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The Nature of Brador

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The Nature of Brador

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Arqueira kneeled over, about ready to vomit out her stomach’s contents for the second time that hour. She had felt her stomach churning the moment she entered the hellish, bloodied, corpse pile pit, and she had felt it again after she had spoken to the severed head of Ludwig, the Accursed.

Arqueira honoured the fallen hero, yet she couldn’t help the nature of her shortcomings, and she had to reach a gloved hand over and cup her nose as she looked down at the yellowed, chipped, crooked, and broken teeth of the beastly Ludwig.

The auburn-haired huntress was relieved she had pushed her hair back beneath her old hunter cap, wondering if she smelled as horridly as the entire pit did. She knew deep down the answer was yes, and she closed her heavy light brown round eyes as she watched the head sigh and moan in pain as it looked up at her with sad, yet hopeful eyes.

"Good hunter, have you seen the thread of light? Just a hair, a fleeting thing, yet I clung to it, steeped as I was in the stench of blood and beasts…”

Yeah you stank, alright. She resisted the urge to smile beneath her covered mouth.

“I never wanted to know, what it really was. Really, I didn't."

To her horror and amazement, he began to whine, neigh, and make all sorts of hellish noises, so much that it annoyed her, and she slammed her Kirk Hammer down on him a few times before he finally exhaled his last breath and was out like a snuffed candle.

I’ve put you out of your misery, you freak!

“That’s enough out of you.” She wished she could clean off her old hunter garb and her weapons, but she wanted those around her to see the blood of Ludwig the Accursed on her for the purposes of earning their fear and respect.

Arqueira collected the Holy Moonlight Sword from where the head had disappeared, and she made her way up the stairs and towards the left, where a large door had opened, leading to a dark hallway.

She took off the cap, and her straight, long auburn hair fell down, cascading past her shoulders like a waterfall. She had been wise enough, and had possessed the foresight to turn on her lantern, leaving it at her side by her belt, when she heard the rhythmic, and sickening sound of a dull “thud”, “thud”, thud” to her left behind a large, dark brown cell door.

Arqueira pulled on the door handle, only to find it locked.

“Of course.”

"Shrouded by night, but with steady stride. Colored by blood, but always clear of mind!”

She had almost missed the voice, as it had been rather muffled by the large door, but she caught it nonetheless.

Arqueira put her ear against the door, and peered in through the little open space to find the back of a prisoner (or perhaps hunter?) facing her, and he had been smashing his forehead and bashing it repeatedly into the wall his hands were resting on as he chanted in a perplexed, anxious voice.

Arqueira yanked and pounded on the door handle, wanting to get a few words out of the man before he bashed his brains in.

“Hello! Please! I’m here to help you!” She cried, wedging her thin, perfectly shaped nose through the bars.

The prisoner resumed his bashing, as if he hadn’t heard her.

She spoke nervously, “Ahh, I suppose you don’t know where the key is, do you?”

“Proud hunter of the church. Beasts are a curse, and a curse is a shackle. Only ye are the true blades of the church."

Arqueira’s golden brown thin eyebrows rose on her forehead and her jaw dropped.

“Yes! That is me, I am indeed a hunter of the church!”

This seemed to work and break his strange spell, for her stopped smashing his forehead into the wall, and he turned around quickly. Almost seeming to move out of time and space, the prisoner appeared before the huntress in a quick flash, and he gripped the bars of the door, his dark, pained eyes looking deeply into hers as their noses touched.

“Beware the horned hunter of the church, young one. He guards the secrets and the past alike, and he will bury you here in this hunter’s nightmare.”

He gasped suddenly, and he backed away from the door, though his hands lingered on the bars, clutching, as if he were clutching for his life.

Arqueira’s eyebrows rose up so far she felt her forehead and face aching from the strenuous activity, but she wanted to hear what this prisoner had to say, despite how insane and mad he appeared to be.

She looked up to see that his forehead was caked with blood, and she wasn’t able to make out what his hair colour was in the dim light she had been provided with in the little, narrow hallway.

“The horned hunter of the church?” She repeated, not entirely forgetting his warning.

He nodded, and his eyes grew wide with fear, and they darted from side-to-side, as if the devil himself were listening.

“Yes…heed the warnings, heed the toll of the bell…”

His hands slid slowly down from the bars, his fingernails and knuckles dragging their way down the door.

“Heed the toll of the bell…the bell…”

“What bell?” She shrieked, wondering how hard he had hit his head.

The prisoner backed away into his cell and sat down in the right-hand corner, covering his head and face with his hands as he chanted over and over to himself words Arqueira couldn’t make out.

She turned and faced the rest of the hallway, trying to train her ears for any strange noises, particularly that of a bell. She waited for a few minutes, but she heard the whistling of the wind through the doors. 

Deciding that the prisoner may have just been mad, Arqueira shook her head, and pushed herself off and away from the cell door. She walked down the hallway and looked to the left, where a large, brass cell door was wide open. It almost invited her in, practically, and she headed down the little flight of steps, facing yet another cell door.

“No doubt this is locked, too.” She whispered under her breath, wondering just how useless this entire place was, when she heard a very faint bell sounding from beyond the other side of the cell door.

Arqueira felt her blood freezing in her veins, just as it had in the same way when she had first laid eyes on the blood-drunk wild hunters as they viciously swung their Beast Cutters and Boom Hammers at her with their bright yellow and red eyes.

This, was a much more dangerous and sinister situation, and she had her guard up, regardless of whether the door was bolted and locked or not. She put her Kirk Hammer away, and instead donned a much deadlier and faster weapon; her Blade of Mercy. She had finished off many a beast and foe with them, and she mentally thanked Eileen the Crow for honouring her with the privilege to wield her weapon after she had put down her finale foe, the Bloody Crow of Cainhurst.

Arqueira had knelt by the old huntress’s side until she passed away, leaving in the aftermath only a large pool of blood behind her. She had cried for hours, for she had looked up to Eileen as something of a mother figure, though she had never admitted it to the older woman.

Eileen had taught the young huntress to be strong, brave, and to keep her hands clean, most important of all. She had shown her just what happened to hunters who foolishly lusted after the blood of other fellow hunters, and Eileen usually had put an end to those blood-addled hunters, until recently…

Arqueira was certain that if the Bloody Crow of Cainhurst hadn’t leant a hand in Eileen’s demise, she would have gone mad herself through her never-ending, highly-driven ambition to end all madness before her fellow hunters.

