A/N: Welcome to The Bell Keeper, a story collaborated between three individuals, Athyra, ghikiJ and AdrenaVeris.
This tale is set in Drasgard, a fantasy world that combines the properties of classic fantasy and sci-fi, as well as influences from anime, manga and RPG games. The races of the people are divided into Feline, Canine, Herbivore, Insect and so on. They have certain characteristics of their species - for example, Felines have whiskers, Insects have antennae, and most of them have tails and furry ears. Some of the themes in this story are racism, corruption and war, as well as various other issues mirroring our world.
Athyra: Our primary website is on devianart, which is set as the homepage on our profile. The site contains various artworks that could be quite helpful in visualizing the story's content, such as maps, character concept arts and more. Readers are more than welcome to visit the site. Without further ado, here is the opener of TBK.
Warning: Violence, aspects of war
Prologue - Blood of the Conquered
Pleading screams for mercy, thunderous roars of agony and indiscriminating detonations erupted and sliced through the stagnant air. A strife of blood and lust for power have consumed everything, dyeing everything in discernible shades of black and crimson.
A vicious cycle that ceaselessly haunted the souls of the survivors, seeking a resolution to this endless turmoil.
Golden eyes slowly opened and glowed fiercely within the darkness.
The world was rendered silent, vanquishing nightmares of the past into the serene night itself.
A quiet sigh joined the gentle breeze that rustled the leaves hanging over a silhouette, washing away these horrendous images as if they never existed.
Nothing would remain without anyone to remember the bloodshed.
Cool, slitted pupils glimmered as a scarred hand forcefully clenched, sharp claws digging into skin and drawing out warm, slick blood. The vermillion droplet trickled down the fingers, along the nails and landed upon the grass, soaking into the ground and vanishing from sight.
This was the first of the night.
And he will deliver the last one.
"We are ready."
The towering shadow solemnly turned to face the newcomer's stormy brown eyes, a rumbling snarl coming out of his curled lips and further distinguishing those unusually long fangs that extended to his chin.
"Took you long enough."
However, the harsh reprimand was nullified when the man lightly punched his companion's shoulder, the quiet thump breaking the tension in the air as they chuckled amiably. Their blithe laughter belied the dreadful turmoil brewing in their minds yet the simple, lively sound was all they needed to exchange in order to appease their inner demons. With firm, confident steps, the two men headed back to the campsite, their shadows fusing seamlessly with the shifty shades casted by the canopies.
In a flat clearing surrounded by natural camouflage of thick foliage were hundreds of men, split into many smaller groups. The ground was littered with weapons and supplies, so haphazard was the way they were strewn about without any apparent concern. Their owners laughed and chatted, voices hyped with adventurous thrills and nonchalance at this seemingly simple gathering. The weak embers in the lamps distributed throughout the area were dim, overwhelmed by the encompassing darkness. However, the little rays illuminating the campsite, bright and vivid with life, captured the animated visages of these men in a sacred glow.
Amber flares flickered in the golden orbs of the taller shape emerging from the shadow, warming as they glanced over these silhouettes with distinctive faces that stood out to his mind. Wild, bronze mane draped over his wide shoulders that were clad in asymmetric and impenetrable pauldrons and thick layers of iron plates. The armors were shaped like a horned bird of prey and a fanged beast, which further increased the intimidating presence of this towering figure. A wide scar stretching diagonally from his left brow to his right cheek whispered the ruthlessness of the war that he fought in and the strength of the man who survived to bear the brand.
Upon the entrance of Hector Arthland, the leader of the Rebellion, the joking atmosphere dissipated.
Previously discarded weapons were now sheathed and cradled in their owners' arms like lifelines. Eyes glowered vivaciously with respect and fell upon the invigorating form of their chief. Silence permeated the air as the rebels waited calmly for the Sabertooth to break it, gleams of pride and steel glimmering in their piercing eyes. They were no longer simple civilians having casual conversations.
They were fighters already drenched in the strife of blood.
Grinning, the rebel leader broke the ice by heartily punching his second-in-command's shoulder, making the massive Alsatian sigh in exasperation. This simple gesture lifted the heavier tension stifling the air as their comrades shifted, their expressions light in humor and good spirits.
"Tal here is always late, isn't he? Kept you guys waiting, didn't I?"
Talskhan Alsace flicked his ears in mock annoyance. "Not my fault you always sneak off somewhere before each battle."
"It's a leader's right to brood, ain't that right, eh?" Hector jerked his hand towards the sea of men as if waiting for their agreement. The rebels chuckled earnestly at the Sabertooth and Alsatian, used to their silly and out of place banters that always preceded each battle.
Heartened by his comrades' response, the rebel leader cleared his throat and let out a short, low growl. Instantly, the men quieted down and watched him attentively.
