Zulkir and Bulat walked through the dense forest, making their way to the nearest main road. They had no idea where any Imperial patrols could be, but Zulkir's blood was running hot with anger, and he figured if they followed the road for long enough, they'd find something. For the past half an hour, Zulkir hadn't said a word. He was obviously furious with Najenda's decision to accept Porete and Kuroshi into Night Raid, and Bulat was just glad he hadn't decided to take his anger out on her. Getting sick of the silence, Bulat spoke to his friend.
"So, Najenda told us about where you came from. I can see why you wouldn't be happy with people you once fought against being in Night Raid." He said, Zulkir growled in response.
"If it were up to me, I'd feed them to wolves. But for now, I'll just have to wait for one of them to slip up and show their true colors." While Bulat didn't think Porete was that bad because of what he'd done before leaving the Iron Legion, he was still somewhat suspicious of Kuroshi. They knew next to nothing about her, and that was always cause for concern with new members.
"Has any of the others told you about what Porete had done before finding himself here?" He asked, but Zulkir just scoffed.
"He fought for the Legion, what else could there be?" He dismissed. Bulat was initially hesitant to share what the Conqueror had told them, but he figured that he wouldn't be upset with Bulat telling the Raider if he were comfortable with them.
"He actually abandoned them." This caused Zulkir to stop and turn around to face him. Judging by his body language, this didn't seem to surprise him.
"Hmph. Figured that'd be the case. He tell you why?" He asked. His tone lacked much of the anger from before, though it was still there, hidden beneath the surface.
"He discovered his fellow soldiers had been taking advantage of female captives. He killed them and then fled since he figured his commander was taking money from them." Zulkir paused for a moment before nodding slowly and turning around to continue.
"And I heard he'd saved one of the slaves from Iokal, that right?" Bulat nodded, walking directly beside him.
"Yeah, sprained his ankle jumping off a balcony to get her to safety. We saw it happen from where we'd been hiding." Zulkir actually laughed at that, and not in a condescending way.
"In that heavy armor?! He's got balls, I'll give him that!" He laughed again, his tone much less hostile. After a moment of silence, he continued. "Maybe I misjudged him. If he's willing to put himself on the line like that for complete strangers, he's got my respect." This time it was Bulat's turn to be voice his suspicions.
"There's still Kuroshi. She didn't reveal anything during the meeting, but judging by her reaction to Nejanda asking them if they still fought for their factions, she's probably still with hers. What were they called again?"
"The Dawn Empire. How'd she react?"
"She was about to get defensive about it, but Porete stopped her before she could say anything." Zulkir hummed in thought. They neared the main road at this point in their journey and were a reasonable distance from the Night Raid hideout.
"So all we know about her is she most likely still fought for the Empire when she came here. Did they at least say how they'd-" He stopped when the sound of something piercing flesh resounded. Zulkir looked down and saw a blade sprouting from his gut. Someone had run him through from behind but hadn't been smart enough to go for the heart. Before Bulat fully realized what was happening, another man fell from the tree above him, aiming to stab him in the neck. However, he quickly activated his armor, the blade bouncing harmlessly off the superior steel.
Zulkir stabbed the pommel of his weapon between his legs, the shorter man who'd stabbed him receiving the blow to the gut. He heard him cry out in pain and immediately spun around, taking the man's head off with Yggdrasil. Getting a better look at him, he saw the man was wearing Imperial gear. They'd been ambushed.
He grabbed the handle of the sword behind him and removed it, planting it into the ground. He looked over at Bulat in time to see him skewer his attacker with Incursio, kicking his corpse back. Immediately afterward, a large group of Imperial soldiers made themselves known, surrounding them.
"Well, well, well, if it isn't Bulat. We've been looking for you for quite some time, you know." The leader said, looking cocky despite Zulkir having taken a blade through the gut and not even flinching. "But who's this? Another of your assassin buddies?" He said, pointing his sword at the Viking. Zulkir just grinned and activated his Imperial Arms, surprising the ambushers. Blue energy poured into his body, the veins in his arms lighting up along with his eye.
"I am the champion of the Gods!" He shouted. "Spyrjat ӕsta miskunn, af því at ér munu fá neinn!" He finished before springing forward and into battle. Shocked by him revealing himself to be an Imperial Arms user, they hesitated to react, which gave him the perfect opportunity to gut the first soldier like a fish. Snapping out of their stupor, they charged forth and properly began the battle.
