"In a time when there was only darkness," The voice of the Warlock said. "The Goddess of the Heavens gave life to her sons and daughters. Together with the new Gods and Goddesses forged in the eternal darkness, a star. After the star they forged the moon. As beautiful as the moon was, it was without life and without hope. The Goddess of the Heavens asked her sons and daughters forged our beautiful world, full of life."
After listening to the Warlocks voice while he saw nothing but black, Liam Hanzo finally opened his eyes. The light of a fire was so intense on his exhausted eyes that it was blinding to look at. After a few moments he was able to open his eyes long enough to assess his surroundings. He had been tied to a wood pole not far from a large bonfire. Standing around the fire were three young girls that stood with a very emotionless faces, as if they had been put under some spell or hypnosis. On the opposing side of the fire, there stood the warlock. With the sun down and the moon over head, he had taken on his more grotesque form.
"You know for all the many priests talk, they actually fail to tell the whole story of our world's history." The Warlock said. "For example they never speak of the dark God, Tyrannus and how he forged an alliance with the Lords of Death and Destruction, Muertes and Hakai as well as several others to bring about the fall of the dominant beings; humans, elves, dwarves, and the sacred creatures. They wanted to turn this world as cold as the moon, so that only beings of darkness could hold dominion in this world."
"You clearly don't know anything of the sacred scrolls." Liam said in a slight daze. "It does talk about how the evil Gods attempted to wage war against the very mother who gave them life. Furthermore it also talks about how this mutiny was swiftly stopped and the Lords of Evil would be forever banished to the darkness."
"My good Ranger you mustn't interrupt," The Warlock said mockingly, "The scrolls did not specify the details of this conflict that erupted. As you know the God of Monsters, Jirago was created by the Goddess to forge the great beasts which roam our land as a way of keeping everything in balance. However what the scrolls fail to leave out about the great conflict was that Qipian, the God of Deception and Mischief was able to deceive his brother into forging a different class of Monster."
"What are you talking about?" Liam asked. "We already know that the demon class was forged by the Lords of Evil."
"Oh but you are mistaken again, Ranger. The Demon class was in fact forged before the great conflict as a way to balance good and evil in the world. During the great conflict, the Lords of Evil were able to upset the balance through the deception of Jirago. In this act, there was forged a new class of monster; the Titans. Seven Titans were created, two to rule the seas, two to rule the skies, two to rule the land, and one to rule over all."
"You're lying warlock." Liam defiantly said. "This myth is nothing more than a fallacy for anyone who would follow in the footsteps of the wicked. There never were such creatures."
"Oh but there were, and you are going to help me revive them from their long slumber."
"If such creatures existed there's no way you would be able to control them, let alone would I ever help you awaken them."
"Your defiance is admirable but unnecessary; I don't need your consent for your help." The warlock then pointed out, "And as you can see my power far exceeds any witch or warlock who has existed prior."
Liam looked at the girls and it suddenly dawned on him that the council's fears were realized; the Warlock had somehow managed to find a way to harvest life force from more than one virgin.
"How did you do this?" Liam frustratingly said, with no reply. "Answer me! Witches and Warlocks are only able to harvest life force from one person. How in the name of the Gods did you manage to imprison three!?"
The Warlock gave a smirk, he would not resist showing off his genius before attaining his goal.
"You see this?" The Warlock said referencing the amulet on his silver necklace. "This is known as the Sorcerer's Eye. It was said to belong to the first Warlock in history."
"How came you by that?" Liam asked in disbelief. "That was supposed to be lost forever."
"Lost, but found." The Warlock replied gleefully. "It is thanks to this that I have found the way to increase my power without fear of it destroying my physical body."
"Just who are you?"
"I was once known as Felix Vesper."
"That name..." Liam said in recognition.
"Yes I'm sure you know of my name Liam Hanzo." Felix said. "I was in training to become a Ranger just like you. But unlike you, I was expelled because I did not pass the Blue Crow's judgement. They told me that my desire for more strength would bring too much dishonor to my title as a Ranger. What a joke."
"You fool." Liam scolded. "Clearly they made the right call if you resorted to becoming a Warlock."
"More like the Academy were fools for casting me out." Felix said in a quiver of frustration. "My family spent a tremendous amount of money that was in poor supply so that I could return to them a Ranger. Instead I was sent back to them an outcast. Furthermore they had fallen on hard times... My father worked himself to death trying to make back the money he wasted on me. My mother was unable to take on the burden of raising me and my infant brother... She and my brother died within six months of my father's passing."
"So you plan to take revenge on the world because of your failure?"
