Pokéstrav [NOT ready for grading]

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    Default Pokéstrav [NOT ready for grading]

    “Wreath of Geists”, Illustrated by Jason A. Engle
    Tiberius Gravenholt
    Chapter One:
    A Haunting of Church and State

    This story is based on Magic: The Gathering's Innistrad, Dark Ascension, and Avacyn Restoredblocks.

    UNDER the thick darkness of the autumn night, only the faint flashes of blood-red light from the Harvest Moon provided sight in the Kessig wilderness. But the cruel environment would not let this go on; in minutes, all the light from the moon was drowned in a sea of gray, hazy clouds, forming like clusters of unclean cotton in the starless sky. Not even the greatest pathfinder would be able to make out the gnarled forms of the oaks and willows that covered much of this thicket, and the rest of the twisted trees which, by now, would sport brilliant spreads of orange and yellow leaves. This, however, did not hinder one brave Beast hunter, and even though everyone else—from the Sages of Breloom’s Cap to a cobbler’s child—would consider going straight into the Kessig Wilds at this time of night as foolish, the Beast hunter pressed on; the leaves he trod on underfoot created whispering cracks, music which creatures of the night would soon undoubtedly hear…

    The hunter took out one tightly-rolled stick of Uldskein’s Cigars and ignited its tip, and the small embers revealed just enough of the man’s figure: he was tall and deep-chested, and a fur scarf whose ends were Ursaring claws covered much of his face, leaving only his dark green eyes revealed. He pulled down the scarf so as to put the lighted cigar in his mouth; the smoke trailed upwards, seemingly wanting to join the clouds above. The hunter also wore a chestnut-colored cocked hat, a Krokorok leather jacket and boots made of the same material. A sleek strap fastened an ornate crossbow and a spear of silver to his back, while a slender scabbard was fixed to the side of his pants, holding a rapier that has certainly drew more monster-blood than the average vampire.

    The man’s name was Tiberius Gravenholt. Beast hunter, expert monster-trapper, armsman, and swordplay extraordinaire—he believed himself fully-equipped against anyone, or more importantly, anything he may happen to cross in the unpredictable Kessig Wilds. He hunted all sorts of ghouls and other kinds of horrors across Pokéstrav, usually for profit among other things (as this kind of free lance profession rewarded him by the golden sovereigns), and although the title of Beast hunter presented enough occupational hazards to make the bravest soldier white as a geist, he enjoyed himself to the satisfaction of decapitating Garbodor ghouls or staking a noble from the House of Crobat which came along with the job.

    Currently, he looked up at the inky sky where he thought the moon should be, looked down as if satisfied, and removed the torpedo-shaped cigar from his mouth and tossed it to the ground; landing almost silently on a pile of damp leaves. He then produced a small canteen from one of the chest pockets of his jacket and drank from it. For some time, only the faint, echoing squawks of a murder of Murkrow from the distance made any further noise in the hunter’s surrounding. All of a sudden, though, the silence was broken by something which dashed fast near the Beast hunter, scattering the leaf litter. The figure gave off a low, fierce growl, which sounded like it came from all directions.

    The hunter took a step back, returned the container he held in his hand, and removed the silver spear he had fastened to his back. The end of the spear was an intricate point of pure silver, which glowed softly like a torch of white flame.

    “C’mon, you dog,”
    Tiberius spoke under his breath, in his deep, gruff voice. “I know you’re here. No use in playing games, now.”

    He was waving the spear to examine his surrounding, and on the first few tries he saw only the emptiness of the woods. In a flash there came a snarling from behind him, and so he turned quickly and cast the spear’s light over the sight—a large, five-foot Zoroark, with its impressive, crimson mane flowing all the way to its back was snarling at him. Strangely, tattered pieces of cloth covered most of its figure. Near its front claws lay the lifeless, yellow body of a Mareep; the sheep Pokémon covered in its own pool of blue, sparking blood. The Zoroark was crouching almost as if it would pounce on the hunter any second, with its blood-stained maw open wide and ready to attack. But the Beast hunter did not move from his place, and instead chose to lower his silver spear and speak to the Zoroark,

    “Aurelius Fanghart,” the Beast hunter spoke, without any trace of fear in his voice.

    If the Zoroark would have wanted to lunge at the hunter, it did not go on with such a plan, because after it had finished snarling, it smiled, revealing its bloodied teeth—giving off a horrible and deranged expression.

    “Well,” Tiberius said, quite impatiently. “The moon is out. You wouldn’t have me talking to a damn dog all night would you? I know you’ve mastered your transformations.”

    The Zoroark uttered a partly stifled laugh. Slowly, all its lupine characteristics dissolved; its voluminous brick-red mane becoming shorter by the second. And suddenly, from where the Zoroark had been crouching a man stood: he was thin and blue-eyed while his face was rather bony; and his hair, although it was now short and spiked, was the same ruddy color as the Zoroark’s. He was wearing tattered clothes, and blue-tinged blood was smeared all over his mouth.

    the thin man spoke, in a hoarse, almost inaudible whisper. “The Alpha… requests that you make your presence felt in our pack…”

    Aurelius Fanghart was a werezoark—humans that would transform into berserk Zoroark depending on the face of the moon. Most werezoark had completely no control over their transformations, and most of them would have no recollection of their rampages. Fanghart, however, had no trouble shape shifting and remembering his nocturnal escapades. This skill was uncommon in werezoarks, and it required weeks of training to master the technique.

    Tiberius’s eyes twitched and he seemed off-put by Fanghart’s statement. He quickly regained his composure, however, and holding up his silver spear he said, “You can tell Render he can feel my Argentus Spear up his furry hide.”

    Fanghart snickered; the grim expression on his messy face was no different from his Zoroark form. “Render? You might be surprised… But what else would you be doing in Kessig, then?”

    “I’m on my way to the province of Gavony. There’s something the Lunarch wants me done,” Tiberius began, returning the Argentus Spear to his backstrap. “And I didn’t mind taking this route, I was hoping to cage a beast or two on my way—” here he paused to examine Aurelius’s form; he looked rather miserable if a little grotesque and horrifying. “—and then you came along. With one member of a shepherd’s flock, I might add. The Harvest Moon is ending, but farmers would still have the bonfires up until after twilight… I’m surprised you’ve risked your pathetic neck for a cheap kill.”

    “Ha, but you wouldn’t cage an old friend, would you, Tiberius? And I don’t think you have any right lecturing anyone about risks,”
    muttered Fanghart; the Mareep’s blood now dripping from his pointed chin.

    Old friend indeed,” said the Beast hunter, putting back his scarf over his mouth and nose, so that only his green eyes could be seen. He straightened his hat and was ready to be on his way.

    Tiberius turned and started to walk away from the werezoark and its dead victim, like the encounter had not happened at all. Before disappearing into the thickness of the trees, he did, however, manage to warn the literal beast of a man.

    “And don’t let me catch you anywhere in Zoroark-form again, Aurelius,” Tiberius said, the Ursaring scarf muffling his already deep voice. “I fear that I would not be as merciful as I would feel tempted to bind you, permanently.”

    He never looked back to see the agitated look of the werezoark, who was, by then, turning back into his Zoroark form, dragging with him the carcass of the mangled Mareep, as the red-orange moon finally emerged from the clutches of the dark clouds.

