32

The Wild Hunt

"I assure you ladies and gentlemen, the reports of my death are greatly exaggerated."- Lord Executioner, Kyril Sutherland, addressing the noble class of Ken.

Rage was one hell of a painkiller.

Death didn't come for him. Not now, or ever. Instead all he felt was an all consuming rage as he punched the stone floor hard enough for it to crack. The Hunter let out an inhuman growl as he reached up and yanked the crossbow bolt lodged in his head and tore it out in a fountain of ichor and blood that sprayed across the floor. He threw the irritating projectile aside. His eye, he had lost a damned eye, and while there was no doubt there would be no impediment to his combat abilities it still did not diminish the fact that some bastard had blinded him in one eye!

It seemed so petty, thinking about it but Kyril had decided that the man would die regardless. This was his first death in the Waking World and he was not particularly very happy about it. Why? Simple. Celestine was there and she was nearly harmed because of his presence. Unacceptable. Unacceptable. The high Elf had sunk to her knees, hyperventilating as her eyes widened in shock at what had just happened to the Good Hunter. She had witnessed a large part of his rage as he literally came back from the dead.

Kyril looked at her briefly with his one remaining eye, the other was a bloody ruin and even now crimson life fluid was dripping from the horrific wound that he had suffered. What a sight he must have made, judging from the way Celestine shrank back, her own green eyes wide with terror. She was barely even able to move. Celestine began to sob in horror as Kyril turned his malice towards his intended target. Gripping his Saw Cleaver tight he unbuckled it off of the harness on his back. He swung it down with an ominous metal screech the saw becoming a cleaver.

The assassin responsible was frozen, as was Celestine his unintended target. The assassin dropped his crossbow as Kyril Sutherland stood to his feet, Saw Cleaver in one clawed hand. His one remaining eye burned crimson and he began stalking forward to follow his prey even as it ran for its life. Kyril was utterly silent as he moved relentlessly, one eye focused on the retreating assassin's back. Kyril advanced not even bothering to see to the aid of those who were wounded The assassin had used his blade and many of the wounded were screaming or begging for his help.

He ignored them, as callous as it was he had more important things to do...like interrogating then killing this bastard assassin that owed him an eye. After that...After that, he owed Celestine answers. She knew. She knew he was supposed to be dead. There was no other way around it. He would have to explain his...affliction in greater detail.

The Hunter let out a bitter laugh as he stalked his prey. The laughter echoed in the halls as they impossibly darkened. Kyril's blood dripped out of the ruined eye socket constantly, hissing as it hit the red carpet. He was furious to the point of near insanity and yet he kept silent as he stalked his prey. It didn't matter that the man was highly skilled and well trained. Neither did it matter that there were guards who were slowing the assassin down even as he cut through them in desperation to report to his craven masters.

The Hunter had the scent of his prey. And nothing was going to stop him, not even reality itself. He continued walking and all around him objects shook on their plinths or began to bleed. The walls themselves seemed to shiver in place and the air took on a deathly cold that would steal away the breath of those who were unprepared. The portraits of past rulers shifted briefly into malevolent, insane things that shook and expanded their frames, their screaming faces would surely terrify a man to death had they seen it. The Hunter saw his prey, not in a mortal sense for Insight was a great and powerful tool with a price. He could see the fate of the assassin as he ran, heading out of the castle and into the streets of the capitol.

The Hunter walked and hell followed him.

/

Alleyway...

Perdita wiped the blade of his knife on the guard's back as he continued his flight back to the east. Goddess above, he had done it now. The bastard Mandevilles didn't tell him that the Lord Executioner they wanted dead was a bloody immortal!

The assassin was a good one, having served House Mandeville for a decade with his old partners before gradually becoming the last sole assassin to serve them in entirety. Still, if he played this right he'd be rich for life for setting back the Alliance's steady advance. The fact that he had actually put out the Good Hunter's eye was a bonus.

Now he just had...to…

The alleyway had turned dark. Pitch dark except for a small circle of light around him. Perdita couldn't see anything beyond his sword arm. There was the tolling of a great bell but other than that there was no sound. The assassin drew his shortsword and faced the source of the sound. "Come out!" He roared. "Come out you bastard!" He swung around, watching his back. Watching his front...for something. There had to be something out there. Somebody had to have noticed this! Perdita snarled in anger again. "Come on coward, let me see if I can put out another eye to blind ya!"

All the while the sound of the bell continued, tolling in the distance as if to announce the coming of some looming terror.