Arqueira heard the bell ringing again, a long, droll tone, and she stuck her pale face in between the bars of the door she stood before, and squinted. She wasn’t able to make anything out, so she dug in her pockets for her Monocular. She couldn’t remember where it was, and she fumbled for minutes, dropping her shining coins, and making all sorts of clatter and noise outside the cell door.

“Are you a hunter?”

She froze once she heard the man’s voice. It was a low, yet gently soft tone of voice, which shocked her, as she hadn’t been expecting any of the prisoners to speak with such softness and gentleness.

“Yes I am…” She tried answering back confidently, but she knew it came out as a small hushed whisper instead. Strangely, the prisoner’s ears caught her words.

“Well, that's very odd. Do you hear the toll of the bell?” His question was simple enough to answer, but she kept fumbling for items and she nearly dropped her Blade of Mercy, her fingers catching it at the last second before it connected with the ground.

She swallowed, this time making sure she spoke with confidence. “Yes, I hear a bell.”

“Hmph. Liar.”

“I DO!” She couldn’t help the immaturity that flew forth then. She hated being put down, called names, and mocked. If this was some sort of game or joke, she was missing it and had no time for it. It was always better to come out with the true intentions in the beginning, in her opinion.

A single ring came from the other side of the cell door. “Such pettiness will be your undoing.”

Arqueira leaned against the door, reaching in her back pocket for the Monocular.

“The beasts you seek will not be found here. Go back to your hunt, and if you have the chance, put this night behind you.”

“I wasn’t lying…”

She had finally located it, and her little fingers curled around it in her pocket, and she brought it up to her eye, and peered at the owner of the voice.

Inside the cell, by the feet of a fallen, broken bed, sat a man with his head slightly lowered. He wore black pants and dress shoes, though they had blood stains smeared on them, and he had a beast hide garb. On his head, he worn a large set of antlers, much resembling the Cleric Beast monsters the huntress had seen so long ago when she began her journey…

Her eyes widened and she choked back a gasp.

This had to have been the horned hunter of the church the other prisoner had been referring to! She had never felt more certain of anything else!

Though she suddenly began wondering just how much of a threat this man could be behind a closed, locked cell door…

She reached down and grasped the handle, just to double check.

Locked.

“...Places better left untouched, secrets better left alone...only a fool would so brazenly roam...” His voice seemed to almost warn her against something, though she couldn’t place her finger on it, and it irritated her.

Arqueira pounded her fists a few times against the cell door angrily, peering through the bars at the strange hunter inside.

“I’m no fool!” Who the devil was this maggot who dared refer to her as a fool? Arqueira was a fiery young lady, and she’d do anything to hold onto her pride and ego, and she didn’t dare deny it either, for that matter. She felt that what set her aside from the rest of the beasts and creatures in this horrid town was the fact that she had such a high level of dignity and pride. She wasn’t going to let some horned prisoner mock and jest her when she had beaten and triumphed over the most difficult and skilled hunters! This man before her was a joke!

"Bear in mind: some places are better left untouched, and some secrets are better left alone.”

He didn’t seem to share in her anger or pride, and he only seemed to want to dish out more warnings, which infuriated her. She was a grown woman past her twenty-first birthday, and she had gained more experience with concepts of life and death ever since she ventured forth into Yharnam. She didn’t need a false reminder that she was immature and beneath anyone, and damn the imbecile who dared to mention it.

“...Only fools do brazenly roam..." His whispered tone did little to soothe her ire and hatred, and she proved it by turning and walking away from the locked cell doors.

She would try anything it took, risk anything she had, all in the name of proving this strange horned hunter wrong. She was unable to keep out the repetitive, haunting tone of the bell out of her mind and ears, even when she had reached the beginning of The Research Hall. 

The chime of that evil, deceitful bell rang on in Arqueira's ears and mind, almost seeming to guide her murderous, skilled hands as she cleared her way through the wandering, pained patients who had been put through such ghastly and heinous experiments and studies. 

Though she felt a great and deep sense of pity for them, Arqueira knew that the deed had been done, and the damage was far too great for her to attempt at fixing. She silently prayed for the redemption of everyone's soul as she spilled countless pints of blood about the walls, ceilings, floors, shelves, and upon her own garb. Wherever she went, she seemed to literally bathe in the blood of her enemies and victims, and by the time she reached a small door at the bottom level of an elevator she had ridden down on, she was faced with a large chair at the end of the room, and a patient tied down to the chair against her will. She rocked from side-to-side, moaning and writhing in her own sorrow and agony. The sight of it was absolutely horrid to behold, and Arqueira had wanted to pass through undetected, for the Enlarged pink head sat grotesquely on her shoulders, weighing her movements down partially. 

Arqueira tiptoed by the patient in the chair, and she had nearly made it to the door, fingers outstretched for the handle to unlock it, when her boots tripped over some empty bottles lying on the floor. The sound was deadly within the silent room, and the clattering and shattering of the bottles and glass made the patient gasp, and she ceased her pained movements on her chair, her neck and head tilting upwards in the direction the sound had come from. 

"Lady Maria? Is that you?"

Arqueira didn't even breathe through her mouth as she stood at the door, her back turned to the patient. 

The patient seemed to smell and scent the air, however possible for someone bearing no distinct, regular human features, and she suddenly sighed a sigh of relief as she sat back, relaxing in the chair. 

"No...you're someone else."

Chapter Text

Chapter 2

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“Come closer, dear, kind hunter…let me speak to you.”

Arqueira knew it was far too late to deny the request of the patient, and she walked forward until she stood a few inches away from the patient in her chair.

“Please, could you do something for me?” She implored the young huntress, her enlarged, bulbous, pink head tilting ever so slightly upwards at her.

Arqueira wished she could deny this patient, but something ate away at her inside, and urged her to do whatever bidding the patient had. She didn’t want to argue with that side of herself, so she cleared her throat softly.

“Y-yes, I will.” She wouldn’t go back on her promise now, even if it bothered and troubled her to the ends of the Earth. Arqueira valued more than anything, her own integrity, and she wouldn’t be foolish enough to abandon it now, despite whatever task she wanted to carry out instead.

