For the next three days, he wandered the town and fished at the coast. Being tailed the entire time. He learned the whole layout of the place, the best escape routes and places to hide if needs must. From his room, he’d watch the locals returning from their jobs and found many were coming and going from the church in day and night shifts. This was confirmed further when he ghosted out one evening to see that construction in the church was still happening in the dead of dark.
On the fourth night he decided to see what was inside the church, so again he slipped out of the tavern and in silence de-materialised into the shadows like a spectre born. He wasn’t the best at stealth, but that was because the Hunters standards were so high.
It didn’t take long for him to reach the church and he approached the northwestern corner.
He could sense the dozens of auras bustling about inside. Arken knew the general layout of the churches. Entrance in the south and the priest’s quarters and storage rooms to the north. Arken intended to blink into the storage area, hide among the shadows and listen to them talk. Then once his blink had cooled down, blink outside and sneak back to his room and repeat the process the next night. Then he would leave for reinforcement if he deemed it needed. Arken just hoped he had some information to bring back.
After a long exhale, Arken blinked.
The second he phased into reality, Arken fell. He let out a yell, hit mud and slipped onto his side.
In the next split second, he was on his feet and had taken in his surroundings. Countless locals stood, watching him with undisguised surprise. The entire church had been gutted. And at its epicentre was a vast, strange cone-shaped thing, made from a material Arken had never seen before. It was half built, scaffolding surrounding it, and it crawled with workers. Under it was a hole in the earth, at least twelve metres in diameter with a wooden walkway circling into its depths.
He had finally found the elves and dwarves. They made up the majority of the workers. They were malnourished and dead-eyed with exhaustion. Their stench hit Arken. It made him reel and his eyes water.
‘How did you get in here?’ demanded a balding middle-aged man.
Arken couldn’t begin to think of a reply, and they started to advance on him, their various tools raised.
He raised his hand to summon his sword, but some instinct stopped him. Something wasn’t right, the glazed looks in their eyes, the way they moved. It was almost as though it was against their will.
‘My name is Arken,’ he said raising his hands in supplication. ‘I am a Hunter sent to help you. I am not your enemy.’
They didn’t reply, just continued.
Then they charged.
The first to reach him was a young, big burly human, who swung his shovel at Arken’s head. Arken darted under it with ease, and his sidekick smashed into the man’s ribs. The crunch was wince-inducing, and the man flew into two other locals, sending them to the dirt.
Arken parried the arm of a swinging hammer and his leopard fist uppercut into the soft skin beneath the malnourished elf’s jaw. Arken’s backfist cracked in the cheekbone of a dwarf, and his front kick crashed into the face of a human as she drew back for a hook.
To Arken they seemed to move in slow motion, but it wouldn’t take long for them to surround and overwhelm him.
A human threw a wild hay-maker, so telegraphed it was laughable. Arken caught it with both hands, broke the man’s elbow, then spun and flung him into the human trying to flank the Hunter then the four other locals behind him.
Arken’s round kick sent two attackers crashing to the mud. He followed it with a front kick which broke a man’s jaw and sent him flying, writhing back.
A female elf threw a clumsy kick which Arken back-stepped and a dwarf threw himself at Arken with a roar. The dwarf got an elbow in the face for his trouble, then a back fist to the cheek. Arken felt the zygomatic bone shatter.
Arken blocked a punch from the elf, then ducked a humans hay-maker. He kicked the second attacker’s legs out from beneath him. Arken’s knife hand smashed against the elf’s windpipe; then he shoved him away.
Two large humans rushed him, but Arken slipped aside and tripped one. The man stumbled and bashed into the wall with a cry.
Arken would’ve laughed if he didn’t have to tilt aside a shovel thrusting for his face. Arken grabbed it and tore it from his grasp, before sending the attacker to the ground with a side kick to the guts. The flat of Arken’s new shovel clanged against the spine of a human who was in the midst of punching, then bashed across the back of a female elf’s neck.
None had combat training, few throughout the continent did, and even fewer knew how to fight as a group, to utilise their numbers. But they were learning and soon would start attacking in more than pairs. Not just that, but he couldn’t keep this up forever.
