Throught the Night

A world on the edge of war. A boy who hosts a dormant evil on the brink of being unleashed. A tortured woman with a dark past. An ex-prisoner with an infinite stash of secrets. A blind assassin who knows nothing but bloodshed and darkness. All of these come together in an unlikely band to join the rebellion against the forces of hell itself. But when the skeletons in their closets come out to play, who will find themselves on heaven's side, and who will burn?

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5. New Enemies

The assassin was just another shadow in the night around him. He ran. He was faster than seemed natural. He used his sharp, honed skills to navigate in the pitch darkness. The moon and the stars were completely hidden by clouds. But,darkness didn't bother the Blind Prince, it was all he knew.

It had been one week since his father had given the order to hunt down the demon and the traitor known as the Normann. Raven hadn't wasted a second. It took only seven days by boat, to cross the distance between the island country of Zaré and the smaller island country of Anglesia.

He had to find a horse. He had already made it twenty kilometers from the city of Finhav where his ship had docked. He could run another twenty if he had to, but he would rather conserve energy and take a horse when possible.

Suddenly, Raven detected a foul smell. He had found the last hunting team. They were all piled together about a fifty meters from the roadside, at least a week and a half old. Raven moved onward. He could sense that the capitol was near, less than a kilometer away. The road he was using now was well used, he was surprised that no one had found the bodies. But then again, not many people had his refined sense of smell.

He continued onward. Lonerry was a fairly nice city. It had few slums and most of its inhabitants could support themselves and didn't hunger. Raven could speak fluent Anglese; all of the Hunters had been required to learn the five most common languages of Terrestia. But he had always struggled with getting rid of his heavy Zarésian accent, especially when he hadn't used the language in a few months.

He silently thanked his fallen brothers for at least being able to get a tracking device on one of the targets. The Normann wouldn't be expecting it. The Hunters hadn't had a tracking system in his time. Thanks to Kethan and his spellcasters, the Hunters had been able to improve their efficiency. Raven hated to admit it, but his brother was a genius with creating charms and devices. He felt the chain around his neck growing warmer as he pressed on into the city. The warmer it got, the closer he was. The tracker didn't work over long distances, but as long as the Hunter using it was within a few kilometers, he would be able to find his prey.

It was stupid of them to stay for so long in one city, Raven thought with a sliver of doubt. The Normann wouldn't be so careless. If he had found the tracker, things would just get harder for Raven.

"A man, a woman, and a boy. They would have come about a week ago," Raven said to the inn keeper, trying to ignore the uncomfortably warm tracker around his neck. The man behind the counter was tense. The shape of his movements in Raven's mind were stiff and spoke of fear.

"T-they only stayed for one night, m'lord." He pulled something out from under the counter. "They left this."

Raven grabbed the object in frustration. The tracking device. It was a small, sticky, disk that would stick to almost any material and was colorless. It would have been hard to detect. But the Normann had done it.

Raven swore. "Did you get any hint of where they would go next?"

"N-no m'lord. But on their way out, I heard the boy say that he 'wasn't looking forward to the voyage'. I'm terribly sorry I can't tell you more, sir." The man grovelled. Raven said not a word and stormed out of the inn.

There were many places that one could reach by ship from the west coast of Anglesia. But these were people on the run. It would be a wise move to go straight on to Gallica. Raven had been at this game long enough to predict people's actions with almost perfect accuracy. He was sure that his targets were on their way to Gallica.

 

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Jasper wasn't stupid enough to think that disposing of the tracker would put the Hunter off their trail. It had been some time since he had really been caught up with the Hunters and Arkuros. Their science and technology through applied magic had increased greatly. This worried Jasper. Arkuros' empire had only had time to improve since Jasper's dealings with them, and they had not wasted any resource. The rumors were that the king's three children: Raven, Sahra, and Kethan, were all specifically trained to head the three branches of the Zarésian military. The rumors also said that those three were the best in their specific fields that the empire had yet seen, besides Arkuros himself.

"What's the matter?" Kimiko asked, interrupting Jasper's thoughts. They stood leaning on the railing of a pier on the southern coast of Gallica. The beach here was stony and the sound of the waves relaxing, but Jasper felt nothing but a storm coming.

"I have a bad feeling that he's catching up fast. Where's the boy? We should start moving."

Kimiko rolled her eyes.

"He has a name."

