Chapter 7: The Ruthless and the Powerful

"Stay back! I'm only going to tell you one more time!"

There was an enormous gathering of guards near the front gate of the town, all dressed in silver iron-clad armor and helmets along with gold plated boots and most were equipped with halberds strapped with a red feather beneath the blade of the weapon. There were two guards leading the group, both with their weapons pointed at the perpetrator before them. The tall, bulky, orange-haired man in all black was smoking on the last bit of tobacco, pinching the last bit of the wrapped substances and flicking it away from his hand. He sighed out a cloud of smoke, groaning as his eyes focused on the army in front of him.

"I told you already," continued one of the leading guards, "Stay the hell back!"

"We won't be giving you anymore warnings, you ingrate," chimed in the other guard.

The large man marched forth, cracking the knuckles on both fists, a slight smile creeping on the corner of his mouth.

"I ain't got time to waste. Move the hell out the way, or else I'm just going to have to kill you guys. All of ya," threatened the brute, who spat at the ground in front of one of the disgruntled guards.

"We are the Guardians of Thronscape! We will never let you get through here, devil! How dare you threaten the lives of my men and I? It's time that we fin—"

Before the guard could finish his sentence, the man launched his left hand, grasping the warrior's face. His hand was so large, it blanketed nearly all of the guard's face. The giant went on to squeeze the man's face, crushing the front of his helmet as well in the process. The guard let out a muffled scream while he dropped his weapon, trying to force the man's hand off his face with his own. Several of the guards standing back looked on in terror, a few of them beginning to quiver. The other guard in the front was unfazed, swinging his halberd horizontally in an attempt to chop the giant's head off.

"You bastard! You'll die for this!" cried out the guard.

With his free arm, the massive man held up his forearm and absorbed the blow of the blade. The halberd's blade cracked slightly, much to the dismay of the guard, and he drew back in horror.

"Wha…What the hell are you?!"

The giant smirked, his eyes still focused on the guard's face that he was crushing. Blood was pouring out of what used be the guard's face, soaking the man's fingers with blood dripping off of them. The guard's arms slowly lost their vigor, eventually falling lifelessly to his sides.

"Pathetic. Frankly, I'm disappointed," scoffed the giant, whose fingers were sunk deep into the face of the presumably dead guard. "I'd expected more out of the 'Guardians of Thronscape.' Is this all you have to show for your strength? I really did waste my money on those damn thieves…"

"You're dead! You monster!" exclaimed the other guard again, charging back the giant, thrusting his blade head first in front of him.

The man dropped the dead guard's body and swiftly stepped out of the way of the guard's thrusting attack. The guard's eyes sprang wide in shock, even more so when suddenly everything faded to black. The other guards in the squadron all gasped in horror as they watched the man's head twirling through the air, blood showering the area from the origin of the wound under his airborne head. The guard's body was still standing briefly for a moment, in the same stance it was in before he was beheaded. When the body dropped chest first to the ground, the band of guardians turned their attention to the tall man, whose right arm was now entirely a blade which looked to be made of stone covered in blood.

A small group of guards at the rear took off running, some dropping their halberds. The giant man let out a maniacal laugh, licking his other hand's fingertips from the blood he got from crushing the primary guard's face.

"The rest of you should follow those other guys. They're seemingly smartest ones here, it looks like," said the man, slowly walking to the group in menacing fashion. He waved his rock hard arm blade around a couple time, getting a decent amount of blood to splash onto the ground.

"Screw this crap, I'm not dying here!" yelled out one of the frontal assault guards who turned around and ran off.

"Yeah, being a guardian isn't worth my life!" cried out another, who dropped his halberd and took off.

"Cowards…" muttered another guard who was in the front of the group. There was still a sizable unit of guardians in the area.

"Men," called out this particular guard, "Two of our brothers, who have led us and fought with us, were murdered in cold blood by this criminal who stands arrogantly before us. We mustn't give in! We must fight! Not just for our lives, but for the people we love… the people of our city! We are the Guardians of Thronscape! I will never allow an enemy to smile in my face as I cower in fear, and neither should any of you! This is what we trained for! This is what we fight for! This is what we live for! Or else, the label of Guardian was just all for show and a façade we willingly allowed to exist. I will not stand for such a thing!

"Now is the time you decide. If you want to run, then run. I won't stop you, just like the others. If you want to fight, pull your weapon forth and we will smite this devil together. As a unit… as a family… as one!"

The man with the arm blade chuckled as the other members of the squad responded with cheers and the raising of their weapons. The guard who spoke let out a smile, not wavering at all in front of the giant.