The patient sighed in relief, and she ceased rocking distressed in her chair.

“I need Brain Fluid. Murky, mushy Brain Fluid...”

Arqueira raised both her eyebrows at this mention of the odd request. She’d learned of many odd things throughout her journey thus far, but never had she come across anything as bizarre and strange to be labelled as “brain fluid”…she began trying to conjure up images and thoughts relating to what the thing could indeed be, but her mind kept shooting down the thoughts and ideas, and she was eventually left in her perplexed, puzzled state.

“I don’t understand…”

The patient slightly shook, but otherwise remained calm.

“You’ll soon see, dear hunter. You’ll hear the sticky, sweet sound for yourself…”

Feeling perturbed, Arqueira left the patient, unlocking the door, and she headed out, mentally preparing to locate and retrieve the brain fluid, whatever it was.

Locating and bringing back the first brain fluid had been an easy task. Arqueira had located a small, round pink head on a wooden platform she had rolled onto while exploring. She had accidentally fallen onto the circular head, and her weight had crushed it. It emitted a loud, high-pitched scream, causing Arqueira to panic and feel sorry for the pain she unknowingly caused it, but then a bunch of clear, sticky, muddy fluid dripped forth from the deflated head.

Arqueira gathered it before it all either dripped away, or dried up, and she concluded this had to be the brain fluid the patient was requesting.

Bringing it back hurriedly, she offered it to the patient, who injected it hurriedly, gobbling it down quickly, her head expanding and growing slightly in a needy manner which made the huntress shudder at the sight of it.

“Ohh... it's wonderful…” she began in her gratitude and appreciation, slurping away at the very last bits.

“And, oh! I hear the sticky sound. Do you hear it, too?”

“I do not, I’m afraid.” Arqueira answered truthfully, hoping she wouldn’t unnerve or offend the patient.

“Oh, I know. Will you have my blood, as thanks?”

Arqueira hadn’t been expecting that as a gift offering, but she was absolutely certain that if she refused, she’d offend the patient this time.

She took a step forward, crossing her arms, wondering how she was going to accept the patient’s blood…

“Well?” The patient prodded verbally, her head tilting about as she waited for the response.

“I…I don’t wish to cause you more pain…as wonderful as your blood could be, I couldn’t dare ask for such a rare gift.” Arqueira sighed, looking down at her boots. She had already previously accepted the blood of Arianna, woman of pleasure, and she didn’t wish to trouble the already disturbed patient. Everything had a time and place, after all…

The patient chuckled, “It’s nothing uncommon, brave hunter.”

“No?”

“I'll have you know: I was once a Blood Saint, too.”

Arqueira felt her interest peak, and she dropped to her knees, listening intently to the patient’s story.

“Pray tell, what is your name?” She asked as she studied the bindings which practically ate into the skin of the patient.

“I’m Saint Adeline, former Blood Saint of the Healing Church.”

Arqueira gasped.

“What exactly did you expect, dear hunter?” Adeline giggled again, “…now please, accept my gift…”

The huntress stood up, ready to shake her head, when Saint Adeline interrupted.

“But I cannot move. Look, on my right arm.” She shook her arm as best as she could, despite the binding, and Arqueira noticed that on the Blood Saint’s right arm, there was already a needle present, ready to draw blood.

“I'm sorry to trouble you, but you don't mind, do you?”

Arqueira fought the urge to tremble, not wishing to lay a finger on the patient, but she didn’t want to offend or trouble her. She leaned forward, lowering her hands to the needle, and she drew blood from the patient slowly and very carefully, not spilling or wasting a drop.

“That makes me happy.” The patient cooed as the needle filled up.

“I beg your pardon?” Arqueira asked, carefully filling an empty vial with the blood she’d drawn.

Saint Adeline didn’t have a face, but for some reason, Arqueira was positive she was smiling at her. She looked directly at the enlarged head, and she felt and pictured her smile, and she knew that once upon a time, Saint Adeline definitely possessed one of the most enchanting, beautiful smiles. Oh how she’d have loved to see it for herself…

“It makes me happy that you’d be so willing to accept my blood, kind hunter.”

Arqueira smiled back, and she felt and knew that Saint Adeline would be able to sense and feel her smile, same way Arqueira felt and sensed Saint Adeline’s pleasant, invisible smile…

“Of course, dear Blood Saint.”

{;;~``~;;}

She’d faced Lady Maria of the Astral Clocktower with some difficulty, yet she had diligently carried out Simon the Harrowed’s suggestion of ending Maria’s life in order to unveil the secrets she guarded dearly with her own flesh and blood.

The mysterious hunter stopped her in her tracks once she had walked out of the Astral Clocktower's large, heavy doors, nearly frightening her out of her skin when she felt his warm hand upon her shoulders.

She raised her Blade of Mercy, and it found its way expertly and viciously to his throat, poised and prepared to strike. She panted and breathed heavily before him, covered from head-to-toe in her own blood, sweat, tears, as well as Lady Maria's.

Simon offered her a proud smile, and he raised two fingers up at the sharp blade digging into his skin, and he brushed it aside, lowering it down without any fear or worry.

"I had faith in you, huntress." He assured her once she panted less and the promise of murder and bloodshed disappeared from her beautiful eyes.

"It's done." She said once, pulling from beneath her garb the Celestial Dial, and holding it before him.

"Now you carry the burden of the secrets of this horrible hunter's nightmare, though you once told me found nightmares fascinating, no?" He toyed with her, walking around and placing his fingers on his forehead, eyes closed in contemplation and thought as he hummed low in his chest.

Arqueira shrugged, "I haven't changed my mind, if that's what you're after; I still find nightmares intriguing."

"You do..." He muttered to himself, walking through the Lumenflower gardens, a heavy stride to his walk, his gait and stance rather...different...

"I'm not allowing you to deter me from my set path, if that's what you're intending to do." Arqueira stated decidedly, shoving past him through the large garden, and disappearing away from the conversation and situation which was starting to get on her nerves.

She didn't hear him respond, not even when she'd abandoned him without another thought or care.