Bulat blocked a blow from behind, spinning around and decapitating the offending man before dodging out of the way of a second attack. He punched him in the face, knocking him on his ass and giving him time to focus on other threats. Another man came at him from behind, so Bulat moved out of the way, the soldier skewering his downed friend by accident. Before he could realize what he'd done, his arms were severed, followed by his throat. He collapsed into a heap, marking his end. Bulat turned to Zulkir, only to duck as a headless corpse went flying over him.
Zulkir parried a blow with his ax before planting the weapon into his opponent's skull. Not having the time to dislodge it, he instead briefly abandoned it in exchange for using his fists. One of the soldiers went to attack him with a downward swing, but he caught his wrist. He then twisted the blade around and made him stab himself in the gut, ending him. He backhanded another enemy, using this opportunity to retrieve his ax and swing it at the smacked man, removing his arm. When the man didn't go down, he charged him and flung him over his shoulder, his back hitting the ground hard. Zulkir finished him off by bringing Yggdrasil down on his gut, killing him.
As he removed his weapon, he heard struggling behind him. He turned to see the final still living enemy, the leader of the group. He had somehow survived the ordeal and was currently backing away with his sword raised. Bulat was about to attack, but Zulkir stopped him.
"Let's bring him back to the hideout and beat him until he tells us who sent him." He said. Bulat nodded in agreement but, upon hearing their plans, the leader's face paled, and he dropped his sword. But instead of making a run for it, he drew a concealed dagger and pressed it to his own throat.
"Tenebris!" He yelled. Realizing what was about to happen, Bulat tried to stop him.
"Wait!" But he was too late. The soldier ran the knife across his throat, ending his life and preventing capture. "Dammit, what the hell?! I've never seen Imperials do that!" Bulat said as he deactivated Incursio. He ran over to the dead leader, kneeling beside him. Blood poured from his neck, and his eyes had glazed over, staring lifelessly into the sky. Bulat punched the ground in frustration while Zulkir processed his final words.
"Tenebris." He repeated. Bullet looked back at him, confused.
"You know what that means? It's not any language I recognize." Zulkir shook his head as he deactivated Yggdrasil and walked over, kneeling next to the corpse and rummaging through his pockets.
"Don't know what it means, but it's something I've heard Black Priors say in battle." Before Bulat could ask for clarification, Zulkir pulled out a pendant that the leader had been wearing, hidden beneath the collar of his uniform. It was a simple metal pendant, but a strange symbol was carved into it—a circle with eight points, a line connecting the top and bottom. Zulkir snarled.
"I know this symbol. It's the mark of those damned Priors. He was working for our mystery enemy. That explains the suicide." Bulat's eyes widened in alarm. Najenda had told them about this old enemy from Heathmoor, a man from a line of cruel and sadistic warriors.
"You think he's working for the Empire?" Zulkir shook his head.
"It's possible, but he could also just have some pull in their military." He turned his attention to the other corpses, Bulat catching on. Searching the other soldiers, they discovered everyone else in the ambush had an identical pendant. They now knew who'd set this up.
"We have to tell the others. If he knew we were heading this direction, he might know about the hideout." Zulkir nodded as he pocketed the bloody pendants.
"Aye, this could be very bad." Turning back, they began their return journey to the Hideout, unaware of the man crouched in the bushes, watching with wild, bloodshot eyes.
Porete sat on his bed staring at his ankle, encased in a cast. The doctor had said it should heal within a week due to it being a minor sprain, but he still didn't like being out of action. He stood up, wincing slightly in pain. He grabbed his crutch and used it to help himself over to the door. He had removed his armor and was in a simple shirt and pants, though the pendant from his armor now hung from his hip in its usual spot.
He exited his room and made his way down the hall in the direction of the kitchen. He hadn't had something proper to eat in a good while, not since he and Kuroshi had been briefly taken in by a kind family in a remote village. The Orochi had helped the family matriarch with cooking, and the resulting meal had been outstanding. Speaking of, he passed a window giving him a clear view of the training yard, showing Kuroshi and Leone sparing. He stopped to watch for a bit as they fought, Kuroshi with a wooden katana and Leone not using her claws. The Samurai zipped around and dodged every one of the lioness's attacks, bruising her sides as she hit her. He would've watched some more, but his hunger called.