    * * *

    the Beast hunter, emerged from the Kessig Wilds; a woodland known across the four provinces of Pokéstrav for its reputation of being a habitat for werezoarks. Rumors of geists haunting the wood and its twisted trees would occasionally spread in the villages surrounding it; with reports of children missing once or so per month. Much to the Beast hunter’s expectations, however, he encountered no more fiends beyond his meeting with Fanghart. It took him at least an hour and a half to get out of the path of seemingly endless leaf litter and into the nearest village in the province of Kessig.

    There was a large arch on the entrance to the village; the two columns which held it were mounted by gargoyle statues of Golem. The ends of the arch were filigreed with some sort of steel, and the name of the village was etched into the stone: “KRALLENHORDE est. pop. 426 ½, SINCE 971, The Year of Avacyn.”

    Tiberius wondered why Krallenhorde had an extra ½ in its population, but since that wasn’t the reason why he was stopping by the village, he gave up the thought and went inside; the claws of the hunter’s Ursaring scarf fluttering in the wind. The reason of the monster-trapper’s detour, as two sentinels guarding the entrance soon found out, was that he needed a suitable steed in order to complete his journey to the province of Gavony, which was more or less half-a-day’s journey by horseride. At first, the guards were suspicious of the Beast hunter. It might have been his intimidating bulk, the fact that he’s got his face covered apart from his green eyes, or because the guards haven’t seen anyone so heavily-armed as him walking into their village before. So Tiberius opened his leather jacket, and took out a small, rusty emblem the shape of an inverted silver omega, so that it looked somewhat like a horseshoe or a collar of some sort.

    “Any ol’ git could’ve wrought than on an anvil, I reckon,” the first guard protested, trying to sound braver than he really was. He straightened his hat and drew himself to full height, but still could not meet eye-to-eye with the Beast hunter.

    “Look here, I maybe under the Lunarch’s orders at the present time,” Tiberius said, threateningly, as his right, gloved hand met with the first guard’s collar. “But, by Avacyn, I will not let myself be hindered by the likes of you two. Do not test me, my man, and allow my entrance.”

    The second guard clearly was afraid of the Beast hunter; he was trembling the whole time Tiberius was speaking. Tiberius released his grasp of the first guard, who immediately fixed his coat as soon as he was able to.

    Not wanting to deal with the brute any longer, the second guard began to mutter, “W-we allow you t-to enter t-the vill-age…”

    “But you’ll have to leave all weaponry to us. Mayor’s orders,” the first guard added, who was agitated with the Beast hunter now more than he was scared of him.

    When at first Tiberius merely raised an eyebrow at their demand, the guards thought the Beast hunter would force himself in. But much to their relief, Tiberius started unlatching his weapons. Each time he handed them a weapon, the two guards couldn’t help cringe before taking it from the Beast hunter, who could’ve easily struck, fired or impaled them with his arsenal. Tiberius continued the process until he was rid of his Argentus Spear, a wooden and ornately carved crossbow, his blood-stained rapier (which the second guard was reluctant to hold), a four-inch dagger, and a six-shot Grafsbane revolver.

    “That’s the last of it,” he said gravely, handing over the pistol which fired silver bullets to the second guard. “Unless you require me to hand over my fists, in which case I shall be more than ready to show them to your faces.”

    The first guard sighed resentfully as he drew a talisman from inside his dark-green coat. The shard was shaped the same way as the sigil Tiberius presented them earlier. The guard held it high so that the talisman was directed at the stone arch, while his partner struggled to carry all of the Beast hunter’s weaponry. The talisman shone in a ghostly, green light, and for a second, there seemed to be a rippling in the air in the village entrance.

    Knowing at the very least he was welcome to enter the village of Krallenhorde, Tiberius walked into the arch and found himself facing a long and narrow cobblestone road which was clearly withered and stained by constant rainfall. The sides of the road were lined with rows of houses; a few of which had chimneys and oil lamps hung on their threshold. There were also a few maple trees scattered around the village. He approached a rusty, lit lamppost erected in front of one of the larger houses, where a map of the village, inked in parchment, was posted to it. When he spotted what he wanted to see, he moved on and continued walking down the road. He was pretty much alone in the windy night; only farmers would be up by this hour, since the season of the harvest would be ending with the close of autumn. When he came across a small house separated from the others that had a stable to its left, he stopped and approached its oaken door.

    Tiberius knocked three loud knocks on the door; dust coming out of its crevices. For a moment no one answered, but before the Beast hunter could knock again, a stout, balding man with a sandy beard opened the door, carrying a pitch-fork and a talisman just like the one the village guard had.

    “Who goes there?” the man said, raising his talisman to illuminate and reveal the stranger before him. “By Avacyn, I am not afraid to stick this farm-tool to yer wretched monster gut!”

    “I am no monster,” Tiberius said, taking his hat off and revealing his untidy dark brown hair. “On the contrary, I am Tiberius Gravenholt, Beast hunter to the Lunarch.”

    “How do I know yer not bluffin’?” the man with the pitch fork told him, aggressively. “How can I trust yer not a bloodsucker or the like, ‘Mister Tiberius’?”

    “Ah,” the Beast hunter uttered. “Then I would have attacked you the moment you answered my knocking. Either that or I would have cringed in agony when you raised Avacyn’s mark against me. I apologize for disturbing you so late in the night. As I have told you, I am under the Lunarch’s orders. I understand you are none other than Mr. Rächerstall of Rächerstall’s Hoof and Dashery?”

    “Well, what if I am?” Rächerstall said, his pitch-fork and talisman still raised. “I could not care less for the Lunarch and his High City! And what do ye want from me?

    “I require, obviously, a suitable steed. Shall we proceed to your stable? It is unwise to keep doors open in such a time like this.”

    Rächerstall murmured something about buying horses so late at night as being unwise too, but he retrieved a torch from inside his house and escorted the Beast hunter to the stable nonetheless. Tiberius was sure to put back his hat on before he entered the stable.

    The building was a small-L shape of white stone. It was a modest stable, and had eight or ten stalls inside; and a room where supplies and hay were kept. Tiberius had expected to see each of the stalls occupied by a Rapidash or a Ponyta, but as they passed by them he only saw remnants of hay inside.

    Rächerstall guided Tiberius into the stable, the flickering lights of the stable owner’s torch providing them with a steady light source. “She’s the only one we’ve got left.”

    Rächerstall cast the torch’s light over the stall at the very end of the stable. It revealed a young Rapidash, who just awoke from its slumber. If there was anything different about this Rapidash, she was shadowy black rather than the normal shade of light yellow. When she yawned, her back, mane and tail combusted into impressive bursts of red-hot flame, which put Rächerstall’s torch to shame.

    “People in these parts have been getting desperate,” the old, bearded man spoke again. “They’ve been migrating up north; these are grim times upon us… Ahem. She’s a Lambholt Shire horse—the youngest I have. Twelve sovereigns ought to be reasonable enough. Take her or leave her.”

    Even though the Beast hunter sensed the stable-owner was setting the price too high on the Rapidash, Tiberius did not argue. He got out a small wool pouch from his pocket and untied the string which held it closed. He spilled the contents of the pouch on his hand, revealing a palm’s worth of bright, golden coins: all of which had the mark of Avacyn embossed unto their faces. Rächerstall held out his hand when Tiberius gestured at him. The Beast hunter dumped the coins on the old man’s open hand, who received it gratefully. Rächerstall unlocked the small gate on the Rapidash’s stall, and handed over the reins to the Beast master. The Rapidash showed some unwilligness to follow at first but it eventually followed Tiberius and Rächerstall out of the stable.