"We shall not flee from you nor falter. Not us. We will fight with every drop of blood and sweat in our bodies until they are drained! Prepare for your execution, demon!"

The man licked his lips with a smirk, holding out his bloodied arm-blade up above his head.

"Heh heh… looks like I'll get to have a little more fun…"

0

"…and then there was the prohibition of air-walking. After all the chaos that went down in Gaia nineteen years ago, they created strict policies which prohibited it. To think… an entire generation of mages who can't even fly. Pretty interesting stuff though, right?"

Bradleh groaned with a nod, letting out a sigh while Dante shook his head in aggravation. All the while, the priest was still as cheery as ever. The trio was walking down a dirt path that was surrounded by a wall of trees on either side. Dante was ahead of both his student and the priest. His eyes were closed while he continued to walk in silence. Bradleh was partially relieved—the priest offered to carry one of the sacks he'd been issued to carry as part of his training. Dante initially protested the idea, but the priest didn't bother listening to him at all. The priest's bright smile was rather inviting to a young boy like Bradleh, who initially enjoyed the extra company. However, the priest had a propensity to talk quite an awful lot about nothing. That was beginning to take its toll on the both of them.

"So, now that I think about it… I never did get your names," said the priest.

"Well, uhm, my name is Bradleh. Bradleh Wovenburn," said Bradleh, coupled with a nod and smile.

The priest continued to smile, turning to look up ahead at Dante.

"And you, sir? Your name?" he asked.

Dante continued to walk quietly, neglecting to answer. The priest's smile faded and he went to look at Bradleh who shrugged his shoulders.

There's something about this guy… He gives me a strange vibe. I can tell he's more than just a priest. But, I don't feel that he's dangerous. I don't get it, something about him is off though…

"Uh, Master Mage guy?" called out the priest. "Did you not hear me or…"

"The name's Dunbar," answered Dante, finally.

Bradleh raised his brow at first, but he quickly realized what his Master's intentions were.

Gah! I'm such a moron… Master is a wanted man, so of course his identity needs to stay hidden. Crap… I should have also given this guy a fake name. Well, hopefully there isn't any news about Master having any accomplices…

"Dunbar…" mumbled the priest, scratching the small stubble of hair on his pale chin.

"That's quite the unique name. I don't think I've ever met anyone named that before. Where do you guys hail from?" asked the priest, who returned to smiling.

"We came from Bronge," responded Bradleh with a nervous chuckle. "Master Da… Dunbar is a well-known Mage from there and he's taken me under his wing. Teaching and training me the ways of magick and such. This is a… field trip we're taking. He says that I could benefit from visiting other villages and cities, since you know, Bronge isn't exactly the most exciting place to do… well, anything."

Dante silently smirked, turning his head slightly to gaze back at his student.

Well done… Maybe there is hope for you yet Brad…

"That's very interesting! Intriguing, even! Sounds like a lot of fun if you ask me. Although, you guys sure know how to pack for a field trip…" laughed the priest. My arm is killing me… cried out his inner voice.

"And you, priest? I've never heard of a priest who leaves his church to go far," commented Dante. The priest laughed for a moment before pointing forward.

"Aha! I'm a special kind of priest, you see. I'm a traveling priest who has no church to call home. I'm a missionary spreading the word of Rahmunk throughout the land of Rasnan. It is my duty to my Lord and to the people of this great country!"

He let out a smile and one of his teeth sparkled, which dazzled Bradleh.

"Now, I know it's rather unconventional for a priest to wander the nation preaching and spreading the love and spirit of Rahmunk. Most folks who aren't religious or believe in other things don't often take kindly to a guy like myself. But, it's a job that must be done! I lead a happy life, yes! And there isn't anything in the world that makes me happier than the love of my… no, my fault, our God! Rahmunk!"

He reached into the inside of his suit and pulled out his flask. He left the top unscrewed so he could flick it open to get a drink. He held the flask to his lips and then his face suddenly turned blue. He raised the flask all the way up, upside down, shaking it wildly. When not even a drop of liquor fell, he pulled the container closer to his face, peeking inside of it. Upon realization that it was indeed empty, he cried out in agony, much to the shock of Dante, who turned around immediately. The priest had fallen to his knees, sobbing uncontrollably. Bradleh stood in complete confusion, laughing timidly.

"No! It's gone, all gone! Damn it! I knew I should have brought two with me… No! How will I live! I… I need my… I need my holy drink!"

Both Dante and Brad glanced at each other, simultaneously letting out a sigh.

"Whatever happened to not needing anything other than the love of Rahmunk?" muttered Dante, who was rubbing the side of his bandaged arm.

"Eh… will you be okay Mister… uh, priest?" asked Bradleh anxiously.

