Arikin had arrived on the baker's household, early in the morning. Something wasn't right.
After he told and showed the family the body of their daughter, the looks on their faces were miserable. They didn't believe it at first. They shook their heads in disbelief. "This isn't our daughter!", they shouted.
But it wasn't the case for much longer. After they saw the dress. They were certain.
The shrieks and howls of a demon cannot top the heartbreaking sound of a parent's wailing. He consoled them the best he could. Mark, the father, gave the promised payment. But Arikin declined, telling them that they needed it more than he did. Mark insisted, but he still declined. He felt the pain.. But there was nothing he could do.
The mother, didn't stop crying even after he left the house to return home.
As payment instead, Arikin offered to swing by to drink a few rounds with Mark Baker. That was his purpose in coming here.
In the morning light. Sounds of cutting vegetables and the smell of cooking should be prevalent right now in the household. But still, silence.
He knocked on the door. "Mister Baker?", he shouted.
"Shit.", he muttered under his breath, fearing what happened. He just realized.
The mental state of the two were bad. After seeing their daughter's mangled corpse, it only worstened.
He kicked the door down, and saw two bodies hanging from the ceiling. Their necks tied tightly in a noose. Two chairs were knocked over the floor.
A man and a woman. Mark, and Sally. The Baker household, was no more.
He knelt to the ground, his knees weak. He clenched his fists and pounded the floor, hissing and cursing. He was angry. Not at the demon. But at himself.
If he just stayed later. Drank with the man. This would've been avoided. He sobbed. Loudly.
IT was my Fault. It was my fault.
A voice kept saying in his head.
Shortly afterwards, Tamara, the barmaid at the Rackety rachet, was carrying a basket full of vegetables.
As she gently opened the door, the sight immediately made her shriek, and fell on her knees. Her eyes glistening with unshed tears.
"Little Sarah? Is she-", she trailed off, looking toward Arikin.
Arikin shook his head. Tamara knew what he meant.
A crowd swarmed shortly after. Then, the authorities. Men in plated armour surrounded the house, keeping away the crowd from the house.
Arikin was questioned, and deemed innocent. What else? This was clearly a suicide. A loving couple lost their only child.
It then dawned to him. What about Bryce? Does he know? Does he know why his "father" didn't return home?
He sighed, then felt a tight feeling in his chest. He needed to see the boy, or else this guilt might never go away.
By the time Arikin returned home, Corvin had begun cleaning the building. He looked unphased at the revelation at the sewers. He didn't confront Corvin yet, but did he really need to?
Corvin could've just grabbed his stuff then fled from him if he was afraid. But he didn't. He was smiling, and humming a cheeful tune. He was cleaning the rooms with a cheerful grin. It felt odd. He didn't see Corvin this happy before.
Corvin saw him enter the building. "Boss!", he called out, then rushed to him with a smile.
He thought. Something must've happened for him to be this happy.
"Welcome back!. Something worrying you?', Corvin asked concerned.
Arikin snorted. "No, did something happen to you? You look very glad.. ", he said, "It's creeping me out.",
Corvin jumped excitedly. "Oh you have no idea boss! I'm living with a Ranger! A ranger! My childhood heroes! You have no idea how badly I wanted to meet one of you!",
Arikin's brows raised. "You are not afraid of me?",
"Of course I'm afraid! But I'm also excited! If you wanted to hurt me, you would've done so already! I trust you Arikin. I won't leave.. Unless you want me to.", Corvin stated.
The words just made Arikin's heart flutter. He briefly forgot the grim events that unfurled moments before.. He smiled, genuinely, then felt his eyes began to glisten with moisture. The voice that kept saying to him that it was his fault, was gone. It felt as if a breeze has wiped his slate clean.
He can start over. With this boy, he can right his wrongs. He will train him, not to be like him, but to be the warrior that can bring light into the darkness. He chose an apprentice in Corvin.
