Please note. The chapter before this one was just a rough draft and quite frankly something stupid I wrote up while I had a break at work. This is just a little project I've had that was burning a hole in my brain.
The Hunter Adrift
Lescatie. The City of Heroes. It was a powerful seat of the Order, where many veteran heroes were trained and dwelt. It was also a center of culture and refinement, but like many cities that claimed to be the jewels of their kingdoms it also had its own darker aspects. The nobility and clergy were in full control of how the city was ruled. In contrast to the dazzling noble estates and the rich district, the slums were where desperation and hunger ruled and existence was decided by the red blood thirst of a knife blade.
For a man like the Good Hunter, who worked as a caravan guard on good days, Lescatie was home. For now at least. Cyril Sutherland looked up at the stone gate as he sat in the back of a wagon, cradling his Saw Cleaver in his lap. The Hunter's client, a red haired merchant by the name of Alice Lindolm, was busy steering her cart. She did not glance at the mysterious young mercenary she had hired on as a guard.
A Hunter of Beasts. That was what he had called himself and it worked so far. Cyril thought it best to keep his true origins a secret. The Waking World was a strange place, but he did not survive the fateful Night of the Hunt by being complacent. Cyril exhaled through his nose as he kept his head on a swivel. Lescatie may have been a stronghold of humanity but that didn't mean the monsters outside were the only troublemakers.
He had encountered human enemies in Yharnam too. Cyril was disappointed but not surprised to find that it was true here also. He kept a loose grip on his Saw Cleaver as he readied the pistol holstered at his side. Tall, lean and sinister the Hunter was garbed in nondescript clothing under a gray long coat. A tattered tricorne hat sat on his black, gray streaked hair. His features were also obscured by a bandanna that covered the lower half of his face. It was a force of habit that he knew he would never break until his dying day.
Cyril was not looking to attract any attention to himself. Not from the Order. And most certainly not from the beasts that lay outside Lescatie's borders. The monsters who sought the souls of men. If they wanted a fight, they would get one. Cyril hated what he had become, but that did not mean he was a reluctant killer. No, if he had to deal death then so be it.
The Hunter felt the wagon wheel to a stop, shaking him out of his thoughts.
"We're here!" Alice chirped with good cheer. "Thanks again Mister Hunter! I really would have gotten more guards but nobody wanted to accept the payment!"
Cyril shrugged. The cowardice of others wasn't his problem, besides it opened up more opportunity for money anyway. He was hoping to save up enough to buy some land in an isolated area. A place to finally rest his head, months of traveling was getting tiresome. Months of living in the slums, making decent money and fending off thieves was even worse. All he wanted was a nice, quiet farm in an isolated area.
"It is no trouble, Miss Lindolm." He replied politely, but distantly. His voice was muffled by the bandanna he wore. "I suppose you will be staying here for a few days?"
"Mm!" Alice nodded with a smile. "Then, I'll be heading into Order territory so I should be safer." She bowed. "Thank you for helping me! I wasn't sure I would have escaped from those Werewolves if you hadn't been there! What…" At this her head tilted curiously. "What were you doing out there in the first place?"
Cyril shrugged again. "Wandering." He said to her. It was technically the truth although the group of werewolves was honestly a surprise for him as well. He had killed them all without prejudice, of course. A beast was a beast, after all.
And Hunters would always hunt beasts no matter what skin they wore.
The Workshop was burning. The Doll and the Hunter stood facing each other in front of it. The Doll's face was the ultimate expression of serenity, but there was a sadness in her eyes. The Hunter sensed the end of things, and honestly wished that he had had more time to spend with her.
It hurt to realize, in the end, that he loved her all the same. And if he finished what he had started then he would never see her again.
"You have come. Dawn will soon break and this night and this dream shall end. Gehrman awaits you at the foot of the great tree."
She gave him a gentle smile. "Farewell, Good Hunter."
The Hunter nodded solemnly and they both bowed, knowing full well that they would ever see each other ever again. He stepped down the path that would lead him to where Gehrman waited. This was it. The end of everything.
Dawn was coming. And whether he lived to see it was in fate's cruel hands.
He walked through the field of white asphodels Saw Cleaver in hand as he finally saw where Gehrman was. He walked, even as he felt the weight of his burdens on his shoulders.
"Good Hunter. You have done well." Gehrman spoke as the Hunter finally stopped. "The night is near its end. Now, I will show you mercy. You will die, forget the dream and awake under the morning sun. You will be freed, from this terrible Hunter's Dream."