    The Beast hunter shook hands with the stable-owner before mounting himself on the Rapidash (her flames went out on his command, but it wouldn’t burn the rider anyway unless when provoked). The old man was also sure to give the Beast hunter the Rapidash’s capturing rune, which Tiberius placed on his left chest pocket (for the right pocket contained his canteen, as you remember). Tiberius was ready to leave the village and start his half-a-day’s ride with the newly-bought Rapidash when a little girl’s voice came from Rächerstall’s porch.

    “You are selling Cindergale, papa?

    From where the voice had come from stood a little girl of about six to eight years old; two faded ribbons parted her sandy curls. She wore a simple, silk sleeping dress as one of her hands carried a wooden doll and the other she used to rub her tired eyes.

    “Leonarda… How did you—GO BACK INSIDE!”

    But the girl did not move; she just stopped rubbing her eyes to give a mad and disappointed look at her father. For a second, Tiberius thought the girl’s eyes were filled with darkness, but when he blinked again they were back to normal. The Beast hunter could not help but sense there was something strange going on.

    “You can not sell Cindergale!” Leonarda shrieked.

    It seemed that it was his ears betraying him this time, because Tiberius could have sworn the girl’s voice change from a soft tone to an instantly deeper, darker, voice—like it wasn’t the girl who was speaking anymore. He convinced himself, though, that it was only the chilly night air getting to him. “Keep it down,” Rächerstall said abruptly in whispers, as Leonarda stepped down the threshold and rushed to hug the rear left leg of the Rapidash. In doing so, Leonarda left her doll by the porch, and she began to tear up.

    “Come now,” Rächerstall removed her from the horse with much effort. “We don’t want to wake up the other villagers an’ start a riot again.”

    Leonarda gave up the struggle and came to her father, with her head bowed down.

    “I can not buy this Rapidash if it is hers, Mister Rächerstall,” said Tiberius, who would have gotten off the horse Leonarda had called ‘Cindergale’ if Rächerstall had not stopped him.

    “No, the horse is not hers,” said the old man selfishly. “Just as the other eight horses I’ve sold was not hers to own. I tell her not to attach herself to the Rapidash, because it is uncertain if they would stay with her for a week or be gone by the next. Now,—” Rächerstall tugged at the child who was at his side. “—Leonarda, apologize to the man. He paid us more than what I had asked him for.”

    Without looking up, Leonarda whispered, with traces of silent sobs in her words too, “Thank you, mister… Please take care of Cindergale…”

    “I will,” said Tiberius, who looked at Rächerstall to see his rather tense appearance. “And I promise to return Cindergale too, after my journey is complete.”

    Rächerstall was nudging Leonarda to go back inside, but the girl remained stationary. Then, slowly, she raised her head to look up to Tiberius, who was still on the black Rapidash. Leonarda then began to speak, although the monster-trapper knew it was only the two of them who could hear one another...

    Tell me... Are you a Beast hunter, sir?

    “Yes, I am a Beast hunter,” Tiberius said plainly. He was oblivious to the fact that the two of them were entering some kind of trance; where everything else went black except for their figures, and where every sound was muffled except for their own voices. He could not have heard the screams of a dying person if there was someone facing their death nearby…

    “Have you… bound a geist before?”
    the words were coming out of Leonarda’s mouth; but Tiberius was sure it wasn’t the girl coming up with the questions before.

    So he held back his answer this time; he wouldn’t tell anything more to whatever was doing this to him and Leonarda. The answer, however, would have been ‘No’—Tiberius was a successful monster-trapper, yes, there was no doubt to that—but what he had managed to trap were a variety of physical, solid abominations… How could you ‘trap’ a geist? Something that was incorporeal and without form?

    “Leonarda!” a voice spoke, and it was Rächerstall’s. He had been trying to wake the little girl who had apparently gone unconscious for a few seconds.

    Tiberius didn’t have to suppress his answer any longer, because he had snapped out of the trance. He didn’t look forward to experience the sensation again... It was an odd feeling of despair and hopelessness...

    He got off the Rapidash and hurried to where Rächerstall and Leonarda was. The old man kept trying to shake her into consciousness. And then the girl’s eyelids opened in a flash, revealing the entirety of her eyes inked with darkness. The girl writhed for a second, her eyelids fluttering, and then she fell into the hands of her father motionless.

    Tiberius checked her neck for a pulse and found, thankfully, a beat. And again, in all of a sudden, her eyes opened, but the darkness was gone. She had no energy and could barely speak. Mister Rächerstall shoved the Beast hunter away and went straight into his house.

    “Go! Leave us!
    the horse-seller told Tiberius while carrying the girl inside. He slammed the wooden door with a bang and Tiberius heard he was barring it from the inside too.

    He fixed his scarf and hat as he got back up on the Rapidash. He gave one last look at the house with the stable on its side, with the wind still blowing harshly, and he noticed the wooden doll the little girl had left by the porch. It lay lopsided, but even the most rational of folk would agree that it had been staring at the direction where the Beast hunter was; its beady eyes resembling the darkness in Leonarda when she was unconscious…

    Cindergale began to neigh repeatedly, so Tiberius, with his reins, commanded the Rapidash to head for the arch in the entrance of the Kessig village. As Rächerstall had told him, Cindergale was still a young horse, but this did not keep her from being fast just as any experienced steed would be. Tiberius barely heard the sharp hollow sounds a Rapidash’s hoof would make, especially since Cindergale was striking cobbled pavement. In a matter of seconds they arrived at the stone arch; the two guards in dark green coats were asleep, although not for long, as Cindergale’s full stop had produced a brisk jarring sound against the cobbled road.

    The two men stood bolt up right; the first one held his talisman immediately and the other raised his guardstaff.

    “Slacking off on the job, I see,” said the scarf-muffled sound of Tiberius’ voice. “I’d very much like it if my belongings would now be returned to me.”

    If Tiberius wasn’t already intimidating for the guards, he was mounted on an equally frightening steed. The Harvest Moon cast a red light over the man and his horse that it really was a fear-provoking sight. So the two guards wasted no time in returning the weapons back to their owner. The second guard really was glad inside to get rid of the horrible contraptions.

    Tiberius fastened the crossbow and the silver spear onto his back, placed his rapier to the scabbard strapped beside his leg, and returned the four-inch dagger and his revolver to their respective pockets. He took no more notice of the guards afterwards, who were praying that he’d leave them alone. The Beast hunter was looking at the Harvest Moon, staring at the symbolic patches on it which formed the vague shape of a Togetic. He produced a canteen from the chest pocket of his leather jacket, and like before, pulled down the bearskin scarf so he would be able to drink from it. After doing so, he returned the small container and fixed his scarf once more. He gave a look back at the stone arch and the gargoyle statues of Golem which held its columns on both ends, raised his hat at the trembling guards, and took off.

    There would be no more time for detours; the Beast hunter knew that well, so he decided to take the well-traveled route of Angel’s Way. It was the fastest road from the Kessig province to the High City of Thraben, which was the capital of the province of Gavony and also the largest city in Pokéstrav. Thraben, also called the Walled City, served as the seat of the Avacynian Church in all of Pokéstrav. Angel’s Way was a more straightforward road than what Tiberius had remembered, so it cut off some hours on the half-day exodus he had expected originally. While the scenery changed quickly from the Kessig wilderness to the green pastures of Southern Gavony, the dark Pokéstrav night also transformed into a surreal, foggy dawn. After riding with Cindergale for nearly five hours straight, the Beast Hunter decided to stop and rest near a wooden shrine by a wide-branched elm tree. Tiberius got off the fiery back of the Rapidash (which felt merely like the wind brushing on your skin), and thought that the Lunarch would understand a stop at a Blessed Shrine.

