2

The assault on the Black Fortress

"Curse the Fiends, their children too...And their children forever true..."

The Black Dogs departed from Ken at dawn. Vault wanted and demanded speed from the troops under his command and thus, he and his officers rode at the head of the column. As payment for his services to her people, Celestine had granted Hunter his own steed to ride. He rode in the back, paying no heed to the whispers and stares. He knew the Black Dogs were drawn to the Holy Moonlight Sword.

He expected the questions and deflected them easily. There was no need to frighten mercenaries with tales of the Hunt. There was no need for them to know about his past life either. The journey to the north was long and he mostly kept to himself. If they left him alone, good. If not...then they would learn to do so. He had no need to speak to corpses or befriend them. A lot of these men were going to die or they would get lucky. It did not matter to the Good Hunter.

He had a mission to complete, find Olga Discordia. Bring her to Celestine. Collect payment, and...The Hunter had not thought too far ahead into the future. Maybe he'd find a lonely place to live in peace. Or perhaps, he'd stay within the Dream for an eternity. A fitting reward for one such as he.

It was the sixth day into the journey. The Hunter tied his new horse to a tree as he sat down to rest his eyes just briefly. He could not enter the Dream here, lest they find out what otherworldly powers he possessed and tried to kill him. He leaned back against the bark of the tree as his horse chuffed and went to eat grass.

Odd that it was not afraid of him, but then again it was quite a clever thing. He still had not named the horse, and calling it 'Horsey' was not very clever in his opinion.

"Hey, you. Stranger."

The Good Hunter looked up at the man who had addressed him. Much like all of the Black Dogs, he was only dressed in a green vest and pants. Two large daggers were sheathed at his hips. He was in his mid thirties it looked like.

"Who calls?" Hunter asked.

"Heh, I'm Hicks." The man's grin widened as he took a seat next to the Good Hunter, who was busy sharpening his Saw Cleaver.

"So that's what you killed the Defiler with eh?" Hicks asked trying to act friendly.

"I've killed many with this weapon." Hunter's reply was cold. "What of it?"

Hicks reached out with his hand. Hunter stared at it then locked eyes with Hicks whose smile faltered slightly. "Alright, alright..." Hicks raised his hands. "If you're that stingy."

The Hunter returned his whetstone into his satchel then offered the blade to Hicks. The mercenary took it in both hands-

Blood. Screams. Slaughter. Pain.

Behold! A Paleblood Sky!

Majestic! A Hunter is a Hunter even in a dream! But alas...not too fast! The Nightmare swirls and churns unending!

Grant us eyes! GRANT US EYES! GRANT US EYES!

A corpse...should be left well alone.

A great eye, sitting in the middle of a mass of dark tendrils opened, staring at him with mild amusement.

"You should probably drop my weapon right now."

-Hicks dropped the thing. "The fuck!?"

The Hunter took up the Saw Cleaver with an easy grace as he folded it back into its saw form. "I told you. I've killed many with this weapon, so much so that it seems to have a mind of its own."

He regarded Hicks with a look as he stood up. "Why do you think I keep to myself?"

Hicks narrowed his eyes. "You're a dangerous man, Hunter." He said with a smile although the friendliness in his tone had vanished.

The Good Hunter chuckled, it was a chilling sound that made the hairs on the back of Hicks's neck stand up and a cold sweat drip down his brow.

"You are indeed a wise man if you think that of me, Hicks." Hunter said almost cheerfully. "Pray that others follow your footsteps lest they lose their way."

Hicks stood up warily as the Hunter turned to adjust his horse's saddle. Vault had originally sent him to size the Hunter up, and he technically did. Vault can bitch all he like but Hicks just hoped that he listened. The Hunter was dangerous, real dangerous. Hicks wasn't sure if Vault could pull the man into the inner circle regarding his plans but he hoped Vault could.

Even if the chances were miniscule.

/

"So, Hicks. How's our resident stranger?" Vault asked. "He settled in yet?"

Hicks shook his head. "Vault, you can convince him right?" He asked.

Vault quirked a brow. "What brought this on eh?"

Hicks shook his head. "He's quiet, dangerous like a blade." He told Vault. "The guy's not right in the head. He might screw everything up."

"What makes you say that?" Kin, the Black Dogs' only mage, spoke up as he closed his Grimoire. "Celestine Lucross herself recommended him."

"That's not what I'm talkin' about!" Hicks snarled. "The guy's a loon!"

