This version of the first chapter is a draft. I will repost when the final version is ready 😉
Also, please remember I am French, I’m trying to improve my English on a daily basis but I still lack some vocabulary.
I hope you’ll enjoy your reading anyway 🙂
The sun rays were barely high enough to pretend it was dawn while Denis was making his coffee-ish beverage and cooking some eggs, his mind lost in the last hellish and foolish talk he had with Tom. He had spent hours trying to talk some sense out of his favorite grandkid but as he cracked even more eggs, he was still wondering whether the young man was going to follow the family path – the only true path if you asked this pragmatic and strict grandpa – or if he was to give up on them and the family’s legacy, the heritage of the Spiders Hunters. It was as if the young man could only hear the title without acknowledging the oath it bore. They weren’t usual hunters, they were the fighters for life, the last line of defense against giant arachnids that would turn you with a single touch, crushing your soul until you would resuscitate as one of their evil children. It had been decades, they had lost so many friends to those monsters and as everyone was gathering again, to perpetrate the traditional monthly hunt, his grandson, now of age to join them, would not, because killing those things would be as cruel as killing a human? He couldn’t understand this point of view, he couldn’t accept the idea of his own flesh refusing to be a part of what he had built for the sake of humanity. His hands started shaking again, from the rage the simple idea of hearing Tom saying, again, this was a heresy, from the anger of feeling he had failed to raise him properly when they used to share so much. They were alike in so many ways; physically, the kid looked more like him, with this slender athletic silhouette and sharp mind, than his own firstborn son, who grew up to become a brainless warrior built like a tank.
He took a deep breath, shook his head a little as if it would lift some kind of fog before his eyes, lowered the heat under the pan and waited for his older son to burst into the kitchen, trying to startle him despite the loud noise his every step made.
“Had a hard night, Father? Ben asked, entering the kitchen, indeed hoping he would scare the heck out of his dad.
– Your ass is still too heavy for me not to hear you from the other end of that corridor. And yes, rough night. Your son is such a stubborn kid, I am not sure we’ll make a man out of this one.
– Damn. I really thought his need for your approval would make him see he must join the hunt, at least for himself if he won’t hunt for the family.
– He should be hunting for the greater good but somehow he can’t see that we are alive thanks to this, he only sees that as mass murdering.
Maybe we should have told him the whole story.
– Is that why you are cooking so many eggs?
– Yeah, soothed stomac, soothed mind.
And I need to be, if we want to talk him in, rather than throw him into the car by force.
Ben nodded, frowning as he still wondered why the heck his son was so reluctant to the idea of fighting for life. It was almost as if he wasn’t afraid of the curse spreading closer to their little city. The church ringing bells marking seven in the morning made him even more nervous about it all, still not knowing if Tom would show up or rather elude the whole special day. Not showing at church today, when the Reverend would bless them all before their training for the upcoming hunt would be a strong signal that they still can’t make him see the urge they were facing.
The parquet crackings provided him with the answer. Few minutes later, the young man joined them in a kitchen filled with so many odors his very first move was to open the windows to let some fresh air in.
“Well, at least someone can think.
Your dad’s been sitting here for almost half an hour, kind of gambling whether he could bear it any longer or not. And it seems he had not the slightest idea about how to deal with such simple things.
You seem tired though, hard night, kiddo?
– Kind of.
– Want some eggs?
– You made them?
– Ever saw your dad cook eggs?
– Burn them, yes, cook, not so sure.
– And here is your answer.
– I’ll have them then, thanks grandpa.
– You are very welcome.
Also I was wondering if…”
He paused the sentence while serving the eggs to his son and grandson, as if he couldn’t manage to perform two simultaneous tasks the way he effortlessly did before.
“Sorry, what was I saying?
– You were wondering if, I guess, I would join the hunt tomorrow.
Tom looked at the old man cleaning up the pan instead of sitting and enjoying the eggs the second they hit his plate, again, the way he always did.
“You gave up on the idea of convincing me to go?
– I realized there is another place you should be going instead, more peaceful, maybe more of the kind you’d like to visit, loaded with History and legends.
– Okay, now you are making fun of me.
– Look at me kiddo, you are my favorite grandkid, you are the smartest of the family, I would never make fun of you.
– Fine, we’ll go see that place you think I will be fond of.
– Great. You know what? Let’s go today, so you know where it is and you can go there whenever you want after that. Just tell me if you mind having the usual morning church speech first?”