"Alright. There are many things I could say...many things I should say right now, but I will not repeat the same speech back at our headquarters. The words vary but the meaning never changes. They are drilled into your souls. So, I'll keep this brief, comrades." Though his words were light and dabbled with humor, his tone was dipped with suppressed fury and restlessness. "Tonight, we will free Drasgard from that pathetic excuse of a cat."
His scornful jab at the current Tyr of Tyradum caused some to snicker and others to nod fervently. Hector smirked briefly before a dark snarl replaced his previous voice, golden eyes now blazed in severity.
"Ruryk Behelmeth Cardinal VII, the tyrant of the Feline Empire, destroyed the fragile balance maintained for countless decades by the Symvolo. His racial discrimination against hybrids and non-felines is cruel to the extreme, as many of you have witnessed or experienced."
Pausing, he glanced at the Insects, Reptiles and Herbivores under his command, allowing a moment of reminiscence as they gritted their teeth in unrest and utter rage. Hector grimaced as horrors he had seen the people of this land suffer under the dictator's rule flashed in front of his eyes. Towns and villages were completely annihilated with no survivors, all in the name of cleansing Drasgard of inferior races. Shackled prisoners were paraded around the streets like common animals to be ridiculed, their spirits shattered by ceaseless taunts. Expendable experiments were discarded like trash once their usefulness ran out, their broken bodies and blank eyes decomposing into nothingness as if they never existed. Such atrocity and injustice brought by the Tyr's reign must be stopped once and for all.
"His ambition knows no bounds. His own people are oppressed and exploited, suffering from the fall of the economy because of heavy taxing yet he still plans to expand his influence until the whole world is under his control. Drasgard is tittering towards its doom."
Hector watched his comrades with a look of fortitude that was returned earnestly. Their grim silence roared their anxiety, fear, and desperation for the resolution of this war. Their weary gazes were dull and tarnished from countless bloodshed, yet they still shimmered brightly, polished by conviction of their minds and hope in their hearts.
"What have we been fighting for? Revenge? Bloodlust? No," he narrowed his eyes and raised his fist up in the air as a preamble for the inevitable victory at hand. He unclenched it to reveal the maroon crescents on his palm, wounds that were already scabbed.
"We're liberating Drasgard from this insanity," he slowly closed his fingers as if to grasp the light filtering between the leaves granted by the omnipresent moon, "tonight."
As his guttural snarl faded into the night, his hand lowered and rested on the hilt of the claymore strapped on his back. The quiet clang of his gauntlet clashing against the iron handle echoed through the clearing, snapping and awakening something primal in each and every one of their minds.
"The Tyr is located in the Nargtien Barracks," Hector grinned fiercely at the exuberant sheen in his comrades' eyes, "We'll take him down and end this war once and for all!"
The rebels all thrust their arms into the air as a silent roar, the inaudible sound resounding thunderously in the Sabertooth's ears. He puffed his chest in sheer pride, his throat rumbling with utter confidence as he gazed at his army. They have overcome impossible odds and surmounted pernicious onslaughts to reach this far. The ghosts of the perished howled for divine retribution. The bloody path they paved with their lives must reach its destination.
He could taste their impending triumph on his parched tongue.
Wordlessly, Hector Arthland swung around and marched through the darkness with his cloak billowing behind him and his comrades following him faithfully without any hesitation. Talskhan walked next to him with his characteristic, unfaltering smile, effortlessly boosting the men with absolute fearlessness.
Once they left the blanket of the shades, golden eyes immediately focused on the Nargtien Barracks in the vicinity. It was a recently built fort with more than half of its domain still under construction. Supplies must be furbished as well as artillery and manpower in order to complete this station. It was meant to be a simple rest point for cargo deliveries between the metropolis Middleport, the largest port in Riphaeus and capital of Tyradum, Artexercos. However, no matter how deceptively simple the layout appeared to be, this new stronghold's proximity to the capital of Riphaeus, Kaltrea, was too suspicious to be ignored. The barracks were definitely not a simple rest stop.
Golden eyes narrowed warily at the watchtowers surrounding the perimeter and the veterans of war, keen and alert for any signs of intruders. These guards could prove to be a hindrance yet their presence brought a ferocious grin to Hector's face rather than filling him with consternation.
These seasoned fighters were stationed here because the Tyr was somewhere inside the building, right here, right now.
The Rebellion leader haughtily flicked his tail as if to start the timer to the feline's inevitable demise. A sense of invincibility surged through him as he etched this very moment into his mind, each and every sensation that he felt at this turning point of history.
