11

The Shields

Rad was considered a city of beast-kin, half-lings and other humanoids that found themselves in the Kingdom of Eostia for one reason or another. Ruled by Luu-Luu and her engineering guild, there was much to see here.

The city was usually a hive of activity, now that word was spreading of the inevitable victory of the Seven Shields the level of activity had increased. Kyril and his compatriots, Olga and Chloe included, were housed at Luu-Luu's personal estates. The Hunter was currently in his own quarters, eyes looking outside of his window. The Good Hunter's glance was idle. Despite the absurdity of such thoughts he was...bored. He, a blooded and seasoned Hunter of nightmares and beasts, was bored. It was an impossibility that would have confounded many learned minds as to how such an apex predator was bored. Kyril leaned back in his chair, looking over at his guest.

Evetta sat to his left, doing some repairs on his Hunter's gloves. She smiled at him. Kyril was honestly not surprised that she was capable of bringing herself into the Waking World. He had always known that the Plain Doll was more than meets the eye, and yet there was not a single violent bone in her body and she was quite gentle.

Even if someone was aware of her, she would not allow anyone to see her if she willed it.

"Good Hunter," She spoke, her accented voice quiet and soothing. "Are you unwell? You seem troubled."

"Just tired," Kyril answered. "Perhaps after all this is over, my dream of bringing our home to life will probably end up happening."

He smiled, showing a very different side to the usually cruel and detached Hunter that he had become. It was a glimpse into the man he used to be, the human part that he thought he had sacrificed in order to survive the Night of the Hunt.

"We would not have to grow anything new," Evetta said in agreement as she placed Kyril's gloves on the table, "But the graves would still need tending to…"

"Ah, I know." Kyril agreed with her as the pair looked outside the window. "I'd have to build a fence too in order to..." He trailed off as he realized just what exactly he was saying.

He then leaned his head back. "This is silly." He told her. "I am not one for such thoughts, but here they are."

The Doll smiled gently, knowing that Kyril deserved such peace after what he had gone through. That was what satisfied her more than anything else in this reality, so long as her Good Hunter was alright she would continue to stay by his side. Evetta continued her task in silence while the Good Hunter basked in the isolation that he was given.

Sure, there would be many who would celebrate his return to the south but Kyril was sure that would not last when the Shields finally made their way into Rad. It was apparent that the High Queen of Eostia was coming straight to this Fortress City the moment news reached her pointed ears that Olga had been successfully captured.

Kyril was already prepared for the consequences of slaying Vault, he just hoped no one drew weapons on him otherwise he would be forced to defend himself and his compatriots. Kyril looked over at the door, sensing someone approach.

He looked over at Evetta who bowed her head briefly as she stood. She then put the gloves on Kyril's table before departing as if coming from a Dream, vanishing into the purple light of a lantern that the Messengers pulled out from seemingly under the floor.

There was a knock on the door. It seemed rather insistent.

"Enter!" Kyril called out as he pulled on his gloves and his hat. He wondered what this was going to be about.

The door slammed open.

"Hey there!" Luu-Luu's voice was enthusiastic. Kyril glanced at the dent she put in the wall behind the door and decided against saying anything. Knowing this irascible Luu-Luu, the stonemasons were probably not too upset about having a lot of work.

"Hello." Kyril deadpanned, his gaze locked onto the diminutive half-ling that had barged into his quarters. The young woman, although Kyril certainly had his doubts about her true age, was tiny and barely reached his chest but her small frame belied a massive strength.

"I figured you'd like to get some news about our mutual friend." Luu-Luu said smiling at Kyril as she hopped into the seat that Evetta once occupied. The Hunter leaned back in his chair as he considered what she meant about 'mutual friend'.

Olga and Chloe were currently indisposed in an isolated quarter of the Half-ling's compound and under competent guard. Kyril and his compatriots were housed in another quarter, although Kyril was afforded a more comfortable place of stay. Boris, Grace and the others stayed together and despite the suspicions that began to circulate they were doing fine.

