Embassy of the Order of the Chief God, Sheffield…
"I should have been more careful."
Bishop Ria De Saeta had the privilege of speaking with a Valkyrie, the Watchman known as Jophiel. To see the divine agent of the Chief God herself, a Valkyrie, looking so forlorn gave her such despair. But the Bishop remained silent and allowed Jophiel to speak her mind. They had all suffered a defeat today, for the Black Dragon still refused their entreaties for a cessation to the hostilities that would surely erupt if they could not agree on terms.
"I should have reigned in Father Zachariah and his men." Jophiel looked out into the night sky, her brilliant blue eyes filled with much regret. "But I was foolish, hoping against hope that they could make a nonviolent statement against this city's edicts of allowing men and monster to co-exist. This...travesty could have been avoided. Now...Now the church faces not just the monsters of the Demon Lord but the very folk of this city."
"I am sure the faithful are still capable of meeting our needs," Ria said. "A good showing of faith from those faithful in Sheffield will surely-"
"Surely do what, Bishop?" Jophiel spoke. "I have already been censured by my masters. I can sense the fear and hatred of the Order in this city's people. The Black Dragon wants whoever is responsible for sponsoring the attack on the Union Festival executed, and your intervention is the only thing standing in the way of war between the League and the Order."
"A show of faith?" Jophiel continued on her tangent, "I was told to salvage this situation, not incur the wrath of the Black Dragon."
Ria shivered. Even she had heard tales of the mighty Ancalagon the Grim, so feared that even the Chief God was wary of provoking the dragon's ire. In the dark history of this world, dragons were among the mightiest creatures to inhabit it. Ancalagon was one of the few that managed to grow older and stronger. It was no surprise that the Four Founders of the Oberon League were dragons. Dragons who did not heed the call of Dragonia's mighty empress to relocate. In fact, Ancalagon seemed to be the only one to make her monthly pilgrimage to the nation of dragons. But whether it was out of loyalty or because she felt like it is something only the Black Dragon knows.
"Regardless, we must do something to stymie the power of the League." Ria spoke. "Such opposition to our crusades is an affront to our God."
"You do not decide that, Bishop." Jophiel said to Ria who flinched at the stone cold tone the Valkyrie adopted. "We, Her Angels, decide what is an affront and what is not. We have seen what has happened in Lescatie and the priesthood's aggrandizement of themselves over the common folk has been a problem long overdue for a look over. Other angels may believe that we are above such concerns but my master is not one of them."
Ria paled. She had truly forgotten her place. "I apologize, Lady Valkyrie. I will follow your orders on this matter."
"You will deliver the sponsor of this attack to the Dragon." Jophiel stated her wishes calmly and contritely, she may not be a warrior like the others but she was going to do her damned job to make things right. "And you will make sure that the priesthood here will do better, to...honor the treaty set forth between the League and the Order. You will not deviate from the path the Chief God has set for us. Humanity must be saved from its own wrongdoings. Do so and perhaps I will not have to intervene by speaking to my masters about the skeletons in your own closet, Bishop."
"And...what of the other problem?" Bishop Ria asked quietly. "The Hunter?"
Jophiel walked over to the balcony overlooking the Order's embassy proper. The Hunter, the only human said to have faced a Lilim in mortal combat and not only come out unchanged but also winning so decisively that Lescatie's position was still precarious to the Monster Lord's extremists. He would have been a boon to the Order's cause, such a sword pointed against the throat of the enemy could be a powerful symbol of the Chief God's might.
Father Zachariah, cursed be his name forevermore, had made that difficult now. The Hunter had no loyalty to any cause, and an unknowable threat was often the most dangerous. A cruel killer like that needed to be brought to heel. The only question was how to go about that. Jophiel knew she wouldn't be able to take him on; hell she knew that even the Black Dragon had reservations about the Hunter. A sinister figure, Jophiel had heard of his bloody deeds in Lescatie.
"We will have to keep an eye on him." Jophiel said, pondering the problem set before her. "While he has no loyalty to the monster lord, neither does he have any reason to fight for us."
"The bounty placed upon his head by Norsburg's clergy was quite high." Ria said. "Surely...it would be better for the Hunter to die on an errant knight's blade."
Jophiel shook her head. "What makes you think any knight is capable of taking that fiend down?"
