Chapter 17: The Silverback
Henryk was dead.
Bell had no doubts about that as he felt the man’s echoes filling in a void that he’d never knew existed prior to the Hunt. Only this time it had a strange sensation affixed to it. Like something was oozing into the back of his mind, a pulsing throb that left him to shake his head as he fell to his knees.
He didn’t want this. He didn’t want the man dead. He was that child’s last living relative, the only family she had left now that her mother and father were gone. Yet now he joined them in death in this graveyard that seemed eager to drink the growing pool of warm, dark blood.
As he stared at it, Bell felt the burning sting of tears forming in his eyes as he found himself longing for a simpler time while gazing into the moonlight reflected on the blood. Of a time when he and his grandpa were together. It was only the ragged breathing now coming from Eileen that pulled him out of the fleeting, wistful moment.
He looked up to see the Hunter of Hunters panting through her mask, leaning with her back against a gravestone. The feather cowl painted with shades of deep crimson shifted up and down as she struggled to catch her breath after the fighting, blades still held within her grip. It had clearly been an exhausting endeavor for her.
“You hesitated,” she said. It wasn’t a question, but a statement.
“He was the only family she had left,” Bell said. Not really in defense of himself, but as a fact. “Her mother was dead when I got here. And her father was…”
He couldn’t bring himself to finish as he slowly turned his head. His eyes found the corpse of the Beast that laid where it had breathed its last breath. Still staring in the direction of where Viola’s body laid. The graveyard had drunken deep the blood of that child’s family this night.
“It was you who killed Gascoigne then?” she guessed as Bell let out a pained sound. Not quite a cry or whimper, but somewhere in-between. It served as an admission of guilt. “He was falling apart well before now. The fact that he’d turned simply meant the leash snapped now rather than later.”
“We could have still probably reached this one though,” Bell said softly. “There was a chance he could have snapped out of it. That he could have made it through the night without it ending like this.”
“And if he’d survived tonight, I’d wager he would’ve become a Beast worse than any you’d faced so far,” she said bitterly. “You’ve seen how the people here prowl the streets half-turned already. They’re the ones who give in quickly, the weak-willed and unaware. The beast comes right out before it has time to really grow or become a more suitable predator.”
She then gestured with her dagger towards the corpse of Gascoigne. “But the more the person resists giving in, the fiercer the beast becomes. The more blood they take in, the more they hunt, the stronger it becomes until either they embrace it, or it overtakes them utterly. Henryk was one of the Old Hunters and he’d lost too much this night to be able to keep himself together any longer than he had. Believe me when I say we’ve done both a mercy tonight—nothing worse for a Hunter than to become what they once hunted and endanger those they wanted to protect.”
Part of Bell recognized the truth behind her words, as he had with Gehrman. The Little Girl had said her father had become a Hunter once more to protect her. The same was true for her grandfather no doubt, yet he’d tried to kill her all the same.
“Even so, I still took that child’s family away from her tonight,” Bell admitted in a hoarse voice as he stared down at his hands. They were dirty, meshed with grave soil, sweat, and blood. “I can’t forgive myself for that.”
“And that’s why you should keep your hands clean from now on and leave the hunting of hunters to me,” Eileen said firmly. “Beasts who’ve devoured the men and women from the inside out are nothing more than that. Hunters that go blood-craving mad are only a step away. What I do is not out of malice, but to stop folks like you from tearing yourselves apart over the necessity of it.”
Is that really better? Bell had to wonder to himself. The killing would still be happening. Parents and children separated by the morning’s light as those who went out to hunt instead became the hunted. The only difference was that he’d be turning his back on it and pretending that his hands weren’t the ones stained in blood.
But… what else could he do?
“Head back to the Dream,” Eileen said after she sighed wearily, looking past the slouching statue that towered over them and towards the Oedon Chapel. The Little Girl was in there no doubt, weeping over her losses tonight. “You’re in no condition to talk with the girl, and you’ll only rattle yourself further. Take a rest and spend some time getting your feet back on the ground.”
Bell didn’t contest it. The Little Girl would be safe in the chapel, at least for a little while. Long enough for him to get away from the blood and beasts. Long enough for him to go back to Hestia. To that end he closed his eyes as tears stung the corners and let the Little Ones embrace him…
Then the calm serenity that haunted the garden of gravestones washed over Bell.
Refreshingly clean air lathed his lungs with every inhalation. The dirt and grime and sweat and blood of Yharnam no longer blanketed him. It felt like he was being scrubbed clean both inside and out as he was pulled between here and there.
Breathing deep the scent that the luminous blossoms in the field nearby seemed to give off, Bell opened his eyes to see that he was one more in the tranquil, yet somber haven that seemed to be a world of its own. He supposed it was similar to what the Oedon Chapel was meant to be for other hunters—a place to escape the Hunt. At least for a short time.
“Welcome back, Good Hunter,” the Doll greeted him once more. Her serene, yet inhuman demeanor was a comfort after the throngs of beastmen with snarling visages Bell had faced tonight. Yet the uncanniness of it denied him something vital that he desperately needed at the moment.
“Has that gravestone appeared again?” Bell asked, hopeful yet wary. “The one that leads back to Orario?”
“Yes,” she answered, gesturing with her porcelain hand towards the direction of the misty flower field and the great tree. “Will you be taking another respite?”
If Bell had any say in things it’d be a permanent respite from this nightmare. He hadn’t planned on coming back in the first place. But the Silverback had taken him by surprise and his weapon had been broken before his body.
Now that I think about it, I do need a weapon more suitable for that thing, Bell thought to himself as he looked down at his hands. Echoes still reverberated deep within him. The memories and life of two hunters among them. As shameful as it was to use it for his own ends, he needed their strength now more than ever.
Going over to the fountain where he’d left the badges taken earlier, he peered into the depths of the crystalline waters and found several of them beneath the surface this time. But he only had eyes for the hammer with the hilt of a sword. He reached down into the fountain once more and felt his arm sink into the depths as the echoes within him formed a bridge until he wrapped his fingers around the handle and pulled.
The hammer came out without any problems at first. Despite its size, the water only rippled as it was pulled free, with even the massive head slipping out of the imaginary depths. Neither his arm nor the steel that the stone was actually made of were wet, leading Bell to presume that the water actually acted as some sort of portal.
It was only once the weapon had fully breached into the same plane of existence did it suddenly become heavy. As befitting of such a massive implement, Bell found himself struggling to swing it around with any measure of success. After merely two test swings he had to let the head hit the ground with a dull thump as he rubbed his arms.