    The shrine, carved out of the stump of presumably another elm tree, was shaped with the Mark of Avacyn, . He tried tying the Rapidash to the tree, but Cindergale would not obey. It seemed as though she avoided going anywhere near the shrine, and when the Rapidash expressed its reluctance by raising the flames of its mane, Tiberius let her go and graze on a patch of grass on the opposite part of the road, adjacent to where the stump was. Some traveler before him had left a rosary and wrapped it around the shrine. Tiberius removed his Argentus Spear and placed it on top of the stump carved to resemble the Silver Collar. The end of the spear shone when it touched the shrine, and became somewhat sharper. The Beast hunter then returned the weapon of silver to his back. He stared presently at the wooden shrine.

    “Avacyn… where are you?”

    The sun was slowly announcing its arrival with modest flashes of its pale gold rays, but the fog still had not completely cleared. And as soon as Tiberius realized it was daybreak, he got back on the Rapidash, and they were once again on the road towards the High City of Thraben.

    It took him another four hours of straight-on horse riding to reach the endpoint of the pastoral meadows of Southern Gavony and the beginning of Thraben territory. Cindergale was living up to the reputation of Lambholt Shire Horses having excellent stamina; Tiberius didn’t have to stop to feed the Rapidash as it refused to eat the Pecha Berries he offered it, and instead seemed to insist that they press on. Perhaps it was the Rapidash’s youth that allowed it to keep going. Just when Tiberius could see the stripe of ivory that was the Walled City beginning to reveal itself in the horizon, the Beast hunter suddenly stopped Cindergale when a cloaked figure came out of nowhere and blocked their path to Thraben.

    The figure, hooded in a cloak of heavy wool, raised one bony finger which was as white as the sands of the beaches in the province of Nephalia. He pointed at Tiberius, revealing a mere length of his patched and withered hand.

    “Hunter…” the cloaked man hissed; his voice sounding like he hadn’t drank anything in years.

    Tiberius unsheathed his rapier and raised it against the hooded man, who backed away as soon as he took notice of the dried splotches of red on the Beast hunter’s blade. The man retracted his finger and bowed face down to the ground.

    “Milord, have pity on this unfortunate leper…”

    “Save it for a shrine and get up,” said the Beast hunter, after returning his sword to its scabbard. “Make way.”

    Tiberius gestured the cloaked man to move away from the road. The man got up but did not step aside, however.

    “Oh, but first,” the leper said in his dry, throaty voice. “You would want to see what I offer you, hunter.”

    Tiberius showed no apparent interest in the leper’s words. But before the Beast hunter could go around him, the strange man made some gesticulations with his hand in the air, conjuring a small, swirling vortex of purple energy which looked like a black hole ripping through reality. Then the leper said a word in a language Tiberius had never heard before, and from the miniscule black hole emerged a small runestone which the cloaked figure caught in his palm. The vortex promptly disappeared into nothingness.

    The leper held out the runestone and showed it to Tiberius. The runestone was shaped like a leaf or a raindrop, and had a circular inscription carved into its front, which glowed purple. There was a smaller inner circle to the symbol, and a vertical line passed through the two circles. There was also some script below the circle, which spelled the word ‘Kobold’ in an old Pokéstravian writing:

    “What is this magic?” Tiberius asked hesitantly; his hand ready to draw his rapier at any second. “By Avacyn! You are not under the Skirsdag Cult, are you, hermit? Answer rightly and I shall save you from the wrath of my rapier!”

    “No, no!” the leper defended, quickly revealing his disfigured arm. A burn in the shape of the Silver Collar was stamped on the man’s infected arm. “See? I’ve been blessed with the Mark of Avacyn…”

    Tiberius was skeptical with the leper, but he decided he would hear what the man had to say. “What do you want of me?” he asked.

    The cloaked hermit tried to move closer to show the runestone to the Beast hunter but his steed moved away on its own accord. So the leper had to keep his distance from Cindergale lest face a nasty trampling. “It would be you, hunter, who would want something from me.”

    “Stop with your antics and get on with it,” Tiberius exclaimed.

    “Surely, surely…”
    here the mysterious leper threw the runestone at the Beast hunter, who caught it smartly. Tiberius couldn’t help feel relieved he was gloved. The leper noticed this and assured him, “Not to worry, milord… the Mark has…stopped my infection. My sickness can no longer spread…”

    “And this runestone? What exactly does it hold prison?” the Beast hunter said while expecting the magical object.

    “Ah,” the leper began; his voice dry and hoarse like before. “I would not say ‘prison,’ milord… but rather, ‘contain’—like any capturing rune does… It holds a Sableye, bred from the cavern Kobolds of the Stensia province. It’s said they’re excellent protection against curses… Folk would say they can remove anomalies in one’s body—but not physical ones, no, otherwise I would have had it completely rid me of my sickness—it draws out negative energies and spiritual corruptions… In essence, it would channel all the evil in you, transfer it unto itself, and make you pure—”

    Tiberius interrupted the leper’s narration. “Not even the Angels are pure.”

    The leper managed a cracking laugh. “Ha ha, well, that is what folk would say anyways…”

    “You seem to need it more than I do,” the Beast hunter remarked.

    “However, I would not choose to be pure if it meant I’d die of starvation, milord,” the leper confessed, and for the first time Tiberius felt a bit sorry for the man.

    “How much for the stone, then?”

    “Only three crowns for the fine hunter, ha ha,” the man muttered. “It should be enough to last me the day, at least…”

    Tiberius tossed the leper a golden coin. He also handed him a small pouch filled with the pink Pecha Berries Cindergale refused to eat. “Have a sovereign. These berries are yours too.”

    The cloaked man received the payment and the pouch of berries eagerly, although Tiberius couldn’t really tell what the old man looked like, because the cloak’s hood kept concealing the leper’s face. The Beast hunter pocketed the runestone, putting it with Cindergale’s in his left chest pocket. By this time, Cindergale was raring to go; Tiberius noticed her body was becoming warmer too. So before he let the Rapidash’s flame heat to its actual temperature, Tiberius went around the leper and rode for Thraben once again; the sun now extinguished the misty fog that seemed to cover up the atmosphere just a few moments ago.

    Tiberius did not know it, but the leper chased the Rapidash with his eyes. The cloaked man muttered to himself when the Beast hunter was already far away. “Such outward kindness… from something so horrible within… ha ha…”

    * * *

    MINUTES after his encounter with the cloaked leper, Tiberius, riding on Cindergale, had finally reached the Walled City. Thraben was situated on an extremely wide, grassy mesa which overlooked an equally great mass of water called the Lake of the Togetic. Trees dotted the hill around it, creating a perfectly picturesque environment. The eastern part of the mesa juts out over a waterfall, and this is where the holy Cathedral of Avacyn stands.

    The lake was named that way since the olden days when flocks of the white flying creatures would stop at the lake before they left to continue their migration. Since recent time, however, the visitors of the lake would scarcely come; one would need a great amount of luck just to find a single Togetic feather (which were used to make a salve for the treatment of minor injuries) floating on the lake’s crystal waters.

    Another cliff west of where the whole city of Thraben was located had a giant, pointed obelisk made of Blessed Silver erected to its edge. It was the Helvault, an impressive and mysterious monument towering over the Walled City. Old wives’ tales tell that the Helvault was actually a fallen piece of Pokéstrav’s moon, but the Lunarch, who was the head of the Avacynian Church, assured the townsfolk it was just a relic symbolizing the ‘strength’ and ‘fortitude’ (which were his exact words) of the people’s faith in their doctrines. Not many bought this explanation, but it was enough to put the rumors spreading about the Helvault to rest.