Truly, it was a fine dark night for a raid on this desolate barrack, for the nature itself was the charm for their imminent victory. From behind the anxious wisps of clouds, the ubiquitous crescent moon casted a gentle veil of light over the restless rebels to quench the brewing disquiet in their hearts. Spotlights flashing over the treetops from the turrets were nothing more than the glittering stars dotting the tenebrous sky in a silent encouragement for their daring assault. Even though the high walls were crawling with guards, they were mere audiences blending into the background, unaware of the shadows slithering and converging around them. The quiet clatters of the foot soldiers marching to a practiced beat were their foreboding requiem as the invaders calmly advanced towards their positions. A cool breeze brushed by their tense ears and tails, bringing their pulsing blood into a higher boil. Their painstakingly prepared stage was set, even the impartial gale heralded the cue to start this war.
Now, Hector must raise the curtain.
The Sabertooth's tail flicked again as he signaled for his comrades to get in position, intent on taking the blood of their foes so silently like the first droplet that trickled from his own palm. It would be a terrible risk in alerting the enemies of their arrivals but the watchmen must be assassinated first if the rebels wished to even approach the fort. He flashed encouraging grins towards his best snipers, confident of their skills. Before the entire stronghold was notified, his men would rush in and eliminate anyone who stood in his path to the Tyr.
However, before Hector could give the order, the previously numb wounds on his palm tingled ever so slightly and caused him to falter in his movement. The phantom and foreboding pain drenched him with tingling unease as his ears flicked about to detect the possible source of disturbance. The hackles on his neck rose in trepidation and he instantly looked up to the ominous sky.
He narrowed his eyes, uncertain, as he tried to decipher the distant dot that seemed to increase in size by the passing moments.
Cold realization struck him.
But it was too late.
An eruption of searing wind blasted by his right side and tossed him back into the woods like a helpless kitten, slamming him against a thick tree trunk and knocking the breath out of him. Disorientated, he immediately held up his arms to shield his face from scorching drafts but nothing could prevent the foul stench that drilled through his nostrils. The pungent scent of blistering flesh stung the Sabertooth's nose just like the bitter taste of remorse drenching his tongue. Deafening explosions continued to echo around him, throwing his army into further disarray.
He dared to peek through the gap between his arms and the terrible sight was flooded with a hollow sense of dread. A whole flock of raven-like silhouettes dove from the sky and converged on them like rabid scavengers, crazed with the taste of death. These bloodthirsty bombs seemed to be alive, seeking out the rebels like baying hounds and leaving only destruction at their wake. Chunks of flesh and limbs were flung about like discarded meat while roars of agony reverberated through his psyche, as if to mock him for his failed ambush.
The sentries from the spires relentlessly fired these horrendous shells towards the woods and picked off any stragglers who survived the initial assault with deadly accuracy and precision. Modified arrows pierced through armors as if they were paper, and bullets blew up inside their targets to give them no chance for recovery. Columns of smoke sprung up from all the craters created by the explosives, burning all the warriors who were trapped and too injured to escape.
Filled with vengeful wrath, Hector's claws dug into his palms and drew blood once more, using the pain to quell the panic rising in his mind. Perhaps it was a spy or someone betrayed them to the military. Either way, his rebels were getting slaughtered like livestock. Pandemonium must be contained and order must be restored. A guttural snarl rumbled through his throat as determination and hope gripped his body. Subtlety was no longer necessary, none of them needed to restrain themselves anymore. His thunderous roar sliced through even the mightiest of explosions as he grabbed a spiked missile and catapulted it towards the watchtower.
"Take them out, now!"
His command resounded clearly through the battlefield and soon enough, the rest of the rebels bombarded their targets with all the projectiles they had. Even though the enemies heard his order and attempted to evacuate or return fire, Hector's snipers were already gunning them down one by one. Gradually, with the rebel leader leading the attack, none of the towers remained standing and allowed the small army to charge in for direct confrontation.
Hector could see the Tyradum troops rushing to intercept them, cannons and blades gleaming under the crimson moonlight. He lifted his claymore off his shoulder and marched past unmoving bodies, ignoring the brilliant vermillion gushing from fragmented flesh and averted his gaze from vacant eyes staring into the night sky. There was no time for repentance or grief.
There was only strife of blood.
A familiar presence fell in steps beside him, guarding his back as he aimed at the cavalry leaders with the mini-cannon strapped on his forearm. Fearlessly, he stormed through the enemy lines, shielding himself with his claymore and stabbing any soldier who dared to bar his way with his daggers. Even though he was a mere dot in this chaotic battleground, Hector felt peaceful with his body reacting on instincts and experience. His army surrounded him like a protective barrier as they rammed through the frontlines like a tank.
In spite of the tremendous loss they suffered, victory could still be claimed. A plan swiftly formed in his mind while he continued to lead his men, commanding them with simple flicks of his tail.
"Tal, what's the casualty?"
