Chapter 31: the plot thickens (3)

Paladin Arcurio frowned. He had been searching for the heretic for weeks and while he had occasionally felt a vague aura, he had yet to truly locate his target. He had prayed to Tihr on several occasions in recent days but his god never responded to his prayers. He recalled when Tihr first spoke with him over two months ago and informed him of a heretic who would be coming to the city. Tihr had provided him with very limited information and only said that he would be able to sense the aura of the heretic and that the heretic must be killed.

He wasn’t sure why his god had provided him such vague information. He knew nothing of the capabilities of the heretic other than that he should be able to kill him with the resources available to him. He was well aware that Tihr, his subordinate gods and his allies were in conflict with other deities and that a major conflict was brewing but he wasn’t high enough in the heirarchy or important enough to know the specifics. Due to this, he was the most powerful being available to the Church of Tihr within the city of Andor’s Edge at the moment and it was left to him to resolve this issue.

“Didn’t you say that they would be arriving here just past midnight? We have already been waiting here for hours. I am beginning to grow impatient.”

Knight-captain Krist shuddered at the Paladin’s words which were laced with annoyance.

“Sir, I was assured that they would definitely be coming this way. Those petty criminals would never have the courage to lie to us. With the city gates being watched by our men, there is no way the heretic could escape the city any other way. They will surely be here soon!”

Knight-captain Krist spoke with conviction but it was difficult for him to hide the anxiousness in his heart. He had bet everything on this plan and if the heretic he sought didn’t show it would be the end of his career, perhaps even his life.

Paladin Arcurio frowned with annoyance, “Fine, we will continue to wait but if he doesn’t show within the next hour then you will take responsibility for this mistake. Is that clear?”

“Yes sir! He will definitely come!” Knight-captain Krist pounded his gauntlet against his fist as he spoke.

“Are your men in position? If he does arrive, there can be no mistakes.”

“Don’t worry sir, I placed knights at every possible escape route. There is no way he will be able to escape us and with you here sir, we have no worries.”

“Hmph.. he will certainly die this day if he dares to show his face!” Paladin Arcurio snorted with contempt.

Arcurio suddenly shot a glance towards the tunnel leading to the old ruined church. The Don’s thugs had informed them that they would be leading the heretic down that path to escape into the underground tunnels and so they were waiting in a particular part of the tunnel to ambush them.

The tunnel itself wasn’t overly large but it was enough for four men to walk abreast and it stretched quite far beneath the city eventually leading outside the city itself. Underneath the city of Andor’s Edge was a labyrinth of tunnels, some of which were part of the sewage system while others were various escape tunnels or secret underground smuggling routes.

There was no one who knew the true full breadth of underground tunnels which spanned the city and the tunnels themselves were very dangerous. There were many criminals and other nefarious individuals who often used the tunnels beneath the city. Many also suspected that much of the underground labyrinth may have been ruins from an older civilization so there were even quite a few archaeological digs that took place in the past.

“What’s wrong sir?”

Seeing that Arcurio appeared to be on high alert so suddenly, Krist couldn’t help but ask.

“He’s finally arrived. I can sense his degenerate presence from here. Quickly now, let’s give the heretic a warm welcome.”

Arcurio gripped his blade and unsheathed it slowly while beginning to radiate a powerful aura. His body began to shimmer as angelic wings began to protrude from his back despite the fact that he was wearing such thick plate mail. Krist and his knights had never seen Arcurio’s angelic wings and were momentarily awed by his presence. They had heard stories, but seeing it for themselves filled them with admiration.

Krist led a squad of seven including himself and he had already stationed three of his knights led by his second down a possible escape route while the remaining three stood by his side to face the heretic alongside Arcurio. He didn’t doubt in the least that the force they had prepared would be more than enough for one heretic.

Arcurio was a mighty Paladin which was an advanced class and he was also a Nephilim. Angels were a powerful race of beings that were racially superior to Humans in many ways. Even if Arcurio wasn’t a full Angel, he still possessed some of their racial powers.

Clear footsteps reverberated off the tunnel walls echoing throughout with an occasional splash of a puddle. There was clearly more than one person approaching and they weren’t doing a very good job of keeping silent.

Tch, what carelessness.. Only a fool would walk so carelessly through these tunnels. There are many dangers within..

Knight-captain Krist sneered while standing towards one side of the tunnel which was at an obscured angle from where the footsteps were quickly approaching. Some of the knights under his command eyed him nervously but Krist reassured them with a nod and a hand gesture.

