12

The Old Way

"I killed him."

Celestine Lucross reeled back in shock at the revelation that Vault was dead. She was deeply saddened and troubled that things had turned out this way. She was not the one alone who was grieving however as Maia started to scream, the only reason she didn't try and wrap her hands around the Hunter's neck was because Claudia had risen from her own seat to keep her from trying such a rash action.

Alicia was shouting as well, calling for the head of the Hunter who dared to unjustly murder Eostia's greatest champion, Luu-Luu was up in arms as well. Kaguya remained composed although judging from the way she was gripping the table even she was taken aback at the news. It was already unbelievable that Vault would turn against the Kingdoms. Even more so now that he was dead and his killer walked freely into the council she had summoned. She turned to Olga watching with some dispassion, even while her retainer began shouting at Maia who was making violent gestures and threats.

Claudia was the only one calling for calm, but Celestine knew that the news was upsetting to her as well, an understatement but she was still in shock. The High Queen exhaled once before bringing things to order. She had to, otherwise there would be violence in the council. Nervously, she stared at the Hunter and his group. Of all of them, nervously standing in a huddle as they watched everything go down, only Kyril Sutherland stood as calmly as can be. It was like the grim revelations he gave her were nothing but trifles. His dread gaze was dispassionate, predatory as he watched for signs of any violence aimed at him or his companions. She noted that he was standing by Olga's side, hardly even noticing the former Dark Queen was there.

"Enough!" She called out, her voice magically augmented. "Maia, I understand your grief but we must have composure. Sit. Down."

Maia, tears streaming out of her eyes, just gaped at Celestine but the stern visage she witnessed was enough. She threw a nasty look at the Hunter, who disregarded her with the ease of swatting an insect.

Celestine turned to Alicia, who bowed stiffly, but did not take her hate filled glare off of the dispassionate Kyril. The High Elf asked him.

"Why did you kill him?"

Kyril blinked at the question. "Because he tried to do the same thing to me," He answered. "He tried to kill me when I found out about his absurd schemes to conquer the Alliance. So I deigned it enough to leave with my prisoners in tow. He tried to rope me into them, even offering me Olga in exchange for my subservience."

Olga coughed awkwardly as eyes turned to her in return.

"Sweet deal I bet." Maia growled.

"It was not." Kyril deadpanned. "I found it rather offensive that the fool thought he could buy me with the pleasures of the flesh. Having had enough of his disingenuous schemes I killed him and left the Black Fortress. After that, I went back here to fulfill my mission."

"I hardly believe that one such as you is capable of overcoming a champion of Vault's caliber. That match was nothing more than a fluke." Alicia said frostily.

"You seem to believe that I put stock into your opinions." Kyril's response was just as cold, with a sibilant threat in it. "I put even less stock into your capabilities of wielding a sword."

"You dare insult a Knight!?" Alicia snapped. "Why don't I show you just what I am capable of!?"

"Can you?" This time Kyril faced her fully, his cruel gaze piercing Alicia's as if daring the Iris Knight to try something. The Hunter held that gruesome stare until Celestine called for order once more. Kyril let out an irritated breath but resumed his uncaring countenance. Alicia muttered a curse and sat down, humiliated.

"Many of you do not believe me or what my companions have said." He spoke clearly and concisely. "I do not care. It is the truth, I do not have reason to lie. Either way, what has happened has happened. So...am I going to be put on trial now? I completed my mission."

"You did," Claudia said. "You, however, have brought us ill news and grave tidings. One of our most foremost champions is dead, killed by someone who claimed him a traitor. Someone not to be trusted."

"Begging your pardon, milady that's-" Soren spoke up sounding a lot more confident than he felt.

"Shut your trap!" Maia shouted. "As far as anyone knows, this bastard put you up to sullying Vault's name."

"Oh fuck you!" Fredrick finally had enough. "Where the hell were you when we were bleeding for the Kingdom up north!? Where the hell were you 'Queen of the Mercenaries'!? The Boss was the one who got us out of that shit!"

Maia was struck speechless but with an incoherent scream of rage she drew one of her blades and made to jump over the table. How dare this worthless grunt question her!? She was going to-

Click.

Claudia rocketed to her feet as she saw Kyril draw his worn flintlock pistol.

"Threaten my companions again," He rumbled at Maia threateningly, the red haired woman staring at the barrel of the gun with wide eyes. "And I will paint this room with your innards."