“Even for those who partake in blood, the Kirkhammer has always been a rather unwieldy weapon.” Bell’s head twisted towards the top of the stairs at that and found Gherman looking down at him from his perch, aged eyes taking his measure. “I would suggest allowing the Doll to strengthen your muscles, raise your stamina, and draw from the skill of the echoes you have to spare. She’s seen enough use to do so efficiently for you, given you’re unfamiliar with such arms.”
Bell’s gaze turned to see that the Plain Doll had already take her place by his side, patiently waiting for him to allow her to fulfill her purpose. The ethereal echoes within him stirred and began to thread his muscles once more for the sake of granting him greater strength as the euphoric feeling spread over him. The moment she released her grasp and took a few steps back, Bell took up the hammer again and swung it from shoulder to hip with both hands thrice before rearing back to deliver a harder blow onto the ground that sent tremors through his legs.
“It’s somewhat easier to use,” he admitted as he let out a breath and set it back down with the hilt sticking up. He couldn’t swing the thing around a lot, and personally he didn’t think it suited him. But he could use it back home against the Silverback and that was enough for now. “Still, against something fast I don’t think I’d be able to hit them with it.”
Gherman nodded in agreement. “As the Hunter of the Church began to run afoul of larger beasts, they resorted to larger arms rather than refining their skill. But that limitation was evident from the start. Hence why I would suggest pressing the latch you’d find between the grip and the guard to deal with more nimble prey.”
Latch? He looked down at the hilt and traced the design with his fingers up to where he found a rounded section. As soon as he put some pressure into it he felt it shift, just a slight amount. Catching onto the gimmick, he then put all the strength he could into squeezing it and heard a mechanical click.
Then he took the hilt into his hand and pulled the sword from the stone.
Holding it up, the light of the moon gleamed off the silver of the blade. It revealed the elaborate intricacies and flourishes on the guard. Compared to the other weapons he’d seen in his time as a Hunter, there was a marked difference in the design.
He swung it around a few times to test it. The blade much lighter and faster to use, though how much of that was due to his increased strength wasn’t something he could be sure. And while he hadn’t used a sword before he felt somewhat more proficient with it than he suspected he would be otherwise—though nowhere near good enough to be remotely confused with a swordsman.
This should be enough, Bell thought to himself as he sheathed the sword and hefted the Kirkhammer over his shoulder. It didn’t really hinder him while moving, another boon from the echoes it seemed. He also felt like he could fight a touch longer as well without getting as exhausted,
With this he was certain he would prevail, so redonned his Hunter’s Grab once more. They been mended by whatever magic permeated the Dream while the armor that he’d worn remained rather battered but would still serve. Last he moved to reclaim Syr’s purse only for his gaze to settle on the Tiny Music Box. The weight in his chest sunk into his stomach as he left it behind.
Now that he was ready for battle once more, he bid the two residents of the Dream goodbye. Then he made off to the phantasmal gravestone that led him back to Orario. He’d kill the Silverback and return to his Goddess’ side to confess his sins.
Perhaps she could forgive him for what he’d done.
Because he wouldn’t forgive himself.
The roar of the Silverback was the first sensation that Bell was exposed to as he reappeared within the plaza of winding labyrinth of buildings that made up Daedalus Street. The simian monster that towered over him was as it was before his death, thick and powerful limbs wrapped in unmarred white fur. It bared its teeth as it glared down at him from behind the visor placed over its head and then exploded into motion.
But this time Bell expected it as he unslung the Kirkhammer from its perch on his shoulder and reared back. It may have looked as if he was readying to take a massive, overhead swing but he shifted his grip so that his fingers were pressing on the latch keeping the sword sheathed. Then he swung it with a roar of his own as he squeezed down and the lock keeping it tethered was undone. “RAAHHHH!!”
The momentum sent the head of the hammer rocketing towards the Silverback, which had been so devoted to its frantic gait that it couldn’t dodge it entirely. The hammer caught it between the shoulder and chest with an audible pop before being thrown askew on the impact. It went sailing behind the Silverback, which staggered back into the center of the plaza while clutching its shoulder.
The black coat billowed as Bell rushed in with his silver sword in a two-handed grip. He’d learned the last time it’d killed him that fighting defensively would drag things out, until he made a mistake or risked getting others involved. Since he already had the measure of his opponent, he would be aggressive and finish things as quickly as possible.
Seeing the silver blade and the Adventurer rushing towards it, the Silverback drew back its uninjured left arm and slammed it down in an attempt to turn him into a smear on the ground. The stone fractured as it broke beneath the force of the earth-shaking blow, stone-dust obscuring his figure from view until he jumped from within the dusty veil and swung towards the monster’s head. The silver steel scraped against the metal visor as the primate moved its head and reflexively avoided it.
Bell fell into a roll the moment his feet touched back down on the ground, narrowly avoiding the swing he’d expected after the last time. The chain affixed to the manacle rattled as it threw up stone fragments upon smashing the ground where he’d been. Coming out of the roll, he spun on the soles of his feet as he spotted the monstrous gorilla bringing its other fist around to slam into him and then rocketed at an angle while he swung with all his might.
The blade buckled in his grasp, nearly jostling out of his grip from the momentum as he narrowly avoided the metal knuckles. But in exchange he’d traced a path along the top of its thick, powerful arm. The white fur that had been unblemished before was steadily being dyed crimson as ichor flowed from the wound, and the Silverback howled from the red, hot sensation of corded muscle being split in twain.
“I’m not done yet!” Bell rushed towards its unprotected flank as the beast naturally recoiled from the pain. He had just enough time to get in a quick swing, so he pushed his left-hand inwards to angle the blade before he used his right to swing it back around as he went past it. The bloodstained silver managed to part only a sliver of flesh between its arm and waist, leaving a streamlet running down. It was the best he could do and still throw himself into a handspring to get out of range before the Silverback rolled over in an attempt crush him with its massive frame.
Coming out of the exchange with his heart racing and blood pounding at his ears, Bell quickly turned to see the Silverback rip the visor affixed to its face off and throw the thing with the force of a cannonball. Too late to dodge, he tried to block it and the sound of metal scraping metal rang out with a bloom of sparks as it broke through his guard. The sheer might of the blow knocked Bell for a loop, sending him tumbling backwards and leaving his battered armor and leather coat to scrape against the loose stone until he came to a stop.
Releasing a shuddering breath and strained groan, Bell stood back up as the clatter of steel rang out at feet. One of his leg guards had come off, strap torn from the impact against the ground. His Hunter Garb’s were torn into as well, covered in stone-dust with bits of it meshed into a slurry from mixing with the blood splashed around from the beasts’ injured arm. But he was still standing and still armed, unlike the last time—he could keep fighting.
“GRRGAAHHHHH!” The Silverback roared with unbridled fury at him, slamming its massive fists into the ground before beating at its chestplate hard enough to dent the steel. It sought blood for blood.
