Chapter 3

Caleb sighed as he walked through the forest with a rabbit in his right hand and his longbow held in his left hand.

It had been three days since he had left the village for his hunting trip, and the brown rabbit that he held by the feet in his hand was the only decent animal he had found.

Glancing at it, Caleb sighed. It could not have weighed any more than two pounds. There was no way that it would be a filling meal for the night, but even a small rabbit would be more filling than the berries that he had eaten the night before.

I guess it’s too late in the year to catch anything good, Caleb thought as he continued walking back towards his camp. I’ll give it one more day. If I don’t find anything more, I’ll return home. Father said there would be no repercussions if this hunt was a failure.

That was about as far as his train of thought managed to go before he felt pain shoot through his body, spreading from his chest.

He was forced to his knees on the leaf covered ground by the intensity of the pain. He only barely managed to stop himself from dropping his bow and the rabbit as his knees met the ground.

What in the abyss was that? Caleb thought as the pain lessened after a few minutes. Though lessened, the pain did not completely go away.

An eerie feeling enveloped him a few seconds later. His sapphire eyes scanned his surroundings, looking for the cause of the sensation.

Approximately twenty yards to his left, Caleb saw something that caught his attention. It appeared to be a longsword that was stuck in the ground. Even from that distance, he could see that the pommel was unmarked and the guard was curved slightly. That was not the most peculiar thing about it though.

It was almost completely transparent.

That was when things became even stranger.

A ghost-like figure wearing a hooded cloak appeared a few yards away from the sword on the other side.

The hooded cloak that the figure wore was not quite transparent. It was dark and murky, as capable of concealing the specter’s appearance as a real cloak.

Peering forward carefully, Caleb saw the figure stop as it reached the sword. Its spectral fingers closed around the hilt, and it pulled it free from the ground.

As suddenly as the figure and the sword appeared, they were gone without a trace.

As the sword and the specter disappeared, he felt his pain completely subside.

I don’t feel so good… Caleb thought as he slowly rose to his feet. Without the pain, he had though he would be fine, but it was almost as if he had grown ill suddenly. What in the world is going on?

Shaking his head, he once again began to make his way to his camp. The entire time, he could not help but try to figure out what the spectral images that he saw were. It seemed that he would not receive an answer anytime soon, much to his dismay.

* * * * *

A short time later, Caleb reached his camp. It was really just a bedroll, his pack, and a stack of wood that could be used to set up a campfire, but it was good enough for the trip.

Caleb took a deep breath as he saw something that was not supposed to be at his camp.

Hector had taught him that starting a fire in the forest without anyone to look after it was reckless. He had also taught him that a campfire could scare keep most animals away from his camp.

I should have been reckless, Caleb thought as he saw a black bear next to his bedroll. It was just shy of four feet tall on all four legs, and it was staring at him intently.

He idly remembered Hector telling him that black bear was the best tasting type of bear meat.

Even without the last bit of information, Caleb had ample motivation to act.

Feeling the rabbit still held in his right hand, he realized that he had a little more motivation than he originally thought.

This isn’t good, Caleb thought with his eyes focused on the dead rabbit that was still in his grip. He then looked up towards the bear. It was staring right at him with a hungry look in its eyes. This definitely isn’t good.

The nose of the narrow jawed predator twitched as it took in the smell of Caleb and the rabbit he held in his hand. Both were sources of meat, one larger than the other. Through the thick, jet black fur of the bear, its muscles tensed, prepared to take down its prey.

Caleb’s heart beat fiercely, as though it would burst from his chest, as he noticed the visible tensing of the animal’s muscles.

Though he maintained a calm façade, a flurry of emotions threatened to overwhelm him.

Taking a deep breath, Caleb swung the rabbit in a large circle, building up momentum. Just as his hand began to cross his leg a second time, he threw the dead animal underhanded.

Throwing objects had never been his forte. When he wanted to hit a target, he generally missed. The opposite seemed to be true as well, as he was learning first hand.