"Half of us," the Alsatian's voice was somber yet smooth as he made his report, "Unless we break through their formation, we'll never make it to the central building."
"Cover for me," Hector glanced at his second-in-command, whose left shoulder was bleeding from a metal spike still impaled in his person, "Once you see me go inside, retreat and regroup."
"I'm not abandoning you, Hector! There's just too many of them-" Talskhan barked vehemently but was silenced with hard stare from his friend.
"Tal, you must," the Sabertooth grunted in annoyance when his cannon ran out of ammunition. He immediately unstrapped the weapon and jammed it into an enemy's open mouth. Wordlessly, the Alsatian shoved the unfortunate soldier away and fired at the discarded armament. Another rebel quickly used the exploded carcass as a shield and bulldozed into the opposing formation. Hector smirked proudly at his comrades' composure and efficiency, in spite of the damage they have suffered.
"It'll be all over once I get to the Tyr," the rebel leader calmly pressed a button on the hilt of his sword. The blade splits horizontally so there were two blades almost superimposing on top of the other. He deftly held it up to block a bullet and instantly swung the claymore, carving a crimson path through any thick armor. Even a shallow wound would be fatal, as the two gashes would be too close to be stitched properly so infection was inevitable.
Hector grinned ferociously at the sight of enemy forces flinching and dropping easily under his attack. This broadsword was forged and altered with the artillery the rebels obtained from the Tyradum army long ago. All of their supplies were acquired from the military trains or strongholds they destroyed over the years. It gave him savage pleasure to utilize their foes' own weapons against them. His claymore easily pierced through soldier and immediately, he hammered the body into another one, incapacitating the feline before a rebel shot through his skull.
"Alright. I'll make sure you get there in one piece," Tal mirrored his leader's grin and let out a menacing howl. The great canine then smashed his customized flail into a platoon leader's chest, igniting an explosion upon contact and splattering corrosive acids onto the rest of the soldiers. "We'll wait for you by the campsite."
"Heh, got it. Let's show these fools how powerful our conviction is!"
With one last glance towards his second-in-command, Hector lunged towards an opening in the enemy rank and cleaved through anyone who tried to stop him. The remaining rebels divided in half accordingly, with Tal's group stalling and eradicating as many military men as they could while the Sabertooth's group charged towards the barracks.
Hector's blood boiled with adrenaline coursing through his veins, sweat and red liquid covering him like an invincible cloak. None of the minor slashes deterred him from his rampaging path as he finally arrived at the entrance. However, the moment he hacked down the door, a dart zipped to his face in a frightening speed.
Before he knew it, one of his comrades already pushed him aside and was struck by the projectile instead. The young Reptile collapsed an instant later, the wounded patch of skin rapidly turning green from fatal venom. The Sabertooth could not afford a moment to berate his own reckless action or mourn for the valiant fellow rebel because he understood that this building was rigged with deadly foes, lurking from every corner and shadow.
The assassins' presence, however, only further confirmed that the Tyr must be somewhere in this building.
Retractable metal claws flashed from his gauntlet as he narrowly veered toxin-imbued knives from his neck and headbutted the assailant away from him. The other rebels began to wreak havoc towards the walls and hidden rooms, blasting grenades and bullets to smoke out these hidden enemies. Flawless teamwork was executed as his subordinates covered for each other, striking and defending at any chance they seized.
Even then, many were gouged by poisonous hooks, mangled by barbed wires or had their throats slit along the way. Bodies littered the floor like forgotten furniture as Hector dashed through the hallways, furiously cutting down the guards and leaping assassins. He dug through any exposed parts of these soldiers' skins with his metal claws, punching and slashing wildly with his monstrous strength. Then, he merely held his claymore straight like a battering ram and stormed up the stairs with the might of an enraged beast. Nothing slowed his movements down as he pierced through bodies after bodies and flung them aside like dead weights, halting enemy movements and preventing any pursuits.
Gradually, Hector was able to reach the top floor of the central building of the Nargtien Barracks. Only a dozen of men were fighting by his side now, worn and drained. Irritated by the blood obscuring his vision, he ripped off his cloak and wiped his face briefly before glancing over at the remaining rebels. After assessing their injuries, he growled approvingly and bandaged a nearby comrade's bleeding arm with the piece of cloth, earning a smile of gratitude from the young Herbivore.
"We're almost there," he muttered encouragingly, bringing resolute glints in their eyes. No matter how wounded they were, they have already come this far. There was no return path. There was only one way out.
Their destination was right in front of them. The Tyr's Room will be their final stop to end this war once and for all.
