Chapters:

Prologue

I hate the springtime. It is an unpopular opinion but it is mine all the same. The incessant rains towards the end of the season make my job harder than it needs to be. They wash away the spoor that I use to follow my quarry. It is also much more difficult to keep footing while climbing uphill through the muck. The mud caking my boots does nothing to improve my disposition.

Why do cultists always seek out the most dismal sorts of places to hold their rituals? You know the sort; an old, forgotten graveyard under a full moon or the back room of a butcher’s shop. Tonight’s fools have chosen a forest cave in which to perform their blasphemous acts. The mouth of the cave looks foreboding in the spare light provided by the occasional lightning flash.

Almost crawling, I finally manage to summit the rise. Curse this rain. Ok, time to take stock: sword, check; dagger, check; desire to hurt this rabble that has me crawling on my hands and knees through a dark, rainy forest when I could be relaxing at home and enjoying a nice meal? ”Yeah, double check on that one.” I say to myself.

Looking into the cave I see that they have placed torches at regular intervals. I can hear a faint buzz which must be the voice of their priest. “No more delaying it.” I groan. I enter the cave and follow the gentle down-slope. The smell of the earthen tunnel and smoke from the torches is oppressive. My foot strikes against something with a barely audible metallic thud.

I look down to see what it is. Though filth-covered I can make out some markings upon it: “EMPIRE STATE BUILDING HAS BEEN DESIGNATED A NATIONAL HISTORIC LANDMARK.”

I have no idea what the markings mean but it looks like it was used by the ancient people as some kind of sign marker. So it’s not just a cave in the forest. It’s an ancient ruin in the forest. See what I meant about cultists choosing depressing locales?

As I make my way further in, I come to a doorway embedded into the earth. Of course the door has long since rotted away and the angle of the door means I will need to bend down in order to enter. Still, this confirms the “ancient ruin” setting. I can hear the voice of the priest with just a bit of an echo at this point. I listen to a bit of his speech while I unsheathe my sword and dagger.

“But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars – they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”

I smile to myself. It is a fitting sermon to be their last. Pleading to their “God” to strike down the unfaithful? I’ll take the “God” I can see over the one I can’t any day. My deity asks me to strike down the unfaithful, not the other way around! How presumptuous of these fools. No wonder they have been abandoned by their deity. It is the duty of the Chosen to carry out the will of their lord, not for the masses to make demands of their deity.

“I am Azralin,” I say as I make my way through the doorway. Several of them gasp, startled by my entrance. “I am one of Rhaegar’s Chosen and you have been condemned to death for blasphemy.” I can see the eyes of an ancient-looking lady near to me roll up in her head as she faints. Other than that, no one makes a move.

“Usually this is the part where you scream and try to run away,” I say in mock helpfulness.

The priest draws himself up to full standing height. He’s a bit shorter than me, but not by too much. He is also an older man. He appears to be in his mid-to-late thirties as his hair is beginning to grey and is thinner in the front. “If our time has come, we are all prepared to die. We will live again in the house of our father.”

“Is that so?” I say as I stride up to him, blade held towards his left breast. To his credit, he doesn’t back down. I look him in the eyes and see an unnerving resolve in them. He knows he is about to die, but he is absolutely unafraid.

After a moment standing like this, the other cultists stand to their feet; hands folded and calm. One of them revives the old woman and gets her on her feet. She, at least, seems afraid of death. The priest raises his eyes up to the ceiling and speaks, “Lord, forgive him for he knows not what he does.” He then lowers his eyes and gives me a nod indicating that he is ready.

I thrust my blade into his chest and rend his heart in two. Nobody screams or even moves as his body tumbles to the floor, crimson blood flowing out onto the earthen floor. I approach the next cultist with my blade covered in gore expecting… I don’t know… something, anything! Instead, the woman turns her pale blue eyes to the ceiling and speaks the same final words as the priest.

I slay each in turn, always with the same last words. I clean my sword using a bit of one of the cultists’ clothing and sheathe it. As I make my way out of the cave and back to the rainy forest, I shake my head and mutter, “Lunatics, every one of them.”