Vault laughed. "So are we loons then for taking on one of the most dangerous women in the land?" He looked at Hicks. "And don't you worry about the plan, I'm sure the Hunter will appreciate a reward after everything's done and over with." His fierce grin widened and actually managed to alleviate Hicks's concerns. Still, a dark feeling entered the mercenary's gut and would not go away.

"In any case, Hicks." Kin said. "You should try to calm down. You look like hell."

"Whatever Mage," Hicks snarled before stalking from the tent with all haste. "I've got better things to do anyway."

Kin and Vault looked at each other with some apprehension.

/

As the Black Dogs continued their push into the North, the land became far more treacherous. They lost some men to disease, others were lost to monster attacks. But they pressed on, the Black Dogs would not be denied their glory and the Hunter refused to let anything stand in his way to finish his mission. He was here to bring Olga Discordia to Celestine and that was it. He had no interest in staying anyway.

He was no hero, fate was too cruel for that. Hunter turned his head. As they travelled through the North, he had overheard men talking about something. All he got out of it was that women were involved. So the mercenaries were already celebrating and planning what they were going to do after the war. How confident of them, judging from the looks of this barren wasteland.

No life grew here, what remained was twisted by dark energy. They were close to the Black Fortress. The Hunter stood on a hill and looked left and right. Truly, it was a desolate place. He was long since numb to such an experience. Lesser men would have been driven to despair in this place.

For the Hunter, it only brought back memories.

It was too late. The giant clubbed him down with its fists and he fell face first into the poisonous muck even as the Crawlers latched onto his back. He was drowning...Drowning...Drowning...

The Good Hunter opened his eyes as he sensed someone behind him.

"Hello, Hunter." Kin said. The Hunter turned around to regard the young mage, resisting the urge to simply walk away. Kin was the Black Dogs' only mage, and thus it was his magic that allowed him to get this far. The bespectacled man was talented, but arrogant and preening. Hunter could sense the distaste Kin had for him.

That was not his problem.

"What is it?" Hunter asked.

"You've been standing there for quite a while." Kin noted. "The air here...It stinks."

The stench here was nothing to the cloying murk of Yahar'gul. He said nothing for a while.

"It does." Hunter agreed. "Though that's not the only thing about this place is it?"

"Ah, you noticed." Kin's smile was predatory. "Yes, the land saps the life of any and all who come here. An insidious defense created by a skilled necromancer."

"Olga Discordia." Hunter spoke the name of their adversary...and his quarry. "Who rivals Celestine Lucross in magical strength."

Kin crossed his arms. "Indeed, it's interesting how she could have done this over such a large area." He commented. "Dangerous, but it is pretty effective at deterring invaders."

"Except for someone like you." Hunter said.

Kin chuckled. "Yes. But the most interesting part of all this, is perhaps you." He eyed the Hunter. "It is curious that you haven't been to the healer's tent once throughout this whole journey. Makes me wonder what else you're capable of."

"I've had dealings with the arcane arts." Hunter said softly.

"Ah, you are a mage?" Kin asked.

"Not really, no. Some of my possessions are magical tools to help me in fights." Hunter's reply was quiet, almost serene. "One in particular heals any ailment."

"A useful tool." Kin looked curious. "I would like to see it if you have the time."

"We shall see."

/

The Black Fortress. The miasma of evil was stronger here, but the Hunter bit down hard on his growing unease as he looked up at the spire of black stone that Olga Discordia called home. Vault's mercenaries were hidden, while the man himself took Kin and the Hunter alongside a handful of men to the back of the fortress. Even now, teams of Black Dogs led by Hicks were silencing the monster sentries positioned around the fort.

"Kin, hurry the fuck up!" Vault whispered harshly. The Hunter shrugged, gripping his Saw Cleaver in one hand. Kin's chants were a low murmur and he was not paying attention at all. The Good Hunter didn't care about how Vault knew that there was a secret entrance. Or how Kin was magically picking the lock. He was impatient to get a move on because even he could see that the longer they remained still, the more likely it was they were going to get spotted by sentries.

Or Olga herself. Nobody wanted to get blasted into oblivion by a magic spell.

An ominous creaking alerted Vault to the doors opening. "Okay, men." Vault leaned his sword on his shoulder. "Come on! Let's get in!"

The group of Black Dogs, plus one Hunter, entered the secret passage way.

"It smells bloody awful in here." One mercenary said.

"Hush up! Walls have ears!"

