An Arduous Quest – Chapter Nine

Bad Memories

 

It was sunrise, and both Rangers were up and ready to go. Voeren decided that they should wait until a reasonable time to go to the village, so not to look suspicious in case the creature was clever enough to have employed somebody to delay them. Eventually they set off towards their destination. When they reached the village, Voeren immediately sensed that something was wrong: hardly anybody was out trading, it was quiet, all the windows and doors were shut, and most importantly, there was blood on the floor. Fresh blood. As a man rushed past and brushed shoulders with Voeren, the senior Ranger grabbed his arm and swung him around asking boldly.
“What’s been going on here?”
“Please, sir! I don’ want no trouble. Let me go an’ I’ll be on ma way.” he said hurriedly.
“Kings Ranger, here to help.” Voeren said proudly, pulling away his cloak and revealing his silver badge, the Rangers sacred tree bearing the elements, glinting in the sun. The villager gasped and then sighed from relief and screaming,
“WE’RE SAVED! Everybody! We’re saved! A Ranger has come!”
“Wait, what! Tell me what’s happening.” Voeren ordered, worried.
“I’ll take you to the latest victim; she’ll want to meet you.” the villager said solemnly, then added, “Oh, my name’s David, by-the-way.” Voeren looked down at Arden and whispered,
“I don’t like the sound of this.” Arden dipped his head slightly in acknowledgement and then turned to follow David. On entering the house it was like entering a bubble of melancholy for the senior Ranger and déjà vu for Arden. Voeren could smell the metallic blood before he saw it, smeared across the hallway in arcs, like a primitive painting. David led them through a door into the sitting room and there sat a lady and her child, both their heads were bowed in silent grieving. Arden twitched as he looked at the child, trying desperately to resist the memories. As Arden was about to run out of the house from the mental pain, Voeren put his hand on the little boy’s shoulder, and Arden relaxed. The child was a youthful girl with long brown hair, blue eyes and looked several years younger than Arden. The woman raised her head so her eyes met that of the senior Ranger and spoke softly, melancholy,
“Thank you for coming, sir. My name’s Alexandria.” Voeren nodded in reply, then spoke,
“What happened?”
“Two nights ago I and Dalderia went to her friend’s house to chat.” she began, already struggling to bite back the tears.
“My husband, Stephan was left at the house. We, we came home the morning after, and . . . and . . .” She trailed off and broke into a torrent of tears. Voeren and David moved towards the woman to comfort her. Dalderia looked towards her mother and hugged her, both sobbing into each other’s shoulders. Once the two girls had calmed down, Alexandria began speaking when Voeren interrupted gently,
“You may rest. We shall leave you now, thank you for your cooperation.” As David and the two Rangers turned to leave,
“Will you find it?” Alexandria asked desperately.
“I won’t stop ’till I do.” Voeren replied, and then left. When they were out in the open, Voeren turned to David.
“I’ve got some questions for you, too.” Voeren began. David nodded. “So, how long since these attacks started happening?” He inquired.
“No longer than a week, I should imagine, sir.” David answered.
“And there have only been two or three attacks?” Again David nodded.
“Also the last attack was only a day ago?” Voeren summed up finally.
“Yes sir.” came David’s response. Voeren and Arden thanked David for his help and said their farewells.

“Voeren, can I ask you a question?” Arden asked his master cautiously on the way back to the camp.
“You just did.” Voeren replied.
“Can I ask you anther one?” Arden enquired again.
“You just did. Again.” Voeren replied, turning away to hide his smug face. Arden sighed and decided just to ask his original question.
“Do you think the monster is still here? In the vicinity?”
“Yes, and we need to find it before it leaves. And quickly, too.” Voeren told Arden, and abruptly picked up the pace, catching Arden by surprise as the half-a-Ranger hurried after his master. It was midday when the apprentice and his master got back to their camp. Arden had declined from breakfast earlier that morning, and was now starving. So he managed to find some bread and cheese in his rucksack and ate it. Once Arden had finished his meal, Voeren started packing their gear and supplies; he had picked up some extra food provisions from the settlement on the way back, and Arden couldn’t wait to devour some spiced chicken he had spotted in the senior Rangers food pack. Once packed and raring to go, Voeren decided it was time for more training, as Arden still had a lot to learn;
“A Ranger never stops learning, never stops practicing. Every Ranger must carry on until they pass the test of the ant.” Voeren told the boy when Arden slumped his shoulders at the news of training.
“What’s the test of the ant?!” the young Ranger questioned curiously.
“A dead ant is glued to a tree with sap, and the objective is hit that ant in the abdomen.” Voeren responded cheerfully.
“But . . . but that must be physically impossible!” Arden exclaimed.
“You’re right. Few have tried, and none have succeeded in this challenge.” The complacent Ranger paused, almost laughing at the puppy-like puzzled look his apprentice was giving him. “We aim above and beyond the extraordinary feats, and into the impossible ones to ensure we are ALWAYS the best, most experienced organisation in Pekktla Tiarria.(Pekktla Tiarria is what all Raudans call the known world) It’s not really a real test, it’s a metaphor. A goal to aim for.” Voeren finished with a proud look on his face. When the senior Ranger found a large, strong-branched tree, he told Arden to climb his way to the top, then come back down again as quick as he could. Standing at the bottom of the looming fir tree, Arden remembered a time, not so long ago, when he had stood below a similar-sized tree, set with the same task, but stood there gloomily, depressed. Those times are over, now, Arden thought to himself.
“GO!” barked Voeren and the young boy scrambled up the tree like a squirrel. Once at the top, the athletic half-a-Ranger jumped, grabbing on a branch half way up the tree, then dropping down, rolling to break his fall.
“Not bad!” Voeren cried in surprise. “Well, that’s a big improvement on your previous time.”
“How fast was I?” Arden asked impatiently.
“Today you got thirty two seconds.” Voeren paused while Arden cheered. A big wolfish grin appeared on Voeren’s face and as Arden noticed it he stopped celebrating.
“However your previous time is twenty minutes twenty one seconds.” The small bay gaped at this terrible news.
“Surly I wasn’t that slow?!” Arden questioned desperately and the so-called senior Ranger snorted trying to suppress his laughter.
“Well, you certainly win the medal for most improved!” Voeren snorted again at his own joke.
“Can I practice archery now?” Arden requested, tired of the way the conversation was going.
“Oh, very well then.” Voeren replied, and began to unpack a target and set it up for the apprentice. Once Voeren had finished, Arden took an arrow from his quiver, and with every muscle clenched, he aimed, drew and shot. Arden held his breath as the arrow went flying. It smacked into the target panel just an inch to the right away from the bull’s eye.
“Your muscles are too tense, it’s sending the arrow awry. Just relax.” Voeren called from the side. Taking heed of the advice, Arden took deep breaths to loosen his muscles, and instinctively this time, took an arrow, aimed, drew and shot. Once he saw it hit home, he shot again, then followed it through with another. Suddenly two more projectiles were sent hurtling towards the small, wooden panel. The second shaft split open the first, then the third arrow came in a centimetre to the left if the other two.
“Must’ve been the wind!” Voeren snorted, and Arden joined in the laughing.