Bell swept the blade so that the monster’s ichor spattered over the ground. The world had shrunken down, everything drowned out by the beating of his heart. He held the longsword at the ready as he locked gazes with the monster.
Then both hunter and beast charged with intent to kill.
Syr struggled to get through the crowd that was forming at the entrances to the Plaza of Daedalus Street. At first it was idle curiosity that drew her towards it along the way back from the orphanage. Then she heard the roar and a shout went out that apparently a monster and adventurer were fighting it out in the plaza.
Daedalus Street was a destitute neighborhood. Constructed into a winding maze that was inconvenient to navigate unless you were intimately familiar with it, there were few reasons to visit unless you had business there. And, situated far away from the Main Streets where vendors would sell their wares at prices more suitable for those with heavy coin purses to wide-eyed visitors, the people there lived more difficult lives.
Many of them would have loved to visit the Monsterphilia that was being undertaken at the coliseum, but the price was more than they could afford. After all, if they were living here then they were barely scraping by as it was. So, the fact that something akin to it was happening naturally drew the eyes of the people there.
Not enough to get in harm’s way, of course. They wouldn’t risk the monster coming after them or helping the adventurer in question if he was in danger. Especially not when the people here didn’t have the luxury of being adventurers themselves. Leaving aside that there were people who came from all over to Orario for the sake of being in a Familia meant most were filled to capacity, the risk of being injured and losing the little coin they could work for would be stripped away.
But they were curious enough to look from safer places that were just out of view. Peering around of the shadows and corners, peeking over the sills of the windows of their homes, onlookers kept their tongues from wagging as they watched. Even Syr wasn’t an exception when she finally arrived and recognized the adventurer in question.
When Bell had caught her eyes, he seemed like a somewhat meek and young boy. The fact that he was an adventurer wasn’t much of a shock. Even though she herself wasn’t an adventurer, in this city even the smallest child could be stronger than a grown man. That was why so many flocked to Orario in the first place—for the power or the glory.
Now he was wearing a stained, black leather coat that had been covered in dirt and dust and bloody grime, scraped and torn apart. Half-missing armor that had seen many battles judging from the cuts and tears in it could be spotted through the tears from where she stood, a part of it broken off near his foot. And in his grasp was a sword, leveled in front of him as he stared down a monster that was more than twice his height and at least several hundred times his weight.
The moment the Silverback roared so loudly that she could feel the soundwaves rattling her bones and charged Bell down, vision of the boy being flattened into the ground played out in her mind. Death wasn’t unexpected for adventurers. Several of the patrons at the Hostess of Fertility had often left out with promises to return only to never grace their doors again. Even so, she felt herself about to shout for him to run despite knowing it wouldn’t make a difference. “Be—”
But then black boots pushed off the ground. The tail of the coat he’d donned billowed as Bell charged forward. The bloodstained silver sword in his grasp caught the light as he courted death itself in a display that she could hardly keep track of.
Someone had armed the monster with metal knuckles of all things. The heavy steel was joined to manacles that had torn chains at the ends. She didn’t know if it was trained intentionally or not, but upon seeing Bell charge it reeled one arm back before sweeping out with the chains like a whip to lash at him.
He parried it with the sword, a bloom of sparks cascading over his face fixed in a half-strained expression while he angled the blade. The length of the chain scraped against the steel on its way past him, before the tip snapped as it hit the ground and tore out a chunk while Bell leapt forward and swung for its body. A silver streak followed by a crimson tail tore through its side, ripping through the white fur and adding to the color that was staining it already from previous close calls.
Bristling from pain, the monster spun around with its arms extended. Bell managed to dart back from the massive fists, but the chains lengthened its reach and he was forced to put the sword between himself and the length. The end snapped as it battered the silver steel and knocked him off balance, sending him staggering back as the Silverback jumped forward with a metal-knuckled fist chambered.
Syr winced as he brought the flat of the sword in front of himself to intercept it and the ear-ringing sound of metal hitting metal was followed by his smaller body being sent skirting back until he hit the fountain. He then darted out of the way as the monster leapt, crashing into the fountain and sending a spray of water and rubble over the battlefield before coming to a stop as something that looked akin to stone hammer appeared out of the ground next to him like magic.
The boy then slammed the blade into the handle, wrapped both hands around the grip, and threw himself back towards the Silverback as it did the same to him with a metal-backed fist chambered. Both swung for one another with the intention of killing one another, and Syr’s expectations were decidedly in the monster’s favor. Even though she knew that the Falna was the great equalizer when it came to men and monsters, the rational part of her mind expected he would meet his end here.
Yet, the white-haired adventurer won out the moment they clashed. The metal knuckle shattered with an audible crunch and she watched as the bones and flesh behind them crumpled as blood stained the head of the hammer. The Silverback cried out with a bestial shout as it pulled back its mashed appendage and the pain eclipsed all of its other senses. “GRRAHHHHAHGH?!!?”
Bell ignored it as he spun on his heel and stepped forward, swinging the hammer around once more. This time it found the monster’s knee and there was a sickening crunch as bone shattered like glasswork under the pressure, jagged bits piercing through the sack of reddening fur as the limb was knocked out from beneath the simian and left it prone. Then he chambered the hammer and prepared to crush its skull with an overhead swing in a gruesome execution.
Perhaps sensing the impending death, the Silverback lashed out a final time. It still had one good arm and good leg. It flailed its massive fist towards him, swinging with enough force to break stone as it backhanded him and managed to stagger him before he could execute it. Then it pushed off the ground with its remaining leg and lunged, hand outstretched to grab him between its stout fingers and wring the life out of him—
—and made no difference as Bell pivoted off to the side, twisting on his heel as he swung the hammer around in a downwards arch. It connected with another crunch that sent a shiver down her spine. And the offending limb was now nothing more than flattened, pulped meat that seeped into the cratered and broken earth.
“RRRHAHHHGHHGHGH!!!!” The Silverback raged in a desperate fury, trying to pull back its arm that was trapped beneath the weight of the hammer. Eventually it managed to wrench out a blooded stump with bits of white bone mixed into the mesh of vivid color that painted the fur clinging to what was left of its forearm.
The sight of it only served to send the monster into its death throes as it writhed around in pain, rolling and beating its stump against the ground. Its remaining leg tried to pick it up but failed, collapsing and unable to sustain its own weight. All it did was open up the wounds it had sustained further, letting blood escape and spatter out with every motion to paint the plaza further than the expanding boundary of the growing pool beneath it.
