Witch-Hunter

Author's Note: Feel free to rip into this one if you wish, folks, this is one of the stories I've written that's got some pretty vague details, hehe. Ripping or not, hope you enjoy this!

There are many evil beings in this world of ours.

There are thieves who steal from honest men and women, often slitting their throats or opening their stomachs as they do so. There are murderers who, for one sick reason or another, butcher innocent people with wicked blades, spilling their blood on their cold steel and the earth beneath their feet. I hate them all, but the kind of evil being that I hate the most are magicians.

Magicians are cruel, deceitful people who sell their souls to demons and evil spirits in order to retrieve black power. With that power, they lay waste to cities and kingdoms, they destroy entire races and make lands barren. If they don't do those, then they use their black magic to enforce their will and threaten the lives of innocents so that they would rule over them as if they themselves were gods. Some have claimed that they use their powers for good and that they were born with the so called gift of magic, but I know better. I have suffered enough and killed enough to know better than to believe the lies that their serpent tongues speak.

My name is Masako and for four out of my eighteen years, I have been a witch-hunter. What is a witch-hunter, you may be wondering? To different people in different parts of the world, the word has different meanings. Some people believe that they are people who hunt down and slay magicians because they are abominations in the eyes of the Lord Almighty and some people believe that they are bounty hunters who go after criminals who specialize in using magic to carry out their evil deeds. Neither one of them is false, actually. Witch-hunters are an ancient sort of people who have sought and killed magicians for one reason or another and nowadays, the term is used for bounty hunters. I am what you could call a combination of both.

I have suffered terrible loss because of magicians. I had people who I loved dearly taken away from me thanks to their kind and since I had been old enough to use sharpened steel, I have made it a personal mission of mine to hunt them down and slay them; I use the bounty hunting angle in order to make a living so that I might continue my journey throughout the world and stay true to my life's work. Everytime that I have come across a magician with a bounty on their heads, I sever those very heads and take them back as proof of their death. Some argue that all I need for proof is something of theirs, like an amulet they wore, or their hand, but the head suits my needs better. If you are wondering why, it is because that inside their skulls lie the unholy knowledge of witchcraft. I take the heads as proof and when I get my money, I keep the heads until I can properly dispose of them.

It's a dangerous and very bloody way of life, but I do it because it needs to be done; the world has no need for magicians. People say that they make their lives easier, more bearable and such, but I believe that they are being led down a false path in life. If they wish to have help in their lives, then they should turn to God Himself, for He cares for His children. The old saying goes "God helps those who help themselves" and I believe in those words. I carry out His will in order to protect His children and to punish the evil magicians and in return He delivers unto me His divine protection. My blades are my weapons and my faith in God is my armor.

In my four years of witch-hunting, I have found and slain a number of infamous magicians like Grandmother Slug and Hexe the Child-Eater, but while they are dangerous and evil in their own right, I didn't think of them as evil as the magician that I've wanted dead for ten years. As soon as I was old enough to be a witch-hunter, I left home and began my hunt for him. His name is Oberon and over the years, I've only heard false rumors and misleading clues to his location, as well as stories of his various exploits. No matter what the crimes of other magicians, to me, Oberon is the worst one of them all.

There has been only one time that I've come close to killing him...

I was sitting in the tavern of an inn in a small town, celebrating a recent job well done after killing and bringing in another magician who had a reputation for communing with spirits, when I heard two older men talking behind me. At first, they were just talking about their families, or how nearby farms were doing so far in the season, things that never really concerned me, but then I heard something that nearly made me drop my glass.

"You hear about Oberon?" one of them asked.

"The pyromancer?" the other asked in return.

"Yeah, that's him!"

Making sure I didn't send my glass to shatter on the floor, I casually turned my head. I only did it so I could hear better and made sure I wasn't trying to eavesdrop on them.

"What'd he do this time?"

"I heard he was up in the northern lands recently."

"The snow country? What the hell was he doing up there?"

