” Er… hi…” I replied, not sure who or what these two were. They felt like two halves of a whole, and I was stuck in the middle of them.
” Nice to see you two are socialising again,” Mita’s voice cut in. There was a slight jest in her words, as if there was something I was missing about the whole situation.
” It’s good to get away from him again,” the one to my left said back with a smooth, dignified tone. ” One can only stand so much of him.”
” Mr Perfect over there,” the one of my right growled through a mouth full of meat he had torn from a bone with his teeth.
A glare of annoyance flew in front my face, going from the giver on my left to its recipient on my right. ” Eat like you’re at least some part human, idiot.”
” Now now, you two,” Mita cooed to them. I looked up her quizzically, wondering what exactly had landed either side of me. She stared back at me for a moment or two before realisation dawned upon her. ” Ah, right. Totally forgot. Sorry, Alexei. These two are Asa – ” She indicated to the guy on my left. ” – and Zev – ” The one on my right. ” They’re twins.”
” Twins?” I asked, unsure of what that meant.
Ivan swallowed the last of his food and put down his knife and fork. ” Twins mean they were born from the same set of DNA at the same time. Technically, they’re identical copies of each other – having exactly the same DNA code – but as you can see, their personalities are complete opposites.”
You could say that again. I glanced from one to the other. They couldn’t be more different, in my eyes anyway.
” I’m Alexei Kusanagi,” I said, bravely introducing myself in amongst the air of animosity that hung around us.
” The one that has the violet eyes like Jace?” said Zev, chewing madly on his mouthful of food with no dignity whatsoever. ” Yeah yeah, we know already. You’re pretty thick if you haven’t noticed everyone’s talking about you.”
No, not thick, just unenthusiastic about all the attention, I thought to myself while trying to keep a smile on my face, though I realised it was probably a little crooked by the curious glances I had just received from Ivan and Mita.
” I am of the opinion,” started Asa, speaking without any food in his mouth, ” that it doesn’t matter what colour eyes you have, no one can ever be another person.”
I immediately felt a rush of gratitude towards Asa. It was comforting for someone to say that straight out, instead of everyone else’s roundabout way of trying to comfort me. Then a high-pitched, purposely pompous voice came from my right.
” Oh, Mr Perfect, Mr Oh-so-dignified, oh-so-elegant!” Zev cracked a smile that showed off his impressive incisors and his voice went back to normal. ” You’re not impressing anyone Asa, especially the newbie.”
Asa placed his cutlery down, his eyes closing softly. ” Ohhhh? This little puppy has some bite. I should be more careful from now on,” he said mockingly.
Zev slammed down his cutlery and stood up in one swift motion. He growled in a very feral manner. ” Do you wanna pick a fight you white-haired freak?”
Asa also stood, dabbing his lips with a napkin before placing it on his barely touched plate. ” I am ready to give you your beating any time, little puppy.
Alarmed at the sudden escalation in the situation, I looked at Mita and Ivan for answers, help even. But I got nothing but bemused expressions and soft chuckles. Standing up slowly, careful not to provoke either of them, I glanced from one to the other.
” Whoa… hang on a moment guys… you come here to eat, right? So, let’s eat?”
There was a strange sound to my voice. It was a strangled effort to convince two relative strangers to stop fighting, but what I really wanted was not to be in the middle of a potentially explosive squabble.
A moment of tense silence passed before both Asa and Zev slowly sat back down, watching each other very carefully, not before both of them glared at me with that same annoyed look that had shot in front of me earlier.
Swallowing slightly, I sat down too, hoping the tentative truce would at least last until the end of my meal. Zev’s growling voice came from my right as he tucked into his meal again.
” I could kick Asa’s ass any time I wanted to.”
” Is that so?” Asa replied with an air of mocking arrogance. ” Obviously your thick skull has prevented your brain from remembering the last match we had.”
I groaned inwardly, feeling the animosity grow again. Was it impossible for these two to just leave it be? I mean, was it really that important to them to get the last word in?
Mita must’ve read my expression because she said, ” This is normal, Alexei. I wouldn’t worry about it.”
” You’re not the one sitting in the middle,” I said, my ears ringing slightly with their continual bickering. My patience was beginning to wear thin. She laughed, Ivan joining her. My eye twitched in annoyance as insult after insult flew over my head.
” So,” Mita started, clearing her throat so Asa and Zev would stop their sniping, ” Kusanagi is your Hunter name huh? That’s an interesting one.”
My head lifted from looking down at my plate. I blinked and frowned slightly. The way she had said “interesting” – it didn’t feel right. She was dancing around something, I could feel it. My eyes narrowed slightly.