Mercy. A fine reward for what he had endured. But the Hunter had one last Nightmare to slay. One last favor he owed Gehrman. He refused. He shook his head. Gehrman, seeing at what the Hunter was doing, gave a sad but poignant smile. One that was filled with not just understanding but also a sense of pride.
For almost an eternity Hunter after Hunter had perished under his wing. But this young man, this brave soul had surprised him. He had often wondered just who would be skilled enough to take his mantle. Now it seemed that the time had come to look at the results.
"Dear oh Dear…" He spoke with a chuckle. "What was it? The Hunt? The Blood… or the horrible Dream?"
The Hunter tensed as Gehrman rose from his chair for the first time in what seemed to be a millennia.
"Oh. It doesn't matter. It always comes down to the Hunter's helper to clean up after these sorts of messes."
The Hunter readied his Saw Cleaver as Gehrman revealed his weapon, a great scythe that unfolded from his back.
"Tonight, Gehrman joins the Hunt."
Cyril blinked. It had been quite a while since that night, when he had fought Gehrman and left behind his precious Evetta in the Hunter's Dream. The Good Hunter looked to his left, realizing that he had dropped the book he was reading when he fell asleep. The candle was still burning but it was about half of its original size.
The book's title was the Monster Girl Encyclopedia. A bestiary of the monster girls one would encounter in this world. Cyril had bumped into a man who seemed to be in quite a bit of a hurry in the village he had been staying at. The man had dropped this book and Cyril had picked it up, leafing through the pages. It honestly was the strangest thing he had ever read, nothing like the mind blasting grimoires he encountered in Byrgenwerth. He had at first thought the book to be the work of a degenerate or a madman and had tried to search for the person who dropped it but had no such luck. Cyril decided to keep it… whether as kindling or to actually read it, he could not say. Although, judging from the general tone of the guide it seemed that any Order fanatic would charge him as a heretic if they went through his belongings.
The last idiot who tried that with him was now buried alive somewhere.
Cyril scratched at his head as he looked around, still drowsy. The slums of Lescatie were filled with abandoned houses, their former owners having either died or had gone elsewhere to seek better fortunes. The house was small but it served his purposes greatly. It wasn't comfortable but Cyril was long inured to discomforts. The Night of the Hunt demanded many things, and humanity was one of the things he had sacrificed to get through it.
The Hunter placed the book back on the small table and stood up. It was a fine night but the last dream was concerning. He had not thought about that night for many days. Why was it coming back? He surely hoped that it was not a dark omen of troubled times ahead. Cyril lay back against the makeshift bed of hay and tried to get back to sleep.
He had to find work again tomorrow morning, and while the Order could use all the men it could get to combat the monsters he was not looking to get involved in their crusades against the forces of the Demon Lord. Cyril crossed his arms and lowered his hat over his closed eyes.
This time he was snoring within five minutes.
That night, on the borders of Lescatie…
Night was always a time of the day that Demons enjoyed. To a mamono, the nighttime was ripe for sneaking into your husband's bed after a long day of work and making love. To feel the warmth of a male beside you, to hear him whisper your name as you were both carried away by a sea of passion.
Ursula, Captain of the 4th Company, and a Demon of the Fourth daughter's High Court, smiled as she looked up at the full moon. The Demon's pretty face was split by a smile as she imagined being held by a man of high esteem. She stood to her full height and inhaled, smelling a light breeze.
She was a woman, with dusky blue skin. Her modesty was barely preserved by a leotard that left little to the imagination. Her form was perfect, an hourglass figure which balanced out with a considerable height. Long, toned legs were covered by thigh high leggings and black iron greaves and leather boots. Sharp, predatory horns grew out of the sides of her head. A pair of black, leathery wings flapped lazily on her back while a tail, with a spade tip, waved sensually behind her.
Her heart shaped face was framed by dark hair. Lascivious crimson irises set in pools of black gleamed seductively. She was a woman and she knew it.
Ursula looked over to the west, to their destination. Lescatie, a seat of the foolish Order that dared to oppose the Demon Lord's will and the ambition of her own liege.
Druella, the Fourth Daughter and Princess of Royal Makai the seat of the Demon Lord herself.
The Demon made her way back to camp to where her subordinates waited. She heard the scrape of steel and knew Demeter was sharpening her blades.
The Dullahan made to salute but stopped when Ursula raised a hand. The Dullahan's head was separated from the body which was sitting on a log next to a ghostly fire. Ursula knew there were other fires like this, each one surrounded by ten mamono, all of them combat veterans of the highest order. Each one seeking their own prisoner in the invasion to come, but that desire was tempered by the fierce discipline that Ursula trained thoroughly into her soldiers. All Demons in Ursula's clan were like this, her mother and her mother's mother were warriors. It was an unbreakable lineage that stretched back into the age of former demon lords, during reigns of fire and blood and screams.
