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Innu wondered whether the five-star hunter was playing a trick on him. After all, Ashen had demonstrated glimpses of his formidable power - not only was he skilled and possessed great strength in Qi, but he also had a supernatural ability. Although he had only seen a glimpse of it, as a five-star Hunter he must have acquired a wealth of experience and taken down hundreds of Altered, but then how could someone of that calibre die without it causing a stir in the news?
The public was no fan of Altered Hunter and whenever one got captured or killed they would make it on TV. The more experienced they were, the longer the media would talk about them afterwards.
Unfortunately, as Innu looked at the hunter's face, he could only see the pain and sorrow in his eyes, as though he had just lost a beloved family member. It was a look that Innu had grown accustomed to seeing and recognized all too well - he had often seen it on Kevin and Susan’s faces ever since the Crazed Altered incident.
“How…how can that be…did an Altered get him?” Innu asked.
Although Innu hadn't known Ashen for a long time, he still considered him somewhat of a mentor. Ashen had shown him a way how to get stronger so that he would not lack behind his friends, He felt that the least he could do was try to avenge him, even though he doubted he had the strength to take on someone who had defeated Ashen… yet.
The dressed ninja man shook his head. “I’m afraid not. do you really think an Altered out there would be able to kill someone like him?”
“Then how, how did he die!?” Innu yelled.
The others nearby started to turn and look, noticing not Innu but the person next to him. “Isn’t that THE Fang? Is that brat crazy talking to him like that?”
“He must have asked him for an autograph just to get rejected.”
It was expected for a five-star Hunter to be well-known in the Altered Hunter community, but Innu didn’t care, he just wanted answers.
"Interesting. It seems like you and Ashen had a close relationship if he didn't even tell you about himself. That's classic Ashen," Fang commented with a glint in his eyes, shrugging off Innu's angry tone.
“All of us Altered Hunters know that we might die one day in the line of duty, but Ashen knew he was going to die before he ever became one of us. He has been diagnosed with a brain tumour from a young age, something that the doctors had been unable to do anything about. Perhaps he should have died sooner, but I believe that his body and his skills have allowed him to live longer.
“Unfortunately, his condition worsened over the years. The only way he could have possibly survived was by turning into an Altered. As an Altered, his body would have had a natural fighting chance to get rid of the brain tumour. But, of course, Ashen would have never agreed to that. He believed that becoming an Altered was not worth the risk, and he wanted to live out his life as a human.”
Of all the ways for Ashen to die, Innu was shocked that it wasn't during his dangerous job as an Altered Hunter. He had no idea where to channel his frustration, as there was no clear enemy or target to blame. All he could do was keep the anger inside.
As he tried to process his emotions, memories of his brief time with Ashen started flooding back, and he began to connect the dots. The signs were always there, but he had never paid enough attention to them before.
‘He kept talking about how he was running out of time. I thought he just meant our training… but was he actually talking about himself?’
Another memory flashed in Innu’s head, of blood on his sleeve. Originally, Innu thought that must have just been due to the fights he had gotten into on the way to them.
Thinking about it, though, the blood looked slightly wet, a bit fresh, so that would have been possible. It made him wonder, how much pain he was in at the time, how much was he holding in, just to teach Innu a little bit longer, and why of all people, did he decide to spend some of his final moments with him.
“Did Ashen have any family or relatives?” Innu asked his head held down.
“None,” Fang replied, shaking his head.
Knowing there weren’t any more questions that he could answer for the young one, Fang went ahead to the front of the room, where there was a small stage that had been set up.
The meeting was about to start, evident from the arrival of Edvard, once again sporting his sunglasses indoors. He stood tall at the end of the expansive hall, flanked by six five-star Hunters, including Fang.
In front of them lined up were the four-star Hunters. There seemed to be around fifty or so of them, and they were in two rows spread out across the room that included Blake’s father.
“Did you find out what you wanted?” Blake asked the returning Innu.
“Not what I wanted… Ashen is dead.” Innu replied.
Blake himself was shocked to hear this. He was as baffled as Innu, as he too wanted to thank the Altered Hunter for helping them out.
"It's maddening, isn't it? A brain tumour of all things," Innu exclaimed, his frustration evident in his voice. "How can I seek revenge when there's no enemy to fight, no target to take down?"
"There is something you can still do," Blake replied, his voice calm and steady. "Why don't you honour Ashen's memory by sharing his teachings with others? Albeit briefly, you were still his apprentice. He must have taught you something that could benefit others. Think about it: by passing on his legacy, you'll keep a part of him alive in the hearts and minds of many."
Blake had no idea what Innu had learned, and Innu was meant to keep it a secret, but with Ashen gone, he might really be the only person that knew of this power. Maybe it was something he could pass on.
“Thanks, Blake, I’m happy that you’re more than just a pretty boy.”
“Oh, so you think of me as a pretty boy?” Blake asked jokingly. The response caused Innu to punch him on the arm. How could he not know based on all the attention he got?
“Alright everyone!” Edvard shouted so loud it almost burst several eardrums. It showed how much power he carried in just his voice.
“Today will be a very eventful day for the Altered Hunters, one that might even be ingrained in our history forever, So I want you all to listen carefully,” Edvard declared.