20

Advent

Royal Makai…

A mother would always worry after her children. It was a fundamental truth that every monster knew even as a child. Lillith, First of her name, Overlord of All Monsters and the Grand Mistress of Royal Makai was a mother. She knew that very well, and during her long years of life she had seen many things both good and bad. She had been a soldier among the Succubus corps of combat mages back when the former lord slaughtered its way through humanity, before she took the position herself by subterfuge and assassination.

Did she regret what she had done? In a way yes. She wished things had turned out differently but she knew she did the right thing. If she had been forced to choose between the deaths of the innocent or the death of someone who did their best to secure a world for monsters then she would not have made that choice at all. The old Demon King was powerful, and he had had the right intentions from the beginning of his rule…

But time changed him for the worse and no one else had been willing or able to stop him.

Lillith was very old and yet if one were to catch a glimpse of the Overlord one would think her young, an undeniably beautiful woman hardly into middle age with brilliant red hair, intricate horns and magnificent wings that were currently folded on her back. She stood inside one of the empty rooms, one that belonged to a Lilim that would come by every day declaring that she would make her mother very proud.

Lillith saw the familiar red eye design that this Lilim made and it made her heart ache. She could not move to see her fourth daughter as it would risk everything they had ever worked for. Lescatie was led not by Druella, but by a council of monsters appointed in her stead. Arthur saw her whenever he could get the chance and he told her everything that transpired.

Bless him, the wonderful man was more worried about her and Druella than he was about himself. Lillith could see that.

Her recovery was...steady, but plagued by nightmares all the same. All because of that...that fiend in the gray coat. Lillith was frustrated, grieving for a daughter who suffered and now the world was changing while she was stuck here unable to do anything. She walked inside Druella's old room and sat in the chair her daughter once sat in, no doubt having made schemes for conquest in the past. Even as a child she was always so ambitious…

Lillith turned her thoughts towards the world as it stood today.

The Order of the Chief God, their crusades having increased as the years went by, suddenly faces a new opponent in its trade partners. The Oberon League accused the Order of sending insurgents to cause irreparable damage to the city-state of Sheffield, even orchestrating an attack during its annual Union Festival, a time of celebration for the men and monsters that had founded the city-state. In a devastating turn of events, the First Founder Black Dragon Ancalagon the Grim sent a warning that should the Order continue meddling in the League's affairs, there would be dire consequences. Consequences that included the exile of the bishops within League territories and the sundering of trade contracts between Order-friendly merchants and League interests. These actions would not only devastate the Order's economy but also the faith in its priesthood would suffer a blow it would never be able to recover from. If the Order could not preach throughout the continent, the ranks of its priesthood would suffer greatly. The loss of Lescatie was already a dire blow that sent the Order reeling. The loss of the Oberon League's trade would be even more devastating.

The Order returned that it would consider sending crusades against the League's territories in order to annex them. Lillith heard that the Black Dragon replied with laughter, that she was willing and able to throw down a gauntlet should the Chief God's adherents challenge her League in open warfare. The League also had the ear of a more dangerous fiend, however. The Moon Scented Hunter, the man who laid Druella low. The only human who faced a Lilim in single combat.

And win decisively.

Many in her court had pushed for taking advantage of this obvious rift, but Lillith had doubts that it would be so advantageous for her. Sure, the Order losing influence in more countries would make it easier for her forces to seize territory but doing so would force more people into the arms of the League, a steadily rising power in its own right.

Lillith was even more reluctant to hand over more power to the Black Dragon. That old lizard could sniff out any potential advantages should Lillith make a mistake in pushing too hard. Lillith had considered allying with the League but in exchange her plan for the unification of man and monster would be hampered by the demands of the Black Dragon and the other Founders of the League. The League did allow monsters to settle within its territories but its edicts were far too restrictive in Lillith's view.

Humans needed to be guided and Lillith wanted the monsters to be those guides so that humans could love freely. The Black Dragon and her ilk did not believe in her plans, and ever since her taking the throne of Overlord for herself had continued doing their own thing instead of binding their strength to hers. Lillith leaned back, a scowl on her beautiful face. Upstart, they called her. A brat who knew nothing of restraint. As if they knew what it meant to be an Overlord. As if they could fathom the worries she had about the state of the world and her place in it.