"Has our agent arrived yet?" Ursula asked, her voice a silky contralto.
"Not yet, Mistress." Demeter replied, dutifully. "There is nothing to report from Seras or from Fina either."
"How about the morale of our troops?" Ursula asked grinning.
"Their blood is up and they are impatient but there are no incidents." Demeter answered. "Our steel is strong as is our conviction."
"I see." Ursula smirked. "Walk with me, my dear."
Ursula and Demeter made their way to the monster camp, walking through the rows of tents hidden by the master mages of the 4th company who held an honored position in Druella's army. Hence why they were sent here first, to scout out the area around Lescatie. They just needed a good route, perfect timing and then… Lescatie would be theirs for the taking.
Ursula could not wait. If there was worthy prey in the city of Lescatie then she hoped they weren't too easy to conquer and break.
She wanted a challenge. She wanted an equal.
Another successful job, one that took all day and here he was back at the city trying to get paid. It was a simple job, just escorting a farmer and his sons back to the village. Why the man had decided to leave at night was beyond him, but a job was a job.
Cyril counted out his coin, thanked the receptionist at the Adventurer's Guild in Lescatie and walked out of the building. The Hunter adjusted his hat and walked outside into the rain. Well, if he had a successful job he supposed with his luck the universe would have to balance itself out somehow. At least, he had some coin to support his simple lifestyle. He just needed more gold to get some land. Somehow.
The Hunter exhaled as he closed up his coat. The rain was surprising, and not welcome at all. It was almost Fall, and the chill of winter would soon set in, he'd have to reinforce his current living area and get some firewood when the cold inevitably set in.
Cyril saw a crowd gathering as a carriage passed by. The noble crest indicated who the family was. Lescatie was owned by pretty big wigs who were close to the king. The divide between peasant and noble was clear during those moments. The Hunter didn't care in the slightest. He had his own way of living and everyone else had theirs, there was no point in trying to change anything. Even if he technically was capable of doing so, what was the point? Everyone suffers whether they wanted to or not.
And he was pretty sure the Order had bigger problems to deal with anyway. Cyril was sure that the monsters they constantly threw men and women at counted as bigger problems. The Hunter kept going, enduring the rain and wind as he always did as he made his way back to his ramshackle and humble home.
The crowd eventually thinned as the view of the carriage faded. Cyril didn't bother looking for it. He passed by an orphanage where someone far more kindhearted than he was took care of children who lost their mothers and fathers to man and monster. He fished some coin out of his coin purse and dropped it at the lonely stone basket. It was a habit that he formed when he had first "moved in". The route he took always passed this place and from time to time he had seen the children who lived here, they waved and he simply waved back even if their glances were wary and cautious. They must not like foreigners, these Lescatians. He kept that thought to himself.
Then again, he was always armed with his Saw Cleaver and Hunter's Pistol worn with open hostility. One could never be too careful during the Night of the Hunt and paranoia was indeed a blessing and a curse in his opinion.
"Ah, wait! You there in the hat!"
Cyril stopped and turned back around, curious.
A woman was standing in the rain, wearing a cloak to ward off the rain. She had sea green long hair and was wearing the vestments of a priestess of the Order. She looked beautiful, but utterly exhausted. Cyril recognized her expression because he wore it constantly. The Hunter blinked as he stared at her.
"Yes?" He asked, voice muffled by the cloth mask he wore.
The rain was falling harder now.
"Did you drop coins in that stone basket just now?" The woman asked. "Um… I would like to thank you for donating but… I've never seen you around."
Cyril shrugged his shoulders. "I've been doing it for the past few months." He said plainly. "I moved in… hmm, maybe a few months ago back in the spring time. Apologies, I work as a caravan guard when I am able."
"I… see." The woman said with a kind smile. "Please, do come in. We do not have much, but it would be rude to turn you away without serving some kind of refreshment."
"Apologies, but I have not even gotten your name." Cyril's tone was not unkind but he maintained a certain decorum. He was not about to enter a young woman's dwelling unannounced. "It would be unwise for me to just barge in."
"Ah." The woman nodded. "I see, I see. I understand." She made a curtsy. "I am Sasha Fullmoon. Pleased to make your acquaintance sir."
