So I've decided to do a rewrite starting from square one yet again. Or rather it's just a cleaning up on whatever technical errors I managed to spot so far. Not that everything should be counted as perfect though. And that's given the very fact that my brain is getting really sleepy now. X.X

Note: Now a brand new round of edits. :)


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A Ranger's Tale


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A Prelude To All Things To Come

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The heavy breathing was sensed by the nocturnal life, their sights staying clear from running fodder. For a while they knew not all that had transpired even as the escapee's fear was all too tell-tale. Perhaps the only fact preventing further attacks from dangerous predators was down to the reality that there were none on the prowl.

Utterly shaken by everything that had came to pass, all the lone Orc could truly recall was an infant joy born from the womb of success. The merchant caravan had been traveling into maws of imminent doom under an ironic reasoning called full knowledge in theory, the price demanded from foolish pride being a screaming sea of blood.

Orcs were notorious for raiding in numbers yet totally hapless upon being left alone, cowardice being the only trait dwarfing their merit of superior strength. Humane virtues vital to unity itself had never been deemed so twisted in the eyes of the sane unless having forced to bear witness to the very lust and madness burning within their baleful leers. That was the only way to live where these green shaggy brutes were concerned.

Yet Fate had a way of working out things most unfathomable as the only sliver of Orcish merit was mocked without mercy. The daring entity venturing into their line of sight made the Raidband assuming the best: a plaything for leisure and nothing else. Weapons flashed and blood was spilt. And they were the only ones lain dead. Forty tusked individuals versus one perceived fodder and all were dust before the chaotic orbs of absolute power. Realizing how the term "wrong target" should be written, the survivor took flight without a single thought.

The abyss hidden in those eyes were branded unto the depths of fading sanity, gluttonous fear devouring whatever little left remaining. A demon had reared its head and played a Reaper' score.

With Orcish stamina caving in at final hurdle, he paused to take a breather. The coast should be clear by now with distance covered far enough. Indeed surely the shadow of death had drifted away. As he cursed under his breath, squat features warped itself into an expression of futile anger. That freak had surely rammed fear down his throat even as Fate's laughter directed towards a Raidband's inability had justified a massacre most insane. Retreating into a false shell of comfort was always that strongest proof of carnal nature mocked by harshest reality as no sane mortal would have been glad to see an insult go unpaid. And in his own eyes, what the devil had dished out was nowhere different.

With mind made firm, the Orc glanced northbound. A presence of rising smoke could only mean one thing: not that of any foolhardy traveling band, but an encampment occupied by his peers. Tales of the killer would surely spread like wildfire with an embellished touch, yet he cared not the results even if it meant another case of mass causalities. Of course such a notion was to be nothing more than an absurdity fulfilled since the monster would have left for good before a decent Warband could be formed. However, every being born with tusks and green tough skin coupled with thick layers of fur was never known to think coherently upon being triggered. In fact the very prospect of a painful death by dismemberment from its volatile kin was utterly non-existent. Idiocy was the sole reason why such a race had never attempted any mass raiding upon the highest scale bar a freak chance out of a million where sealing a Geis will be a given.

A rustling sound suddenly emerged from the dense foliage as for that one single moment, terror snared the brutish heart. A tangible chill seeped into its spine before he spun around in panic, the only sight greeting him was that of a hare chased by a fox. The Orc growled in annoyance as he stormed off. This would prove to be his final action done before oblivion came knocking at the doorstep.

For the inevitable had arrived. Orbs wholly tainted of blood stared back at him with a single bite of frigid steel being that final statement of despair. The quarry's throat ripped apart without hesitation, a lone silhouette ghosted away under the blanket of countless stars. And no one would ever remember the lunar cloak mocking the dead drunk with their own blood in the depths below.

