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The Emperor Protects
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Kai still couldn't quite believe it. A Bear. Something so simple and ordinary, especially compared to what they had faced over the last couple of days. But still it rooted him to the spot. A man could see a whole manner of sights, situations and creatures, but nothing could quite dispel the sight of a fully grown(and hungry) bear. Hundreds of pounds of muscle and pure animal aggression. The others were quicker to react, with Nysard instantly quickly hurling a cleaver at the animal, narrowly missing Aldegar as he did. The cleaver did not seem to dissuade the bear though, if anything making it more angry. A moment later an arrow whistled in, no doubt loosed by Thorin and hit the bears right paw causing it to roar in pain. Aldegar quickly rushed the bear with his axe, defiant and stupid as ever, but he was quickly backed up by the others with flaming branches. Kell snapped out of his stunned state and picked a flaming brand up as well.

The bear was clearly hungry and wasn't put off by Aldegars stubborn defiant stand. After the rest of them joined him however, all armed with fire, the animal clearly began to think better of the situation and back off a little before looking back at the meat. With a roar it charged back in, Kai thought it must be desperately hungry to continue to press its attack and almost felt a stab of sorrow for the animal. Did it have cubs back at a den somewhere to feed as well? It mattered little however, if it was between him or the bear, he would of course choose himself. It over committed itself though and lost a great deal of its paw to Aldegars axe for its troubles. With a final roar it limped off back into the woods.

Only then did Hienrick finally approach them. Why hadn't he involved himself Kai wondered, looking at him suspiciously. Before he could say anything the hunter ordered them to gather their things and get read to leave for Salzemund immediately. Kai was more than happy to comply for once with the hunters wished, they had already let the vampires have enough of a head start and with every passing hour Jenna was taken further away from him.

Dyanah protested to the others about the hunters decision and her doting lover Aldegar quickly agreed with her sentiment. Kai cared little what they would decide to do, any connection or relationship he felt towards any of the group were rapidly deteriorating, he was in this for himself and Jenna now. He would stick with whoever carried the best chance of saving his sister and right now that was Hienrick in his opinion. Even as he packed his things however he noted Dyanah and Aldegar now glaring in his directions. What might he have done to upset their delicate feelings now he wondered.

"Where….did that meat come from" she asked him, accusingly so in his mind.

Frowning back at her he replied "How should I know, the hunter gave it to me, ask him. And whilst we're on the topic, you may all be content to sit around on your laurels and wait, but i'm going with Hienrick, squabble amongst yourselves when you will decide to catch up with us." With one more venomous glance at them all he marched over to his horse, secured his belonging and rode off after the Hunter.
 

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A snarling roar tore her tremulous thoughts asunder, held her frozen for a moment legs encased in ice, blood crystallising in her veins.

What madness had engulfed the others, what danger threatened them. Fear gnawed at her bones, yet she fought the terror away, what if they were injured, what if their blood spilled upon the ground?

They would need her, however much the vet and her beast scorned her, she was a healer. She had a duty to perform.

Her limbs broke into a run, carrying her forward towards the flittering shadows of the firelight atop the bank, leering stretching shapes that twitched and writhed with subtle malice. She broke the clearing, heart catching in her mouth at a second roar emerging from between the jaws of a great mass of fur and muscle, a true savage beast, the stench of seering meat enflaming its hunger even as it burned her throat, bilious nausea causing her stomach to buckle even as she rushed towards the fire.

Dynah stood, flame branch casting glittering shadows over stern features, statuesque, a harsh nobility carressing her features, a direct contrast to her beloved features, a bestial mask framing wild eyes, the slightest tinge of animalistic lust glittering in their depths even as he tried to pull her from harms way.

Yet she did not budge and Kiera felt burning admiration, admonishment for her own cowardice, did the woman know no fear. She would not be outdone, not be found wanting, and she joined her, upon Aldegar other flank, a burning brazier held aloft , the heat seering her callused fingers yet she dulled the emotion, determined not to flinch even as she faced the slobbering jaws of the monster.

It paused, mind twitching at the sight of flame and naked steel and she willed it to turn tail and dissappear, eyes fixed upon the long talon, talons that could rend her head from her shoulders, that could tear open her belly to leave her entrails upon the ground.

