A once beautiful, radiant field reduced to a soulless crater of gray despair. It was the unbearable result of "the battle scarred by the devil's claws," a reminder to the human race of the loss they had suffered, of the hatred that would result in a bitter, eternal struggle. The Gaist Clachan Brotherhood vanished from human eyes after that battle out of the fear of being terminated. It was alleged that they still existed, but that was the last the humans ever saw of them. No kingdom ever rebuilt near those ruins, unable to face the horrifying image of such a terrible slaughter.

The grass was reduced to shriveled strips of lifeless waste, limp and dead. The air remained completely still, denied the wind and motion of life, and a morbid silence settled over the valley. The animals that once trotted over that field, animating its existence, now strayed as far as possible. It remained unaffected by the world around it, a moment in time left to die on its own. It would remain for ages the same, perhaps one day regenerating, but engraved forever in the minds and hearts of the people. It was the beginning of a timeless war.

Twenty-seven years had passed since the day the highlands were scarred, and a new breed of soldier walked among the norm. The human hatred toward the vampire race had spawned a new force to oppose them: the vampire hunters. Most of them hunted only the turned, or in other words, the lowly undead humans turned vampire by the dark sorcery of the pureblood. Many of them were conceited, becoming overzealous in their attempt at assassinating the elder pureblood, losing their lives in the process. However, there was a stronger type, a rarity chosen by an unseen force to defend the human species. Destiny and fate favor no mortal life, and it was time for the humans to rise above their fear.

The night was rocked and shaken by a chaotic storm above, most unpleasant on a voyage overseas. The ship left the shores of Scotland for the port of Bergen, Norway five days before, carrying with it passengers of an odd nature, but that was to be expected. Bergen was a huge center of trade, and relatively new, so it was bound to attract all types, shady or not. One man, in particular, made the mood most uneasy.

The storm eventually calmed, though never quite stopping, slowing to a weighty drizzle. The raindrops battered the wooden surface of the ship, and they contacted one man, isolated away from the rest of the passengers who had retreated into the cabin and below decks. He was a hunter, one that many had come to fear and despise. He was Alastair Logan, former soldier of a Scottish kingdom that he had made an effort to forget, yet was constantly reminded of.

He was one of the few who had actually seen the horrible sight of what many had come to call "the field of blood," rather than hearing of it from stories. It was far more gruesome that any story could have explained, and he saw it while it was fresh, lined with corpses and the spills of battle. He saw there his younger brother, as white as snow, and a look of horror locked upon his face. He was brutally pulled from life, and remained a tortured, empty vessel.

His brother was the last of his family, and now, even he had been ripped from his grasp. It was then that he decided, at the end of his desire or ability for pleasure in life, that his destiny was to hunt and destroy the people of the dark. His pain would never dissolve, and any number of kills wouldn't change that. He could only fight for those who still lived, those who still had a chance. He was no longer human, but a demon, a finger of the hand of fate that pointed to the icon of his hatred, and there smote them.

The night was still dark, but the passengers could make out slight details of him in the brief flashes of lighting. He wore a deep red cloak made of a thick cloth, and its weight had tripled with the rain. His hood was up, completely obscuring his face in its shadow, and beneath the cloak, the dull shine of his iron greaves, gauntlets and breastplate, tough leather patched over in d├ęcor. His broad sword was sheathed at his side, and in the belt were sheathed a series of throwing knives. A buckler shield was attached to his left gauntlet, covered tightly in the same leather as his armor.

Many within the walls of the cabin chose to ignore him, certain that if they let him be, he would not harm them. Still, there were the few that were fascinated by his presence. They watched him from the small windows, having never before seen a hunter. The stories they were told were embodied before them, the rumors that their stare was unnerving, and the tales of soldiers unknown, dark, and menacing.

He felt their combined stare as well as their nervous tremble, but he was unaffected. He could feel the same mood hanging in the air everywhere he went, in one form or another. When near other humans, he knew they feared him. When near vampires, he could feel their hatred. He had trained his senses to their peak, and by now, he was well used to the glum feeling of isolation. In fact, he preferred it. As far as he was concerned, humans only got in the way, and the ability to sense his prey was all the more convenient.

Alastair had been standing in that same spot for days, moving only to take of bread and water. The storm never effected him, as he was deep in thought about his next victim, the vampire rumored as a "shadow wraith that loomed in the forest near town." Unfortunately, that was all he knew so far, other than the fact that many had been vanishing from town since the first sighting several years ago. It had made Bergen a fearful place to live. His presence, as intimidating as it was, he thought, might bring about a sense of relief. He cared not to ease the pain of the villagers, but for the fact that questioning might be easier.

The waves turned and rolled restlessly for hours on end, bringing most of the passengers to paranoia and fear, not to mention nausea. Yet, still, Alastair remained unaffected. As the storm quickened and slowed, growing heavier, then subsiding from time to time, the trip began to seem far longer, and the families traveling together huddled close in self protection. How fragile they seemed to him, when only a simple storm and a bit of rocking could break their nerves asunder. They needed protection, and only his kind could do so.