He hoped that would continue to be the case. If they were harmed in any way he would be most displeased. Displeased enough to take action that few would like to witness and even less would survive. He really did keep that hope. He would hate to leave bodies in his wake.

"How is she?" Kyril asked. He wasn't concerned as much about Chloe.

"She's fine, as far as I know." Luu-Luu answered flippantly, "We're keeping her under lock and key but she hasn't said anything when we go to bring her and her friend food."

She leaned forward, smiling as she looked at him. "You must have put the fear in the Goddess in that old hag's spine." She commented, "You're a very scary guy to be doing that to the Dark Queen."

"We talked," Kyril said coolly, "That's all there is, my mission isn't belittling her or insulting her. I'm to bring her to the Goddess and that is it."

Luu-Luu pouted, and Kyril kept his comments to himself. What were these people expecting out of him? He was on commission. He completed his commission. What was there to celebrate? When has a war ever ended cleanly? When has peace ever been stable?

Olga wasn't his enemy. She was just someone that got in his way, he felt no animosity against her. Besides...he was sure she wasn't the only one to have skeletons in her closet anyway. Of that he was certain.

The Hunter leaned back, his eyes locked onto the diminutive Half-ling's. "Have I offended you somehow?" He asked coolly.

"You're not a very celebratory person are you?" Luu-Luu asked flippantly, "Come on! You helped us win the war! Act like you're going to a party!"

"I want to get paid." Kyril deadpanned, "That's what I traveled north for. Not for your war, and most certainly not for your goddess."

Luu-Luu waved a hand, "A mercenary at heart, aren't ya?" She stated.

"A Hunter does not celebrate the end of one conflict. He just gets ready for another one." Kyril retorted. "So, unless you have news about my gold, why are you here?"


"That was rather...rude."

Kyril ignored the Rat's comment. Luu-Luu had left after a few minutes of prattling but the Hunter was having none of it. He was still stuck here in Rad and not paid for his mission. He had no intentions of sticking around for long. The Hunter's journey took him outside of the Half-Ling compound and into the city markets. The hustle and bustle of the city was ironically a lot more preferable than the inside of the Half-ling's compound where machines were being built. No doubt that they had a purpose, but while he was curious he was sure he wasn't going to be allowed to see them due to protocol.

The noise was certainly less irritating outside at least.

"I have no reason to engage with useless prattling," Kyril finally replied to the Rat. "And even less reason to tell the truth to someone who refuses to listen to it."

"Is this about the traitors?" The Rat chuckled deep in the contours of Kyril's mind. "I suppose it would make sense to tell them what you think, but then again...they did just win a war…" Another chittering laugh from the entity itself caused Kyril to raise a brow but he didn't say anything for a while. The Hunter moved smoothly through the crowded streets, even as he ignored the stares Kyril continued his conversation with the Rat untroubled. His bandana and the ambient noise of the street made it hard to hear their "conversation" anyway.

"Perhaps I shall speak at this council meeting after all," The Rat spoke. "A patron should do much to support an investment, wouldn't you say?"

Kyril said nothing but he supposed when the Rat spoke at the council meeting, there would be a lot of accusations levied his way. He was ready for a fight, resigned to it in fact, but he would wait and see. The High Queen wasn't here yet, so he had some time to discuss whatever will happen with his compatriots. It was a shame that Grace had gotten herself involved in this strenuous affair.

He could count on Alicia Arcturus acting out of course. It was the rest he was less certain about. Celestine seemed to have a good head on her shoulders...seemed to, but that could change the moment he unveiled the news that their prized mercenary lord was already dead. Kyril smirked. He had expected to fight in a grand duel, just one on one, but he didn't regret his decision to bring out other tools. A Hunter must always be prepared, even if it meant forsaking all honor to do so.