All they cared about was their supposed neutrality.

Lillith stood up, brushing a hand against the desk. It was still a refined design from the best carpenters in Makai. The Overlord made her way out of the room, her mind filled with worry. Worse, she had court affairs to deal with today and she didn't know what pissed her off more than politics.


Sheffield, the Oberon League…

"That is not-!"

"The League thanks you for your time, Bishop, but we are most busy at the moment. Our...talks, our discussions, will continue on another day."

Ancalagon smiled as she left for the night, after the fourth round of negotiations with the Order's many bishops. Negotiations that went...nowhere as per usual. Ancalagon liked to play the long game, waiting to see who broke first by delaying her decisions when dealing with the League's neighbors. Humans...so impatient, desiring for a solution swiftly and without any inconvenience to them.

The Order was the same way, and their faith was unshakable. Reports from her agents and spies say that the Bishop Ria prayed daily with the Chief God's emissary, the Valkyrie Jophiel. No doubt the Valkyrie knew something about the priests who committed the atrocities during the Union Festival but alas...politics, politics. Hurting one of the angels openly was not an option. But perhaps seeing her negotiations fail to shake the mood of the people of Sheffield was more painful than anyone could ever imagine.

Of course, the Order would demand that their trade talks do not include whatever happened at the Union Festival. Of course the talk of reprisals could wait, for the threat of the Monster Lord would always continue to be at the forefront of the clergy's mind. The Order needed more men, more materiel to continue its nigh endless crusades against "those monsters who wish harm upon humanity". Ancalagon didn't see it that way, and so continued to press Ria on the Order's involvement with the insurgents that had dared to raise arms against her people.

Ria and her sycophants of course hand waved their involvement, claiming the massacre to be the work of fringe elements. Lord Nial had fired back in her stead, citing the fact that Father Zachariah had been of Norsburg which was a known anti-monster state heavily invested in Order interests. Ria vehemently denied the Order's involvement accusing Nial of stalling, and Ancalagon noted the sour look on Jophiel's face grinning slightly when the Valkyrie avoided eye contact. She squirmed under the powerful Dragon's scrutiny and the Bishop quailed when Ancalagon refused to talk trade until those responsible for planning the attacks was brought to her.

For immediate execution by burning. Ancalagon relished the look on that uppity bitch's face when she made that demand. Ria wanted trade talks? Fine, but only after the instigator of the attacks on Sheffield was burning merrily on a pyre in the market square.

The Black Dragon made her way back to the keep, heading for the Aerie to take a small break before summoning Nial once again. The Lord of the City Guard had once again impressed her with his commitment to advancing the city's cause, and his initiative. He had secured an informant in the Monster Extremist's faction, one that had encountered the big, bad Hunter. In exchange for whatever she could provide to Sheffield and the League, her sibling would be taken care of.

Of course, young Cyril did not know that so she would have to deal with that before dire consequences transpired but she knew that the Hunter was no mad fish. She knew that he was smart, just as smart as she was. Young Cyril could understand the use of such an informant and besides, if this little Fina was of no use to her then there was no need for her to protect the Dhampir from the Hunter's wrath. His business in Erebus was not some whim of hers, if the Hunter managed to secure the Usurper's rule by ousting the slavers threatening it then their League will have secured their newest arrival further. The extremists weren't going to be pleased with that, Ancalagon had heard rumors that the slavers were affiliated with the Demon Lord's forces. Sending the Hunter might have been a godsend to Erebus, and for her another addition to her hoard...

Ancalagon poured out a glass full of wine as she looked outside. It was night time and she was quite tired of all the politicking she had to endure. She wished she was young again, but she supposed she could enjoy the comforts that a ruler deserved.

/

Sasha Fullmoon's Orphanage, Sheffield…

"Ah!"

Sasha started as she saw that Sierra had tangled herself up in the thread she was playing with. Before she could try and remedy the situation however, Natsume was there to help. The young Kunoichi smiled slightly as Sierra got untangled and began to babble as she played with the string.