He tilted his head, avoiding Corvin's gaze.
"Something happened boss?", Corvin asked.
Arikin shook his head. "The bakers.. They..", he stuttered.
Corvin knew what he was gonna say.
"I see." he replied. The smile quickly turned into a frown. "I'm sorry.. I didn't know..",
"It's alright.. Nothing I can do now.. I just,. Need a bit of alone time for now..",
Corvin nodded, and stalked upstairs, leaving Arikin in the office.
He sat down. Grabbed a mug, and poured it with ale with the barrel seated underneath the table. He gulped it down. The emotions within him were rampant like a wild fire. He was happy that Corvin trusted him and sees him as his friend, but some part of him was angry that the Bakers died. Angry and guilty about what will happen to Bryce. He thought a mug of ale was the only way to lessen the burden. He was gonna find Bryce and try to help him, but not now. He was sure he had other relatives that could take him in.
As he was drinking though, a letter caught his peripherals. On it, was Lord Rathkor's seal. His eyes widened and his face began to pale.
He sprung up, and shouted. "CORVIN!",
Shortly afterward, a series of hurried footsteps bellowed on the ceiling. Corvin panted and his face was pale when he saw the letter.
"I-I-I..", he stuttered.
Arikin held out a hand. "I'm sure you wanted to tell me, but I remembered yesterday that I didn't give you chance to speak.. I just wanted to know who sent this.", he said, not wanting to scare the boy.
"Oh.. Uh.. It was the Seneschal.. ", Corvin answered.
Arikin rubbed his chin. "Did he say what about?",
Corvin shook his head. "He only said it was confidential.. And that it had a plus one..", He said the last part like a whisper.
Arikin's pale face began to subside. "Ah. I see. Well then, let's get dressed.. Luckily, the Lord's estate is only a couple of blocks from here. We should arrive mid-morning if we take a carriage.",
Arikin rose a brow. "Of course.. Who else might I be taking? Pomph? The damed cat won't even let me pet it..", He said jokingly.
Corvin smiled widely, then ran upstairs but then stopped cold. He just realized he didn't own any clothing.
"uh.. Arikin? Do you have clothes I could borrow?",
They spent almost half an hour in dressing themselves. Arikin wore a stylized leather jacket, not unlike what he wore the night before. It had thin metal plates on the shoulders, thin enough that it wouldn't encumber the wearer. He wore black britches, with sturdy black boots to pair it with.
Corvin, meanwhile, wore Arikin's black and white doublet. Common jewels lay embedded on it's collars, the fabric had a smooth feel to it, and it was the right fit. Corvin was only a few inches shorter than Arikin, and it looked like it was quite a few years since this was bought.
It was the only thing that Arikin could spare for a visit at the Lord's estate. Most of what he had in his cabinet was mostly common tunics and plain cloth pants, and a lot of spare armors. Dark leather jackets with metal pads filled one fourth of the space.
"This is tight..", Complained Corvin.
Arikin chuckled. "I never did like that piece of cloth.. She insisted I take it for occasions like this..Best take care of it though..", he said, looking down. A hint of sorrow in his tone.
Corvin scratched the back of his neck. "I see... Are you sure about what you're wearing though?", he responded, changing the subject. "It doesn't look any different from your work clothes.. Except you're not wearing a cloak, just the armor now.",
Arikin smiled. "Rathkor knows me personally. He won't be offended by my attire. Besides, I have a few guesses as to what this visit is about.",
Corvin nodded, and both of them strolled downstairs. Arikin went to his office first, grabbed the invitation, and the leather vambraces which he immediately put on.
"You never leave without them?", Corvin asked, brows raised.
"Protection.. I'll also carry my longsword this time. ", Arikin replied.
Corvin just shrugged. The ranger knew what he was doing. The best fighters in all of the continent doesn't need counsel from an orphan.
