He kicked Mizu for the third time. He managed to get some grip on the ground to stop himself from going flying, but the force of the kick was so hard that it sent a bolt of searing pain shooting up his ribcage. He let out a loud, long scream of raw pain, tears falling slowly to the floor.
"My son was right. You are weak." Ryu muttered, losing his angry vigor. He drew a knife from his blue robe, and Gale, watching fearfully, frozen, saw the terror in Mizu's eyes as Ryu knelt down and put the cruel looking blade to his throat.
"Maybe... too weak..." Ryu sneered, and he rose the knife high above his head.
Gale saw then. His eyes were not the same fiery brown they were when she had seen him earlier. They where a bright, bright white. The White Star...it's controlling him! Gale thought, and on impulse she rushed forward toward the pair, pulling the Long Sword from its sheath. The violet blade glinted in the sunlight. She twirled three hundred and sixty-three degrees and swept the sword at Ryu, who managed to jump back in time to evade the blow.
"Foolish girl. You see me, don't you?" Ryu's voice was distorted, demonic. Gale turned to check on Mizu. He lay unconscious on the floor, a small cut on his throat where the Sensei's beast's knife had dug in. She turned back to face Ryu.
"What... what are you?" Gale asked, dreading the answer.
"What am I?" Ryu echoed, "I...am the White Star, Yaketsukuyōna!" He yelled. And with that, Sensei Ryu was surrounded by a swirling cloud of white snowflakes. His unconscious body collapsed to the floor, face down.
Gale and the other twelve (conscious) students, clamoured around Sensei Ryu, chattering fearfully and excitedly about his "possession" and the appearance of the White Star. Gale wanted no part of it, and knelt down over Mizu. She put her finger to his neck to check his pulse. It was fine. She breathed a sigh of relief.
Suddenly, a group of red-robed women (the nurses of Hyoku), led by Sensei Arashi, holding his blue robe up off the dusty floor with his hands, so as not to trip on it in his haste, appeared.
"Gale!" Arashi beckoned, "By the Great Winds, what happened here!?" Gale rose from the ground to talk to Arashi, leaving the nurses to carry the unconscious Mizu off in a makeshift stretcher.
"Well... I... I think we should take this somewhere private. To the schoolhouse." Gale said timidly.
"Of course, of course, you are quite right, miss Kaze," Arashi huffed frantically, "I, too, feel it is not for the ears of the others."
Following Arashi, from the Great Arena to the Hyoku schoolhouse, all she could think about was Mizu, and hoped to the Great Winds that he was okay.
To Be Continued in: The White Star Chronicles V: Departure