    Tiberius focused his gaze, however, on the impressive Walled City. He had been to Thraben a few times before, but the astounding Outer Wall was still a marvel to look at.

    The Outer Wall was Thraben’s main defense against the horrors of Pokéstrav; its ivory colored wall of fortified stone circled the entire perimeter of the city and was at least three mature oak trees high. Layers of invisible holy wards also reinforced the strength of the Outer Wall, so that no ordinary magic user would be able to breech Thraben’s defenses so easily. Two large silver gates served as the front entrance to the city, and it was where the wardmagics were strongest. High above the top of the Outer Wall were three equally spaced bells placed on their respective platforms. The bells were large and required one bell-ringer and an Ambipom each to sound them. Each of the bells had different symbols depicted on them: the first one had a picture of a white crystal on it, the next one had a flaming sword on its bronze surface, and the last bell, which was made of silver, had three feathers forming a fan on its facade. The space left on either side of the three bells all had statues of different Angels; some were poised as though they were in flight, while others had swords much like the one on the bronze bell raised as if in battle.

    The Beast hunter noticed there was something happening near the bells. And as soon as he looked more closely at the first bell, he realized what was about to happen—some seconds later the first bell-ringer and his Ambipom took turns striking the bell. The human did so with his bell hammer, while the purple-furred primate struck the bell with its two prehensile tails which looked like cream-colored balloon gloves. It wasn’t clear which of the two produced a louder sound, because each blow to the bell created high-pitched resounding bangs.

    A flock of passing Taillow and Swellow got disoriented with the bell’s loud ringing; the blue-feathered birds’ V-shape formation bursting into random individual paths.

    Tiberius wasn’t affected at all by the sound, however; it might have been because of the Ursaring scarf he was wearing which covered his face aside from his eyes. He had to get off a panicked Cindergale, though, and calm the fire horse down until the bell-ringer and the Ambipom were finished with their job. It lasted around ten seconds more, and when the echoes of the bell’s sound died out in the wind, the dark-colored Rapidash was again at ease. The bell-ringer and the twin-tailed Ambipom went back to their stations. Tiberius knew very well what the bell-ringing was about—it meant that the morning mass had finished, that the Praising of the Alabaster was done for the day. This also meant that he was three hours early for the original half-day journey he had assumed before accounting for the directness of Angel’s Way and Cindergale’s incredible stamina.

    He guided the black-colored horse for the silver gates, where seven soldiers were standing guard, vigilantly. They looked sterner than the ones back at Krallenhorde, and wore armor as white as pure porcelain with gold trim rather than the dark-green button-up coats the Kessig guards had on. The provincial Coat of Arms was imprinted on their chest plates—it was the picture of two Togetic holding up the Mark of Avacyn, otherwise known as the Silver Collar. Their expressions exuded absolute authority; as if they would not let even the wind to enter Thraben if their lives depended on it.

    They each carried an Argentus Spear, like the one Tiberius owned, except the end of the Beast hunter’s weapon was pointed while the soldiers’ was shaped to resemble Avacyn’s Mark. Apart from the seven guards, there were also two Gallade protecting the gates of Thraben; the gladiator-like creatures wore the same white and gold plating the soldiers had. They didn’t have to wield Argentus Spears; their long and slender sword-like arms were already formidable weapons on their own.

    Tiberius guided his steed towards the soldiers and the Gallade. It seemed quite reluctant to go near the men, so the Beast hunter had to drag her by the reins. Only one of the soldiers broke their row formation. He was the one in the middle of the two Gallade in the center of the soldiers. When he approached Tiberius it became clear that he was no ordinary soldier, in fact, with the distinguished bicorne hat he was wearing, he was no soldier at all. He was, in fact, the head of the Parish-blade: the military force in charge for the protection of Thraben and its cathedrals, or in some cases they served as escorts to the Lunarch or other members of the clergy on roads during travels.

    “Tiberius Gravenholt, I presume?” the Parish-blade elite said, approaching the Beast hunter while holding out a hand for him to shake. “The Lunarch has been expecting you!”

    The pale man had long yellow hair which streamed from the back of his bicorne like a waterfall of molten topaz. His eyes were deep cobalt, and seemed to be riddled with resentment towards someone.

    “Er, Commander…” Tiberius replied in his deep voice, while he took the elite’s offer.

    “But of course!” the Commander smiled smartly. “I’m the newly appointed ‘blade-elite. I’m MacBarrens. Commander Eldroy MacBarrens.”

    “Commander Aurelius’s replacement, I see,” when Tiberius had said this he felt MacBarrens’s grip tighten, then immediately withdrew his hand. The Commander’s smile vanished from his face.

    The mention of his predecessor’s name threw off MacBarrens’s focus for a second.

    Ex-Commander,” he corrected, restraining himself of an angry outburst. “Besides, that bastard Fanghart had it coming to him. Got the boot when we were escorting Bishop Solomir the Soft to a conclave meeting in Lambholt three weeks ago… Fanghart tried to attack the old man—it was night and the moon was just rising so I couldn’t see what was happening exactly—but it was a good thing I was there…”

    Tiberius saw two or three of the soldiers, still in formation, wince in disapproval when MacBarrens emphasized his presence during the attack, as if hinting that they were also with the new Commander when it happened despite of his exclusive story.

    “…anyway, the Bishop was happy enough to promote me to Commanding Elite.”

    The Beast hunter had enough of the Commander, so he thusly spoke, “Well then, Commander Eldroy MacBarrens, as much as I would like to hear more of your fascinating triumph over an old friend of mine, or ‘bastard,’ as you have branded him, the Lunarch needs to see me.”

    There was such finality to the tone of his voice that the aura of authority MacBarrens had seemed to dissipate around Tiberius.

    Eldroy gestured for the soldiers to open the massive, lustrous gates. Three of the soldiers carried on with opening the physical barrier, removing enchanted chains and locks with spells known only to them and the clergy, while the other three, with their Silver Collar-shaped talismans held up high, proceeded to consecrate the Beast hunter with sanctifying charms so that he would be able to pass through the hundredfold layers of wardmagics which protected Thraben.

    The soldier mages also needed to put charms on Tiberius’s steed, but when they approached the black fire horse it reacted violently and raised its front hooves up before landing them into the road which created a loud stomp.

    “This one here’s not tame enough,” said one of the soldier mages.

    “You’ll have to keep her here unless you’ve got her capturing rune,” added another.

    Tiberius then remembered that Rächerstall also gave him Cindergale’s capturing rune before he left, and that he put it in his left chest pocket along with the other rune he bought from the leper.

    “Right,” the Beast hunter said promptly after taking out the magical stone.

    The Rapidash’s runestone also had the same symbol as the one etched in the other one Tiberius bought, except it was glowing hot red instead of ethereal purple. The rune was rectangular in shape and rather than having the inscription of ‘Kobold’ under the symbol, it had the writing ‘’ on it. It was different from ancient Pokéstravian, and translated to ‘Phlegon.’

    Tiberius took out the small rectangular piece of stone and held it; arm stretched, and directed it towards Cindergale. The symbols and the writing on the runestone glowed more intensely, and in a flash of red it transformed the Rapidash’s figure into a mist, and then drew it inside. The Rapidash’s essence was stored successfully into the runestone.

    With the Lambholt Shire Horse in its runestone and the silver gates opened, Tiberius walked into the Walled City. He was followed in by the two Gallade.

