Gael Newblood had lived his entire life stealing from others. His Father told him he had stolen his Mother’s life away when he was born right before abandoning him on the street. After that, Gael was forced to steal from others to sustain his own life. Be it bread, fruit, or anything he could nab from a per-occupied vendor, if Gael could eat it he would steal it.
As the years went by and Gael went from being a boy to a man, he began to steal more than just food from others. He became known as a dangerous criminal, his name and face known all throughout the Kingdom of Mafrey as a dangerous killer. Just like he had done so with his Mother, Gael began to steal the lives of others for his own gain. It made sense to him, inside his head. He had come into this world stealing and that was how he had lived thus far. He became infamous, unable to go out during the day without being recognized, town guards constantly on his tale. Gael was unable to live life within the towns and villages within the borders of Mafrey, and was forced out, closer to the borders of the Kingdom.
It was there that, for the first time in his life Gael found those he could share his life with; a group of bandits that had recently made a name for themselves attacking merchants and nobles traveling back and forth along the kingdom borders. Their leader was a confident and charismatic figure, an Ex-Knight that served the King himself. If there was anyone that Gael would swear loyalty to in this world, it would be him. Under his leadership, Gael felt like he belonged somewhere. He would continue to steal from others, but from that point on he was no longer alone.
Gael smirked as he bit off a piece of the bread in his hands, other members of the bandit group seated around the fire as it sent sparks flying into the night sky. The fire was the only source of light within the lush leaves of the forest they called their home blotting out the sky. A fire in the middle of the night would usually be something to avoid for a group of fifteen or so criminals, a signal that called out to any knights or guards searching for them. But they were far from a group of fools, having various deadly traps set up to deal with any unwanted visitors.
“How long has it been since our last job?” asked a bald-headed bandit beside Gael. An angry scar ran from the back of his scalp and down his left eye, sealing it shut. He was one of the older men in the group, and acted as second in command, having left the Capital with their leader. “We’re running low on provisions.”
Gael chuckled, glancing over at the man. “Hey, didn’t the boss say he was going to tell us about a job when he came back? He’s what, out gathering information or something like that, right Velo?”
Velo, the man with the scar sneered and took a bite of charred chicken leg, chewing loudly as he looked around. “Yeah. I hate it when he goes out alone like that. That overconfidence of his is will be the end of him one day.”
The entire group laughed, Gael patting Velo’s back. Each one of them had seen the strength their leader possessed, and it certainly belonged to someone who had once served under the King of Malfrey directly. No one believed that their boss could be felled by any opponent. “You worry too much Velo!” A dark-haired bandit said, reaching beside him to grab a mug of beer, drinking deeply from it before wiping foam from the corner of his mouth. Others nodded in agreement, laughing good-naturedly at their second in command. “Come on, relax for once and have a drink!”
Rolling his one good eye, Velo reached out for the mug being offered to him and took a drink, letting out a tired sigh. “If I don’t look after any of you idiots—our boss included—no one will.”
Gael chuckled as the mug was passed to him, closing his eyes as he tipped his head back and felt the bitter yet rich flavor pass down this throat. It was piss warm, but when you were hiding out deep within the forest you didn’t find yourself complaining over a bit of warm beer. “Don’t let the boss hear you say that Velo. You know he hates it when you lecture him.”
Scowling once again, Velo stared into the fire. “I’m the only one capable of keeping that man in line. He needs a good lecturing now and then.” It seemed like Velo wanted to say more but his attention was snapped away from the fire. He was staring into the forest now, eye scanning through the darkness. “Did anyone hear that?” He asked, his voice barely over a whisper. Anyone who knew—Velo like Gael and the rest of them did—could see he was uneasy.
“It’s probably just a deer or something.” the dark-haired bandit said with a chuckle, waving the older man’s concerns away. “We are in a forest you know Velo.”
“It could just be the boss returning.” Said another bandit with long unkept hair that fell to his shoulders in a mess of spikes. “He should be back around now, no?”
“It’s not the boss.” Said Velo as he stood up. “I’ve been with him for longer than any of you. I know that man’s footsteps when I hear them.”
Gael could hear it now, the sound of leaves and twigs crunching beneath someone’s feet as they approached the camp. They were close, but still far off enough that the modest light of the fire didn’t reveal them to the group yet. They were on edge now, the aura of merriment gone and replaced with caution.
“No way someone got past the traps.” Gael heard one of his comrades say. There was a quake in his voice, but it wasn’t fear that caused the shakiness. It was anger. Each of them were skilled fighters and did not fear many things. No, if anyone should be afraid it was the person who dare trespass into their camp. Each and every man stayed completely still, their gaze turned in the direction of the footsteps.
It wouldn’t be long before the light of the fire caught the shape of the intruder. It was impossible to make out any concrete features as the figure was wearing tattered cloth and a hood; that combined with the dark night made it impossible to tell just who had found their way into the camp. It occurred to Gael however, as the figure walked towards them a distinct sound found its way to his ears—the sound of rusted metal grinding against rusted metal. Gael’s eyes narrowed and he was now on full alert.