Ria had no answer to that.
Demon Realm Lescatie…
She dreamed. Horrible, waking nightmares that she could not remember but the terror, the horror stayed the same. And yet…she could not stop it. Every time she closed her eyes to sleep, it always took her to the red bloodstained streets of a city gone mad.
Always, always she was there...waking up in a hospital bed only to be torn apart by a vicious wolf-beast. Other times she was a witness to battle, one between some eldritch fiend...and...and the relentless Hunter that faced them in single combat. The same man that was to be her conquest was now among the fiends that haunted her dreams at night, prowling as if waiting for her to summon him into her waking world.
Druella, Fourth Born of the Demon Realm, looked quietly at the tray of food given to her. It was a lavish meal, one that would make any human chef seethe with jealousy and yet she could not eat it. Gagging, she pushed the table away from her and ran to her bathroom where she dry heaved. All that came out of her mouth was bile.
Druella looked at herself. Even paler than before, her beauty was diminished by how gaunt and haunted she looked. Her red eyes were dull, filled with fear of the night. All because of one man. Druella looked over her shoulder at the shadows, seeing the tattered hat of the fearsome Butcher. Her eyes dilated as she turned to the gleam of the moonlight, bright like the dreaded blade he carried in his hands. Her tremulous gaze went once again to the shadows when she heard the ruffle of a curtain, surely the sound of a long dusty gray coat billowing in the wind. Druella backed out of the bathroom slowly, eyes flitting from one shadow to the next focusing on threats to her life.
He was here...she knew it. He was still here.
He was still here.
He was still here.
He was still here.
He was still here.
He was here in the room with her! Waiting to tear her apart!
Castle Lescatie shook with the screams of the haunted, almost broken Lilim as she imagined the quiet archfiend that nearly killed her. Guards rushed to the Lilim's room, with one being sent as a runner to alert Greilia Little of Druella's condition. The diminutive Baphomet dropped everything she was doing and rushed up, up into the royal quarters followed by doctors and nurses, monsters and their incubus husbands who were veterans of their craft. They had seen many illnesses, both physical and those of the mind. But they had not seen a case this bad before.
Following in their wake was Arthur Pendragon, Druella's father.
"She cannot continue on like this." Arthur spoke grimly as he watched his sleeping daughter. Her breathing was more steady now that she had been sedated. The Lilim's panicked flailing had injured no less than six guards until Greilia and the nurses managed to sedate her.
Sitting in a chair, looking drained but maintaining her poise, Greilia placed her paws on the table and didn't realize that she was scratching the wood. She was still tense, trying to calm her heartbeat down. Her doctor's jacket was ruffled as was most of her clothing. She had not slept since last night. Greilia rubbed her eyes.
"On that we agree," Greilia said. "But this is the situation. I will not be leaving Lady Druella alone at night, but it is also you that concerns me."
Arthur wanted to protest but Greilia raised a paw. "Lord Pendragon, you have been by your daughter's side for weeks now. Have you seen to Her Majesty?"
Arthur blanched as he realized that Greilia was right. But the diminutive Baphomet was not done. Despite the seriousness of her tone, Greilia was gentle in telling the former Order Hero what he needed to do. "You cannot stay here indefinitely, you have family to take care of as well. Let others stay by her side. Tend to your family"
Arthur nodded. "I...suppose you are right," He said softly. He wanted to protest what advice the good Doctor Little was giving him, but she was right. He had a family to take care of. "I-I should go back to Lillith. Thank you, Doctor. I...keep me posted will you?"
Greilia bowed. "I am always at your service." She spoke.
When Arthur retired for the night, Greilia was still up. She sat at the side of the sleeping Druella. Watching. Waiting, knowing that the nightmares would come again. Greilia had them too. Sometimes, she'd dream of the mass graves she had ordered dug for those who died in the invasion of Lescatie. It was a battle that was supposed to have been easy, that was what Druella claimed. No lives would be lost.
Greilia sighed. She did not accompany this venture to watch people die. She came here to heal, as she dictated when she first found her Sabbath. That ideal had never wavered in her heart...but physically she was reaching her limit.
"Why did this have to happen?" Greilia asked.
She knew the answer.