Then the claw swept sweeping past her for the head of Aldegar between them yet cold steel met the soft underside of its paw and its howl cleft the clearing, cleft through her heart, the long keening cry of an animal in pain.

Its savagery was gone and even as it turned tale and fled, lolloping gate struck with the harsh limp, leaving blood stained grass in its wake, the gentle thump of its paws met by her own gentle sigh of relief even as she cast the brazier into the fire. Even as it dissappeared so did the pain in her heart, the sorrow for a living creature pained, be it man or beast, the mother sought to help her children.

The hunter seemed to appear from the shadows his words seeking urgency, rebuffed by a suddenly weary Dynah and a snarling Aldegar, their words supported by Thorin's wan gaze, yet Kiera brushed the fatigue away.

Animosity still reigned, hatred and bitterness flowing between fleeting gazes between the boys, a great chasm seeming to appear in the ground between them even as Kai saddled his horse and moved away.

Kiera followed suit, gentle coaxing words into her horses ears as she fondled its mane and it nuzzled into her, the whites of its eyes fading as it whickered gently in her ear, drawing a playful laugh from her lips.

"Come little one, we must move on, dont want the bear to come back do we."

A disgruntled snort brought a second laugh and a gentle kiss upon its long nose, before she moved to saddle up before swinging herself atop the horse and kicking it gently til it moved at a slow walk towards where Heinrich and Kai waited yet even as her face moved into the shadows she halted upon the edge of the clearing, eyes looking into Dyanh's weary features

"You hired the hunter for a reason Miss Dynah, but a few days in the woods and you feel qualified to reject his advice?"

She did not wait for the answer giving her horses flanks a gentle tap and she slid away into the darkness, the horse walking carefully under the moonlit path following in Kai's wake.
 

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Kai: Your horse walks along the small forest trail under the hanging branches of the tree's that obscure the light of both moons for the most part until you reach the edge of the forest and end up back on the road where infront of you is the hunter sat upon his mighty mount and thanks to the eerie glow created by Morrslieb and Mannslieb the crimson coat of the hunter and black fur of his horse make them seem as if you have happened across a midnight spectral rider who rides off to unknown ends and deeds. As you get closer you can here Hienrick mumbling to himself though you cant quite make out what he is saying and as you get closer his head whips around to face your direction though the darkness from the rim of his hat remains cast over the upper half of his face showing only his pale jaw and lips. "I see that atleast one of you had the sense to follow me, while Dyanah is doing what she thinks is best she is wrong. She does not know what can lurk within these woods and will be attracted to the scent of blood, if they do not hurry up and meet us here then we shall have to go back and collect them. Tell me Kai do you think you can convince the quite one(Thorin) to come with us if I can get Miss Dyanah to come along? Where she goes her 'wolf' will most certainly follow." The Hunter then awaits your answer and while you answer him there is a snap of a twig behind you which makes you turn your horse around and see that the priestess Keira has decided to join you.

Keira: Your mount carries you through the forest path towards where the hunter and Kai await but for those few brief minutes you are alone you can't help but remain cautious as you constantly look around yourself checking for danger but your cautious is swiftly dispelled as you hear the voice of Hienrick from up ahead as he speaks with Kai but the others of the group. Exiting the forest path you find yourself back on the main forest road and infront of you are Kai and Hienrick both seated upon their steeds with Hienrick looking more like a ghostly spectre in the eerie green glow of the night and as you approach you hear Hienrick ask Kai if you can convince Thorin to come along with the rest of the group if he can get Dyanah to come with him as Aldegar will go where ever she goes and as you continue to listen your horse stands on a small twig snapping it in the process which brings the hunters head whipping around to look at you with right had having half drawn the silver sword at his side before he places it back within its sheath. "I see that another one of you had the sense to follow me but it appears that none of the others are willing to follow just yet. It seems I will have to go back and collect them. You two wait here and I shall return in a few minutes unless of course you would rather come with me." With that Hienrick rides past you and back towards the camp leaving you alone with Kai to either talk or simply turn around and follow the hunter back to camp.

