33

The Departure

"Let this be a day for glory..."- Unknown soldier during the Siege of Thorn, memoirs of the Battle for Thorn.

/

Ken, Capitol of Eostia...A few days before the departure of the Alliance Expeditionary Force...

Kyril waited at Celestine's door for a few moments before he entered. She had summoned him that night after he had bade farewell to Grace after their little rendezvous around the market town. He had a few moments to spare, after all he still owed answers to Celestine's questions. This was their secret between them although he had no doubt that Olga would know as well.

They probably haven't seen anyone come back from the dead before. He bet Olga did...She was the darker half to their duo after all. It would not surprise him in the slightest if that was the case, seeing just what kind of arcane arts Olga had practiced. The Good Hunter waited patiently until the door opened magically. He stepped inside, removing his hat as he did so.

"Lady Celestine?" He asked. "I've come to..."

Kyril stopped talking when he saw Olga sitting on the recliner and Celestine out on her balcony, staring out into the distance. He placed his hat on the rather conveniently placed hat stand next to him. The Hunter stepped into the room and closed the door, locking it as Celestine had instructed him to do before.

"Kyril." Olga said gently. "We were just..." She looked at Celestine who had turned back around, heading inside. She looked up at Kyril who stared blandly at her. He was shocked when the High Elf pulled him forward and leaned her head on his chest. He quickly pulled her into an embrace, soothing the High Elf by rubbing her back.

"I...I saw you die." She whispered, trembling now. "No...I...I felt you die. How is this possible?"

Kyril rubbed her back even as he weathered Olga's stare. Olga herself had not believed what Celestine had told her about the Good Hunter dying but she knew Celestine was no duplicitous being and neither was she a fool. So Olga looked at Kyril expectantly, waiting for his explanation.

In response, Kyril lightly nudged Celestine forward and away from him. He reached into his pocket for his journal, saddened slightly that Olga had flinched away from it rather violently and Celestine's eyes gaining a horrified sheen as if she was about to start crying again at a moment's notice, the light in her eyes dimming into horror almost immediately. The truth was hard to swallow, that was something that would not ever change in the Waking World or in the Dream.

"It would be easier to show you." Kyril said softly. "See the Hunt through my eyes...See what the Night of the Hunt was all about. And what it had taken from me."

He opened the book.

City of Yharnam, the Great Bridge

The Hunter dodged the screaming monster as it bore down on him. It was huge, far taller than any of the monstrous trolls that he had faced on the way here. Its horned visage was a bloody ruin as it let out a horrific scream. It charged the Hunter who dove to the side, the beast smashed into the carriage screaming again as it swung its arm out. The Hunter barely dodged it by ducking, breathing heavily he charged.

The Hunter ducked under another weighty blow and struck with his extended cleaver. He let out a bitter curse as the creature turned on him again, screaming more in rage than pain as it swatted him backwards. Neither the beast or the creature noticed the three observers watching the battle.

/

"This is..." Celestine Lucross whispered, barely resisting the urge to let out a scream as the Hunter was launched brokenly into the water below. The area faded to black. Celestine whimpered.

"What in the many infinite hells is this..." Olga Discordia said looking at the third member of the trio. "Was this...Was that...you?"

Kyril Sutherland nodded. "Thanks to an illness I was forced to come here." He said. "My first payment as a Hunter was a small part of my humanity." He answered them as they kept walking through the darkness.

There was a light ahead and the three found themselves in a building. Celestine and Olga watched as a pale and drawn Kyril Sutherland lay down on a cot. Their Good Hunter was watching over what was happening with a withdrawn look, as if he was reliving the horrors he had seen even now. The gap between the past Kyril and the present one was astonishing to both elves. He looked less haggard and yet there was still life in his eyes, alongside a determination to survive whatever was happening to him. Celestine in particular pitied Kyril as he is now. Would he still have done what he did if he knew what was going to happen to him during that fateful night?

It was the uncertainty that scared her even more.

"Just get to the point doctor...Is this where I can find the cure?" Kyril asked. His voice lacked the bitter tone Celestine was used to, it was the voice of a man who had nothing else to lose. It belonged to someone who wanted to live.