And eyes. The Hunter thought to himself as they continued moving. The only source of lights were the torches, which was worrying. Who would put torches in a secret entrance? In fact this whole venture had been going far too well for the Hunter's liking. Everything was textbook, no mistakes were happening. Nothing.

The passageway was empty as well...As though the Black Fortress was completely bereft of any life, natural or unnatural, inside.

The Good Hunter exhaled through his nose as the air grew chilly. Now he knew why.

"Heh, blades out boys." Vault said as he gripped his sword in two hands. "We've got company."

The Hunter turned to find a group of orcs waiting. These ones weren't the usual rabble he had put down. These ones were armed, crude clubs and swords. They also wore a mismatch of leather armor and rags.

The Hunter readied his Saw Cleaver. "And so...the Hunt begins again." He said to himself.

Vault and the others gaped as the Hunter charged in silence. The Black Dogs readied their blades as the orcs roared and growled.

The Hunter was among the first to reach the orcs. His first victim died with the sound of bones breaking as the Saw Cleaver punched into its head. The next lost most of its jaw as the Hunter brought his weapon round in a brutal horizontal strike. The Saw Cleaver unfolded and the Hunter began to systematically slaughter his way through the enemy. His pistol barked once in his hand, spilling the brains of an orc armed with a javelin.

The Hunter turned to face another foe but Vault was there. With a shout, he smashed aside the orc with his greatsword. "Hah, we all live once!" Vault snarled. "Come on, you sad apes! Put up a better fight!"

Vault grinned at the Hunter. "My blood's up, let's keep going!"

The Hunter nodded, a lot more calm than Vault. All hunters knew how to separate themselves from the bloodlust. There wasn't much keeping a man from becoming another beast after all. The Hunter turned, smashing his pistol's grip against an orc's face before taking off its head with an offhand swipe.

When the last orc fell more came to take their place. Vault and the Hunter were at the forefront, Kin supporting them from behind with his magic. As they ventured deeper into the hold, other creatures began to materialize from the walls.

Orcs, goblins, even an ogre or two. It did not matter to the Hunter in any case, they died beneath his blade. It was only when the last goblin died that the bigger ones came into play.

A troll was a fearsome creature, stupid certainly, but a fearsome creature with strength to match. It let out a deep bellow as it charged at Vault who sidestepped out of the way, lashing out with his greatsword and cut a deep wound in its belly. The Good Hunter's eyes narrowed as the wound steamed and began to heal. The Hunter folded his cleaver as Vault narrowly avoided getting smashed. Exchanging it for the Holy Moonlight Sword the Hunter got the troll's attention by shooting at it with his flintlock.

Dumbly, the creature moaned in pain as the Quicksilver bullet smashed into its skull, leaving a bloody furrow. The Hunter charged, the Holy Moonlight Sword glowing with dark green energy. He swung his blade at the thing's left leg and severed it in one powerful blow. As the troll stumbled the Hunter thrust forward with the blade, punching into the skull.

The stored energy within the Holy Moonlight Sword was released and the troll's head exploded, scattering viscera everywhere. The Black Dogs finished off the last of the monsters as the Hunter looked down at his sword. He was covered in blood.

Vault laughed and clapped a hand on his shoulder. The Good Hunter had to resist the urge of breaking said appendage and stabbing the man who was congratulating him.

"You've got quite a sword arm there!" Vault crowed. "We'll conquer anything in our way thanks to you!"

The Hunter said nothing, only looking down further the hallway. "We should move."

/

The attack was going well, until they ran into even more creatures. The Hunter swung his sword down and chopped the downed werewolf's head off. He fended off another with a quick swipe across its face before he drove his sword into its chest. The Hunter kicked it off the blade. This was where he was going to have to make a choice.

"Hunter! We'll finish these guys off!" Vault roared as he blocked a demon's claws with his own blade.

"Hicks is on his way here!" Kin told them both. "Hunter, go take care of Olga! We can handle this! Go, quickly!"

The Hunter tipped his hat briefly before smashing aside another monster and continuing onwards, blade and pistol in hand. No time for regrets. He had quarry to hunt. His only problem was how to bring Olga Discordia in without a fight. He kept going down the corridors, bashing doors open only to find them empty.

Something wasn't right here. There were a lot of monsters but no sign of any Dark Elves. Surely Olga had soldiers guarding her castle? This was too easy.

The Hunter pressed on regardless, his destination was clear now. He had reached the throne room. His quarry was probably waiting for him. The Hunter clipped the Holy Moonlight Sword to his back and pushed both doors open.