Instead of having the rabbit land directly in front of the bear in the hopes that it would make the large animal hesitate, it smacked the bear directly in the face.

All earlier thoughts of the spectral images that had stayed in the back of his mind vanished as the three hundred pound animal began to run towards him.

The instant that the bear had begun to make its move, Caleb’s first arrow had cleared his quiver. Twenty yards stood between them by the time his arrow was nocked. Ten yards separated them by the time the turkey feather fletching of the arrow touched his cheek. A mere five yards separated them when Caleb released his grip on the bowstring, sending it flying forward.

With incredible force, the bow shot the arrow forward. The distinctive sound of the arms of the bow flexing as the tightly drawn string shot forward could be heard for only a few moments, but it was followed by the sound made only by the cracking of bone as the steel arrowhead slammed into the bear’s skull.

In an ideal situation, the bear would have fallen to the ground before it reached him.

Unfortunately, the situation was not ideal.

It had been running, and its momentum was enough to keep it moving towards him with great speed.

Luckily, he was able to jump to his right quickly enough to get out of the bear’s path.

However, he was unable to pull his bow out of the bear’s path before it reached him. He released the bow as the bear’s shoulder slammed into his wrist. It sent him spinning and falling to the ground, but his wrist was very much unbroken.

From where he lay, Caleb looked to the bear. It was lying on the ground, not moving in any form. He could see that its breathing had already stopped, but that was not his major concern.

With a grimace, Caleb saw half of his longbow in front of the bear. The bowstring went from that half of the bow to somewhere underneath the predator.

Well… the hunt’s a success, I suppose, Caleb thought with a heavy sigh. Now I just have to figure out how I’m going to explain that the very valuable longbow that Hector gave me got broken in two.

Though his surface thoughts were on how he would explain everything, he actually had a different main concern at the moment.

The longbow held great sentimental value to him. It was the only thing that his master had ever given him, and Hector had been more than just a teacher. He was a mentor and a friend.

Closing his eyes, Caleb’s mind went to the one possibility that he had been trying not to think of for the past several months.

What if he never comes back?

“This isn’t the time for moping around,” Caleb said aloud as he shook his head fiercely. That was not a subject that he needed to think about. “What would Father say to this? He’d probably be easier on me than Hector would.” He let out a small laugh at that last part. “I guess I just have to look on the bright side. I survived an encounter with a bear, and I actually get to eat good tonight. Now, I guess I have some work that needs doing.”

With that, he slowly rose to his feet and walked back to his bedroll. Reaching into the pack next to it, he retrieved his hunting knife. His father had given it to him two years earlier on his birthday. It had a finely made blade that was as reflective as a mirror and a stag handle that fit comfortably in the palm of his hand.

Slipping the knife into the black leather sheath that he normally kept it in and attaching it to his belt, Caleb began to prepare for what he had to do.

Between starting a fire, extracting the meat from the bear’s carcass, and cooking his dinner, Caleb knew that his night would be busy.

* * * * *

As the sun lit up the horizon of the next morning, Caleb began his trek from his camp to one of the nearby trails.

As a result of the loss of his bow, the only thing that he was carrying in his hands was a canvas sack that held the bear meat that he had extracted the previous night. It was not as full as it would have been if Hector had dealt with the bear, but it was his first time. He had experience with deer and rabbits, but bears were a little different.

He absently adjusted the pack that was slung over his right shoulder as he came to a stop.

A gap in the woods up ahead caught Caleb’s attention immediately. Peering through the brown and orange leaves of the trees that surrounded the gap, he recognized the trail up ahead.

As he reached the edge of the woods where the gap was, one thing stood out that had him frowning.

That trail connected Kirakath to the road that went from Caldreth to Vendae. Though the road was frequented quite often, the trail itself was not.

“There must be a hundred of them,” Caleb muttered as he saw the impressions of more footsteps than he could readily count. Looking in the direction that they appeared to be going towards, Caleb’s throat became dry.

There was no good explanation as to why so many footsteps would be leading towards Kirakath.

With fear in his eyes, he began to run to his home as fast as he could.