"Oh yes...Paleblood...Well, you've come to the right place." The man standing over the cot said. "Yharnam is the home of Blood Ministration. But where would an outsider like you begin? Simple!" The madman gestured to the blood in the jars.

"With a little bit of Yharnam blood of your own..."

Olga and Celestine gulped as they saw what was in those jars. Celestine paled as she realized what the hoses and the needles attached to the jars were for. Kyril did not speak, merely observing his memory with a thoughtful gaze. He then turned to Celestine and gave her a nod.

"I signed the contract." Kyril said smiling blandly. "I expected something to happen but alas…I was certainly not expecting anything like this"

They saw the young man awaken as if startled from a dream. Celestine and Olga noted with disturbing clarity that the madman responsible for turning Kyril into what and who he was had vanished seemingly into thin air. Where had he gone? Celestine really did not want to know. But they had to keep going. This was something long coming, after subtle hints into what the Lord Executioner was, Celestine had to know. She knew that Olga was also dying to know what had happened to him in the past. They had to keep following Kyril down this mad road into the past. Into the one fateful night when everything had changed for him.

As they followed the memory, Celestine backed up and screamed as she beheld the gigantic beast that was eating a corpse, Olga retched at the sight and the sounds as she turned her head away. Evidently the past Kyril had noticed as well and had stopped but it was too late, the wolf like creature let out a roar and lunged at the past Kyril, ripping him apart in a fantastic display of gore and violence. Celestine let out a terrified moan as the past Kyril's head rolled to a stop in front of them and the present Kyril caught her before she could fall to her knees. To his left, Olga looked fairly pale and withdrawn...she was unable to speak as she held a hand to her chest. She swallowed the lump in her throat.

"Not really one of my finest moments." Kyril commented in a deadpan tone as the memory faded to black once more...as if mercifully blanking out his memory of being eaten alive. He knew Olga and Celestine were not going to be as lucky but the truth, no matter how horrible, had to be known. "Come to think of it...I do believe that was my first death."

"Your...first death?" Celestine whispered astonished. "How…Is that even right?"

"No. None of these things that happened aren't right at all." Kyril answered smiling grimly. "Like I said, the first price I paid was my humanity. I suppose if there was one thing I was thankful for, it was like waking up from a bad dream when I...came back so to speak."

"Come on." He continued. "We still have much to see."

"Kyril...what else are we going to see?" Celestine said, recovering as much as she could although her legs were like jelly. She wanted to stop, heavens above she would have gladly gouged out her eyes or bashed her head against the wall to try and forget what she had seen but she owed it to this man, her Lord Executioner, to see what he had seen.

To try and understand just what made him who he was.

"More memories of that fateful night." Kyril answered Celestine quietly. "And what choices I had to make in order to survive it." He turned to regard Olga and Celestine equally. "I owe you both answers after all, and it would be remiss of me not to pay that debt."

He kept going, deeper into the darkness...And both queens followed him.

There was no turning back.

/

"I believe it was here that I learned that there was something else going on in Yharnam."

Kyril, Olga and Celestine followed the memory of the Good Hunter as they walked through the forbidden forest that hid the Byrgenwerth College from those who would dare seek its cursed knowledge. The Good Hunter had explained what he could but thought it best to continue on through, guiding the two elf queens through his memories.

They watched the memory of Kyril as he advanced steadily through the forest, Saw Cleaver in hand. Another weapon hung on his back, a great hammer with a metal head inscribed with writing that Celestine was not able to decipher. Celestine noted that Kyril walked with confidence now, as if he was getting used to the unimaginable horror of the night of the hunt. The forest path eventually led them to a large, ivy wrought building. It reminded Celestine of an academy of sorts.

There was a buzzing noise.

Past Kyril turned and blasted a creature back with his blunderbuss before taking it apart with his Saw Cleaver, hacking it apart ruthlessly.

Celestine swore to herself that she would never be accustomed to whatever mad creatures Kyril had encountered here. But the human body and the insect head with many eyes the creature possessed would haunt her dreams for a while.

"Damn this place." Olga whispered. "Damn this...Damn this..." The Dark Elf spat out a curse in Garan.

"Was all of this necessary for you?" She rounded on the present Kyril who shrugged.

"Necessary?" He shook his head. "No. But I wanted to live you see. I was desperate for anything that could help me preserve my life."