The Hunter continued his meandering through the city market of Rad, his coat's tails billowing ominously in the wind…

/

Grace Campbell had never really visited the Fortress City of Rad, but it definitely had its perks. Compared to Baskerville, Rad itself was more populous and its reputation as the melting pot for humans and non-humans was well deserved. You certainly would not see the same race twice. The Dark Elf knew she was a rarity here, her people never really traveled south and for good reason...especially during these times.

Grace was in the market as well, but she wasn't alone. Beside her was Soren, a thief from the Black Dogs who worked as a lock picker. The youth, boy really, had been assigned as her bodyguard. She would have complained but she honestly found his failing attempts not to stare at her was just too funny to ignore. He was lucky Anna wasn't here; she would totally point his staring out to embarrass him on purpose.

Still, she walked through the market as well. Boris had been the assigned cook for Master Kyril's group and had asked Soren if he could gather some things. Grace had overheard and soon enough, she and Soren were out in the city looking for vegetables that Boris used constantly, according to Frederick: Onions, garlic, and potatoes. When she asked Soren why those exactly, he shrugged. But Boris had been one of the best chefs in the Black Dogs, and Soren learned that if he was in charge of kitchen duty then you did not question him at all.

Grace hummed, despite the negative feelings she associated to Olga Discordia she felt...more relaxed somehow. Morgan, that slimy snake, was gone. Master Kyril had killed him personally after a long hunt in the dark and the war was over. She just had to see justice be done and…

Grace exhaled. Truth be told, she had no idea what to do since the war was basically over. Maybe once this was over, she'd head back to Anna's inn. She certainly hoped Master Kyril would pass by more often now that he wouldn't be so busy. He may have been a stone cold individual, and a ruthless killer but he certainly had some admirable qualities. The Dark Elf stopped herself from forming more thoughts. She was married once, to a wonderful man that meant the world to her. She shook her head bitterly. There was no way that she was considering a replacement.

"Uh...Miss Campbell?" Soren asked, shaking Grace out of her thoughts. "Are you okay?"

Grace gave a dazzling smile in return. "Just thinking, Soren." She answered honestly. "We should have everything we need for Boris right?"

"Yep," Soren said, then sighed. "And he's gonna ask me to peel the potatoes again…" He muttered that part to himself. Grace, with her superior hearing, just gave a small inward smile. Soren hated peeling potatoes and often avoided the task if he could help it. She had spent a lot of time with the three former Black Dogs. Fredrick was mercurial, moody but he often brightened up with Soren. He had lost a friend that they were forced to bury back out in the Badlands.

Boris, as one of the head cooks, was always a riot. He was loud and boisterous, although more subdued when Kyril was around. He had served as Kyril's second in command during the journey south. He knew a bit more about the man himself but couldn't say much. Grace wasn't about to pry into Kyril's affairs.

She gulped when she turned her eyes towards the market again.

Speak of the Devil…

/

"Miss Grace, Soren."

The Hunter nodded at Soren who returned the gesture respectfully. Grace did as well, although more hesitant than usual. Kyril disregarded that, knowing full well how he made people uncomfortable by maintaining constant eye contact. The Hunter looked at the sack of vegetables, judging from the smell, hanging off Soren's shoulder and smiled underneath his bandanna.

"Boss...uh, how was the meet?" Soren asked, nervously.

"The High Queen herself has deemed it important enough to come here," Kyril replied. "So we may have to look spick and span when she arrives."

"The...The High Queen herself?" Grace didn't look surprised, but still...Celestine the Fair making a personal appearance was a rare event, especially during the war.

"She did seem highly invested in my mission," Kyril mused. Unbeknownst to Grace and Soren, the Rat chuckled again. "I suppose I should deliver the Dark Queen personally to her new gaoler when she arrives…"

He turned to Grace. "And when that happens, I believe that is more than enough for you to return home?"

Grace nodded. There was no doubt about it now; history was going to made in the coming days and she was going to be a witness to it.