After she’d obtained the Celestial Dial, Arqueira patched her wounds up, counted her blessings that she had been successful in her hunting of Lady Maria, and was able to make it back to The Research Hall, where she greeted a distressed Saint Adeline.

The patient looked uncomfortable and troubled, rocking and shaking the chair with her tormented movements, the legs of the chair lifting off the floor enough as she fell down onto the seat, lowering the legs to the floor and repeating the motions and patterns.

“Hello, hello, is anyone there? Please, somebody, I need help…I'm trying, but I'm afraid the sound is fading...”

The huntress soothed Saint Adeline, and stayed with her until her movements were less desperate and frantic, though to her amazement, Saint Adeline didn’t cease her pained struggles.

“Please, oh please, I need Brain Fluid!”, she whined desperately, her voice stretching out to Arqueira in a last-attempt chance. “The sticky sound is fading fast! Please, bring me Brain Fluid!”

Arqueira rested her gloved hands over Saint Adeline’s cold skin, trying to provide comfort and security in the darkness that she no doubt was living in, currently.

“I promise, I will bring it for you, Adeline.”

“I must have it... that sound, it is all that guides me...” she turned her head about on her thin, boney shoulders, moaning in pain and anguish so much that Arqueira had to back away from the sight of the wretched patient.

“Without it, I'll be sent back...to my former, lesser years...” she whined in misery, and Arqueira could stomach it no longer. She ventured forth to obtain more, which she did, rather successfully.

Only when she was certain she had placated and comforted the Blood Saint once more, did she continue her journey into the Fishing Hamlet.

Arqueira passed through the watery, murky, dark, rainy Fishing Hamlet, not aware of the pair of eyes which followed her, mapping out and tracing her every little move…

{;;~``~;;}

The little Sinister Resonant Bell chimed twice in the dark cell, and a red glow appeared a few feet away from the cell door. A darkly clad figure emerged from the shadows, the light behind him fading away, and he stepped towards the center of the cell.

“Glad to see you again.”

Brador looked up, a small half-smile painted on his older features, as he looked ahead at the dark figure in the room.

“What do you want of me?” The young voice inquired softly, though it seemed rather perplexed.

“She’s making her way through the Fishing Hamlet, I fear.” Brador hissed, eyes closing as he remembered the thin huntress, almost as if she were behind the door right now. He felt his heart burning with hatred and malice, and knowing his duties, he looked past the figure, out the door beyond.

“So she is.”

“Hmm.”

He beckoned the figure forward towards him with his index finger, almost mockingly.

It appeared that he had either offended the dark figure, or he had worried him, for the figure took a reluctant step forward, but only one step was taken. No more, no less, and the room was chillingly silent.

“Stop her.”

“You mean end her life?” The question was asked obviously.

Brador chuckled, teeth shining in the dark fiendishly.

“Burn her, skin her, bash her, defile her very name from this land, I care not about the manner in which you choose to do this task.”

“Very well.”

“Just see to it that she doesn’t breathe another breath.” He lowered his head, smiling down at the floor, or perhaps his bell, though he made no move to ring it.

The figure watched him hold the bell in his fingers for a while before speaking up.

“She’s been fraternizing with the Blood Saint…”

Brador didn’t look up to meet the figure’s eyes.

“Ahh, so she has.”

Silence responded to his statement.

Brador shook the bell once between his fingers, and it chimed hauntingly within the quiet cell and darkness.

“She doesn’t move another step, or else you’ll have to answer to me. Have I made myself clear?”

The figure didn’t move for a long time, as the bell chimed and rang many times over.

Brador looked down at it with amused eyes, ringing it a few more times before closing his eyes and chuckling.

“Clear enough.”

Brador nodded once.

“Soon, she’ll understand what it means to fear the toll of the bell.”

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Chapter Text

Chapter 3

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Arqueira nearly fell off the long, wooden gantry extending from the top of the tallest building in the Fishing Hamlet to another set of houses and buildings. Her little fingers found their grip and purchase in the rotten, molding wood, and she slowly and carefully pulled herself back up on her two feet, panting from exhaustion and relief.

She had exited the Lighthouse hut moments prior, not sure where she had to go from there on. She had nearly missed the little pathway, her attention mainly being trained on the light rain above in the sky, and the white-blue clouds parting and sailing above every so often creating a shadow and making her feel and believe she was being watched.

Arqueira gathered her nerves, putting away her weapons once the rooftops had been cleared of fish guards and horribly grotesque guard dogs. The only thing accompanying her was the rain, which she shivered from, wrapping her arms around her body as she sat on the walkway, thinking of her duties.

She had wanted to abandon them all at the moment, but Simon’s words burned through her heart and her mind; there was plenty of work to be done.

The huntress looked to the sky, and she knew not what the time was, but the ache in her legs and bones told her and encouraged her to seek refuge and rest. So she listened, and stood, turning back to the Lighthouse hut where she had started the second half of her journey.

Low thunder echoed behind her as she entered the hut, and she quickly gathered a few small twigs and leaves, in order to prepare a small campfire to bed down for the night. She had started her fire, and the room was illuminated, when she looked at the floors before her, and fell back, a horrific cry of terror and pain emitting from her red lips.

Against the wall across her fire, was Simon. But this wasn’t the captivating, mysteriously engaging Simon the huntress had been first introduced to; this Simon was lying cold and immobile on his chest and stomach. He was almost flat against the ground, which was probably why Arqueira had nearly missed him. His face was hidden from her, and she wasn’t sure whether or not he was breathing…

Despite her initial reaction to flee, Arqueira inched closer to him, her hands outstretched to gently hover over his back, where they hovered in the air for many long minutes.

Her eyes were glued to his back, and she prayed he would stir, but he didn’t.

A few times his name died on her lips, and she felt her voice had been stolen, for she tried calling his name a final time, but her breath came out in a soft wheeze.

As if on cue, Simon inhaled a deep, long breath, and his chest and back inflated, rising upwards against her hand.

She screamed in shock and fell back, but then regained her faculties, and placed her warm hands over his wet, cold back.

“You’re cold as death!” She whispered fearfully, her hands skating up and down his back, trying to breathe life and warmth into him.

He moaned, and lifted his head in the slowest manner possible, his eyes heavily strained and exhausted when they met hers.

