The weather had started to turn cold.

Valla stood, hood down, looking at the large wooden cross that marked Halissa's grave. Several weeds had sprouted since she was last here. The graves of her parents, where she had finally buried what remained of them, were here as well, and surrounding them were the burial sites of all the other villagers who had been butchered.

Josen approached but stayed silent, the light breeze stirring his cloak.

Valla knelt and began pulling weeds.

"Word from the village," Josen said, his tone irritatingly even, as always. "All is... as well as can be expected, given the circumstances. The children are themselves once again, with no memory of their actions... though many of them will grow up without parents. Bellik and others are offering their homes to the orphaned."

Valla set her jaw. "Good."

Josen shifted his weight slightly. "There is word also that the townspeople are... thankful."

The sawyer's daughter rose, glancing at Josen as she did so. There were three gashes, still healing, across the left side of his face.

"What of Delios?" Valla asked.

"Taken care of," Josen replied. Valla waited for further explanation. The master hunter only eyed her impassively.

"I've heard whisperings..." she said. "Premonitions from those gifted with precognitive ability... that a star will fall in Tristram seven days from now."

Josen's eyes took Valla's measure. "You heard true. The falling star is believed to be a sign of the Prophecy. The others have asked that I send our best hunter to investigate."

Valla pulled an item from beneath her armor. A moment of silence passed between them, broken finally by Josen.

"What you did—"

"Was a gamble. But it worked."

The sawyer's daughter unfolded the letter she had written in Havenwood, bent down, and placed it before the grave, setting a rock atop it. "Told you I'd come visit," she whispered.

She stood and looked at her mentor.

"Everything's a test, you're fond of saying. Life is a test. I failed at the ruins... but this is a test I passed. And I learned much from it. I learned that we truly can be our own worst enemies. But I also learned that no matter how much the demons may destroy, they cannot destroy hope."

The setting sun reflected in Valla's eyes. "It may be effective for you to simply turn off your emotions, but that is not my way. It was liberating, for a time, to live with the promise of a different life. To live a contented lie."

How easy it would be to go back to living that lie, Valla thought. Josen stared at her with that appraising gaze of his.

Valla went on, "It was a good dream... but for now it must remain just that—a dream."

The sawyer's daughter pulled her hood up. "I'm back. I'm back, and I'm ready... to continue the hunt."

She turned away.

"Where do you think you're going?" Josen asked flatly.

"Tristram. The others asked you to send the best. I am the best. I'm going, and you have less than a few heartbeats to try and stop me."

Valla waited with her back to the master hunter, then lifted her scarf... An instant later she strode away, crested a rise, and was gone from sight.

Josen watched, and if there had been an observer present, that person would have witnessed an anomaly: something playing at the master hunter's lips, something that resembled... a smile.

Hatred and Discipline

Demon Hunter

Download the story in PDF format