Sasha watched the man when she straightened from her curtsy. He was… strong. A veteran hero like her could see that. He was tall and lean, garbed in outlandish clothes. The tattered hat that sat on his head gave him a beast like visage, his demeanor resembled a scarred and gruesome predator at rest. Even as they stood at a distance Sasha knew the man was observing her for weaknesses to exploit but whether he did so consciously or subconsciously she did not know.
Still, if he was willing to sacrifice a small amount of coin for an orphanage full of children then surely he must have some form of honor right?
To her surprise the man bowed with such grace, Sasha wondered if he was a disgraced noble on the run.
"My name is Cyril Sutherland, a Hunter adrift. I am pleased to make your acquaintance as well, Miss Sasha."
The orphanage was based in a small church and judging from the way some of the older children were doing chores it seemed that things here were not so good. It beat dying in the streets though. Cyril ignored the curious stares, merely following his hostess towards the back area where a makeshift kitchen had been established.
"I'm sorry. Our building is in such disrepair that…" Sasha started but then smiled sadly. "The older children do what they can but alas… this is where I ended up caring for them."
Cyril answered. "You have caused no offense." He looked at her with a bland expression. "The roof of my home also leaks if it helps in any way."
Eventually, Cyril was presented with a cup of tea and a small hunk of bread. It was simple fair but it would do. He didn't have anything else to work on, sometimes he enjoyed just sitting down and relaxing. The Hunter often had a brief moment of paralysis, a voice in head telling him to keep moving and that he was in danger. It was… surreal that he was doing this right now, when during that fateful night he was always on the move, always fighting, always killing.
Always dying. A parade of horrific visions went through his mind and he briefly forgot that he was in an orphanage full of children.
"What brought you to Lescatie, if I may ask, Sir Cyril?"
The Hunter blinked out of his reverie. "Nothing." He answered. "It was just a place I was consistently told to visit, people say it's the safest place from the monsters."
"It is." Sasha said. There was something in her tone that made Cyril a mite bit concerned, more so than the fact that she had closed her eyes and sighed. "If… only safety did not come at the cost of the people's prosperity."
Cyril unconsciously scanned his eyes around the church. While Sasha did have a point, Cyril knew that everything in life had a price. He knew that very well. Even then, he admired Sasha for her kindness.
"Salvation often comes at a heavy price." Cyril said softly. He looked outside at the setting sun. He smiled and quickly covered his face again with his bandanna. "Apologies. I did not realize it was getting late. I should get going home."
Sasha bowed her head. "It was nice meeting you, Master Cyril. May you have a blessed evening."
Cyril stopped as he heard the faint tune of a music box playing. He never had that on display. The Hunter's eyes narrowed as he readied his Saw Cleaver. He stalked forward towards the back door. There didn't seem to be any signs of forced entry so someone was a skilled lock picker.
The Good Hunter exhaled. This was most… irritating. The guards in Lescatie were worse than useless if they could not sense the intruder within their walls. The smell was… female, but off. Sickly and sweet, like crushed flowers. Cyril's eyes narrowed as he opened the door slowly, Saw Cleaver in hand. He could hear the music box, the very same one he had been given by a little girl who sought her father during that one fateful night.
The fact that someone would dare touch that memory caused his blood to boil.
Cyril entered the house he had used as a dwelling, and stared down the creature that had dared intrude upon his home.
The female creature looked human, but it was obvious she wasn't judging from the way that a long slender tail waved and wiggled through the air. Black hair, tied into a functional pony tail, pale skin she was garbed in what amounted to a pink sleeveless top. Hardly enough to cover her modesty, although she at least had the sense to wear leggings and light armor.
She held a short sword in one hand, one that she now readied as she saw the owner of the home she had just intruded upon.
"Oh." She said. Her face was obscured by a fox mask, her tone muffled but it was clear she was not expecting someone.
Cyril raised his Saw Cleaver.
Murasaki was a Kunoichi, a succubus ninja as her friend in her cadre like to say. She was good at infiltration work, a dab hand at sewing and a fantastic swimmer if she liked to brag. A swordswoman who could hold her own. Nothing during her long years of training would have ever prepared her for the ferocious assault that came from a man who called himself a Hunter.
The Kunoichi barely had time to bring her sword up to block when the demented weapon in the man's hand slammed into her kodachi with the force of a hurricane. Murasaki hit the wall with a grunt of pain, she then had to sidestep as the man swung again making every attempt at killing her. His weapon cleaved into a table. Murasaki swallowed, underneath her mask her eyes had widened at the utter destruction this man was capable of.
"Wait." She said to him, trying to sound as nonthreatening as possible. "We don't have to fight."