It was hard to look at. Not just for Syr. But for Bell as well, who she noticed had an almost shameful look on his face as he looked away. But then he closed his eyes and reached down for the point where his hilt and hammer met. The sword came out with a quick pull and a moment later he jumped onto the flailing monster’s back and drove the sword into its chest.
The pained sounds that filled the air were instead replaced with a deathly silence. The Silverback went still as its body slumped down with its final breath. Then it crumbled to dust and all traces of its massive corpse vanished as Bell’s blade was wedged between two halves of the magic stone.
He had won.
The cheering started about then now that the danger passed. The violence of the battle hadn’t been a deterrent for the people who lived there. It had been a thing of beauty for those who were unfamiliar with the depths of the dungeon and the dangers beyond a passing note, a clash where a monster and man fought tooth and nail against one another.
But there were no traces of happiness on Bell’s face as the crowd cheered at his performance. He simply averted his eyes from the crowd as he grabbed his weapon and then ran off down an alleyway. It seemed like he wanted to get away from it all—away from the crowd, and away from the moment itself. But that would be impossible given how quickly the rumor mill spread around here.
I suppose I could give him a little help in getting away, Syr decided upon realizing he’d be hounded all along the way the Main Street at this rate. She knew the streets well enough that she could intercept him, given that he didn’t know where he was going. And helping him slip away somewhere quiet until things died down later in the day was the least she could do after watching him make that expression…
Chapter 16: Tragedy of a Little Girl
“That wasn’t him,” Bell muttered to himself, breath coming out hot and heavy as he stared down at the corpse of Gascoigne where it laid. A great flow was rushing into his body, slipping into the void that shouldn’t be there. Blood echoes of the fallen. He repeated himself to stay sane. “That wasn’t Mister Gascoigne.”
That was right. He didn’t kill the father of the little girl who requested that he return the music box to her parents. He killed the thing that devoured the man from the inside out and wore his skin as he slaughtered the other hunters that were once here. He wasn’t the one who made her an orphan like he was after his Grandfather died…
The clamoring of the Little Ones was followed by a soft, pale glow washing over the darkened portion of the graveyard. There, where the oil lantern had been blown out, was a brand-new ethereal lamp. Just like when he’d killed the Cleric Beast. Did that mean he could go back now?
It was tempting. Even with the Silverback waiting for him, the thought of returning to his own world and getting back to his Goddess’ side was tempting enough that he reached out for the lamp without thinking until he saw the flames dancing within it. For the comfort her presence brought it would be worth the danger…
Except what would he tell her when he returned if he left that little girl waiting for her parents?
That thought made Bell retract his hand. Now that her father was gone, she only had her mother left in the world. He didn’t want to deny her even that and curse her with the agony of being alone.
So he turned his attention back to the corpse. The key that hung around its neck like a collar was likely the one to open the gate. He didn’t spot the little girl’s mother on his way here, meaning that she was likely on the other side of those gates. Hopefully safe inside the sanctity of hallowed grounds.
Bell’s boots made a wet, squelching noise as the stepped into the growing pool of blood that mixed with the grave soil and broken bits of cobblestone. He cut the rope and pulled the key free before shoving it into his pocket. Then he retrieved his hat and Hunter’s Saw, leaving the Messengers to take Gascoigne’s Axe.
Gherman mentioned that it was natural that the tools of the fallen be put to use. But he would see about having it cleaned up and repaired before anything else. Whether he decided to use it or hand it back to the girl’s mother, leaving it as it was would be an insult to the fallen hunter.
That done, he began his ascension of the stairs that ran along the side of the graveyard until he reached the top, past another row of chained coffins perched against the wall. The gates stood before him, broad and a little over twice his height. He was about to open it up with the key he’d taken when Bell spotted a gleaming patch of blood off to the side.
It could have passed as any other bloodstain. It was an unremarkable sight in this place, as he had the misfortune of learning. Some of the streets he had crossed were literally bathed in blood that refused to properly dry and seemed to quiver on occasion, despite the lack of wind. Under normal circumstances he would have continued on without a second glance—
Viola… forgive… me…
—but when he recalled the animal noise that could pass as speech in the Beast’s final moments, and the way it motioned towards the building that it led to in that direction, he felt a stirring in the very echoes he taken into himself. A rippling tinged with the bitter taste of regret. Unable to ignore it, Bell swallowed a lump in his throat and slowly walked down the side path.
The bloodstain was in fact a trail, one that was hard to notice with the oil lantern between the gate and the one that he could spot distantly at the end having been blown out. The space between each few steps had been marked by a small patter of the rich crimson that flowed like wine so easily within the city. He slowly followed the trail until he reached the last oil lantern where the small spatter had abruptly become a puddle of crimson pooled in a divot, where the stonework had been uprooted and a section of the fence meant to prevent any misfortunate tumbling down into the graveyard was conspicuously missing.
Bell found his heart beating heavily in his chest as he neared the edge. A single step would allow him to peer over to the rooftop of the building that had been fostered off to the side of the graveyard. Gathering his courage, he took the leap off the edge and landed onto the tiled roof.
And what was his reward for doing so?
It was to be greeted with the answer that he feared the most. A woman’s corpse laid pale and sprawled near the edge of the rooftop, her eyes that were already clouded over were fixed in the direction of where the Beast’s corpse laid. The color and warmth of her skin dyed the rooftop a vibrant shade that gleamed off the light of the oil lantern above.
“…please no…” he whimpered as he stepped over to the corpse, hoping for the absence of the only thing that would mark the woman as more than an unfortunate stranger. But that hope was crushed the moment he spotted the big, red jeweled brooch that hung off her chest. He reached down to pick it up and found an engraved name on the back: Viola.
Bell clutched the woman’s brooch to his chest as stinging heat prickled behind his eyes. Was it by the Beast’s hand that she laid dead? Or was it her death that ultimately served to let Gascoigne be devoured by the inside out by the creature?
He didn’t know. But what he did know was that he had to tell the child that her mother was dead, so he slipped the brooch into his pocket. Yet, when he prepared to hop down from the roof and return the way he came, he found that his legs refused to work.
Bell knew he had to tell the girl that her parents were gone. But the thought of explaining that the two people she loved the most in the world would no longer be there to greet her when the dawn came… the thought of seeing her face as he presented the brooch and explained where he found it… they became invisible fetters of fear that stopped him from going back.
It was wrong. Everything in his body was telling him to go back to that child when he thought of the loneliness that the she was experiencing. The uncertainty that gnawed away at her on the inside to the extent that she entrusted a precious gift to a stranger in the hopes delivering to her parents. But when he thought about telling her of their fate and his role in how it played out, he just…
He just couldn’t help but run in the hopes of losing himself for a moment.