They continued following the Hunter's past. "I blamed everything and everyone when I had found out that I was sick with the plague. So would anyone to be honest." The Good Hunter turned his attention towards Olga. His eyes were painfully blank. It caused Olga to shrink away from him briefly.

"Is that so wrong, to want to live?" He asked her.

Olga, honestly, had no answer to that question. To be driven to such an extent that she would do anything, anything at all no matter how horrible, was unthinkable to her. Not in a thousand years had she been pushed to the extreme lengths that the mortal in front of her had endured.

"Trust me. Try not to answer that question. I learned a lot about myself during this long night." Kyril turned back around, facing away from the two queens. One was angry at the fate he endured, the other was horrified.

"Look at how I ended up now."

The Good Hunter beckoned his "guests" to continue onward with him. "Come. This memory is not finished yet, but it is close."

Kyril led the two Queens farther into his memory. He seemed to move wearily now, the atrocities he had both committed and witnessed weighing heavily on his shoulders. Yet his tone and his expression never changed from the stoic mask he affected, as if there truly was a limit to the imagination of the horrors he had seen.

Celestine knew he had seen far, far too much to be affected anymore. That scared and saddened her.

/

Moonside Lake

They ended up standing on a lake. How or why they ended up here was beyond Celestine's reasoning. Kyril had said that this place was a buffer against nightmares. It was his first sign that he had done something wrong. A grave mistake that would cost him dearly and destroy whatever human morality he had left.

Kyril, Celestine and Olga watched as the Hunter put down the gigantic Rom, the so called Vacuous Spider. Celestine was horrified at what Kyril had done. The Hunter lowered his sword, panting. Beside her, Kyril just shook his head.

"I had no other choice." He said as he looked up. Celestine and Olga followed his gaze and saw the weeping woman. Olga gulped as she saw the bloodstains on her dress, and then her eyes widened in horror as she realized that she was, or had been, pregnant.

"Yharnam." Kyril answered when both Queens turned to him for answers. "The ancient Queen the city was named after." He shook his head. "And the mother of a Nightmare that I had slain."

"A...A nightmare." Celestine whispered. "What manner of creature would...birth such a thing?"

"Every Great One seeks a child." Kyril said to her softly. "And mortals suffer for that desire. Do not think about it any further." His tone hardened.

"It will kill you to know that truth." He spoke gravely. "And now we come to the real terror of the Hunt."

"What...what do you mean?" Olga said warily.

Kyril turned to her. His eyes were dead and cold. "This is where I, whoever I was back then, truly died." He looked up at the red moon. "And there is the symbol of my failure. The red Hunter's moon."

It was indeed a red Hunter's moon. Celestine let out a scream as she saw...something come down from the moon. She realized they were now standing in a field of white Asphodel Flowers. She saw the workshop…Kyril's home burning. She didn't want to know. She didn't want to die. Her mind instantly shut down and she felt herself falling.

Falling.

Falling.


The Hunter's Dream...

Five thousand spears. It was all that they could afford to send against Vault's marauding armies in Thorn.

Five thousand men, that included Kyril's own five hundred men who were elite infantry and Claudia's Dawn Templars, Alicia's Knights of Iris...and Olga Discordia herself who would be working with Kyril's own company. Not a bad batch if Kyril thought so himself but it was still five thousand men compared to gods know how many Black Dogs and orcs they would have to kill in Thorn. Or, he hoped pessimistically, the mutated enemies they had encountered in the streets of Rad itself.

The Good Hunter quietly buckled the Holy Moonlight Sword to the harness on his back. All preparations were complete, mostly and it was time for him to rest before they finally departed for Thorn. Lieutenant Bergen had all of the soldiers on resting duties and a skeleton crew would remain in Ken for the recruits who still needed to be trained. There wasn't much that he could do at that point. Many volunteered to head into Thorn with him, but he only wanted the best of the best. He was a bit guilty for picking the ones who had to be left behind but it is what it is. This was his Company and he had to make the hard choices.

"Good Hunter."

Kyril turned to Evetta who bowed and waited for him to finish arming up. He had decided to have supper with his faithful companion, quietly but firmly avoiding the feast being held for the departing forces that was being held by the nobility. He wanted no part of any of that but he did let his apprentices have their own private celebrations which they held in Sister Ramiel's orphanage, it was Soren's idea. Grace was there as well, seeing that Soren was going into battle after all.