"Well, from what I heard, he was hired by one of the lords, or was it the king himself? Anyway, I heard that he was hired to fight some frost giants that was giving the area some major trouble. They figured the best way to fight beasts from the snow and ice was to call in a pyromancer. Good idea too, he killed them all."

"So he killed some frost giants, big deal."

"No, I mean he killed them all! He obliterated the entire group of giants! All that was left of the land that they were standing on was a long stretch of soil turned black from the scorching of Oberon's magic fire."

A scoff from the second man. "That's bullshit."

"That's what I heard!" the first man insisted.

"I'm not saying that you're making it up, I'm just saying that what you heard was total bullshit. No magician has ever been that powerful in a long, long time. Not since the days of Mahou, according to the legends."

The two of them carried on arguing and talking about other things while I turned my attention away from them. Their conversation was running through my mind, over and over again. Oberon in the frozen north? Was this true or was this another false lead? The land of frost giants was far away, a journey that would take at least one or two months by boat and that was not counting the risks of pirates or sea monsters, both of which the seas had ample supplies of. I couldn't even verify if their words were true, so was I supposed to travel up there just to see? It would be a waste of time and money if it were another lie. Still, if it meant that I could find Oberon and kill him...

I idly rubbed the God Star pendant that hung about my chest as I thought about the "what ifs" and their consequences. I had already spent a lot of time and money trying to find Oberon, but I hadn't found him yet, so why use that effort for this lead? Then again, what harm could it really do? If I didn't die because of it, it would just mean that I'd have eliminated a possibility if I didn't find him there. Also, if he had been there, then I could ask around and track him down if I had missed him. I held up the pendant and stared at the beautiful silver seven-pointed star that was tied to the thin leather cord.

"You alright, lass?" the barkeep, a beefy man with little hair, asked.

I nodded and let the pendant fall. "I'm fine, thank you. Could you tell me where the nearest shipyard is?"

He thought for a few moments, wiping the counter as he did. "We're a fair distance from the coast, but there's a port town about a couple of days ride from here."

"Thank you." I paid for my drink with a couple of gold coins (a very small portion of my latest bounty reward) and rose from the stool. I moved for the double-doors of the bar, but I didn't make it more than halfway when it opened up and a new customer entered. I only had to take a single glance at him to stop in my tracks. He stood there, right in front of me, holding his jeweled staff, dressed in the clothing of a simple traveler with a pack on his shoulders and wearing the same slouch hat I had seen him wear ten years ago. He was older, of course, and there were some differences to him compared to my memory, but ten years worth of time would do that.

Oberon, famed magician with a grand reputation of pyromancy, the man I had been wanting to kill, the man that put me on my road of blood and death, had walked back into my life. He walked past me without a glance or a single "pardon me" and moved for the bar. Some of the others recognized him and the place was soon dead with silence. No one said a single word, no one uttered a syllable, they just sat in their seats, watching Oberon as he walked. I turned and watched him sit down in the same place I had occupied not a few moments before.

He was going to die.

I couldn't hold back the smile that crossed my face. I was still clear-minded, so I adopted a persona I had often used when on the road, hunting these people down. They were all the same, really; arrogant of their power and greedy for more. They were egotistical and believed that just because they could do things that others couldn't, that they were gods in living form. Magicians or normal folk, men were men and men had a love of many things. I used this to my advantage and sauntered back to the bar. "Hello, handsome," I said to him in a sultry voice. "Care for some company?"

He turned and looked at me. His eyes moved up and down, lingering on my chest. "I suppose I could, lass. What kind of company are you offering, exactly?"

"All sorts, really," I said, moving closer to him, running my hands over his shoulders. It disgusted me to touch him, to have my breasts pushed against his back, but I had to do it. I had to get close to him. "I could be a companion for the night and listen to you talk or share a drink with you, or, if you'd prefer," I leaned in closer and whispered, "I could be a bed companion for you."

He had a few drinks, we talked for the time then we headed upstairs for a room that he rented. As we entered, my mind went to the one reason why I was doing all this.