Since his legs refused to carry him one way, Bell let them carry him through the gates of Oedon Chapel without looking back. He fled through the flooded basement and up the metal ladder until he emerged in what looked to be a reading room of some kind. Shelves of books ran along the sides of the room, with papers and the odd stacks to be found scattered about in a disheveled manner, while strange devices were on the tables were largely covered in dust.
He went past all of it and ran up the winding stairs at a frantic pace until his foot caught a rung near the top. He tripped and was sent barreling through the double doors that were nestled at the end. And what greeted him after the loud, riotous creak of the doors?
It was a grand hall bathed in fading light of the evening sun that had yet to be wrung out by the stark and uncaring moon, padding out the feeble candlelight within the vast structure of stone and steel. Dusty, decorative cloths hung from the pooled shadows that blotted out the ceiling, with dozens of statues reaching towards them or praying as they gazed towards the sky. And woven between those were a wafting, grey veil that was so pungent and rich that it clawed at Bell’s nose and throat on its way down to his racing lungs, forcing out a heavy cough.
“That was—” Bell jumped at the voice that was right across from him, pushing off the ground and clumsily reaching for his pistol while his heart pounded in his chest. It was already half-raised by the time he set his eyes on the source. “—quite a scare.”
It was… a man, Bell believed. Not a beast. He was covered in dirt and dust-crusted rags of deep red, pooling deeply around his thin and emaciated frame. His fingers were uncannily long and tipped with blackened nails that held a pebble, while his skin was gaunt, greyish, and sallow.
“For a second, I thought a beast had barreled in despite the incense. Worried me a good bit, it did,” he continued, rolling the pebble in his palm nervously. “The incense burns so thick that it masked your scent, but I can smell traces of moonscent now.”
He’s blind, Bell realized. At least to some degree, given his eyes were milky to the point the pupils couldn’t even be seen. Though, given how many things Bell had seen running around with little problem even though they were blindfolded or missing their eyes, it probably didn’t make him less capable. Someone had to light all the candles here. “…Do you… live here?”
“You could say that,” the…Dweller, he assumed the man to be, answered. “This here Oedon Chapel has been forgotten by most, but some of the hunters use it to get ready for the Hunt. Everyone else is all locked up inside and waiting for it to end, so they’d come here when they needed to get away from the stench of blood and snarl of beasts.”
The scent of the incense was quite thick, as he mentioned. And the atmosphere was quiet. If a pinch of incense in a lantern could ward away beasts, then this much would be a bane to any blood-addled thing looking for prey.
Bell lowered the pistol. Though he would admit the man’s appearance was somewhat startling, it was honestly not the strangest thing he’d seen in the last few hours. Especially not when he’d seen the rotting corpses in the canals that still moved at the presence of fresh blood. “I’m sorry for barging in.”
“No worries here about that,” the man said. “Since I heard the side door open, I take it you’re a new member of Gascoigne’s hunters?”
Bell’s throat went tight. “You… knew Mister Gascoigne?”
The emaciated man nodded. “His family’s been good to me. His wife is an especially kind one. She’d often bring me something to eat on her way back to her home and say a prayer for the hunt to be a safe one. Haven’t heard her come by as usual though. Did you see her on the way in?”
The words twisted in his chest like a knife to his chest. This man knew them all. He was waiting for them to come and they wouldn’t. “…dead…”
“They’re all dead,” Bell repeated, his voice cracking. “I was… was sent find Mister Gascoigne and Miss Viola by their daughter. She was worried about them and her incense were running low. So she asked me to find them, but when I went to the Graveyard… I found the hunters dead.”
“O…Oh…” The man’s voice became labored, its pitch a notch higher as if he was straining to breathe. “That can’t be. All of them dead? How?”
“It was… it was a Beast,” Bell told him, if only so that he could continue speaking. Gascoigne had died even before Bell had killed the monster wearing his body, so it may as well have been the truth. Or so the young hunter thought to himself as he took a staggered breath before he continued. “A big one. Took them to pieces. I found the key after I killed it.”
The man lowered his head to the ground, brought his hands together and mumbled under his breath before looking towards Bell with his blank eyes. “And what of his wife? Tell me she made it.”
Bell shook his head before he pulled out the brooch and stared down at it. The name on it said it all. “She didn’t.”
“Even her…” The man’s breathing was shaken as he took in the information and began to mourn the deaths. “All of them… savaged by a beast. Gods, why?”
“I don’t know what I supposed to tell their daughter,” Bell confessed, unable to stomach listening to the man cry without tears coming out his own eyes. “She’s alone and scared, waiting for them to come back. But they won’t.”
The Chapel Dweller drew in a breath and collected himself before he asked, “Di…Did you by chance come across Henryk’s body?”
“I don’t know who that is,” Bell said, wiping at his eyes. “I’d need to know what they looked like before I could say.”
“I… I don’t see much these days, but I heard that he wears an old, yellow hunter’s outfit,” the man explained. “It had a scent about it, though I can’t put it into proper words. His daughter, Viola, always said that no matter how often she washed it, it always stuck. Something about it being from a run in with a beast that gives off blue sparks.”
“I didn’t see anyone in that sort of outfit,” Bell said as he recalled the visceral scene he’d stumbled onto. The dead hunters, taken to pieces by the time he had arrived. Not one of them had worn such an outfit. None of the bodies he’d ran across so far had. “But if he’s the father of Viola, then… he’d be that little girl’s grandfather?”
The Chapel Dweller nodded his head, the rags covering him shifting with a sluggish flow. “The old man don’t like me much, but I can’t imagine from how the others spoke when they came in after a hunt that he’d have gone down without a fight. It’s possible he was running late and didn’t make it in time.”
Bell felt his heart stir with a fleeting hope. The little girl still had family then. If her grandfather was still around, then she wouldn’t be alone in the world. They still had each other, even after losing the other two. It would be hard, but…
“Kind hunter,” the Chapel Dweller called as hope began to flicker in Bell’s chest. “Could you bring her here? The little girl?”
“You want me to bring her here?”
“That’s right,” he said. “This night looks to be a long one and I bet it won’t end nicely. The least I can do for her folks is give her a safe place to wait out the Hunt until it ends. This here Oedon Chapel can be a safe haven for anyone who needs it tonight, so long as they have their wits about them.”
Bell sniffled as he considered the man’s proposition. She needed someplace safe to stay with her incense running low and asking someone else to give theirs up would be sentencing them to death. Though the pungent scent was almost rugged as it caressed his lungs inside and out, it would keep any beasts at bay.
More to the point, there was a faint sense of familiarity here that reminded Bell of the church that he and Hestia stayed at. Both forgotten little places of worship that was provided an escape from the trials and tribulations outside their walls. The warmth of the hearth and home was here, even if it lacked the presence of his Goddess.