“…Oh, you, I’m afraid, I’ve made a botch of things…” he coughed, lowering his head slightly, but then looked back up at her.

Arqueira rubbed her hands furiously over his back, and then looked to her bonfire, as if it held the answers they both sought out.

“Shhh, come by the fire, Simon, it’ll warm you up!” She pleaded and looked down sorrowfully at him, her auburn hair slightly damp and matted against her head.

Simon shook his head, gasping in more pain, “…I can hear the bell, now…” he lifted his head, his ears bloodied, and Arqueira noted the bloodstream running down his ears, onto his cheeks, and drenching his clothing in blood.

“What happened?” She gasped, wanting to hold him, but fearful that moving him from his spot would doom and harm him more.

A low, monotonous ring sounded outside the hut, though it seemed far away. It caused both the hunters to gasp, freeze and lock up in their movements, and they listened as it rang once more before dying down.

“The bell!” Arqueira gasped, trying to locate the sound source.

She was brought back to Simon’s side, when he gripped her gloved hand in his and shook it gently.

“Arqueira… …The beast-hide assassin, he’s after me…again and again…” His whines broke her heart, and she grabbed his hands in hers, leaning down to peer into his horrified, traumatized eyes. She knew not the story they told, but she was going to do her best to find out and get to the bottom of the matter.

“Simon, who did this to you?” She whispered her question, feeling his breath against her nose, but it seemed so weak and fragile…much like himself right now…

“…It never ends!” He moaned and closed his eyes, sobbing and coughing his way through his misery, which made Arqueira both enraged at the fool who had caused her friend this pain, but also broke her heart and spirits to see her fellow hunter at this level.

“I need a name!” She cried loudly, cupping his chin in her hand and gently prying his neck upwards to gaze into her mad eyes.

He refused to open his eyes, though he answered: “The horned hunter of the Church!”

Arqueira never had any reason to doubt her friend and comrade previously. However, she wondered how mad and horrified he had been driven that he had begun hallucinating now. She truly felt pity for Simon, but she still wished to know who she had to hunt down and make pay for this crime.

She shook her head, “But how can that be, Simon? He’s locked away in a cell! I haven’t the key!”

“It was the beast-hide assassin!” He yelled desperately, looking at her now, and his eyes bearing no lies or secrets anymore. This was a direct contrast to how she had first met and seen him; he had always hidden his eyes from her, and always lowered his head, as if he didn’t wish to reveal to her the true nature of the nightmare. She had been encouraged to slowly unravel the mysteries and secrets, and Simon had encouraged her to harken to their call. But now, it was no time for that, and she needed to hunt for blood. Damn all the secrets of the nightmare! She wouldn’t have it, anymore!

“He was in his youth, he was courageous! I’ve never met such a foe…” His eyes and head drooped, resting against the warmth her palm provided, and she shook his shoulder with her other hand.

“I refuse to believe it was he!”

“Believe what you want, the truth will never change.” Simon closed his eyes, and Arqueira felt his head growing heavy as it weighed down in her palm. She gently guided his head down to the wet grounds, and sat up quickly.

“I’m going to be right back, Simon.”

She raced all throughout the Fishing Hamlet, searching the abandoned, empty cabins and homes until she found one with a bed and sheets still about. She dragged them all the way back to the Lighthouse hut, wrapping Simon’s fallen body in them, and adding more sticks to her bonfire.

“What’re you doing?” Simon wheezed painfully at her.

“You should be out there looking after yourself; not me…I’m unworthy.”

Arqueira threw him a glare, even though he wasn’t looking at her.

“Don’t you dare speak like that! You rest, now.”

She stood and left the hut only when she heard him lightly snoring, fast asleep and hopefully comfortable as he could be in the warm hut.

She tip-toed her way down the gantry once more, eyes set aflame, and she paused as soon as she was halfway down the gantry, when the awful, terrifying toll of the bell hit her ears.

On the rooftop, across from her connected to the gantry, a small red glow appeared a few feet away from her, and a figure rose out of thin air.

He rose to his full height, his head slightly downcast. He wore a grey beast-hide garb, with blood stains and splatter spread across in odd places. His dress pants were black and slightly blood-stained, though his black shoes were oddly shined and polished relatively well.

Arqueira glared and silently promised him a long, torturous death, once she noted the antler-covered head of the garb.

{;;~``~;;}

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He had never seen anyone like her. The moment he materialized before her on the rooftop, he was absolutely certain he didn’t want to cause her pain or harm. He stood before her, directly facing her, and he peeked at her beneath the top of his testimony hood.

She was phenomenally, radiantly gorgeous. What a creature he’d come across and found! It was a rapturous day for him, and he silently thanked the gods and Great Ones above for bestowing him with such a rare, unique gift!

He observed her silently, taking pleasure in her feminine form and beauty. She was perfectly shaped, and her bosom was one of her greatest assets. How he wanted to wrap his arms around them and feel her heart beating beneath her left breast…

He remembered he had a job to do, a purpose. He reached into his long beast-hide garb, and withdrew his Bloodletter. He would perhaps try to scare her off, and he hoped she would heed his warnings…he didn’t want to damage that pretty face…

He extended the dangerous weapon, impaling himself on it, and the old, familiar, thrilling feeling of pain seeped into his chest and stomach as he hunched over and shoved the Bloodletter through himself.

He adored and fell in love with her even more once he saw her reaction; she paled, her mouth opened in fear and awe, and she took a half-step back once her eyes followed his blood exploding and spraying forth.

He removed the Bloodletter from himself once it had bathed and enriched its skills and secrets in his blood, and he healed himself up instantly as he raised the weapon high into the air before bringing it down around himself at his feet with a heavy, solid ‘slam’. His blood dripped from the spikey tips, all the way to the end of it, soaking into the rotted wood. Such a waste…

He took a step towards her, the weapon acting and serving much like a walking-stick at his side, though he relied on it for a far more malicious, sinister purpose…

“Your hair, like fire. Your eyes, like the soil of the Earth…you’re magnificent.”

She hadn’t been expecting to hear that, but his words were clear as day. Studying his features more intently the closer he drew towards her, she observed a youthful face, completely absent of wrinkles or lines anywhere, dark, fine, short hair on his skull, and matching fine hair on his chin, a thick beard. His eyes were full of life, and his posture and stance promised he had far more energy than when she had seen him in his cell, all drooped over and toying with his bell.