The road to the Lord's estate was not long. There was a road straight to the upper stands, where the important families and people were living, and only carriages,and nobles who walked to their homes were allowed on that road. Commoners, were thrown out.
When they strolled outside, Arikin immediately signaled a carriage to stop. Threw a coin purse at the driver.The driver looked at the coin purse at his hands, then looked toward Arikin, mouth dropped. Arikin then pointed upwards toward the lord's estate. The driver nodded vigorously and gestured to take a seat at the back.
All of this, happened without a single word out from Arikin's mouth.
Lord Rathkor's estate was situated in an elevated position, far from the busy merchant's sector they called home. Most of the nobles lived there as well.
Adorned fences, trimmed bushes, and colorful flowers spread the street. Not many people were walking, instead more carriages with intricate designs passed by. More wagons were on the streets than people. Corvin thought nobles must be very lazy..
Large mansions with painted walls and expensive looking shingles were all he saw when they reached the upper stands. The ones that littered near their place on the lower stands couldn't compete with this. He just gazed upon the beautiful buildings with glitter in his eyes.
Arikin however, was glancing listlessly as they made their trip. He and Corvin would engage in some small talk, talking about the different lords and ladies that lived in Galbrand. Sometimes Corvin asked about Arikin's training, but Arikin would stay silent when asked those questions.
Shortly after, the monotonous ride was suddenly shifted, when they gazed upon a large, stone wall.
"We made it.", the driver said, as he put the carriage to a stop just outside the gates. It was huge. Wooden planks were framed with steel. A duo of guards stood watch just a few paces away.
There were also guards above the wall, wielding crossbows. Ready whenever someone, or something makes a fuss.
Arikin and the driver both exchanged nods before leaving.
Corvin just stood in awe. He was in the proximity of the Lord's manor. His estate. He was visibly excited. He gulped and turned to Arikin.
"What now?", he asked excitedly.
"Now, we talk to the guards.", Arikin said, waving a hand to the gate. The guards glanced their way, suspicious.
As they went closer, the guards gave them a sideways glance. They eyed Arikin's sword, then Corvin. Both of them exchanged glances and nodded. One of them yelled. "Halt! State your business!",
Arikin bowed politely, and then put his hand in an opening in his armor.
The guards put their hands on the hilt of their swords, but immediately let go when they saw Arikin pulled out the envelope the Seneschal gave.
"I am invited. And my friend here as well. I am Arikin, the monster slayer.", Arikin stated.
"Ah.", one of them said. "That explains the grim presence you wield master slayer. Head on in, the Lord is currently holding a meeting with some elven diplomats, but you can wait at the common room. Come, I'll accompany you.",
They then opened a small door on the right side of the gate. It had the same wood as the gate, but it had a small slit on the upper side. Must be used for vision, Corivn thought.
When they first set foot inside the gates, Corvin let out a whistle. Beautiful statues of gods and goddesses were laid out in the sides of the small cobblestone path towards the mansion, or it might be fitting to call it a castle. Huge pointed towers poked upwards, and the whole manor was about a thousand times larger than Arikin's building. Gardens of exotic flowers dotted the plains surrounding the path, as well as a wall of trimmed hedges. The air was sweet with the scent of the flowers. Under the light of the sun, the garden was breathtaking.
Corvin had almost stopped following the guard and Arikin on their way inside.
Arikin was just silently following the guard. Corvin crept up closer, keeping up the pace. There was only the sound of footsteps against the cobbled path that broke the silence.
The guard, uncomfortable with the awkward silence, coughed up and decided to speak.
"Well then, master Slayer.. If I may ask, did the lord summon you here because of the assassinations?",
Corvin moved in closer, curiousness filled his body. Arikin rose a brow.