” What do you mean by ‘interesting’?” I asked cautiously, abandoning my food.
There was a slight smile upon Mita’s lips, that air of knowing about her irritating me.
” When a Hunter is judged and given a name, that name usually refers to the powers brought forth during the judgement,” she said, watching me closely, waiting for my reaction. I felt a sudden wave of foreboding come over me. In these next few words, she was going to tell me I was more like Jace than I wanted to be. ” Kyra refers to the powers you brought forth by giving you a name of a god with similar powers, from times when humans were living together in new civilisations. Mine is Kishar – she was an earth goddess from Babylon, one of the most ancient civilisations known to us. As you can probably guess, I have powers that can manipulate earth and stone. But yours Alexei… your Hunter name isn’t a god.”
” It… isn’t?” My mouth went dry. Here it comes.
She shook her head lightly, her deep brown eyes still watching for my reactions. ” From what I’ve read, your Hunter name is that of a legendary sword. The only other Hunter whose name is different from a god is Jace. Her Hunter name is Arthur – the name of an ancient hero.”
I found myself groaning inside. Why… why did Jace make me so damn different from everyone else… why?! My right hand twitched, as if reminding me of the weight of the sword I had summoned. Was it because I had the same coloured eyes as her? Or was it because I summoned a sword during my judgement? Whatever the reasons, she certainly didn’t care to share them with me.
Artek moved, breaking me out of the vicious whirl of thoughts spinning around my head. He had turned to Mita and there was a disapproving frown creasing his lips.
” You didn’t need to tell him that right now, did you?” he said gruffly, his teal eyes narrowed slightly, his long copper hair swaying ominously behind his head in its ponytail.
Mita faced her critic. ” He needed to know. The earlier the better. There’s no reason why we need to dance around the fact that he’s – ”
But before Mita could finish, before I could find out exactly what I was to them, I found myself being knocked to the floor as Zev dived for Asa. The table fell to its side with a heavy thud; plates collided with the floor with great smashes near my feet and cutlery barely missed my arms as they clattered dangerously to the floor. There was a sudden upheaval in noise around us as Hunters from the other tables and in the kitchens rushed in to see if they could help. Beside me, the twins rolled around on the floor, cuffs of shirts gripped in each other’s hands.
” WHAT DID YOU CALL ME YOU WHITE-HAIRED FREAK?!” I heard Zev shout angrily above the buzzing of the crowd.
Mita and Artek, who had somehow managed not to get crushed by the flipping table, added to the din, shouting at the two to stop fighting. I scrambled to my feet, getting out of the way of the two boys’ fighting, wondering if I should join the fray to try and stop them.
Suddenly, Mita and Artek’s shouts stopped. So did every other sound apart from the two scuffling. It was as if everyone had lost the ability to speak. It was then I felt it – felt the reason why they had stopped. Fear flooded my body. I stiffened as I felt all eyes turn to me. My breath caught in my throat as I turned to look beside me.
Jace had appeared, her white-mauve hair swishing around her shoulders, her eyes more red than violet. Being so close to her again, all the memories of my judgement to rushed back to me. My right hand twitched again, wanting to feel that familiar and comforting weight back in it, to remind me that I wasn’t completely defenceless this time around. I let out my breath with a shudder, but the next quickly caught in my throat again.
” Enough you two.”
Jace’s voice was barely more than a whisper but as soon as it had left her mouth, the twins froze. Both of them looked around slowly, their eyes wide with terror.
” Out. Now.” She spoke firmly, barely raising her voice, but she didn’t need to. The eerie silence of the hall and the horrified looks upon the twins’ faces said it all.
Asa and Zev nodded and stood up quickly. They left through the great timber doors of the mess hall in silence. I watched them leave, wondering what was going to happen to them. I was about to turn to ask Mita or Artek about it when I felt Jace’s gaze steady itself onto me. Swallowing hard and trying to ignore the intense prickling sensation running up and down my spine, I turned to meet her gaze. There was a tense few moments where I found myself staring into those violet eyes. The crowd around us didn’t dare move, instead watching us breathlessly.
Those few moments felt like hours. All I could think of was that I was staring at myself, that I had those eyes too and that we were the only ones to have them in the whole of Hunter history. Another wave of intense prickling washed up and down my spine at that thought. I was expecting her to say something, but she just stared for another second or two before striding past me, going after the twins. A collective sigh of relief resonated from the crowd and they started to disperse, the buzz of the hall returning instantly.
My knees wobbled slightly as I turned to find Kyra had joined Mita and Artek. That sweet, dark-haired angel was looking up at me, concern alight in her eyes.