Several Orcs were standing guard at the entrance, but the Hunter slaughtered them all with Cleaver. The last died without a sound as the Hunter tore out its throat and shoved aside the body. He followed the red carpet until he eventually reached the throne...and the woman that had been sitting upon it.

Olga Discordia. The Dark Queen. Ruler of the Dark Elves. The only one who could rival Celestine Lucross.

She was beautiful, that was certain. Long dark hair, warm espresso skin, a voluptuous body covered by an elegant corset and underwear underneath a silken cloak. Olga's piercing gaze was leveled at the Hunter. She held a long black staff topped with a crystal. Long ears twitched as she regarded the Hunter with an aloof look.

"One man?" Olga's voice was seductive, ringing with authority. "I do not know whether to be irritated or amused."

"History is rife with the few who stand against many. The weak going against the strong." The Hunter replied.

"A curious statement from one such as you." replied Olga, an elegant eyebrow raised. "Tell me, human. Before I reduce you to ash, why have you come here with a band of brigands? To plunder the secrets within this fortress? Do you seek me perhaps? As a trophy?"

"I was sent here to find you actually." The Hunter said tonelessly, still holding his bloody saw. "Someone wants to talk to you."

Olga's eyes narrowed. "Talk to me!" She said haughtily. "So they send soldiers loudly stumbling their way through my home, killing my soldiers, and plundering my treasures. It would be amusing, if it weren't so cowardly!"

"That isn't my concern." The Hunter's tone grew frosty. "Celestine Lucross sent me to bring you to her unharmed. She wishes to parlay."

Olga's proud visage turned into a curious one. "Parlay?"

"Yes." The Hunter said quietly. "She is tired of fighting you and wishes to end things amicably."

"So she sends mercenaries to attack my home?" Olga asked. "That doesn't seem like a parlay to me."

"True." The Hunter agreed, surprising Olga. "But, considering that your monsters are not exactly the nicest things around...this was the only way. I do apologize for that." He then turned his hardened gaze on Olga whose jaw nearly dropped.

In all the centuries she had lived, no man had glared at her with such a stern gaze. "However, my mission is to bring you to Celestine. I will use force if I have to."

"You will die trying, human." Olga said her tone cold, the crystal on her staff glowing ominously.

"Either way, this gets settled once and for all." The Hunter readied his Cleaver. As the two faced off the doors to Olga's throne room banged open.

"Well, now! Hunter!" Vault crowed triumphantly. "About to start another fight without me!?"

"I have this under control." Hunter replied keeping one eye on Olga.

"We came here to back you up, Hunter." Vault said and snapped his fingers. Two of his men dragged another dark elf into the room. Lean and supple, her blonde hair lashed into a ponytail on the side of her head, she was dressed in similar fashion to Olga save that her cape was shorter.

"Ngh! Lady Olga, forgive me!" She growled, struggling weakly against her captors.

"Chloe." Olga's voice trembled. Hunter saw that her cool facade had broken slightly before it turned murderous. "Let her go human!"

Vault laughed. "Or what? You get to watch me slit this girl's throat?"

The Hunter exhaled through his nose. "I was in the middle of trying to ask her to surrender Vault."

"Hush up, youngster. This is quicker." Vault dismissed the Hunter.

"So what'll it be Queenie?" Vault said as he hauled the young woman by her hair and pressed a dagger to her throat. "You drop your staff or she dies right here and we take you on anyway."

"You..." Olga growled. Her power surged as she took a step forward.

"Stop."

Everyone stopped what they were doing and gaped at the Hunter who had raised his voice. For Vault, it was quite surprising to hear the normally quiet stranger actually speak above monotone.

"The battle has gone on for far too long. Olga Discordia, I ask that you surrender lest more harm come to your loved one." The Hunter spoke, ignoring the way the young woman in Vault's clutches redden slightly. Olga was watching the Hunter warily as he gestured to the staff in her hand with his bloody weapon.

"Give me your weapon and this posturing stops. You will be imprisoned and treated with the utmost respect. You have my word." Hunter said glaring coldly at Vault. "And we will bring you to Celestine Lucross unharmed. I cannot vouch for your safety if you intend to resist."

Olga looked like she wanted to resist but she sighed dejectedly. "I, Olga Discordia, surrender to you stranger. My staff is yours." The Hunter reached out to grab the staff but Vault beat him to it, having handed Chloe over to one of his subordinates. Hicks and Kin looked on, as proud as can be.