The priest cried a moment longer into his arm and in a matter of a second he was standing up sniffling. He slung the sack back over his shoulder, letting out a sigh of depression.

"I'll… I'll live. I must stay strong in the face of the tests my Lord springs upon me! And uh… it helps that Thronscape is within reach…"

The words he spoke were truth—the town was visible from several meters away. Bradleh hadn't been there in a long time, but he remembered that every time he came to Thronscape, he marveled at its beauty. From where they were, however, mostly the tops of a few buildings were in view. Thronscape was barricaded by a thick, massive brick wall that surrounded the entire perimeter of the town. Placed at the center of this wall in the front entrance of the city, was a massive wood drawbridge that hovered over a slim creek flowing in front of the town. This scene, however, forced uneasiness in Dante. He held his good arm up as a means to halt his party.

"Something is off…" he mumbled.

Brad and the priest exchanged looks, before the older man decided to speak up.

"May I ask, Master Dunbar, what the problem is?"

Dante immediately pointed ahead at where the drawbridge was.

"The drawbridge is already down. And haven't you noticed? There aren't any guards outside of the wall or patrolling on the top. Thronscape is a fairly heavily guarded town. It doesn't strike you as odd that no one is there?"

The priest rubbed his chin in thought. "And we haven't run into anyone to going to check out the checkpoint either," he added. "This is all adding up to be quite the strange scenario…"

Dante nodded in agreement. "If anything, I'd like to bet that whoever attacked and killed those guards at the check point found his way here and made a hell of an entrance. We should be careful moving forward. Not only do we have to worry about a killer or possibly a group of them, Thronscape's resident security will be on their guard as well. They might likely view us as potential enemies. Be on guard."

"Fear not, my bold and brave new companions!" blurted out the priest.

"Allow me to lead the way, if you will! I actually have official business in Thronscape. If we run into any sort of resistance, I can handle it. Got it?"

The other two nodded in compliance. The priest handed the sack he was carrying back to Bradleh. Afterward, he reached inside his suit again, pulling out a pair of black, square-rimmed glasses. He lifted his hat up, and his raven black hair came falling down passed the back of his neck.

"I apologize, my young comrade. It'll be more believable if you're the one carrying all this stuff."

Bradleh sighed, shaking his head in the middle of reluctantly picking up the other sack and slinging it over his free shoulder. Damn, this thing is heavier than I remember it being…

The group made their way to the drawbridge and stopped. They each took a moment to survey the area. There were blood stains on the drawbridge as well as on the ground outside of it as well. Traces of blood mixed with the water flowing down the creek were spotted by the group. To further investigate, Dante knelt down, passing his index finger through a smear of blood on the wooden drawbridge. He examined it for a brief moment, before rubbing it with his thumb. He stood back up, staring intently through the front gate.

"There was definitely a struggle here, and it happened not too long ago. The blood was hardly dried at all. We should definitely be on guard," he suggested.

The three continued, passing over the bridge and through the front gate. They immediately stopped, each man gasping in horror at the setting before them. Dozens of bodies were sprawled about on the ground, all of which looked to be the guards of the town. The entire front area near the gate looked like a red pool, blood stains forming dots all over the ground that extended from the initial pool of blood. Bradleh's knees were shaking and he could feel his stomach churning as well. He wasn't used to seeing such a gruesome scene.

"What on Gaia…" murmured the priest.

"He-help…m-m-me…" coughed a voice.

The priest looked down at his feet, where the hand of a bloodied guard was grabbing onto the bottom of his black pants. The priest's eyes shot wide the moment he noticed a gaping hole in the back of the injured man. He had blonde hair and azure colored eyes, although it was hard to make it out through all the blood. The priest knelt down to speak with the fatally wounded warrior.

"Hold your breath, friend. I can get you some help," he said, doing what he could to reassure the injured soldier.

"No… no time…" forced out the soldier. He was wheezing and coughing more than he was breathing. Blood was flowing profusely out of his mouth.

"Tell me," went on the priest, "Tell me what happened here? Who is responsible for this… massacre?!"

The man took a few moments to try and regain better composure, before responding to the priest. After managing a couple of decent breaths, he looked up at the priest.

"I…I rallied my men to… t-t-to fight this mo-monster of an individual… and he…"

The soldier coughed in pain, spitting out a blob of blood with saliva.

"The monster," continued the soldier, "He… this guy… a monster. Killed… all my men. He's… he's looking for… the baron… save… my people… Thronscape…"

The man's eyes slid shut as his grip loosened. His face fell into the ground, and no more sounds could be heard from his body. The priest closed his eyes for a moment, placing his hand on the back of the dead man's head. He was whispering words, what Dante and Bradleh assumed to be a prayer. After a few minutes, the priest rose up from where he was, pushing his glasses up with his middle finger.