Dyanah: You hear Kais reply that it was Hienrick who gave Kai the meat to cook and wonder why exactly the hunter would do such a thing as since you met him he has never really expressed a concern of whether or not the group goes hungry but then again since you have met him you have noticed that his mood changes almost as rapidly as the wind. Before you can say anything to Kai he rides off shortly followered by the priestess Keira who asks you why you disregard the hunters advice when it was you who hired him in the first place which makes you wonder if you truely know better than someone who has been in the hunting profession for a few years like the hunter has, while thinking of Hienrick's time of being a hunter you are once again reminded of the conversation you had with him about him actually being older than he looks and wonder why he looks as young as he does for someone who claims to be five to seven years older than what he looks. Your thoughts are then interupted by the return of the hunter who rides into the middle of the camp and dismounts his midnight black steed and makes his way over to you with a very confident strides as he completely ignores Aldegar. "I did say that we were leaving but you were taking too long so I have come to collect you." Stopping directly infront of you the hunter leans forward and takes a single step pushing his right shoulder so it tucks neatly just under your stomach and wraps his right arm around both of your legs with his hand gripping onto your right thigh before he rights himself literally hauling you over his shoulder with all the ease of a man who might be picking up a five year old child before he swiftly turns filling your vision with a swirl of crimson and stomps off back to his mount where he steps you ontop of it so that you are sat side saddle before making his way over to your mule.

Aldegar: While you, Dyanah and Thorin stay Kai and Keira set off after the hunter but not before Kai gives his answer to where he got the meat from and Keira telling Dyanah that she should listen to the advice of the hunter. Taking a deep breath you start to think that the best way for you to rescue those that were taken is if you and the others do what needs to be done without the help of anyone else but what hope would you stand against the vampires that took those close to you? Perhaps when you reach Salzemund you will be able to get some profession help from another older and more experienced hunter to lead you to the cursed land of Sylvannia and rescue Jeanna, Kristen and Dyanah's father from the clutches of the vampires. While you think on what needs to be done the hunter returns by himself without saying a word as he rides into the middle of the camp and dismounts his horse before striding over to Dyanah where you hear him say that he has come to collect her. Before you are able to say or do anything the hunter throws Dyanah over his shoulder and moves away from you to place her ontop of his horse where he then goes over to Dyanah's mule and starts to untie her, the hunter doing such a thing sends a new wave of anger through your mind at how he treats Dyanah as simply a little girl that needs to do what she is told and how he acted by simply taking her away from you. What do you do now that the hunter has returned and is trying to take Dyanah from you?

Thorin: As you close your eyes you start to clear your mind and calm yourself as you recall the events that just took place and try to make sense of them all and you come to the conclusion that it there was no harm intended as the bear was simply very hungry and wanting something to eat and it was purely by chance that it came across you all when it did. Opening your eyes you see that Keira and Kai have left to go after the hunter and that Dyanah and Aldegar are stood next to each other in relative silence as they too seem to be processing what just happened and what to do next but the silence is soon interupted by the appearance of the hunter who makes his way back into the camp and proceeds to state that Dyanah is going to come along with him and you watch in relative amazement at how easily Hienrick picks up Dyanah and carries her off before making his way over to gather her things though your eyes instantly shift to look to Aldegar who now seems to be getting even more angry at what just happened and could possible even be contemplating attacking the hunter which would not be the wisest thing as it would mean one of them or pehaps even both will end up with injuries that could of been avoided? Do you try to calm Aldegar down or simply sit back and watch to see what unfolds? Or do you start to pack up your things incase the group does decide to move on?
 

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Kai’s answer was more than enough to put a dumbstruck expression on Aldegar’s face. That he still had little care about the meat, even after it had brought a bear amongst them, left the former farmhand speechless. But that was not all this night had decided to lop at him with surprise, for the priestess Keira had words of her own. "You hired the hunter for a reason Miss Dynah, but a few days in the woods and you feel qualified to reject his advice?” She said, punctuating her words with an air of superiority; or at least it felt that way.

After long moments, Aldegar let out an exhausted breath to try and clear his head so that they could decide what it is they would do. He wanted to stay, to rail against the bastards sudden decision after trouble that he had caused. But if they did that, would it just be himself and Dyanah? He did not know where Thorin would stand, and in the end would it even be worth it? Had he not forced Kai to return so that they could face those monsters together? Sigmar give me a sign for some other choice.

