It was approaching late afternoon on an early summer day in the plains to the north of the Rolling Mountains in the kingdom of Norland. The sun was unhindered in the blue sky by any clouds. A slight haze hung lingered in the air from the rising temperature of the moist ground. Periodically a breeze would make the grass dance and the leaves of the scattered trees and shrubs clatter.
On a lonely dirt road a ranger walked with an elf on a horse-drawn carriage. The ranger was none other than Ken Khan who was venturing forth on the journey he had spent most of his childhood dreaming of. However the circumstances he had to endure to reach his goal left him feeling guilty and embarrassed to even think of that mindset he once had. Ken now pressed on in his journey with a fierceness in his attitude that never fully goes away. In contrast to Ken's seriousness was the elf that was accompanying him.
The elf had the look of a child leaving home for the first time; curious and innocent towards surroundings yet cautious as well. Slightly more heavy than his brethren whom Ken had encountered, he also sported a very thick beard and a pair of glasses he had designed to assist with damage to his eyesight suffered in an accident sometime prior. The sides of his head were shaved while the hair on the top and back of his head were put into a top knot.
"Mr. Khan?" The Elf asked out.
"Dang-Lu?" Ken replied.
"Are you sure you do not want to take the southern route?" Dang-Lu asked. "Your home-village of Runewood is along that route, is it not?"
"Yes, and it is precisely why I chose this route." Ken answered. "I do not wish to return to that place; at least, not until my sister is found."
"Surely there must have been friends there at least which you must have missed in your years being gone."
"Friends?" Ken said. "My only friends I have now are Rangers and Elves. Back in that town there is nothing but ruin and sadness."
"Well at least you aim to keep such pains in the past." Dang-Lu said.
Ken remained silent as the pair continued their long journey.
After a short while Dang-Lu asked, "I'm curious, what made you choose our current destination?"
"I didn't give it any thought, just chose it out of random." Ken replied.
"Randomly choosing a spot is a dangerously big gamble Mr. Khan." Dang-Lu said.
"Dang-Lu, please do not call me Mr. Khan." Ken said. "Simply call me, Ken."
"Understood, Ken." Dang-Lu said. " What I mean to say though is that the guild has maps that display the threat level of the creatures in every area of Shogun. Did you randomly choose based off of those maps?"
"No." Ken replied. "I just looked at a regular map and chose the first thing my finger dropped on."
"That's not very wise to do." Dang-Lu said with a feeling of anxiety coming over him. "What if this town has a high threat level? Higher class creatures should be handled by Rangers of higher Rank."
"Well sometimes Dang-Lu, you should let fate decide the course on its own from time to time." Ken replied.
"In this case letting fate decide may not have been the best decision." Dang-Lu replied.
Ken did not respond and once again went silent.
"You know I wonder," The elf said to which Ken rolled his eyes out of sight, "With all your armor that you carry, does this time of year not make you miserable out in the sun like this? My robes breathe rather well but even just sitting on this carriage I feel a sweat from time to time."
"I'm a Ranger." Ken said. "I've had to endure many things to reach this status. Do you truly think that a simple stroll on a summer's afternoon would even come close to phasing me?"
Dang-Lu tipped his head and replied, "I suppose not."
"We're approaching a few thickets, I think it would be wise that we do not talk too much until we get past them." Ken said.
The elvan scholar could sense it in Ken's voice that he was being half truthful. Acknowledging Ken's request he remained silent. In his silence, Dang-Lu found himself questioning for a third time in their four day journey, his ability to do this assignment which he was appointed.
"But I'm not a field man." Dang-Lu's voice said in his memories as he began to recall the day he was summoned to the Overseer's quarters.
The Overseer's office was a true testament to the title with its several book cases and several magical instruments used to watch over and analyze the academy and its activities. On his large desk was a neat stack of parchments, a quill, ink, and a very exotic looking bird known as an Alicanto Bird. The bird had a very unusual yet beautiful copper-like shine to it's feathers; it was so brilliant that for a short while Dang-Lu was briefly distracted by its colorization.
"I know you must feel nervous about this task Dang-Lu for the same could be said about me when I was given this position." Said the Overseer, Ares Senso as he stood at a window. "But as was said to me, this would not come to you if we did not have full confidence in your ability to handle it."
"But Master Senso-" Dang-Lu said before correcting himself, "Overseer Senso, I've spent my entire time at the Guild... my entire life for that matter, among books, papers, and alchemy. My only experience outside of such has been in civilized environments; the wilds are no place for bookworms like me."
"On the contrary that is precisely the reason why we need you out in the field." Ares said to the timid young Elf. "Your skill in Alchemy is impressive to say the least and your analytical skills are equally as superb. Dark days lie ahead. The archives must be rebuilt and we have to make sure every elf is given experience in the field. There's always the possibility that the Elders will revoke the non-violence law to aid in the situation with the Titans."