"My, oh my...I never did think that this occasion was going to be so exciting!" A chittering voice spoke up from the Hunter's shadow. The room darkened considerably as the light in the windows were impossibly snuffed out. The candle flames wavered as an ill wind blew.

The council looked around, freezing as the chittering began. A figure emerged from a dark corner of the room. Kyril heard Grace whimper in fear, Olga chanting some kind of prayer in the language of her people.

"Oh shit." Went Fredrick who backed away.

Soren let out a choking sound and nearly fell to his knees before Boris caught the boy as he stared wide eyed at the apparition before them.

Chuckling, the figure walked into the room. The creature resembled a man only in the shape of its body. Its hands and feet were paws with yellow, strong claws. Its body was covered in midnight fur flecked with gray. Its tail whipped in amusement. Its head was pulled into the narrow visage of an enormous rat, but that was it for the comparison to the smallest vermin.

The most horrifying and noticeable thing about its visage were the great curled horns growing out of its head like a crown, festooned with mummified hands and fingers. It wore robes made of human skin, secured by a belt of leather made from the skin of some other unknowable creature. In its hand was a great iron staff topped with a symbol, its curves and sharp points evoking a mindless and ancient cruelty. At its belt hung a jagged, single edged dagger. The eyes of the rat-thing glowed with dark malevolence as it beheld the fearful glances of all save one.

Its investment just stood stoically before speaking.

"You took your time."


Kyril was not surprised that the Rat had chosen to make an appearance. He was just surprised that he would do so rather openly. The...ancient creature or whatever it was cast a pall of terror upon the occupants of the council chamber.

"My apologies for interrupting." The Rat spoke, chittering and laughing with gruesome fangs. "But I must ask you all to...refrain from harming my partner here. He does speak the truth by the way." The Rat chuckled.

"Demon!" Claudia hissed as she drew her sword. "You dare make your presence known to the Goddess Reborn!?"

At her prompting Maia and Alicia drew their swords with Luu-Luu grabbing a hatchet strapped to her back, while Kaguya helped a senselessly terrified Prim to Celestine's side, the High Elf having stood up a hand to her chest. She looked at Kyril disbelievingly, as if he was not supposed to make a deal with such an entity.

"Demon? Oh...you small minded little things are so unimaginative. I know you, Claudia of Eostia, Commander of the Dawn Temple." The Rat spoke, grinning, its beady eyes locked onto Claudia. "Please...do send my regards to Master Klaus...I hear that his health has taken a bad turn. Perhaps he should be more careful about what he drinks?"

The Rat turned from Claudia, whose hands shook. She still stood her ground at Celestine's right hand. The Rat shuffled towards Kyril's group, all of them save the Hunter himself moving aside, and chittered staring at Alicia and further onward Prim who cried softly into Kaguya's shoulder.

"Princess Prim! Why are you so afraid, little one?" The Rat called out to Prim in mocking concern. "Oh dear, oh dear...it seems that the nightmares that plagued her as a child are still there. Still there...oh dear…" He did not bother with Alicia, Maia or Kaguya, only regarding them like someone who regards an existence lower than an insect's.

"How are you doing Half-Ling?" The Rat grinned at Luu-Luu who snarled back.

With a chitter and a mocking laugh, The Rat at last laid its glowing eyes at Celestine. "I greet you, Goddess Reborn. A thousand blessings upon thy name...and a thousand curses upon your enemies…"

It bowed its head in derisive supplication. Celestine lowered her hand, Kyril saw her steel herself as best as she could.

"I greet you, Lord of Plagues." Celestine said, resolute. "What brings you here, King-Spawn of All Vermin? He Who Feasts on Ambition? Eater of Men? Foul Taskmaster?"

Kyril's eyes narrowed as he sensed a flare of power from Celestine. Power that briefly put the darkness back a bit, giving Claudia and the other Princess Knights some form of courage. Kyril saw it slowly swallowed by malevolence however as the Rat chuckled, preening at its horrible titles.

"So much lore you have lost," The Rat spoke cruelly as it beat back whatever Celestine was trying to do. "Or...are you afraid of the power they could have given you? I understand, using such lore could have brought you to me." It gnashed its teeth. "You were always the pure, noble one…Compared to your old friend over here…"

At that Olga looked into Celestine's eyes and shook her head. "No, Celestine. Do not challenge Him." She told her old friend. "He came here to speak on...on the Hunter's behalf."

"The Bitch-Queen of Haughty Garan speaks true." The Rat said.