The sound of heavy movement brings the farmhand back from his thoughts in time to watch the hunter drop from his horse and walk towards them. From the way he moves and his stance, it is not to Aldegar that his attention lies, but instead Dyanah. "I did say that we were leaving but you were taking too long so I have come to collect you." The bastard said a moment before hauling Dyanah over his shoulder as if she weighed nothing. For a second Aldegar is left utterly speechless; he hadn’t even been able to follow the man’s movements despite being little more than an arm’s length away.

But that moment of shock washes away all too soon, watching the bastard toss her onto his black steed none-too-gently. Without thought his hands clench into fists of rage, and despite his exhaustion the idea of burying his axe in the hunters neck feels all to good. In the end though, the thought of having fought so hard to keep everyone together only to be the ones to cast it apart wins; and with a dropping of his shoulders the farm hand un-ball’s his fists and makes his way over to Dyanah’s mule.

The bastard is already there, fiddling with the not to untie the thing and it takes every ounce of will-power to not laugh at the man. “Get out of the damn way, don’t you know anything?” He says, pushing the hunter aside so that he can work at the knot; it is a simple thing, at least for anyone who has had to work even a few days in their life. “There, like that; anything else and your mount might be able to get it free.” Aldegar finished, the knot coming undone with relative ease.

Taking Dyanah’s mule by the rope, he pulls it towards the black steed, glowering at the thing as he brings her own mount to its side. “Take her and go to the others, me and him’ll sort the remains of the camp.” Aldegar tells her, grabbing a sturdy branch and lighting one end with the flame from the fire. “Go on, I don’t think anyone else was smart enough to bring light with them.” The farm hand said before turning back to the bastard and the remains of the camp.

Making way to his own meagre belongings, Aldegar packed what could be saved from the camp before putting his own rough tunic back on. It was still damp from the water but he did not care, it was one of the few remaining things to remind him of his family. “Don’t just stand there like an idiot, gather some of the wood for torches and put the rest of the fire out. Unless you and e’ry body else really want to flounder about in the dark like morons.” He growled to the hunter while setting his belongings back on his own mount.
 

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Dyanah felt a sickening suspicion uncoil in her stomach as Kai turned to speak, a suspicion that was only confirmed by the young man's words, and simply arched an eyebrow in response to the tart words from the priestess; biting back the urge to rise to the other woman's undisguised barb with a shake of her head.

The Hunter. The Hunter was responsible for the meat that brought the bear into their midst. Questions followed the thought closely, like wolves nipping at the heels of an exhausted stag. Fresh meat did not keep long and was ill-served to traveling, where had the Hunter gotten it? Back at the benighted village where they had found such destruction and damnation? Surely not. Yet, they had passed by no other farms on their journey, nor had they even seen another traveler on the roadside to barter supplies with and the uncomfortable thought remained like a burr lodged deep in a sheep's flank. Dyanah fixed her eyes on the fire, thoughts lost in a muddled haze of uncertainty and exhaustion as Aldegar stood by in silence; seemingly torn by the others decisions to follow the Hunter.

Dyanah could not shake the growing disquiet that swirled around her thoughts. In her opinion, the Hunter's behaviour was becoming more and more erratic with each passing hour. It was obvious that the Hunter was used to traveling on his own whims, but the increasing uneasiness in her gut told Dyanah that there was far more to things than a simple aversion to company.

The muted beat of a horse's hooves on the forest soil and the jingle of tack from a rider seemed distant and forgotten in her concerns, that is until the dark-velvet voice of the Hunter brought her attention back to the fore and Dyanah turned to face him with questions hanging on her lips. Only to have them shoved aside by a started yelp of surprise as he snatched her up off her feet with all the air of a miss-behaving child who had refused to come to the supper table when called.

The world tipped on its side and her hair tumbled into her eyes, the audacity of the man's actions leaving Dyanah in a state of momentary shock as he turned back to his coal-black stallion. He had taken all of two strides before the shock gave way to indignation and Dyanah squirmed against the man's grip with a squeal of feminine outrage. It did little to slow his stride however, and slung over the Hunter's shoulder as she was afforded Dyanah little in the way of leverage to break free of his hold on her. Almost as quickly as he had deposited her across the saddle of his mount, Dyanah kicked free and slid off the towering stallion to storm after Hienrick with the fury of the offense clear in her narrowed amber eyes.