"My apologies," Jasper said, "but where is he?"

"Off to buy some supplies," Kimiko stared at him. The small village behind them bustled with life. Jasper glanced up at the street. He was about to look away when something caught his eye. A figure in a plain, brown cloak was gliding a little to purposefully and quickly through the crowd. Jasper blinked and then the figure had disappeared. Your days in prison have made you paranoid, old man, he told himself, shaking his head. He turned back to Kimiko. She was looking expectantly at him.

"What?" he asked.

"I said, 'you're very mysterious for a person who knows so much about the Hunters, Arkuros, and the rebellion.'" She raised an eyebrow, the sun light glinting off of the water and into her eyes, coloring them caramel.

"I've traveled a lot," he looked down.

"You're from Norskland, aren't you? What's it like up in the mountains?" She sounded wistful. "Everywhere I've been is crawling in Zaré's soldiers. Every city from Finhav, Anglesia to Taiyou's capitol, Kaigakure is under Arkuros' control. I've heard that the only free society who are independent of Arkuros' rule are the mountain men. The Normenn."

"That may be true," Jasper traced the worn grains in the wood. "But there is a reason for that. My people are dying out. For centuries, they have pillaged and burned the villages and lands around them. They've taken to the seas and conquered other lands. Call it karma or just fate, but now that the world is owned by someone else, they've just started to whither away. They're only free because the king isn't stupid enough to waste resources on them. There's nothing to gain by conquering them or wiping them out." He sighed. "A once powerful people have become so weak. Maybe their actions have just come back to punish them."

"You say 'them' like you're not one of them, but I can see it in the color of your eyes and hair. Even your name is Normann." Kimiko studied him. "Why?"

"Because I haven't been home in many, many years. I don't think that they would call me their brother anymore." Jasper fell silent.

"Who do you belong to, then?" Kimiko asked, barely above a whisper. Jasper could hear the unasked questions hiding behind this simple one. She suspected the truth. Just then, something in the street caught Jasper's eye. It was the cloaked man, this time stalking through the crowd with the stride of a tiger waiting to pounce. Jasper knew that his instincts were telling him right this time. There was something about the man. Without warning, Jasper sprinted along the pier, up the bank and into the street, leaving a bewildered Kimiko staring after him.

He shoved through the townsfolk, earning a few curses and gasps of anger. He looked around in haste until he spotted the hooded figure. And then he spotted Hachi browsing a fruit vendor's stand, just feet from the cloaked man.

Jasper was too far away.

The man grabbed Hachi by the wrist and dragged him past the vendors and into a nearby alley.

Jasper was nearly shoving the crowd now. He flew past the shocked vendor and dove into the alleyway, where he saw the hooded man holding Hachi around the neck with one hand. Jasper immediately drew his sword and ran the man through. He fell to the ground, releasing Hachi, who was choking for air.

"What happened?" Kimiko came running up behind Jasper. She stared with wide eyes at the dying stranger.

"Who sent you?" Jasper grabbed the man by the front of his tunic. The man coughed once, and then was still. His eyes staring up into space.

"Was he a Hunter?" asked Hachi, whose voice was still hoarse.

"No," replied Jasper immediately. "If he had been a Hunter, we would all probably be dead. This is my fault. I let my guard down."

Kimiko bent and rolled the man over.

"What are you doing?" Jasper asked. She didn't answer, but pulled the man's cloak away and lifted his tunic, revealing a strange tattoo that looked a little like a sun and a little like an eye.

"I know who sent him," Kimiko looked at them grimly. "I guess the rebellion knows about him too. This is their crest.  I guess we can be sure that they don't want to use the demon. They'd rather kill Hachi, apparently."

"How did they find out about this?" Jasper demanded.

"I don't know! Maybe they've noticed the suspiciously high amount of Hunters leaving Zaré and coming to Angelsia?" Kimiko sounded panicked. "As if we didn't already have enough to worry about with Arkuros. Now Jalen and his-" she broke off suddenly, staring at the dead man's hand.

"What?" Jasper followed her gaze. The man's hand was clenching a knife. And the knife was bloody.

"Guys..." Hachi's weak voice captured their attention. The both looked up at him. He was pale and had an expression of fear on his face. He looked down at his hands, which were held tightly over his stomach. Blood was seeping through his fingers.

"Hachi!" Kimiko screamed, and rushed towards him just as he collapsed.

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