"Do you believe it will become that serious Overseer?"
"I fear it may already be that serious. The Titans and this warlock, Hades pose a threat that effects all; not just the humans." Ares said ominously. "Your participation is required beyond that reason though."
"What other reason is there?" Dang-Lu asked.
Ares tone lightened slightly, "You have a good heart and a cheerful nature. The Ranger we are assigning you to, could use someone of your character."
"Dang-Lu," Ken said snapping him out of the flashback. "Look there."
To their north-west, where the grassland was divided from the mountains by a thin line of woods, there was a thin column of smoke. The source was a homestead which at first looked in tact, however looking a little harder revealed the house was in ruins.
"I wonder what could have happened." Dang-Lu said.
"Come," Ken said, "Let's investigate."
Ken hurried in the house's direction. Dang-Lu hesitated for fraction of a second before giving a quick whip of the reigns and pursued the young Ranger.
Arriving several yards away from the house, they were able to get the full scope of the damage. The fire was mostly out but the smoldering remains were still hot enough to emit smoke. There were no signs of life anywhere in the area. For Ken it was an all to familiar sight; provoking images of the last time he saw his home.
"Let's look around for some footprints or any other signs of what did this." Ken said to Dang-Lu.
As the Elf Scholar dismounted the carriage, he quickly took notice to the front door. There was a lock and chain on the remnants of the doors handles. Ken in the meantime went around to the back and discovered a broken window shutter lying on the ground. Though broken it was untouched by the fire. Shortly thereafter, Ken found a line of four-toed footprints that seem to just appear randomly beyond the shutter.
"I think I've found our culprit's tracks." Ken said aloud.
"There are footprints over here as well." Dang-Lu replied.
The young Ranger came to the front of the house where his colleague was looking over six different sets of human footprints.
"It looks as though they locked the doors, and either set the house a blaze or it caught on fire just before they left." Dang-Lu said while pointing out the way they seemed to gather at outside of the houses' entrance before leaving via the Road.
"Something got into the house." Ken deduced. "They tried to lock it inside, then when the beast either knocked over a candle or a lantern, the house caught fire. The owners left, and the monster escaped through a window. "
"Do you think the monster could be nearby?" Dang-Lu asked.
"It's possible." Ken replied.
Suddenly from inside the wood line there was a loud cry for help. Without wasting any time Ken raced into the woods in the direction of the shout. Dang-Lu ran back to the carriage to retrieve a notebook and a quill then hurried as fast as he could after Ken.
"Dear me, several days of traveling and we finally have one!" Dang-Lu said to himself excited yet worrisome at the same time.
Ken drew closer to the source of the shout and upon drawing closer he could hear the sounds of someone struggling against something that was snarling like a dog or a wolf. Before long he found a man in very worn clothing waving a knife at a large canine of some kind while he stood his ground on a rock. At first the creature looked like a very large wolf with a short tail, but the head was much bigger and the fangs were much longer. When the monster would readjust to try and snap at the man, the thick mane and brown stripes on its back became visible.
Ken drew his sword and readied his shield, which had been enhanced following the Manticore hunt, before shouting, "Hey! Over here!"
The ferocious animal whipped its head around and caught sight of Ken. It reeled back its jowls and snarled.
The man on the wrong looked confused but relieved; especially when the monster fully turned its attention towards the young Ranger instead. The beast approached Ken, menacingly and then began to circle him. Ken stood his ground with his shield on the guard and his sword at the ready to strike. The monster eventually stopped and the two began a brief stand-off.
Dang-Lu, though somewhat out of breath finally caught up to them in time to witness the two combatants in their brief pause. The elvan Scholar took refuge behind a tree fifteen meters behind them and gazed out to get a good look at the creature Ken was about to engage.
"A Shurakin." Dang-Lu said to himself as he quickly began taking notes.
Suddenly the monstrous canine dashed forth to attack Ken. He was able to hold the Shurakin at bay with his shield, holding it up against the monsters throat to keep it from being able to bite. Snapping and struggling wildly, the power of its jaws generated a loud chomping sound every time they closed shut as it tried to get at Ken. Though Ken defenses remained unbroken, the monster had backed him into a tree, preventing him from being able to strike with his sword.
Eventually the beast pulled back from its assault. Ken tried to slash it with his sword while it retreated, but he missed. The two squared off once again, this time Ken was poised to put the engagement to and end; keeping a firm grip on his shield while raising his sword slightly like a scorpion's stinger.
The Skurakin suddenly charged once again but rather than become locked, Ken swept to the side and struck the monster with his shield. He could tell from the way his shield sounded as it struck the monster's head that it had an incredibly thick skull.