Denaris, The Kingdom of Erebus
The shot was fatal, but Cyril was mildly surprised by the human body's will to survive. Sir Henry Watson's hands covered the gruesome gunshot wound to the throat even as blood spurted between his fingers. The crowd of onlookers and well wishers had already dispersed, screaming into the afternoon leaving only the ones in shock and those who had been unable to resist watching the "duel". The Hunter's cold gaze watched the dying knight's struggles to survive until his motions weakened and then gradually stilled.
Sir Watson died an undignified death, staring glassily into the blue skies as the last moments of his life faded away. His killer, a Hunter sharp as a blade and half-cut with blood, quietly loaded a new cartridge into his pistol and holstered his well worn weapon with a practiced and almost lazy ease. Cyril sighed tiredly and then turned to regard the alderman Walter briefly with a glance before the Hunter approached the body of the knight, picking through his belt to find...exactly nothing. He noted the horse that was still standing there, now eating the grass and very unconcerned with his now former master.
Cyril approached and picked through the knight's belongings, finding almost nothing as well until he noted a scroll sticking out of the saddlebag. The Hunter read through it. Interesting, he could hardly get any meaning out of the words...it was written in a cipher. He would need someone specialized to even try reading this scroll, let alone decipher whatever its words meant. He rolled it up, noting the wax seal. He didn't recognize it at all, noting no similarities between it and the king's own wax seal on the orders he had been given before departing on this quest. The Hunter smiled under his bandanna. Now the Hunt seems interesting…
He would have to speak to the alderman to see if he knew anything about this seal. The Hunter stood up and faced the alderman who was gaping at both him and the corpse of Sir Watson. Cyril approached holding the scroll up for him to see. Walter began to back up, stammering denials.
"I sincerely hope that you aren't involved in this." Cyril stated calmly, playing the part and making sure that he was quite intimidating. "I would also hate to find out if you are lying to me…"
"N-No!" The alderman raised his hands, "No, master Hunter! I-I told you the truth! Sir-Sir Watson claimed that he was an agent of the king!"
"Then, what is this?" Cyril asked raising the scroll once more. "I do not recognize this seal either." The Hunter's eyes narrowed considerably, an expression no one wanted to be on the receiving end of.
Walter kept his hands raised, on the border of soiling himself. "Master Hunter...please…"
"No matter," Cyril spoke seemingly to himself. "I will have to find out what this scroll's meaning is." He turned to the alderman. "Do you suppose that you have some kind of wise man in the village? A mage perhaps?"
"I...yes…Yes there is one!" Walter said, nodding fearfully. "I could arrange a meeting between you and her but-"
"You there! Heretic scum!"
Cyril sighed in frustration as he saw the crowd of burly men being led by a priest. The Hunter allowed the alderman to get out of the way as he held his Saw Cleaver out to the side, ready to play his part again. The sight of the brutal madman's weapon caused some of the crowd to hesitate at seeing the gruesomely designed blade.
"Who's next?" Cyril asked plainly as he waited for someone to make the first move. The priest in charge looked at the great blade in the Hunter's hand as his face turned several shades of purple at once. It was clear that he was trying to decide between defending the honor of his faith and living to be a pest for another day.
Unfortunate that someone else decided to move. Cyril saw it as a flash at the corner of his eye and sidestepped, the arrow flying towards his head embedding itself in the dirt a few feet away. The Hunter retaliated, his offhand drawing his pistol drawn with lightning quick speed. Cyril raised his arm and took aim. The young man, dressed in leather, stood in shock bow loose in both hands before he realized just what was happening.
Cyril fired, the shot slamming into the youth's shoulder and eliciting a scream of pain as he fell into the grass. The Hunter lowered his pistol, weapons in both hands as he regarded the crowd of would-be combatants. Their mouths were agape at how fast the Hunter could move. It was very clear to Cyril that he could literally kill everyone here without batting an eye.
He wondered if any of them were still feeling suicidal overconfidence before he saw a portly man just take his shovel and quietly turned back down the road to the village. The crowd dispersed as well, ignoring the fiery screeching and preaching of the Order priest. Cyril turned his attention to the wounded archer, his red eyes taking in the man's looks. He quietly leaned down to stare the man in the eyes, wondering if he would see fear or defiance.
Good. The young man's eyes were filled with hate. That was sometimes more satisfying than fear. Cyril chided himself for such thinking, a Hunter honored their opponents when they were dead.