How could this be?

Simon hadn’t been fibbing or wrong; it was indeed this very same beast-hide assassin who’d harmed him! She remembered her purpose here, and she stopped gaping at his masculinity, and clenched her Blades of Mercy in her hands, breaking them off into twin blades, and hoping they threatened and warned him of her own prowess and strength.

“Do you know who I am?” He asked her gently, his tone almost excited and pleased to be within her presence, as he smiled at her, his lips full and pink…

She nodded, scoffing at him, “You’re a damn monster.”

He winced, though it was dramatized and over-exaggerated.

“Ouch…I don’t think I’m fond of that title, Miss…”

She took a larger step towards him, hearing the groaning and creaking of the wooden planks as they supported both their weight.

“I care not where your fondness lies; you’re a horrid monster, and deserve to be finished like one!” She felt her blood boiling in her veins, and this fueled her on.

He tsked her childishly, waving an index finger at her. She noted the fresh blood on his armbands.

“You’re a lady, are you not?” he toyed with her, winking playfully at her as he advanced further, “why not behave like one, then?”

She roared angrily and attacked, leaping up into the air with her blades aimed and pointed dangerously at him.

Instead of dashing away or ducking like majority of her enemies had, he simply reached into his pants pockets, dug out a little bottle, opened the cap, and gulped down the syrupy, gooey substance.

At once, the huntress slammed into an invisible, hidden barrier, and she was thrown back onto the shaky, weak, old platform. She felt as if a Great One had hit her, and she coughed and heaved in pain, standing up slowly, fingers tightening around her twin blades still in her grip.

"Unending death awaits those who pry into the unknown..." he warned her gently, then before she could realize what had transpired, he leaned down and grabbed her by the front of her garb with one strong hand.

She saw the watery bottom of the Fishing Hamlet below, and the many dead bodies she had slaughtered viciously hours ago. They appeared like small dots as he raised her higher and higher, and then he stopped once he lowered her gently so she was directly before him, their eyes aligned.

She felt transfixed, as if the worst spell had been cast on her. She was unable to avoid his gaze and look elsewhere, and she felt she no longer had control over her own body. Her mind was still her own, and it was trapped in her paralysis as he grinned at her.

“You’re so very pretty, Missy…” He yanked her forward, and bit down hard on her lower lip.

He drew blood, and she snapped back to attention then, once the searing pain flew through her lips.

She reached forward with her right hand, and she threw off her glove. Her fingernails acted like claws, and she scratched him with all her might across his left cheek, cutting the skin from his cheekbone down to his upper left lip.

He released her lips then, roaring in anger.

“You turn me on like no other, too.” He flung her down then, far below past the rooftops and buildings, all the way to the bottom of the Fishing Hamlet.

He leaned over the railing of the connecting gantry, sighing as he looked down at her in the water, a sloppy, dopey grin across his face.

“I love a woman who can draw my blood without the use of a weapon…”

He sighed happily, resting a closed fist beneath his chin as he peered down at her, chuckling to himself.

He saw her stirring down below, and he moved quickly; leaping down from the gantry to the ledge of a rooftop, then down on top of a few empty barrels, breaking them with the weight of his fall.

He placed his hands on her shoulders and back, cooing and hushing her pained gasps and labored breathing.

“Shhh…now, now, you know very well that you were the cause of that,” he spoke calmly and gently to her, a direct, odd contrast to the show of violence and force previously, “…I’d never treat a lady in that manner regularly, but I must say, you do bring out the animal in me…”

He leaned down, sniffing the top of her hair and head, then burying his nose in her wet hair.

“I don’t possess many things I happen to stumble upon and find, but I really want to call you mine…you are mine!”

Arqueira screamed in pain, and she threw her head back and upwards, the back of her skull connecting with his nose, causing a loud ‘crack!’ sounding from the force of the impact.

His hands flew to his hit nose, and he fell back, moaning in pain.

Arqueira took this as her chance, and she grabbed the Blades of Mercy once again, sliding forward in the water and digging one of the blades into his shin.

She missed at the last minute, for he pulled back, standing up.

She looked up to find his long, wet, pink tongue licking up, to the side, down to his chin, almost like a serpent. He was licking away the blood she’d spilled…he almost appeared blood-starved and hungry, lapping away at the blood as he peered down licentiously at her.

His eyes bore nothing but lust and desire, and she felt sickened as she forced herself to look away from the sight.

“You’re disgusting!” She shrieked, limping backwards, hands still holding her only source of protection.

He chuckled, “You’re fucking beautiful…no one has ever impacted me in such a way…you’ve no idea, really…do you?”

He dove forward, discarding the Bloodletter in the water, and he landed directly on top of her.

He sent them both into the watery grounds, her weapons lost in the dark water, and he yanked back a large bunch of her hair, forcing her head upwards to look into his eyes.

Arqueira closed her eyes, and he roared. He proved his displeasure by slapping her across the face twice, and she cried out in pain, involuntarily opening her red-teary eyes to meet his lust-filled ones.

“So beautiful…”

“Just kill me, please!” She cried hysterically, looking at his chin, anywhere except his monstrous eyes.

He gasped, then changed his behaviour completely; stroking her hair and cheeks softly and lovingly, and he kissed her cold, wet forehead, his lips oddly warm and gentle…

“I would never do such a thing, even if every ruler and King in the world ordered me to do so!”

He kissed her cheeks next, lips trailing about her face, and his eyes raked her facial features up and down, eating her sight pleasurably as he moaned in gratitude and appreciation.

“You mean so much more to me than this beastly, ghastly hunt…”

His tongue darted out next, and it was the very same sickening tongue which had slithered across his own lips and chin, soaking away and licking up his own blood…Arqueira bit down on her tongue, willing herself not to throw up.

She felt his tongue poke and prod at her cheeks and upper lip, and she recoiled, her head turning to the left side, and she felt the cold water surround her ear and cheeks. She didn’t care; she would willingly drown herself a million times over than let him touch her…

This again displeased him, but he didn’t react violently; he merely dipped a finger into the water, finding her cheek, and he gently pushed her head back up to face him directly.

