As Kane and Tyris crossed the Veringian Bridge into the town of Hawkmor, the thick fog that made their journey so difficult parted to reveal a lifeless, graying husk of a city. Long abandoned by its inhabitants during the Millennium War, Hawkmor was now a haven for beasts.
Tyris pulled out her journal to review their objectives. Months ago, a woman named Leah went missing while journeying from her hometown to the Holy Land. After some time, a passerby saw several hooded figures leading someone matching her description into Hawkmor: Blue eyes, black hair, late 20s, and wearing a green dress.
Kane and Tyris were renowned Monster Hunters for hire whose clients included everyone from civilians to Royal Vampires to the Holy Land themselves, and two days ago, Leah’s brother hired them to travel to Hawkmor by boat, find his sister, and bring her back.
Kane, an expert medic and tracker, pulled out a vial containing a combination of mysterious herbs mixed with Leah’s favorite perfume. Gulping down the potion, Kane instantly gained the ability to “see” faint traces of Leah’s perfume drifting in the air throughout Hawkmor. “She was definitely here,” Kane said to Tyris as he examined a cluster of footprints in the dirt.
Tyris scanned the area with her Y-drone. “There’s nobody in the streets. What do you see?” she asked.
“Two sets of footprints,” Kane replied, “The first set…a party of four people who crossed the Veringian Bridge like we just did. The second set…a lone attacker, a male, waiting in Hawkmor ran towards the party. There was a struggle. The attacker was injured and ran off towards that old hospital there. You can see traces of blood in the footprints.”
“What about the party of four?”
“After fending off the attacker, they continued walking in the other direction, towards those church buildings. Looks like one of their own was injured too; there’s traces of a second person’s blood here.”
Nearing the entrance to the old hospital, Kane and Tyris saw that the double doors had been smashed open. “This was no man that did this,” Kane said, examining the claw marks on the splintered wood while readying his carbine. Tyris unsheathed her chainsword, her thumb resting on the trigger at the base of its cross-guard.
The duo cautiously entered, the biting cold of Hawkmor’s climate subsiding into a stale, unmoving atmosphere that smelled like a tomb. Someone had scrawled “Damn the Holy Land” in dried blood on the adjacent wall, where a decimated skeleton lay on the floor.
“Not a fan of the Holy Land, this town?” Tyris said as they moved through a high-ceilinged ward.
“A lone dissenter, I reckon,” Kane said, “Hawkmor was traditionally Holy Land territory.”
As they passed through overturned beds, shattered glass and various forms of debris in this greying carcass of a medical facility, Kane smelled something in the air and gestured for Tyris to take cover. The two quickly ducked behind a counter as a monstrous and deep growl emanated from the hallway ahead. Tyris slowly peeked her head out to see a trio of hellhounds approaching, far larger and beastly than she had ever seen.
“Three hellhounds,” Tyris said, “Big ones too. They look mutated somehow.”
“They’re going to sniff us out in a few seconds. How do you want to handle this?” Kane said.
Using her wrist computer, Tyris flew her Y-drone to the top of the room and got herself into a crouching position, ready to pounce. Moments later, the trio of hellhounds marched into the ward, shards of unholy blue flame billowing out of their jaws. One of the hounds growled, picking up Kane and Tyris’s scent, but by that point Tyris’s drone opened fire, unleashing a torrent of 30mm full metal jacket rounds on the creatures, severely injuring one of them!
The hounds barked furiously and gave chase as the drone retreated down the corridor. One of them spat a fireball at the drone damaging its targeting retina. However, with their backs now turned, Tyris pounced from her hiding spot, her chainsword roaring to life. She let out a battle cry, sinking her weapon into the injured creature's neck. The rapidly turning teeth of her chainsword made quick work of the creature, severing its head in a shower of flames.
The second hound spun around and belched out a cascade of fire. Tyris narrowly dodged it with an acrobatic leap and delivered another fatal blow, sawing it in half. It was at this moment that the third creature leapt from behind her, its jaws aimed at her neck! A loud gunshot rang out and the creature snapped back and fell to the floor, dead. Kane lowered his carbine to inspect his kill. A perfect headshot.
“Who…who’s there?!” a male voice called out from down the corridor. Kane and Tyris swiftly made their way to the door the voice was calling from.