"Precisely." Felix said while pulling out a knife from his side. "As the first part of my revenge I murdered the very elf who recruited me with the false promise of a better life."
"You were the one who killed Omura Helios..." Liam said in a frustrated realization.
"Precisely." Felix said. "I ambushed him during his return from the town of Small Rock. Once he had realized the depth of his failure, I slit his throat, filled a chalice with his blood and drank. From that moment on, I was no longer Felix Vesper. My name is Hades, and I will not stop until the Ranger Guild is another forgotten chapter in the world's history, just like my family."
"You're a monster." Liam scolded.
"In a Realm of Monsters, Master Hanzo," the Warlock said, "You have to ask yourself; who are the true monsters."
Hades twirled the knife in his hand and then walked through the bonfire, which turned green and parted as he passed through the flames. The three girls looked on and watched in their perpetual zombified state while Hades walked up to Liam.
"You should consider yourself fortunate, Ranger." Hades said. "It is because of what you carry that I need you alive. Had you been a lessor warrior, I would have killed you on the spot." He then put the blade to Liam's throat. "Even if the fate you are now bound to is worse than death."
The Warlock looked to cut Liam across the arm but before he could the knife was suddenly knocked from his hand by an arrow.
"What!?" Hades frustratingly shouted as he looked in the direction of the arrow.
Another arrow shot out of the shadowy woods but he was able to jump back towards the bonfire to avoid it.
"I was starting to run out of things to stall you with." Liam said with a smirk.
Furious, Hades turned to the bonfire and shouted while spreading his hands "Infernus surraddu!"
The flames suddenly seemed to erupt and shower down, creating a thin semi-sphere of fire.
"You honestly think this barrier will stop them?" Liam said mockingly.
From outside the barrier, four rangers raced out of the shadows. Two were female archers, one was an ebony male that wielded a war-hammer and the fourth was a Caucasian with a javelin. The Ranger with the hammer, whose weapon had a blue head, began slamming it against the barrier.
|Artwork done by Rebecca Kai|
With every strike there was a loud thunderous sound inside the barrier. Liam watched as the flames fluttered and at the point of impact there was a thin bright blue crack starting to form.
"It won't stop them but it will slow them down long enough for my guardians to come forth!" Hades shouted.
He proceeded to make a series of gestures with his hands. After several snap gestures, his hands began to generate bolts of electricity.
Suddenly Hades thrust his hands towards the fire while shouting "Ru Kin Tai!"
Larger brighter bolts left his hands, and shot into the flames.
"Shucku!" Hades proceeded to shout. "Shucku! Bubakka! Golemas!"
After shouting enchantments the flames of the fire intensified and flickered while changing between blue and green. The barrier was on the verge of breaking as the cracks began to spider across the entire dome. It was at that moment that Hades' guardians emerged from the fire. The two Black Shucks and the Bubak that Liam encountered earlier returned but this time they were accompanied something that was as large as a grizzly bear. This new threat had a body that resembled an ape's but made of burgundy stone. The head was bulge that protruded out rather than upward from the shoulders. There was no mouth or nose, just a pair of large yellow eyes.
"A Golem..." Liam said has he looked on in awe.
With one last swing of the Warhammer, the barrier of flames shattered like glass and disappeared.
"Go forth and destroy them!" Hades shouted to the monsters he summoned.
The Rangers rushed to free Liam from his restraints just as the monsters charged at them.
Seeing the assault coming, the Ranger with the Warhammer swung his weapon at the Black Shucks, knocking them away before they could attack his comrades.
"Shiva," he said, "Free Master Hanzo! The rest of you, engage!"
While one of the archers worked on Liam's restraints, the other three fought the monsters. The javelin wielder took on the two Black Shucks, the other archer kept the Bubak busy, while the Warhammer engaged the Golem. During the midst of the clash, Hades joined hands with the three girls he enslaved and the group faded from the area until they completely vanished.
"He’s getting away!" the Ranger with the javelin said just as he kicked one of the shucks away.
"Do you have copper tipped arrows?" Liam asked the archer, Shiva while she cut bindings.
"Yes." She replied.
"Good, as soon as I'm free, use them on the shucks." Liam instructed.
Once the last rope was cut, he raced for weapons; which Hades had on the opposing side of the fire. Along the way he had to duck away from a swipe of the Bubak's lethal claws and then dodge the club-like fist of the Golem as it came crashing down.
The Javelin user was in the process of swatting one of the Shucks away when the other suddenly grabbed him by the shoulder and pulled him to the ground. Once grounded, the Ranger thrust his weapon at the canine's face. The monster yelped and released him but the other quickly raced forth and pinned him back on the ground. It proceeded to glare into the man's eyes with the eerie green glow intensifying.