    “I won’t be needing guidance,” Tiberius said curtly, to the two gladiator-like creatures that were now looking at their Commander.

    Eldroy responded to him, “It is Thraben procedure. Outlanders seeking the Lunarch are required to be escorted to the Cathedral. They will have to come with you or we won’t allow you to go.”

    “And that is just the case,” Tiberius said, his scarf still muffled his already low voice. “The Lunarch sought me, Commander.”

    And with that he left the soldiers and the Gallade; MacBarrens muttered to himself, quite annoyed, and decided he would not be fond of seeing Tiberius again.

    The Outer Wall was a good twenty feet across, so Tiberius spent some steps before he was able to see a plaza which was the immediate sight upon entering Thraben, if not for another wall. The place wasn’t called the Walled City for nothing—before he could even see or set foot on the plaza, another great wall greeted him coldly, although this wasn’t as impressive as the Outer Wall. It was known as the Merchant’s Wall and served as the entrance to Thraben Square, and was erected at a lower height and was thinner by two or three columns of stone compared to the one that came before it.

    The Merchant’s Wall was guarded this time by eight soldiers and two muscular creatures which had four grey arms. The creatures were a pair of Machamp, and they also wore armor which matched the rest of the Parish-blade. They were already raising the entrance to the wall which was a spiked gate and were removing the magical barricades that bound the entrance together. Tiberius thought that Eldroy must have somehow signaled them too, or perhaps when the Outer Wall closes it was already protocol for them to open the Merchant’s Wall as well. The Beast hunter didn’t dwell too long on the matter and walked into the square the moment the soldiers, with the help of the two Superpower Pokémon, were able to let him in.

    Thraben Square was the densest part in the city. Over half of the city’s population was made up of artisans, traders, merchants and peddlers. It was clear that the poor outnumbered the affluent inside the Walled City (although this was probably true for most of the cities and villages in Pokéstrav). A large number of people just began to crowd the whole plaza since the morning mass had just finished.

    It wasn’t enough to take a single glance at the Square. There were shops selling meat and other produce, shops selling freshly harvested crops, stalls selling various items, trinkets and souvenirs and strange silver oddities that Tiberius hadn’t seen before. Remnants of old walls and defense lines were present and divided the square into sections.

    At the center of the square was a magnificent statue of an angel, albeit it was already quite old and weathered. The angel carried what appeard to be the most intricate Argentus Spear Tiberius had ever seen. Her hair was long and her wings put the statues of the angels the Beast hunter saw outside near the three bells of the Outer Wall to shame. She was also riding a stone Togekiss which was larger than average compared to a real one. The Silver Collar tattooed the wings of the stone Togekiss. There was something so regal and majestic about her, yet she also radiated a sense of struggle and at the same time hope… It was quite difficult to fully interpret what the great angel felt; but perhaps this was because it was only a marble statue. There was a plaque nailed to the lower part of the statue, and it read: “High Archangel Avacyn, Angel of Hope.”

    Shops and stalls continued to greet Tiberius as he walked down the square. There were cheap wardscrolls stamped with Avacyn’s Mark, talismans which were piled on the desks of some stands, charts and calendars of the Pokéstrav moon, copies of holy texts and other sorts of Lunarch-approved books, ranging from the titles ‘Keeping Superstitions and False Rumors at Bay’ to ‘First-aid Exorcisms: What to do Before a Cathar Arrives.’

    But what really caught the Beast hunter’s attention was a store selling a variety of weapons and other sorts of armaments inside. It was located before another shop which sold Blessed Collars and runestones for Pokémon. There was a large, olive-green sign on top of the shop’s doors. Emblazoned in vibrant red writing was:

    ‘Geistcages’…” he read silently in his mind.

    Tiberius would have probably walked into the shop to have a look at ‘all the fiend-hunting needs’ inside the store, but when a crowd of people blocked his way and view of the weaponry shop, he gave it up and walked away without any resentment in his expression whatsoever.

    He continued walking until he reached the end of Thraben Square, passing by the different stalls and shops while avoiding the numerous things merchants offered him along the way. He remembered the leper, and had enough of it for the day. At this point the road branched off to three, one narrowly stretched on to his left, another to his right and a wider cobbled road extended to the center. There was a metal post in the middle of the roads, and wooden arrows were hung on it. According to the wooden arrows the road on the left led towards a place called Fang Wall, the right road went on to the Bloodless Wall, and the center arrow indicated that it would lead to Pauper Village.

    Some would consider the Fang Wall and the Bloodless Wall as places of horrifying brutality—‘some’ referring to werezoarks and vampires, mostly. The Fang Wall was the extension of the western part of the Outer Wall and it was where apprehended werezoarks were executed. After Cathars, or the Holy Knights of the Avacynian Church (they were above the rank of the Parish-blades), ‘extinguish’ the beasts, their fangs are removed and are shoved in the crevices of the wall, giving it the name.

    Likewise, the Bloodless Wall, which was the extension of the eastern Outer Wall, was a place of execution too, but not for werezoarks: this was where vampires were chained and left to die of starvation, or, as every true vampire would die of, burning by sunlight. Presently, Tiberius walked towards the center road. Pauper Village was the village proper in Thraben, and where most of the High City’s population resided. Rows of different houses lined the street, and more rows of settlements crammed the backs of the first row still. It reminded the Beast hunter of a more packed Krallenhorde. Some houses were made of brick; others were small and were made up of cheap wood. Few had glass windows and most of the doors were propped up or locked, partly because most of the villagers were still busy buying, selling or trading at the Square or perhaps the Lunarch’s security regulations were quite strict.

    The street was empty except for some people who were already returning from Thraben Square, carrying with them their purchases. There were also some Meowth walking on the pavement; the cream-colored feline-like creatures scanned the cobbled street on all fours for any shiny object they could find. One Meowth was standing guard on the threshold of one of the houses in the village, and had a Silver Collar talisman around its neck.

    The morning sun was shining greatly, although the day was breezy. Tiberius continued walking further into the Pauper Village. He came to a stop when the rows of houses diminished in number, as Thraben’s last great wall blocked his path presently—it was the inner wall of the High City, which was colloquially known as Child’s Wall. It was nearly as tall as the Outer Wall and was also equally as strong. It protected the Grand Cathedral of Avacyn and the number of schools inside, along with Cathar-training grounds, the Parish-blade’s base, and the upper-class villages.

    Child’s Wall was a famous pilgrimage site in Pokéstrav, and it was called this way because the wall’s surface was inscribed with thousands of names of children. Many parents make it a habit to visit Thraben a year after their child’s birth just so they could write their child’s name on the wall. It was their belief that doing this would bless their children and appoint them a guardian angel from one of Avacyn’s three Holy Flights.

    Like the rest of the great walls of the High City, Child’s Wall was no exception from being guarded. The soldiers this time were more impressive than Tiberius’s last two encounters. It even seemed as though they were higher in rank than Eldroy MacBarrens. This time, there were ten of them, and they all wore the same white and golden armor with Gavony’s Coat of Arms, but unlike the other soldiers back at the Outer Wall and the Merchant’s Wall, the soldiers of Child’s Wall also wore flowing green capes. Each of them held long Argentus Spears and green and white banners depicting Avacyn’s Mark was draped on the weapons of Blessed Silver.

    In addition to this, each of the ten soldiers had a large winged familiar standing vigilantly on their sides; the winged creatures had the same green and white banner attached to their wings. The winged creatures stood almost as tall as the armored men, and they could clearly be ridden if the soldiers needed aerial flight.