Olga held onto Chloe who tried to step forward. She whispered a command in her ear, one that Chloe reluctantly agreed to.

"I came here because you all seem to have problems believing in what my investment had to say." The Rat said thumping its staff on the stone. Impossibly a dark void opened up and a man slowly floated into view. Kyril heard his companions retching even as the Shields shouted their outrage.

The man screamed in terror as the Rat lifted his face. Horrifically the man had been blinded. He was nude and bloodied by countless teeth. Kyril heard the angry chittering of vermin coming from the portal.

"This little fleshling is Morgan, master of the Leaping Lizards…well, he used to be until he encountered my investment in a bad duel."

Celestine glanced at Kyril who did not defend himself. It was true that he was the one to dispatch Morgan, the truth was the truth. He still felt pity for the poor bastard though.

"Tell them, fleshling." The Rat hissed in Morgan's ear, causing the tormented soul to scream in a high pitch. "Tell them what you planned to do to that little morsel standing by the one who gave you to me."

/

"Is...Is that true?"

Kyril blinked then turned his gaze to Grace, who looked at him with wide frightened eyes.

"It is true. The Rat was owed a soul," Kyril answered. "So I gave it to him."

"Why?" Grace whispered. "How could you do that to someone?"

"A soul was owed," Kyril repeated. "So I gave it to him." He turned from Grace who covered her mouth with a shaking hand as The Rat made Morgan talk about everything. His wants, his needs, his desire for Grace. His loyalty to Vault and his sick plans. Each revelation spilled from a mouth that did not want to speak. Kyril shook his head as The Rat slapped Morgan back into whatever void he was summoned from and the man's screams faded, echoing into the council chamber.

"...So we come to this then," Celestine spoke after that disgusting display. She shot a disappointed look at Kyril. "A being comes into my council chambers, showing a tortured individual who speaks of traitors within the ranks of Eostia's greatest champions. You, Hunter, have come bearing ill news and claiming to have murdered our greatest warrior and hero of our age. And yet you still come with...the Dark Queen. This is difficult."

"What is difficult is why this blasphemer is still here." Alicia stated, "He does not serve the Goddess, but that...that thing." She gestured violently at the Rat with her sword arm.

"I have no power over him, Knight of Iris!" The Rat cackled, causing all save one to shiver. "Where is it written that a man touched by the Gods must serve a master?" The Council shivered at those words, Celestine looked at Kyril who looked right back with neither denial or concern. He was, as per usual, stoic and unruffled.

"But enough of that, your Shields wish for a trial no?" The Rat continued. "So let us hear the accusations…"

Kyril shook his head, but he was not going to go down so easily. He was about to speak up but Maia interrupted.

"Murder. That fucker murdered Vault," Maia snarled vehemently.

"Maia." Celestine tried to speak up.

"No, lady Celestine! He needs to pay!" Maia shouted. "Look at him, he doesn't even have that Dark Elf witch in chains! What does that tell you!?"

"Maia certainly has a point, Lady Celestine." Alicia agreed with her more verbose colleague, something that made Kyril sneer beneath his mask. He was not surprised that she would do this. "This could all be a conspiracy to-"

"Enough." Kyril spoke. "I have had enough of all this prattling." His voice was as cold as winter. A massive wave of killing intent emanated from the Hunter's form, so much so that even the Rat was taken by surprise.

"Impressive." The Rat spoke.

"I will deal with you later." Kyril snarled, causing the Rat to chuckle. He turned his terrible gaze to Celestine, regarding her with indignation. "Is this a trial, Goddess? I ended your war, so what is it going to be? A trial? Or am I going to get my gold so I can leave?"

Celestine exhaled through her nose, calming herself despite everything, She turned her gaze to Olga and for a moment she was sad that it had come to this. Olga shook her head at the High Queen, as if asking her not to do something foolish. Celestine sighed.

"No, Master Kyril but you understand that I have every right to detain you all. Much has been revealed to me that puts you in a very dangerous position."

Kyril chuckled. A sound that caused hairs to stand up on end. "I suppose you will not be paying me for completing this task." He said.

"I did not say that." Celestine spoke, realization dawning on her as she contemplated how far Kyril could take this.

"And yet I have not been paid my due." Kyril was relentless. "Disappointing but unsurprising. So let's have at it then, let's hear the accusations leveled against me."

"Murder, and possible conspiracy against the Crown." Claudia spoke gesturing to Maia and Alicia. "And other crimes if the Shields wish to commit. Prim?"