"Would you be Sir Watson's squire perhaps?" He asked the wounded young man politely, as if he did not just shoot him in the shoulder. The angry glare that he got in return answered his question. Cyril sighed, looking at the frightened alderman pointedly.
He kicked the squire into unconsciousness and began dragging him towards the alderman by one arm.
"W-What do you need, m-master Hunter?" Walter Bridgman stammered out.
"Wrap up his shoulder," Cyril nudged his head at his unconscious victim. "I need him tied up as well."
Walter nodded. And as he helped the Hunter drag the unconscious archer into his home, he wondered how he was going to explain all of this to his wife…
The night was still young.
Cyril kept his blade sharp as he sat in the alderman's basement, keeping an eye on the still unconscious archer. The man, boy really, stirred and woke up. Then he groaned in pain as he saw his bandaged shoulder...his shock turned to rage as he realized he had been tied to a post. His brown eyes looked up and then narrowed into slits as he saw Cyril sitting there, sharpening the blade of the Saw Cleaver with a whetstone.
It had been an amusing spectacle when he had met Morgan Bridgman, the alderman's wife. She was a robust woman in her early forties, and a fierce one as well. She had been the one to wrap up the squire's wounded shoulder. She had scolded the Hunter despite Walter telling her who exactly she was scolding. Cyril had taken it in stride, merely apologizing for his methods but he did explain that he was defending himself when the knight wanted to duel him to the death.
Morgan had then turned her wrath on Walter by ruthlessly tearing him a new one about his laissez-faire handling of their situation, thinking that the Order was capable of defending them from the slavers. Cyril looked up briefly...he could have sworn that he could still hear the couple arguing.
He turned his eyes to the struggling archer.
"You do realize I'm still here right?" Cyril spoke finally, getting the youth's attention. The archer snarled at him and stopped struggling. Cyril sighed through his nose.
"You won't get anything out of me," The archer snarled. "I lost a meal ticket and the only way to gain my honor back...even if he was a complete fool."
Cyril tilted his head. "So I assume you know why you and your dearly departed master were sent here then?" He asked.
The archer spat, catching Cyril's attention. "Like I said, Watson was a fool." He growled. "Going around claiming that he was an agent of the Usurper...Pah! As if! He was always loyal to the true King, even if it cost him everything that he owned...and my own family."
Cyril crossed his arms as he leaned back, "So he is an agent of the deposed king Uriel." He said. His hunch was indeed correct. The knight was no agent of the King. Interesting...so the deposed royalty still had some part to play in his venture. He wondered how this was going to spin...Should he tell the King?
The archer realized that he had just made things easier for the Hunter and slumped. "I won't tell you any more than that." He said.
"You...really do not understand who I am, do you?" Cyril asked the archer, resuming playing his part as the archfiend the world wanted him to be. "I came here because there are monster slavers that need to be put down, that is my job...and it does not involve the civil strife in this land."
"I came here to kill." Cyril continued. "Until I am ordered to stop."
The archer shivered, eyes wide as he regarded the fearsome Hunter who was still observing him. The Hunter exhaled as if making a decision. "You don't know anything." He said, smiling grimly underneath his bandanna. "Apart from the rather delicious tidbit I received from your ranting of course." He let a pause drag out for a long time, his intimidating glare making the archer shrink into himself.
"I offer you this: a chance to leave this village, and this country, unscathed. You will never involve yourself in this affair and you have a chance to start a new life." Cyril said after the long pause. "Refuse, and I will slay you where you sit. So choose now...a small chance at a new life...or a quick and undignified end."
"Damned if I do, damned if I don't…" The archer snarled. "You really are a heretic. The Order put a price on your head, Hunter. I'd be surprised if another knight comes by to try and take it."
"That is my problem." Cyril answered calmly. "Not something you should concern yourself with, considering your current situation." The Hunter stood up, walked over to the archer and raised his boot.
"Wait...Wh-What-!?" Were the boy's last words as Cyril's kick sent him into unconsciousness once more.
"Morgan, my dear, maybe we should not-"
"Walter, you oaf, maybe you should not speak another word. You got us into this mess with your hands-off approach to everything!" Morgan snapped at her husband, slamming the wooden spoon down on the table. "Now look where you've gotten us! There is a murderous fiend in our home interrogating his prisoner! We have slavers waiting to take their cut and the Order refuses to allow anyone to leave!"