He finally made it to the kitchen, the smell of cooking having reached him from halfway down the hall. Opening the door, he saw Akame and Tatsumi cooking something up. He knocked on the door with his crutch, garnering their attention.
"Morning. The hell are you guys cooking in here?" He chuckled as he made his way over to the table. "It smells almost heavenly." Tatsumi smiled and waved and the wounded warrior.
"Hey, Porete! We're making croquette over rice, you're welcome to have some once we're finished." Porete grunted as he sat down, propping his crutch up against the table in a spot that wouldn't get in the way.
"Don't have a clue what croquette is, but I'm willing to try it if it means having some decent food for the first time in months."
"Croquette is a small roll of chopped vegetables, fish, or meat, fried in breadcrumbs," Akame informed him with her usual cold tone.
"Sounds great. Say, have either of you seen Zulkir? Been meaning to avoid him, if I can, at least until he's calmed down enough not to kill me on sight."
"He came back with Bulat yesterday with news for Najenda, but I haven't seen Zulkir today. Bulat won't say what the news for Najenda was, but we'll apparently be told what it is during the mission briefing later today." Porete nodded as Tatsumi filled him in, him leaning back in his chair.
"Damn, of course, I'll be missing a mission. Hope it isn't anything too exciting." He muttered. Right then, as if their words had summoned him, Zulkir walked through the door, clad in an ordinary white shirt and blue jeans. His gaze briefly passed over Porete, but he didn't have the same animosity he'd once had. He silently nodded to the Knight before taking a seat across from him and turning his attention to Tatsumi, who could clearly feel the tension in the air.
"Góðr morgin." He said to the boy.
"Kveðja." He responded, making Akame and Porete look at him with interest.
"He teach you how to speak Norse?" He asked.
"I was curious, so he taught me a few simple words and phrases." He explained. This satisfied Akame, who went back to cooking, as did Tatsumi. After a few moments of silence, Kuroshi and Leone entered the kitchen, with the latter sporting a few new bruises from the sparring.
"I had no idea you could move that fast! I won't underestimate you next time." Leone said, a hand on the shorter woman's shoulder. She didn't say anything, but her eyes immediately locked on Zulkir, not even trying to hide her distaste. Zulkir met her gaze, but without the hatred she gave. Through ignorance or simply not caring, Leone ignored the tension and sat down, Kuroshi sitting next to her. Not long afterward, Tatsumi and Akame finished cooking and began serving up the food in small, white bowls.
"Thanks," Zulkir said as Akame passed him his, everyone else thanking in kind. As they ate, Porete practically devoured his meal after taking the first bite. It was almost as if he'd been starving, but he had said he hadn't had any good food in a long while. The rest of the breakfast continued as they made conversation, though neither Zulkir nor Kuroshi spoke.
"Night Raid might be small, but or forces are mighty," Najenda said, finishing the bulk of her briefing. A psychopathic serial killer with a penchant for decapitation, as well as a lecture for Tatsumi on what Imperial Arms are. "But Zanku isn't the only person we have on our radar."
"What, there's more?!" Tatsumi asked incredulously.
"Yes, I'm afraid there is." Najenda nodded to Zulkir, who was now clad in his usual equipment, Yggdrasil against his back, and he moved to her side.
"Yesterday, while Bulat and I were out hunting for Imperial patrols, we were ambushed by one barely outside the area around the hideout." He began to explain.
"That close?" Mine said, sounding a little worried. "Are they figuring out where we are?"
"Could be, but that's not the real issue. That would be this." He said as he reached into one of his pouches and retrieved a pendant. He held it up so everyone could see, but nobody truly recognized it—all but one.
"That's the mark of the Black Priors," Porete said with disdain, Zulkir nodding in confirmation.
"Aye, that it is, and every single man in that ambush had one on him." After this, Bulat took over.
"Not only that, but when Zulkir suggested taking the leader alive for interrogation, he immediately killed himself to avoid capture. But before he did so, he shouted something. 'Tenebris.'"
"Porete, you speak Latin. You know what that means?" Zulkir asked, and the man in question nodded.
"It means 'For Darkness.' It's something they shout in battle."
"Could they have been working for this Black Prior guy we heard about?" Tatsumi asked, and Zulkir nodded.