The pink haired princess shook her head. An obvious wish to abstain.

"Kaguya?"

"A deal with such a demon is unwise, Master Kyril. Are you sure about that?" The priestess still held Prim in her arms. She looked at Kyril neutrally.

"He was owed a soul. I have given it to him, it was no deal. It was a transaction." Kyril replied.

Kaguya sighed but she abstained. "I sense no lie. I abstain from making any accusations."

"Luu-Luu?" Claudia asked the final Shield.

"Murder, and being an arsehole." Luu-Luu said without hesitation. "So what now, Hunter?"

/

Kyril's posture straightened. He did not laugh, like he did in Vault's face. This...farce was actually insulting. It surprised him that rage was the not the word he would use right now. His red eyes narrowed into a cold, furious glare. An expression of dread indignation, resembling that of an apex predator challenged by a lesser foe. Celestine heard Claudia swallow the lump that had grown in her throat as Kyril lowered his mask. His gaunt, emotionless mien was replaced with something worse.

A dark anger, barely constrained by discipline. The High Elf heard the rumbling of an ocean in the midst of a growing storm. A storm that even now was beginning to intensify. This...This had not been her intent...she was just trying to get to the bottom of all of these claims. Now, now she had not only alienated a successful agent but provoked a highly dangerous man who was martially skilled and talented in the art of murder.

"I deny these charges, and I call the accusers thrice false." Kyril replied, his voice echoing with damnation. Maia, Luu-Luu and Alicia began to cry foul as they began to rain insults loudly while Claudia called for procedure. "I call them, and you Celestine the Fair, honorless scum. I will defend myself from these disingenuous assertions." At that Celestine paled, hurt and indignant at the same time. No one had accused her of such sins before in a thousand years and Kyril's tone was sharp and filled with conviction.

But he wasn't done.

He stepped forward and looked at a frightened Celestine right in the eye. "But I will not allow a court so steeped in its corruption to try me, no I deny that. I demand a trial by combat."

Everyone was speechless, until the Rat began to laugh. Kyril's companions looked at him with varying expressions of worry, apprehension and outright fear.

"The Old Way…" The Rat grinned and looked at Celestine. "Well, you heard him, High Elf. Make your pick for your champion! You know that if you refuse that will mean that his words are true…"

Celestine covered her mouth. The Rat was right. She could not refuse a Trial by Combat because if she did and imprisoned Kyril anyway, it would prove her an unworthy ruler. Celestine exhaled, this was not what she wanted at all. She knew everyone could see that but…

"Very well." Celestine said. "I will also contest your accusations, and I accept the challenge. Who is to be your champion?"

"None." Kyril replied coldly. "I champion my own cause, and no one shall harm my companions so long as they are under my wing. Do so, and I will retaliate with lethal force." He glared at Celestine.

"Who will I fight?"


"This was a disaster."

Claudia watched as Celestine paced her room. The Council had devolved into petty bickering, so she just ended it. Celestine did not like that she was being accused of being honorless, she did not go back on her word. Still, the sight of the Hunter's cold rage had shaken her.

"They had every right to be suspicious, your Holiness." Claudia said. "I do not believe his story, and that...that demon…" She shivered. "How can a man make a deal with such an entity?"

Celestine turned to Claudia. "You do not understand, Claudia. That...entity is far older and far more malicious than either me or Olga." She spoke gravely. "They do not need a reason to tell you the truth, but that one…" She looked outside tiredly. "That one tells the truth because mortals refuse to believe it."

Claudia narrowed her eyes as Celestine held her head. "So we just allow that Hunter to do as he pleases?"

"He challenged the accusations." Celestine said. "As it was his right to. He invoked the Old Ways, and even staunch traditionalists will not argue with the legality of it." She looked at Claudia tiredly. "Besides, Alicia and Maia are clamoring for a fight. All of that despite my warnings that they will not win."

"Are they planning to fight him then?" Claudia asked, now worried. Maia was a good woman but her...affection for Vault sometimes made it hard to keep her in check.

"They have volunteered." Celestine answered. "Maia is out of control, and Alicia supports her decision to fight. Even offering to take her place as a second…"

"No." Claudia shook her head. "She is the heir to Feoh's throne. If anything harms her then the line of succession for Feoh is in jeopardy…"

"I know Claudia. I need you to persuade Alicia to think carefully about her position." Celestine said. "I shall try to talk to Luu-Luu and Maia, try to make them see sense."