Hector tightened his grip on the broadsword and advanced towards the end of the hallway. It was unnaturally quiet in spite of the rumbling explosions outside the building. Wary of any assassins hidden under the shades, he kept up his guard as he led his comrades down the empty path. A trickle of sweat dripped through his mane and seeped into his stained clothes when he finally arrived in front of the door.
Nodding silently, he signaled for the rebels to shoot down the entrance. Just as he expected, the moment the decimated door fell, a team of heavily armored men burst out from the smoke in an incredible speed. The Sabertooth's eyes widened when he recognized these enemies from the most brutal battles they encountered prior to this night. They were elite blitzkrieg soldiers known for their destructive forces and their near-suicidal methods of assault.
A Panther rammed into him without any hesitation, and the tackle was powerful enough to propel him back several steps. He immediately thrust the claymore forward, carving through the feline chest plate and gouging a deep wound by his side. Yet the enemy continued on and dug his claws into the Sabertooth's arm. An instant later, a tremendous voltage seared through his body, paralyzing him and forcing him to drop his sword. Roaring in rage, he fought against the mist clogging his mind and plunged his metal claws through the Panther's skull.
Shoving the dead feline aside, Hector witnessed his men being electrocuted and disabled by these opponents, punctured by consequent stabs. A vicious roar reverberated through the hallway as the Sabertooth sprinted towards the nearest blitzkrieg soldier and drilled through the helmet with those metal claws. Then, after discarding the gauntlet, he grabbed his shoulder and hammered the dead body towards another one, causing the open wire to instantly fry the enemy.
Fearful growls resounded around him after witnessing the ferocity of his attack. Hector used the momentary distraction to pull a stunned comrade out of an enemy's reach. Snarling, he made sure his fist was clenched tightly before he punched through another soldier who just impaled a rebel's stomach. With the rubber glove protecting him from electricity, the Sabertooth ignored the prickling pain and yanked out a large wire. Immediately, he let go of the coil and sliced it with a hidden dagger. The specialized armor short-circuited as the opponent staggered backward into another one. They were both electrocuted to death an instant later, burnt to crisp and filling the air with a nauseating stench.
Panting harshly, Hector surveyed the damage around him and gritted his teeth when he found out that he was the only one to remain standing. There were no signs of movements from the fallen rebels, exhausted and drained of blood.
He was the only one left.
Growling softly, the Sabertooth bent down and swiftly closed the open eyes of a dead Insect, swearing on his vacant gaze that all of their sacrifices were not for naught. He ignored the severed arm of the young Herbivore, whose blood completely soaked the strip of cloak he used as bandage not too long ago. The rebel leader slowly got up and picked up his claymore.
"Ruryk, show yourself!" His formidable roar only echoed in this hallway of death.
Hector marched into the room, tense and furious as he tried to detect the Lion's presence. The Tyr of Tyradum must have fled the Barracks after the initial detonation, or perhaps everything was a trap and he was never here in the first place. It did not make sense to station the assassins and blitzkrieg soldiers at an empty fort though. So where did the coward hide?
Instinctively, Hector managed to whirl around in time to deflect a bullet yet it still scratched his cheek and left a stinging line of red dripping down into his beard. Snarling angrily, he was forced to crouch behind the claymore as the rain of bullets continued to batter at the thick metal. The moment the quiet click of empty ammunition reached his ears, the Sabertooth sprung up and charged towards his new foe.
An ornate Zweihänder clanged loudly against his claymore and pushed him backwards. Tired and still reeling from the surprise attack, Hector staggered away to put distance between him and the Lion who merely twirled the sword in a condescending manner.
"It was pitiful watching you roll around with my equally pathetic soldiers," a scratchy voice laughed scornfully as the owner tossed the now useless pistol behind him.
The tyrant of Tyradum stood there as if he had been here all along. Shining crimson armor brimmed with golden lines and intricate patterns covered his body like a superior shroud of invincibility. Two obsidian oriental Lion pauldrons sat proudly on his wide shoulders, along with a thick cloak fringed with impeccably clean fur. Its dark royal red cape haughtily flowed down his back and stopped at mid-shin, as if it was too perfect to touch the revolting ground. Cruel, narrow amber eyes jeered at the haggard rebel leader as if they were musing on the existence of a lowly beggar defiling the elegance of this majestic room.
The spacious chamber was decorated lavishly with velvet fabrics hanging from the walls, complete with the banners of the Cardinal Family. A magnificent chandelier hung over the arch above the center of the area, surrounded by various skylights dotting the marble ceiling. The granite floor, though covered with dust and debris now, had a sleek carpet leading from the entrance up to the podium at the back of the room, where a jewel-encrusted throne stood indifferently like the grandiose presence it was meant to be.
Hector spat in distaste. Corrupt monarchy indeed.
