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"The Priest Hydra is in the clearing up ahead, it appears to be rather large." The hunter informs me softly patting the head of his soul bound hawk.
Priest Hydras are nasty things, they have a body like a lizard, six snake like heads that have hoods that look like the hoods of a Priest, the source of the Hydras name. You have to be careful when fighting any kind of Hydra because the blood of a Hydra is highly acidic to the point that it can burn through most things. Hydra bites should be avoided at all cost too, they are filled with a very powerful venom that can kill in a matter of agony filled minutes.
"Ok, so projectiles or ethereal weapons only. No soul bound blades and I would advise against metal or stone blades too." I tell the two hunters and knight that were sent to accompany me on this quest.
"Knights only slay these demons with our blessed swords." The knight dressed in his silver coloured metal armour snaps.
I would much rather have had a mage or a healer instead of the knight, not only do we need someone proficient in restoration spells but I also have a strong dislike for knights. They push their beliefs onto people and have the right to cut down any who make negative comments about the knight themselves, their order or their beliefs.
"Your sword may be blessed but it is still made of steel, Hydra blood will still burn through it, especially Priest Hydra blood." I explain but the knights expression looks like he is about to lash out.
"I do not care, this is the way of the knight, it is the holy way." He snarls like a rabid hellhound.
"I will not protect nor save you, it’s every man for themselves." I tell him relaxing my body ready to counter his strike.
The hunter with the soul bound hawk sends his hawk flapping into the air near us. He says it is to watch the Priest Hydra and while I believe him I also think he was trying to break the tension between the knight and myself.
The irises of the hunters eyes turn black the sign of him seeing through the eyes of the hawk that is bound to his soul.
"I can still see what is in front of me so we can advance." He explains as he starts to move silently forward.
The young apprentice hunter sends out his soul bound lynx to give us a ground view of the Priest Hydra. He moves almost as silently as his master which impresses me, not many hunters can move as silently as this pair but while it is impressive they don’t move as silently as I do. It doesn’t matter though because the Knights armour is loud, clanging metal.
I sigh and then I hear two noises the apprentice hunter gasping and a low continuous hissing, the hissing is terrifying because it reveals more about the size of the Priest Hydra than anything anyone with me could say. I know I’ve never faced off against a Hydra this large before and I’m a little bit worried especially with the knights attitude.
I make a quick but complicated movement with the fingers of my right hand and quietly mutter a phrase in an ancient language. A black misty bow forms in my hand and a quiver filled with arrows made of a similar material as the bow appear on my back.
"So you are one of the Fire Branded then." The master hunter says with hints of awe and fear in his voice, "I thought the cover up scar was in the right place."
"You have met one of my people before. That is how you know a way to move so quietly." I say coming to a standstill.
We are downwind of the Priest Hydra so it can’t smell us but we need to stay still and not make too much noise because they sense vibrations in the air.
"Yes, she taught me a silent step technique." He smiles dreamily as he speaks making me think that female Fire Brand he met had taught him more than just how to move quietly.
"You have taught your apprentice well, he is almost as quiet as you." I speak just loud enough for the apprentice hunter to hear my words.
"So we shoot it with arrows and try to draw it towards the trees where it’s necks will get tangled up. Then while you hunters provide cover fire me and the knight will attack with swords." I set out the plan that I think will provides us with the highest chance to kill the Hydra quickly. The Knight grunts so I spin to glare at him.
"Try not to get me killed." I snap at the knight who just places his helmet on his head, pulls down the visor with scales carved on it and turns to face the clearing where the Hydra is.
The hunter and his apprentice both draw bows similar to each others and notch almost identically barbed arrows. They nod their heads letting me know that they are ready when I am, I reach back and draw an arrow from my quiver and notch it nodding to the hunters. All three of us move forward silently until we are a little bit closer to the Hydra and the clearing then sight and draw our bows at the Hydra which now we are closer looks huge, easily the biggest Hydra I’ve ever seen.
We let our arrows fly, mine and the master hunters arrow both hit one of the Hydras six heads while the apprentice hunters arrow plants itself deeply into the side of the Hydras body. The Hydra let’s out a horrifying hiss of rage and pain then turns rather quickly to face our direction, the heads of the Hydra have sprouted two flaps of skin on either side of the heads making them look like they are wearing hoods.
