Disclaimer: Claymore is not mine.
A/N: Here we are, chapter two. I think I updated a little quicker than I usually do, haha...
Brittle - Chapter Two: How to Gain Experience
It seemed so hard to believe – that the Organisation would kill off their own warriors. How? Why? Even though she'd been told she was close to being a failure, the trainers had always emphasised how important it was that the job be completed and that all humans were to be protected. If those two things were so significant, then why do this and impede themselves?
Valerie felt her entire being shiver with fear from this unknown scenario. If some of the male warriors they had were rogue, then there would be some explanation there… but to kill even those little boys they were training? Wasn't that a bit too far?
And yet here she was, going along to complete a job with these thoughts heavy on her shoulders. Nothing seemed so black and white to her now.
"We're here," announced Hazel, breaking the girl from her daze. "But of course you'd know that, right?"
The hill rolled down towards the sea, sparkling bright with the afternoon sun. A town… no, a city lay before them, all centred on the harbour which brought it prosperity. A large wall surrounded the place, an imposing barrier from this viewpoint. The memories were fuzzy, but the sense of familiarity was somewhat warming despite her circumstances – one that both made her frightened and excited at the prospect of finding an old face. "No time to waste," she breathed.
"You got that right. Let's get it over and done with so we can leave already. Freakin' humans and their huge shining beacon-cities of 'dinner's served'…" Hazel's voice trailed off as she went ahead. Valerie ran to catch up.
"Two Claymore, eh? Situation must be worse than what the mayor's letting out. But…" The man at the gates raised an eyebrow as he looked down at Valerie. "You're pretty short for a Silver-Eyed Witch."
Hazel was still grumbling. She wrinkled her nose at him. "She's a trainee, dumbass."
"No way to treat the gatekeeper, Miss Hazel," replied the man with a flat look. "Considering I'm pretty much the only one 'ere who'll give ya the respect you need."
"Yeah, yeah, the usual 'thanks for saving my family'-crap. At least someone knows how to give it." The edges of Hazel's mouth twitched – a rare smile perhaps? "So where is the damn thing already?"
The man rubbed his chin thoughtfully, going over the information in his mind. "Usually they stick by the outskirts of town, but this one's been acting differently."
"They were smart enough to stay on the outskirts so they could have a quick escape route," explained Hazel. She clenched a fist, joints cracking in her way of showing she meant business. She frowned. "I'm sure everyone has been talking about a visit from me as usual?"
He nodded. "Same precautions as always – circle the rumour of a Claymore coming to investigate, see if that'll drive it off or not."
Valerie listened carefully, making sure to take the details in. Although it was a mission, it was still her duty to learn. What Hazel was doing made sense – sleuthing for clues on the whereabouts and its behaviour before going out to find it. It would be easier to do this than simply running around town all day trying to pick up on the youma's yokai, which was obviously hidden in the first place. "Has it tried to escape?" she asked, trying to have some input as well.
The man gave a small snort of interest that such a short girl would be attempting to follow the lead of her teacher. As if one Hazel wasn't bad enough… "Not from what we've heard. The blokes have been watching the walls constantly and there's no sign. Couple people disappeared from the docks again before sunrise. Bad sign really, never heard of one going so far into the centre of town. The harbour area is supposed to be safe."
"Sounds like the freakin' thing is too concerned about its appetite than escaping," muttered Hazel. "It probably won't leave until it's either dead or that the place is too much trouble."
"I know which option you'll be going for," commented the man with a grin.
"Complete elimination. It's what we're paid for after all." The Claymore mirrored the grin back before it elapsed into a grim look. "Let's go."
Armour rattled as the two entered the city. The man at the gates watched them disappear down the hillside.
"You better not die, Hazel. You're the first reliable Claymore this place has had in a while." He turned back to watch the forests being caressed by the sea breezes.
Hazel's eyes shifted back and forth as they walked the almost-empty avenue. The last time she had been here, there had been more activity than this. Despite the youma attacks, the people had learnt to continue with life, but now was a different story. Having attacks in the harbour where the most activity was in the first place had definitely frightened the townsfolk indoors. For her, this wasn't good. "I'll admit something I hate to say," she grumbled. "My yokai-sensing abilities aren't exactly the best."
Valerie glanced up at her teacher. "How have you completed missions before this?"
The woman gave her a dark glare for questioning her. "There's such thing as instinct and tracking, ya know. But tracking is a bit harder in an environment like this. Instead of looking for clues like broken twigs and disturbances on the ground, you're following a more mental path that you have to work out. And from there you narrow down the suspects, likely places it is hiding or going to, and what targets they're bound to go after. A lot of youma tend to have preferences in the type of people they pick off."