The Lion chortled in amusement and he spread his arm fluidly, as if he was welcoming a valued guest. The humble gesture immediately morphed into a cruel mockery when he kicked the dead blitzkrieg soldier lying prone by his feet. The Sabertooth growled violently at the blatant disrespect for the deceased.
"How dare you! He was one of your men!"
"So? They are all expendable tools," Ruryk dropped his arm nonchalantly. "They did not complete their task and thus receive the appropriate treatment."
Roaring, the rebel leader lunged at the smirking Tyr, who calmly held up the Zwei to intercept the attack.
A thunderous clang echoed in the throne room upon the clash of blades, followed by a piercing, timorous ring as the claymore shuddered against the wavy edges of the Lion's weapon. The Sabertooth grunted and snarled in frustration when the Zwei slid against the length of his sword, causing it to shake uncontrollably within his grip.
Lips curving superciliously, Ruryk sharply twisted his wrist and spun the Zwei between the two fangs of the claymore, the sudden burst of power easily cracking the already battered weapon in half. Though staggering backwards from the shift in strength, Hector immediately slashed the broken blade diagonally towards an opening in the Lion's guard.
"You fool," the Tyr growled softly, his tone filled with scorn and malice as he swung the Zwei up and effortlessly blocked the Sabertooth's desperate strike. He dug his heels into the carpet and thrust his weapon forward, further disrupting the rebel leader's balance. The oriental lion pauldron suddenly opened its jaws wide, revealing a huge barrel aiming at his stunned opponent.
A wisp of gunpowder was all Hector detected before the cannon blasted with an explosive roar. The Sabertooth barely managed to turn his body enough that his right pauldron took the blunt of the shot. Growling, he stumbled backwards from the force of the surprise attack with the enormous bullet deeply embedded in the horn of the shoulder guard. It was still sizzling when Ruryk took out another pistol and fired at his head. The rebel leader instinctively held up his left arm to block the consecutive rounds, but his gauntlet shattered from the well-aimed shots and left the limb defenseless against any future strikes.
Throwing away the used pistol, the Tyr chuckled condescendingly at the winded Sabertooth, unconcerned even as the latter roared in rage and charged forward holding the jagged claymore like a battering ram. To Hector's astonishment, the Lion nimbly leaped backwards onto the podium in spite of the heavy armor he wore. Without any warning, Ruryk whipped out a small dagger and flung it not at his enemy but at the ceiling.
Eyes widening in shock, Hector could only watch as the glistening chandelier plummeted and crashed upon him. An eruption of dust completely obscured the Sabertooth from sight. The broken claymore fell a little ways away with a quiet, ominous clang.
The Tyr twirled the massive Zwei in his hand, cruel amber eyes glinting in triumph as they narrowed at the sight of his foe buried beneath the debris. "You lowly commoner, a mere caveman daring to even step foot in my domain? You are nothing but a mad beast infested with ugly wilderness rotting your genes. Know your place, peasant."
Hector bit his lips and allowed the coppery taste of blood to trickle over his tongue, zapping his lethargic sense into wakefulness. His nemesis's voice was muffled yet its disdainful tone was more than enough fuel his limbs with power once more. The weight crushing his earthly body was nothing compared to the bitter cries of his deceased comrades perpetually howling for vengeance in his mind. The horrid scar on his face throbbed painfully to remind him of the impossible battles he overcame to reach this moment.
The rebel leader swore upon the souls of his friends that the last battle will not end in this manner.
With a sudden burst of formidable power, the Sabertooth burst out from the rubbles and hurled the shattered chandelier towards the bemused Tyr.
The Lion shook his head in mock despair and merely aimed the other obsidian pauldron at the incoming object, firing another massive bullet that completely obliterated the remains of the chandelier. Dust and glass shards blew everywhere, filling the room with thick fumes. Hector suddenly charged through the cloud with his metal claws extended, aiming for the tyrant's throat. His maddened snarl was so vicious and guttural that Ruryk was momentarily taken aback and barely managed to block the attack with his Zwei.
The glimmering claws screeched against the worn sword and gouged a deep cut across the Tyr's left cheek below an enraged eye, splattering blood onto his immaculate ruby robe.
"You filthy worm!" Roaring in fury, the Lion immediately kneed upwards, slamming his serrated beast-shaped poleyn into Hector's jaw with an audible crack. As the disorientated Sabertooth lost his footing, he blindly grasped for the Tyr's cape and tugged hard.
The two fell heavily from the stage onto the stained carpet but the rebel leader quickly rolled away when he heard a queer yet distinctive click from his enemy's upper body. Not a moment later, spikes jutted out from Ruryk's intricate armor and scored wide gashes upon Hector's exposed forearm.