The man said nothing, merely continuing to observe her, like a butcher wondering how to serve the best cut of meat. That was what disturbed Murasaki the most. Ordinary men were easy prey for succubi like her, they weren't able to resist. But this man, she sensed nothing from him, his mana was completely gone.
Murasaki swallowed again. Instead, she felt an aura of lethality, a contempt that warned off all sentient life. His eyes were… cold. Lifeless. But whoever was inside that gaze had not only shattered, but had rebuilt himself into something dangerous. Something horrifying. The Kunoichi was in over her head. There was no way she was going to seduce this man.
Ursula and the others had to be warned.
She did not notice the fist that slammed into her face, sending her flying back into the door which fell open. She spilled into the street. Murasaki's ears rang as she felt her shattered mask break into pieces. The Kunoichi staggered up to her feet, looking back at the man who advanced out of his house. His menacing countenance did nothing to help her growing fear.
"You can run. You can fight. You can bleed." The man told her, his voice monotone but laced with a cold fury. "You can do all of that. But I will find you. And I will slaughter the rest of your misbegotten kind if you come after me."
Swearing liberally under her breath, Murasaki ran for it. Dimly she heard footsteps and realized that the man was coming after her. Her heart hammered in her chest as a primordial fear of death, something she fought with all her will, began to surge through her body. She ran down one street, heading for one of the city walls, one of which was in disrepair. There was a culvert at its base that she used to enter.
Murasaki looked behind her, the man was gone. Did she lose him? Was she home free? She stopped running and then climbed up the wall of an abandoned house and stayed hiding on the roof. She panted, looking at her hand which was shaking. The Order Heroes were dangerous adversaries for monsters but many of them were charmed by monsters like herself.
This… man, whoever he was, he was strong. Just as strong as a veteran hero. But he had no blessing from a god, or any mana. That and he was more than willing to kill her. The Demon Lord Lilith, blessed be her name, disliked killing but was pragmatic enough to know that banning it was foolhardy. With a heavy heart, Murasaki gripped her kodachi tight.
She was going to have to kill this man if she was going to stand a chance at escaping. Or, failing that, wounding him severely enough to drive him away. There was no other way. Everyone had to be warned, someone dangerous had come to Lescatie but for what purpose-
Her opponent was already behind her. Hanging on to the same roof she had clambered onto, the man pointed a worn flintlock pistol at the back of her head. Murasaki dropped her sword. She heard it clang on the ground below.
"Your name." He stated, his voice cold enough to freeze a river.
"Murasaki." The Kunoichi answered, shakily. She was going to die. She knew it. One trigger pull and the man would splatter her brains all over the ground and her friends would not even be able to find her body. "Murasaki Natsume."
"Who do you work for, Murasaki?" The question was monotone.
"The Fourth Princess of the Demon Realm. I am a Kunoichi in her service." Murasaki answered. "She seeks this city, to conquer it. We all do in order to further her goals. To make the land tremble with the cries of monsters."
"Are you a good one?" The man asked her.
"I… I do my best to complete my objectives." Murasaki answered the question. "I am not the best."
"Is that all?"
Murasaki began to tremble. She just spilled out their objectives, and the man didn't care at all. She had to keep talking, find some way out of this but the barrel of the pistol remained where it was. One shot and she'd be sent to her death. Never to be able to find a husband or have children. She would never return to her home in triumph. Never retire to raise her children or live beside the husband she had found.
"I… I want to be married. I want to find a husband." Murasaki sobbed. "I want to live. That's all I want. I didn't come here to hurt people. I just… I just want to be a mother."
Cyril didn't bat an eye. The Hunter had read in the Encyclopedia that monsters sought human males for companionship… The girl whose head he was about to ventilate began to cry as she waited for the end. The Hunter let the barrel drift. He could kill her but then that would attract attention from the Order, because there was a body near his dwelling. If he let her go, she would report his existence to her mistress or whoever was in charge. The bigger issue was the presence of an oncoming army about to hit this place harder than a Cleric Beast after blood.
The Good Hunter bit the inside of his cheek in frustration. He was about to just get this over with. He lowered his pistol. "Do not face me." He said quietly. "I have chosen to give you mercy, but let me make one thing clear: You will not reveal my presence to your mistress. If you do so and she decides to send people after me, I will send them back in pieces. I will then hunt you down and I will kill you all."
He glared at the back of the Kunoichi's head. "Nod if you understand."
The girl nodded.
"Get out of my sight."
Cyril watched her go then slid off the roof and landed deftly on his feet. He kicked the wall of the abandoned house in frustration. He closed his eyes and let out a breath. Wonderful. He was going to be involved in a war, one way or another.
He hated his life.