"So you were all talk." Vault commented lightly at Olga who glared. The Hunter watched in irritation as Olga and Chloe were chained and shackled before being lead to the dungeon. Vault grinned as he looked at the throne and sat down on it. The arrogant bastard actually thought he was a king.

"You made this far more difficult than it should have been." Hunter told Vault coldly.

"Piss off, you forget I also have a contract. I have the overall command here boy." Vault said cheekily.

"And if she had blown us all into little chunks scattered across her throne room?" Hunter replied. "I was trying to convince her to surrender amicably."

"And she did." Vault said. "Don't be such a worry wart. The Black Fortress belongs to us! It's a victory so stop whining. We'll stay here for a few and then we'll bring the Dark Elf Queen and her little minx to Lady Celestine."

Vault grinned. "So relax, take a look around and enjoy the fruits of victory."

The Hunter's eyes narrowed. This man was either far too overconfident for his own good or he had something else in the works. Either way, this was getting extremely irritating. He stalked from the throne room, annoyed.

Vault leaned forward, watching the Hunter depart. Maybe Hicks was right and he'd need to watch the Hunter closely. It would be a shame to get rid of a strong arm like him. He'd give the boy one more chance to pick his side in the days to come.

/

The Hunter found who he was looking for in the dungeons. Olga and her servant Chloe, if he remembered that correctly, were sitting together in a cage. Chloe outright glared at him while Olga was more reserved. She looked every bit the Queen she was, even if she was in a cage locked up.

The Good Hunter looked around quietly, knowing full well she was being watched by three other men. "I trust that you have not been harmed any further."

"What's it to you, human!?" Chloe snarled.

"Chloe. Enough." Olga said sternly. She regarded the Hunter. "You are a strange man to actually visit your prisoners just to have a conversation."

"My mission is to get you to Lady Celestine, your highness." The Hunter replied shrugging. "Not to belittle or insult you."

Chloe muttered something rude. Olga sighed. "So, what now?"

"Depending on what Vault wishes, you may be stuck here for a while." Hunter said calmly. "Otherwise I might have to seek permission to bring you out of here myself."

"Oh? Straightforward aren't you?" Olga teased.

"I have no patience for foolishness." The Hunter said. He didn't seem to notice Olga's attempts to flirt. "If Vault is not willing to end a war himself, then so be it. He can collect his damned payment himself when he gets back to Ken."

Olga blinked at this stranger's blunt statement. "You...are not a very patient person, are you stranger?" She asked.

"Wasting time is wasting money." The Good Hunter said. He sighed. "In the mean time, I suppose that you are hungry. Do you have any preferences before I head towards the kitchen?"

"We won't eat your filth, human." Chloe growled. "So why don't you-"

"Chloe." Olga chastised her vassal. She then told the Hunter just what to get.

"Mistress, you shouldn't trust him." Chloe told Olga. "He's a human. Worse, he's a mercenary."

"Either way Chloe." Olga said wearily. "He will be our only way out of this unharmed."

"How can you trust him so?" Chloe whispered.

"He gave his word, Chloe. Few men would do that so willingly." Olga spoke seriously. "I could tell he was not lying." She glared at the three men leering at her through the bars.

/

The Hunter made his way to the kitchens, avoiding the revelers as the Black Dogs celebrated their victory over Olga Discordia and the end of the war. As he traveled back to the dungeons he caught the tail end of several conversations.

Again, it involved women. The Princess Knights of Eostia in fact. One mercenary was discussing with his fellows about "what he was going to do with them all if he got the chance." There were other remarks from his colleagues. Ones about Celestine and how "the bitch was going to pay them more than what they owed."

The Good Hunter's eyes narrowed when he hear the names Olga and Chloe. He shook his head. Perhaps he'd be leaving sooner than he should be. His grip on the food tray tightened to the point of it creaking.

How many would he have to kill in order to finish this?

/

Chloe and Olga ignored the taunting. Well, Olga did the whole time. Chloe had snapped and was already threatening to kill someone when the door opened. The three mercenaries surrounding them turned to look at the visage of the Hunter staring at them. He was carrying a tray of food.

"What is going on here?" He asked coldly.

"We-We uh we were just having some fun, Hunter." The lead man said. "These bitches are going to get what they deserve soon."

"Aye, so they are." The Hunter spoke, voice frosty. "Now, could you please leave? Vault would hate to find out that his prize captives are being distressed in anyway..."