The rebel leader tried to sit up but to no avail, crippled by the agony searing his senses from his cracked jaw. The Tyr nimbly got onto his feet, retracting the spears back into his armor before stabbing his Zwei downward in a tremendous force. The weapon impaled the howling Sabertooth in a gush of hot blood, ripping the shoulder muscles like a butcher's knife carving through meat. Grunting raspingly, he gripped the blade tight with his metal claws and managed to stop the blade from penetrating any deeper.
Smirking, the Tyr stomped down on the weary rebel leader's chest, earning a choked groan. The steel boots grinded tauntingly on the belt of daggers, preventing him from using them to counter attack. Grimacing from the crushing pressure, Hector swung his bleeding arm and flung splatters of blood onto the Lion's shocked face.
Sputtering in disgust, Ruryk's grip loosened ever so slightly, which was all the Sabertooth needed to clinch the Zwei with his uninjured arm and snap the already fragile blade in half. The rebel leader then immediately kicked upwards and forced the unbalanced Tyr off his body. Gasping harshly, he pulled out the broken blade still embedded in his person and hurled it at the Lion, followed by two quick daggers aiming for his jugulars.
Ruryk snarled ferociously and unsheathed a pair of scimitars hidden in his greaves, easily knocking the projectiles away. "Struggle all you want, you uncivilized kitten. You are a disgrace to all felines." Even though his amber eyes were blazing in rage, the Tyr 's voice remained dangerously calm as he proudly stood there, with his the gash on his cheek as the only visible wound he received.
The rebel leader snarled tiredly at his opponent, knowing perfectly well that adrenaline was the only thing driving his tattered body. Blood continuously streamed out of his wounds, soaking his clothes in painful stiffness. However, he was undeterred by his injuries, his burning conviction surging through his veins as he charged forward wielding nothing but his remaining set of metal claws.
Ruryk tutted disparagingly and easily avoided Hector's frenzied punches, slicing at any openings to inflict more wounds upon the Sabertooth. The rebel leader pressed on stubbornly, willing his stinging nerves to ignore these accumulating slashes. He just needed to force the Tyr backwards a bit further to seize his last chance.
With his golden eyes burning, Hector suddenly stomped down and flipped the discarded claymore into the air. Immediately he jabbed its jagged edges towards the Lion's chest plates, heedless of the incoming strikes from the twin scimitars. There was a deafening screech as the sword wrecked the inner framework of the elaborate armour. Ruryk growled in annoyance and impaled the Sabertooth's remaining gauntlet with one blade while the other barely missed his artery, for the latter lowered his head and stopped the blade with his fangs.
A pained snarl rumbled in Hector's throat as his skewered arm trembled from locking his opponent's weapon in place. Ruryk tugged at his scimitars, furious at how he was rendered immobile in spite of the damages his foe received. The two nemeses glared hatefully at each other, neither relenting in this deadly standoff as the Lion gradually freed his scimitar while the Sabertooth slowly bent the other with his jaw.
Finally, the stalemate was broken when the Tyr suddenly let go of both of his weapons, causing the rebel leader to stumble backwards from the momentum. Hector barely managed to spit out the blade and pull out the other from his forearm when Ruryk rammed into his injured shoulder with the obsidian pauldron.
Blinded with pain, the Sabertooth slashed wildly with the scimitar and heard the unmistakable sound of the weapon snapping against hard armour. Through clenched eyes, he saw a katar flashing from the Lion's gauntlet and thrusting towards his forehead. He leaned back enough that the hidden blade whistled by his nose and only cut off a few strands of his hair. Yet before he could regain his balance, a powerful fist rammed into the side of his temple, stunning him.
Ruryk then buried the katar in the rebel leader's blood-drenched arm and threw him over his shoulder, slamming him onto the carpet with a resounding crash. Wheezing, Hector stared up through blurred vision at the smirking Tyr.
"You have endurance, I will give you that. That alone, however, is not good enough," the sneering Lion contemptuously twisted the broken scimitar from the fallen enemy's hand and stabbed it downwards.
Acting solely by instinct now, the Sabertooth stopped the blade from impaling his neck by letting it pierce through his palm. Immediately, he closed his fingers around it and wrenched hard.
Not expecting this maneuver, the Tyr was pulled forward while the rebel leader snapped his head up, butting the former's chin and drove him a good distance away. Hector was grateful for his numbing senses for keeping the pain to a minimum, allowing him to stumble on his feet and pull out the inserted scimitar from his palm. He tossed the useless weapon aside before willing his uninjured hand to unsheathe a specially forged sica from his belt. The highly cherished dagger was now held in his trembling fingers while the other limb hung limply by his side, dripping crimson beads everywhere onto the ruined carpet.
Rubbing his bruised chin, the infuriated Lion charged towards him with the stained katar extended. Hector blocked the blow and allowed the momentum to carry them onto the stage. When his spine hit the throne's armrest, he used the eruptive pain to make his arm swing in reflex, knocking the Tyr's weapon away and slashing towards his unguarded elbow.