A few days later…

"Lady Celestine? We are a few moments away from entering the city of Rad."

Sitting in her carriage, escorted by Claudia Levantine and her veteran elites, Celestine Lucross nodded in thanks to her butler Jamal for his initiative. She looked outside of the carriage, a well constructed vehicle she rarely used and really disliked. It cost way, way too much and the number sometimes reminded her how much wealth can accrue. What was someone like her, who lived a simple life, to do with such wealth?

Most of it she used to try and better the lives of the ordinary folk anyway. Celestine brushed her hair back as she gazed out the window of her carriage. So...the war was indeed over. Centuries passed and she still remembered fighting against Olga openly, the Dark Elf believing that every human was only capable of great evil and Celestine herself denying that and trying to make Olga see sense but to no avail.

Such was the devastation that their magics wrought that they both wordlessly agreed to never face each other in battle. That was a sign that Olga was still the passionate individual Celestine knew her to be. Celestine looked out again and wondered...The others would gather once again, and then...she would see him again.

The Hunter with the cruel red eyes.

/

The Iris Knights were the finest light cavalry forces of Feoh and Alicia Arcturus led them as was her right. She rode ahead of the carriage that contained her cousin and her two subordinates. Surrounding the carriage were veteran lancers of the Iris. Alicia had chosen a core of veterans and made sure that the ambush that happened when she brought the Hunter to the Goddess would never happen again. Alicia felt her grip on the reigns tighten at the thought of that stranger. She had no doubts that he was dangerous, especially to Prim. Alicia glanced back at the carriage. Although their relationship was still close as ever, Prim's words sometimes caught her unprepared when they ran through her mind.

So she was harsh with the stranger that she was supposed to bring to the Goddess? Was she supposed to accept his distasteful mannerisms with a nod and a smile? That disrespectful lout that did not care about her station? Why should she respect someone who was so disrespectful to their betters? To knights who risked their lives and chastity in order to protect the people?

Alicia chided herself for those thoughts however. The mission to the Black Fortress of Garan was a success and the Dark Queen was finally in the south, waiting to face justice for her crimes against the people of Eostia. The Knight of Iris felt a vindictive smile come upon her face.

Good. It was time for justice to be done.

In the carriage surrounded by the Knights of Iris, Prim waited eyes closed as she collected her thoughts. The war was over. The Dark Queen had been brought south and the Black Dogs were coming home. Prim opened her blue eyes and smiled slightly as she looked outside.

So, Master Vault was successful. And so was Master Kyril, who was the mysterious man that called himself a Hunter. Despite her apprehension, she was quite curious about him which made big sister Alicia nervous. Prim's smile faded slightly, guiltily as she remembered shouting at her cousin about her wretched treatment of the dour faced Hunter. Prim hoped that, now that the war was over, Alicia would be less temperamental with him...and she hoped that they could speak more.

"Lady Prim, are you okay?"

Prim blinked and turned to look at Vera, the Iris Knight assigned to protecting her. She nodded and smiled.

"Yes, Vera. I'm sorry, I was just lost in thought."

/

"Slow down, Maia! You'll tire out the horses!"

Maia barely heard her second in command's voice as she spurred her horse onward, forcing her handpicked band to accelerate after her to keep up. She didn't want to look back to see their formation so stretched out. But she didn't, because the Black Dogs had returned. The moment she heard the news from Luu-Luu that Olga was in the city of Rad, she dropped everything and gathered up whoever was the quickest and started riding from Ansur and into Rad. The Black Dogs were back, which meant she could see Vault again…

The war was over.


Fortress City of Rad…

Rad, as befitting of Luu-Luu-'s domain, was always active. Celestine smiled and waved, as she was wont to do whenever she was seen in public, at the public that adored her. Celestine couldn't believe it at first, the war was over and when peace was announced there would be no more trouble on the horizon. Claudia had been looking forward to allowing her Templars to be put back on parade duties and for her to begin delegating that onerous task before heading back to her personal estate to spend more time with her husband Klaus.