Perdita wanted to feel confident but his posture was shaken and he licked his lips, features hidden beneath the leather cowl. Perdita was a hard fighter but he preferred not getting into head on fights. Or being trapped in some kind of illusion magic. Celestine was not a magician of such low caliber, Perdita knew that because he studied the Goddess Queen extensively before going on his mission to put down the Good Hunter. He knew the man had no way of magical abilities either, until today when he learned that the Good Hunter was literally unable to be killed. He had to get this information back to his employers, the Black Dogs would pay handsomely for such information and perhaps they would be able to figure out a way to put down their greatest enemy.

"Show-" Perdita's battle ready roar was suddenly silenced as a gloved hand reached out and grabbed him by the throat. The assassin gagged as the grip tightened like an iron vice, depriving the would be murderer of air.

The Hunter emerged from the shadows. His visage was ruined by the open, bloody wound that had once been his right eye. Even then, there was a red glow in the ruined socket where the crossbow bolt had penetrated. Kyril Sutherland pulled down the cloth mask that hid his face from view. He smiled and showed the assassin rows of sharp teeth in a ghastly smile that would not have looked out of place on a deep sea predator. His remaining eye narrowed.

"You should be honored." He told the terrified assassin in a ghastly growl. "Greater men than you have died instantly at my hands. But you, my friend. I believe you know who killed me. You don't have to worry about much anymore after this."

The smile grew bigger.

"We will have all the time in the world to chat. Be at peace, your death will be quick if you do not resist." The Hunter said amicably. He tilted his head. "And in return for this kindness you will show me all that you know."

Perdita struggled, his screaming muted, even as the Hunter's mouth opened in a hellish scream that drowned out all else.

A few days later…

Lady Olin Mandeville was in a foul mood. Not because of the current investigation that was bleeding her House dry, not because of the damage her reputation had suffered. Oh no, it was worse. It was that upstart Lord Kyril Sutherland who had invited her up to his abode in the lofty white estates of the Goddess Reborn herself.

Olin shook her raven locks as she scowled at the pair of lackeys that the upstart had sent to invite her, both of them riding ahead of her palanquin. The girl was a menacing brute, hardly one fit to be called a lady. She was rough spoken but even her guards were wary of the way she handled the great-sword strapped to her back. Her partner was a lean, filthy rat who never spoke...but the way he handled himself indicated a master swordsman that behind the mask. At least the boy was more polite and knew his place beneath someone like Olin.

She looked up at the abode of the Goddess, sneering as she saw the increased patrols of guards. What, the Lord Executioner asked for more guard? He was supposed to be a warrior wasn't he? Olin leaned back in her chair with a snort.

What else was in store for her today?

/

"This way."

Olin sneered at the girl as she gestured with her gauntlet to head down the hall to the Lord Executioner's private offices...which were dim and foreboding. Olin gestured to her two guards as they followed her noting the extreme discomfort both men had. Olin had no doubt that she had a low opinion of the Lord Executioner, as he had no noble blood in his body which made him a sort of pariah to the noble class. His constant investigations into the traitors had also made him hated by those who saw an upstart who had wormed his way into Her Holiness' favor.

Still...why were there no guards here? As she continued walking, she noted that the hallways had become entirely silent. The whispers of the servants had faded, as had their presence throughout the hallways leading to the Lord Executioner's office and personal quarters. Olin kept walking, followed by her more reluctant guards. She stopped at the door where a pair of soldiers waited and opened the door. Both were in steel plate marked by the personal seal of the Good Hunter. Both men merely stood aside, one opening the door for her to head inside the office. They were heavily armed with spears, shields and heavy daggers. They didn't speak either.

The quarters were spartan, well kept but spartan regardless. Olin looked around then locked eyes, or rather eye, with the Lord Executioner himself. Despite her low opinion of him, Olin knew the man demanded respect and awe from those who encountered him for he was no mere warrior. The man had stood against the Black Dogs and had been there when their war began.

The pale faced woman at his side merely gestured to the chair that had been set for her. Fucking servant. Olin thought as one of her legendary scowls went into place. She did not bother hiding her scorn as she glared at the Hunter coolly. It was something she regretted as the noblewoman's face paled when the Hunter faced her fully.

Kyril Sutherland looked down at her with an almost neutral expression, it was the burning fury in his one remaining eye that was cause for terror. He was not happy at all as he stood up to speak to her.

"I would hope that we would have met under better circumstances, Lady Olin." He said in a creepy monotone. "However things must be...settled here and now."