    Namely, five of the winged creatures were courageous looking Braviary, while the other half was composed of majestic Pidgeot. The dark red and navy blue-feathered Braviary and the tan and glossy-feathered Pidgeot all looked like unflinching stewards, ready to defend the entrance to inner Thraben at all costs.

    “I’m the Beast hunter,” Tiberius spoke with an air of grave seriousness.

    For a while none of the soldiers responded; not even the Braviary or the Pidgeot gave any notice to Tiberius. But then, one of the men spoke, and without breaking their formation he said, and quite sternly too,

    “The Lunarch would have sent you an emblem by Fearow. Present it before entering Inner Thraben.”

    Tiberius retrieved the emblem from the inside of his black-striped, tan-colored leather jacket, and held it up so that the soldiers may see it, although none of them actually looked at it directly. The Silver Collar-shaped emblem glowed brightly, and then the soldiers and their winged companions stepped aside; revealing a wide, ornate door decorated with etchings of Togetic and angels. It was clearly enchanted—when the emblem Tiberius was holding ceased to glow, the carvings of the angels and the Togetic started flying into different positions on the door, and when the carvings were satisfied with their new arrangement, the door began to open slowly.

    It was a rather quiet process as the Beast hunter entered; the soldiers didn’t breathe a word while Tiberius did the same. Only the slow creaking noise of the enchanted door and music coming from a harp which was played by one of the etched angels was heard.

    Tiberius walked in as he returned the emblem inside his Krokorok coat. When the Beast hunter was near the wall he couldn’t help notice one of the thousands of names scribbled on Child’s Wall. The name appeared to be half-slashed by something which hit the stone. Tiberius was able to make the name out, however, as ‘Leonarda Merrybeth Rächerstall.’

    It was either the runestones in his pocket became heavier or he felt a sinking feeling bothering him from the inside of his chest when he saw the name. Tiberius shook his head and loosened his scarf, and when he was at a good distance away from Child’s Wall he heard the enchanted door close by itself.

    At last, the Beast hunter had finally reached Inner Thraben. He would have to walk past the upper class village and then the Elgaud Training Grounds, which was the academy that trained Cathars and other warriors-of-the-light serving under the Lunarch, in order to get to the Cathedral.

    The upper village was very different from the one Tiberius came across after Thraben Square. It wasn't nearly as large and as populated, so the houses weren't all clustered together, in fact, Tiberius noticed the buildings were erected far from each other. The houses were quite grand; almost all had chimneys and large, arched and colorful windows, while some of the houses even had gems of sorts embedded on the door. There were a few remarkably built gazebos here and there, and one house had an ornate Gyarados fountain on its yard.

    If Pauper Village was quiet because the residents were flocking to the Square, this one was near silent as well—no doubt the wealthy occupants of these houses would currently be attending the Village Council's meeting, which was held weekly after the morning mass inside the Chapel of Noble Peers, where they would decide (upon the absence of the Lunarch and his lesser clergymen, which was quite often) how best to distribute the riches they have acquired from endless taxes and tariffs put on the residents of the lower-class village. Living in Pokéstrav's most protected city required more of golden sovereigns than faith in the Avacynian Doctrine. The council members would discuss the most pressing of matters concerning the village, such as which brand of wine was to be served on the next meeting, or which house should be decorated next with new diamonds—of course no one took notice of the irrelevant records of the lower class villagers' complaints, mostly because they were incredibly absurd!

    How ignorant of them to request lower taxes, how dare they complain about inefficient wardscrolls, and why—in Avacyn's Holy Name—would they worry of geist hauntings, of werezoark attacks, or even threats of ghouls or vampires breeching the Outer Wall? Thraben is the strongest fortress of a city in Pokéstrav! If the place wasn't safe from every lurking horror or drifting phantom, then, by Avacyn, nowhere in all of Pokéstrav is!

    And indeed, the members of the Council, mostly composed of politicians, wealthy aristocrats and the like, settled the meeting with the following conclusions: Kessig Brandy would be served next week, and that a certain MacBarrens's house would be 'jeweled-up' upon request of Lady MacBarrens.

    The wind blew harsher as Tiberius passed the upper village, and with his Argentus Spear and crossbow tightly fastened to his back, he marched onwards to get past the Cathar academy.

    The Elgaud Training Grounds, also called "the Academy" for short, was founded by Elgaud the Extinguisher during the term of the sixth Lunarch, and was mostly made up of a far-stretching, fenced, rectangular field with only a few buildings for which the basic training and class lectures were held. The field, of course, was used as sparring grounds between the Cathars-in-training against beasts specially summoned by the Head Cathars to serve as combat practice. Testing holy wards, runestones and other forms of banishing or binding magic were also practiced here.

    Tiberius, however, was never under the teaching of any Elgaud instructor. He was a Beast hunter—there was no time for complicating things when faced with real danger—just find a monster's weak spot, he reckons, and then slice, smash, shoot or flay it off. He has it methods—it got him this far—he believed firmly there was nothing the prestigious academy could teach him that he didn't already know.

    It currently came to Tiberius's attention that there was no sparring happening nor magics being cast on the grounds—in fact it seemed the Academy was completely deserted. Being more or less against the institution he walked by quickly, ad the Cathedral of Avacyn just lay overhead, sitting on a hill at the end of a snaking road.

    The air was becoming reminiscent of freshwater as Tiberius neared the Cathedral since the Lake of Togetic was located just behind it, just past the back part of the Outer Wall. The wind was becoming a bit colder as well; a sure sign that the autumn season would soon give way to the Hunter’s Moon, in which the blood-orange color of Pokéstrav’s only natural satellite would turn to a forbidding yellow, resembling a werezoark’s eye and heralding the start of winter.

    Now, Tiberius stood in front of the holy infrastructure which towered over him at a height of at least one hundred twenty feet. The Cathedral’s facade, built from sanctified silver, lunar-marble and moonstone by ancient architects, greeted the Beast hunter. It was the most ornate part of the Cathedral’s exterior, with its three processional doors (each bearing the crystal, sword and feather symbols Tiberius saw on the bells up at the Outer Wall) and a myriad of whiterock sculpture and stone tracery decorating it. The facade had a large stained glass window, which served as its central feature, depicting a scene where the Angel of Hope was carrying her Argentus Spear while a Togekiss was flying by her in its multicolored shards. Paired towers framed the facade of the Cathedral which sported a wide porch which had a staircase on either side, by which the procession entered and exited.

    Tiberius made no effort to remove his tawny hat as he walked for the marble staircase leading towards one of the Cathedral’s doors. With his gloved hand he reached forward to grab a stylized, silver knocker, but to his surprise he found himself experiencing something strange; it felt to him like he was being put under a trance again, like the one he experienced back at Krallenhorde…

    The sensation shifted now; he felt like his being was being vanished, or rather, transported… Perhaps there was an enchantment on the doors just like Child’s Wall? But he hadn’t even touched the knocker… He was conscious while this was happening, yet he felt nothing—he tried to move his arms and reach for the door, but he failed in doing so—he realized he was paralyzed as he wasn’t even able to open his eyes when he had blinked a second before all of it happened.