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Lindel... a modest city most famed in the eyes of bounty hunters. Rooted within the Eagle Horn and protected by the respected Red Lions, the very folly of underestimating any militia might seem tempting at first. But payment would surely be demanded from every fool, for knowing full well the core values surrounding the Kalaran Empire was to understand the Kalaran dream. Alas, the World had never been fair to any and all; such was the law of equality. If humanity had been merely a slave unto itself, then perhaps the mortal will was nothing more than paradox justified.

Mid-summer was a season to cheer about. Children were frolicking within the shallow fountains whilst the womenfolk reveled in their idle gossips as they kept a watchful eye on their charges. Dwarven requiem of old rang true with anvils struck while none understood the looney obsession behind the Goblins' never-ending quest of furthering their haphazard technology. Verbal spats erupting from grocery stores lined at either side of the roads provided ample proof on life still per normal hence far where flustered clerks of Halfling blood would have strangled any Kobold runners alive in all matters haggling. Occasional sightings of the aloof Elves went unquestioned by prudent folks as they lounged inside the taverns, their services as mercenaries going to the highest bidder with any lewd proposal seen as a sure recipe for unwanted accidents.

Amongst the pulsating crowd within the streets, an odd sight indeed was standing out like a sore thumb. Clad in forest green and grey leather, a brown cloak was draped over his wiry build with head slightly bowed. One hand slung an unknown bundle over the shoulder while the other was rested upon the pommel of a blade belted at the right. Yet what truly set him apart from the rest was his visage. Sharp Elven features contrasted with a medium shade of brown would always be nothing less than an exotic sight. Most strikingly of them all however, was his hair.

Of the purest frost kept short, his eyes were slightly obscured by prominent bangs due to the tilting angle.

If the alien had any issues in being regarded as a walking showpiece, he never made it shown as a single storied building located at the side of the main square became his destination. Chiming bells announced a customer's presence with the aura of an indomitable wolf emanating from his athletic frame. Sitting at the desk was a bespectacled man who should have been retired for good. Barely surprised upon the sight of one checking through records of targets still at large, he had always understood why people always like to act important.

"Taking or ending?" questioned the old man as he pushed up his glasses. As the answer was about to be given, a sudden flash of thought streaked across the stranger's mind. He knew what he's perfectly capable of: a predator caring not what it hunts, but what it kills. However...

Hmph, count himself lucky. No signs of that bastard's Geis...

"Ending," he answered with a poker face.

"Evidence? Target?" replied the crusty coot.

"Max Henry. Here's the booty," shrugged the foreigner as he dumped the gruesome package unceremoniously onto the desk to reveal a decapitated head with blood totally drained as an expression of shock and horror remained unchanged in death.

"That's the man we're after alright," said the old man with an impressed whistle, "But then again, I thought that pretty boy is said to be very dangerous. Strangling has been his way of killing, but rumours have it that he's even better in fighting at close quarters. Bah, screw them all! You're a Ranger, no? Unpredictable, yes. Efficient as hell, damned hell yeah."

"Count himself unlucky then. I don't even need three seconds to end a butterfly crap. A shame about that girl though," sighed the rugged warrior as he absently scratched the back of his head, "Guess being a potential victim truly sucks if you're not amused by the concept of retribution."

"You've got a warped sense of humour here, black laddie buck," chortled the old man with a toothy grin, "Reminds me of my younger days. You're not gonna be popular with all the rich missies but Gods be damned if you're no wench bait. What's your name by the way, sonny?"

"Aeranath," said the Ranger, "Congratulations for wasting five minutes of my life by the way."

"Well, everyone hates the SOP," shrugged the geezer, "With that being said though, you don't look natural. What I'm looking at is an Elf with everything gone wrong. I've never seen a charred Elf with weird hair although your complexion does remind me of a Tamurian. A half-blood?"

"Money or your life please," replied Aeranath as he played out a tracing game with the mortar wall, "You're boring the crap out of me."

"Okie dokie, I know. Don't be such a grouch," sighed the clerk as Aeranath caught a pouch of gold coins tossed towards his back, "Here's your payment. You've really hit a jackpot on that one. Bugger's a son of oil."