The former nun of the Order sighed in relief and thanked Natsume who nodded with hesitation and went back to her painting. Sasha had seen the macabre artworks that the Kunoichi painted; her adoptive mother Seras Brusilov had mentioned this when Natsume had first arrived all those weeks ago. Still, her talent was evident in the paintings of otherworldly and eldritch locations...all of it painted in reds, blues and blacks with vivid details. Particularly, they all involved the Hunter in someway.

Sasha shivered as she saw one in particular, of the Hunter battling a pair of old hags covered in ragged clothing. Hunchbacked and armed with a hook, their clothing was covered in eyes. Eyes that should be inside a human eye socket. What was worse were the sinister figures seemingly made of shadows holding up a hook that surrounded him and yet he did not falter. In a way, the horrible painting was a beautiful depiction of battle, the whirling shadows that surrounded the Hunter as he faced his terrible foes in mortal combat. Sasha was starting to see a timeline of events despite the madness of the paintings.

Were these events tied to Cyril somehow? Was Natsume seeing into his past in some mythical misunderstanding? If it was, then Sasha could get a glimpse into the life of someone who seemed more archfiend than man.

The knock on the door tore Sasha away from the horrifying images thankfully and the former warrior nun made her excuses and instructed a servant to keep an eye on her orphans and her wards. She opened the door and found herself looking into the scowling, pretty face of a vampire.

Seras Brusilov huffed in annoyance, "Damned rain," She muttered.

Sasha bowed and allowed Seras in, "I apologize Miss Brusilov, I was keeping an eye on Sierra and things…well, she's doing fine."

Seras waved the apology away, "Honey, you and I are no strangers to difficult patients. And I've been at it for more than a hundred years." She told Sasha. "Quit apologizing, you've got as much to deal with as I do. Let me in already."

Sasha smiled at Seras' rough but affable demeanor. She let the vampire in. As expected, Seras went to see her daughter. Sasha's smile faded slightly as she realized that the only reason Natsume could stay here is if Fina continued working for Sheffield. She did not want the young Dhampir to encounter the Hunter on a bad day.

She would pray, but it was too late for that.


Erebus, Le Fey…

Cyril had found Hansel and Gretel with Charlotte. The Kikimora maid had bonded with the twins very easily. The Hunter wasn't surprised but he was honestly grateful. He had no experience with children, other than what had happened in Yharnam. It was a memory he refused to delve into, pushing it back as far as he could in his mind.

The Hunter crossed his arms as Charlotte introduced the twins to the princess. Sallya beamed gently as the twins kept their eyes on the ground, bowing stiffly. Cyril pitied them, the poor siblings seemed so out of their depths. But it was better than living in the streets, where their lives would be quick and tragically cut short. They had food, a roof over their heads and warm sheets. Cyril was a monster, but he had to take every chance he could get to help these children. The Hunter watched as Sallya reached out and touched both twins' shoulders then gestured for Charlotte to begin helping them get settled in.

Hansel looked at Cyril and the Hunter just nodded at him. Cyril had promised that he would look for signs of the twins' father in Denaris. Hansel was upset that he couldn't help but Cyril had been firm. He could not do his job if he had to protect Hansel and Gretel while working. That had not gone over well with either twins but they understood. Cyril could teach them, he could...but the twins would have to pay a price if they asked to become like...like him.

The possibility of training Hunters...it didn't appeal to him in the slightest. Again, Cyril felt a sense of finality in the decision to take these twins in. He was responsible for them now.

"Master Hunter."

Cyril was shaken out of his thoughts by Sallya's small voice as she rolled up in her wheelchair, this time attended by another servant. The princess smiled as she regarded the Hunter. Both were looking at the castle gardens from a balcony.

"I thank you again, princess," Cyril said neutrally. "For the kindness you showed to those children."

"The open road is no place for children," Sallya answered, "You were wise to bring up the issue of their care." She then smiled cheekily, "My brother is very smart, but he is sometimes quite forgetful."