Claudia nodded in agreement and both women sat in uncomfortable silence as they went back to today's council. She had always known that the Hunter was a dangerous foe if provoked. Guiltily she realized that she should have done more to uphold protocol. She had been blinded by the admiration everyone had for the master of the Black Dogs. Claudia had always prided herself on her loyalty to Celestine, not the crown on her head or the power she wielded as High Queen but the woman herself. She who did her best to stabilize the Kingdoms and heal whatever wounds it had to the best of her abilities. It was she who had hired the Black Dogs to support Eostia's ailing military; the men who should have been fighting for Eostia instead of their lords and ladies.

"Do you believe it then?" Claudia asked. "That Vault is truly dead?"

Celestine closed her eyes. "I do. I saw no deception in the Hunter or his...patron."

"So the Black Dogs are lost then…" Claudia looked down. "I am sorry milady, I should have done more."

"I should have done more," Celestine said, looking sad. "I have just turned a dangerous man against us. The Hunter is far more dangerous than Vault, I should have just given him the money and let him be on his way."

"Now we wait. And hope he is in a merciful mood."


The Hunter's Dream…

Kyril sat in his chair, chin in hand as he observed the hot steaming cup of tea. He was still angry about the events of today, the sham of a trial, the Rat's meddling...the fact that he wasn't getting paid was oddly enough the most insulting. Perhaps he was far more cold blooded than he thought he was.

"What troubles you, Good Hunter?"

The Doll laid a hand on his shoulder.

Kyril grunted. "A rather unfortunate series of events." He told the Doll. "Perhaps this land is in far more dire straits than I thought." He was mostly tired and apathetic. The trial by combat was the easier option. He was not going to bother with the courts because he knew there was corruption, he knew that because of his hunch that the Black Dogs were being supported by other traitors in the nobility. It was not much to go on, but there it was. He just had to find signs.

He didn't know how far it was but he knew it was there, waiting to strike...or to be rooted out like the cancer it was. A Hunter's duty included such things; humanity had to be protected even from its own failings. Honestly, he was just tired of it all.

Kyril reached over and drank his tea. Outside, the Dream was unusually foggy but gradually he knew that would change.

As its master, the Dream was very foggy when he was not here or it was quite clear when he was. Perhaps his mercurial mood was the reason why it was so foggy outside today. The others were in their quarters, undisturbed for now but that would probably change when he got back from the Dream. He sincerely hoped that no one was taking his threat lightly. He'd hate to have to do something...unreasonable if someone was acting aggressively against his companions. Kyril exhaled.

He was going to have to disappoint Grace again. Kyril finished his tea and set it back on the table. He was also going to have to speak to his companions. "Where do I start?" He spoke to himself. He shook his head of that thought immediately as he looked at the wall of weapons.

Kyril stood up from the chair and approached, leaning on the desk that he used to fortify each and every blade he had taken from the Night of the Hunt with Blood Gems. He would have to worry about his newfound purpose later, he had a fight to win in a few days' time. He smiled to himself grimly about his choice of words.

"Trial by combat…" He shook his head. "A fool would have made that gesture fail. But who's the fool?"

He laughed to himself. There was a joke in there somewhere that he'd have to find later on. Kyril's expression turned thunderous as he remembered his discussion with the Rat about his interference.

/

Earlier…

The Rat gagged as Kyril's gloved hand reached out and gripped him by his furry throat. "Speak. What was that show and dance in the Council chamber?" He growled. "Speak. Or you'll find that my capacity for atrocity can be imaginative as it is limitless…"

"Just...Just trying to help," The Rat grinned despite it all. "I am your patron, young man! What kind of patron would not support his investment in trouble?"

"Your scheming made things difficult." Kyril said, his grip tightening just a fraction. It would not take much to crush this thing's throat but he knew that it was tougher than it showed. All a show...all a sham. They were playing a game, one that the Rat had the experience to weather. Kyril had the will to win, and that was more than enough.

"Difficult, yes but all the same...everything happens for a reason." The Rat said. He raised his claws. "Let go? Please?"

Kyril held his grip for a moment before letting the Rat go. He glared at him briefly before sighing. "All according to your plans then?"

"Dear me, no." The Rat shook his head. "I expected only one to accuse you of conspiracy, not nearly half. But you did good. The Old Ways are still around and no one wishes to topple that. Convenient no?"

Kyril frowned underneath his bandanna. "Convenient yes, and also irritating." He said.

The Rat chuckled. Here in this lightless, soundless void, the entity and the god-touched Hunter stared each other down. Even here the Hunter's malice was a deeper darkness than the void.

