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Prologue: The Hunt

Snow crunches underneath your footsteps. The thin layer isn’t thick enough to limit your movement. It's only about an inch deep as the grass beneath is still able to poke its green tips through. Several pairs of boots follow behind you. Three to be exact. The hunter, you lead from the front.

Kneeling, examining the trail, you speak. “Silvaras is close. These prints are fresh. See how the snowfall hasn’t affected the prints much, if at all.”

“How soon until he reaches the pass?” asks Jaina, a sorceress who hates to repeat herself. She’s dressed in a hood of blue, trimmed with white fur along the edges.

Your head lifts slightly in thought, vision stretching gazeless, unfocused on a single point in front of you. Easier to think when your immediate senses aren’t playing a distraction. “Three hours if the weather continues like this. Possibly four with a heavier snowfall.”

“We best get moving then,” Maxx comments in a deep rumble. How he manages to keep pace with his heavy plate and tower shield is beyond you.

“I must say, I agree with the big fellow…for once,” the final member of your party, Richter, inputs. After traveling weeks with the man, you still don’t feel comfortable sleeping around him. Things of value tend to disappear within his presence.

“Onward then. Our prey grows weary.” You rise, breathing in the cold mountain air. Pine trees, lightly covered in white, stand proudly around you. The trail you follow grows in elevation the further you press on. Silvaras has eluded you for too long. The former guard captain, turned traitor, has been a thorn in Lord Tiras’ side for almost a year now. His revolution founded the militant organization calling themselves the “Spirit of Truth” is gaining momentum throughout the territory. Cultists, seeking to gain personal wealth through religion, in spite of Lord Tiras, needed to end. Lord Tiras’ men failed at every attempt. That’s where you come in. Your traveling companions are simply necessary expenses in order to succeed at the task. You press on.

The path takes you up a twisting road, turning into a series of switchbacks. Steady breath and steady footsteps makes the journey blend into a timeless, subconscious one. Your reality becomes the next step, the next breath, only to repeat itself a moment later. Everything else is simply a backdrop, supporting actors playing their part in your story. It’s happening again. Focus. Breathe. Remember to…

The next switchback opens into a clearing. A few trees cover your current location, but taking ten steps forward would expose you to the camp. It’s a series of tents arranged in a circle. Silvarus wasn’t running towards the pass. Rather, towards the destination in front of you. The center one, the largest, draws your attention, not because of its size, but because of the symbol displayed on the canvas, a cross with a pair of wings behind it, commonly used to signify a medical ward.

Whatever the specifics, it means healing attention could be had. This is the camp of the militant deserter? No, stick to the job. It’s not your place to question. There are few guards posted. Guards should be positioned at the top of the switchbacks. It’s the natural place to set up a defense. The entire camp looks too…civilian. No, stick to the job. It’s not your place to question. You press on.

The snowfall is heavier now, masking your approach in sheer whiteness, a misty cloud hiding all that’s within. Strange. Even as you draw close, guards aren’t posted outside. Wait, there’s a few. They aren’t patrolling like they should. They’re standing in casual conversation, oblivious to the four figures infiltrating their camp. You cut them down in the very same manner. Casually.

Your arrows fire true. Three let loose, three hit the mark. A few throwing knives from Richter join as insurance, not that it is needed. Still, it never hurts to be careful, a lesson the camp is currently learning. Silvaras must be in the large tent. He wouldn’t risk his life, the survival of the Spirit of Truth, for anything else. Taking the overcoats from the guards, leaving Maxx behind—not that the coats would fit him, you slip inside, disguised, along with Jaina and Richter.

Inside, cots fill the area, neatly, like the way a farmer would sow seeds.

“Oh, you must be the…” a man begins before cutting off, apparently recognizing you aren’t who your cloaks display. Silvarus. He isn’t wearing armor. Rather, he wears the apron of a surgeon, medical tools displayed on his belt. The man’s graying hair is neatly cut, a military man used to obeying orders without question. Something obviously changed. “I see. Very well, walk with me. I have a surgery to perform. You can fulfill your task after.”