He turned to face his two partners. Both Dante and Bradleh were startled. The look in the priest's eyes was much colder than before. This was the most serious they had ever seen him in their brief encounter with him.

"It's time for us to go," he said grimly. Dante raised his left brow, somewhat amused.

"Don't you have business to attend to?" he inquired.

The priest had his back turned, starting his walk into the town.

"That can wait. This murderer must be stopped," he replied.

Bradleh tilted his head to the side, intrigued with the priest's new attitude.

This is… interesting. I find it hard to believe that a priest knows how to fight… I wonder what he'll do when we find the killer…

The trio continued passed the bloodied front gate area and continued to walk through the town. They were surrounded by a variety of two story houses, each with its own authentic and unique look. Many of the houses were constructed with wood, but there were a few brick houses scattered about as well. The most peculiar thing about the town was how vacant it was… or seemed. There wasn't a townsperson in sight. However, upon further navigation into the town, folks could be seen peeking through the curtains of their windows. Others were seen gazing from their upstairs windows.

Dante's eyes shifted between all the houses they were surrounded by as they continued to walk a path through the town. Looks like they must have ordered a domestic retreat. Whoever is behind the death of all those guards must be one hell of a demon. I've never heard of a town like Thronscape having so much trouble with one guy…

Suddenly, the priest stopped in his tracks, alerting both Dante and Brad. He turned his eyes to his left, pushing up his glasses with his middle finger again. The other two turned to look at the building he was looking at. It was labeled, "The Ward's Home of Liquors." There was still an OPEN sign hanging on a small wooden rod attached to the front of the door.

The priest's eyes lit up as he jumped up with joy.

"Hell yeah! A liquor store, at a time like this? This is… Lord Rahmunk, you surely do love the people of Gaia! Thank you for your blessings!"

Dante slapped his hand across his face while Bradleh shook his head with a sigh.

This damn priest… He was probably just looking for a liquor store this whole time… thought Dante.

Bradleh also harbored thoughts of his own. Geez… the priest probably had us both fooled…

The priest turned to face his companions, with an innocent looking smile plastered on his face. He clasped his hands together, waving himself around.

"So… you guys wouldn't mind if I went and got a bottle eh? Right? It won't take long, I promise! I just need to refill, hahaha! Yeah, just a tiny little refill…"

"Go for it," grumbled Dante. "There's a bar I can see a few houses down. We'll be over there."

The priest nodded, now rubbing his fingers on the hairs of his chin.

"Really, Master Dunbar? A bar? You know… bars are a filthy place to be," he uttered.

Both Dante and Bradleh's jaws dropped, almost seemingly to the ground. Dante had had enough of the priest at the moment.

"Are you kidding me?! You're an alcoholic priest! And you're giving me crap because I'm going to snag a drink at the bar while I wait for you? Unbelievable…"

The priest coughed into his fist for a second, before waving the two off with a smirk.

"Alcoholic? Such hurtful words you speak. I understand… I shouldn't judge you for whatever bad, horrible places you like to be. No need for the slander…

"I won't be long. I'll meet you two outside that tavern over there."

Dante gritted his teeth while he made a fist. Bradleh let go of one of the sacks, patting him on the shoulder.

"Let it go, Master. It's clear that he's… a strange man," he said.

"That guy knows how to piss me off…" added Dante under his breath.

The two made their way over to the bar, which was a similar wooden building as the liquor store. The wooden door was already half open and they walked right in. There was a plethora of round wooden tables scattered about the room, surrounded by wooden stools on either sides. There weren't many people in the building, just a few groups of scattered around a couple of tables. There were candles burning inside glass balls that hung from the ceiling, using wire, to light the inside building. The bar was straight ahead, with two bartenders behind, both a man and a woman. There were about five stools lined across the customer side of the bar. The two walked over to the bar, and Dante signaled for the woman to come over. The male bartender was cleaning out mugs next to a few bottles.

"Hey, keep the runt away from the bar. Teenagers aren't allowed to drink in Thronscape," ordered the man.

Dante glared at him for a moment, before pointing to a round table near them.

"You heard the geezer, kid. Grab a seat over there. I'll be with you in a moment."

Bradleh grunted and grabbed both the sacks, walking over to the nearest table. He placed them under the table and sat on one of the stools. He ended up leaning on the table surface with his elbows, holding his head on his hands in boredom. Dante smirked as he watched his pupil, almost forgetting he was being tended by the lady in front of him. He snapped his attention back to the bartender.

