"A man may give up everything for what his heart desires, but it means nothing if he sells his soul along the way." - Cullis Isle, Third All-light of Alden.
THE moon retreats beneath the stars as the sun takes its place. A cold breeze winds around the rolling hills to the south; a signal of the heavy rain to come. Delicate leaves scattered on the ground bare the words that autumn had arrived.
Lesser creatures of the forest retreated to their homes as war battered boots bludgeoned the wet grass, the hosts of these heels were the proud but deluded Watchers, a band of devout warriors from the Khan Empire. Marching through the forest, they had finally reached the end of their journey; a small croft tucked away beneath a blanket of fog. At the command of a masked man among the warriors, the troops began to disperse around an almost ramshackle farmhouse at the centre of the fields. After forming a circle, the masked barbarian strode forward, landing a few feet away from the front door. "You ran from us for a while, my friend." The man bellowed. The way his voice shook and croaked gave hints of an aged, experienced carl. The man in the mask let out a small chuckle. Resting his hand against the cutlass on his belt, he continued his speech. "But you must've known we'd find you. We always get our man."
Just as he was about to start monologuing, a rugged man in a tattered duster stepped forth from the house. With the dark clouds above them, a gentle rain began to form. The cloaked figure, scanning the soldiers surrounding his home let out a deep sigh, before returning his gaze towards the central warrior. This was no ordinary labourer, The Watchers of Khan were only summoned to apprehend important figures. The man that stood before them was the former Grandmaster of Avalon; Ophilio, the exiled general of the kingdom of scholar warriors. He had long since put down his arms and retreated to a solitary life in the woodlands of Bosco.
The masked man let out another small chuckle, but Ophilio was not smiling. His body was tense and his mouth was twisted into a frown. With a low voice he interrogated the leader of the intruders. "Why have you come here."
"You're a wanted man, Grandmaster." One of the soldiers spat out at the Grandmaster.
"I paid for my crimes long ago." Ophilio replied with a sorrowful tone. "Even if that was untrue, those crimes were the business of Avalon. In Bosco and Khan or anywhere else for that matter I'm an innocent man."
"So you say." replied the masked man, stepping closer towards Ophilio. He began to take off his disguise, revealing the withered face beneath. His hair was long yet faintly grey, accompanied by a rugged beard. Countless scars of forgotten battles rested on his skin. "The woodlands of Bosco are occupied by Khan. You would've known that if you hadn't deserted your weak nation at the start of this war."
"I did what I must. I will not fight a foreigners war." Ophilio's sombre voice began to take on a tinge of anger. "This war is one of greed between Homeguard and Khan. The Avalonians were fools to get involved in your petty fight." The rain was getting heavier, the wind causing the crowd of trees to sweep from side to side. "So I'll ask you again. Why have you come here"
The now unmasked barbarian let his grin fade. If he had been mocking Ophilio before, he was now being completely series and anal with his approach. "I suppose I should introduce myself. I am Richard Leblanc. Liberator of blighted lands, forger of new hope." The look on Ophilio's face quickly shifted. Leblanc wasn't a common soldier, he'd fought countless campaigns for the Khan Empire, conquering foreign lands and achieving great victories for his ruthless homeland. "We've been instructed to hunt down anyone who may be of threat to our great empire, and as it stands exiled Avalonian soldiers have a tendency to join foreign rebellions."
"If I had no interest in fighting a foreign war, what interest would I have in joining a rebellion either?" Ophilio asked.
"No more talk, It doesn't matter if you're helping out the scum of these lands or not. You're Avalonian, and you're a long way from home. Either you come quietly with us and face trial back in the city, or we'll cut you down right here." Leblanc and his troops held their swords in their sheaths, ready to draw if Ophilio tried anything foolish.
"I see." Ophilio sighed, as he took off his duster. Beneath the tattered coat however, he wore a weathered military uniform. "I am Greeves Ophilio, Grandmaster of the realm of Avalon. Exemplar of the scholar warriors of Linden. I will not follow you, for the path you offer is not a fair one. If there's one thing everyone in this conflict filled world can agree on, it's that there's no such thing as honest work in Khan." The duster he had worn concealed the glimmering blade strapped to his side, Ophilio brandished his tool and held it at his side. He was outnumbered completely, and if he were to fight he would surely be destroyed. Leblanc's men reached for their blades, but he gave the signal for them to stand down. This would be his victory, he would bring the filthy Avalonian's head to the Queen Sisters.
"It will be your undoing." Leblanc warned Ophilio, though he knew he wouldn't stand down; he didn't want him to. "Very well, Grandmaster. Just remember that I gave you a choice." Leblanc drew his sword. The two rugged soldiers began circling each other, Leblanc stood with his cutlass at his side, seemingly mocking his opponent, whereas Ophilio stood with his longsword set right infront of him, ready for any strike.