The Hydra charges towards us as the three of us let off another volley of arrows. The knight draws his sword and charges forward with a battle cry. I curse then make a new quick, complicated gesture with my hand and mutter another phrase in the same ancient language that I used to summon the bow. The bow, quiver and arrows dissipate into the air and a black misty blade forms into my right hand from the handle out into a gently curved sword with three long vicious barbs that run from halfway up the blade down to the hilt.
I look quickly at the hunters who nod and start to draw arrows to fire at the Hydra, I grin viciously and launch myself through the forest after the knight. I shoot past trees and reach the Hydra just a split second after the knight who swings his sword at the Hydras body drawing a slice across the Hydras body. The knights jumps backwards and his blade hisses as the acidic Hydra blood starts its efforts to melt his steel sword, I hear him curse but I have no sympathy for him, I told him the risks and he chose to ignore them.
I launch myself at the Hydra and draw a deep wound across its chest before jumping back towards the knight.
"Good we need to cut out its heart. Avoid severing any heads." I tell the knight who nods his head sharply, most people understand that cutting off the head of a Hydra of any kind is a bad idea because if you cut off one head two grow back.
The knight slashes at the chest of the Hydra drawing another shallow wound, his sword leaves the Hydras body hissing and groaning. The knight looks down at his sword disbelieving as it splits in half and the tip falls to the ground, most of the Hydras heads are focused on the rapid shots from the hunters bows but one of them looks down at the knight. The Hydra head that was glancing at the knight a moment ago shoots down at the knight its mouth opening wide revealing long savage looking curved teeth.
"I told you I won’t save you." I say as I dart past the knight who is staring up at the open mouth of one of the Hydras heads.
I thrust my blade into the Hydras body where I think that its heart is and letting go of the blade I use my forward momentum to thrust my left hand against the body of the Hydra. I must have hindered it when I drove the blade into its heart because when I quickly snap out a phrase in an old Elven language and a bolt of lightning fires out of my hand straight into the Hydra it slumps to the ground. I form a sword in both my left and right hands before moving towards the Hydra, I leave the sword that I planted in the Hydras heart in place while I quickly hack away at its body.
I finally cut out the heart of the Hydra not as quickly as I would have liked then I let all my solid mist like blades dissipate into the air. I mutter a quick phrase and my hand bursts into flames quickly turning the Hydras heart into ash.
I turn on my heels pleased with how easily I killed the Hydra, even though it was big it must not have ran into many things it had to fight because its skin was softer than other Hydras I have run into. My satisfaction dies as my gaze lands on the knight, well what remains of the knight. Half of the knights body is missing and the jagged wound is hissing and spitting foam around it, the Hydras venom must be acidic just like the blood, I store that fact away in my mind for when I next encounter a one.
I raise my gaze from the remains of the knight and see the hunters apprentice kneeling next to the master hunter who is writhing on the ground in agony. I walk over to them and look down at the pair, I feel sympathy for the boy, a fang from one of the Hydras heads has caught the master hunters stomach and drawn blood meaning that the venom from the Hydra is now coursing through the mans blood and he is going to die.
"We can hasten his death." I tell the apprentice who will now have to step up to position of master and take an apprentice of his own within a couple of years after all a village this small always needs a hunter.
He looks up at me and I summon a blade made of the black mist and point it down at the dying master hunter.
"Wait." The young hunter stops me as I lower the dagger towards the writhing older hunter.
"I should be the one who does it." The boy says drawing a dagger from his belt. He says a quick prayer as he lowers the blade to his masters throat and cuts, the older man stops writhing and goes deathly still, he spasms violently before falling still once again, the old hunter twitches once or twice before falling still forever.
I feel a jab of sorrow, I had liked the old man he had seemed genuine, kind and strong but death comes for all at some point. I offer up a quick prayer for the deceased hunter hoping he gets into the afterlife of what ever religion he believed in. I feel like we could have been friends if things had gone differently.
"I'm sorry you had to do that." I say to the young man who is now the master hunter of the village.