Without saying a single word, Aeranath stashed his pay away as he closed the door with a single flick of the wrist. As the resultant "boom" reverberated down his spine, the old man snorted with a good humoured smile in tow as that person he would never see again manage to score major points in his books.

"Whatever happened to his manners... didn't even say a word of thanks. Ah well, guess this is the story of youth itself: get busy living rather than get easy dying. A shame to see the repair bill being outed soon enough again though..."

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Aeranath had never cared much for dwelling in places in which people abound, but at least he enjoyed a meal of grilled steak and creamy soup as the waiting boy received a generous tip. Apparently, a mere glare would be more than enough to deem perfect in curing persistent fools. Even staying for the night at a luxurious inn was a no-go territory just because he had never been amused by the idea of crossing a random bloke. That's how he defined the term one amongst the rest. Period.

As he stepped out of the door, a commotion amongst the crowd greeted his ears. A message of mere busybodies at work relayed to him, Aeranath didn't care about the word "murderers" getting bandied about. Wails of grief reaching out to none, the very fate of orphaned children failed to demolish the iceberg within his azure orbs. Never one to give a care to events seen as trouble, Aeranath strolled away. Upon his back turned, a loud voice dismantled whatever patience remaining in him, piece by piece.

"Whatcha lookin' at? Ne'er seen some'un killin' before? We employ'to protet Ladee Aresturayl an'er old man promizes us eemmunity. We da very best in de business. Servz dis bitch rite for spillin' al'on us."

Drunken slurs only served to force Aeranath into a choice. It's either about killing or just heck damn. The latter option would be far preferable so long as trouble didn't court him at the first call, yet he's more than happy to return the favour once things blew up. To a Ranger, the only life understood by oneself was that of a guardian in the wilds living for the endless hunt called the moment. The same was applicable for Aeranath as well since going out of his way to make life miserable for others isn't part of his leisure activities to be fair. That was before he felt upon his shoulder a vice-like grip.

"Hey 'u! A'm talkin' to yer, freekah!" Aeranath never even bothered to steal a glance as he wore a flicker of annoyance. Yet, his verbal spark managed to ignite the fuse to the powder keg.

"What the hell do you want?"

"Yer got gutz, 'uh? Lemme tell ye wat 'appen to peepz like ye. See dat beyotch o'er dere?" hollered the burly man as he gestured wildly around the direction where the crowd had parted out of fear. Lifeless eyes of a bloodied woman dressed in black had never scored any bonus points for his emotions, let alone a couple of bawling kids.

"See dat, 'uh? dat kan bee 'u nex!"

Aeranath never betrayed a shred of reaction, for there was none. Not even with the reeking stench of alcohol invading his nostrils. Glaring at the insolent drunk who didn't even realize he's barking up the wrong tree, the most desirable answer was promptly given.

"I don't give a rat's ass to you, what you've done and the crap you're saying here. Let me go on my way, and you will have your life as a reward,"

With formalities done, Aeranath forced the grip away and turned away from the disheveled knave.

"'U dar too turn 'ur bac' on mee? Dy lik'ah dawg!" roared the burly hulk as the situation exploded in full force. With a massive axe raised above his shiny pate, determination to end that disrespectful gnat before his sights was destined to be an outright farce.

A dirge sung by the storms accompanied a blinding flash of blue as all were shocked to their very core. The grin speaking volumes on his "world" played the executioner upon the edge leaving its sheath.

No one knew how fast the blade had streaked into the heart, but his target was surely as dead as his victim. As Aeranath booted the body away to free his sword from a dead man's chest, the remaining four gripped their weapons with a snarl full of nerves. The frigid smile stayed untouched as he flipped his weapon like a mere child would to his toy.

"Count that fuzzy ape unlucky to raise his junk against me," smirked Aeranath as he casually brushed a hand across his snowy locks, "I don't always kill people, but when I do, this is why. So answer me then: any volunteers to join your best bro forever?"

"Yar basterd. Yev gott'us on'to u nao!"

