Chapter 14.1: Warden

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Seth felt the cold bite of the steel bars as he climbed the ladder deeper to the underground enclave. His fingers ached with cold as vapour escaped the slow controlled breathes from his lungs, confirming his suspicions. The Master was the very same unnatural creature he had been sent to hunt in foreign lands.

Having reached the audience chamber, Seth turned on his flashlight, peering up at the distance he had descended to embrace death. He was no hero; not after what he had done to his brothers and sisters. They needed to be purged, just in case he failed.

In the dim light, Seth noticed his gnarled calloused hands. These were not his hands. The dirt under his nails felt like razor blades. The dried blood like a thin second skin, supplicating the winkles it had claimed. The scars carved into elaborate patterns on his skin burned with power he couldn't control.

He came here to end the lie, he reminded himself, shifting his focus from the sense that his body wasn't quite the right fit.

His flashlight flickered in the darkness of the wide chamber. "Fine," he hissed and tossed his only source of light. He didn't expect to come out of fight alive anyway; as long as it died.

"Come out coward! You think you had as us all fooled! You didn't think that one day your Champions would come back to hunt your demon ass down!" His roar was that of a man passed his prime, but harboured the strength of a generation.

Nothing.

Was he wrong? Did it escape when it sensed him coming? No. He could feel it. Watching. Hiding.

Kill enough demons and a Hunter was capable of tapping into new talents. Maybe he was a little less human than he had been when he left the Grounds of Ascension. He had most certainly been a different man then.

The darkness shifted, opening up before him as through the world had ripped apart and lunged at him.

*****

Memories. Sometimes when he was with Astral he felt like he could remember the time before. The important things. Sometimes when he was with her, he felt like he could see the plan laid out in front of him.

He wished he dreamed like normal people. On nights like these, when he was exhausted to the bone or had forgotten his R.E.M. inhibitors, he'd drift into worlds that felt too real. His dreams felt like memories drifting in the either, waiting to be relived; waiting to impart it's warning to the dreamer designed to receive the message. Between the night terrors and leading alternative lives, he found it difficult to keep track of reality. All these memories were too much for a human mind to hold. His dreams would no doubt drive him insane one day.

That man, that Hunter, had been one of the central characters of his dreams for the past four years. Tonight, he knew that Videl was dead, consumed by the same demon who had created him. His story had reached its conclusion. He knew we would not be dreaming of the unfortunate Videl again.

The memory of dried blood on his hands lingered. As Videl, he had sacrifices human lives without guilt in favour of the mission. The dedication to the eradication of the demons scourge was black and white to a Hunter. To someone like Astral.

Would she? Would she kill the students to prevent the demon from ascending?

What did ascending mean anyway?

Astral!

Seth shot up from his sick bed, his body complaining. He hadn't felt pain like this since he was a first year who was unaccustomed to the brutality of daily training. She pushed him harder and longer than any game had. Games were often short bursts of activity followed by long periods of waiting, searching, hunting, but aimed to keep things easy; efficient.

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