"He would have wanted to die fighting a worthy foe." The hunter says sadly.
"Then he died a good death." I tell the young hunter. "I shall carry him back to the village so he can be given a proper funeral."
"I’m sure his family will be grateful." The hunter says, "I’m grateful, thank you."
"I just wish I could have saved him." I say angry at the knight because of his reckless behaviour that had gotten both himself and the old hunter killed.
We walk back to the village quietly neither of us saying a word as we work together to carry the dead hunter and his soul bound hawks bodies to his family home. A soul bound animal is a part of a persons soul and most of the time if a person or the animal die then the one they are soul bound with will also die. We don’t have to walk into the village because the dead hunters family lives on the edge of the forest.
"I’ll give my condolences to his family and leave so you can grieve together. Then I’ll head to the guild building and collect my portion of the bounty." I tell the young hunter. "I’ll convince the guild to give his family his portion of the bounty."
I don’t spend long when I give my condolences to the dead hunters family, I don’t want to intrude on their grief so I say a prayer and leave. I collect my portion of the bounty and make sure that the guild office knows to pay the young hunter and the dead hunters family their portions of the bounty. I don't have any love for the knights order but I’ve got honour and he died fighting so I get the guild to give the knights portion of the bounty to the order.
I stay in one of the rooms at the inn that night after purchasing and consuming a few mugs of mead. Large amounts of alcohol don’t effect me like it does normal people because even though I have had my brand covered I still have all the powers of my Fire Brand family. I am faster, stronger and more resilient than an average person with lightning quick reflexes, I can work magic like an Elf, fight like an Orcish Berserker and move in almost complete silence.
I leave the village in the morning, there’s nothing for me here now, no bounties to complete and no monsters terrorising the village anymore. I leave and head toward the nearest big town in the hopes that there will be more bounties to complete and more money for me, I might find a red light district in a large town, it’s been a long while since I’ve felt the touch of a woman. There is another small village between this one and the large town, I should reach the village on my second day and then it would take three more days from there to get to the town.
I have provisions of food and water, I shouldn’t run out before I reach the next village where I should be able to stock up. The village has just dipped out of view when I hear a noise, I’d know that noise anywhere, it’s the sound of a Hellhound and it’s on the hunt. My usual advice for anyone who should be unlucky enough to come across a Hellhound would be to run, get out of there as fast as possible. Hellhounds are shape shifters, they can take the form of any animal but none of the humanoid species like Elves, Orcs and Dwarves.
Hellhounds have one big tell though that will always reveal their true nature, they always have red eyes, no matter what animal form they take. They can’t disguise their eyes because a Hellhound is a magical being born in fire and small pieces of the fire remain within the creature, the fire shines out through their eyes. The true form of a Hellhound though is a big black dog that looks like a wolf with glowing red eyes and teeth.
I’m not frightened of this Hellhound though, they are of the fire and can’t become peoples spirit bound animals but us of the Fire Brand clan are different and for as far back as recorded history can tell us our people have always had Hellhounds as our spirit bound animals. There are lot of different levels of trust to a spirit bond and Hellhounds can be quite stubborn but once they make a pledge to a person of the Fire Brand they will do everything they can to protect their spirit bound person and expect the same in return.
I relax my body ready for a fight, I know what is about to happen and I know how to fight back. I hear a branch creak in a tree behind me and know the exact direction where the attack will come from, I keep walking acting clueless like I don’t know I’m being stalked.
I hear the whisper quiet sound of something pushing off a branch and the hum of a creature passing quickly through the air. I drop to a knee and spin, the hellhound flies over me but lands against the side of a tree like it’s ready to scale the tree.
"Come on Aodh lets not do this, you know I’ll just win." I say out loud to the Hellhound that I am spirit bound to.
Aodh snarls and launches himself at me but I dodge out of his way striking out with a fist and catching the big, heavily muscled black cat form that he is wearing. The blow catches Aodh in the ribs and knocks him off course so he hits the floor and rolls over before regaining his feet. I feel a sharp stab of pain in my ribs as he starts to circle me slowly looking for a break in my defences.
‘You’re name for me means ‘God Of The Fire’ yet you always best me in our sparing matches.’ Aodh my spirit bound Hellhounds voice sounds from within my head.
