My research indicates that there are four true rulers to the realms of monsters. They are known among their denizens as the four queens. — Greg’s Journal, pg 37.
An entire city ablaze. Fires, created by our own hands, stretched from horizon to horizon. The screams of families being torn apart tainted the air like a sick melody. Husbands and sons being ripped away from wives and daughters to be used as the monster army pleased. Dark Matter demons float around in the streets below, their tentacles corrupting any human within their reach. The screams of terror change and warp into the moans and screams of sick heretical pleasure, and there is nothing I can do about it.
The castle great hall is all buy empty now, all that remains a grizzled old hero with his scratched and dented armor, and me with mine. Tattered and charred banners of the Order hang by their last threads or lay in heaps on the floor. Chunks of white marble cover the crushed and cratered stairs and floor broken up only by pools of demon blood and corpses. All that lies between us and the vile demons raping and corrupting our fellow heroes and paladins are a pair of massive double doors sealed shut by a pile of rubble. That is the only reason we’re still human.
We lost them. We lost every last one of them.
“Pops we can still help-”
He puts his hand on my shoulder, but there is no warmth in it. No sense of reassurance. He held onto me like he was trying to stabilize himself, as if his age had finally caught up to him. His voice, deep and powerful like a landslide, is tainted by a tinge of something alien. Was it fear?
“Ah shit, I had hoped… It’s been an honor serving with you Smiles, but you hav’ta look at the facts son.”
“How can you give up? What about our pledges?”
“I’m not giving up boy! We can’t-” The room shakes and some of the debris blocking the doorway falls away. “We don’t have much time. No, you don’t have much time. Go, if anyone can rally humanity it’s you.”
A heavy thud echoes throughout the chamber causing dust to fall down from the rafters. I see Pops’ pupils dilate, we both know only a few types of demons are capable of breaking through all that rubble.
A enchanting female voice lingers in my mind, like it’s not part of this world.
I can’t relax!
Pops pushes me towards the rear exit, “Smiles take the sewers out of the city. Once you’re free you must head west to the port town Sanddeep, there talk to Father Jacobs. Tell the good father what’s happened, he’ll known what to do.”
“I’m not leaving you here to these monsters!”
“You don’t have a plowing choice! Get going!” He shoves me through the door and slams shut behind me. An explosion rips through the great hall and I can feel chunks of stone and wood pound against the door. I can’t let it end like this. My friends…
Pops unleashes his righteous war cry, “Plowing white wings like you ain’t no match for a real hero!”
I my legs are shaking to such an extent that my armor clacks like church bells. I need to move. The sewers. The basement, that’s where the sewers are. I feel something press against my lips, but it feels detached, as if its from a memory. The sweet taste of strawberries lingers like an after image. My muscles relax and my mind clears. I must escape through the sewers, reach Sanddeep, and talk to Father Jacobs. My vision begins to fade to black and the sensation of floating overcomes me.
The crackling of embers become clear through the darkness, then the sensation of lying down on a soft bed. A blurry face in a blurry world looks down at me as I open my eyes for the first time in what feels like ages. My whole body is stiff like I haven’t moved in days. Joints pop and snap with every movement made. Cool air fills my lungs giving me the spike of awareness I need to shake off the grogginess and clear my eyes.
The howl of the winter winds, the familiar scent of burning pine, I’m still in the cabin. Sitting up I feel the blanket that was covering me slip down followed by the sensation of cool air flowing over me. I am bare-ass naked. My eyes dart around looking for my clothes-
The sharp piercing sound of stone sliding across metal cuts through the air. Sitting in the only chair in the room is this strange figure. It looks almost like one of the Order’s inquisitors. The figure wears a thick midnight blue ankle length coat with buckles down the center to its waist. The lower half of the coat falls away to reveal thick dark brown wool pants. The person rests heavy knee-length black leather boots, that have seen many years of harsh environments, on the table in the center of the room. A cloak, composed completely of what must be large black harpy feathers, drapes over their shoulders and spills over the sides of the small wooden chair. Thick black leather swordsmen gloves grip onto the hilt of a bastard sword and a whetstone. What unsettles me the most is its mask. It looks like a leather full-head mask with a large bird beak and slightly tinted glass lenses. On top of that, it wore a wide-brim inquisition hat.
With one slow deliberate motion, the person slides the whetstone down the edge of the well-worn blade, “Why, I wonder, did a Banished One kick in my door, and then promptly fall into a deep, yet fitful, slumber?” Its voice sounds like a harsh, drawn out, whisper that sends chills down my spine. The feeling of dread bubbles in my chest. Could this person be a demon? No. If they were I would be restrained in some manner.
“Where are my clothes and gear?”
The person returns to sharpening their blade in that unsettling slow fashion, “Is that all the thanks I receive for letting you stay and watching over you for two days and a night? No matter, it is to be expected from a Banished One. I have placed them by the fire to dry, I did not want my bed to become wet and thus rot.”
So they were, and person even took the liberty of polishing my plate and oiling the leather.
“What is it you want?”
There is the briefest moment of hesitation in their rhythmic sharpening, “We are not so different banished one. We hunt, and we are hunted. At night I could smell your hunter, hear her prowling around outside my cabin.”
“Then be out with it.”
I sense their body stiffen, but they continue regardless, “My prey is the vampire Countess Elizabeth Beaumont of Ironwall. She rules the small city with an iron fist, but without the fairness and compassion towards its people to justify it. She lets her guards loose at night where-”
“Enough, you had me at vampire” I stand, wrapping the blanket around my waist to not be indecent. “How do we get to this Ironwall?”
The person rasps and shakes a few times, almost like a laugh but far more eerie.
“We must head through the Falconcliff pass to the north. There is said to be a yuki-onna that lives there along with a myriad of other creatures that you’ll have to be wary of. The winter winds are particularly violent there, Banished One, we must be quick and careful if we wish to avoid dancing with the damned and demonic of the afterlife.”
I inspect my dagger, the only reminder I have left from days long past. The nostalgia and accompanied joy, sorrow, and pain swell in my chest and for a moment I can’t breathe. Two years is a long time to be alone, even for me.
“Who are you?”
“I forfeited my name when I became a hunter.”
“Then you are Raven.”