After several hours, Voeren decided it was time for diner and Arden jumped for joy when he saw his master pull out the spiced chicken. Once they had finished their meal, they began to pack away;
“We’ll start moving at sunset, and rest at midnight.” Voeren had told the apprentice earlier that day. As the orange sky darkened and the clouds drifted slowly away, Arden sharpened his Gardinel knife, getting ready for the imminent chase his master would soon order. Looking up at the stars, he remembered a time when his mother and father would sit with him atop Rose hill and tell him wild stories of brave heroes. He bit back the tears at the memory that upon Rose hill lay his father, buried. Dead. And that gave Arden renewed determination to find the monster that destroyed his life.
“Ok, let’s go.” Voeren told Arden and the apprentice Ranger mounted his steed and the two bowmen cantered soundlessly into the orange horizon.After a few hours of riding, Voeren called them to a halt and began setting up a camp again while Arden unpacked their gear. Voeren had made his trainee track the beast, as he thought that real-life experience would help him develop his technique. Obviously occasionally Voeren would take over the task to re-gain lost time, often using the enchanted tooth, as it was the quickest way of finding the beast.

. . . Go where it is bitter . . . you shall find an answer . . . I’m so sorry, Arden . . . Have you seen my mum? . . . the prophecy shall be foretold . . . the prophecy . . . prophecy . . . prophecy . . . Arden woke up sweating, the memories still haunting him. He broke into silent tears, mourning his father, mother . . . mother? For some reason a part of him believed she was still alive, somewhere. He quickly dismissed the idea knowing he could not bear to have his hopes raised only to be shattered again. But what did that mage mean? What prophecy? Deciding to ignore the unanswerable questions, Arden comforted himself with more pleasant memories, and fell back asleep.

“Arden! Wake up! We need to get going, now!” Arden groaned as he awakened to the voice of his master yelling at him.
“Yes, Voeren.” Arden moaned and began crawling out of his sleeping bag. Once both apprentice and master were up, they began packing hurriedly, so to catch up with the murderer as soon as possible.
“According to the tracks it’s left behind, the beast moves extremely fast. I say it’s about two days ahead of us. Our advantage is the fact that it only travels at night, most likely because it wishes not to be seen.” Voeren had told Arden earlier that morning. Once they were ready, the two Rangers set off.

The day was frustrating for Arden. After a few hours of his first real mission, and seemingly no progress made, he realised he would have to be a lot more patient if he were to ever make it as fully fledged Ranger, without Voeren. Arden could not bear the thought of a world without his master, well, not really a master, more like a friend. A father. Once again Arden felt the saddened memories loom over him like a black wave, threatening to cave in at any second. It soon passed and Arden relaxed. It was mid noon and both the horses and their human owners were tired from hard riding. When the ravenous junior Ranger thought Voeren wasn’t looking, he endeavoured to peer into the food pack to see if Voeren had brought any other delicious snacks, Arden’s mouth still watering at the spiced, golden brown chicken they had devoured last night, well, more like he devoured last night.
“I’m afraid that chicken was the first and only beautiful delicacy we have with our provisions, Arden. So don’t bother.” The apprentice frowned both at how on Earth Voeren knew what he was doing while facing in the complete opposite direction, and at the news of no more “delicious delicacies” as master had said, for Arden to eat before his master even had a chance to taste a morsel of it, as is what happened last night. Instead they had beef stew, which was still nice, but certainly not as good as that spiced chicken! Once again they settled down for some sleep, both raring for the difficult day ahead of them.

It was midday, and the master and apprentice were confused and anxious.
“If there really are two of them, then we are in trouble.” They had been tracking for several hours now, and had not used the tooth once. There was a fork in the tracks and Voeren believed that the two monsters were planning to flank them. To double check his observation, Voeren slipped the tooth cautiously into his hand, and sure enough the red dot was flickering from left to right. They decided to set up camp and figure out the best course of action.
“Now I reckon that they’re a good day’s walk from here, however we must ready at any moment, lest I am wrong.” Arden passed the day by honing his skills, mainly with his treasured Ranger’s bow. Watching his apprentice silently from beneath his camouflage hood, Voeren was proud at the progress his protégé had made, and at his rapid change in attitude towards training. It was stew again tonight, chicken stew, mind you, but stew again never-the-less.

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