Valerie nodded her understanding. This would be what she'd need to do as well for the time being. Perhaps in the future she would be more experienced in sensing yokai, but as things were, she would have to learn Hazel's way of doing things. "The certain type of people it likes must be at the harbour…" she said thoughtfully.
"Heh, seems like someone's into seafood then," smirked Hazel. Seeing her young charge's confused look she furrowed her brow. "The one time I try to make a joke and it's wasted on you… The bastard likes sailors from fishing vessels. They're the only ones who'd be at the docks at that time of morning. And if I'm right, then we'll find no boats have left them yet because they don't want to be ambushed when they come back to dock."
As they neared the harbour, the number of people began to rise, although the tension in the air was almost overwhelming – like a flock of wary birds ready to take flight at any moment. Nervous glances were cast at the two warriors as they continued to walk. They were unsteady; Valerie felt uneasy.
"This isn't going to do, us walking around like this," murmured Hazel. "The thing wouldn't be out at this time of day anyway."
"Why not?" asked Valerie. "It could be anyone of these people, couldn't it?"
Hazel frowned. "It's late afternoon and the thing doesn't seem to care if we're here or not. If it's attacking sailors, then it would be more concerned about finding a good place to jump out of to attack instead of trying to blend into the community. But then… youma do strange things."
Valerie sighed quietly. It was a possibility that they were wrong in the creature's behaviour, but they could only go on what they knew and hope they were right. Hazel seemed to have good enough judgement though. It was funny, the feeling she had walking down this street. It was so close to being familiar, yet everything still so strange at the same time. Like a dream. She glanced at the few faces that dared to show themselves – certain features stood out, but older, more frightened at her gaze, twisted differently from what she was sure used to be smiles. She couldn't help but feel intimidated. It was a feeling even worse than that of being in other towns, and she wished she could run.
But no… she was a warrior. And a warrior should never cry before those she is meant to protect.
"I have a plan." Hazel had a confidently sly look on her face. Valerie blinked, wondering what it was. Her expression seemed like she'd hit upon something ingenious.
Ingenious… sure… Valerie wrinkled her nose at the smell of rotten fish that clung to the inside of the barrel. She was glad she was wearing metal boots – the swirling gunk at the bottom wasn't something she wished to think about. She'd been covered in all kinds of stuff fighting youma, but this was certainly a new, smellier, one.
She edged up a little from her hiding place to tug at the canvas covering the barrel to let some air in. Hazel had been so sure she'd be able to fit inside the barrel, which was true, but it was the sword that was the problem. The thing stuck out the top like a shining beacon in the night. In the end, after some quiet bickering, she'd tossed a piece of canvas over the top to fix it, and make the whole thing an even worse experience with the smell.
Valerie wouldn't admit it, but hiding in that smelly barrel seemed actually preferable to that afternoon walking with all those stares upon her. She shook head slightly to wake up from thinking about earlier. There was still the mission to finish and Hazel was always badmouthing her about how easily her mind wandered. There were things she had to keep a check on: keeping her yokai low; staying as still as possible; observing for any signs of the youma outside; any signs from Hazel as well. Valerie peeped out again to where her teacher was hiding, behind the doors of a large shed. The doors were cracked open slightly, and Valerie saw the glint of light from Hazel's eyes. She was watching like a hawk. Valerie turned her attention back to the main dock. She'd work hard at this!
Hours later, as an extremely faded red began to creep over the horizon, Valerie was still staring at the docks. There had been nothing so far – only the sounds of the sea lapping at the harbour walls. There had been an ominous feeling growing the entire night though. The flickering of enemy yokai, or her own paranoia? Valerie cursed her inexperience.
Wait… she heard something. The far off ringing of a bell was coming from the sea. In the distance she could spot the outline of a fishing vessel with glowing lamps. She watched as it slowly came towards shore, though it seemed to pause at the harbour entry, hesitating as if those on board knew they were about the run the gauntlet. Valerie checked the docks, then back at where Hazel was. The woman's eye was trained on something. Valerie followed her gaze, trying to pinpoint what she was staring at.
Wood creaked. Under the planks of the jetty, something flickered between the small gaps.
Valerie's breath cut short. Was it beneath the jetty? That whole time had something been under there?
The boat edged towards the docks again, the crew knowing they couldn't put it off. Valerie gulped. That dreadful feeling… nobody was here to greet them back to shore. Their families back at home likely hoping all night their fathers would be alright… When the crew stepped off onto the jetty, they had no idea what would be awaiting them.