“We’ve killed the beasts, now open up!” Tyris said as Kane readied his carbine for a potential ambush. The door opened to reveal a young boy. He looked malnourished and had a bloody wound on his side that was hastily patched up with gauze. He collapsed into a nearby couch.
“Who are you?” Tyris said.
“I’m…my name’s Kai. I’ve been trapped here for days.”
“You’re Holy Land?” Kane said, examining the boy’s uniform.
“Y-yes. I WAS…Holy Land,” Kai said, “Ungh! Are you a doctor? I’m in so much pain!”
“We can help you,” Tyris said, “but first you must tell us everything. Why are you here? How’d you get this way, and do you know a girl named Leah?”
“Grgg…Leah, yes. My masters found out…her blood, there’s something special with it, like she has god blood or something! They wanted it, so they took her. I knew they would bring her here, so I tried to save her! And as you can see…”
“So you betrayed your order to save Leah. Why? Who is she to you?” said Tyris.
“Leah and I…we grew close during her captivity. She opened my eyes…that…the Holy Land can be a force for good and purity! Those, those beasts you killed. They’re just part of the experiments they’ve been doing here. That’s not what I signed up for! You’ve got to save Leah…they took her to the church, to the basement level. They know you’re coming and have a trap set up. Use the entrance by the shed; you might bypass the guards that way.”
Tyris and Kane looked at each other and nodded in approval. Kane then examined Kai’s injuries. “It’s badly infected and he’s quite malnourished,” he thought to himself.
“Th-thank you sir. I feel better already,” Kai said as Kane treated his injury with painkilling powder, disinfectant, and a new layer of gauze. Kane then grabbed a nearby flask and mixed water and several powders together to create a potent and fast-acting energy drink. He made the young boy gulp it all down.
“Stay here, we’ll come back for you,” Kane said.
“No! Let me help; I can show you the way there. Please, let me do this,” said Kai as he donned his angel wings. The monster hunters could see that there wasn’t much they could say to deter him and relented.
With Kai leading the way through Hawkmor, Kane and Tyris kept one eye peeled for more threats and the other on Kai, just in case he wasn’t being forthcoming. “If the Holy Land are dabbling in mutants and kidnapping civilians, is this job still worth it if it makes us their enemy?” Kane said.
Tyris gave Kane a slightly worried look, “Let’s just find the girl first. We have history with the Holy Land; maybe we can be diplomatic about it.”
“I wish I had your optimism,” Kane said.
Tyris affectionately patted Kane on the shoulder, “I don’t like it either, but we’re a neutral party; neither Holy Land nor heretic. We’ve got to keep that in mind.”
“Sure,” Kane said, “Is your drone’s scanner functional?"
“Those hounds damaged it. It can still shoot, but not very accurately,” Tyris replied.
“It’s here!” Kai said as they arrived at the rear of the church, where an old cellar door lay. Tyris pried it open, revealing a ladder down into the church basement.
“Thanks kid,” Tyris said, “Now go to the bridge. There’s a boat below; wait for us there.”
“You’re still injured. You might slow us down if you go in there with us. Now please go, don't put yourself at further risk.”
Kai, slightly dejected, nodded and departed the scene while Kane and Tyris climbed down.
The atmosphere inside was even more oppressive than the hospital. Religious iconography lined the walls, with candles hanging from the pillars emitting soft red glows in the darkness. The smell of incense permeated the air, and faint chanting could be heard in the distance.
Descending some wooden steps, Kane and Tyris arrived at an overhead walkway and saw below them a vast army of Holy Land acolytes chanting a haunting incantation. At the altar of the underground hall was a figure they recognized from before: The Blood Paladin, who stood next to a figure draped in a large veil.
Tyris’s heart skipped a beat. The Blood Paladin’s presence signaled an event of incredible importance for the Holy Land. If they were to interfere with it, it would truly bring a world of hell on the two monster hunters. She was seconds from aborting the mission when Kane pointed at a door on the far side of the walkway and whispered, “I’m sensing Leah’s scent in that room over there.”
They stealthily made their way to the room and tried the door handle. The door creaked open to reveal a young girl chained to the wall. She looked about 17 and had black hair and blue eyes.
“Are you Leah?” Tyris said as she worked on the girl’s chains, which were surprisingly easy to unlock.
“Yes! Thank God you came! Please, get me out of this awful place!” the girl replied.