However, instead of stabbing through the flesh, the rebel leader only managed to gouge a wide but shallow wound on Ruryk's skin. Amber eyes widened in shock as the Lion flinched from the unsuspecting pain at this minor injury. The Sabertooth roared hoarsely and summoned the last of his strength to push his opponent away.
The Tyr quickly regained his composure and hopped down from the podium, his glare cool and indifferent as he dabbed at his elbow with his cloak.
Panting blearily, Hector assessed his dire situation. He was quickly running out of strength, bleeding profusely from various draining wounds. He knew his next move must be decisive or everything will be over. Looking around the throne room, he realized that he had to take a gamble with the dead blitzkrieg soldier's armour, for it was still cackling with fatal voltages of electricity. If only he could lure Ruryk towards it, he could pull out the wires and use his own body as the medium to electrocute the Tyr, ending this war once and for all.
This suicide attack must work.
Gasping croakily, the rebel leader clung onto the throne's backrest and tried to support his weight. Standing beside the seat meant for a conqueror, Hector felt power surging through his tired limbs as he looked down upon the Lion with grim resolve. The tyrant's elegant cloak was sullied with bloodstains, caked with grime and dirt. The once glimmering armor was now a mess of shards and crevices, plates and pieces barely clinging onto the main structure.
Even then, Tyr Ruryk remained a formidable, imposing figure, unaffected by the battle they had judging from the way he calmly stared up at the rebel leader, looking fresh and free of injuries save for a few superficial wounds.
The Sabertooth, however, was confident about his imminent victory even if it meant his own death. He flexed his fingers and tightened his grip on the ceremonial sica, his nails and blade yearning for the last drop of blood in this entire war against the regime.
The strife of blood will end now.
A sickening squelch resounded in his ears and his vision was suddenly doused in vermillion.
He looked down at the ribs jutting out of his chest in morbid fascination and continued to stare at them even as he slid down against the throne, no longer able to stand upright. The shock soon wore off and all he felt was excruciating agony melting at his nerves. Choking for air, he tried to comprehend the reason for his gruesome demise.
Frantic golden eyes darted about the room and fell upon Ruryk, who was staring at him with a neutral expression instead of the flaunting smugness he expected.
"You lowly creatures are too curious for your own good." A lilting voice greeted his ears from the shadows, the whispering tone gliding up his neck in a dangerous yet falsely soothing caress. "Stop befouling the air with your pitiful existence."
"Who...are..." The fallen Sabertooth gurgled weakly as coppery liquid continued to bubble out of his gaping mouth, his fingers twitching despairingly before their movements came to a complete stop.
Hector Arthland's head lolled against his crusty shoulder, sapped of strength. He blinked lethargically and looked at his nails, soaked with nothing but his own blood. His vision and consciousness misted slowly as he recalled the same shade of red from a pair of bright, determined eyes whose owner he could no longer discern. He thought that he held a certain amount of fondness over that endearing image, yet his blurring mind quickly lost its grasp on the feeble memory, the colors blemishing and fading into black and white. The faint outline of his palm continued to be drenched by this unfathomable grey, washing away the lines separating the two distinctions.
Blinking sluggishly, weary golden eyes squinted and saw a new yet painfully familiar shape standing in front of him, an angel he thought he would never see again. The transparent figure seemed so bright, glowing ethereally like an emissary for heaven itself. Her beautiful smile gently soothed his weary heart while the very dagger she had given him long ago dropped from his slack fingers. Hector's lips slowly curved in spite of the sticky warmth dribbling down his chin as he stretched his hand towards the winged messenger in one last bout of strength.
"Did you…come to…escort me…? Have I…finally found you…Alkira?"
Regret and helplessness consumed the great rebel leader's mind before darkness claimed him.
A/N: Thank you for reading and hope you have enjoyed it.
Criticism or any other feedback will be welcome.
AdrenaVeris: it's been a great pleasure working with these amazing collaborators. I am honored to be given the task of writing this prologue as well as the lead protagonist. The next chapter should be up soon. As said in the beginning, much of this story's setting is based on many different cultures of various time periods. For example, Tyr Ruryk's armor design has a mixture of European monarchs as well as Chinese emperors.
ghikiJ: The Bell Keeper (TBK) will follow a modified modern calendar that consists of thirty-day months (similar to our own) and a year. The years and eras are strictly for TBK only and have no connection to real life timelines. The prologue took place in May of the year 1460 AL (Aetas Leonum or Age of Lions), for example. More of this system will be seen in later chapters to document the events that litter the timeline before and during the current storyline. Hopefully this will be helpful to readers.