A robust woman in her mid thirties, Morgan's hazel eyes were hard as she looked at her older husband. "Now...I am going to cook dinner, the finest I have to make because I do not have to-"
Footsteps. Morgan swallowed the lump in her throat as the Hunter appeared in the doorway to the kitchen. "My apologies," He said. "Was I interrupting something?"
"N-No, master Hunter." Walter answered, keeping his voice as steady as he could. "We-We were just about to have dinner made…"
Cyril nodded. "Of course." He said. "Shall I step out? I'll be returning tomorrow to check on my prisoner." He was serious about his prisoner, that and the couple seemed to need to sort a few things out. He knew he would be upturning lives when he got here, the Hunter was just trying to make that less painful by removing his presence as much as possible.
The Hunter walked out without preamble, making a note to patrol the outskirts of town while he was eating his dinner, a quick meal of bread and dried meat alongside some water from the village well. Chewing his food he looked around. The village was openly scattered, making it difficult to defend properly but Cyril did see men and women walking around with lanterns.
He avoided them, keeping to the shadows and noting the patrols and how they operated. They were terrified, paranoid but ineffective. Cyril wondered why they wouldn't leave but brushed that thought aside. If one's home was in danger then many considered it their duty to protect it. Cyril understood that, but he had no loyalty for a place.
You have to make your own home. A lesson he was learning quite well.
The Hunter's Dream…
Sierra shrank back as she saw the name etched on the gravestone.
"H-How!? How did he die!?" She whimpered falling to her knees in front of it. The High Elf felt the hand of Evetta on her shoulder. The Elf hyperventilated, memories coming back to her. The gravestone in front of her was a simple carved block of stone. Etched onto the front face was a name.
Another was on top of it as well although compared to Klaus' name it looked a lot more worn.
"He did not die," Evetta spoke to Sierra who held her face in her hands. "No...You could say that he was the mask for another person."
"M-Mask?" Sierra said. "Mask for-what!? No! Not Klaus!" She sobbed. "He wouldn't lie to me! He was a good man! He didn't deserve this!"
"Yes, he did not." Evetta soothed the High Elf by stroking her hair. "Hence why he did not want to tell you the truth...Klaus is a shadow, his real name is Cyril. He is the Hunter, and the Master of this Dream."
Sierra's eyes were red but her sobs quieted. The Hunter? Surely...Surely not the same archfiend who slaughtered his way out of Lescatie? Surely Klaus didn't do all of those bad things people were saying. She couldn't even say the other name, such was her shock that the entire world seemed to shatter all around her. As if to reflect her mood, the fog around the Dream seemed to thicken. That was the cue for the Messengers, the grotesque little things she made a point of avoiding to light the lanterns scattered all around the workshop.
Evetta took her back to the Workshop, gently leading the distraught elf to a chair so she could sit and not fall down. "Many Hunters have come and gone from this Dream," She told Sierra quietly. "Most die alone, and in pain. Still others, managed to see the sun and never look back. None have chosen to remain here, for Gehrman made sure of it. This place is a shelter for those Hunters who served the Night."
"So...even K-Cyril was here?" Sierra asked looking at all the graves. "So many…"
"Yes." Evetta said fondly as she looked over the graves. "Countless...it seemed so long ago when he first came here. The Good Hunter did not want to, I do not think anyone ever does."
"Why me then?" Sierra asked the Doll. "I'm not a killer, I didn't want to come here. It was...I can't even remember why!?"
"I think he wanted to protect you." Evetta guessed. "The Hunter did not want you to die."
Sierra looked away. "He lied to me…" She said. "He didn't have to."
"He was afraid." Evetta answered Sierra's statement with the truth. "He was afraid for you, for Emil. He wanted nothing but the best for you both. If he told you the truth, would you have allowed him to stay so close?"
Sierra didn't know anymore. She sniffed. "When I get out of here," She said bitterly. "I...I want to talk to him. I want to know why."
"The truth hurts," Evetta nodded. "But the Good Hunter knows that very well. I am sure he will return here soon." She looked out the window where the moon hung serenely in the sky. It seemed brighter and closer than when she remembered it last.