“Anyway, this is no way to begin our courtship, my love. Let’s get you out of these wet clothes…”

She didn’t fight this time, even when she felt his large, vile hands wrap around her waist and neck, pulling her against his chest.

Chapter Text

Chapter 4

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The steady toll of a bell was what roused her, and she sprung up in her bedding, only to be pushed back down by a strong, warm hand.

 Arqueira gazed upwards with heavy eyelids that barely could conceal how exhausted and depleted she really was. She felt her eyes searing with a burning sensation, indicating the sleep she had gotten hadn’t nearly been enough to recuperate her, and her entire body felt stiff and in pain.

The hand on her chest was bandaged and bloodied, and she felt herself retching when she looked up to see the dark shadowed eyes of the Church Assassin above her. His hood was still on, sporting the horns, and his eyes gleamed at her in the few candles that surrounded them.

“Where are we?” She nearly fainted at the sound of her voice; it sounded so much different than usual, so weak, fearful…it wasn’t like her. She prayed and hoped he wouldn’t resume his torture and abuse upon her, and she knew she was at her most vulnerable state before him…he could do anything he wanted to her…

“We’re somewhere safe; somewhere he won’t be able to gaze upon.”

Arqueira wasn’t sure what he meant, nor did she have the energy or time to entertain his wild imagination and notions. She needed a straight-forward answer.

With whatever strength she somehow conjured up, she swiped upwards with her right hand, snaking her little fingers past the dark hood, and she gripped thick hair. She pulled his head down until their lips were inches apart, and she glared into his dark, mysterious eyes.

“Where the hell am I?” She hissed her question like a viper, eyes flashing dangerously in a warning which he smirked and scoffed at.

He wrapped one hand around her own, and shoved her fingers away from his hair expertly, almost. She watched her weak hand fall lifelessly down onto the cold bedding at her side.

He grinned down at her viciously, “Only a whore would be so forthcoming and lay her hands on a gentleman.”

Arqueira felt her anger burning furiously within her, but she knew she was too weak to engage him in combat. She could only supply him with what she hoped was a dangerous, threatening sneer of her own as she looked up at him.

“I may be weak for now, but I will regain my strength, and I will kill you and put an end to all this.”

He winked at her, “Is this a promise?”

“One I will take with me to the grave, so help me.”

She felt her insides churning with regret and worry, especially for Simon. But she knew better than to allude to the fact that her friend was still alive…well…had been when she had last seen him…oh how she wanted to attend to him and together they could slay this wretched monster!

She suddenly remembered that he had mentioned another man, a ‘he’ who was gazing upon them? What had he meant?

Her thoughts were halted when she watched him sit back on his rear, his legs drawn up, hands loosely around his knees, and he peered down at her.

Moments of silence passed between the two; she glaring at him in anger, and he studying her features fondly.

The room was a small, tight one, with a lower ceiling, a few old, decrepit beds which had blood-stained sheets and mattresses, feathers and linen thrown about messily, as if the occupants of the room had left in a hurry, once upon a time. The room seemed to tell its own depressing story, but Arqueira wasn’t interested in it…for now…

“Take it off.” She shifted her eyes to the horned hood, and she nodded once at him.

He snickered, clearly misreading the request for a joke, but when her eyes didn’t leave his, his grin died down on his face.

His hands slowly rose, but they did not shake or hesitate, and he very carefully grabbed the back of the hood, and pushed it back and downwards until it was off his head.

In the dim candlelight, Arqueira saw him as he was: short, thick soft black hair slightly messy and matted stuck upwards in a few odd angles, dark, round eyes gazing around her features, a youthful face sporting white skin, and a stubbly face that bore a few days old of a small beard. His lips were thin and set in a line as he looked down at her, a small flush forming on his cheeks the longer she stared at him.

“Hmm.” Was all she said in the awkward silence of the room.

“That’s it?” He laughed, sitting back and discarding the hood beside him.

She gave a half shrug, wincing in pain immediately after.

He cocked an eyebrow up at her.

“Do you find me appealing? Attractive?” His question was ignored, and she breathed deeply, the pain in her back dying down.

“I expected a monster; not a man barely aged twenty-one.”

He chuckled, “You’re no older.”

She shook her head, “No, I’m not any older.”

He gave a slight pause before wetting his lips with a pink tongue.

“Would you ever think to lay by me?”

She wasn’t sure what he meant, and she frowned in confusion.

He rolled his eyes, “As a woman does with a man.” He spoke as if it were the most obvious and natural thing in the world right now.

Arqueira still was confused, but she turned her head and looked at his feet instead of his eyes or face.

“We’re not acquainted, and I’m not your wife.”

“Who said only a wife and husband have to fuck?”

Silence stretched on uncomfortably for a while, the air growing heavy and foul-smelling all of a sudden, and she closed her eyes, trying to drown it out.

“You killed Simon the Harrowed.” She didn’t even need to accuse him; she was well aware of his bloody handiwork by now. Wherever he went, death followed, and there was no room for doubt.

He nodded, “I told you, unending death awaits those who pry into the unknown.”

She wished she had all her weapons with her, so she could bury each and every one of them slowly and painfully into his skin, until he was a walking monument to the hunt, to her hunt. She would proudly hoist him back into the Hunter’s Workshop with glee and satisfaction, and perhaps mount that hooded head on a wall…yes, that would do quite nicely.

He shrugged then, scratching at his stubbly face with a few fingers.

“Ah, tarry not, it’s done and long gone. We should focus on the company of one another, not him.”

“Simon?” She asked softly, eyes still tightly shut.

“No…him…”

Arqueira wasn’t a foolish girl; she knew that this man was likely afraid of someone else, someone in a higher position of power or authority, and she knew that today he had likely strayed from his tasks and assigned duties, and he had to keep his own secrets from his “masters”.

She sighed in exhaustion and pain, “You fear someone…”

He frowned, but lowered his head, awkwardly looking down at the bedding and sheets for a few minutes.

“I don’t fear anyone.” His tone definitely suggested otherwise.

For a few seconds, Arqueira thought of how young he looked, his flushed face and concerned eyes bearing a weight upon his shoulders only he knew of, as he stared down absentmindedly. Regardless, this wasn’t just any man; this was a cold-blooded raging fiend, and he was no less a beast than anything else she had slayed with unending passion and violence.