“Don’t worry, your brother sent us. We’ll get you out of here,” Tyris said as she prepared to unlock the last of her chains.
Tyris was just about to unlatch the last chain holding Leah down when she heard the familiar “clack-chack” of Kane’s carbine. “Ty. Get away from her,” Kane said, pointing his weapon at Leah.
Tyris looked at Kane with intense confusion. “What-?”
“That’s not Leah. We’re getting out of here. Now.”
Tyris looked back at the girl. The girl now had murder in her eyes. Tyris had barely enough time to reach for her sword when the girl delivered a powerful kick, slamming her against the wall. With lightning speed, the girl undid her own chains, pulled off her wig to reveal blonde hair, and grabbed Tyris, using her as a shield to prevent Kane from firing.
Amidst the ruckus, a group of battle nuns then burst through a fake wall behind Kane. Kane spun around to fire, but they quickly knocked his carbine aside and held him in their grip.
“Foolish mercenaries, now you shall know what it is to be blessed!” One of the nuns hissed with an inhuman voice before gesturing at the girl holding Tyris, “Shou. Snap her neck.”
Nun Shou smiled and nodded, grabbing Tyris’s head to separate it from her neck. Thanks to Kane’s warning, Tyris was able to at least get one hand on her sword’s grip and activated it. The weapon growled angrily as its metal teeth spun, slashing Nun Shou’s side and causing her to fall in screaming pain.
Now free, Tyris was confronted with the battle nuns, who had Kane in their grip, their daggers pointed at his neck, “Surrender, or the last thing he sees is his blood spraying across your face.” they taunted.
Tyris saw her drone hovering unnoticed behind the nuns, but with its targeting lens damaged, it couldn’t reliably shoot them without hitting Kane as well.
Tyris winked at Kane. They both understood. The agile monster hunter charged at the battle nuns with incredible speed. The nuns were not expecting Tyris to have the audacity for such a move; they howled in protest and raised their arms to stab Kane to death. Kane elbowed one of the nuns in the face, then judo flipped the other onto the ground. Before the nun had a chance to get up, Kane slammed his heel onto her throat, shattering her trachea with a sickening crunch.
“DIE!” the third nun yelled as she sank her blade into Kane’s side; he groaned and fell to his knees. The nun then thrust her blade at his face. Kane raised his arm to deflect the blow; the knife instead slashed his wrist.
“You pathetic heatheAAAIIIIEEEE!!!” screamed the nun as Tyris arrived and sawed her in half. The last nun, having recovered from the elbow to the face, stood up to attack, but it was too late; Tyris sawed her vertically from her clavicle down to her abdomen, painting the walls and floor crimson. With three nuns dead and dismembered and Shou incapacitated, the Holy Land clearly underestimated the fighting prowess of the two monster hunters.
“You alright?” Tyris said.
“I’m…fine,” Kane said, wincing as he cleaned his injuries and wrapped them in gauze, “It’s just flesh wounds.”
Suddenly, Kane and Tyris clutched their heads as a throbbing sensation overcame them. “Well done, mercenaries,” an eerily calm voice spoke to them from inside their heads, “You have earned the right to be blessed. Step out to the walkway so you can see.”
The pain subsided and the duo slowly made their way out of the room onto the overhead walkway, where the congregation now bowed in total silence and the Blood Paladin looked up at them from the altar, still standing next to the veiled figure. The Blood Paladin then pulled off the veil to reveal a severely emaciated Leah, who was strapped onto a gurney with tubes sticking out from her arms, draining her blood into an ominous looking machine nearby. Electricity arced off the machine as it slowly whirred to life.
“What the hell have you done? Release her!” Tyris snarled.
The Blood Paladin didn’t flinch. “Your abilities have impressed us. Our unity will soon be absolute. You shall join us.” The machine whirred louder and louder, and Kane and Tyris could feel an unearthly sensation encroaching on their willpower. They had seconds to act before something terrible happened.
“Kane. Danger Close.” Tyris whispered as she keyed in her drone’s deadliest protocol to target the congregation. High above the underground cathedral, her Y-Drone’s 30mm cannon reconfigured itself into a multi-barrel turret.
