Chapter 1:


Here I was again: backed in a corner, bruised and bloody, and fighting for my life with the crushing weight of so many Loreans depending on me nagging at my mind.

No surprise there.

I allowed myself to let my mask of blankness down and let out the tiniest sigh. The movement sent pain radiating through my broken rib cage. I winced. Juvania wouldn't be happy. Neither would Warlic.

"Come out, come out, wherever you are, little Hero…" The rough voice of the Horc that had been terrorizing the people of Chiral Valley echoed throughout the empty, abandoned castle. "Come out so I can crush you."

I resisted the urge to roll my eyes. How many times had I heard that before?

Pressing my broken left hand to the bleeding gash on my upper right arm and trying to hold my sword properly in my good right hand, I stepped lightly around the corner, pressed against the dank castle wall. All the muscles in my body tensed as the Horc I was hunting passed the entrance to the dead end I was stuck in. A stupid move on my part. Thok and Galanoth would not be pleased with me if they knew.

As it was, there was nothing I could do about it but wait. Besides, this was just a simple hunt. Find the Horc, and either take him back to King Alteon for a fair trial or, if he put up a fight, take back a dead body.

Simple. Routine. Easy.

The Horc didn't see me in the shadows of the dead end I was stuck in. He passed, a low growl emanating from him as he trailed his double-edged axe on the floor. I counted to five before I dashed out from my hiding place and ran back the way he came. My current plan was to get him to the roof and call Warlic with the charm necklace he gave me to help in tying the Horc down and transported to Battleon.

But in order to do that, I had to get him to the roof.

Again I sighed as I stopped my dash away from the Horc to turn and face him. I never liked giving myself away. But desperate times call for desperate measures.

I tapped the end of my sword against the castle wall three times, sending a banging noise echoing through the corridor and vibrations up my arm. "Oi! Horc! Come and get me!"

Just as I wanted, he turned to glare at me, red eyes glowing.

And with a mighty roar, full-on charged me.

I barely had time to think, Damn, they're faster than they look, before I turned and dashed the rest of the hallway and around the corner, being careful to mind the damp, wet spots of slime. Considering the fact that I was almost sure the bone in my left leg was fractured, I ran fast. The fact that my sword and armor had all been tailor fit helped, too. I had have to thank Cysero again next time I saw him. When running from monsters, it was always good to have a weapon that didn't drag you down.

It was only after a minute or two of being chased by the Horc that I realized I didn't know where I was going.

And, as the exact same time I realized this, I turned into another corner and straight into a dead end.

Wonderful. Now I was probably going to die in a dead end. The irony of it all… I'm sure Death was laughing his bony ass off somewhere.

"Not so smart, little hero," the deep voice of the Horc said from behind me.

Thank you, I don't need it to be pointed out that I'm an idiot. I thought grouchily as I turned to look him in the eye. His posture was loose, axe still dragging the ground. So he wasn't afraid of me. Frankly, I didn't blame him. The odds were in his favor by a lot. I was more injured than he was; in between being thrown halfway across Lore by him I hadn't been able to get in more than a few nicks on him. Plus, He was three times my size.

But I'd just have to do what I did every time I was backed in a corner: fight my way out tooth and nail.

A heavy silence weighed upon the small dead end I'd gotten myself stuck in. The silence bothered me, but I told myself not to fidget and to just wait for the Horc to make the first move. Horcs weren't known for their patience, and Warlic once told me that impatience leads to mistakes. I just needed to wait for the Horc to get impatient, make a mistake, and then strike.

The stare down lasted for another thirty seconds of suffocating silence. My grip on the hilt of my sword tightened as the Horc growled. "Why you stand so still, little Hero? Let me crush you!"

I frowned. I really didn't like be called 'little'.

In that one moment of distraction, the Horc stepped forward, lifted his axe, and swung it my head. I gasped in surprise and dropped to the floor as I felt the breeze from the axe wash over my head.

Without pausing a beat as the Horc roared in rage, I rolled forward on the ground, hoping to come back up on the other side of him by rolling through his legs. It would've worked, too, if he hadn't caught on quick and grabbed my ankle.

This just isn't my day, I thought as the grip on my ankle tightened painfully.

Before I could react, I was yanked back into the dead end and dangled upside down in front of the Horc's face. The quick movement jarred my broken ribs, make me hiss in pain and drop my sword. The Horc must've thought this was funny, because he laughed and sent a gust of bad breath in my face.

As I coughed, he grinned and shook me a little. "You failed, little Hero! You didn't kill me!"

I glared at him. "I realize that, genius."

The grin disappeared. "Your death will be slow and painful, Hero."

"Gee, thanks-"

Before I could say anything else, I was thrown into the far wall. I saw stars as pain exploded in my head and the world spun. Part of me was horrified that I stayed limp while the Horc made his way to me and reached down to grab me by the neck this time. He slammed me against the wall, jarring my head again and sending a fresh wave of stars across my vision. The grip on my neck tightened. I felt my airway close up. Weakly, I raised my hands up to pulled at the Horc's massive hand. It was a lost cause. His hand was easily as big as my head.

I could hear and feel the blood starting to pound in my head. Forgetting my attempts to tear his hand away, I fumbled for the leather sheaths I wore around my wrists that held small twin daggers in them. They were a gift from the Troll leader. Laced with a special poison found in a rare fruit and an immediate reaction time made them last resort.

Finally undoing the clasps on both sheaths, I threw my arms out so the small daggers slid into my palm. I immediately used them to stab deeply into the Horc's wrist. It was the best place of choice. First of all, he dropped me with a roar, allowing me to gulp in deep breaths of dank castle air. Second, the poison got directly into the bloodstream and spread quickly, taking effect immediately.

From my crumpled position on the floor, I massaged my throat and gasped for air as I watched the poison take it's effect. The Horc staggered back as the poison circulated through his heart, making it slow it's rhythm until it stopped. He dropped on his back, twitching at first before he went still and the light faded from his eyes. I looked away. It was a quick, painless death. Almost like going to sleep, I had been told.

The sudden stillness of the castle made me take in a shuddering breath. I was alone. Suddenly, the full effect of all my injuries hit me at once. I moaned and curled on my side as the pain hit me from all sides. Squeezing my eyes shut, I reached up and clumsily pulled the small charm from the inside of my armor. Tapping it twice, I activated the two way communication link between Warlic and I.

"Done," I whispered as numb and fatigue crept in my body to replace the pain.

Not two seconds later, a flash of light lit up the dead end. The Archmage of Lore appeared, took a few seconds to survey the situation, and then knelt to down to me. A small, rare smile found it's way to Warlic's face. "Good job, Vitera."

I groaned again. "Whatever, Warlic. Just get me out of here. I'm tired."

He chuckled softly, but helped me up by putting my right arm around his shoulders. It probably would have been easier to carry me bridal style, but that was the one thing I had always refused. I never wanted to have to be carried like that by someone. By being carried, I was giving my pride and dignity away and trusting someone to hold me up. At least on my own two legs I could blame myself if I fell down.

Warlic paused to looked at the Horc body. "I'll alert King Alteon to send Paladins to pick up his body."

"You do that," I mumbled as blackness started to dance around the edges of my vision.

"You did good. The people of Chiral Valley thank you again, Vitera." The Archmage's voice was soft and seemed faraway, but I heard it loud and clear.

Yep, that was me. Vitera. Hero of Lore, King Alteon's champion, and defender against all things evil.

Vitera. Doomed to a life of cold and loneliness. Joy.