"Well, good evening beautiful," started Dante, with a sly grin. "Looks like it's been slow around here. Not like I'm complaining though."

The rosy cheeked, brown haired woman smiled. Dante had a hard time keeping his eyes off of her chest. She was very well endowed, and the low cut shirt she was wearing wasn't helping either.

"You must be new in town, hmm? I suppose you didn't hear what's been going on."

Dante leaned against the bar, almost as if he was trying to dip his face in her chest. The woman blushed, grabbing a piece of napkin under the counter to wipe it down.

"Well, looks like we have a psychic. This is my first time here actually," lied the mage. He chuckled inwardly.

"I was wondering where everybody is? I came in last night and partied all night and I only just woke up a little while ago. That kid over there is my servant, so I make him carry all my goods with me. See, I'm a merchant from Costlin, but don't worry, I won't try to sell you anything here. Matter of fact, let me get two shots of Gurenn."

The woman smiled once more, nodding at his request. She reached down for a bottle that was near her leg.

"You got it!"

She skillfully flipped up with bottle and caught it in her hand. She unscrewed the top a bit and then grabbed two small shot glasses that were nearly some straws on the counter. She poured the two shots quickly, before screwing the top back off the bottle. The color of this particular liquor was red.

Dante shuffled his hand in his pocket, pulling out a couple of coin. He slapped them on the counter with authority and smile.

"Here's some coin and it's all yours babe. One for you and one for me."

"Wow, a shot for me? I'm starting to like you already," she teased.

They both did their cheers and knocked down the shots. She noticed his bandaged arm and pointed at it.

"What happened to your arm?" she asked.

Dante glanced at his arm and rubbed it. "Ah, it was just a stupid accident, nothing serious. The story is a rather embarrassing one, really. I'm honestly more interested in what you were saying earlier. You know, about what's going on in town right now."

From where he sat, Bradleh snickered quietly to himself while watching his Master speak with the pretty woman at the bar. Well look at that… Master Dante sure knows how to work the ladies. Hell, I might need to learn more than just magick from him…

"Well there's a criminal on the loose who is ravaging the town looking for one of the barons," she said, accompanied with a look of concern. "But, apparently he isn't just some run of the mill criminal. It's rumored that he's a member of the Knights of Black Gate."

Dante's eyes widened for a brief moment, his mind beginning to cycle theories. Knights of Black Gate? That makes a hell of a lot of sense. If there is one person that could wreak this much havoc, it definitely would be one of those clowns… This situation could go from bad to worse…

As if on cue with his thoughts, the door to the bar was furiously kicked open. The other patrons of the bar silenced themselves as a hulking figure lowered his head just to get through the door. The other customers began gasping and whispering in fear as his eyes scanned the room. He walked menacingly slow toward the bar. The other customers took this time to drop or leave their drinks and run out of the bar. Bradleh froze in shock, his legs shaking while he watched the man walk to the bar. The brute was dirtied with blood all over his skin and clothing. He was playing leisurely with a strand of his blood stained orange hair.

That's him! That's the guy who killed those thieves in the forest! Oh no! This is bad, this is bad, this is bad!

Throughout the entire time, Dante never even turned around. The bartenders both gulped as the man approached the bar. When he got there, he leaned his elbows over, glaring at the female bartender.

"The hell you just standing there for? Fix me up a damn drink! I've been working hard today, as you can tell," he said, with a chuckle.

"So, you must be the asshole whose got everyone in town spooked, eh?"

The man immediately turned his attention to Dante, whose chin was resting on his arm leaning up on the bar. The mage couldn't help but smirk, but the man wasn't amused.

"Who the hell are you? I don't take kindly to weaklings acting tough."

Dante let out a laugh and then pointed his finger right at the man's face.

"You've been a bad boy I hear. I wasn't planning for it, but it looks like I'm going to have some fun with you," he said. He turned his attention to Bradleh.

"Kid, get on outta here. You're not gonna wanna be near here when—"

Out the corner of his left eye, he detected movement coming from the massive man. Dante kicked against the bar counter, forcing him to slide away from the man's hammer strike while still on a stool. The force of the man's fist even caught some of the bar counter, crushing the entire floor the mage was just sitting at, as well as splitting apart some of the bar counter. The female bartender let out a scream while the other cursed, both of them running out the side of the counter and out of the bar. Bradleh snatched up the two sacks hastily and made a beeline toward the door as well.

Dante flipped up from the stool as it slammed into one of the tables at the center of the bar. He landed nimbly on top of the table, still carrying a smirk.

"Don't be so hasty, big beautiful," taunted the mage. "The fun's just getting started!"