    A swishing sound rung in the hunter’s ears, and after another second the silver and marble facade of the Cathedral, the colorful center window and the ornate door vanished, slowly dissolving from his sight, his environment slowly changing into an open courtyard with rows of different berry trees lining its sides—

    By the time he noticed the Aspear and Cheri Trees, he realized his eyes were open again, and his body allowed him movement as well.
    He found himself in the position he had been when he made to reach for the Cathedral door’s silver knob, his back bent forwards and one hand stretched. He tried to stand up straight but found it impossible; he was only able to look upwards, for a thin, although unquestionably sharp sword had been pointed at his Ursaring scarf-covered neck. There was a gloved hand holding the hilt of the silver blade, and Tiberius could make out half the crescent form of a Lunatone hovering beside the figure; its yellow-rock body clashed easily against the line of green from the berry trees ahead.

    “Get up,” a young, female voice said, whom Tiberius quickly found out was the wielder of the silver sword as he slowly looked up higher, carefully, but had no intention on obeying her command whatsoever.

    The girl struck Tiberius as being too young to be even wielding an Argentus Halberd; she looked to be in her teens, had long silvery-blonde hair and was wearing Elgaud uniform, embellished with a maroon Mark of Avacyn which flowed down to her skirt. She had tied a dust-pink piece of banner just below her waist, so that it formed a knot on one side and two waving pieces of cloth in the order. Tiberius was now also able to see the full form of the crescent-shaped creature floating on the girl’s left, and it came to his attention, too, that there was another creature perching on her right shoulder: round-bodied and green-feathered, it was a Natu who had seemed to have just finished using its psychic powers, as the hunter saw a mysterious light fading from the bird’s mysterious eyes.

    “I said get up,” the girl repeated even more sternly than before.

    “Where’s the rest of the class, girl?” Tiberius spat gruffly. The girl undoubtedly was offended by the hunter’s remark; she let out a light gasp and seemed to loosen her grip on her weapon.

    Tiberius thought that this was his chance—he could reach for his Argentus Spear and deflect the girl’s sword while her hold was loosening—but it only lasted for a fleeting second, as the hunter felt the tip of the silver blade prodding lightly into his throat.

    “I’ll have you ruffian know that I graduated three years ago from the Academy!” the blonde girl said indignantly. “Now get up! I wouldn’t want to spill blood on the Cathedral’s court—hands up!”

    The young Cathar exclaimed when she noticed that Tiberius was attempting to reach his spear. The Beast hunter seemed to have conceded to her demand and backed away from the halberd, his two hands raised as he slowly drew to his full height.

    He was in a half-bow when he realized the girl had dropped her guard; she had lowered down her halberd of Blessed Silver while the Lunatone remained floating beside her as her Natu eyed Tiberius from its perch. Before he could straighten his bow, he took one swift swipe from his back and with impressive finesse he took out his spear, turned once, and brought down the meter-long silver weapon on the girl’s shoulder—

    A resounding klingk echoed throughout the courtyard, as a white aura burned from where Tiberius’s spear had met the girl’s sword—the silvery-haired youth was able to receive the Beast hunter’s strike with her halberd just in time. The Natu flew away in time too, and found its way on top of the Lunatone where it decided to roost itself upon. Tiberius had the upper hand of the duel between the Argentus Weapons; if there were any spectators around they would see a six foot man’s bulk forcing down a weapon against the scrawny form of the girl who defended the blow with a sword nearly as thin as she was. Tiberius, surprised that she was able to resist his strike, released his spear from the clash with a circular, swerving motion, so that the girl had to grip on to the hilt of her sword tightly lest the sudden release of tension would cause her to throw her weapon on the courtyard ground.

    Tiberius took a second-long pause to seize a gaze of his combatant. Though panting, there was determination and a rebellious persistence in her sapphire eyes, which misplaced strands of her light hair tried to hide. Her face was pallid like most of what she was wearing, and her lips curled like a swaying, ocean wave. She now held her halberd with two gloved hands, leaning lopsidedly, as Tiberius attempted to deliver a strike once again, though now he chose to attack in a piercing manner as opposed to his first blow, in which he had brought down the spear onto the girl like a cleaving axe. Tiberius gripped his weapon with both hands as well, and with fearsome agility he drove the spear towards the girl.

    But he had merely succeeded in skewering thin air; the uniformed Cathar reacted lightning fast and ducked just below Tiberius’s spear, and before the hunter could respond he felt the seams of one of his chest pockets getting slashed: the girl had ripped open the pocket containing the runestones of Cindergale and the Sableye he bought from the leper. She had done so without cutting into Tiberius’s flesh—he noticed that the girl’s silver blade had shortened into a dagger. The light-haired girl caught Cindergale’s runestone but let the Sableye’s stone fall on the ground. She rolled forwards, with the Rapidash’s runestone clutched tightly in hand, and regained her footing five feet away from Tiberius’s back. The Lunatone followed her, which was still carrying the Natu on top of its crescent shaped body. The Cathar examined the rectangular piece of stone she was now holding between her thumb and pointing finger.

    “Looks like you’re right, Totem,” the girl said, addressing her Natu, which raised two short wings in response when she had mentioned its name. “There really was something emanating a dark aura from outside the Cathedral after all…”

    Tiberius turned and then realized that it must have been the Natu that had teleported him into the Cathedral courtyard. But what was the girl talking about? If there was something dark he was carrying, it was probably his blood-stained rapier (for he might have severed the limbs of two or three cursed horrors with it before) or the runestone he got from the leper—the old coot didn’t exactly strike Tiberius as completely trustworthy.

    The Beast hunter wasn’t going to let the juvenile scoundrel keep the Rapidash’s runestone, after all, he had promised to return the black firehorse to Leonarda, so he decided to put the leper’s word to the test: he eyed the tear-drop shaped runestone lying inches away from him, and said, in a voice grave with impatience, “Summon, Kobold!”

    The magical stone seemed to come alive when the Beast hunter uttered his words; a purple glow pulsed from it, and seconds later, it released a strange haze taking the shape of a frightening figure.

    “Say-buhl-eye…” the monster said slowly, when the haze had cleared, its voice low and wheezy.

    The Kobold stood humpbacked on two feet and was no taller than the Cathar girl’s knees. Its body was dark purple, and it had fine-cut, glittering diamonds for eyes. It sported a murderous grin on its face, showing rows of knife-sharp teeth. It had slanting, pointy ears, had some gems growing on its chest and back, and its arms were long and rake-like.

    “Schadowbiest,” Tiberius said in a strong, Pokéstravian accent; his spear pointed towards Cindergale’s runestone. “Plündern!”

    The Cathar girl had just caught sight of the Sableye in front of Tiberius; she had been focused on examining the runestone to notice. The Shadow-beast’s dark form vanished into a purple streak—it had lunged mouth open and claws first towards the girl’s hand. The young Cathar saw a reflection of the rectangular runestone she held in her hand in the Sableye’s diamond oculars, and it looked like the Shadow-beast would do everything to reclaim the stone.

    The Sableye swiped for the Rapidash’s runestone—the Cathar was too shocked from seeing the Shadow Beast to respond—Tiberius was sure the Kobold had retrieved the runestone from her—

    But the Shadow-beast was forced to somersault backwards, for the Lunatone floating beside her had intervened and shielded the Sableye’s thieving attempt with a protective barrier, which glowed green and repelled the Kobold’s chance of snatching the runestone.

    “Nice save, Callirrhoe,” the Cathar muttered to the Lunatone under her breath.

    As soon as the green light of the protective shield dissolved, the Sableye readied itself to steal the runestone again. It was cackling madly as it jumped to attack the Lunatone, but this time it found itself stopped by light-magic which didn’t come from the crescent-bodied creature, or the Natu, and the girl surely wasn’t the cause as she hadn’t moved since the Shadow-beast’s first attack—

    Last edited by Morru Magnum; 24th May 2012 at 03:23 AM.

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