"I have done nothing wrong." Olin stated defiantly. "My house has cooperated with your investigations and we have already given up those who would dare to betray the Goddess."

"Indeed." Kyril said. "Hence why you had me shot of course."

Olin raised a brow as she gripped the armrests of her chair. "How so?" She growled.

Kyril said nothing, merely reaching down below his desk and presenting a bloody haversack. His two apprentices moved to his left and right. The sound of the door opening and closing indicated the presence of his two other apprentices. Olin glanced behind her at the boy wielding a sword rapier and the red haired young woman in the white habit. Both were armed.

Olin turned back to the Good Hunter who had unveiled just what he had in that haversack of his. It was the head of the assassin, Perdita. House Mandeville's last remaining pawn. The head...looked like it had been gnawed upon by a great beast and yet the last expression of horror Perdita made was all but apparent in the milky eyes of the deceased assassin. Olin swallowed the lump in her throat as Kyril reached into his coat pocket for a letter, which still bore her personal seal.

"During the...conversation I had with this filth, I had Evetta here dig through his effects." Kyril said softly, his single eye boring into Olin's with a malevolence unmatched by any hardened killer that walked the streets at night. "I found it interesting that there were still those who dared to spit on the graciousness of her Holiness. I had wanted to put the traitors to the sword you know."

He smiled emptily. "She persuaded me to show mercy." He covered the head back up, retying the sack with a practiced ease. "So now, here we are..." Kyril said as he sat back down behind his desk and leaned forward, placing his elbows on his desk and placing his fingers into a steeple.

"The second eldest daughter of the Disgraced House Mandeville and the Lord Executioner." Kyril continued. Olin looked around uncomfortably. "The heir has already been executed for his crimes against the crown. The patriarch of House Mandeville has been given to the Dark Elves for his punishment. And now...the one who ordered my assassination sits right here."

Kyril tilted his head. "So...what say you, Olin of House Mandeville?" He said. "Any last words before I rip the life out of you?"

"You mean to kill me without a trial?" Olin asked, defeated.

"Her Holiness has already been informed of your treachery." Kyril answered her question truthfully. "Lady Celestine has declared that she has washed her hands of the entire affair with House Mandeville. She has already condemned you all in her court." He sighed and leaned back watching Olin as she began to hyperventilate. She wanted to beg for mercy, when she clearly knew that there was none to be sought from the Lord Executioner.

"Sanakan, I grow weary of this." He said with finality. "Kill her."

Sanakan approached Olin who had began to blabber before the brash hunter reached out with both arms. She snapped Olin's neck with brutal efficiency. The Mandeville guards escorting her only had moments to live as they stood in stupefied horror before Lily and Soren dispatched them both with their blades, quick and clean.

The Good Hunter regarded the corpses with utter disinterest. Sensing his thoughts, Evetta gestured for the guards to rid the Lord Executioner's office of the corpses. While the guards got busy with dragging away the corpses to be burned or buried, Kyril stood up and headed towards the window, looking down at the courtyard. It was an overcast day, and it looked like rain from what he was seeing.

"Boss?" Sanakan asked.

"I am glad that this has been settled." Kyril said. He then smirked under his bandanna. "Were you worried?"

Sanakan looked down. "Pissed is more like." She commented after a long pause. "We're a big happy family of misfits, aren't we? If you kicked it Boss, none of us would be in a good state of mind."

Kyril barked out a laugh. "True." He said, thoroughly amused. "I would have been just as angry if it were one of you who had lost an eye...even more so if it was Hugh as he would be blinded."

The mute Hunter let out a snort of amusement. Hugh gave Sanakan a cheeky grin while Lily hid a smile from a grinning Soren. "Still, Master." Lily said gently. "It is...good to see that you are still in good shape."

"Indeed." Kyril agreed. "Now we can focus all of our attention on Thorn and the coming battle ahead."

"Thorn." Soren said. "We're getting into the thick of it, aren't we sir?"

"Aye." Kyril spoke. "We are."

Politics, as always, was the greatest impediment towards moving swiftly. It was the same when preparing for battle as nobles complained about who would be sent out to die, and how much money to pay for soldiers and their equipment. Kyril had more important things to worry about as he began intensifying the training regimens of his apprentices. Running battles in the Dream, forcing them to go through the ancient myriad labyrinths of the Chalice Dungeons to hunt whatever beasts there may be in those ancient catacombs and even showing them the memories of his greatest battles during the Night of the Hunt.