He let them have their time. It was their reward for sticking with him this long. Kyril instead followed Evetta to the small circular table they had set up and he ate while Evetta watched. She smiled kindly at him, knowing that she did not need to worry about her Good Hunter anymore.

"I depart tomorrow, Evetta." Kyril said as he finished his platter. "I hope that you can forgive me for being away from you for so long."

"I understand." Evetta said. "I will support you, Good Hunter, wherever you may be."

Kyril bowed his head in gratitude. He owed the Plain Doll so much that he would probably live out the rest of his life repaying her kindness. The Good Hunter finished eating and the pair spent the rest of the evening in contemplative and comfortable silence. Nothing more, nothing less.

The Good Hunter eventually returned from the dream. One last destination before he left. Kyril decided to leave both his hat off and his bandanna lowered. He was no craven. He had to check on Her Holiness and Lady Olga, because what they had seen in his past was…

He just had to see them. He owed them that much at least.

The Good Hunter found himself walking down the corridor heading towards Celestine's chambers that night. He had seen Olga heading towards the healer's quarters, no doubt going to see how Chloe was doing. She was...more robust than Celestine it seemed, then again he did not expect Olga to be fully alright either.

She looked withdrawn but she did give him a nod, and a quiet glance that said that she was doing what she had to to keep going. Olga had decided to accompany Kyril into battle, even if he had stated some misgivings in doing so. She would be going alone after all, without Chloe by her side. That was what worried Kyril but it seemed that his concerns were unfounded.

"You should see her." Olga blurted out. "Before we head out."

Kyril stopped just shy of reaching out his hand to knock on Celestine's door. He knocked on the door once, then ventured inside the High Elf's quarters. Olga stayed for a bit, smiled and shook her head before she headed in the direction of the Healer's quarters.

/

Celestine was again standing at her balcony. Kyril closed the door and locked it. He noted that the room was brighter than usual. The Good Hunter guessed that all the things she had seen in his memories was enough to raise the fear of the dark. For someone like him, fear of the dark was just one of many mortal things that he had given up a long time ago.

The Good Hunter waited for Celestine to notice. The High Elf turned around and walked inside. She looked up at him. Kyril sighed. Her green eyes were anxious, which made him a bit worried. Kyril blinked as Celestine pressed herself against his body, burying her face into his chest. The Good Hunter felt blindsided for a bit before he sighed, wrapping his arms around her.

"I couldn't sleep." She whispered.

Kyril did not know what to say, really, he felt that he'd make things worse if he told her that he didn't sleep at all anymore. "...What causes this insomnia?" He asked her instead.

"You're leaving. You, Alicia...Olga….Claudia. Thorn may be under attack and I do not even know what will happen." She said. Her eyes grew watery. "Promise me. Promise me you will return."

Kyril took both of her hands in his. "I swear to return as I am able." He said softly. "And I will bring my sword down upon those who would ruin your kingdom."

Celestine squeezed his hands, then raised them up to kiss them. She pulled him towards the sofa, where she sat down with him. Laying her head on his shoulder, the High Elf sighed contently as Kyril put an arm around her shoulders. He squeezed her hand gently.

The Good Hunter stayed there, until Celestine finally fell asleep. In the late hours of the morning, he stood up and allowed the High Elf to sleep. He walked back to his quarters, to spend the rest of the late night to meditate upon the battles that would undoubtedly come.


Dawn.

Kyril Sutherland rode at the forefront of his company alongside his cadre of Hunters and Lieutenant Bergen and his own squad of handpicked Rad Veterans. The Expeditionary force was heading out and Kyril caught sight of Claudia speaking to her own cadre of Dawn Templars. He looked around again.

Five thousand spears. Somehow he knew that not a lot of them would be making it back home. It was a sobering thought, one that he dismissed from his mind as he saw Olga ride up on a black horse. The Dark Elf Queen nodded at him, a gesture he returned. She gave him a small smile, that faded when Claudia approached.