The figure walked calmly closer to the group and the closer it got, the fire illuminated more and more. The cloth it wore was beige, covered in tears and holes giving glimpses of what lay beneath. Whatever lay underneath the hood seemed to reflect the light of the fire, like metal. Gael watched as the hooded figure reached their group, and reached out towards the food cooking over the fire.
“Hey now.” The dark-haired bandit growled, grabbing the figure’s arm, stopping them from reaching out any further. “Just what do you think you’re doing?”
Gael watched the interaction, fully aware of the sweat beading down his face. Something didn’t feel right here, not at all. A glint caught his eye and for the first time he noticed that the figure’s hand was covered in metal gauntlets, gauntlets that were reflecting the light of the fire, much like whatever covered their face. Gael felt his heart stop as realization crashed over him. “Gambit, wait!” He called out to the dark-haired bandit, but it was too late. The flash of metal in the light of the fire blinded him for only a moment as Gambit’s blood splattered the ground at Gael’s feet. The bandit collapsed to the ground, completely lifeless. No one had been able to see the sword that was resting at the figure’s hip, now drawn and dripping with Gambit’s blood.
A thick silence hung in the air as the group processed what had just happened. The silence did not last however and was replaced by an explosion of noise as the bandit group surrounded the figure, the weapons they were never far from drawn. Gael held the thick axe he had taken to wielding since joining up with the group in both hands, his eyes wide with rage.
“Bring this bastard down!” Velo roared as he charged forward, swinging the broadsword he wielded in a wide arc. Gael expected to see more blood fly, expected to hear a cry of pain. Instead, the sound of metal hitting metal met his ears and the sight of Velo’s sword bouncing off of a shield met his eyes. Velo’s gaze matched the thoughts in Gael’s mind. “Where did they get that shield?”
Another flash of metal met Gael’s line of sight, and the man’s body reacted before his mind could. The force of the blow from the stranger’s sword hitting his axe reverberated throughout his entire body. There was power behind that strike.
“Here I am saving your ass, and you’re the one always going on about us being careful!” Gael called back to Velo. The older man gave him a tired smirk before charging at their attacker, his sword cleaving down their body. A rending sound filled the air as the figure staggered backwards from the force of Velo’s blow, but no blood was visible. Gael’s suspicions were now all but confirmed.
“He’s wearing armour under those rags!” Velo called out, his voice commanding and booming. It would be hard for them to damage the figure, but they had numbers on their side. They could overpower them and this fight would be over in an instant.
The figure seemed to regain their footing and spun around, their sword knocking away an incoming blow from one of the bandits while their shield blocked another blow. With both arms preoccupied, Gael charged in, axe raised to bring down on the enemy. Instead of landing a hit, Gael found himself falling to the ground, a sudden pain in his gut. The figure had moved faster than his eye could follow, their leg shooting out to land a blow on Gael. As he looked up from the ground, two more of his comrades fell before him dead, their blood soaking the soil of the forest floor as the figure broke free from the circle of bandits, charging back in with a speed and ferocity Gael had never seen before.
One by one his comrades dropped dead, each from a single well-placed strike from the cloaked figure’s sword, with each fallen comrade adding to the rage boiling within him. Gael charged, letting out a roar of fury, the blade of his axe clashing against their shield. They skidded back only a few inches before immediately retaliating with a strike of their own. Gael was only just able to jump back in time, the tip of their sword inches away from his face.
“Velo, back me up!” Gael called out to the ex-soldier, his blood singing in his veins, his chest burning with each ragged breath. Never before had he gone up against a force so terrifying. It was almost as if they were fighting against a force of nature, not a swordsman.
Velo charged, his blade clashing against theirs. Velo’s strikes were fast and well-placed, each strike aiming to strike at any weak points the armoured figure may have. Each strike was matched by an effortless parry, Velo’s blade swatted away by the cloaked figure. Gael could see the frustration on Velo’s face even in the darkness, the fire highlighting the ragged scar on his scalp and face and turning it crimson. Suddenly Gael remembered he had always meant to ask the old man how he had received such a grievous wound; it occurred to him, as the figure’s blade sunk into Velo’s chest, sliding out the other end spraying blood into the air. Everything seemed to move in slow motion at that moment as Velo collapsed, the blade no longer in his chest, holding him up. Gael was alone, completely and utterly alone his comrades—people he had come to consider friends—lay dead around him.
“No.....” He whispered, gritting his teeth. “No, no no no NO!” Gael charged, screaming at the top of his lungs like an animal's, eyes wild and muscles groaning. “YOU BASTARD!” He roared and swung his axe wide. The last thing Gael remembered was everything going dark.
Five minutes. That was how long it had been for Xanther to return to his camp after first hearing the sounds of battle in the direction his camp lay; taking him only five minutes for him to find his all of his men slaughtered like pigs. Xanther stood there at the edge of the camp, his dark green eyes scanning the scene before him; the heavy metallic smell of blood hung thick in the air. It was silent except for the crackling of the fire, the sounds of metal clashing having died out before his arrival. Standing near the fire, illuminated by the light of the flames stood a figure dressed in rags, a long sword soaked in blood hanging loosely from their right hand. The reflection of the flames dance on the silver blade—an alloy often used for swords that were meant to channel magic—and in its left hand was a shield. Xanther could just make out many scratches and dents on the shield. Obviously, it had been a long time since it had been taken care of.