"My sword isn't strong enough to do any damage if I try to strike it head on." Ken thought to himself as the two once again paused. "But how can I get past those powerful jaws."
Suddenly Dang-Lu shouted, "Ken! Shurakins have powerful biting force but their muscles to open their mouth are weak!"
At that moment the Shurakin lunged at Ken again. This time Ken moved back to look for a way to latch the monster's jaws shut. The monster once again had him backed against a tree and Ken had to hold it off with his shield. In a quick decision and an equally quick motion, Ken duck to the side and sliced sword at the inside of its front leg. The weapon's blade sliced deep enough that it crippled the monster's limb.
The Shurakin fell forward and it was then that Ken saw his moment of opportunity. With all his might, Ken threw himself onto the creature's head and pressed it's jaws closed. Just like Dang-Lu said, the monster couldn't open its mouth and was pinned.
"You gave it a good fight," Ken said respectfully. "But this battle is over."
He then plunged his sword into the monster's chest cavity. Under his weight, Ken felt the monster flinch very strongly and then fall still.
"Alright Dang-Lu, come take your notes before I call for Ukuro." Ken said.
"Right," Dang-Lu said hurrying from his hiding spot. "This should not take long."
As the Elvan scholar began his examination of the Shurakin's body, Ken turned to assess the wellness of the person they had come to rescue. However, much to Ken's surprise the person had disappeared.
"Dang-Lu, where did that man go?" Ken asked.
"Right here!" The man said as he sprang up behind Dang-Lu and held a knife to his throat. "Don't make any moves or try anything funny!"
Ken whipped around and froze in accordance with the man's demands.
"Oh don't worry not a single move shall be made." Dang-Lu said quivering. "So what can we do for you today? Gold? Weapons? We have it all!"
"SILENCE!" The man shouted. "Who are you and what are you doing here?"
"My name is Ken Khan." Ken said. "I'm a Ranger and my companion there is a Scholar from the Guild."
"Still doesn't answer my question." The man said. "What are you doing here!?"
"We were examining a house nearby that this monster attacked. We heard your shouts for help and came to investigate."
"Yes we mean no harm." Dang-Lu said.
"Well I'm not sure if I'm lucky or you are unlucky then, but I'm afraid I'm going to have to force you to take me back to the guild with you." The man said.
"Why?" Ken asked.
"I'm afraid there's no time for that." The man said before pressing the blade into Dang-Lu's skin. "I wouldn't do something like this but I'm afraid the matter is very urgent."
For a brief moment Ken glanced at the knife at his companion's throat. All hopes at trying to get him free of the situation were too remote especially given that Ken was to far away from them to make any move.
"Listen, if you want us to take you back to the Guild we shall do so but there is no need to put my friend there in harm's way." Ken said to the man.
"I would love to, rather I want to believe you." The man replied. "But given the kind of people I have encountered I'm afraid I will have to stick with these circumstances. Now we've wasted too much time talking. Take me to the Guild or I will be forced to harm your friend."
Though it felt cowardly to give in, Ken had no choice but to bend to the man's demands. He nodded compliantly.
"Good." The man said. "Now let's get started-"
Suddenly the man was struck in the back with something that instantly paralyzed him. The knife fell out of his hand, much to Dang-Lu's relief who quickly pulled away from him.
For a moment the man stood frozen both in pain and fear. Then he was suddenly yanked up back and up into one of the trees. Ken and Dang-Lu raced forward to see what happened. From the way the light was hitting the trees they could not make out clearly what was happening; only that the man was not alone up there.
He was then thrown down to the ground, dead. There were two huge and bloody gashes left in his chest by a bladed weapon of some kind. Ken and Dang-Lu looked back up towards the trees to see who the assassin was. All they saw was the fleeting image of another man in a long overcoat dashing from limb to limb out of the area.
There was no point in pursuing at the speed he was moving. Dang-Lu took a moment to look over the man's body and upon further investigation he found that there was another wound on the back; where the kidneys are located.
"He was struck with a kunai." Dang-Lu said. "And it looks like he was killed by a pair of wrist blades."
"A kunai and wrist blades?" Ken asked. "Those are the sort of weapons a ranger would have though, right?"
"Yes." Dang-Lu replied.
Ken looked back up where they saw the assassin make his exit, "And that would account for his ability to move so swiftly through the trees but, I never heard of a Ranger killing a man in this fashion."
"You know, I have heard stories of several factions of Rangers who went rogue." Dang-Lu said to Ken's surprise. "They say that for whatever reason Rangers have in the past given up there mantle's in pursuit of personal gain. I thought that when a Ranger broke their oaths that they were imprisoned or worse, though."
"So did I." Ken said.
The two stood looking both puzzled and at the same time nervous at the prospect that there was such a threat in their mists.