Harsh, but totally necessary. He needed Sanakan and the others sharp and he would do his utmost to keep them that way. He was especially proud of Soren, who had grown up to be a powerful Hunter in his own right. He wasn't a marksman like Hugh or skilled in the arcane as Lily was but he could shoot decently and had some arcane talent that he could rely on in a pinch, using such tools like the Old Hunter's Bone to mimic the art of Quickening or the Empty Phantasm Shell to enhance his Reiterpallasch with arcane magic. He was also a quick pickpocket and a first rate scout, as Sharl had reported to him.

"Sharp as can be." Sanakan had commented. Soren had been smiling then but had quickly wiped that smirk off of his face when the Good Hunter turned his attention on him.

It wasn't just the Hunter Cadre who were training hard. Lieutenant Bergen was doing his own training with the company, hardening those who had passed muster and making sure that the veterans themselves could still hack it. Despite the enmity between Claudia and Kyril, the Dawn Templars had begun reluctantly doing some cross training with Kyril's troops after Claudia had come by to observe Bergen and his training regimens. In particular, she was intrigued by the wily lieutenant's revisiting of the Tragedy of Rad.

When questioned by Claudia, Kyril had admitted that Rad was a harsh lesson that needed to be learned and had thus began developing tactics against the myriad foes they would probably face in Thorn. Ranging from the green skins and the infantry of the Black Dogs...to the malevolent mutants that Shamuhaza had spawned. No doubt Vault was using them as well considering that Kin was still their best mage. Alicia and Maia had also allowed their troops to join in and that had taken quite a bit of organizing to pull off.

Even if they were never going to be friends, Kyril still appreciated that Claudia was willing to work together. It was more than enough. Klaus had been doing his best too, giving out old maps of the area surrounding Thorn that Kyril studied long into the night and even when he entered the Hunter's Dream. So much work. So much study. So much training.

He barely had time to think about his three other problematic areas in Ken right now.

/

Of the three women who made every attempt at seeking his affections, Grace was probably the most dangerous one. The Dark Elf was a beautiful and sensuous woman, on par with the likes of Celestine Lucross and Olga Discrodia. Unlike the pure and innocent Celestine or the more isolated, yet direct Olga...Grace was a charming woman with a certain cheer that he found rather attractive, and mixed with a confidence and an eternally winning smile Kyril knew that had he been another less dangerous man he would have fallen hard for her.

"Dangerously sexy." As a Hunter he had once met would have told him. He had called the bastard 'Pinfinger' after their repeated games during the rare lulls in the Night of the Hunt. Kyril had once asked him how good he was at the game. The surly bastard had grinned at him, flipped his knife in his hands and played the game with his eyes closed in a fantastic display of dexterity and skill.

"Mastered? More like perfected!" Pinfinger had crowed in his face. Kyril wondered where that man was...he could remember that Pinfinger's name had started with an 'L', although he honestly did not know now.

"My Lord?" Grace's voice snapped him from his reverie and he looked down to her as they walked through the market stalls, a reoccurring event ever since...well, ever since his more romantic rendezvous with Lady Olga and Lady Celestine. Grace was, more or less, very upset with the whole affair and was near inconsolable for a time. Kyril believed that the near endless torrent of angry complaints he got from Miss Anna Florence was what motivated him to do something for his loyal retainer.

It would at least stop Anna from bombarding his office with letters at least, he had thought sarcastically.

"Apologies." Kyril said, even as the crowd parted to allow the Lord Executioner and the lady hanging off his arm safe passage through the busy markets. "I seem to have been lost in thought." He heard a snicker and sent a glare at a couple of men who paled when they realized who they were laughing at. They left the scene quickly and quietly before Kyril decided to take further action.

Grace smiled. "You seem to be doing that a lot, milord." She commented.

"I apologize." Kyril said softly. "I've been working hard these past few weeks."

Grace's smile faded slightly, although she was worried that Kyril was soon heading out to the battlefields of Rad she made sure not to let that get to her. Her lord was a warrior, regardless of how kind he could be when battle wasn't on his mind. His impending departure did not matter to her right now...They had a date set up and nothing was going to get in the way. Not when she still had to catch up with two certain royals who she knew were more than a match for her. Grace didn't let that stop her, which was why she told almost no one that she was going to be doing this with her boss instead of heading to Anna's house for a spill. Anna had been miffed of course and had told her that there were better men to shack up with but what did she know?