“You’re a liar, sir.” She hissed calmly, and it shocked him, for his head snapped upwards, and his hair fell slightly over his forehead.

His forehead bore a few lines, as his dark eyebrows rose upwards in surprise and shock he couldn’t conceal in time.

“You’re calling me a liar?” His tone was still soft and almost more like that of a young boy than a man, but she wasn’t going to be made a fool of…again.

She nodded.

He smiled slowly at her, and it frightened her deeply, for she sunk back into her sheets and bedding, eyes slowly closing, almost as if she feared he would strike her face…

A warm hand reached out and cupped her cheek, his fingers stroking her soft, delicate, cold skin a few times, just casually caught in the rhythm of the motions as he gazed down at her with an expression that seemed approachable, but definitely held an air of malice in it.

“I won’t let him find you.”

Arqueira was once again at a loss for words, and her curiosity threatened to spill out of her mouth in a sea of questions she knew he wouldn’t answer. He was a master at evasion, and it was starting to drive her mad, but she knew all efforts of seeking her questions to be answered were for naught.

She turned her head away, trying to slide his fingers off her skin, but he cupped her chin and stroked it with his thumb up and down a few times.

“He will soon know you’re mine, and mine only. He won’t dare claim what’s rightfully mine.” His voice turned more eerie by the moment, as his breathing grew quiet, a direct contrast to how strongly and evenly he breathed from his nostrils at first.

She didn’t share his zeal and enthusiasm, and she shook her head, but his grip on her chin tightened, and he yanked her head to face him directly. When she looked at him, she saw his eyes peering dangerously into hers, a silent promise of pain, torture, and death withheld in them if she didn’t obey, if she didn’t harken to his every wish and demand…this was no way to live…

“Just be mine, and no harm will ever come to you. My word is my bond, my love.”

He spoke strongly, confidently, and it appeared that no matter how much or how hard she protested, his mind was made up for the two of them. Arqueira didn’t know how she was going to win back her freedom, her life, but she knew that if she angered the violent man, a less than swift death would befall her. She knew he would torture her, and he would enjoy it immensely. To survive, she had to do the only thing she could think of: bond with her captor.

She nodded at him despite her mind clouding with hatred and violence for this man, but he didn’t seem to notice it.

She didn’t stop him from stroking her hair and her face, cursing him every time his hands and fingers wove their way around her auburn locks, and almost combing through the tight knots. She didn’t try to fight him as he undid her corset, leaving her bare before him in the lights around them. If she wanted to, she knew she could land a few nasty blows in, but it was far too late into the night for that, and he was so very warm…

She didn’t protest her discomfort when his warm, supple lips marked her body, mapping out every inch and she didn’t try to show her disgust when his tongue soon accompanied the wanderings of his lips.

Nothing stopped him from seeking out and tasting her musky wet scent for hours into the night, though she didn’t encourage or voice her pleasure or displeasure. She kept lifeless and silent as his tongue sought out private places she couldn’t believe a man she wasn’t betrothed to knew.

She hid whatever noises that threatened to come out of her biology, and out of the curiosity of something novel and new that was happening to her. She didn’t stir; she allowed him to entertain himself with her breasts until he cupped the warm, flesh mounds one last time, and fell into a deep slumber by her side.

 

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Simon was certain he was finished. He was certain he had finally left the realm of the waking world, and he was beyond any possible plane of existence. He felt his body detaching from his soul, like an empty husk or a shell of what he was once, and he felt himself lifelessly floating upwards. He wasn’t cold, he wasn’t warm, wasn’t even exhausted; he wasn’t even alive…

He closed and opened his eyes without a hassle or struggle, and he heard no noises surrounding him; he just knew he was not here.

He closed his eyes again, not feeling pressed for air, and when he opened them, he saw a shadowy figure surrounded by a faint orange glow approaching him.

Time seemed to be unimportant suddenly, for the figure seemed to float, and then lose and gain distance, until in an instant, it was inches away from Simon’s eyes.

The figure didn’t move or bend down to Simon’s hunched level; it merely stood and Simon closed his eyes again, basking in its presence. It wasn’t warm or cold; it just was, and he just was.

Although he felt and sensed nothing, Simon felt attune and turned to the figure, and he didn’t move as he heard the far-away yet ever-so-clear softness of the masculine voice above and beside him.

“You have forgotten the adage, Simon the Harrowed.”

Simon didn’t move, still, but he smiled slowly, his face entirely numb.

“I am finally unable to reason or feel anything; I feel no pain, no joy, no sorrow…I am hollow, I am nothing and everything.”

The figure shifted and it swayed, but then it grew still.

“You’ve betrayed yourself.”

Simon frowned suddenly, but he stared off into the white areas of the new existence they were in, and he felt his thoughts echoing back to him in a warning suddenly.

“Everything wasn’t clear, but it is becoming clear.”

The figure didn’t speak, but it seemed to silently request Simon to continue.

“I was saving my strength to cut off the damn assassin’s head and watch the flesh rot away into the poisoned wind, but now I know what I have to do; I have to save Arqueira.”

“If not from him, from herself, but save her, you must.” The figure guided him to be strong and sincere in his hunting, and Simon smiled knowingly, not stirring from his seated position.

“Yes, I will do it. I may lose my life, but I have to do it…” He knew what had to be done.

“Remember, Simon, your eyes are yet to open, but they now will.”

Simon leaned back, feeling his body cave downward, and he relaxed into the fall, slipping away one piece-at-a-time until he felt gone. His thoughts swam with his heart, more so than before, but he felt his face slightly warm. He closed his eyes and smiled, hearing the voice dying down as he flew through the air.

“Fear the old blood.”

He awoke. He was back on the cold rotting wood of the Lighthouse Hut in the Fishing Hamlet where she had told him to wait.

He stirred, feeling his strength still not fully gained back, but he was becoming more like himself by the minute. He grasped his knees, slowly stirring up and standing on two shaky feet.

He supported his own weight with one hand tightly grasping the walls, and he limped past the doorway, stopping to gaze up at the cloudy, rainy sky.

He smiled, his baggy eyes brightening.

“I promise you, Laurence, I will do what’s to be done.”