You sense no deception in the man, and the camp poses the same threat as the three guards you felled. “Any sort of deviance from your task and you’ll be ended swiftly,” you say.

“Yeah, yeah, then me and everyone in here dies. Got it,” Silvaras comments, leading you down the rows of beds.

The subject lies on a surgical table, one built sturdy from oak and sanded down to a smooth surface. Tears run down the woman’s face, but that’s not what catches your attention. Your eyes are immediately drawn to her stomach. She’s pregnant, near the estimated due date by the looks of it. Her feet are flat on the table, knees bent, giving Silvaras room to work. Silvaras takes her pulse, then checks between her legs. This certainly isn’t the surgery you were expecting.

“So Lord Tiras sent you,” Silvaras says as he continues to work on the woman. “Figures. That man is the type to take anything personally. It’s not normally my place to disobey orders. There gets to a certain point when a man must act on his heart, even in opposition to the laws of the land.”

Jaina jumps in. “And how does the murder of one’s countryman go against your heart?”

Silvaras pauses for a moment. Then answers. “No, no. Is that what Tiras is spinning these days? These people here are refugees. There’s a civil war happening on the other side of the pass. Nasty war. I merely wanted to allow them residence. Tiras closed the border. Decreed that anyone attempting to cross into the land is doing so illegally. We were ordered to execute them. Hell, the pass isn’t even large enough for an enemy force to march through.”

“Spies. Sleeper agents,” Richter says, picking a piece of dirt from his fingernail. “It’s the perfect opportunity to slip an operative into the territory. I don’t blame the lord.”

“Heartless fool! And if you were on the opposite side?” Silvaras questions.

Richter flashes a toothy grin. “I wouldn’t travel through such an exposed area, even if it’s sparsely supported with soldiers. Naturally, I’d pick the winning side of the civil war and lend my services.”

“We’re getting off topic. Keep speaking,” you say.

“What more is there to say?” Silvaras answers. “We’ve set up a temporary medical camp to house refugees. The Spirit of Truth isn’t the militant organization you’re led to believe. Quite the opposite actually. The only violence we’re guilty of—pass me that knife there—is during direct confrontation from Tiras’ men. It’s unfortunate, yes. But we’re able to save many more lives being alive. That’s the only reason we take up arms. In defense. We’re a peaceful group now. We’ve been part of the bloodshed for far too long. You see, this is our redemption.”

Silvaras pulls a crying baby from the woman connected, still, with its umbilical. The babe is covered in liquid. Obviously female. With the knife you handed to Silvaras, he severs the physical tie between mother and daughter, then places the baby in her mother’s arms.

“Now, assassin, where were we?”

Stick to the job. It’s not your place to question. The situation may not be as black and white as you were led to believe, but isn’t that the case for most things? No one is truly good, despite their misguided attempts at redemption. Silvaras' own words condemn him. Righteous men don’t seek redemption, only those who walk in darkness. You’re willing to bet Silvaras traveled deep into the abyss, turning back after standing in the shadow of a larger monster.

Perspective, it can change a man. So can fear. You have a job to do. It’s your only reality, the only thing that matters. Everything else is faded into nonexistence. One thing remains. The job. Lord Tiras hired you to put an end to the Spirit of Truth. The organization will crumble without Silvaras’ leadership. But how many more will he save? It doesn’t matter. There are sick people that need his help. There are other medical experts in the world. He’s not evil. That makes one of us.

Before anyone can react, you nock and loose an arrow, snapping Silvaras’ head back with the impact. His face doesn’t even look surprised. His body collapses against the delivery table, sending the new mother into a wail rivaling her child. Right, wrong, whatever your decision turns out to be, you can’t let emotions sway you from the task. That’s what Silvaras tried to do. He tried to manipulate us, an appeal to our humanity. It won’t…it didn’t work. Bastard. He deserved his fate. God knows you deserve yours.