The young warrior's brows furrowed. This creature would not be allowed to take lives this day.
Nervous voices came from the docking boat. The wet slap of nets of fish landed on the jetty. Quiet footsteps and creaking wood signalled the crew disembarking. Their human ears could not hear the scratching underneath the jetty as the creature neared closer.
"Be careful when you get to the sheds," muttered one of the men. "One of the fellas from the other boat got taken there a couple nights back."
Murmurs as the crew voiced their understanding. The clink of knives as they were unsheathed – normally used to scale fish, but now the only thing that could possibly save their lives.
The harbour was so quiet, so peaceful.
"LAY DOWN! NOW!" A scream echoed across the water.
It was a blur: flashes of silver, thundering footsteps, wood splintering. Men fell, pushed aside into the ocean below. Brief glimpses at the faces of two females, one grinning manically while the other attempting to look brave. Something roared. Crewmen still on the jetty threw themselves onto the wood as a sword slashed above them.
Hazel gritted her teeth as the youma managed to grab her wrist before she struck. She spat at it and twisted her way around. Her bone snapped as she managed to send the tip of her metal boot into the bottom of its jaw. Blood spurt and bone cracked. The stunned creature let go and stumbled back, screaming inhumanly.
"Valerie! Damn it, girl! Your turn!"
"Got it!" The girl weaved around her teacher, arching the sword that was almost too big for her over her head. She leapt into the air, cleaving the blade into the youma's skull. It became stuck. In the sudden stop, the girl lost grip, landing on her back ungracefully. The youma slumped over, purple blood dribbling from the wound. Valerie scuttled backwards, unsure if it was really dead or not.
Again, the harbour was quiet, holding its breath and trying to come to grips with what just happened.
"You two… Claymore?" asked one of the men in a shaky voice.
Yokai glowed around Hazel's wrist as she repaired the bone with a grunt. "Geez, sneaky bastard got a grip on me. A place like this is annoying to fight in." She gave a glance at the humans. Those that had pushed aside were crawling up the ladders finally, sopping wet and looking bewildered at their dip in the ocean. Hazel gave a 'hmph' of amusement and turned back at the youma. She pulled Valerie's sword from its place and tossed it back at the girl.
Valerie fumbled with it briefly before managing to place it on her back. She gave a long breath of relief. That had been pretty wild before.
"Bastard, putting your filthy claws on me!" roared Hazel, kicking violently into the youma's head and stomping on it occasionally.
Her young charge and the humans around her cringed as they heard bone crack under her foot.
"I'd hate to be a youma if you gotta deal with women like this," muttered one of the men. "She's even scarier than my wife."
"Damn straight," agreed another.
Hazel brushed her hands together, satisfied. "Well, I'll leave this here for you to sort out and show the mayor our job is complete. Valerie, come on."
The girl nodded and walked briskly to catch up. Behind them, the men stared down at the youma, unsure of how to handle the thing.
"You need to put more power into your blows," said Hazel as they continued walking. "The last thing you want is getting your sword stuck in one still kicking. Make the cuts as clean as you can. But… you did well for the situation I gave you."
Valerie paused at the words. "Situ…ation you gave me?"
The woman gave a short bout of laughter. "I'm not that easily stopped, and if you're going to gain experience, me hogging all the kills wouldn't help."
It made sense… kind of. Despite the 'praise' her teacher had given her, it still felt a little off. Valerie hoped this wouldn't always be the situation, however. Truly, she wanted to really prove herself. In real situations, not set-ups like that. Nevertheless, killing that youma should still be a small victory. Valerie glanced back at the harbour. The sun had finally risen over the horizon. It had taken them waiting that whole night to welcome this new day. No blood shed, no life lost – except for the youma's. Today was looking pretty good.
The sun was slightly higher by the time they finally reached the wall. The same man as the afternoon before was standing there, grim-faced. Hazel frowned, pausing before him.
"Let me guess… our job isn't complete," she said in a serious voice, different from the one she had used before with him. "Damn it…"
He nodded. "North-west district near the walls. Guy woke up this morning to find his neighbour and his family had been killed. Nobody heard anything all night, but it has the signs of a youma attack."
Hazel grumbled to herself. This news didn't sit well with her at all. "Nowhere near the docks where we were waiting – couldn't be the same one. Shit." Angrily, the woman turned tail and stormed back into the town, her student following close behind. "Better tell the mayor he's going to have to pay for two!" she yelled over her shoulder.