“I’ll bring her,” Bell decided. “And if I find anyone else, I’ll bring them here too.”
“Oh, bless you, kind hunter.” There was notable elation in the man’s voice as he clasped his hands together and raised them towards Bell. “I know it’s asking quite a bit of you and I can’t offer much aid, but I think the other hunters have some sort of tool that you can use stored away in the trunk down the stairs. Take it with you if it’ll ease your troubles.”
Bell made his way back to the where the child’s home was and found the window still illuminated by the dull glow within it, casting the silhouette of the small figure on the inside. She was still there, waiting for the good news. Waiting for her parents to return.
He felt the urge to turn away before he came into her line of view. But it was his responsibility to see her to safety, and that meant he had to tell her the truth. So Bell presented himself to her, standing at the waist-high gate that served as a boundary between them along with barred window that was raised just enough for her voice to come through clearly.
“Mister Hunter, you’re back,” she said. “Did you find my mum?”
He took a deep breath as a lump formed in his throat, threatening to choke him with his own guilt. But he promised to get her to safety, which meant he had no other choice. Bell forced the lump in his throat down as he took out the brooch. “This is hers, right?”
Tiny hands reached out through the opening and gently grasped the brooch like the precious thing it was. She clearly recognized it, even before she turned to where the inscription was, as if she’d seen it countless times. “Where did you find it?”
Bell… lied again. He told that he went to the graveyard to see a Beast had finished killing several others, with her mother was among them. Her father’s axe was the only thing of his that he found next to a pool of blood with the key, giving the impression that he’d been devoured utterly.
He lowered his head once he finished reciting the lie and said, “I’m so sorry.”
A choking, heavy sob came from the other side of the window. The Little Girl’s mother and father were no longer among the living. In a meek, mournful voice she cried out, “Mummy… daddy… don’t leave me alone…”
Bell listened to her mourning for the mother and father that she lost, and pain stung at his eyes as he recalled the death of his own grandfather. His absence was felt with every moment Bell spent in their home alone afterwards. The memories of his grandpa reading him stories about heroes and holding his hand as they walked along the path to and from the farm now being all he had left.
Losing someone during the Hunt was probably a tale that was commonplace in this city where coffins lined the streets and blood painted the stones. But it didn’t ease the weight on Bell’s shoulders as he slouched with his back against the gate and looked down at his gloved hands that still had blood on them. These very same hands had been the ones to cut down whatever was left of her father, and now he was supposed to extend them to her in order to take her to the chapel?
“…Mister Hunter…” Bell looked over his shoulders to see that the child had lifted the window, revealing her appearance. She was such a small figure, perhaps half his height but with blonde hair that came down to her neck in waves. Her nightgown matched the white ribbon in her hair, tied in a bow. “Is… is it my fault Mummy and Daddy are dead?”
“Why do you think it’s your fault?” he asked.
“I still remember when one night I was scared by the scream of a beast,” she began. “Mummy told me it would be okay because it couldn’t get us inside while the incense was burning, and the Church would send hunters to make it go away. But it kept howling and prowling, and I was so scared.”
He could see the guilt wringing the tears out of her eyes for the sin of being scared of the Hunt. But to him it seemed only natural that she’d be terrified. He was terrified of the Hunt, and he was expected to go through the entire thing when he literally wasn’t allowed to die.
“Daddy… he-he grabbed his axe and said that it’d be quiet soon,” she continued. “Mummy begged him not to and said that he left the Church because he promised he’d be there for us. But he said he had to go because the Church wasn’t how it used to be. Then he left out and Mummy covered my ears until it was over. After that night, Daddy started going out more often with other men from the neighborhood, and Mummy would go with him and the music box.”
Seeing his daughter scared and frightened drove Gascoigne to take part in the Hunt. He wanted to make it so that she could sleep easier and, since the Church wasn’t doing that, he decided to take it into his own hands. Bell couldn’t say much about how the Church’s hunters operated since he hadn’t met any, but they certainly didn’t come out to help when he’d fought the Cleric Beast outside of the gates to their ward. Weren’t they supposed to be protecting these people?
“If… if I hadn’t been scared, then none of this would have happened.” The words came out ragged as she began to cry again. “Mummy… Daddy…”
“It’s not your fault,” Bell told her softly. “I think they wanted what was best for you, so they did what they could. I doubt they regretted that.”
His words offered little comfort as she continued to cry. But they were the best he could give her at the moment as he stared towards the moon that was rising now that the evening light was fading into a stark, cold luminescence. The scent of incense around her home was almost thin to the point of being absent too. If the Hunt would only get worse as the night dragged on, he had to hurry and get her somewhere safe.
“I’ll take you to Oedon Chapel,” he declared. “The Chapel Dweller said it was a safe place to wait out the Hunt, and it’s filled with incense to keep the Beasts away. Your grandfather will be there soon too, so you won’t be alone.”
“You… you don’t have to,” she said between cries. “I can make it on my own. You… you’ve got to finish the Hunt, don’t you?”
“I’d never be able to live with myself if I didn’t get you there myself,” he told her, rising to his full height. “It’s still dangerous out here, and I owe it to your parents to see you there safely.”
She wiped at the tears on her face as she stared at him for a long moment. It was then he realized that even though he tried to appear as nonthreatening as possible, no doubt the Hunter’s Garb covered in the blood, dust, and graveyard dirt gave off a bad impression. At the very least it served to make her hesitate at his offer.
Bell took off the coat, gloves, and hat to reveal himself. The armor he’d worn was slightly battered from the battles he’d fought since arriving and donning it to brave the streets. But it was still less ominous looking than covering himself up fully as he extended his hand towards her. “Please, let me do that much for you.”
She slowly nodded her head and reached out for his hand, gently laying it in his grasp through the bars. “Okay, Mister Hunter. I’ll come with you to see Granddad.”
His offer accepted, she closed the window and turned off the light before she came out of her door about two minutes after the Messengers took his discarded garments back to the Dream. Given the hurried pace she moved at, he was mildly surprised she had time to slip on clothes more suitable for venturing outside along with her mother’s brooch. Bell crouched down to allow her to climb on his back. “You might want to close your eyes. It’s not a pleasant sight along the way to the Chapel.”
“It’s okay,” she told him. “I’ve seen how it looks when Hunts end before.”
“Have the Hunts been going on long?” he asked, looking around while keeping one hand on his weapon. While he had been very thorough in making sure there was nothing that would possibly kill them along the route he took to get to the chapel, there was a chance that more beasts would show up in search of easy prey. “I’m not really from here, so I’m not really sure about the history of it or anything.”