He hated the morning speech, especially when it was the so-called “golden day”, preceding the opening of their silly hunt and it would all be about fighting the Devil by slaying giant spiders that, he thought, would otherwise live their life peacefully, as any creature would.
But he also hated their disagreements and since the old man wasn’t planning on making him join their stupid hunt anymore, he hoped going would ease his mind a little.
I don’t like it but I know it matters to you.
– See, empathy, another great quality of yours.
I value that.
We’ll leave right after the speech, no talk with the Reverend for you, I promise.”
Tom gave him the smile he was looking for.
They ate up the eggs, cleaned the dishes and headed to church.
As promised, they left as soon as they could.
The road they had hit after church led to a mountain Tom was failing to remember anything about. Maybe it was the wondering about last night’s fight that scrambled his memories.
“Nah, kiddo, you’ve just never been there before.
Told you I would take you to a place that would be interesting for you; things you know are never quite as fun as discovering new things, are they?
– Yeah. What we know can be reassuring but not as exciting as exploring new stuff.
– What I thought. Now, here we are, let’s put on our hiking shoes and take the straight path to the top.
– Okay but aren’t you gonna tell me where we are?
– And spoil you the story of this place? Hell no. I know how you’d get.”
Again, he got the smile he had hoped for. He was well trained when it came to manipulating people towards hidden goals. A few hours later, they made it to a quiet and timeless panorama where a millennial tree was standing still. While walking in its direction, Tom almost faded: he could swear, under the scorching sun, the leaves of this peculiar tree seemed made out of silver.
It couldn’t be THE tree.
“You would have declared war on me if I had spoiled you where we were headed to.
– This can’t be real… I thought it had been destroyed.
– It can’t be destroyed; magic protected it from burning and being cut down, and will keep on protecting it against any threat.
– Has it still its power?
– Unfortunately not. As long as the curse keeps spreading, it won’t be able to produce any new magic berries.
– I see…”
As they sat under the tree, Tom tried to remember its story. Once upon a time, centuries ago, someone discovered the power of the tree. Every year, it would blossom five flowers and five flowers only. Then the flowers would turn into berries, firstly green, then black and finally golden. And there was a ritual: if you could catch a berry, slip it under your tongue without swallowing it and keep it there for seven days, not talking to anyone ever, not sleeping at all, then on the seventh day reach the highest point of your town, recite the whole “Fox in Socks” poem and then swallow the berry, running back to your home within half an hour to finally fall asleep, you would become an author.
He frowned. There was something else to that story but he couldn’t remember.
– I can see you are trying to remember something, pretty sure you are thinking about the whole tree story and can’t remember at what cost people became authors: you are missing the part with the crows.
– Yeah, now that you mention it, it rings a bell but I can’t get the story straight.
– I’ll remind you then, but first…”
He reached for his bag and got some food and beers he had prepped before their matinal leaving.
“So, there is this tree and anyone could come and try catching its berries. But…
– The Enchanter!
– Yes, the Enchanter. The devoted Alderic O’Cordol, whose daughter had been cursed and would sleep until she would have been fed a thousand berries.
– He sent crows to gather the berries but as the story of the tree was told, people kept coming and disturbing them to gain the power of writing.
– And she was never fed a thousand berries.
– In revenge, he made a pact with the Devil, to spread the curse everywhere, starting with people who took the berries.
– No. That’s some made up story. He never casted the curse, nor asked the Devil to spread it. To the contrary, he kept doing what he could to prevent it from reaching anyone.”
Tom frowned. He had always known that apparently false version of the story. The old Alderic had gone mad at humanity for obvious reasons and had decided that, since his daughter had been sentenced to eternal sleep by those selfish people, they should end up living the same tragedy.
“Alderic tried to save his daughter because she was his only child. Magic is inherited. All his powers would have merged with hers when he had passed away and her magic would have passed to her children, etc.
– So… their magic sleeps forever within her?
– Only hers. He did make a pact with someone, but not the Devil. He, who was so devoted to others, asked our Lord to take all of his powers and use it to protect the tree. This is why it stands still and cannot be destroyed. He thought that, maybe, someone would find a way to stop the curse and restore the tree’s ancient power.
– Ok. But, you said he never casted the curse so… Where did it come from?
– I have no idea. I searched for a while but I couldn’t find any book talking about it, nor anyone knowing that part of the story.
