Chapter 40: Lords of the hunt Part 3
“What happened? We..almost perished “,J ures responds.
“You see, we did not stand guard. Why would we? We were so far up north, in all those millennia nobody ever came here but us. This was our home. The heart of the hunt, the only structure we ever cared to build, made out of ice from a time before even we set foot in this dimension: The Wild Court.
Our arrogance became our downfall. Silent as thieves they came. And everywhere they went, our blood and flames drenched the ground. Before we knew what was going on, the hunt was thinned by almost a fifth of our numbers. By the time we had driven them out, The Wild Court had lost its colour of blue ice. It was now a deep red. This far north, there was no dawn. Just eternal night. In the shadows of the night, we could not believe what had happened: A third of the hunt, gone. By how many Branded?
Nobody knew. Nor did we knew how they knew where we were. Or how to even get here. What we did know was that Cú Chulain, Lord of the Bloodfjord, greatest of the hunt, was among those who had fallen.
Despite the reservations of so many, those who supported Leurent and The Black took over. Somehow their numbers had stayed almost the same, while those of us who propagated the old ways were decimated. Before we knew, The hunt was no longer free. For the first time, The hunt had a master.
The Masters Of The Black. And The Nightwalker was their Emissary who walked among us. We went where he sent us, did as he told us. The Lords Of The Hunt, were now slaves. At first, it seemed like it went well. With the power of The Black we were able to take down The Branded as if they were children.
Branded fell. Cities burnt. And the air was heavy with despair. This went on for one long year. A year of victories. A year of bloodshed. A year of massacres. A year where the hunt forgot what it was. If anything, we were now a Blood Hunt. But then came the order. We were ordered to go down south, in the area of the world you now know as Japan. Far south we were sent, beyond the island of Hokkaido, the furthest point we had ever been near the peninsula in that part of the world.
To an empty plain. According to the Nightwalker, a gathering of Branded could be found there, and it would be there that we would deal the decisive blow in a conflict that had started to drag on and on.
The Branded were there. Waiting for us. They knew we were coming. The second the hunt left the nightly skies and descended down upon the world, they were upon us. And from hunters, once again, we became hunted. A large battle unfolded, Denizens against Branded, Hunters against Hunted…
And.. Hunt against hunt. As The Branded started to gain on us, I demanded that the Nightwalker jumped in. He only laughed, and said that only the strong survive. And I was weak. That I should have died in the Court of The hunt. Only the strong should have remained. When I heard his words I understood: Cú Chulain, the greatest lord, was betrayed by our own. But who would do this to their own brethren, who could be so blinded?
Another look and we, last supporters of Cú Chulain understood who was responsible. All who knew him instantly connected the dots.Because there was one thing Cú Chulain would never have given up. He would have destroyed it before allowing anyone else to touch it, let alone wield it. Simply attempting to open the weapon cabinet where he kept it was a death sentence. Yet there it was, in Leurents hands: Cae Bolg.
Cú Chulain’s greatest prize and weapon of choice.
I saw all of this in a single gaze, and it all became clear to me: Cú Chulain and Leurent had never seen eye to eye. And as Leurents feelings of hate started to fester, the Nightwalker had whispered to him. About true power, ultimate influence, for the taking…if he had what it took. And so it happened that a group of Branded, knew exactly where to find our fortress, The Wild Court. And how to enter. Who to kill. While all of us had fallen for the promise of a way out, driven by fear, Leurent got consumed by another promise: The promise of power, driven by a thirst for malice. He and The Nightwalker had betrayed us to The Branded, not just that time, but this very night as well.
For the second time we were betrayed to The Branded. We thought we would ambush them. But the reason they knew we were coming was simple: They were told. But that was not the end of the Nighwalker’s plotting. I saw something spreading through the ranks of The Branded: Disbelief, surprise, uncertainty, all pointed at The Nightwalker. And just like that it dawned to me: The Nightwalker and his masters had played both sides. We feared death and extinction. The branded feared our ferocity and our new weapons made from The Black. It would not have surprised me if just like Leurent did within our ranks, The Branded might have had a Leurent and Cú Chulain of their own. And clearly, the Leurents of both sides had won, carefully orchestrated by the one entity both sides considered a useful ally. And like how the attack of The Branded on The Court of The Hunt tilted the scales in the favour of our Leurent, our use of The Black tilted the scales in favour of theirs. Both parties were used to feed the fears and insecurities of the other. To drive us further down a path only The Nightwalker’s masters would benefit from.
I felt rage, immense rage, as I realized all of this and I roared out the most baleful shriek of hatred this world had ever heard! I charged upon Leurent. The hunt was one. Eternal. Lords and brothers. Killing one of us without good reason desecrated the hunt. He had desecrated everything. For a position that we never had. Cú Chulain was followed not because he was our master. Or the strongest. But because his hunts were bountiful. The Scourgelord singlehandedly corrupted all things we held dear. For such betrayal there are no words in any language.