Somewhere, in Castle Le Fey, where the lords and ladies of the realm met to decide the fate of their vassals Samael sneezed which caused everyone to stare. The King excused himself and gestured for the meeting to continue.

Cyril looked down at Sallya. "I will depart for Denaris," He said. "I just need to get some supplies and I'll be headed there soon."

"Be careful, Master Hunter." Sallya spoke. She looked up at him with purple eyes. "Denaris has a very high population of Order supplicants. You must speak with the Alderman there but he may not be able to help you."

"Why is that, princess?" Cyril asked. "I thought all villages were under threat of marauding slavers?"

"Indeed, but of course the Order sees differently. Instead of wisely evacuating the village, the priesthood has declared it sacred ground and has deigned to defend it against all odds. Stubborn and brave, but foolish. Liberate it, Master Hunter. And let no one stand in your way."

Cyril bowed his head in recognition of Sallya's request and departed for the market for supplies.

The Hunter bought fresh rations for the journey ahead alongside more throwing knives. He had no doubt that having these small blades around would be useful in his coming endeavor. They won't effectively kill someone but it could help with stealthily closing the distance to a foe if needed. If it killed someone, then all the more better. His pistol was a ranged weapon...but often times discretion was the better part of valor. He checked his favored sidearm and quietly holstered it. Good. He was ready. Sallya had requested his presence before he left, saying that he had to say good-bye to his children. He could not believe that sentence was actually uttered. That was how uncomfortable he was with this situation.

Cyril shook his head with a wry smile. He had a promise to keep.

/

"I want to help!"

Hansel was, again, being difficult but Cyril shook his head patiently as he sat at the twins' sides.

"I know you do." Cyril said, as gently as he could meaning not at all. He could see Gretel trying to disappear. "I know that very well. But I cannot do that to the both of you," His gaze made it hard to keep eye contact and Hansel looked down. Gretel reached over for her twin's hand and gripped it tight. "I have to kill people. You know that right?"

"Y-You don't have to." Gretel peeped. "Y-You're not a bad person, r-right?"

"I don't know, Gretel." Cyril said honestly, smiling grimly underneath his bandanna. "And my task is not something to enjoy, it is something meant to be endured. I want you both to stay here where it is safe."

"I want to be strong," Hansel said to Cyril. "Why can't you stay and help us do that?"

Cyril looked over at the window, "Because you are not ready." He said softly.

"When will we be ready?" Hansel pressed.

"Please, mister Hunter. We can help!" Gretel did too.

"When I have decided." Cyril said as he stood up. "Rest now, remember you both have to do what Miss Charlotte and Lady Sallya says. Am I clear?" He was firm in his denial, but not cruel. Truthfully, they would get in the way of his Hunt. But perhaps that would change...

The twins nodded, Hansel looking quite a bit upset but he understood. "Yes…"

Cyril felt much better. And so, the Hunter tucked them in, dimmed the lights and stayed until the children fell asleep. When Hansel and Gretel were finally asleep, their breathing slowed and their eyes closed Cyril stayed for a bit more. He had honestly never expected to raise children, let alone adopt but here he was. The Hunter looked at their sleeping faces, resolving to do right by these two.

He then turned around with a deep breath. He had a long ride ahead of him to Denaris, another group of slavers to hunt and a father to find. That last part was a particularly sour notion for him. The Hunter was a cruel murderer but he never wished ill upon a child. He had a particular disdain for those that did however. He hoped the twins' father did not abandon them on purpose. Cyril would hate to have a stern word with the man.


He left for the ferry at dawn. Cyril led his horse steadily through the streets on the way to the ferry. They were mostly empty, save for those who were getting ready for the markets to be opened. He spoke to no one, man or monster. He boarded the ferry first, the ferrymen taking the coin and his identification as an agent of the king without complaint.

When asked why he was so early, Cyril shrugged and told the ferrymen that he thought it prudent to get the best spot to stay in. The ferry would make a couple of stops before reaching Denaris, and trips like these usually left early so they could avoid being caught out at night.