"Testing you is quite fun you know, but I understand your frustration. Much work needs to be done." The Rat shuffled onward, causing the Hunter to follow him cautiously.

As Kyril knew, the Rat fed on the souls of the ambitious. Countless had been subsumed in the Rat's long, long eons of existence. All of which had happened long before Laurendau had blessed Eostia with her touch before leaving behind her spirit to reincarnate in those she deigned worthy enough to hear her voice.

It all sounded like complete insanity, so Kyril did not bother asking further. The past did not concern him as much as the present and the near future. The Rat could no longer act in Eostia, in fact he was one of many lesser known entities whose influence faded away under the light of gentle Laurendau and her polar opposite, haughty and arrogant Garan. Kyril's concern were the souls that the Rat felt was owed to him. The ambitious schemers, the greedy money grabbers all these men were under the Rat's purview for it was to him their prayers and schemes went to. Vault's dreams of conquest, Morgan's desire for Grace, Kyril's arrival and his subsequent slaying of Vault had been a tipping point in Eostia's destiny it seemed.

"Are you ready?" The Rat asked. "You will be fighting this war...well, mostly alone."

"It hasn't changed from my past." Kyril said annoyed. "So what was the point of asking?"

"I did say I was going to support my investment, boy." The Rat grinned. "Your first concern will be the trial by combat."

Kyril exhaled through his nose. "That's not an issue." He answered.

"I have no doubt about that."


Rad, the Kingdom of Eostia, trial grounds…

Celestine was pale for a reason.

The Hunter was indeed a formidable foe, she knew that when she saw the duel between him and Vault. It was a sight that would have stirred anyone who carried a blade in hand. Now, as she watched him outmatch not only Maia, the Queen of Mercenaries, and Alicia, a celebrated Knight of Iris, in single combat she could do nothing but make sure that no one died.

There was a loud crash as the weapon in Kyril's hand extended again into a heavy, metal whip from its previous form as a serrated thick cleaver not unlike the one he usually wielded. He swung it horizontally, forcing Maia to get away from the madman's weapon. The Hunter swung again, nearly catching Alicia in the chest. The knight gulped, holding her longsword in one hand as she saw Kyril swing it backwards, turning the weapon back into its previous form. That was not the only daunting prospect as Celestine saw the peculiar weapon strapped to his left. It featured some kind of thick stake. She dreaded what it could do, assuming Kyril even needed it in this...trial.

Celestine looked to the side, seeing Claudia clench the armrests of her chair as she glared furiously at the man throwing around her fellow Shields.

/

He overestimated them.

Kyril blocked Alicia's sword with his Beast Cutter, she tried to lock blades much to his confusion. He forced her weapon aside and grabbed her gorget with his off hand. Squawking Alicia tried to pry his hand off but instead found herself tossed aside and right into Maia. Acting quickly, Maia caught her but in doing so left them both open. Kyril's advance was steady, the Beast Cutter in hand as he now ran at them menacingly. Swinging the Beast Cutter Kyril smashed Maia out of his way, sending her sailing into the air to the right before she hit the dirt. She had blocked but Kyril's eldritch strength had been enough to shatter both of her swords. She hit the ground, gasping for breath as she realized that she had broken a couple of ribs from the impact. Alicia had rolled onto her knees and stopped when she saw Kyril standing in front of her.

"I overestimated you." Kyril said coldly.

Alicia looked into his eyes tiredly, but with some defiance that was slowly eroding as she saw the great, thick bladed cleaver in his hand. A cleaver that he placed on top of her head, not quite touching but as if...as if…

Her eyes widened as she faced the cleaver, looking dully into the serrated blade. She couldn't hear Claudia shouting for the match to cease, or for Celestine pleading for him to stop. Was this how it ended? She was going to die? How?

"Vault didn't even get the chance to beg for mercy." Kyril told her. "I simply destroyed him, do you want to know why? Because he tried to kill me when I told him no." His narrowed glare was all Alicia could focus on.

"I finished my job but you refused to see the truth of it, instead making a childish accusation that I would conspire against the crown. You seem to think me so craven. If I had chosen to do so, I would have severed your Goddess's head from her shoulders the moment I walked into that throne room." Kyril continued. "None of you would have been able to stop me. The only reason you're still alive is because I have business to attend to."

He then sneered at her. "And you are all not even worth killing. Especially you."

He lowered his cleaver and walked away.

"Weakling."