"I don't think so.. But he also didn't specify the reason. Just an invitation. ", Arikin replied, rubbing his chin. "Who were assassinated?",
The guard shrugged. "Mostly officers... The general died yesterday in fact.. Details were hush-hush, but it was clear the lords didn't want the news getting spread on the populace. With the blood moon coming in a couple of days, we don't want panic gripping the people..",
"Yeah, I can see that.. Perhaps it was the reason I was called in after all.", Arikin said in a breath.
Corvin was silent. Scared, and intrigued. He moved in closer to Arikin, he felt safer this way.
By the time they arrived at the mansion doors, The guard opened the door, then left.
Corvin shifted uncomfortably. He knew nothing of the noble's customs. All he knew is that many of them looked down upon commoners. He stayed close to Arikin.
The mansion's common room was far from common at all. Huge chandeliers were nestled on the stone ceiling several feet above them. Portraits of beautiful landscapes and past rulers were hung on the wall, as well as hunting trophies of deer, bear, and other woodland beasts. Plenty of people were bustling about doing their chores, and some wealthy looking people were sitting togehter, sipping wine and laughing.
Several of them glanced up at the duo, but most just ignored them. From the corner of his eye, Corvin saw the seneschal, talking to a slender looking figure with blond hair. He couldn't see the face though, but those tall ears were unmistakable. An elf. She was wearing a green dress with intricated nature designs, with a downward slit that exposed her thighs. Corvin was wide-eyed, and a red blush was obvious from his face.
Arikin chuckled. "Ah. You like MILFS?",
Corvin broke his gaze and looked at Arikin. "MILF?",
"Nothing. Let's go.", Arikin scoffed.
The Seneschal glanced at them for a bit, and a hint of familiarity was seen in his gaze. He waved at them to join the conversation.
Arikin nodded, and grabbed Corvin's arm, dragging him along.
"Greetings.", Arikin said with a bow. "I am Arikin, Monster slayer, and this is my companion and subordinate, Corvin.",
The elf woman chuckled slightly. "Corvin? as in the bird?",
The seneschal chuckled as well. "Indeed. Such an uncommon name in these parts.. Who would name their child Crow?", he said. "Uhm, no disrespect of course. Just a jest.", he added, bowing to Corvin.
"Indeed.", Arikin chimed in.
Corvin shifted uncomfortably with a puzzling look. Unable to come up with words to say. Arikin noted the boy's discomfort, and changed the subject.
"Never mind that.. Seneschal Bennett, I thank you for giving me the invitation personally. I am honored.", Arikin said.
The seneschal held out a hand. "No need.. I was ordered by Lord Rathkor himself. Seems you have a history with the young lord.",
"Indeed we have, although I doubt he wants everyone to know about it.. ", Arikin said, then turned to the blond elven woman. "I don't believe we've been introduced..",
The Seneschal stammered. "Ah- ah. I forgot. I apologize master Slayer. This is Lady ingrid, of the elven City of Dao.",
Arikin bowed slightly towards the woman. "Ah, Lady Ingrid. I have been to your city a few times, however it was during war time.. I didn't get to enjoy the views much.",
Ingred fluttered her eyelashes and took out a hand fan, her brows raised when she hear the word war.
"The war was 20 years ago! You look no more than a few years after that!", Lady Ingrid said, disbelief filled her tone. "Unless.. Monster hunter.. Slayer.. A Ranger?!", she almost shouted, pointing a finger at him.
Corvin let out a grin. He didn't know why, but he liked when Arikin's profession was stated. He felt proud. He would puff up his chest with a proud smile, but he feared he would embarass his employer.
The Seneschal's eyes widened. "A-A Ranger!", he then looked down and rubbed his chin in thought. "That explains it...", the seneschal murmured.
Arikin just smiled at the two. He didn't deny it, but he didn't confirm it either.
A few moments of silence gripped the group, but then a huge double door burst open. Out came a group
Elves. Some were male Elves, wearing armor with similar designs to Lady Ingrid's dress, and in the middle of them was petite, slender young elf, with blond hair, and high cheekbones. She also wore a dress but not too revealing like Lady Ingrid's.