"Without a doubt. They're practically a cult, so the suicide doesn't surprise me. But the fact that we were attacked so close to the hideout makes me think he at least knows the general area we're in."
"Everyone, keep an eye out," Najenda spoke up. "Along with this, I've also heard rumors of a replacement for Ogre being put in place. We know nothing about him, so he could be our mystery Knight." With that finished, she stood up.
"That is all I had to say. Hunt the scum that Heaven could not punish." She spoke, dismissing the group.
Heavy breathing, foot on stone, none below look to the skies as he bounds from roof to roof. He must hunt, he must kill, shatter their bodies, rend their flesh. Two down below, no more, no less. Breathe deep, growl in anticipation. Runes protect, runes kill, runes keep Him bound. Guards run past but see no one and move on. Never look up, never see him coming.
They talk now, he grows impatient. But he must withhold, the time to strike nears. Her sword kills instantly, but it doesn't matter if her neck is broken, tossed in a ditch. They move, almost time. Anticipation is killing him almost as much as the spikes digging into his arms. He feels eyes on him from even higher, but it's what he's hoping for—distraction, then blood. Always works. Mostly works.
They get food, forcing him to wait even longer. He just wants to tear them apart, piece by fucking piece. The boy splits off, needing to relieve himself. Is this it? Is it almost time? He follows from above and into the alley, the reek of his piss wafting up to him. He recognizes it, it wafts from his victims. Seconds from striking, he turns and looks. Acts like he's seen a ghost, but there is none. Curious. A name.
"Sayo?" He asks the air as if it will respond. Something happening, he wants to see, let him see! Calm, follow from above, stop at the town square. Too far to hear, but close enough to see. See the large man with the blades, with the mad grin. Almost as mad as him. An embrace, a realization, and a fight.
The boy charges in, but the man easily dodges. He oh so badly wants to join, but he must wait. Wait for the other. The girl. More fighting, more dodging, beginning to bore him. But then a slash from the man, and the boy collapses. Blood spilling. Taunting, but no more blood. A flurry of attacks. Blood! A retaliation, a slash to the face, but a bigger one to the back! Blood! Ulfr must kill!
There's the girl.
"He's in a wonderfully foul mood. You won on a psychological level." Akame said, taunting Zanku. She turned to Tatsumi. "I finally found you. Hang tight. I'll finish this quickly and tend to your wounds." Zanku grinned as he threw off his overcoat, revealing his dress shirt and tie beneath.
"If it isn't the infamous Akame and the Demon Sword, Murasame. Delightful! How delightful! I've wanted to meet you." He suddenly gasped in glee, and his grin widened. "And it would seem we have an unexpected guest!" He laughed.
Tatsumi grew a confused look until he felt something hard and sharp suddenly wrap around his leg. He cried out in pain and was dragged back, hearing vicious snarling behind him as whoever was there pulled him closer.
"Dreyri, dreyri, dreyri!" The man shouted, his voice sounding muffled. He was yelling in Norse, but he couldn't understand his words. Tatsumi was able to break free of the hold, standing up and turning to face the new attacker, and he hasped in surprise upon seeing him.
He was about neck height to Zanku and muscular, but not overly so. He wore blood-stained rags, and his skin was covered in hundreds of scars and rune tattoos. Along his arms were chains covered in sharp spikes and blades, the length that wasn't released being wrapped painfully around his arms up to his shoulders. A pair of manacles were attached to his wrists, preventing the chains from falling off his arms. His head was a mop of filthy black hair that hung wildly, and he sported a painful-looking muzzle with multiple sikes jammed into it at random, likely digging into his face. His eyes were wild and bloodshot, like a rabid animal driven into a frenzy. The chain that had been wrapped around his leg was dripping with blood, blood that the man was looking at intently until he turned his attention to young Tatsumi.
"Ganga í sundr Fenrisúlfr's bands!" He roared before charging Tatsumi, chains dragging behind him. Time for a fight.
Cliffhanger, fuck you lmao. I haven't done one in a good bit, so here you go. I decided to make my own class for the secondary antagonist. Ulfr was originally going to be a Berserker, but I decided to go with this instead. Hope the mad bastard's feral enough.
djpj7652: Ah, but were they truly fighting for the Empire, or someone else?
This is all I have, so I'll end it here.