Flags: Angst, Tragedy, Horror Prologue/Introduction “Be at rest, young warrior. Know now that the gods watch over you and that they shall protect you without fault and without penance.” -The word of Amathre, Goddess of Light and Life. His emotions swirled, gathering into an uncomfortable lump in his stomach, threatening his composure, threatening to show weakness. The tears were there, he could feel them, but they would not fall. Not here, there would be a time and place, but it was not here, not now. He kept he face calm as he struggled with the scene before him. Foot steps echoed in his ears behind him, as the world seemed to move slower than usual. As they stopped next to him, his other older brother let out a groan of shock and disgust, “The gods play a cruel game, brother.” Nick turned to look at his older sibling, “No,” he began, his voice calm and steady, “There are no gods to be seen here, Lord Michael. I can see only the work of demons.” Michael gave his brother a corncerned glance, “How do you remain so calm, Nicholas?” An educated question, though Nick was not at all sure how to answer. The scene that lay before them was how he has always pictured hell might look, should the gods see it fit to condemn him there. Homes that had once been filled with the joy of families, and the laughter of children lay raised to the ground, ashes still smoldering. Smoke rose menacingly in a taunting dance. Corpses of the slaughter lay scattered about. Some were whole, other merely limbs. The scent of blood and scorched flesh filled the air, making him taste bile in the back of his mouth. His remorse for the lives lost here was plenty; he regretted having been able to do nothing to save these people. “I am not,” sorrow damped his tone, “After all these years of seeing the blood of the innocent spilled, I suppose I have simply found a means of… coping,” though his stomach was still queasy. “I wish my will stood as steadfast as yours, little brother,” Nick almost grunted at the thought, “These people did not deserve such a fate,” Michael finished with a depressed sigh. “No one deserves such a fate,” the veteran tracker groaned bitterly, and Michael grunted in response, “We will search the ruins to find who might have done this. However, should the opportunity arise, we will not pursue. One man alone did not cause such carnage.” “Aye,” the eldest agreed, “I shall secure the horses and join you shortly,” he turned to move the way he had come. Nick did not respond, but rather moved forward in the opposite direction, towards the massacre. As he moved on, he found it more and more difficult to make sure breakfast remained in his stomach. He forced his discomfort to the back reaches of his mind. There was work to be done. Nick’s eyes quickly took note of many of the villagers were bare; their clothes had been pillages from their bodies. And, oddly enough, there were even a few homes that had escaped completely unscathed. He halted next to the corpse body of a girl. The strings of his heart pull taught. There has always been a special place he had kept inside himself for children. He bent down slowly, and gingerly turned her over. Her eyes were open, staring at the nothingness of the sky. Her face was calm, no sign of suffering left on her features. Gently, with two fingers, he closed her eyes, “Rest now, little one, may the Gods show you to the way to gates.” Raiders, he realized. Take all; leave nothing, not even life. Scum of the earth, those who refuse to earn what they need, rather than take it form others. “Touching,” the voice was sudden, unannounced. He jumped up, but as he turned around to investigate the voice, steel met his throat, “Calm down, wouldn’t want any of that pretty little blood of yours to go to waste, now would we?” the blade belonged to that of a male. Damn, he thought bitterly, something always has to go wrong. “Who are you?” Nick hissed through clenched teeth. He hated losing his composure, but he hated being taken by surprise more, especially knowing that this could have been easily prevented had he just been paying attention. “Hmm,” the man seemed to contemplate the thought, “A valid question for someone in your position, I suppose, although, not one I’m in any particular mood to answer,” The pressure the blade was pressed against his skin increased ever so slightly, “A better question, however, would be who are you?” Where are you, lord brother? Nick thought desperately. “I am a tracker,” and that was all Nicholas had to say on the matter. His assailant let in an astonished gasp, “Really? Well now, this makes things much more interesting. Well, interesting for me, anyway. Much more dangerous for you,” he didn’t want to begin to understand what that meant. “Who are you?” Nick repeated in earnest. The man sighed, “You are the ever persistent one, aren’t you? You trackers really are all the same; loyal, ever diligent, but seemingly blind to exactly what goes on in front of you.” Despite everything, Nick’s naturally curiosity peaked, “What do you mean?” He chuckled, “I’ve got your attention now, don’t I? Let’s just say, ser tracker, that whether you may believe it or not, I am not your enemy.” “Then why do you insist on drawing steel against me?” “Come now; do you honestly fathom that you would have listened to anything I would have had to say, in a place such as this? After what has happened to these people? That mind of yours, which has been trained to think only the way the Church wishes you to think, would rather have caught me and dragged to the gallows before hearing what I had to say,” there was venom in his voice, though strangely did not seem directed at Nick. The words started conflict inside of him. As much as he wanted to deny such claims; it is true. Had he been faced with such a choice, he would not have listened. But, a thought dawned on the tracker, “Did you do this to these people.” The man scoffed, “Of course not! How can you even contemplate such a vile thought?” “If not you, then who? I must know!” he shot a glance at the body of the child. “Why waste my breath, dear tracker? You would not believe me, though your resolve is very touching. What is your name?” The question caught him off guard, and he wondered if he should tell this man. Thoughts raced, but his conscience decided to speak for him, “Nicholas.” “Nicholas…?” “…Aledorn.” He choked. “Aledorn, as in one of the noble families? My, my, my, dear tracker, you are just peaking my interests by the moment. Oh, if only I had the time to get to know you further, but alas, the sun creeps ever so further into the sky, and I have ever the strict schedule to keep. But, before I go, I shall leave you with one final thought,” the man paused, and he could now feel his hot breath on his neck and ear, “the ones who did this, who slaughtered all these people… Perhaps you should ask these gods I keep hearing you cry out too?” Nick went tense as he struggled to pull the pieces together on what he was hearing. But then there was a hot pain on this back of his skull, and he couldn’t say whether he was flying or falling. Moments later, his world was swallowed by nothingness. While in the darkness, Nicholas’ mind began changing. How he would see the world was forever being altered. These changes would be unnoticeable, untraceable. But as he lay there, unconscious, his future was already being shaped. - The man hummed to himself lightly, blade twirling in between his fingers. There was a bounce in his step, clearly pleased with himself. This was going to be fun.