As for her… life had to go on. She would have to return to courtly intrigues, passing laws that would affect the thousands of men, women and children that she would never see in their short lifetimes. She would have to make decisions that would alter the course of those men, women and children...and she would have to live with those decisions for good or ill.

Celestine's smile faded slightly as she leaned back in her carriage. To secure this peace, she would have to pass judgment on her former friend. Olga Discordia, the one person who she had cherished the most in her long, long life. She was not looking forward to it and the dark feeling that entered her heart darkened the joyful atmosphere she was witnessing.

"Oy, Witch!"

Olga's eyes opened as her door opened and the scowling faces of two guards appeared. "Get up! You're-"

"That is my prisoner."

The Queen of the Dark Elves exhaled as the Hunter stepped forward. The guards turned to face the man, intent on teaching him a lesson. They stopped when they realized that he was far more dangerous than they realized.

"That is my prisoner." Kyril Sutherland repeated, neutrally, coldly. "The Goddess wants her alive and unspoiled. She is also not to be distressed in any shape or form. Leave. Before I make you."

The guards hastily beat a retreat. The Hunter observed Olga as she swallowed and let him in. It was time. Kyril turned to her and Chloe, who glared at him in accusation. He allowed her that small insolence for her life, and that of her liege, would either be forfeit or not. Today was the day for Olga Discordia to face her old friend.

"I suppose it is time to get ready then?" Olga asked looking Kyril in the eye. The Hunter nodded.

"I will make sure no one will disturb you. I'm sure there is much ceremony to be done before I have to bring you to the Goddess." He said. There was no mockery in his tone. Olga would have smiled at that. Even an archfiend such as the Hunter allowed her some dignity before she faced justice for her many crimes…all of it done for the sake of her people to live free.

/

The door opened. Boris and the others saw that Kyril was at the door, watching them expectantly. Boris tapped Soren on the shoulder, the young foot-pad was busy tying up his boots. Soren looked up then took his foot off of the chair he was using. Fredrick's arms were crossed. The former Black Dogs had been left alone, and Kyril had instructed them to dress as they were when they had come here. Their leathers were freshly repaired, boots polished to the best of their abilities. Their weapons were sharpened and sheathed. Kyril did not care that he was probably breaking protocol but if the Goddess could not stomach the unpolished sight of those who prosecuted her will then that was not his problem.

These men, and Olga and her servant, were his responsibility now. He would do right by them. Call him a monstrous fiend who lived upon the suffering of others, he had loyalty to those he fought alongside.

"So, judgment day." Fredrick whispered.

"Indeed." Kyril said. "Where is Miss Campbell?" He looked around.

"Still getting dressed, Boss." Soren answered for the wayward Dark Elf. "She...ah, said she'll meet up with us in a few minutes."

"Fine." Kyril said. "So...it is time for accounts to be settled. I have no doubts that there will be heated words. Should the Queen decide not to reward us for our gold then the contract is null and void. I will be keeping our prisoner should this happen."

"What happens if they, meaning the Shields, get pissed off?" Fredrick asked. "While I'm sure you can fight your way out of everything in here, what about us mere mortals?"

"There is no doubt that you have done all that has been asked of you, and more besides. Regardless, I will do my utmost to protect you." Kyril said. "You are all my responsibility. I led you out of the desert. I will lead you out of these halls if our fortunes turn ill." He bowed his head in a stunning display of humility. Judging from the shocked expressions everyone made, with Fredrick's mouth gaping like a fish, no one expected the Hunter to do something like this.

"I'll stand with you Boss." Soren said. "Wherever and whatever happens." The kid admired the Hunter so that wasn't a surprise. The Hunter was one of the first into the breach of the Black Fortress. He was the one that led their intrepid band out of the badlands and back home. He was the one who captured the Dark Queen.