Before the hypnotic effects took hold, a copper-tipped arrow struck its side causing it to topple over with a loud yelp. Shiva raced over to pull the Ranger away just as the creature died after writhing a round for a few seconds.
The second Shuck charged at Shiva, the would from the javelin; healed. But before it could reach her, her comrade impaled the monster with his weapon. While the Shuck struggled to get free, Shiva shot it with another copper-tipped arrow.
Meanwhile the other archer was busy dodging the deadly claws of the Bubak. After sliding onto her back to dodge a swipe, the monster tried to impale her with its other hand. She dodged at the last second and shot an arrow at that hand; pinning it to the ground. Just as the monster realized it was stuck; Liam entered the fray with a quick slash of his sword from behind the Bubak. After a brief pause the monster's head slid off from its shoulders.
The attention was now on the Golem which the Ranger with Warhammer was doing a good job of combating. Time and time again the monster slammed its large fists down at the Ranger but despite having a very heavy and muscular build, the warrior was still nimble enough to avoid every crushing blow. But ever swing of his hammer was proving ineffective as well. The monster's rocky body was not effected by any one of the Ranger's strikes.
After dodging another strike from the Golem, the Ranger powerfully swung his hammer at the monster's head. Though it was a direct it the monster knocked the ranger away.
"You two!" Liam said to the archers, "aim for its eyes!"
The two archers pulled back on their arrows and released, one aiming for the Golem's left eye and the other for the right. Both arrows hit their respected targets, piercing the monster's eyes. The monster staggered in pain trying to remove the arrows to no avail. At the same time there was a bizarre glow that fluctuated like a pulse throughout the creature’s body. This temporary moment of weakness seemingly did not last as the Golem began to wildly swing its arms in every direction in a destructive rampage.
"Now's your chance!" Liam said to the wielder of the Warhammer. "Its defenses are severely weakened when its eyes are damaged!"
The Ranger heard Liam's words just in time to dodge one of the monster's flailing arms. He delivered a crushing blow upon one of the Golem's fists just after it slammed into the ground, which smashed the creature's limb into rubble. Painfully the monster stammered back as the Ranger charged forth and leaped into the air. He brought his mighty hammer down onto the Golem's head; smashing it to rubble just as he had done to the arm. The large mineral beast fell back, lifeless. Its heavy body shook the ground with a loud crash as the rest of its body fell apart and scattered.
Even if Hades had escaped, the battle was a great victory for the Rangers. That is until the Ranger who wielded the Javelin cringed and snarled in pain at the Shuck's bite, which drew the attention of the others. As his comrades rushed over to assist him the wound from the bite seemed to heal up but he suddenly was becoming unconscious. His skin began to gain a blue tint and his body grew very cold.
"Quickly go draw blood from that Shuck's body!" Shiva said to her fellow archer.
"I have some Chikitsa berries to mix with it." The Warhammer user said.
As the Rangers mixed the Shuck's blood with the crushed up blue berries, Liam suddenly realized that they had provided the answer for saving the cursed family back in Heronsdale.
In no time they had finish concocting the antidote and were pouring some in their teammate's mouth. After a few moments the blue tint faded and the Ranger regained consciousness; albeit with a rough cough and an abrupt awakening.
"That was close," Shiva said, "It's a good thing we had the right ingredients."
As the Ranger began to catch his breath, Liam walked up to the group and spoke, "Thank you all for your assistance. Though I'm afraid I do not know your names."
"Shiva Maltese." Shiva introduced.
"Karen Wreath." The second archer said.
"My name is Gorro Tevis." The wielder of the Warhammer said before introducing the fourth, "This gentleman here is Jason Theseus"
"Thank you all for coming to assist me." Liam said. "If you all don't mind, would you accompany me back to Heronsdale? I believe you could aid a family in desperate need."
The quartet agreed to return to the village with Liam. There they were able to create more of the medicine from the Shucks' blood and the Chikitsa berries. Just as Liam thought, the family had all been bitten by the canine creatures. Within minutes the family had recovered from the curse.
With the family saved, Liam wasted no time regrouping with his horse and Kipper, who were waiting at the nearby stables.
"So it would seem that the four Rangers came through." Kipper said, rather delighted as he sat, reclining on the saddle.
"I would not be here if that were so, now would I?" Liam replied. "Thank you for your assistance once again Kipper."
"To be honest I'm a we-bit disappointed that you came back so soon." Kipper joked. "Me and Daisy her were becoming good friends."