"You know why." I tell him turning with him so that he is always in my line of sight.
Aodh changes form so he is in his natural form looking like a large but sleek wolf, his fur is pitch black and seems to cancel light out making him almost disappear from view when ever he passes through the shadows, the only thing that gives him away is his glowing red eyes. I track his movements and wait for him make his move, this fight wont last long because I know his fighting style and can easily counter him. I am faster than him, not considerably so but fast enough to be able to get in some strikes against him and wear him down.
‘I will always try to beat you.’ He growls and I watch his muscles coil up ready for him to launch an attack at me.
"I will always beat you though." I laugh at him trying to taunt him as he leaps at me with his mouth wide and long sharp teeth bared ready to bite and tear with more force than any canine or feline creature not born from magic could ever muster.
I can see his movements in advance so I sidestep out of the way and kick Aodh in his outstretched leg knocking him to the floor, I leap at him landing above him with a small ethereal dagger pressed against his chest. I glare down at him but I hear him laugh within my head.
‘I knew I wouldn’t beat you.’ He says with his deep voice and accompanying laugh. I move off of him and walk a couple of steps away as he gets to his feet.
‘Why do you always make me stay in the forest when your in the smaller settlements?’ He asks angrily, he already knows the answer though so I don’t understand why he keeps asking.
"You know what their reactions would be. And before you mention shapeshifting you know that your glowing red eyes give you away." I can’t help getting a little bit annoyed with him always asking about walking through the villages and towns.
‘I don’t like being away from you like that.’ He says grumpily, ‘I can’t help you if you get into a fight.’ He grumbles moving to my side.
"Have you hunted recently?" I ask Aodh changing the topic, I am wondering if he is eating properly again though, he had been feeling a little sick when we had arrived in the last village a week ago.
I hadn’t felt anything bad through the soul bond though and when I had tried to reach out to him using my mind yesterday because I knew he relishes a good fight but it was an easy kill. I think now that he had already seen the Priest Hydra earlier in the day and decided that the two of us together would be overkill.
‘Can’t complain.’ His voice is deep and majestic and is only inside my head.
He only speaks out loud if he wants other people to hear him too but the rest of the time he doesn’t make any sound but growls, grunt and whines. I can understand what his noises mean but the I rely more on his body language that I have come to know so well over our long history together. We both have extended lives and he age slowly, I look to be in my early twenties but I have been around a lot longer.
‘I saw the Priest Hydra you took down, I didn’t think you needed my help but well with the loses maybe you did.’ He says. I’m not usually that bothered about the loses but the old hunters death has effected me and I feel guilty.
I don’t answer him but continue walking, I’ve seen so many people die over the years that I’ve grown used to it. I reach into my bag and draw out a scabbard for a sword, I mutter a few quick words and the hilt of a steel sword appears. I draw from the scabbard a sword that is too long and wide to fit in the scabbard, I have to practice with the weight of a real sword it is heavy and it’s good for my muscles to use it. I run through some basic and then some advanced moves as we walk further into the forest.
We don’t encounter any signs of monsters or bandits during the day so when we find a hollowed out tree just as the sun is setting we decide that we should be safe enough inside to not have to sleep in shifts. We are awoken in the middle of the night by a sound like roaring, the moon must have been covered by clouds because there is no moonlight to see by and the world is pitch black. The roar comes again and Aodh shifts his body and whimpers softly, I know those actions, he’s scared. If Aodh is scared I should be terrified, Hellhounds are generally thought of as fearless but everything feels fear and I have discovered two of a hellhounds fears, one is big stretches of water like lakes and the ocean the other is...
"Oh Shit." I mutter quietly before clamping my jaw closed hoping that the creature out there isn’t what I think it is and that it didn’t hear me.
‘Please tell me that isn’t a Dragon.’ I use the soul bond to speak silently to Aodh.
‘I cannot do that.’ He replies quickly, ‘We should just stay here and hope it ignores us.’ He sounds scared and I can feel his form shrink, he’s subconsciously making himself smaller, less of a target.