After a few hours of waiting, the ferry finally got underway with its passengers. Farmers, traders even a scholar or two that were busy with research. Cyril ignored those men and women when they asked for his attention, a single glance at his dead gaze was more than enough to ward off the most curious or the most stubborn.

As time passed, they were well away from Le Fey, heading towards the west. The next town, Denaris was apparently filled with more humans than monsters. There was a strong Order presence there; Cyril had no doubts that this would be troublesome. The Hunter didn't care who he fought, beast or man they died anyway.

His problem was getting the info to stop the slavers threatening this town. Cyril exhaled through his nose as he watched the water. He had already thumbed through the Monster Girl Encyclopedia a few hours before. The ferrymen kept a watchful eye on the water for anything that acted untoward. Cyril idly ran through the possible types that stayed by the riverside, no doubt looking for men to copulate with and mates to spend their lives with.

Bunyips, Cancers...he wasn't sure what else but he wasn't worried. Cyril also knew that Lamias were abundant in the forests as well, sometimes even living side by side with humans. They were more reasonable than the wilder variant the Bunyip. The Hunter heard a curse then turned his head, a hand on the grip of his pistol.

One of the ferrymen nearly dropped something off the side of the ship and his fellow was berating him. Cyril quietly calmed down and turned back to his water watching and then his eyes drifted to the trees on the other shore. Gradually, the trees cleared and he saw grasslands. The ferry was getting close to civilization once more.

Cyril's keen eyes caught sight of a roving band of centaurs, chasing after deer with their bows and spears. Other times he saw farmers working at smaller villages, he saw children playing at the riverside some of which were indeed monsters. The sight didn't bother him. Every person, man or monster, was capable of good and evil. He was just disappointed that often times evil was easier to do than good.

Disappointed, but not surprised.

/

"Heading to Denaris, Master Hunter?"

Cyril turned his head to find the boat captain leaning on the rail as well. He turned back to watching the water. The ferry was docked, for a brief time, at a small port. After a long river journey they were in one of the many lakes that peppered the lands of Erebus.

"Aye," The Hunter replied. "What of it? I have slavers to kill." His voice was slightly chilled.

To his credit, the ferry captain didn't flinch. He just sighed and looked at the gangplank where a merchant was directing his workers to slowly disembark the cargo. The small port also held a town where there was trading to be done, a place to rest while the ferry was docked among other things. There was even a small inn where traders ferrymen and other travelers could stay for a night before heading back onto the ferry to continue their journey through Erebus.

Cyril found the town rather lively, despite the apparent civil strife the entire kingdom was experiencing. It was always a surprise to find that things kept going, even during a near civil war between royals. He supposed the world would continue on long after everyone was dead. Life found a way, it always will, and that would never change until time immemorial finally ends.

"I'd be careful if I were you sir," The captain said, "There's a lot of Order-friendly folk there and they don't take too kindly to monsters or men who don't swear allegiance to the Chief God."

"I'll take that under advisement." Cyril answered softly. He could deal with the Order. So long as they kept their distance and did not draw weapons there would be no problems in Denaris. He would hate to prove his skill in murder to someone who decided to get in over their heads.

The ferry captain exhaled, "There's bandits around on the way there...Denaris is a dangerous place, I was just letting you know."

"I understand," Cyril replied again. "I thank you for the warning but this is something that I must see through, I'm on commission."

"A mercenary through and through eh?" The captain leaned against the railing. "I envy that kind of attitude but, well I can't complain. I was just curious sir, I meant no offense."

"None taken," Cyril said. "Although you could have just asked instead of trying to make conversation. You said it yourself, Denaris is in the middle of dangerous territory and your ferry needs extra protection."

The captain blinked first.

"I'd rather not be thrown overboard if that will be the case," Cyril deadpanned.

The captain blinked again. Then, he laughed as he realized that the Hunter had made a joke.

/

Denaris.

Cyril could already see the problem in front of him. Apparently some gallant knight errant of the Order had decided to stop by. He could hear the empty boasting as he stepped off the ferry dock. He led his ornery horse off the wooden dock and onto firmer ground. Denaris was a village ruled over by faith, a fairly large amount of Order supporters were here.

