As far as half-human, half-monster distortions of nature went, Temujai were some of the worst.
First off, their claws were way too sharp, as evidenced by the blood dripping from a deep cut in Will's arm. Secondly, their ability to fly via ominously floating around? That was entirely unfair. Will had no experience shooting at the sky. This became obvious once you looked at the half-dozen arrows sticking futilely out of the surrounding trees. And thirdly, the Temujai's high-pitched, supersonic screams were getting really irritating. If Will had to deal with one more nosebleed, he'd scream right back at them.
"Will! To your right!"
Will spun and loosed an arrow to his right. An unearthly howl split the evening air, telling him he'd hit his mark. Will watched as the wraith-like form of the Tem'uj shuddered from the impact, the grey-shafted arrow sticking out of one shoulder. It hadn't been a very good hit, he noted with a sigh, but at least it had been a hit. They moved so quickly and so unpredictably that even Halt, the owner of the voice who'd just spoken, had been having some trouble. Of course, Halt's version of trouble was an arrow landing an inch away from its mark. Will's version of trouble was two feet off and into a tree.
The Tem'uj screeched again and dove straight for Will, moving terrifyingly quickly. Caught off-guard, Will threw his empty hand above him in defense and accessed the deep well of godly power inside him. A sphere of light sprang forth from it and shot at the creature, who recoiled, claws moving towards the black holes that stood in for eyes.
Knowing that it would take a second for the creature to regain its sight, Will cast a hasty glance around. He and his master, the Ranger Halt, had been ambushed on their way back to the simple cabin that was their abode. Three Temujai - more than they'd ever had to deal with before - had swooped down seemingly out of nowhere. The two Rangers had been fighting for long minutes and only dispatched one of the monsters. Halt was currently working on the second, and it was all Will could do to keep the third occupied.
Will's eyes shot back to his own target, who was still circling warily, and then once more to Halt and his Tem'uj. Half a dozen arrows stuck out of the creature's heart - if indeed it even had one. Merely one of Halt's thick-shafted, celestial bronze-headed arrows would've been enough to kill any other monster. It was a testament to the creatures's prowess that it hadn't disintegrated yet. Will was relieved to see that the arrows had at least weakened it, though. It had finally descended from the air to fight Halt on the ground. It must have had human legs under the tattered black robes it wore, for it moved almost inhumanly quickly. Halt's pitch-black, Stygian iron daggers matched the Tem'uj's blackened claws almost perfectly.
A slight breeze pressed against Will's skin. Alarmed, he glanced back up at his target, only to find that it wasn't there anymore. Will instinctively threw himself to the left. He landed hard on one shoulder just in time to see similar claws miss him by inches. Will closed his hand around his throwing knife, aimed, and threw. Throwing away one of his two knives like that wasn't smart, but he hadn't many other choices.
The monster flinched back. Will dared another glance in Halt's direction: the Ranger was still fully occupied with the other creature. The boy hesitated, then made a split-second decision. He dropped his bow, held out his hands, and summoned up his powers.
A bolt of energy sprang from his fingertips, so powerful Will's hair stood on end. Too late, the monster attempted to dodge. The distinct smell of burning flesh seared Will's senses and he cringed. The Tem'uj let out a shriek, wildly flailed its limbs and claws, and hit the ground with a resounding thud. Within seconds it had crumbled to dust.
At almost the same instant, Will faltered and grabbed onto a nearby tree limb to keep him upright. I made a mistake, he thought. He grimaced. His stomach felt like it was going to implode. Ever since he'd discovered he'd been given the power to control light by Apollo, his father, he'd worked to master the ability. He'd gotten much better at it now that he'd been training for a year and a half, but using that amount of power never failed to exhaust him.
From a short distance away came a long, drawn-out screech that made Will clap a hand to his ears. He snapped his head around just in time to see Halt's Tem'uj slowly turn to dust. Before it could disperse, it was absorbed by the black knives the Ranger carried. Halt caught the knife that had given the death-blow in midair as the flesh which had held it disintegrated. With practiced ease, he wiped it and his other knife - a long, thick, oddly shaped knife the Rangers called a saxe knife - off on the mottled grey-green cloak he wore. He sheathed them both on the double scabbard he wore on his belt. Slipping his bow over his shoulder, he then turned to Will.
One of the many things Will had always found highly unnerving about his master was his uncanny ability to maintain awareness of his surroundings. No other warrior, demigod or no, would ever have sheathed their weapons until they'd checked to make sure their allies were safe. Will knew that Halt hadn't sheathed his weapons out of negligence or apathy, but because he knew Will had already finished the other Temujai off.
"Are you hurt?" Halt asked, coming up to his apprentice and inspecting him with a keen, dark-eyed glance.
Those eyes were another one of the things many found unsettling about the Ranger. Even fellow Rangers spoke of them as being as dark as death itself. The comparison was fitting, seeing as Halt was the son of Hades, god of the dead. With similarly dark, unkempt hair and beard, and knives made of iron forged from the Underworld, Halt certainly cut an intimidating figure.