She had been horrified of course when she had heard that someone had tried to assassinate the Lord Executioner. As it turned out, House Mandeville had been seeking revenge for the imprisonment and the subsequent execution of their patriarch. The once powerful house was now in shambles with the two of its greatest heirs dead and the rest of the family squabbling for every scrap of coin left in their coffers even as it was being drained to support not only the war effort but the tiny Dark Elf community that were now spending their lives in Ken under Lord Kyril Sutherland's protection.

Many of whom had sworn their eternal service (or love) to the Good Hunter. Grace giggled as Kyril looked at her with a raised brow. "What?" He asked.

"Nothing, milord. Just..." She stifled another giggle. "Thank you. For making time for us to go about like this alone."

Kyril looked at her with his one remaining eye. "It is no trouble." He told her. "I do enjoy the time we have when we are alone, Grace. I apologize if it is not enough for you."

Grace gently took up his hand and squeezed it. "It is more than enough for me." She told him. "Now come on. I'd like to make it through all of the stalls today."

"As you wish."

Neither of them noticed Soren tracking them reluctantly.

/

A few hours before…

"Er...What? Your Grace?"

Soren fidgeted with his tricorne as he stood in front of not only the Goddess Reborn herself but also the Queen of the Jagged Crown of Garan.

"I wish for you to escort Lord Kyril on his excursion." Celestine told him cheerfully. Soren in contrast was highly disturbed. Beside Celestine who was sitting primly in her chair, Olga rolled her eyes as she leaned back on the couch. Celestine beamed at Soren and tilted her head. It was honestly the most frightening thing the thief had ever seen. Soren swallowed the lump in his throat and said.

"If I may be so candid, Your Holiness," Soren's tone was cautious. "Why am I being tasked for this? Surely the B-Lord Executioner is more than capable of taking care of himself." And cleaving me in half if he catches me fooling around. He kept that thought to himself. He wasn't going to be the one who refused Her Holiness to her face.

Especially if she could just simply blast him into oblivion without even lifting a finger.

"Regardless, I wish for him to stay safe and so I am asking you to shadow him." Celestine spoke over Soren's concerns with a smile. Soren swore that he could feel the sun's heat on him for some reason and shook the feeling away. He bowed and agreed to Celestine's request, even if it was glaringly obvious that the High Queen was asking him to spy on Grace Campbell's excursion with her employer...and his Mentor.

Soren left the quarters quickly to embark on his new "mission". He wondered how he was going to explain this to the others, it was embarrassing enough that Sanakan was laughing at him when the Dawn Templars came calling.

/

When the young Hunter left, Olga turned to Celestine and regarded her with a raised brow. To her credit Celestine remained poised and calm as ever, even as the tips of her long ears and her cheeks became red from embarrassment.

"I wish to ensure the safety of my Lord Executioner." Celestine spoke to Olga.

"I'm sure you do." Olga deadpanned. "Which is why I saw you plant a scrying spell on young Soren's hat."

"Oh hush." Celestine huffed. "You screamed when I told you Kyril...When he was incapacitated."

Olga saw her hands trembling for a bit before Celestine composed herself. "In any case I wish him and Miss Grace a happy outing. There is a lot of work to be done and they deserve a rest."

The Dark Elf only had sights for Celestine's teeth grinding as she looked out the window. Olga sighed as her thoughts turned to Chloe. Chloe, who was still traumatized from what she had been through. Someone that needed the help of not just a healer. She had Lily to thank for that, but what worried her was distancing herself from Chloe.

She hoped she was going to be okay alone here. Olga had volunteered her services for the march to Thorn and while she had no authority amongst the reinforcements being sent to Thorn, she was relieved to know that she was going with the Lord Executioner's own company of soldiers. Which also included the Dark Elves rescued from House Mandeville's clutches.

Olga was really not looking forward to meeting those refugees again, considering that she knew that there was much enmity against her for what she had done in the centuries long conflict with Celestine. Still, this was a way to atone for that. If her sorcery could do some good she would be happy.

/

"Well...I must say that I have never seen someone pale so quickly before." Grace chuckled as she and Kyril exited the small tavern they had decided to dine in.

"I was just trying to get my ale." Kyril said softly. "He had no reason to be rude."

"I'm sure that guy won't be coming to this bar again." Grace smiled as she spun to face her Lord. "Shall we head back?"

Kyril, in a surprisingly gentle motion, took Grace's hand and squeezed. "As you wish."

They returned to the Queen's estate, with Grace feeling much better although a part of her was still worried. She did not know what was going to happen in Thorn but she prayed to...someone, anyone to keep her Lord safe.