“Did you do this?” He asked, his voice booming. Xanther was a tall man, standing well over six feet, with a muscular frame and cold green eyes that had seen countless battles. He walked towards the figure, who remained silent; whether they were ignoring Xanther’s question, or simply couldn’t speak, he did not care. The leader of the bandits knelt beside the body of his oldest friend. “Velo.” He whispered, gritting his teeth. He reached up and closed his friend’s glossed over eyes; he now at least looked peaceful in death.
The figure had not moved from its spot, and seemed to be examining Xanther curiously. “You’ve committed a very serious crime.” The old Bandit Chief growled, standing up straight, stroking his full beard that had whited with age. He slowly walked towards a tree stump near his tent where a massive halberd was buried—its ornate blade completely oversized which rendered it impossible to wield by normal humans. Xanther eyed every body that now laid on the ground, noting that Gael seemed to be missing. Had he escaped perhaps? “You raised your blade against my men. For that, you must pay with your life.”
Xanther gripped the handle of the halberd and closed his eyes. The first thing they taught you when you began your Knightly training was how to draw Magic from the world around you. Xanther remembered the lessons clear as day. Anyone could draw in Magic, but how effectively you used it was completely up to you. You were only held back by your creativity, and the limit every human had in terms of how much Magic they could draw in from the world’s seemingly infinite supply.
Xanther pictured the invisible particles that floated all around him, taking a deep breath. He drew them into his body and sent them to the desired location; his muscles. The familiar burning sensation of his muscles expanding filled the Ex-Knight with power. He could feel his skin tightening around the expanding muscle mass, could feel the cotton material of his shirt begin to rip as his chest and shoulder grew broader. Xanther had been known as ‘Xanther the Giant’ while he served the King—known for his unique way of incorporating magic into battles. Instead of taking control of an elemental power or enhancing a silver weapon, Xanther focused solely on enhancing his own physical strength. When he had taken in as much magic as his body would allow, he drew the halberd from the stump and let his rest on his shoulder as if it weighed nothing. He stared at the figure who had stayed still the entire time and smirked.
Quicker than the eye could follow, Xanther was in front of the figure, the blade of his halberd smashing into them and sending them flying. Xanther watched with a certain amount of satisfaction as the figure rolled across the ground before smashing into a tree with enough force to shake free some acorns. “Very good reflexes.” He said, straightening his back. “To be able to raise your shield so quickly to take the brunt of the blow; you certainly have some skill. Too bad for you all the bones in your arms are probably no more than dust now.”
If Xanther had expected a reaction, a cry of pain or frustration from the fallen figure, he would be disappointed. The figure—as silent as ever—stood up, its left arm hanging limply at its side. The blow had caused the surrounding cloak to shift and its hood to fall back. Dark black armour covered the body, intricate bronze and silver engraving covering the edges. Rust seemed to have eaten and corroded some parts leaving them brittle and jagged. The helmet was distinct in design with the same silver and bronze engraving streaming down the side, looking almost like tears. Xanther felt his heart skip at the sight, his eyebrow raising up.
“Where did you find that armour?” He asked, taking a step forward. “That armour is from a bygone age. Do you wear it trying to scare people into thinking you are ghost from the past?” He laughed loudly, the sound echoing through the forest in a gruff manner but his laugh was cut short by searing pain and the spray of blood. Xanther looked down before him. The figure had somehow made it in front of him, their sword slashing through the front of his chest. Xanther’s expression changed to one of annoyance as his raised his fist to the Knight, only to have it connect with their shield. “What!?” Xanther gasped out as flame-like wisps danced from where his fist connected with the shield. Unlike flames however, they did not give off heat of any kind. In fact, Xanther’s skin felt intensely cold where it touched the wisps, and he quickly withdrew his hand.
“Magic.” He gasped out, his arm shaking. “Darkness Magic. But... that would mean....” Xanther’s expression became panicked, and gripping his halberd with both hands he brought it down on the figure with all of his strength, the ground beneath him shaking from the impact. That killed them, it had to... that was what ran through Xanther’s head, but as he stared down at the blade of his halberd, saw the wisps of darkness that seemed to eclipse the darkness of the night wrap around it, he knew he had been wrong. The last thing Xanther saw was a profound darkness erupt from the figure’s blade—a darkness so deep that even the light of the fire could not shine through—engulf him, and his last thoughts rang in his head. “The lost Kingdom....so there were survivors after all....”
Finally, it was over. The Knight sheathed their blade and returned their shield to its spot on their back and walked towards the fire, which at this point had dwindled down to barely embers. Sitting in the seat Gael once sat in, it reached down and picked up the piece of bread Gael had been eating before everything had happened. It raised the lower half of its helmet, revealing a set of lipless jaws covered scar tissue, teeth bared to the world, and took a bite.