“You mean you’re like auntie Eileen?” she asked, clinging to Bell as he began climb down the ladder at a careful pace. Her grip got tighter as she spared a glance to the giant thing that had been armed with a statue, now slouching against the wall. Its throat had been carved open. “You don’t speak the same way as her, but you both do have the same scent.”
“We came from different places,” Bell said. “The place I live in is far away and has its own monsters. I was being chased by one of them and things happened that led to me coming here.”
“Oh, you mean like the constables?”
He wasn’t familiar with the term. “The what now?”
“It’s a story Granddad would tell me about a group of men who chased a beast all the way here. He would tell me a lot of different ones when he came by—like about the League Hunters, who came from different places and became hunters to get rid of beasts.”
“My Grandpa would always tell me stories too,” Bell said. “I grew up in a village and worked on a farm with him, so he’d always tell me all sorts of stories of old heroes while I lived with him. I loved them.”
“Can you tell me one while we walk?”
He consented and began to regale her with stories of heroes as they trekked towards Oedon Chapel, his voice kept low and his senses at full alert for any sort of threat that could meet them along the way as early night settled into place. A sense of dread crept up onto him when they approached the entrance of the tomb where her parents had met their end. Finally, his footsteps came to a stop after entering the graveyard when he noticed a figure standing next to the corpse of the Beast—staring down at the remaining puddle of blood it laid in.
“That’s Granddad!” Her voice came out louder than Bell liked and drew the hunter’s attention. But the glow of the phantasmal lantern gave Bell the glimpse of his hunter outfit that consisted of a dingy, washed-out yellowish hue. Just like the Chapel Dweller said, he must’ve been late arriving and missed meeting the same fate as the others. “Granddad, it’s me!”
Bell knew how relieved she was to see family again, but he couldn’t shake the tension he felt as the man took a slow and tentative step forward. The fact that the night’s chill had left his breath visibly coming out at a quickening pace and the grip on his weapons tightened sent even more warning bells off. It was for that reason he stopped her from sliding off his back to rush over to her last family.
“Hold on, let me talk to him fir—” It happened before he could even finish the sentence. The Hunter’s Pistol was raised towards them and the tension within Bell’s body snapped at the memory of a scant hour ago when Gascoigne had done the same.
BANG!! The bark of quicksilver igniting and rocketing through the air was followed by a spray of stone dust and a child’s scream. Henryk had fired upon them with the intention of killing them.
The shot had only narrowly missed by the virtue of Bell springing into motion, ducking behind the gravestones that had already been riddled with the broken quicksilver of her father’s gun. Crouched and with little time to spare, he then dumped her from his back behind the headstone to stay safe. Then he rocketed himself out from cover and towards the old hunter, a series of shots that tore open the quiet of the night resounding until Bell got into range for him to use his other weapon.
Henryk’s Saw Cleaver came for his head with deceptive speed, a diagonal sweeping motion meant to kill. Bell narrowly managed to raise his arm and let the forearm-guards catch it at an angle, the scraping of metal and bloom of sparks accompanied by a painful jolt it was deflected over his head as he slid past Henryk. The Old Hunter naturally tried to swing wide to catch him, but Bell pivoted around and gripped his Saw Cleaver with both hands to catch the teeth of the opposite set and lock them into place.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing!?” Bell demanded, blood pumping and heart racing as he struggled keep their weapons locked together. He had turned the man’s attention away from the direction of the little girl. Now he had to keep it that way. “That was your granddaughter you just shot at!”
“RAAAHH!!” was the response Henryk gave, still human but primal in its fury. He then followed with a jerk of his arm that showed that he was far stronger than the younger hunter when it tore Bell’s weapon from his grasp and sent him stumbling back. It was immediately followed-up with the pistol being raised towards his head.
Bell hastily brought his arms up as the trigger was pulled. The impact of the quicksilver bursting against his armguards left his world shaken as his own arms smashed into his forehead, knocking him over. The backplate of his armor scraped against the pebbles and shattered bits of headstones as the momentum backwards carried him into a roll that allowed him to escape the follow-up shot as he took cover behind the statue. He drew his Hunter’s Pistol from his belt and silently beckoned the Messengers when the Little Girl stuck her head out from cover.
Bearing witness to her grandfather trying to kill Bell, the last person she could call family trying to murder the boy who’d braved the night to get her to safety, wasn’t something she could sit by and let it happen. So she called out for him in a desperate plea that only served to put her in his sights. “Granddad, stop!”
Bell broke from cover to try and stop Henryk as he took aim at his own granddaughter. But before he could do anything the bark of the Old Hunter’s gun rang out. The Little Girl’s legs collapsed under her in fear as a chunk of the headstone next to her was blown apart.
He’d narrowly missed killing her. But it wasn’t through his own doing. No, the reason was because of the throwing knife that had been buried up to the hilt right into Henryk’s extended arm with pinpoint accuracy right as he’d pulled the trigger.
Snarling, Henryk whipped his head around to the side from whence it came as the raven of death descended, its wings spread wide and wicked talons that gleamed ominously in the moonlight bared. As if by instinct, he abandoned his firearm to grip his Saw Cleaver with both hands and brought it up. It was probably all that saved him as the gleaming blades going for his throat from both sides with the intention of tearing it out screeched, blooming sparks born from the scraping of metal-on-metal.
The rest of the avian’s body descended, crashing down and forcing him to the ground, before rolling off him before the retaliatory swing could tear into its flesh. Then the bundle of feathers gave way to human legs that darted towards the child. Scooping her up in a single motion, it then made for the stairs and called out, “Hold him off, boy!”
Bell recognized it was Eileen’s voice and his fear-addled mind put the pieces together. She’d thrown herself into a killing plunge in an effort to end the Old Hunter in a single stroke. When that failed, she put the rest of her weight into her legs to drive him to the ground and buy enough time for her to get the child out of harm’s way.
Time that she needed more of as Henryk ripped the throwing knife out of his arm and readied to shoot her in the back with his Hunter’s Pistol.
“Stop it!” Bell aimed to disarm him, bullet smashing into the opposing firearm and sending it toppling from his reach. It grabbed the man’s attention, a roar clawing its way out of the aged throat and past the high collar. Bell barely had time to grab the handle of the weapon the Little Ones brought with them before the man was rushing him down, Saw Cleaver already swinging for him.
The smell of half-dried blood assailed his nose as Bell pulled back, strands of his moon-white hair severed as the blade came centimeters of cutting open his face. But his retreating step was cut short as Henryk’s Saw Cleaver unfurled at the end of the swing and scooped low, the sharpened hook catching the back of his lower leg. A pained scream came out of Bell’s mouth as it tore into the muscle and tendon and forced him to the ground before the tip was swung down once more to break open his skull.