The Nightwalker could wait. Leurent had to pay the price for breaking all that was pure about the hunts. But I did not know about all of the sinister qualities of The Black as Leurent just stood there, taunting me. As far as I knew, Cae Bolg lost its Affinity when Cú Chulain had fallen. This was how it had always been. I was a fool to assume this little fact had stayed the same in a world succumbing to dark festering change. I charged…and fell as Cae Bolg turned pitch black as Leurent threw the weapon at my chest. While I dodged the throw itself, I had forgotten the true power of Cae Bolg: When thrown, it will always strike true. Leurent had used The Black to force the spear into obedience..among other things. As I dodged to the left, Cae Bolg turned around mid-throw to bury itself in the lower half of my back, its tip coming out of my chest. That should not have killed me.
Cae Bolg did not kill me. But The Black did. The dark curse Leurent had placed upon the weapon coarsed through me, ripping my soul, my inner self, out of my body. My body fell, and I stood next to it, bewildered about what just happened. The Scourgelord laughed. I tried to grab him, break his neck, but my arms…they went right through him. Everything went through me..I was dead. A ghost. To never be reborn.
Others started to appear around me, sharing my fate. Lords of the hunt who had chosen my side, fallen below the weapons of Leurent and his faction, Lords who supported Leurent, killed by their own weapons as those of us loyal to Cú Chulain grabbed them and used them against their makers. But also fläemhaz, as they called themselves now, entered our spectral company. Killed by Lords who used Cursed weapons…and killed by other flaëmhaz. We were not the only ones with the power of the black. These branded…fläemhaz…used them as well…against us..and their own kin. The only time Flamehazes were seduced into using the power of The Curse.
It was a slaughter, the ground drenched in blood and flames, the Moon colored red. As everyone slaughtered everyone, we had forgotten about The Nightwalker. Finding him wasn’t hard. In the center of the battlefield, towering on a hill of limbs, blood, corpses and skulls, he stood, arms wide as if wanting to embrace the slaughter. He was..conjuring something. Not with existence, not even with what we knew as The Black. This was far more powerful. It would be like comparing the darkness of the night to that of a massive black hole. He used our despair, our pain and our deaths as seasoning, while our power was the main dish. Then we all knew: We were a sacrifice. This entire battle…was a sacrifice. A sacrifice for something The Nightwalker wished to create.
And what he made was monstrous…”
No sounds can be heard from any side as Jures tells his story. Denizen and Branded, both are as silent as the grave. From here, Shana understands, it was not just the story of the Hunt anymore. It was the story of both. Lords and Flamehazes.
She is holding her breath. She can tell that whatever happened is no small thing. This ancient battle...the names and the history... Somehow she feels as if she is being entrusted with a horrified truth, with something no one else knows. The realisation makes her tremble in some sort of awe and pride… and at the same time fear and somehow repulse. But above all she wants to know more about that first clash with the creatures that would become The Six.
“ What...was created...?” she asks with a bit of hesitation in her voice, knowing full-well that anything needing pain and sacrifice on such a grand scale cannot be anything good..or small.
Chapter 40: Lords of the hunt Part 3
He...created a horror.
Our despair, our hate, our pain…our deaths..from both sides..were a massive catalyst.
Fuel for his dark grand design.
The Nightwalker laughed at us, a laugh ushered in the joy of our torment.
It was probably the first creation you could call a true curse in the world of man. It was nothing compared to The Black he had taught us…not only was this more malicious, powerful…it actually was bigger than any type of Affinity or spell known at that point in time.
You see, even in these days the uses of existence were largely unknown.
We knew we ate it to be able to manifest into this world, we knew it had some interesting capacities, the first crude incantations were just discovered, treasuretools were an entirely new phenomenon all together..it was all child’s play when compared to the thing that was being forced into existence.
This massive…thing…the curse he had wrought…it spanned the night sky..
It was..a gate. No a portal.
And on the other side we saw.. THEM.
I cannot describe them to you as it was a sight that all who were present have since tried to forget.
Even if we once shared the same realm, the same dimension, that was the only common ground we had with these monstrosities.
They were no crimson lords.
They had fallen into something beyond any of us had ever seen.
This was the face of pure evil, destruction, hate..and above all, immense hunger.
Those who had become ghosts, watched.
Those still alive were petrified.
Outwitted, outplayed, manipulated.
We never knew The Nightwalkers true intentions until the end, when the shroud over his plans fell down to reveal themselves in their baleful glory.
This was a ploy created for all to end.
A plot for the end.
And everything would have ended, if not for the fickle machinations of a single person, a very unlikely entity.
Because most petrified of all was The Scourgelord, finally realizing he had been played. Even in his thirst for power, as far as he wanted to go, even Leurent realized that he had been a pawn in a scheme that made his own ambitions insignificant in comparison. Then and there, The Scourgelord realized what he had done. And probably for the first time, he took responsibility for his actions. His mind quickly laid the connection between The Nightwalker, the creatures beyond the gate and The Black, and deduced that they probably had the ultimate control over anything cursed. In a split-second he made his decision.