We spend the rest of the night on high alert inside the hollow tree with the threat of the dragon finding us constantly looming over us but nothing happens. We don’t get much sleep throughout the night so when the sun starts to rise and the day begins we are both tired and on edge with the threat of a dragon still in our minds.
The dragons pathway through the forest is obvious with large footprints and fallen trees carving out the path and direction the dragon had travelled. This was bad it had come from the direction of the village we were headed to and was aiming straight for the village we had recently left. I look down at Aodh but he must already know what I’m thinking because he is slowly shaking his head.
‘It looks too big for just the two of us to take it down.’ His voice sounds sad but resigned like he knows that if we try to stop it we will die and even if we did try and died in the process all the people in the previous village we had visited would die too anyway.
I think about heading back towards the village and trying to stop the dragon, I would save the family of the dead master hunter who I had liked and the young hunter who would now have to fill his dead masters shoes, who should have a long life ahead of him. The kind of life that I could never have, meet a woman, fall in love, build a house, move in and have children, a family and to then die at an old age happy and content with the life they had carved out for themselves. I could have lived life after life like that in all the years I’ve been around but I never have and I never will that is the fate for a Fire Brand outcast.
I want to head back towards the village, I want to kill the dragon and save the people of the village, to be viewed as the good guy for the first time in decades. I know I wont though because I’m already walking away from the direction that the dragon is travelling and not just because Aodh and I are both scared but because I am being drawn forward, I know exactly where I’m being drawn to and I have a good idea why.
I’m being drawn towards the capital city at least a week long horseback ride away from here and over double that on foot even if you are magically enhanced like me. The reasons for my being drawn there is a girl, the summoning spell that is drawing me towards the capital can only be activated when the girl turns eighteen. There is an ancient prophecy concerning myself and this girl.
When the girl with fiery hair reaches of age, the outcast will be drawn to her, their love will blossom while all else withers and dies. The love between the girl of fire and the outcast who does not age can bring even the gods to their knees.
I had been sent to the capital on the day the prophecy had been spoken by the high prophet so that it was witnessed by one of the Fire Brand clan as was tradition. This was way back when I was still a part of the clan, a short while after my twentieth birthday when I had been sworn in to the clan and had received the gift of Fire Brand powers. That was the only other time I had felt this kind of summoning magic at work, that wasn’t long before I had rejected the teachings and actions of the clan and had become an outcast, an outcast who doesn’t age.
One of the most useful and horrific powers bestowed upon the Fire Brand clan was that we didn’t age, we aren’t immortal and can still die from disease, a blade or one of the monsters we regularly fought but we would never die from just old age.
"We need to go to the capital." I tell Aodh who looks up at me with a concerned look on his face.
‘The prophecy?’ He asks. I can hear both fear and sadness in his voice. Over the years we had come to the same conclusion that I was the outcast from the prophecy but with all the monsters, bandits and other things and people I fought on a regular basis we had believed I would perish long before the prophecy started to unfold. It seemed like we were wrong.
"I’m being drawn to the capital." We both knew the wording of the prophecy and we also knew that there was nothing and no one else out there that could draw me to them like this.
"I think it’s time." I say softly. I think fondly and not so fondly about all the things I can remember from my long life, the days of happiness and pain, rage and self sacrifice. That would all be coming to an end soon if the prophecy was to be believed and I hadn’t seen a prophecy get it wrong before.
"Maybe we should turn back, fight the dragon, die trying to save a village, die a hero instead of living to become the destroyer of everything." I say morosely.
Aodh doesn’t say anything, he doesn’t need to his sigh and slight shift in body language speaks volumes.
"I know, I know. We have to go." I mutter. Taking a few slow steps forward I look down at Aodh, my one constant friend who has stuck with me through everything, telling me I’m a fool when I do something stupid, fighting by my side even when all seemed lost and curling up by my side when I wanted nothing more than the embrace of death.
‘Get on, I’m not walking all the way to the capital at your pace.’ Aodh says stepping up next to me in the form of a large horse. I jump up onto his back expecting him to gallop away until I see the shadows lengthening and the feeling of weightlessness takes hold.
"Damn it Aodh, I said never..." I’m cut off as ground drops out from beneath us and we fall quickly into darkness.
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