My parents.

As I've said before, it's all because of Oberon that I've become a witch-hunter in the first place. My parents were mercenaries, blades for hire, and the last time I ever saw them alive was when they took Oberon to some old ruins. He had sat down with them, talked to them what he was doing and how much he was paying. I was supposed to be in bed at the time, but I watched from behind a corner. My parents didn't like to do business in front of me, but they did what they had to do in order to make a living for us.

They weren't the most polite of people and they certainly weren't the most civilized of people either, but they were my parents nonetheless. They loved me and they loved each other, so they did what they had to. They left home, promising me that they'd be back with a fortune, but they never came back. Friends of the family were growing worried and decided to head up to the ruins, to see if they were hurt and unable to move, or captured by thieves that were suppose to have taken residency there.

They found the bodies of the thieves, but did not find my parents. They were about to give up when they said they found a secret door and inside was my mother and a pile of blackened bones that could have only been my father. His sword was laying on the ground nearby and my mother had a burning hole in her belly. Oberon was the only one I knew that could have done that to them. He killed them and left with whatever it was he had been searching for. For this, I was going to kill him and avenge my family. As I've said, they weren't the best of people in the world, but they sure as hell deserved better than that.

After we found out that they had died, I was taken into another family. This one was quite different from my real one. My parents, who had no problem shedding blood and causing trouble in order to earn some money, were among what my new family called "scoundrels". My new family was, in their words, more civilized. They studied scripture and attended weekly mass, they said prayers, they let troubles slide by without striking back, all that business. I suppose it's because I was in a bad place or that I came from a rough family to begin with, but I always thought they were a bunch of cowards.

The only thing I found worthwhile about my new family was the holy scriptures. Inside were all kinds of stories about people who did bad things to others and were appropriately punished in one way or another. I particularly enjoyed the justice I read about in those writings, as it gave me comfort and helped me put me on the path that I'm on now.

My mind went back to the business at hand. The two of us seemed to be getting closer to laying with one another. The bastard was going on about how he would enjoy the night in my company. I gave a fake smile and waited for the chance to strike. Nearly naked, he turned to the bed and said, "I'm going to show you a good time tonight, lass."

"Oh, I'm sure that you will," was my reply. As soon as I had said that, I moved quickly. I reached behind my back and unhinged one of my kukri knives (mementos of my mother) from its resting place on my belt. At first, I had thought about using it to slice his head off, but I decided on a more entertaining method of execution. I thrust the butt of the knife's hilt into one of his vital points and watched as he twitched for a moment or two, then collapsed with a heavy thud. He would be out for an hour, maybe two at the most, which would give me enough time to prepare and carry out my duty.

First, I began to go through his belongings. Aside from the knowledge inside of their minds, a magician's power also came from staves, wands, and grimoires. I saw his staff leaning against the wall nearby and his traveling pack on the floor next to it. The staff was my first objective. It was made out of strong oak wood and on the top of it was a beautiful ruby. This was no ordinary ruby, but rather a Stone of Agon. This and other stones like it had power of the elements. I had learned about this and other magical items during my travels. With my kukri, I pried the Stone of Agon from its resting place and cut the staff into pieces. It wasn't enough that I could take away the Stone, I had to destroy the entire staff as well so it wouldn't be used by another. The Stone of Agon was heavy in my hand and was indeed very beautiful. I suppose if it was any other ruby, I could sell it for a hefty price, but I would need to destroy it later as well. I put it in my pocket for safekeeping before moving on.

His traveling pack didn't hold any grimoires or any magical scrolls, much to my surprise. All that was in there were a change of fresh clothes and some storybooks full of ancient legends. Strange for a magician to possess, I thought, because every single one I had come across and slain had at least one grimoire on them. I didn't think much on it, however; I had destroyed his staff and had taken the Stone of Agon into my possession. The less magical weaponry he had in his arsenal, the better.