The mercenaries nodded their assent and quickly left the dungeon. The Hunter watched them go before kicking the door closed.

"Apologies, Lady Olga." The stranger said to Olga. "It seems that we are rather rude hosts."

"Indeed." Olga deadpanned as the stranger pushed the tray through the horizontal slit in the bars. "Those men are as crude as usual. Typical humans." As she devoured her food the stranger, now known by the name 'Hunter' leaned his greatsword against the wall before he sat down and watched them eat.

Chloe glared right back for a few moments before eating. The Hunter leaned back for a bit, unbuckled the demented cleaver weapon on his back and swung it to the side. The blade extended with a loud metallic thud. He fished out a whetstone and began sharpening it.

There was no noise in the dungeons, save for the ringing of steel being sharpened. Olga watched as the Hunter folded his weapon back into a saw and set it on the table next to him. The Hunter sighed.

"They were talking about you two, the Black Dogs." He told Olga.

"So I noticed." Olga answered. "They say that they are planning something Hunter, and they are uncertain about you."

"Hmm." The Hunter gave a noncommittal grunt. He stood up as though he was making a decision. He picked up his cleaver, strapped it to his back and approached the cell door.

"Lady Olga, get back!" Chloe moved forward to shield her mistress. "You bastard-"

The Hunter was inspecting the cell doors, he then reached into his pocket for a key and unlocked the cell doors. He pushed the cell doors in to allow Chloe and a surprised Olga out.

"Wha...why?" Chloe asked.

"Wasting time is wasting money." The Hunter replied. He looked at the chains. "Hold still."

He cut both the shackles on Chloe's wrists then did the same for Olga when prompted. "I will reward you handsomely for this, Hunter." She told him gratefully.

The Hunter said nothing. Olga frowned at his rudeness when the door opened.

"Oy, Hunter it's time for my shift-" The Black Dog gaped at Chloe and Olga first and then at the Good Hunter but it was too late.

A throwing knife embedded itself in the man's throat and he went down choking on his life's blood. When the man finally expired, the Hunter took what he had on his person, he didn't know the guy and so decided to call him Corpsey. He handed the man's knife to Chloe who took it wrinkling her nose with disgust.

"Well, this is going to be difficult." The Hunter said. "We can't go out that way with Corpsey there." He nudged his head at the door and the corpse lying in front of it.

"Hmm..." Olga smirked. "Follow me you two."

Chloe and Hunter obeyed Olga as she approached a section of the wall. "As the mistress of this fortress, I can shape it to my whim however I please." She explained as she touched a brick. A rune shone in the dim torchlight and the wall glowed once before it disappeared, revealing a passageway. "I have many of these portals hidden around the fort. This is but one of many, leading to my armory."

The Hunter moved first. Olga was next and Chloe was last because she hesitated.

"Chloe. We are escaping with this stranger. Let's move." Olga said. Chloe nodded before glaring distrustfully at the stranger's back.

Eventually they reached the end of the passageway. The Hunter looked around the armory. There were suits of armor all over the place. Chloe disregarded those and went for twin daggers. She also took an ebon bow and a quiver full of arrows. Olga went for her staff, then reached for a satchel.

The Hunter raised a brow as Olga stuffed a longsword inside.

"Is that...magic, Lady Olga?" He asked her.

"Indeed." Olga said, smiling. "I can fit many objects within this satchel of mine and it won't become any heavier."

"Useful." The Hunter commented then kept his mouth shut. He deigned to take nothing.

"Will you not take the armor?" Olga asked.

"No." The Hunter said bluntly. "My attire more than adequate protection and armor will just slow me down. Are both of you done milady?"

"Yes." Olga nodded as Chloe finished strapping another pair of knives to her hips. Her bow was slung over her shoulder. She glared at the Hunter.

"Well?" Chloe asked.

"We should probably be safe if we open this door." Olga said. The Hunter walked over to the door leading to the other section of the armory. He saw the two men standing guard gape in surprise.

"Hunter? How'd you get in there? We couldn't open that door."

The Hunter calmly readied his Saw Cleaver.

"Wha-"

The first man died without a sound as the Hunter blurred into motion. The Saw bit deep into the man's head, crunching through muscle and bone and brain. The second man reached for his sword but it was already too late as the Hunter had already removed his weapon from his victim's corpse. He decapitated the second man, sending the head flying across the room.

He looked at both corpses without remorse as Chloe and Olga emerged. Olga was regarding the Hunter with a curious look.