– And what is its effect? I mean, since it is not something killing those who stole the berries…”
He interrupted himself, as his grandfather was looking astonished by this question.
“You… Are you really asking me what the curse is, son?
– Yeah. How would I kn…”
It struck him.
– Stop mumbling. Yes, the spiders, what else could it be?
– I am sorry, I don’t get the whole story…
– The Devil sent giant spiders on Earth when we stopped caring for the planet. At first, people would kill them easily but then, they hid and reproduced over and over again and when they resurfaced, there were hundreds of thousands of them, attacking and transforming people.
– Like zombies.
– If you will.
– So… Alderic was fighting the spiders?
– Alderic started fighting the second he understood the Devil was behind those things. He predicted so much about how this world would end up screwing over the climate and everything. But he couldn’t care for both those issues he was fighting on his own and his daughter he wished he could save.
– And as nobody listened to him, we had that climate catastrophe and the curse spreaded worldwide.
– That’s it.”
Tom gathered his legs against his chest and started thinking. It sounded unbelievable and yet, all of the sudden, everything made sense. Why the tree was still standing, why the Church was fighting what he had seen as a war against living things when it came to fighting for survival. Could a cure exist? No, Alderic would have told humanity before passing away. Plus, there is no cure against evil, except for faith. When the Devil walked on Earth, in his dragon form, Michael did not wait for a miracle, he made sure he would be the miracle and slay evil to protect humanity, even when that meant defeating his own brother as both of them were angels before Lucifer had fallen. Had he been wrong the whole time? Was he blindly protecting Satan? Had he let the Devil whisper to his ears without even realizing it? Was it the reason why he hated the Reverend so much? He took a deep breath. Maybe he could go with them once, just once, to see for himself, to measure if he had been deceived by some dark lies from hell when his family fought so hard to keep him within the light.
– Yes, kiddo?
– Is it still seven days in a row?
– The hunt?
– Well, usually yes, maybe not this time, Robert and Stephen are suffering some injuries, maybe we’ll make it only a four days long session, why?
– Could I join you, for the first day?
– Wait… You wanna join?
– To see it. I need to see it to properly understand.
– I get it… But not the first day, rather the second if you don’t mind.
– Why so?
– Because the first day we have to find where they hide and that’s usually when we get ambushed. The second day, we know where we are heading to, they’re easier to find and you will be easier to protect.
– Protect? No, I don’t want people to protect me, that would mean they’re not fighting.
– You have no choice. This will be your first time facing them, you are not going on your own and unprotected. It’s a take or leave deal kiddo. And you have to understand that, if you come with us, it is hours long, no time to pause for a single thought, not even time to take a pee. Do you get me?
– I do.
– Hmm, we will still have to ask your father first.
– What? Why? You guys wished so much for me to come? We fought over it just last night and…
– And you didn’t want to come. And you were not prepared to come. And we are here so we are not at the training session. And even if I discussed it with you, your father never considered you would come. It is a good thing, if you ask me, but it is still dangerous. I am not asking much, just that you talk to him first.
– Yeah. Sorry, that makes sense.
– Don’t apologize, I can only imagine how shattered you must be by everything you just realized. But I am glad you finally get to see that we fight for life, for the greater good and not to kill innocent living things.
– It is hard. Acknowledging I was wrong all along. But I will do better.
– I know, kiddo. Don’t worry. Noone will hold it against you. Pretty sure during all those centuries, many people wondered about it. And it is good to. Following for the sake of following would sign the end of humanity.”
Once more, Tom gave him the smile he wanted to see, wanted to gain. Now, he would be ready to do more than just listen to what he would tell him, he would hear it, he would accept it as the truth, he would be a precious ally, as long as the lyrics of what he was singing to his brain would sound right.
They stayed up the mountain, under the holy tree, for a while, sharing memories and beers, contemplating every piece of land the sun was able to reach and simply enjoying the day. When they finally made it back home, Ben welcomed the news of his son joining the hunt with pride and joy. They shared a warm dinner and went to bed early. Only Denis stayed up late enough, sitting in his rocking chair, next to the fireplace, thinking about the next step of his plan. He needed to make sure Tom would never find out the truth. Ben could handle it and understand his point of view, but not the kid and there would be no forgiveness for this treason. Fortunately, this had been going on for decades and there was no reason to believe something would give them up. Through the window, he could see the fire signal from Stew, everything was ready for the opening of the hunt. And this time, everyone in town would be following the Spiders Hunters and fighting for their greater good.