Corvin's eyes were glued to the young woman. And for a moment, she glanced at him. Corvin's eyes then darted in all directions, but he knew the girl saw it, because she smiled at him. He felt his heart skip a beat. Green eyes stared at him smiling. Red lips, and silky smooth skin. He was entranced.
Arikin saw the exchange, and couldn't help but letting out a sly smile.
Lady Ingrid bowed to Arikin. "I must apologize for my outburst.. It's just rare to see Rangers these days.. If you'll excuse me, I must attend to my companions.", she then stomped towards the group of elves, and then went towards a seating table, presumably to talk about what happened in there.
Corvin's gaze was glued still to the elven girl, but his thoughts were then disturbed though, as a voice came out from the double doors.
"Bennett! Bring the slayer to me!", the voice echoed.
The seneschal then turned to Arikin, and bowed slightly. "Master Arikin, the Lord requests your presence.",
"Very well.. Corvin, stay put, and try to behave.", Arikin requested.
Corvin nodded, and went towards a wall to lean against it.
Arikin followed Seneschal Bennett into the Lord's meeting room. A pair of guards were behind the doors, each wielding a poleaxe and a sword to each of their hips. Both fidgete anxiously, as Arikin entered the room.
Both soldiers felt a little bit unsettled with Arikin's dark presence.
The room was spacious. Huge windows with frosted glass hugged the walls, the light of the sun gently seeping in to the room. On the center, a huge oak table stretched from the entrance, to the far end of the entire room. It was long. Very long. It had a few goblets sitting, and bottles of wine as well. Trays of fruit lay in sequence towards the end of the table.
On the end however, sat Lord Rathkor, clasping a glass goblet filled with wine. The gold crown he wore glittered with red and blue gems in the light shining from the frosted glass beside him. Fur lines coated his cloak, and he wore a comfy looking tunic that was woven expertly.
He nodded to Arikin in recognition. "It's been long Arikin.. Please, have a seat.", He gestured at the chairs that was near him. "You too Bennett.. We have much to discuss with the Ranger.",
The guards interjected, barring Arikin's path. "Sir, your weapon.", one said, pointing at the longsword strapped to Arikin's hip.
"Is it really necessary?", Arikin asked, a brow raised.
"Yes, master. It's protocol.",
Rathkor bellowed from across the room. "It's alright.. I'll allow it.",
"But sire, this rogue-",
A loud thud, echoed from across the room. Rathkor glared at his men. "Arikin is an old friend. No need to confiscate his weapon. Trust me when I tell you this, if he wanted me dead he would have done so already.", he waved his hand in a dismissal gesture. "Leave us.".
"But sire-", the guard interjected.
"Leave us!", Rathkor yelled with a knock to the table. "What we are about to discuss is for our ears only. Now, leave.", he said.
Both guards bowed deeply, then scrambled towards the exit.
Arikin relaxed, and then seated near Rathkor's right side.
"Old friend huh.. I thought I wasn't your friend anymore. ", Arikin sighed.
Rathkor scratched the back of his neck, shifting uncomfortably. "I was overwhelmed with the revelation Arikin. The Rangers bearing demon blood. The way you fight. Your eyes when you kill. Back then, I was certain you weren't human.. The years have gone by though, and more and more I understood why..", Rathkor said, with an apologetic look at Arikin. "I'm sorry.. I was still a child when- ",
Arikin scoffed. "Don't say anymore. Let's get this over with. I doubt you summoned me here to reminisce about the good old days so I'll be blunt. What's the problem?", he said, crossing his arms.
The seneschal was silent, but observing Arikin's every move. He grabbed a goblet, filled it with wine, then passed it onto Arikin across the table. He nodded in thanks, then took a sip.
Rathkor sighed. "Very well then-",
"Your officers were assassinated?", Arakin continued.