"You're fast, human." Chloe said.

The Hunter said nothing and kept moving, he opened the door and peeked his head out. Coast was clear.

"The front gate is sure to be guarded." He told Chloe and Olga. "So while they are celebrating, we should slip out through the back entrance."

Olga nodded. "We should move then." She said then smiled. "Thank you, stranger. For freeing us."

The Hunter said nothing, merely kept moving forward with his two charges in tow. He could just leave. He could leave Olga and Chloe to their fates, but he had given his word. He was a broken man, twisted and turned into something unnatural. But, ultimately, even if he had failed to save anyone he had tried to be a good man in a city that had gone mad.

This was his atonement. If he had to die to get these two to safety then so be it. An oath was an oath.

They made their way through the castle, quiet as they could be. Whenever there was a sentry, Chloe or the Hunter would silence them with a blade. There was no time to hide the bodies, but they did scavenge what they could. Specifically gold or any food the guards would have on their person.

It wasn't much but it was better than nothing.

/

The passageway was still open. It was clear. The Hunter kept going, sighing. The next step of the journey was getting horses, finding their way back south and getting back to Celestine Lucross. Not complicated, but as simple plans go...

"This...this is good." Olga said. "We can get out of here."

"Into the arms of our enemies." Chloe snarked. "Thanks to you." She shot a look at the Hunter who stopped.

"I don't trust Vault." He told them both. "So that is why I am taking you both with me to Lady Celestine. If you would like to stay then by all means, do so."

Olga looked down at her servant who rolled her eyes. "I don't trust this human, Lady Olga. If he wanted to, he'd have taken you back to Vault by-"

"Well, well! Look what we have here..."

Vault and more than a dozen soldiers had appeared behind them. The Hunter sighed as the mercenaries formed a circle around the three.

"Really, Hunter. I honestly am surprised that you'd go this far." Vault said as he approached, his greatsword in hand. "Take these two bitches out and have them all to yourself."

"You're in my way, Vault." Hunter replied coldly. "I'm bringing these two to Celestine Lucross. That is my mission."

"Celestine Lucross." Vault said. He then spat on the floor. "What can the Goddess offer you, kid!? Eternal servitude as a lapdog!?" He shook his head.

"Tell me Hunter, what was your life like? Are you happy with the way things are now?"

The Hunter's eyes narrowed. "I'm being paid. What else would I need?"

"But you won't rise any further."

"Oh?"

"I'm a mercenary, you're a mercenary. We're all mercenaries." Vault said. "When this war ends, what will we have? Nothing! Nothing, I tell you! And now that we have this Black Fortress and its resources, we can forge our own way."

He pointed at Chloe and Olga. "And we are gonna start with you."

"To do what exactly?" Hunter asked before Olga could say anything.

"Those Princess Knights! They're up in their lofty little castles, enjoying their riches. None of it goes our way and all the bloodshed during this war was because of them, Hunter! Can't you see it?" Vault said.

The Hunter could see the fervor in his eyes. "So what does this have to do with my charges?"

"Think about it! If you want you could have her right now! This, this is the start of a new nation, Hunter! The Sex Empire, where any man could live as a king! Those Princess Knights? They should be doing what a man should be telling them, not the other way around. They'll cook, clean and fuck whenever we tell them to."

All of a sudden, the Hunter started laughing. It was startling because Vault was outraged that some little punk was belittling the cause he was fighting for. Olga was more concerned with the fact that Vault had them outnumbered. Chloe thought the human had gone insane.

"So because of the threat of losing your job, you decided to rape this country into submission." The Hunter said. He scoffed. "Ah...I have never heard such a vile, arrogant speech in my entire life." He chuckled although there was no humor evident in his tone.

"You know Vault, your exploits told of a heroic man." The Hunter said. "Tell me, were you planning this farce the whole time? Or did you get hit in the head during the war?"

"Don't you toy with me Hunter." Vault growled. "I'm going to give you a choice...Give those two up and I'll let you stay on my good side. Don't and you'll wish you were dead by the time I'm done with you."

"I'm going to kill you, Vault."The Hunter spoke suddenly. "I am going to rend the skin from your bones."

Vault sighed. "Take 'em!" He told his mercenaries who whooped and charged in.

The Hunter sighed as all three of them stood back to back.

"Wonderful, human. I suppose you have a plan for this one as well." Chloe growled, holding her daggers.

