This is it, the final chapter. Sorry it's taken a while to get up here, but I wasn't happy with it for a long time and I wanted it to be perfect, or as close as I can get! Thank you all for your wonderful reviews and support through the duration of this story. Your words of encouragement (and curses!) have meant a lot to me!!!!
I take no credit for the end quote; it is from one of the most inspiring books I have ever read, and if you want to know more of it just drop me a line.
With no more ado, here is chapter twenty five. Read, review but most of all enjoy!
the real vampire
Dying Rays of the Sun
The early evening sun cast a golden light onto hillside overlooking the sea. A faint breeze pushed up small, white-topped waves on the surface of the sparkling blue of the ocean, reflecting the deep blue of the cloudless sky above, and gently rustled the blades of green grass and the black clothes of the six people that were gathered there. There was a solemn silence as the sombre figures stood with their backs to the ocean view, their gaze instead focused on the black casket before them. It had been placed on a simple rock stand, and inlaid with crimson and gold, the symbol of the ranger that lay within. Beside the coffin was a small podium, which the Sensei of the Wind Ninja Academy stood, his fur moving gently with the soft wind. He looked at the faces of the six young people before him, skin pale and eyes red and filled with unshed tears, and a sad smile graced his face.
"Today we are gathered here to celebrate the life of Hunter Bradley, a brave ranger, strong teammate and a true friend. Wilful, stubborn, obstinate are all words that can be used to describe him, but he was also loyal, dependable and steadfast. He was more than a teammate; he was a friend and brother too. The pain we feel at his passing will fade with time, but the memories of him will live on, just as he lives on in our hearts. We will never forget him, or the sacrifice he made for us all. Not a sacrifice in vain, but a brave and noble sacrifice for a something Hunter held dear, for a cause he believed in. For freedom."
Sensei's eyes took in the expressions on the faces surrounding him, eyes fixing on Blake. Hunter's brother stood, head bowed with tears flowing freely down his face. Tori, her blonde hair lifted slightly by the wind, had her arm around his shoulders as her own tears spilled from her blue eyes. Words had little comfort to him at this time, Sensei knew, but Blake would get through this. Glancing at the tear streaked faces of Dustin, Shane, Cam and Kelly, he knew they all would, in time.
"Hunter lived his life to the fullest, never letting any small setback get him down. He was honest and determined and true to himself to the end. We are faced now with a huge task, the task of saving the world from Lothor. It was a task that Hunter took to his heart, and he would want us to do the same. Hunter would not want us to give up or give in, because to do so would mean the end of life as we know it, the end of our freedom. There will be a time to fight, but today is not that day. Today is a time to grieve and a time to remember Hunter as he was, as he would want us to remember him. To remember him as man filled with life and happiness and strength. A man who loved life and who touched each and every one of us in his own special way." There was a minutes silence as Sensei allowed his words to reach out to the people before him. "And now I think Blake has something to say?"
The young man stepped forward next to the coffin that held his brother, his hands shaking as he turned to face his friends. "Hunter was my brother," he began, tears running down his cheeks as his voice caught in his throat. "We weren't joined by blood, but that never mattered. We were brothers. We acted like brothers, we talked like brothers, we fought like brothers…We had our ups and downs, but, like brothers, we always came through it in the end. Words cannot express how much he meant to me, how much he cared for me. He was always there for me, through the good times and the bad times and I will miss him." His voice cracked and he swallowed hard, "We will all miss him. Miss his smile, his laugh, hell even his broodiness and sarcasm. We've had such a short time with him, but I know we'll never forget or regret a moment. Goodbyes are the hardest thing to ever have to say to someone you love, and I never thought I'd be saying mine to Hunter this soon, but I'll say it now. Goodbye Hunter," he whispered and then bowed his head. Tori stepped up in front of him, but he gently declined her open arms, settling instead for taking her hand and entwining his fingers with hers. Salty tears trickled from his eyes, but he would not allow himself to break down just yet. He had to get through this, for Hunter.
After a minute he stood up straighter and wiped his fingers across his cheeks. Managing a weak smile at Tori, he nodded at Sensei and then Cam, Shane and Dustin moved next to each corner of the black casket. Blake took up the last corner and on Sensei's count the four men lifted up the coffin and reverently lowered it into the ground in the hole that had been dug earlier. Standing back from the edge, Tori moved up next to them as Cam stood down. Closing their eyes, the four ninja's concentrated and joined hands over the grave. Threads of red, blue, and yellow light twisted above it.
Kelly gasped as dark storm clouds rose up from nowhere, a sudden fierce wind whipping her red hair around her pale face and causing her black dress to flap around her knees. Her tears dried on her cheeks as she stared in amazement at the power the four young people wielded. The day had darkened to night, and the multicoloured strands of light illuminated the hillside. She shivered and Cam slipped an arm tentively around her shoulders. She reached up with one hand and wrapped her fingers through his, grateful of the comfort he brought her.