"Got a cut on my shoulder," Will responded, motioning to it with his good arm. "It stings, but it'll be fine by tomorrow. How...how about you?"
He stifled a yawn in his last sentence, the exhaustion of using his godly powers weighing on him. Halt's eyes narrowed and Will realized with a sinking feeling that the Ranger already knew exactly how Will had killed his target.
"I'm fine. I'd probably be better if that stunt you pulled with your Temujai hadn't nearly given me a heart attack, though."
Will winced. He had the feeling he was in for a lecture. Halt wasn't his parent - that title was stolen by a god Will had never even met. He wasn't even a relation of Will's, since godly relations were always iffy at best. However, Halt could still lecture with the best of them.
"Will, we've been over this. You aren't to use your powers in combat until you've grown strong enough to use them well."
As the first child of Apollo, god of the sun and music, to receive photokinesis, Will was something of an anomaly. It was rare enough for a demigod to be able to control fire; for a demigod to control light was unheard of. The feat had earned him the attention of gods and demigods alike. Halt was right in wanting to keep Will as safe as possible until he'd learned to use such an unprecedented power.
Will looked down. "I know."
"If you know, then why did you do so anyway?"
The boy bit his lip and shifted uncomfortably. After what had happened a year ago - Ferris and Will's betrayal of the Rangers and Halt's near death - Will had desperately tried to make amends for all the wrong he'd been accomplice to. He'd gained the forgiveness of most of the Rangers and even some of the nicer gods, but he'd never truly felt forgiven.
Perhaps because Halt had never told him he was.
"I didn't think it'd matter," he muttered after a pregnant pause. "I wanted to take down one of them. And I did! I'm not useless, or-"
"Will, no one's ever said you're useless," Halt broke in, irritation tinging his voice. "But you are reckless, and taking down a dangerous monster using volatile and unpredictable techniques is incredibly risky."
Will couldn't think of anything to say to that. He just hung his head. Inside, he seethed with frustration along with the same pain he'd carried inside him for over a year now. Gilan, Will's best friend in the Ranger Corps, had forgiven Will long ago. Even Crowley, the Ranger Commandant, had forgiven him. But as each day had passed by, Will had eventually stopped hoping Halt would ever do the same. It felt like their relationship was stuck in a rut. Halt would never trust him or treat him as anything other than a reckless kid, no matter how hard Will tried to convince him otherwise.
"That aside," Halt continued, the irritation fading, "this is now the fourth Temujai attack we've had to fend off in the span of two weeks. The timing and number of the attacks seems to be growing instead of diminishing. I think we need to report this to Crowley in person."
Will nodded. He pushed himself off the tree and swayed for a second before regaining equilibrium. "When are we leaving?"
"At dawn tomorrow. It's too dangerous to travel at night now."
Will wholeheartedly agreed with that. He shuddered to think about how difficult fighting a Temujai in the dark would be.
The clearing was dark now, the setting sun having vanished behind the treeline. The sky still echoed a few of sunset's colors but they were rapidly fading. Will and Halt wordlessly collected the arrows they'd spent and put them back into their quivers. If they had been fighting mortals who bled instead of monsters who dusted, they wouldn't have collected them. But since monsters' remains never, well, remained, there was nothing wrong with scavenging their arrows.
The walk back to Halt's cabin was quiet as well, the silence only occasionally broken by a few words scattered here and there. Halt pointed out a few sets of tracks and Will identified them. Will asked what they were having for dinner and Halt huffed and muttered something about teenage boys and food. The forest recovered quickly from the Temujai attack and regained its former serenity easily. The crickets, cicadas, and frogs started up a soothing chorus. The occasional owl and whippoorwill joined in.
Tug and Abelard, Will and Halt's horses, greeted them from the yard as they strode up. Ranger horses were all the offspring, direct or otherwise, of immortals. It was a long, complicated, and kind of gross story, but all Ranger horses hailed directly from one of Poseidon's immortal, equine offspring. This gave Ranger horses stamina and speed beyond mortal horses and an intelligence as great as any human's.
Will affectionately ran a hand down Tug's neck. "Hey, boy. Whatcha been up to today?"
Tug snorted. The look in his eyes seemed to say, Nothing, but I bet I would've helped you take down those Temujai if Halt hadn't insisted we horses stay behind.
"Will!" Halt called before Will could respond to Tug. "Come help me with dinner!"
Will reluctantly disentangled himself from Tug and went to join Halt inside.
Dinner was quick and informal, per usual. The two ate off of simple dishes and made simple conversation. Afterwards they cleaned, did evening chores, and tended to their horses. The two Rangers went off to bed early.
Despite how tired he was, however, Will found sleep elusive. He stared up at his darkened ceiling for what felt like hours, dreading the morning. When he at last went to sleep, he dreamed of darkness, fear, and a feminine voice murmuring soon, soon, soon.
When he woke the next morning, he was terrified and had no idea why.
A/N: Thanks for reading!
For those who read the author's note from my prequel, The Rangers of Apollo, I decided I won't be writing the oneshot of Halt forgiving Will. I know it makes me seem completely heartless, but it's needed for plot and character development. Anyway, hope you enjoyed. ❤