Goaded by callous sniping, the foremost thug lunged towards him, bloodshot eyes brimming with intoxicated anger. A parrying blow dealt sharply was the sole answer to a question asked forth by a bardiche's strike with his throat sliced cleanly in a simple, yet stunning show of break-and-counter as the victim was left with nothing to suffer from.

A broadsword began its descent as Aeranath exposed his back. Swift was the forceful wrath such that none could ever escape. Yet with tables turned, there could be only one victor. Blocked with an open hand, the ruffian could only sense an impact akin to a toy hammer smashing against a rock.

"A simple trick and it's called the stone skin," taunted Aeranath, "What a shame for you not to see such a sight until now."

With a lash swift as the wind, he dealt a final hand as the biting edge tore into the ribs of his second kill.

Upon the supernatural effect abolished, Aeranath paused for a moment. Even if it was merely for a gesture outright arrogant like adjusting his gloves of muted grey with a knowing smirk. The remaining two were quite obviously shaken by a monstrous wolf forced unto their backyard via means of sheer stupidity. Suffocating silence lasting for a couple of minutes bore witness to the chaotic hell imposed upon the survivors. Then final judgment itself arrived in glory most macabre as the Ranger pulled his embedded blade from the pavement of clay. As he waltzed past the surviving fodder, invisible blades forged by turbulent air ripped his prey apart. Irreversible trauma baptized all innocents equally guilty with a shower of blood and mangled remains, as a blaring horn echoed through every single nook and alley.

"Red Lions! The Red Lions are coming!"

As thundering boots made their tremors known, the shattered crowd were swiftly evacuated within moments of asking. Before Aeranath's very sight stood impressive ranks of soldiers with a phalanx formation adopted being their strongest statement of intent. With halberds lowered for battle, steel helmets and mail coats of glittering scales complimented surcoats of white emblazoned with the head of a crimson lion. Responding to untold volume of stoicism justified by an unwavering code sworn, Aeranath could only formulate a single thought.

What a half-assed comedy of arms...

His own whims had opened up a can of worms, yet he never saw it as a truth made real. Aeranath only retained his vicious grin as he set about doing what should be corrected. Paying mock attention to the speaker by digging a little finger into his ear, the dark Ranger knew that everything has always been the same.

No action, talk only.

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Redknapp Haars could barely recall the details of whatever the terrorist minutes before was capable of. Leaning against the wall, the only sight looping before his sight was every still form of his fellow Lions either slain or critically wounded. Knowing all too well what was on the deck, delirium soon became his only solace. One departing image darkest yet of a diabolical figure spiraled into nothing more than merest finale sung with lyrics written in a single trail of thought.

Son of bitch... ain't mortal... an absolute monster...

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Updated Edit: 28th Oct 2012 due to some further self-cleaning up. :)

Credit goes to Solomon Sia and Whirlymerle. :)

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Glossary:

Son of oil: An informal equivalent to someone being "slippery as an eel".

SOP: Can be interpreted as Standard Of Procedures, Standard Of Process or Steps Of Processing. A derogatory equivalent of any red tape process/culture.

Wench bait: Informal praise for a lady charmer. Used within the male context with girls of low status being the specified targets.

Background notes:

After a much detailed processing, it's been decided that minutes and moments within The Known World are actually interchangeable in reality. Simply put, any short instances of time can be applicable to such. Relevant changes will be made in the future chapters' edits.

The Orcs in The Known World are actually based off a combination of the Warhammer Fantasy version and those from the Dungeons and Dragons settings. More specifically that of the Forgotten Realms world since I'm far more familiar with that end. Simply put, any influences coming from the late great J.R.R Tolkien is pretty much minimal at most.

Geis is basically what one will call a Devil's Pact. I'll have to be frank in saying that this is a direct usage of the Old Irish term along a similiar meaning. Basically it's a contract made at the respective Demon's terms where everything in detail bar the nature of power bestowed would be hidden away from the recipient's knowledge.