The light reached a peak and a crack of navy thunder hit down towards the earth. Then the wind dropped back to a light breeze and the clouds disappeared as suddenly as they had come. Bright sunlight returned and Kelly blinked. Once her eyes had readjusted to the light, she could see that the grave had been filled in; a mound of dark earth now where seconds earlier had been a hole. Wordlessly, she turned to Cam, who just gave her a small smile in return. At the head of the grave was a blank pillar of granite. Sensei Kanoi looked at it for a long moment, before waving a paw in the direction of the stone, causing a white fog drifted over the grave. The gentle breeze cleared it way, once more revealing the stone, but no longer blank. Kelly read the inscription and couldn't stop the hot tears fall from her eyes. She turned into Cam and sobbed as the reality began to hit home. Cam awkwardly put his arms around the shorter women and then his eyes met his father's. Sensei Kanoi gave a barely perceptible nod at him, and then turned away. Cam began to follow him, gently escorting Kelly back down the hill, leaving the four young people together to say their own, private goodbyes.
For a long time after they had left, Dustin, Shane, Tori and Blake just stood in silence, seeking solace from each others company. The soft wind blew around them, caressing their skin and ruffling through their hair, but it went mostly unnoticed, too lost in their own thoughts to pay it any attention. Finally Dustin stepped forward and placed his hand on the grave marker, his fingers carefully tracing the words inscribed on it. A bitter smile crossed his face through his tears, "You knew, didn't you? Even before I tried to tell you that… Why didn't you say anything?"
Shane walked up behind his yellow teammate and placed a warm hand on his shoulder. "No regrets Dustin. Hunter wouldn't have wanted us to regret anything. Every moment with him was special. I know it hurts so badly right now, but Hunter would want us to go on. Cherish our time with him, remember the moments we shared, but don't regret a single minute of it. What was or wasn't said doesn't matter now, just that we had time with him." He spoke calmly despite his inner grief, and his words offered Dustin comfort.
The Hispanic man nodded, "Every moment with him was special; we just never realised it until he was gone." His face creased up and his body shook as he wept. Shane, with a subtle nod from Tori and Blake, gently took Dustin by the hand and led him away towards Ninja Ops.
Blake, with Tori's supporting arm around his waist took a deep breath as he faced his brother's grave. The two of them stood there in silence for a long moment, then Blake collapsed to his knees and allowed himself to give in to the emotions that he had been fighting to hold back throughout the brief service. Tori knelt down and gathered him into her, "It's alright Blake, let it out," she said gently, her own tears flowing freely down her cheeks.
"I don't want him to be gone, Tori. This doesn't seem real," he gasped through the sobs that racked his body, "I just want to spend one more moment with him, but I can't, because he… he's gone." Tori knew that her words would hold no comfort for Blake right now, so she instead just held him, stroking a hand through his dark hair.
As he clung to her, Tori look over his head to Hunter's grave, "Oh Hunter," she whispered, "Did you have any idea how much you were going to be missed? Or of how much you meant to us all? Nothing's going to be the same." Suddenly an overwhelming surge of emptiness washed over her, the pain like a knife in her gut and she rested her forehead on the top of Blake's head and cried with him. They had all lost something precious that could never be replaced, and though the pain would fade with time, there would always be a hole where Hunter should be.
The tears subsided and Blake pushed back slightly so he could look at Tori. She managed a weak smile at him and kissed him tenderly on the lips. He returned the kiss softly and looked deeply into her eyes, "I love you. I want you to know that. I never said that enough to Hunter; I'm not going to make that mistake with you. Life is too short for regrets and cheap words. When I say that, I really mean it. I love you, Tori Hanson."
Tori looked at him for a long moment and then hugged the navy ranger fiercely, "I know. And I love you too." They held each other a serene, undisturbed time and then, with unspoken understanding, they pulled apart and stood up. Arm in arm they made their way down the hill, away from the site of Hunter's final resting place. Blake only paused once, glancing back up with a sad smile, "Rest in peace, Hunter," he murmured, before carrying on walking, leaving the hillside in a peaceful calm.
The dying rays of the sun shone down upon the roses left on the grave, turning their petals into drops of crimson blood and glinting golden on the words inscribed on the stone that marked the final resting place of Hunter Bradley. Simple words, yet they held so much meaning for those left behind. Hunter was gone, but his death would not be in vain. They would fight this foe, and win, for Hunter, for the world, and for themselves. The sun slipped down behind the horizon, dusk settling over the hillside, but the words seemed to glow with their own inner fire, a fitting tribute to the crimson ranger who had given his life to save them all:
The World You Desired Can Be Won; It Exists, It Is Real, It Is Possible, It Is Yours.