'How dare you lay a hand on me without my consent as if I was some half-witted barmaid who can't find her way out of her own skirts without your so-called aid!'

Guinevere was rolling her eyes and shifting threateningly as Hienrick reached for her lead and Dyanah could not help but cultivate the hope that the Hunter's callousness would earn him a well deserved bite from the mule, but Aldegar was already moving to interpose himself between the Hunter and their mounts. The farmhand pressed the Hunter aside with a snort; Dyanah did not have to see his face to know Aldegar was keeping careful hold on his temper from the annoyance that his voice carried. Guinevere followed Aldegar's guidance eagerly; the jenny-mule giving the Hunter a skittish glance as she stepped by him and keeping her ears pinned back all the while.

Aldegar brought Guinevere to a halt by Dyanah's side and pressed the guide reins into her hand, speaking in low tones as he moved to collect a brand from the fireside before passing that into her grip as well. Dyanah took a slow breath to still her ire and blunt her tongue before giving a curt shake of her head,

'And leave the both of you alone to 'sort things out' with the edge of his blade? I think not.'

Dyanah moved to recover the woolen blanket from where it lay crumpled on the ground, jamming the end of the branch into the soft earth at her side to free up her hands before giving the blanket a vigorous shake.

'... and I'm not going anywhere without getting some answers first.'

Dyanah leveled a sharp look at the Hunter across the fire,

'Where did you get that meat from? Who was that... that... man in the village back there and how did he know your name, Sire Hienrick?'
 

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Strange shadows, caused by the flickering of the firelight, danced across the back of his eyelids as Thorin sat contemplating his next move. Exhaustion was playing with his judgement. Anger and rage replacing logic and reason. He just couldn't shake this feeling of unease where the Hunter was concerned. There was just something about the man that put Thorin on edge, made him want to resist his suggestions. The fact that he was bone weary only compounding those feelings of unease. At least the mystery of the hunk of meat had been solved. It didn't answer the question of where the Hunter had procured the fresh piece, but Thorin decided that he would just add it to the series of unanswered questions that seemed to be accumulating in his mind. One day, when he was coherent enough to ask the right questions, he would confront the Hunter with them.

With a heavy sigh he opened his eyes. Kai, Keira, and the Hunter were nowhere to be seen, though Aldegar and Dyanah stood, just inside the ring of light provided by the campfire. They seemed rooted to the spot as well, as if they were also trying to decide what they would do. One would think that Dyanah's anger would have made her choice obvious, but Thorin saw indecision in her expression. Aldegar's upturned gaze seemed to be looking for inspiration from the heavens. Thorin was glad that he wasn't the only one conflicted. Kai and Keira seemed to follow the Hunter with blind faith. For the first time in a long time, Thorin had no clear path.

Moments later the Hunter returned, the heavy thud of his War Horse's hoof drawing Thorin's attention as Heinrich re-emerged into the clearing from the trees. Thorin had to quickly stiffle a chortle of laughter as the man tossed Dyanah over his shoulder, drawing an indignant cry from the woman. Thorin watched as Heinrich tossed her into the saddle of his mount. Obviously the Hunter was not going to leave them be, he seemed intent on the fact that Dyanah would accompany him and where the young vet went, Aldegar was sure to follow even if that meant remaining in the company of the Hunter. Resignation, heavy acceptance of his situation fell upon Thorin like a wet blanket, weighty and smoothering. He could not complete his quest for vengence alone. It seemed that despite his earlier statement he would need to follow the mysterious Hunter for at least a while longer.

He heard Aldegar, Dyanah, and Heinrick speaking to one another, but paid them no heed. Rooting into his side pouch he pulled out a spare cloth and approaching the roasting spit of meat he carved off a few thick pieces with his hunting knife, wrapping them tightly in the cloth. At least he would have something to eat as they rode. Pulling his hood back up, he swung himself up into the saddle and turned his steed in the direction that he had seen the rest of the group go. He wondered briefly at the soundness of his decision to accompany these people, but quickly pushed the thought from his mind. The decision had been made and he needed to live with it. Hopefully they would reach their destination and catch up with their quarry before they all killed each other.
 
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