Cyril kept going, ignoring the rancorous applause that erupted from the crowd. The Hunter pulled himself up into the saddle then clicked his tongue at the horse, getting into a steady trot as he moved along a side road towards the alderman's house. Hopefully nothing untoward happened to him here as it did before in Glaspire.

The Hunter moved quickly, knowing that people were beginning to notice the gray clad stranger in their midst. The whispers and pointing started the moment people noted the greatsword on his back. Most of all, they noted his hat, Cyril's eyes caught the scowls and the glares. He was not here to deal with an angry village, he had slavers to hunt down.

Cyril finally made it to the house of the alderman. He got off of his horse, tying it to a nearby post before striding forward and taking advantage of the open fence gate. He walked up to the house, a nice one if a bit dilapidated but who knew what was going on around here, and knocked on the front door. Cyril heard footsteps from inside.

"If this is about that damnable knight I have no reason to-"

The portly man gasped and paled as he beheld the Hunter's sinister form. Cyril's dark eyes narrowed visibly. "Greetings." He said quietly. "I am Cyril Sutherland. Hunter. I was told that slavers were threatening this village and I have come to gather information on them."

The portly man cleared his throat. "Hunter...ah, yes, yes you are him." He stammered. "M-My apologies, sir. I am Walter Bridgman, alderman of Denaris. Welcome, welcome...I um am a bit confused. I hear that the King already has another agent…" He clamped his mouth shut as Cyril exhaled through his nose with some irritation.

"Is it the knight coming down the street?" Cyril asked softly already hearing hoofbeats.

"Yes, s-sir Hunter."

Cyril crossed his arms. "Let us see what this one wants then." The Hunter was surprised that the King had actually sent for some knight errant but he would do his job regardless. A bit odd that the King wouldn't tell him but he honestly did not care at that point.

He'd let someone else deal with the politics but one way or another he was going to get paid. The person he was waiting to see finally came into view. The knight errant was a typical one. Gleaming armor covered his body, save for his head which was unhelmed. A handsome, noble face with blue eyes and a wide grin. Cyril did not see anything special, in fact he was certain that a single pistol shot to the head would be enough to settle whatever duel this knight sought.

The Hunter stepped aside as the knight dismounted and strutted over to the alderman. Cyril noted the crowd of onlookers, even several of the village women, waving and cheering. The Hunter let the knight speak to the alderman. He leaned against the wall and crossed his arms to watch everything go down.

"Alderman!" The Knight spoke cheerfully, almost expectantly if one were keen enough, "I am Sir Henry Watson! A noble Knight errant of the King himself, I aim to dispel the darkness that haunts this village! For this I require a base of operations for me and my squire!"

"Good-Good sir," Walter stammered. "I-I understand that...Um if I may ask sir knight. Are you willing to accept another in your great cause?"

Sir Henry Watson blinked then turned his gaze to the Hunter who watched the proceedings with hardly a word. The knight's smile disappeared as he dropped a hand to the hilt of his sword. "So you have come here, heretic." Watson spoke coldly.

"Heretic?" Cyril answered smiling underneath his bandanna. "Your Chief God exists, so she exists. I hold no loyalty to her anyway." The Hunter pushed himself from the wall he was leaning against and stood face to face with the knight.

"And if you think I'm here for the Demon Lord then you are quite mistaken." Cyril continued as he calmly waited for the knight's next move.

"So what now?"

Watson nudged his head to the field in front of the alderman's house. "Many in the Order would reward me handsomely for bringing them your head, arch heretic. Your foul words and bloody deeds are known to many and the defense of monsters is a death sentence. I challenge you to a duel, knave, and may the goddess of battle smile on the victor."

Cyril lowered his bandanna briefly and spat to the side. It was the most disrespectful gesture one could make. Watson's face turned ruddy as the onlookers and admirers began to whisper harshly. The Hunter replaced his bandanna.

"A duel," Cyril said neutrally. "Fine, I'll oblige you right now."

The Hunter quietly and almost lazily drew his pistol, took aim at the startled knight and pulled the trigger.