"I will as well." Boris gave his support for Soren. "You could have left all of us for dead but you didn't do that. It would be shameful if I didn't keep following you, Boss." He smiled hesitantly.

"Fred? You gonna say something too?" Soren asked.

Fredrick sighed. "Yeah, what they said." He told Kyril. "I don't trust you, Hunter. I'm only going along with this because someone has to keep these two idiots safe."

"As you wish." Kyril spoke nodding his head with finality.

Celestine and the other Shields watched with bated breath as the doors opened revealing the ever silent Hunter leading a group of Black Dogs and...Celestine sighed as Maia let out a harsh note of laughter. At the corner of her eye she saw Alicia smile coldly, while Prim watched with some trepidation. The only ones who did not react overtly to Olga's appearance, disarmed and her wrists bound in chains, was Claudia and the composed Kaguya who merely took a sip of hot tea before setting the steaming cup beside her left hand.

Olga's gaze was forlorn but she still held herself proudly, even as she locked gazes. The two former friends seemed to communicate through their eyes alone that neither had truly meant for things to be this way.

Celestine steeled herself and turned to the Hunter. "You have done well, master Kyril." She spoke loudly. "Although it seems that you have returned with a small company."

"Much has happened." Kyril replied to Celestine's statements neutrally. "Not all of it good."

"What do you mean?" Celestine blinked, "Surely Vault will be arriving soon to also give his report."

Kyril sighed and shook his head. "I am afraid that his objectives and mine conflicted so I decided that I will be bringing the Dark Queen south by myself." He gestured with his hand to his companions. "These three were with me at the Black Fortress. Miss Campbell is also a witness to a certain event that happened in her town and her story will corroborate with what I am about to tell you."

"And that is?" Alicia asked archly. "Why waste time with this when we have an enemy to execute, and justice to be serve?"

"Because it is grave enough to have earned your attentions." Kyril replied, neutrally already putting Alicia out of his mind as he faced Celestine.

"I will make this as clear and as simple as I can." Kyril continued, over Alicia sputtering about being disrespected, causing Prim to try and soothe her choler.

"Vault was a traitor."

"LIAR!"

The entirety of the room vibrated as Maia rocketed to her feet. Celestine had reeled back in shock at the revelation while the room exploded into murmuring. Before the room could descend into total anarchy, Claudia took over. She slammed a gauntlet down on the table.

"Enough!" She snapped. "Maia, sit down! You act in a manner unfitting of your station!" Claudia turned to Celestine. "I apologize milady, but we must get to the bottom of this man's claims."

"Indeed." Kaguya spoke in agreement, "I can tell that much has happened these past few weeks. Can you elaborate on your claims, Master Hunter?" Her cool gaze rested on Kyril.

Clearing her throat, Celestine said. "Y-Yes, please elaborate your claim, master Kyril. Surely this must be some kind of misunderstanding."

The Hunter took a deep breath and gestured for three of his companions to move forward. "These three, as you all are aware, are all Black Dogs. They traveled with me through the Badlands and into the South. Their loyalty to the crown is to be commended."

/

Boris exhaled as Kyril turned to him first. "Boris, tell them what you and the others had seen."

Boris nodded. "Yes, sir." He said. "Your Holiness, my name is Boris I worked as one of the Black Dogs' cooks...until of course Vault decided to betray you." He sighed as he told his tale, where he had seen one of the mercenaries torturing one of the Dark Elf prisoners they took. How he tried to help her until she died cursing him.

When he was finished, Fredrick and Soren told their tales as well. Celestine asked questions but most of the time she was silent. All the while the other Shields listened intently, save for Maia whose glare turned more heated as she heard the three former Black Dogs convey their suspicions as to Vault's intentions. She had enough apparently when she stood up.

"Oh enough of this shit!" She snarled. "What I want to know is this: Where is Vault?"

Kyril didn't even blink an eye as he regarded the red haired woman glaring at him.

"Simple." He said.

"I killed him."