Standing the closest to The Nightwalker, whose masters were on the verge of setting foot on this world, he grabbed Cae Bolg and whispered:’ Cú Chulain…strike true..through me!’. Knowing that such a terrible act as his, fighting with cursed weaponry, against his own kin, could only be washed away by the ultimate price, he threw Cae Bolg up high as he threw himself at The Nightwalker. The creature laughed as it swept Leurent in the path of his own throw as the Cursed Cae Bolg redirected its path...which was what the Scourgelord predicted. He did not resist as Cae Bolg pierced him like it had pierced me only moments earlier…before leaving his body through his back, burying itself in the head of The Nightwalker, freshly drenched in Leurent’s flames. I do not know if it was The Scourgelords gamble that payed off, if the spear somehow responded to a righteous impulse, if the curse he had placed upon the weapon was so crude that the Nightwalker and his masters could not manipulate it fully, or if it was sheer dumb luck, but it worked. Both fell, one traitor who redeemed himself in his final moments, the other surprised as his foul life disappeared from the face of the earth. Even the mightiest foe can be taken down at the moment when he expects it the least.
With The Nightwalkers demise, the portal started to fall apart. The Curse was not finished, as it needed all of our deaths, Branded and Lord, to work. And it needed The Nightwalker to keep it stable. When they realized the portal was collapsing, The Sixty entities on the other side fought among themselves to get through, to our side. But their numbers were to great, and the portal could barely sustain the passing of one such powerful menace, let alone Sixty of them. As they fought to be the first to set foot on earth, the portal collapsed on itself, cutting one of them cleanly in half. The aftermath was... Apocalyptic.
Where it hit the ground it became toxic, devoid of life, its flame and fire was like a rain of acid, its passing causing thunderstorms as violent as those only seen during the most destructive phases of nature. The portal itself added to the onslaught. Upon its collapse the moon got blacked out, as it sent out dark shockwaves that tore through everything in its path, leveling mountains, raising valleys, boiling rivers and creating lakes overflowing with a toxic miasma of filth. It only took a minute perhaps. But in that moment we saw a glimpse of the destruction these fallen Crimson Gods would bring if they ever managed to set foot in this dimension.
We could do nothing about it. Nothing had survived the portal’s collapse, not within a staggering radius of many miles. Those still alive when the portal collapsed on itself were gone. Not dead, not spectral, not a torch, gone. Entirely. Nothing. You could call it the ultimate disruption of balance. There was just a wasteland without life. And us. Those of us who had died before. Who had become ghosts.
Ghosts on a warped plain of lifeless destruction. Ghosts on a warped plain that would eventually become a twisted forest in the far future.
The hunt was destroyed, and so were all The Branded and fläemhaz who took part in this battle. In a way, The Branded could claim the moral victory, considering all Lords were destroyed, the portal collapsed, and The Nightwalker gone. But if anything it was a pyrrhic victory.
It set back the clock of human civilization for many years, caused the numbers on both sides, flamehaze and denizen to dwindle, both afraid to either enter this world, or to make a pact with something from beyond the world they knew. Japan secluded itself for millennia after, and it took even longer for flamehaze and crimson denizens to appear again, to start history as you now know it. You know the history from the dawn of time. But all of this happened in a time long before that dawn.
Through the ages some of us, those who went beyond the forest, disappeared. Going to far from this place dissolves us. The curse that killed us binds us here. But we also started to fade away…and started to forget. Those who forgot became feral, unable to do anything but claim to their hate, becoming a blight to these lands, a mockery of what they once were. Others clinged to their memories until their memories was all they had, reliving their final battle time after time and again. Sometimes a visitor would appear..to never return to civilization. And all this time more and more of us started to disappear…become mad..a terror…or forgot.
Until Malachite appeared, most of us had close to completely forgotten. I however, was intrigued by him. And thus by my urging we did not kill this visitor, but I appeared to him, spoke to him, and learned from him, how history was written, how we were forgotten, the state of the world as it is right now, and about The Six, as they call themselves now. Over time, we have slowly banded together, Spectral Branded and us, remnants of the Lords of the Hunt. Banded together over a single purpose: To have our vengeance.
We were the hunt.
And now we are nothing.”
As Jures ends his story, the ghosts behind him finally become clearly visible and stop being vague outlines. The Denizens who formed the hunt are a varied bunch, but all instill an ancient primal feeling. Shana sees one with a head that looks like a deer skull, including horns, one that looks like a crocodile with additional teeth on his tongue and eyelids, a snake covered in red feathers who wears a clay mask that depicts the face of a man with a serene smile with closed eyes...even while dead, they pulse an aura of pride. They were true to their nature, even if to the morals of man that made them evil. In a way, they had formed their own culture and ideas about dignity and honor. To man that made them evil. But mostly, they were different.