Liam kind of laughed.
"Well with my duty done here, I shall be off." Kipper said as he hopped off the horse.
"Farewell my little friend." Liam said.
The Brownie made his dazzling exit while Liam activated his Arch Stone to contact Anthea.
"It is great to see that you're alright Master Hanzo." Anthea's astral projection said as it appeared.
"I had a close call but thankfully four additional Rangers came to my aid just in time and we were also able to save the cursed family." Liam replied. "I'm afraid that is the only good news I bring."
"Did the Warlock escape again?" Anthea asked.
"Yes." Liam said with regret. "I was able to uncover his identity and his intentions as well. He was a former Ranger Recruit named Felix Vesper but he now calls himself Hades; he looks to take revenge on the guild as well as the rest of Shogun for a tragedy that followed his disqualification from the academy."
"Do you believe he has the means necessary to unleash such a wrath?" Anthea asked with concern.
"Yes." Liam answered. "Our fears have been realized for he was able to imprison three girls to harvest their life force. Worse still is that he is able to do this thanks to the Sorcerer's Eye."
"He found the dark relic?" Anthea asked.
"That is correct. This is no ordinary Warlock we are dealing with. Furthermore the man believes he can reawaken the Titans of Darkness."
"Those beasts are nothing but a myth though."
"I believe that is so too but even so, the fact he was able to acquire the Sorcerer's Eye suggest that his powers could still cause many unspeakable acts of destruction. He was able to summon a Bubak and a Golem along with two Black Shucks. If he were able to imprison more girls to harvest life force from, there's no telling what he could bring forth."
"Understood." Anthea said as she began to truly comprehend the depth of the situation. "I shall bring this to the Supreme Master's attention. I would recommend looking into the possible resting places of the Titans in the meantime Master Hanzo. It could very well help you discover the Warlock's whereabouts."
"I shall." Liam said. "Farewell for now Anthea."
"Farewell Liam Hanzo." Anthea said as her spiritual projection descended back into the Arch Stone.
Back at the Guild Headquarters, as the Supreme Master was returning from a visit to the Academy with the other members of the council when Anthea came into the main chamber.
"Supreme Master Cruz, Councilmen," Anthea called out in an urgent manner.
"Anthea," Talon Cruz answered, "What's the matter?"
"I received word about the Warlock that Liam Hanzo was pursuing." She said.
The Supreme Master and the Councilmen heard the details surrounding Liam's struggle with the Warlock. The news was brought much discomfort to the Guild's hierarchy. By the following day the Guild had put the word out that Hades was wanted dead or alive.
Back in Heronsdale as Liam Hanzo mounted his horse Kipper appeared before him once again.
"Master Hanzo." Kipper greeted.
"Good morning, Kipper." Liam said. "I trust you have news from the Guild for me?"
"Just thought I would pop in an let you know that the hunt is officially on." Kipper said. "The bounty for the Warlock's death or capture was 1000 Gold Pieces."
"That is good news then." Liam said. "Hopefully with all of Shogun searching for this monster, we can cancel the nightmare before it gains anymore traction."
"Agreed, sir. Though I can't help but wonder if he will try to capture you again."
"If he does then he will have a lot more trouble on his hands." Liam said with a low yet vengeful tone in his voice. "I still don't know what he would have done had the other Rangers not arrived."
"Have those four left already?" Kipper asked.
"Yes, they left at first light. I wouldn't be surprised if they are after that bounty."
Kipper then noticed that Liam had a look in his eyes that suggested a lot of deep thinking was going on in his head.
"What are you pondering Master Hanzo?" The brownie asked.
"My apologies," Liam said after shaking his head briefly, "I just couldn't help but think about what Hades had said about the Titans. He seemed awful certain that the beasts were both real and that he could reawaken them."
"What will you do from here on out then? Surely such monsters couldn't possibly exist, nor could a simple Warlock could control them."
"If this were the day before yesterday I would have said the same exact words." Liam said with his tone growing more concerned. "But now, I'm starting to wonder how much of the things once thought to be impossible are now improbable."
"Where will you go from here?" Kipper asked.
"I'll follow Anthea's request and investigate the Titans further. Hopefully I will find our target once again along the way." Liam said.
"Well guess there's nothing more to say then except, may the Gods be with you, Master." Kipper said in a farewell.
"Thank you, Kipper. Until next time my friend." Liam replied.
With Kipper taking his leave, Liam looked towards the east at the rising sun. He wondered if this was truly dawn to a brighter day, or the calm before a terrible storm.