The air was heavy, thick and choked with soot. It was hard to breathe actually, after months away, in clean, or at least cleaner, air. There was a chill to the wind that swirled around me, driving a biting cold that pierced straight through my coat and shit to make my bones ache. I drew my coat tighter about me as I took in a deep breathe. It stank, of oil and metal, of fires burning on for far, far too long. The faint scent of mildew clung to everything.

Academy City had two kinds of weather. Fog, or smog. Right now, it seemed to be transitioning between the two, leaving my nose trying to decide which was more pervasive - the smell of wet wood and wet stone, or the smell of ash hanging on the air. It was - an unpleasant mixture. I had forgotten how much I detested the smell here - I usually only put up with it for short trips into the Academy. I drew my collar up tighter around my neck and pulled my face mask up, the treated leather cutting at least some of the everpresent smell. I shook my head - I was beginning to doubt I should have come here.

Still, I pressed on. I needed to see who knew about what had been done to me - and to my family. Once I had explored this place, seen if anyone remembered me, then I would do what I was really putting off. Returning home. Or to what had been my home, once upon a time. My leather boots clicked against the cobblestones beneath my feet as I passed through the large, imposing gates of the Academy.


The milling crowd of students, moving back and forth, was a bit jarring to me. When I had been here, there had not been this many students - not in either life. Though admittedly, my memories of my time at the Academy the first time through were rather hazy, due to sheer age. Still I didn't think there had been this many - just what had happened? And what's more - many of them were wearing the slender patch on their shoulders that indicated that they were a part of the Huntsman or Guardian programs - programs that had been almost devoid of students.

Just what had changed? What had brought on this revitalized interest in the combat programs? Even ignoring the fact that during my recent Academy years I had been isolated, the normal distribution of students interest in various programs tended more towards the scientific or the engineering fields. Huntsmen were rarities, oddities more than anything else.

I was pulled from my thoughts as a slender whip of a woman popped up in front of me. She had been walking beside me for a few paces as I moved through the courtyard, but I hadn't been expecting her to suddenly move before me. I tilted my head to one side and raised an eyebrow.

“Can I help you?” Here, back in Alerar, I had found myself slipping into the verbal habits that I'd used for the last few years.

“Are - are you a full Huntsman?” My eyes flicked downwards as she spoke. Sure enough, she wore one of the Hunter’s badges. I inclined my head.

“I am indeed a Huntsman.” She let out a loud squeal and bounced on her feet - drawing the attention of several people around us. I frowned behind my mask. Why in the name of the moon was she so happy to hear that?

“I can't believe it! You must be him then! The one who stopped the winterfall, and and killed the valewulf and -” I interrupted her, raising my hand up and stopping the flow of words. She was practically trembling with excitement, and she looked downright hopeful as I dropped my hand back to my side. “I'm sorry, sir Huntsman, but it's just that, there hasn't been a Huntsman who did more than just kill a few bears or something in nearly a hundred years. I - so many of us want to live up to what he's done.” Looking around the gathered crowd, I could see many people nodding to her words. I could feel that my eyebrows had risen up into my hairline, and my glasses had nearly fallen off the end of my nose at the shifting in my facial muscles.