"Cover your ears." The Hunter said and took a deep breath. Chloe and Olga did so and the Hunter let out an inhuman roar so loud those who were too close ended up on the floor, ear drums shattered and eyes bleeding from the noise. The shockwave had knocked down several of the men, some who were utterly deafened. Chloe and Olga watched in awe as the Hunter raised his cleaver at Vault who was holding his left ear. The mercenary leader was glaring at Hunter who regarded him with a remorseless stare.

"Pursue us at your own peril." The Good Hunter told Vault. "I will come back for you soon."

/

They had managed to get two horses. One of which was the Hunter's own. The clever animal seemed to have taken a liking to him, something he didn't understand but appreciated nonetheless.

They rode through the night silent.

The Hunter looked back to his quarry. Chloe and Olga were on another horse, Chloe being the one responsible for following him. Olga hung onto her servant eyes closed. She briefly looked back at the Black Forest. He honestly could not imagine what she was thinking about. Losing one's home...The Hunter shook his head and spurred his horse onward.

Time can numb wounds, but they necessarily won't ever go away. The Hunter knew that as well as anyone did. Olga and Chloe were different people though. They have suffered enough.

/

They stopped at a creek, both to take a break and to ponder their next moves. The Hunter was busy filling water skins and as he did so, he saw Chloe striking up a fire. At least, she was trying to until Olga stopped her, pointed her finger at the pile of wood and lit it up. The Hunter sighed then approached the campfire.

"We're not going to be safe here." Chloe remarked as the Hunter set down the water skins. "And that man if he finds us..."

"He won't." The Hunter said. "Not in this wilderness."

"You've done well so far, Stranger." Olga said. "Now...I must ask. Who are you?"

"I go by...Hunter. My real name is not important thus far." The Hunter replied. He smiled grimly underneath his cloth mask. "If anything, I wish these were better circumstances to meet and greet."

Olga narrowed her eyes. "That human..." She growled. "I won't forgive him for making a fool out of me. I should have destroyed him the moment he set foot within my home."

Chloe leveled a glare at the Hunter. "And you helped him take it."

"Because we were at war." The Hunter's reply was equally scathing as Chloe's look. "The war is over and it seems that Vault is starting a new one. My mission as you know is to get you out of here and back south. That is what Celestine Lucross has asked me to do and so I will." He exhaled through his nose.

"Hunter." Olga said. "This...plan of Vault's, does he mean to take over the country? And turn it into a Sex Empire?"

The Good Hunter shrugged. "You heard it from the man's mouth, milady." He said. "If he means to start another war, he can. With the...resources within the Black Fortress he has quite the advantage."

"But surely-surely the Goddess Reborn can do something, right?" Chloe asked, bitterly speaking the name of their most hated enemy.

"True. Celestine Lucross was my greatest foe. We only stopped taking the field personally because it was destroying the lands." Olga spoke. She looked at the Hunter. "What are you going to do, Sir Hunter?"

"Just...Hunter, lady Olga." The Hunter looked uncomfortable. "I am no knight."

"You should be." Olga said. "I owe you for not only saving our lives but also for protecting us."

The Hunter kept looking at the flames. His eyes were blank. "I still have not completed the mission yet, milady."

He cleared his throat. "I shall take first watch. We leave at dawn."

/

Chloe could not sleep. The young half human, half dark elf was curled up in her blanket sure but she was keeping an eye on their...savior. He was still, very still. His eyes were closed but it was clear he wasn't sleeping, not yet.

She had seen what he had done to those mercenaries. What kind of power did this man possess to knock down thirty men and kill them with only a roar? Had she and Lady Olga not covered their ears, they probably would have joined the dead.

Chloe kept a hand on her knife. Yes, she could kill this human right now and she and Lady Olga would be able to escape. She had thought about just killing the human and leaving with her lady but now...after seeing what he did in the Black Fortress with his voice alone. Who knows what he was capable of?

"You should be resting." Hunter told her.

Chloe blinked and let go of her knife. "I was."

"You were staring at me for quite a while. Sleep. I will wake you when dawn comes."

Chloe obeyed but she realized that he had known he was staring, even with his eyes closed. There was something...off about this man. He needed to be watched. He felt...inhuman.

Whatever he was, Chloe was not sure who she was more wary of. Vault, the leader of the Black Dogs...Or the strange man known as 'Hunter.'

...

Right, so the stage has been set. The Good Hunter has now put a wrench in Vault's plans and is now headed back to Celestine to give her the bad news.