“NOW!” Tyris shouted. She and Kane made a beeline for Leah as the drone oscillated like an out-of-control electric fan, spraying gunfire all over the place. Countless Holy Land acolytes were cut down by the ensuing bullet storm, with the survivors taking cover in the alcoves. Several bullets struck the kerosene lamps mounted on the walls, setting off a raging inferno that quickly spread across the floor.
Arriving at the altar, Kane removed Leah’s restraints. The Blood Paladin moved in for the kill with his scythe, but Tyris stepped in to defend her comrade. While she and the Paladin dueled, Kane hoisted Leah in his arms and began making his way to the nearest exit. It was then that a bullet ricocheted off the wall and struck him in the chest. Kane grunted, nearly dropping Leah. He quickly whipped out his Ultra-Stimpak and injected it into himself, giving him the necessary strength to ignore the pain.
Tyris was doing her best to ward off the Blood Paladin’s relentless scythe blows, but it become apparent that she was out of her league; his scythe soon found its way past her defenses and carved a horrific gash into her left leg. Tyris dropped to the floor, screaming as a fountain of blood sprayed from her wound.
As flames roared and the drone emptied its last rounds, Kane ran over to Tyris to try and save her, but with Leah in his arms and a seriously angry Blood Paladin looming before them, all he could do was close his eyes and pray for a quick death.
The Blood Paladin raised his scythe to deliver the killing blow when something collided with him. It was Kai! “I’ll hold him off! Go!” Kai screamed as he engaged in a futile sword battle with the vastly superior Blood Paladin.
Scrambling to his feet, Kane hoisted Tyris over his shoulder while holding Leah under his arm. Bearing the weight of two women, he weaved his way around the raging fires and scattering congregants and charged up the stairs, out of the church and into the open.
The freezing air of Hawkmor was a welcome relief from the hell within the church. Black smoke began billowing out from every corner of the building, preventing him from seeing what became of Kai, the Blood Paladin, or that mysterious machine. Boosted by his ultra-stimpak, Kane carried himself, Leah and Tyris across the bridge and down to the rowboat. As he rowed away from Hawkmor, Tyris’s drone emerged from the church and returned to its master.
When they were sufficiently far away, Kane applied painkillers to himself and extracted the bullet lodged between his ribs. He then treated Tyris’s leg with the remaining painkillers and anti-bleeding gel. It didn’t look good; the Blood Paladin had severed a crucial artery and Tyris would bleed to death in a few hours. Unless…
“I’m sorry Ty…but…I’ll have to amputate…” Kane said, a mountain of pain seeping into his system as his ultra-stimpak wore off.
“I’ll get another one,” Tyris said, chuckling a little through her injury, “Did we get the girl?”
“We did,” Kane said, now examining Leah and applying various medications to her. Though she was still in bad shape and delirious, Kane had ample supplies to ensure that she would make a modest recovery throughout the journey back.
“Kane…we have to talk,” Tyris said, “The Holy Land...they’re going to hunt us down…because of what we just did.”
“I still have my contact with the Kindred,” Kane said as he prepared Tyris’s leg.
“Grey Star?” Tyris replied.
“Yes. He can put us in touch with the Royal Vampires. Well, what’s left of them anyway. We can’t hide from the Holy Land; their Oracle Troops will track us to the ends of the earth. We might have to consider taking Leah and her brother with us; the Holy Land will probably be after them too.”
“What about…ngh! What about the Dark Tower? We’d be safer with them,” Tyris said.
“They’d turn us over to the Holy Land the second they decide we’re not useful to them anymore.”
“So that’s that then. We join with the Royal Vampires…and then what?”
“I don’t know. I’m still trying to piece together what we saw back there. The Blood Paladin speaking to us as if he was in our heads, and how weak I felt when that machine powered up…like all my willpower was being drained from my spirit. I want answers. And maybe the Kindred can help us without stabbing us in the back at some point like the Dark Tower would.”
Tyris took a moment to contemplate the implications of their decision. It would mean living life constantly on the run, moving from place to place, while striking at their enemies where it hurt the most. She smiled a little at the thought.
Kane, still reeling from being both shot and stabbed on the same day, reached into his utility pouch and pulled out his bone saw, suture kit and gauze. “Are you ready?”
Alone with her closest friend in the middle of the placid, fog-laden Veringian river, Tyris felt a soothing calmness wash over her. She held his hand and gripped it tightly; though they were now fugitives from the Holy Land, she felt hopeful about the future the two of them would have with each other.