Next, I went to the washroom and began to draw water into the big tub that sat inside. I had magicians a number of ways before, but this particular style of execution was going to be a first for me. As soon as it was full, I went back to the main room and began binding him. I didn't have any rope or iron chains on me, so I tore and use the bedsheets. First, I bound his arms behind his back and bound both upper and lower parts of his legs to make him completely immobile. Even if he were to wake up, he wouldn't be able to work his way out of it; I'm very good at tying knots. I gagged him by stuffing more pieces of the torn fabric into his mouth and tying a heavy strip around his head to keep it inside. The final touch I had was blindfolding him with yet another piece. The reasons I did these were simple enough: if he were to move, he could execute some sign; if he were to speak, he could chant a quick spell; if he could see, he could look into my eyes and bewitch me.

Don't think that I'm paranoid, all three of those things have happened to me at least once in the past.

After that, I merely picked him up off the floor and carried him to the tub. I dropped him like a bag of potatoes, splashing myself with the bath water as I did. I only had to wait for him to wake up a short time after. He muttered something in his gag and tried to move, but failed, as I had predicted. I'm good at both my knots and my job, I don't make mistakes very often.

He mumbled something, probably asking what I was doing or something along those lines. I merely looked at him, laying my head on my arms. I suppose that I could look like a curious child that way. He was trying to figure out what was going on, obviously. He had been knocked unconcious and was now bound, gagged and blindfolded. It made perfect sense that he would try and get his bearings, but he wouldn't be getting them.

"You've done a lot of things, Oberon," I started very nonchalantly, as if I were talking to a close friend. "You've killed frost giants, according to some people, you've killed beasts, thieves, and some rumors have it that you even killed a demon or two, but the only thing that I care to know about is what you did before you became a famous pyromancer."

"Hmph?" he asked from behind the torn cloth in his mouth.

I reached over and ran a hand through his hair. "Think back to your younger years, Oberon," I said softly. "Think back to when you were a boy. Think back to two mercenaries you hired years ago, two people named Shagmar and Saskia. Do you remember my parents?"

A grunt came from behind the strips in his mouth, but I didn't give him a chance to try and speak anything more. I just pushed him down, forcing his head underwater and I just held it there, watching him thrash about as bubbles came up. I pulled him up and let him try and catch his breath, but I'd imagine it wasn't easy with the way he was gagged. When he did, he let loose what I imagine was a series of cursing and hateful words, but I didn't understand any of them. I could have removed his gag to hear what he was saying, but if I know anything about his kind, is that if they have a chance to speak, they have a chance to kill you, so I kept it in.

"You killed them both, you sonofabitch," I said coldly. I could have shouted, screamed even, but I didn't want to attract any attention from the other patrons of the building. "You hired them to help you with something you needed and then you killed them. You made me an orphan!" I dunked him under the water again. "I spent my entire life without a mother and a father and it's all because of some damn magician whose spent all these years getting a great reputation!"

This went on for sometime.

I brought him up from a fifth dunking. "To think, the great and all powerful Oberon, slayer of frost giants and all things terrifying in this cruel world of ours, would be slain in a manner such as this. To be tricked by a woman he thought was a whore but was really both a witch-hunter and the child of two people he murdered in cold blood."

He frantically tried to speak, to plead, but all I heard was muffled screams. I smiled and shook my head. "All of these years, Oberon, I've been wanting to do one thing and one thing only and it's not to hear you try and lie your way out of this. Your words will go unheard and my parents will find peace in the afterlife. If you do have something to say, then you can say them to the Devil when you enter Hell."

For one last time, I pushed him under the water, but this time I had no intention whatsoever of lifting him up. I watched as he struggled under the water, trying to keep from his air supply from escaping. I was so happy, I started to laugh. I hadn't laughed so well in years! Not even when I killed Grandmother Slug had I laughed like I did with Oberon's approaching death in front of me! I could hear my parents praising me from Heaven as I held Oberon under the water and that just furthered my desire to laugh. They were so happy!