"Are we ready to depart?" Claudia asked. At her side was Alicia Arcturus and her own command retinue of knights. She brought as much as she could muster, a full company of over two hundred light cavalry. The Iris Knights were legendary light cavaliers. Kyril had heard of them, and knew he did not have to worry about Alicia anymore. She seemed to have grown, but whether she would...He stopped himself. The Good Hunter did not need to worry.

"Aye." Kyril answered softly. "Let's get this over with already." He rode back with his cadre of Hunters, back to his own troops. At Claudia's signal, the expeditionary force moved out of Ken. Kyril looked back at his cadre. Sanakan gave Lily's shoulder a light tap, grinning. The younger woman smiled underneath the habit of her white hood. Soren kept his eyes straight ahead, but when he saw his mentor looking he nodded. Hugh tipped his hat, with a small smile. All four of them were looking to him, each a full fledged Hunter in their own rights.

Sanakan, his brash, uncouth, but boundlessly courageous pupil.

Hugh, ever silent, cheerful and supremely skilled.

Lily, gentle but focused and the possessor of sheer will and commitment.

Soren, eager to prove himself, never stopping until he had done his best.

His Hunters. Kyril felt a sense of pride in his choices. Perhaps one day each one would teach students like he once did for them. Or, maybe they would cast aside their blades and live their own lives. He hoped they chose not to carry on the Hunter's burden. He was the first Hunter of this realm and certainly he was going to be the last.

The Good Hunter looked forward. Now was not the time to muse on what could be.

He had a war to win.


"Fire!"

Standing in serried ranks on the field, the red armored ashigaru of the famous Sanada Clan raised their arquebus muskets as one and fired down into the hordes of mutants and greenskins. Raw courage would win the day here, Yukimura mused as he watched the smoke. The commander scowled as reports reached him of the other fronts of the battlefield.

Some lines were already buckling. Other stood strong but would be in need of reinforcements soon. The mutants should not have been able to press the men under his command so hard but he knew why. The wretched Black Dogs had cast some sort of spell on the good people of the villages of Thorn, driving them mad and turning them into defiled, defaced...things. They felt no pain, they feared death not and they were more than a match for any mortal warrior in open combat.

But Sanada Yukimura was no mere man, and neither did he get to his position by sheer combat mastery alone. He had fought more battles than he could possibly care to count, and with courage and honor had brought glory to his family. Yukimura took up his spear as his retinue formed up around him. Each and every Samurai and Ashigaru swore to fight alongside him the moment he or she had donned the red armor to the death. But these ten, these Ten Braves, would die before any harm could come to their lord. The greatest of all of them, first among equals, was Sarutobi Sasuke.

The Shadow of Sanada, people called him. He was a quiet and intense man, garbed in red and black armor. His subordinate was a Kunoichi, Kamanosuke Yuri.

"Lord Yukimura. You are headed out to the front lines?" Sasuke kept a hand on the hilt of his katana.

"Surely, you must not do so, milord. It is dangerous." Yuri kept her helmet on but even Yukimura could see that she was very worried.

"All battles are dangerous." Yukimura donned his helmet, with the famous six coins emblazoned on the front. "Nonetheless the men will fight harder if their commander is with them." He looked to his retinue.

"Braves! Assemble!"

/

The sight of Sanada Yukimura at the head of a host was awe inspiring. Wielding his spear, Virtue, he cut a path straight through the hordes of mutants in a devastating cavalry charge. Yukimura thrust his spear forward, ending the life of a wailing mutant. It had once been a farmer, before mutations had caused it to wield its pitchfork like a spear in the Black Dogs service. Yukimura kept going followed by his retinue. All around him, the forces of Thorn began to move forward cutting deep into the enemy horde. The battle was shifting in their favor surely, but it was just one fight in a dozen others that were going just as bad as this one was going well.

Yukimura exhaled, feeling tired. He could not be anywhere but his men needed to hold the line. He looked at the devastation and shook his head. He had always wanted to visit Thorn, the country of his childhood friend Kaguya.

The Black Dogs had raped this country. Ruined its beauty and serenity, all for the sake of enslaving the people. He swore to himself that this would not stand, and that he would be there when Vault, the so called Mercenary King was struck down for his part in all of this destruction.

"I wield this spear in the name of Virtue." He whispered the words his father had taught him when he had inherited the armor, the sword and the spear of his ancestors.

He would prove himself worthy of wielding them all.