Using the shovel like a quarterstaff, Arken broke a woman’s nose with a jab of the handle and swung it low to take a charging elf off his feet. He parried a man’s swinging hammer with the haft then spun the shovel overhead and bashed it on top the local’s skull. A female dwarf kicked for Arken’s shin, Arken danced away then swept out the shovel, smashing her back.
Arken twisted the shovel, so its edge gouged deep into a man’s elbow in mid punch. The human didn’t have time to cry out before Arken’s hook kick threw him into the crowd, sending many writhing and reeling.
He didn’t sense it, but instinct shrieked it, and he threw himself to the dirt a split second before the lightning coursed through the crowd, killing countless locals on its way to him.
A millisecond later Arken was on his feet and had located the lightning’s source. An old man in plain grey clothes, his raised hand smoking and stood near the hole.
How hadn’t he sensed the attack? No priest nor Hunter, nor original vampire could hide their aura when using magic. That wasn’t possible.
‘What the hell?’ Breathed Arken and the pause caused the weariness to hit him. Then came the hissing, the hissing which erupted through his ears. Pain coursed through his head. It caused him to stagger and clutch at his skull.
‘Surrender, Hunter,’ the old man bellowed, his hand still raised.
Arken couldn’t reply as he tried to shake it all away. His limbs seemed to leaden, and his vision began to blur.
‘We do not want any more violence,’ said the man as he started to approach. ‘I do not wish to kill any more of my people and do not wish to kill you. Your skill is great; you will be a great asset.’
Arken fought to keep his feet, his brain throbbed, and blood streamed from his nose.
‘What? Who?’ Arken managed through teeth clenched so tight he couldn’t help fear they’d crack. The crowd began to close on him.
‘Are you wondering who I am, Hunter?’ said the old man. ‘I was once a man who dedicated himself mind and soul to the light of Jaroai. But I and all of us have seen it as the falsehood it is. That it is a lie.’
Arken roared, summoned his sword and exploded into a charge. Despite the pain in his head and his aching limbs, in a split second, he was behind the priest, his blade held an inch from the priest’s throat.
The priest gasped and froze.
Arken grinned. ‘Tell your pawns to step down. Now.’
‘This will get you nowhere, fool.’
‘If you don’t do it, you will never get anywhere, ever again.’ Arken emphasised this by edging the sword closer to the priest’s neck, causing him to flinch.
The locals were approaching. They didn’t show any fear for their leader, just set determination.
‘How?’ said the priest. ‘How are you able to resist?’
‘Resist, what?’ growled Arken, the buzzing was getting worse. ’Make...them stand down. Or I’ll give you another smile.”
The priest smiled and said a word in a language Arken had never heard before, and as one the advancing mob stopped, their heads drooping forward.
‘I suppose it doesn’t matter,’ said the priest. ‘You will give in to it, eventually.’
’What is ‘it’? What’s down the hole?′ Arken snarled, shaking his head again. ‘Tell me!’
‘Why would I tell you, Hunter?’ said the priest. ‘When I can show you.’
His blade still near the priest’s throat, they began down the walkway. Their footfalls echoed ominously through the blackness, no matter how light Arken tried to tread.
‘How were you able to hide your aura?’ Arken demanded. Every syllable was a struggle, and he wiped the blood flowing from his nose. The hissing turned into a buzzing, his brain was no longer throbbing in his skull, but thundering, so much so he couldn’t hear the priest’s response.
‘I said, there is no point in telling you. You will see for yourself soon enough.’
Arken grimaced as he had to fight the sudden compulsion to let the priest go.
‘Ahh yes,’ said the priest. ‘You need not fear me; I just wish to show you the Truth. I will not hurt you; please let me go. I am not evil like you believe.’
‘You killed your own people!’ said Arken as his sword arm started to lift away.
The priest shrugged. ‘They-’
Arken interrupted him by bashing him over the head with the sword’s hilt. The priest collapsed, unconscious.
Straight away, the buzzing and throbbing weakened.
With heavy breaths, Arken wiped the blood from his face, stepped over the priest’s sprawled form and continued down.
Down into the unknown.