Arcurio stood clearly at the center of the path without any need to hide himself. His wings were already fully outstretched and he hovered slightly above the floor of the tunnel. The tunnel surprisingly had a bit of height to it and there remained quite a bit of room above his head despite hovering off the ground.

It was apparent that this particular tunnel was an ancient pathway and not one which was newly or haphazardly constructed. Further down the tunnel there were even many branching paths and the tunnel also grew larger the further one went down some of the pathways. The tunnel itself was somewhat well lit with patches of dark shadows here and there throughout. It had long been used by the criminals of the city to smuggle in goods which was why the Don and his men were familiar with it.

Even the authorities were aware of the many tunnels beneath the city as It was somewhat of an open secret, but even they didn’t know the length and span of the labyrinthine tunnels or where all the entrances or exits were. There had been movements in the past to fully map and explore the underground of the city but it had never gone anywhere due to the time and costs associated with such an endeavor.

After several moments, the footsteps became much clearer and shadows from the approaching figures could now be scene dancing across the walls as the figures moved between the torches fastened in iron along the tunnel walls. Even though their footsteps were loud and they did nothing to hide their approach, they were strangely quiet otherwise.

Once they reached the area of the tunnel where the knights laid in wait, Krist and his men jumped out from where they were hiding and stood behind them sealing their escape with their weapons at the ready.

“It seems some rats have shown themselves. Why not step into the light so that I can get a good look at you.”

Arcurio called out to the shadowy figures who were only somewhat illuminated by the light within the tunnel. They had stopped in a place in between the light of two torches and were only partially visible. It was obvious that there were two men and one woman but it was difficult to discern their features with certainty. Although, the occasional glint of gold made it apparent that one of the men was wearing a golden mask which fit the description of the heretic that they were made aware of.

The man with the golden mask stepped forward slightly into the light only illuminating half of his golden mask while leaving the other half still in shadows.

A somewhat raspy voice could be heard beneath the mask, “Blue cloak with white stripes over golden mail, symbol of Tihr the god of justice and courage. I believe those belong within the domain of war, a war god. You must be the Paladin Arcurio. Tsk.. Tsk.. Only a mixed breed though. You dare to stand there and look on me with disdain when you are nothing more than a reject.. a castaway. Even your own kind would have none of you!”

The man’s words greatly angered Arcurio who aggressively swung his right arm sidewards, “Silence heretic! Today you have finally landed in my hands. Your life shall be forfeit! Take off your mask and let me see your face. I shall grant you a quick death, more than your kind deserves.”

The man who stood at the forefront chuckled lightly and looked behind him before once more facing Arcurio, “Ah yes, the supposed righteousness and mercy of one who serves Justice. And these must be your subordinates? I wonder Arcurio, how much do you really know about me? Has Tihr deigned to inform you of who.. or what I am?”

“It doesn’t matter who or what you are. You are marked for death, prepare yourself!”

“Did you really think it would be so simple? You thought your plan flawless and that we were just rats caught in your net. How laughable.”

“Enough talk! Kill them!”

Arcurio swiftly flew towards the three heretics while brandishing his blade and prepared to strike out with an ability. He was hovering only a few inches off the ground but his movements were agile and quick and he had no difficulty in maneuvering within the space of the tunnel. The knights that had surrounded the targets also rushed forwards with their weapons. In their eyes, the enemy were already dead.

However, the three they had branded heretics didn’t move and as Krist moved closer he could hear the mutterings of the one with the gold mask, “3.. 2.. 1”

Krist had a sudden feeling of ill foreboding but why he couldn’t say. It was too late to stop their attack as they had already rushed forward and were in the midst of slashing downwards with their blades. The woman among the three heretics who appeared to have blonde hair suddenly rushed forward towards the knights and a loud explosion rocked the tunnel sending debris and dust everywhere.

Another fierce explosion soon followed and a haze of dust and smoke obscured the vision of Arcurio who had no time to slow his movement. A figure jumped out of the smoky haze, leaping towards Arcurio whose blade had effortlessly ripped through the chest of the masked man.

The golden mask hung loose and fell revealing the face of the heretic who was now only mere inches away from Arcurio’s own face.

“Hehehehe… big mistake.”

Arcurio had a sudden realization at that moment that the masked man was not the heretic that he was looking for.

BOOM! A third explosion rocked the once silent tunnel.

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