” Are you all right, Alexei?” she asked, her honey sweet tones washing away the fear that had plagued me moments before.
” Yeah… I think so… maybe I need to sit down somewhere,” I said jerkily.
Mita shuddered, rubbing her arms, trying to get rid of the goosebumps. ” I swear Jace doesn’t have a female bone in her body. Seriously, she scares the living daylights out of me.”
Kyra placed a comforting hand on Mita’s shoulder, smiling warmly to comfort her fellow Hunter. ” It’s a leader’s burden to never show weakness in front of those she commands. That’s what she believes. Now, I have to go before Jace kills those two. Really… they should have learned their lessons by now.”
And Kyra raced off in the same direction Jace and the twins had went.
I stood there, my eyes glued to those doors Kyra had vanished through. My heart was still thumping with adrenaline.
” Well… I suppose it could have been worse,” Artek’s voice came from behind me. I turned to face him, only to find him standing there with his arms crossed, smiling jovially.
” Worse? How could it have been worse?” I asked, my voice rife with disbelief.
” They didn’t wreck the place this time,” Mita said as she gathered up pieces of smashed plates. ” Sure they broke a few things, but last time they had a major tussle, it destroyed half the library. If Jace hadn’t punished them, Cain certainly would have.”
” Destroyed the library…” My voice trailed off, unable to believe that they were saying these things so easily, like it was a normal thing. Destroying half of a building wasn’t exactly normal to my way of thinking.
” That’s probably why Jace was so mad at them,” Mita continued, the pieces of plates chinking together in her hands. ” She didn’t want the place where we eat to end up the same way.”
” They did ruin a lot of valuable information last time,” Artek joined in, helping clean. I bent down too, not wanting to feel guilty about letting them do all the work. Artek continued. ” Poor Yelena, trying to deal with Morpheus when he heard about it.”
My ears perked up at the sound of two new names. ” Who?”
” Ah, right, you don’t know about them. I keep forgetting. It almost feels like you’re one of us already,” said Mita as she straightened up, stretching her back.
I did the same as others helped Artek put the table right way up. There was a small burst of a warm feeling inside of me when I heard Mita’s words. I couldn’t help but smile at her comment. I was fitting in, already, after only being here a short while. It felt as if a small weight was lifted off my shoulders.
” Sooo, who are Yelena and Morpheus?” I said, trying to encourage Mita to go on.
” Yelena Ma’at. She’s one of the Hunters that stays here in the Manor all the time. Not all Hunters use their abilities for fighting. In fact, most don’t. They prefer to stay here and look after the others. Yelena’s the one that takes care of Morpheus.”
Artek nodded, joining our conversation as we proceeded to finish tidying up and left the mess hall, going out into the large foyer. It was empty except for us. There was no sound of shuffling feet from the gangway above, no procession of Hunters going about their business. It was slightly unnerving, coming from the commotion that had happened only minutes ago.
” Morpheus is – how do I put this nicely – he’s a strange one?” Artek said, with a pained look on his face that told me he was desperately searching for the right words.
Mita half-sniggered, half-snorted. ” I think that’s an understatement. He’s a loner,” she explained to me as my confusion was obvious to her. It had plastered itself all over my face. ” He doesn’t let anyone see him but Yelena and Jace. As far as I know he is really into reading the books in the library, so what happened with Asa and Zev, you know, destroying half the place, would have set him off.”
” Right,” I said, trying to absorb this information. I was going to ask another question when Mita suddenly added something.
” Oh, and he predicts when the next Hunter will arrive.”
I blinked. ” Predicts? What’s that mean?”
” He can tell when the next Hunter will be brought here, before it happens… if that makes sense,” Artek explained.
No, it didn’t make any sense at all. How was someone able to tell something is going to happen before it happens? As I played with that question in my mind, Artek and Mita said they had some jobs to do and left me to my own devices. Wandering back to my room, I thought about Jace and Kyra, the whole judging process and my Hunter name. Surely it wasn’t just because I summoned a sword that I was named Kusanagi? I needed to find out more. This library, whatever it was, kept being mentioned and it sounded like there was a lot of information there that might help. But first, rest. My body ached. It seems I haven’t fully recovered from my judging just yet.
Opening the door to my room, I noticed that the bed that wasn’t mine hadn’t been touched. It looked like whoever my mysterious roommate was, didn’t stay in his room much or wasn’t impressed with me as his new roommate. Either way, the room was empty. I flopped onto my bed, the dull thuds of ache making themselves quite known. The low buzz from outside the door soon took its monotonous toll as darkness engulfed my vision and thoughts.