The last act seemed like an eternity, but I enjoyed every bit of it. The thrashing came to a total stop and the bubbles ceased to rise. Once I was sure he had stopped moving, I hauled him back to the surface and removed his blindfold. His eyes were wide and glassy, void of all life. I had done to him what he had done to my parents and as I did, he had felt the same fear that my parents must have felt in their final moments. I believe this is what many would call "an eye for an eye".

As I pulled myself away from tub, I remembered a phrase I had read once, long ago, from the holy scriptures. At first, I hadn't paid much attention to it and cared very little for it, but since my parents death, it had been burned into my memory.

Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.

Afterwards, I headed back downstairs to the bar; another job done, time for another drink. I would collect his head later and dispose of it after I rewarded myself for a job well done. It was so much easier than I thought it would be, to be perfectly honest, but I wasn't one for complaining when God cut me a break. I settled myself in the same seat from before, smiling from ear to ear. When the barkeep saw me, he asked me, "What's got you in such a good mood, girl? That man you take up do good for you?"

I chuckled as he poured me a drink. "Something like that," I said. "Let's just say that I won't ever forget what went on up there with the great Oberon." I raised the glass to my lips and took a long sip. "Will never forget!"

"Oberon?" the barkeep asked, his eyebrows furrowing.

I nodded. "The man I went upstairs with was Oberon, that famous pyromancer."

The man scoffed and cracked a grin.

"What's so funny?" I asked. I felt a twinge of annoyance, but chose to ignore it.

"Girl," he leaned on the counter, "that man you went upstairs with? That wasn't Oberon."

I scowled and slowly set my glass down on the counter. "Pardon me?"

He nodded. "I know Oberon! I met him a year or two ago when he was passing through. Naw, lass, that man you went up with wasn't Oberon, although I will admit, he looked quite a bit like him. It was probably some fake who wanted to take advantage of Oberon's reputation."

I shot from the stool and raced upstairs. I could hear the man yell "Where you going, girl?" after me, but I didn't stop to even acknowledge him. I threw the door to our room wide open and darted to the bathroom. I took a good, long hard look at the man I had drowned and began to feel quite ill. I must not have been able to see clearly because of my rage and my long-lasting desire to kill Oberon, but looking at the body now, the rage gone and my head clear of excitement, I could see my horrible mistake. This man was not Oberon, just as the bartender said.

I backed out of the washroom and headed into the living area, feeling worse than before. I looked to the pile of broken staff pieces before taking out the Stone of Agon from my pocket. It was a ruby, surely, but was it a real magical stone? The texts said that this particular type of stone would be very warm to the touch, but this one did not! It was a fake! Other pieces of truth began to click together.

He carried no grimoires and no scrolls. He had certainly looked different from when I had seen him last, but I thought that was just because it had been ten years since then!

I had taken the life of an innocent man this very night! Not a magician and certainly not Oberon, the man responsible for my parents death, but an innocent man whose only crimes that I knew of were that he was a perverted bastard. Feeling the urge to vomit, I chose a corner in the room, not wanting to go back inside the bathroom and emptied out what drinks I had downed before. I could taste the alcohol just as easily as it came back up.

In my attempt to avenge my mother and my father, I had become nothing more than a murderer! I was just like Oberon now, except that I chose blades over magic as my tools in life. He killed my parents in cold blood and I killed the man in hot, unbridled rage. Save some details, we were one and the same now. I spent hours in that room, ridden with guilt over my sin, until the sun began to peak over the horizon. It was about that time that something else came to my mind.

I had murdered a man, yes that much was true, but was it truly my fault? I was angry and focused on slaying Oberon for the evil he had done to me and my kin. I was out of my mind with grief and rage, there was no way I could have controlled myself. Not to mention, with Oberon still living out there in the world, I still had a chance to punish him for his own sins! I killed a man, but if I killed the magician responsible for the whole mess, then surely I would redeem myself and be pardoned by the Lord Almighty for taking that poor man's life.

Yes, I was sure of it!

The End