After a few moments of slow pacing, the two set still in front of each other, just watching, anticipating any movement. And then it came.
First Ophilio lunged overhead at Leblanc, who swiftly strafed aside, cutlass still at his side. Ophilio quickly recovered from his failed attempt, and swung his blade wildly at his foe. The former military figure fought like a bear in a trap. He knew his end was coming. Just as he went for another swing, Leblanc quickly jumped forward and lunged his delicate sword towards the bowels of the Avalonian dog who dared challenge his blade, his first strike would be his last. Ophilio dropped his sword and became silent. He looked down at the dark hole in his stomach before kneeling before Leblanc, trying to stay upright. Leblanc crouched at the side of Ophilio. "Disappointing." He sighed, resting his hand on the shoulder of the broken warrior. "I expected a fight with a Grandmaster to be more... grand I suppose." He returned to his feet smiling, and backed away from the dying Avalonian.
"My body may fade from this world, but my soul lives on." Leblanc turned back to the coughing Ophilio, listening to the ramblings of the passing deserter. "This would be your undoing, vile knight. With the last of my spirit I give my soul to the Son of the morning. And now, he comes for you." Leblanc's smile grew larger. "I don't believe in your Avalonian black magic, exile. So you can use your last words for something a little more realistic. Maybe you'd like to beg for forgiveness from your other little fairies you people worship." Ophilio was no longer gasping for air, he'd collapsed completely. The smile on Leblanc's face faded once again. Soldiers came forth and recovered Ophilio's still body, his sword lay red in the wet dirt, his blood mixing with rain. It took only a few moments for the band to clear out of the croft and back into the grizzled woods.
The thick woods rested on the border of Bosco and the heart of Khan. It's vibrant wildlife is a pale opposite to the colossal burning chimneys installed across the region by the occupying empire. The Watchers marched through the forests after their swift victory, led by the silent Leblanc. They must have been at the croft longer than it seemed, for the sky was leaden and the moon was rising; the rain waged on, and fog was gathering between the pines. Suddenly the group stopped, and Leblanc turned to see what had caused the unprecedented halt. A soldier had collapsed, his comrades tried to help him up but he had seemingly fallen unconscious. Another soldier tried to open his eyes, only to reveal nothing but soulless charcoal pupils devoid of emotion. The soldiers helping their fallen brother quickly dropped him, fearing it to be the plague, the fog grew stronger around them.
Whispers arose from the blackening smoke around The Watchers, and the unit became disorganised and panicked. "It's the rebellion, they're using some kind of smoke bombs to ambush!" Soldiers drew their swords and swiped at the mist, but they were far from the truth. A loud cackle arose from fog, and some troops tried to run through it, falling silent. Soon the men who remained inside the fog began to disappear too, Leblanc ran. Behind him a cacophony of screams could be heard, his men hunted by a seemingly supernatural force. He thought on the dying breath of Greeves Ophelio. The curses he laughed off and brushed away like mere insults, voices began to fill his head. He did not know where he was running but he had to escape the fog, he felt as though he was losing his mind inside of its hold. Leblanc couldn't tell which way he was running as the black fog was now impenetrable, he could have been walking in circles. His panting breath was getting louder as his fear began to rise. This unusually calm brute was turning into a frightened animal.
The cries of his comrades fell silent, all that remained was the coal mist breezing past him. Out of nowhere something tripped him, and Leblanc fell to his knees. As he frantically darted around the forest floor to find out who the culprit was, a pair of large eyes appeared infront of him, accompanied by the apparition of a suited figure and an enigmatic shifting voice.
"What is done cannot be undone. A soul has been transferred in payment of a unique service." The voice warped around Leblanc, echoing through the maleficent smoke. "It was a fair fight demon, there was no deception or foul play!" Leblanc tried to barter with the spirit, crawling back away from the eyes. "I beg of you, spare my life. I was just following orders!" The eyes shifted infront of the cowering knight. "It's not about foul play fool, a soul has been taken. And with it a pledge has been made." The apparition started to form into a solid body, brandishing a heavenly trident, unlike any weapon from this world. Leblanc tried to reach for his blade but it was too late, the hulking trident ripped through his torso, lifting him off the ground, Leblanc's body crumpled against the prongs. The spirit released Leblanc's twisted frame from his weapon and slowly began to fade away, along with the mist. The dying barbarian stared at the spirit, his serpent tongue would no longer work.
"Your debt is paid." The creature in the mist stated as it watched the life fade from Leblanc. Ophilio's soul pledge had been completed. The fog dispersed, and so did the rain. The bodies of The Watchers had disappeared completely, and the wildlife returned to their daily survival. The zephyr left by the storm moved the leaves across the forest floor.
Blood on the wind.