A horrendous screech bellowed out as it deflected against the head of Bell’s weapon, braced by his off-hand and angled so that it wedged itself into the dirt. Then he curled his abdomen and chambered his legs to kick upwards, ignoring the burning agony in his leg from where the butcher’s weapon had torn through the fabric and leather of his boots and pants. The sudden attempt at kicking in the older man’s face came up short but served its purpose as Henryk put three steps between them.
Bell got onto his knees, holding his weapon out in defense with one hand while the other plunged a syringe-loaded Blood Vial into his thigh to patch up the wounded leg as Henryk just stared for a moment. Not at Bell, but the weapon in his hand. It was Gascoigne’s axe.
Given that the two were partners for so long, Bell hoped that drawing it would at least drudge of some part of the man’s rationale. That it would allow the man to come back from the same insanity he’d seen too many times wandering the streets. So that he didn’t have to rob that child of her last remaining family as well.
“Please… Don’t make me do this…” Bell begged the man as he stood up. Her father was gone. Her mother was gone. Her grandfather was the only family she had left. “Your granddaughter needs you. Don’t leave her all alone.”
For a moment, the young hunter thought he saw the Saw Cleaver waver. For a moment, he thought he saw the aged eyes of a man on the verge of tears behind the hat and collar. For a moment, he had hope that for once things would end well tonight—
—but then Henryk roared at the top of his lungs in a manner that reminded Bell all too much of Gascoigne moments before his transformation. Casting aside any hopes of reclaiming his sanity, he charged Bell down with renewed vigor and the butcher’s weapon unfurled.
Bell braced the axe for impact, but the swings that followed were vicious enough to drive him back against the sloughing base of the leaning statue. And when he tried to swing the axe in retaliation to force him back, Henryk dodged the attempt and followed up with a short slash in the wake of his own that was aimed straight for the throat. It was a killing stroke, the crescent of the cleaver positioned to where it would tear off his neck before he could bring the weapon back to mount a defense.
His own reflexes saved him as he turned into the swing, twisting his body and raising his other arm up. It spared him an instant death as the forearm guard caught the bulk of the steel, with the impact instead slamming the rigid arm into his own head hard enough that his vision flashed as it staggered him to the side. He only regained his vision in time to see the overhead swing that came down when it was too late to dodge it fully.
“AHHH!!” The sound of bone and flesh rending under the heavy steel was drowned out by a scream of pain as the Saw Cleaver tore a gash from his chest to his stomach, ripping his chest-guard off in the process by tearing it free of the straps. Bell huddled over in agony, clutching at his wound with his right arm even as his blood began to pool beneath him and the axe.
Am… am I going to die again? Bell wondered as thick, rich crimson burbled up from his throat and slipped out of mouth to join the growing puddle. If I die and return to the Dream, what will happen to the others if I don’t stop Mister Henryk here?
It was the same thing with Gascoigne. If Henryk had truly gone mad, then the man would keep slaughtering his way through Yharnam. Yet, the thought of having to personally steal what was left of someone’s family hurt more than the wounds and broken bones, even as he laid on the verge of death.
The sound of footfalls nearing drew Bell’s eyes upwards, where he spotted Henryk had come to a stop in front of him, Saw Cleaver half-raised for the killing stroke. He was staring down at the blood as if in a trance, as if there was something there that couldn’t be seen by the naked eye. But whatever held his attention for that moment vanished when Bell coughed and wheezed, trying to form words and beg him to snap out of it, leaving his executioner to bring the Saw Cleaver overhead…
Then a bell-like sound rang out and Henryk let loose a pained sound as he jumped back with his arm torn open by a streak of light, dark blood pouring down it. His former place in front of Bell was now filled by a dark figure with a dagger marred by fresh blood in one hand and a Blood Vial Injector in the other. The Hunter of Hunters had arrived.
Bell wheezed. Still bleeding out. Still dying when her arm swung backwards and stabbed the injector into his exposed chest. The moment she pushed down on the back of it, fresh blood shot into him. Just enough to pull him off of death’s door as she left it wedged inside of him before pulling on the dagger.
One blade became two as she advanced on Henryk. The wicked talons that were her weapons of choice seemed to be glint ominously in the cold and stark moonlight. She kicked her rear foot off the ground and dashed forward, blades leaving an almost ethereal cross in the air as they sped towards the mad hunter’s neck.
Henryk retreated, at the same time flicking his wrist out and returning the Saw Cleaver to its shortened form as she flowed from one strike to the next faster than Bell’s eyes could track. A diagonal sweep that ran from shoulder to hip with the right hand was narrowly avoided by twisting his body thanks to battle instinct inherited from the nightly hunts of untold years. They also moved his arm and brought up the furled weapon’s teeth in time to block a wide sweep towards the throat with the left dagger.
But she continued with her deft strokes, bringing her right hand to sweep from hip to shoulder and score a gash across his chest. He reached for and threw a knife straight for her head in retaliation, but Eileen darted out of the way and pivoted before launching herself into a stabbing thrust with both of the daggers. The blades barely found purchase before he swept his arm around, tearing them out before they could break through the rib cage and rip through the vital organs.
Still it was another wound, blood flowing out and onto the grave dirt. How many more could he take before there was simply no more blood left within him to continue the fight? How long until she claimed the decisive stroke to finish him off?
Bell wasn’t sure as he fumbled for a second Blood Vial of his own. He drank a bottle of it and felt his pain diminish. It wasn’t enough to be rid of it entirely, but it was still a soothing balm that seemed to melt into him with every last drop. Coughing as he tossed the bottle aside, he tried to fix his gaze on the sounds of battle past the gravestones to see that it was almost over already.
Henryk was bleeding from several more gashes, Eileen’s feather cowl draped in his blood as she avoided his instinctive and feral swipes that were enough to shear into the headstones while striking her blades against one another to make a riotous bloom of white sparks. The light hurt Bell’s eyes and only seemed to further irritate Henryk into becoming more aggressive. He continued to chase her down, despite every motion and quickened beat of his heart pushing him an inch closer to death as he began to fight for breath.
But then the unthinkable happened. Eileen seemed to stumble on her way back, falling to a knee as she sparked her blades together once more. It was an opening, one that no desperate predator would allow to pass unexploited and a death sentence as he pounced with an overhead swing, only for Eileen to extend one dagger above her head as if to block and then swept it back.
The killing stroke that had been directed towards her skull seemed to move with the blade, as if drawn in by some invisible force. It pulled Henryk forward and off-balance, opening him up at last. She abruptly stood and pivoted while bringing her other hand around towards his neck without hesitation or mercy, bringing the conflict to a decisive end.
And leaving a young child with no one to call family again.