"Yes.", He replied, grimly. "The most loyal, and most trusted officers now lay dead in the mortuary. ",
"When did the killings start?", Arikin asked.
"A little more than a month ago.. When the preparations for the blood moon began..At first it was just low ranking officers, but they had potential.. I was keeping my eye on them.. I dismissed their deaths as unfortunate, but next the sargeants went down.. Then, the lieutenants, then the capatains.. ", Rathkor paused, looked at Arikin if he was still paying attention.
Arikin nodded. "I'm listening.",
"I had my suspicions, but I thought it was just my paranoia acting.. Bennett said so as well.", he said, glancing at the seneschal.
"But then, reports started coming in from patrols that a mass of monsters have been gathering near the city.. Nothing like before.. Goblins, ogres, Ratmen.. All kinds of monsters have been gathering.", Rathkor stated.
"That's normal for a blood moon.", Arikin said, shaking his head.
"I'm not finished.", Rathkor said with a scowl. He buried his head in his own arms. "The monsters were gathering under a single banner.. They had weapons, armor. Forged Steel, Arikin.... About 10 thousand of them are ammassing in the wilds, or so the reports say.",
Arikin stood from his seat, his face pale. "Impossible! We killed the Demon king years ago. You and I saw it ourselves.. They shouldn't be able to march under one army. Unless.. No. It's not possible either.. With those numbers, their gear, and the power of the blood moon..", Arikin grimaced thinking about it.
All of Galbrand would be slaughtered if it came to it.
"I know.", Rathkor said grimly. "Which is why I sent another Ranger to confirm if these reports were true.. He hasn't come back. It's been 2 weeks... You see now Arikin?",
"I find it hard to believe.. But what does it have to do with your men's assassinations?",
"Oh , I'm getting there.", Rathkor said. "Since then, my men would end up dead in their homes, or outside taverns. But not by a blade, but by teeth and claw.",
Arikin wiped the sweat from his brow. This was serious. "Damn.", he muttered.
"I know right?.. The one leading this Blood moon army is smart. Or smarter than the big brained goblins at least. He targeted the important officers. My trusted. The last who fell was General Stormgrain. His body was found dead in his room, claw marks all over the place..",
"Where's the body?", Arikin asked, standing up.
"The morgue.. A couple of blocks away from my estate.", Rathkor answered. "Are you planning to investigate?",
"What else?", Arikin replied.
"Wait. ", Rathkor stammered. "Are you offering to help?",
Arikin rose a brow. "What else do I mean? I'm not gonna stand by while a mass of monsters slaughters the city. I'm gonna find the beast that assassinated your men. And I'm planning to extract some info out of it.",
Rathkor gulped as he stared at Arikin's icy sapphire eyes. The hairs on his body stood on end, and uncomfortable chill surged over him. "Alright then.. Bennett! Accompany Arikin to the morgue.".
The seneschal bowed, "And what of the boy Milord? Will he come with?",
Rathkor shrugged. "What boy?",
"I have a companion with me. A relative of the Raven.His son, I think. I'm not sure though.", Arikin interjected.
Both the lord and the Seneschal were wide eyed.
"You mean... The Void Herald? He's still alive?", Rathkor stammered.
"I doubt that. The battle with the Demon lord took a lot out of him.. He didn't even raise the kid. I found him half dead, and was about to be eaten by a lizardkin.",
"And.?", Rathkor asked, waiting for more.
"The boy doesn't know. He doesn't know of his heritage. And I doubt he has the gift either. Carien was annointed by the gods to wield the power. I doubt it would be hereditary.. I plan on training him myself.. ",
"I see.. I thought he had the gift. It would be a great help if he did. So? will you bring him along to the morgue?",
Arikin glanced towards the double door. He heard Corvin laughing, along with a femal voice as well. He grinned appreciatively. He shook his head and replied. "Nah. I think he's having fun with your elven guest.",