The pattering of raindrops on his shoulders eventually stopped after several hours, and he looked upward to the heavens from under his dark hood. The clouds had separated into wispy strands, and the moon hung low, a deep silver eye that stared into the depths of the ocean below, and in that, captured the ship in its gaze. Around and beyond it was the familiar, yet almost forgotten sparkle of the stars, and they dazzled the night. In their perilous trip, the passengers had nearly forgotten the serenity of a clear night sky, and needless to say, it calmed their hearts. Certainly, it was beautiful, but to Alastair, it meant nothing. Worldly beauty, to him, was only circumstantial, and it meant nothing. All poetic symbolism was wasted on him since the death of his brother, and the death of his love of life.

Alastair shrugged at the sight, wryly grimacing at the thought that anyone would think highly of it. He lowered his head and set his gaze on the shoreline ahead. There shone the flames of torches and candles that illuminated the roads, the bazaar, the rest of the town, and above all of it, the brilliant flash of the towering lighthouse. The rest of the passengers were ecstatic; several nights of treacherous winds and waves had left them at a lack of sleep, as well as with an intense desire for solid ground beneath their feet. Even the soothing sounds of the ocean can become insufferable after such a voyage.

After several minutes of a careful docking, the crew of the ship dropped anchor and roped the ship to the docks, lowering a large plank-like bridge for the passengers to disembark. The attention had finally directed itself away from Alastair, but the passengers, still suspicious, strayed as far from him as possible. He was, after all, a hunter. Not many trusted his kind.

The docks and harbor bustled with life, shady characters of all types having emerged to cheat the newcomers out of their money in any way they could. Several bards stood in different positions at well placed distances, each playing a mystical tune that they'd hoped would charm their audiences' coin pouches lighter. Many fraudulent traders made their presence known as well, eager to sell what were clearly stolen or faulty items at a price they so energetically announced as "a steal." Like cattle, of course, the fools flocked by the dozens. As predictable as it was, Alastair thought it repugnant. It was times like these that he questioned protecting such loathsome creatures. Still, the sight did remind him of his past, and of his brother.

His childhood was a dark, cold one. His village was oppressed under the rule of a cruel territorial Lord, and living was anything but easy. Homes were filthy, taxes were outrageous, and fresh food and water were a rarity. To make matters worse, in his early youth, the village suffered the vampire menace, and at the time when they were only considered a superstition. There were many abductions, and most were never seen again; the ones that were, only in the form of mutilated corpses.

As rough as survival already was, most in the village refused to fret over superstition. Most of the disappearances went undetected, most of the families cared too little for the others in the village to even bother investigating. Alastair's parents were two of those unfortunate victims left to their fate, and he, along with his younger brother Malcom, was left to fend for himself, homeless and wandering.

The two left town and never looked back, hitching a ride on a merchant's wagon headed for a much busier, livelier city near the central kingdom. Still, life was rough. Hospitality was far less than common, and they were reduced to petty thieves. Merely to survive, they were forced to pilfer apples and bread in the market for food, often being caught and suffering beatings from the shopkeepers. Many times, they had robbed the richer of the inhabitants in back allies with daggers, and they had even taken a few by force.

Survival only became easier for them when they became soldiers of the king's army, but that was only survival. Life was just as rough. They were still looked down on by the others, spat on, called tramps, ne'er-do- wells. They had nothing, but they had each other. They trusted each other completely, and were always there for one another in times of pain and happiness. They were the best of friends until Malcom's recruit into another army, the army of the Kingdom of Lonely Winds, and their separation. That was the last time Alastair ever saw his brother alive.

They weren't good memories by any means, but they were his, and they were theirs. They were something he and his brother had shared, and they were a reason for him to keep going, to keep fighting. Even if his existence was denied by his fellow man, even if his self-importance had been ruined, and he lived only for vengeance, those memories kept him alive, and kept Malcom alive in his heart. Every harbor of every town reminded him of his life before, and his spirit burned with an eternal dedication.

Alastair took in the sight for a few moments and headed off of the bridge, pushing his way through the crowd that had gathered near there. His haste resulted in rude pushing and shoving, and it earned him several glares, but he didn't care. He didn't need their compassion or their company. Truly, he hated them all, but it wasn't them he defended. Those ungrateful swine knew nothing of common courtesy. Not one of them deserved a hero.

Finally past the crowd, he headed over the stone road for the gates to the town. If he didn't need more information on the location of the vampire, he wouldn't have spent another moment around those dreadful crowds. Their presence was a foul stench that hovered around him, on that he couldn't avoid. He would never come to care for them; he could only tolerate them for the sake of cooperation.

For so long, he swore to himself that he would protect the human race, but it was clear that his reason for becoming a hunter was far closer to heart. At its very core, it was for nothing more than vengeance and hatred. Yet, he would remain humble, noble. His reason, if he could truly find one, would remain shrouded under his cool, unforgiving exterior, for beneath it all, only hope kept him alive. Hope for a better future, hope for the souls of his family, and hope that eventually, after a long journey of murder and discontent, his blade would find the heart of his brother's killer.


In the Shroud of Hope