~ Issue #1: The Wild Cerberus ~
During the rule of Basarab I, in the Northern parts of Wallachia, a lone carriage traveled down the bumpy road towards the small town of Blastika.
The wolves called out to their pack mates, letting them know of their position. This innocent howl, however, sent numbing fear in the bones of the humans who heard them. For them, a pack of wolves could only mean danger and death.
“By God, I hope those beasts won't dare to tread to close to us.” the driver expressed his worry, while the horses neighed in fear.
“Don't worry! We'll make sure you'll stay safe with us!” the warrior inside reassured him as he patted his sheathed sword.
No one wanted to become the next meal of a hungry wolf, yet within the lone carriage stood a boy who didn't even flinch when he heard the piercing howl. He remained calm and kept on listening to the dull sound of the wheels as they turned and hit the passing stones. There was a feeling of emptiness within his stomach, but not enough to cause it to growl like a hungry beast.
To his left sat down a man of around forty years of age, looking strong and gruff. He had the pelt of a bear wrapped around his shoulders, further emphasizing his tremendous physical strength. His gaze was stern and his hands tightly gripped the handle of his big axe.
He sat like this not because he was furious or angry or wanted to look intimidating to the others but rather because he couldn't handle the motion of the carriage too well. More than once, the young boy had to dodge out of his way to let this big man empty the contents of his stomach on the side of the road.
In front of him was a mother with her ten-years-old girl. She didn't like the boy for some strange reason, maybe it was because of how dirty he looked, or maybe because of his unfriendly gaze. Compared to the man sitting on his left, the young boy appeared in the eyes of the little girl like a savage who was set loose from dark depths of the forest and only now was coming into contact with human civilization. His dark-brown hair flowed on his back, covering his shoulders, but it was dirty and the locks stuck together. His hands were covered in dirt, but there were no signs of calluses, which meant that he didn't do any hard work out in the fields. The boots he wore were dirty and stitched together by the hand of an amateur.
The little girl's mother tried not to look at the young boy, while the man who was sitting next to her, tossed intimidating gazes at him once in a while. The man wore a leather armor that had seen better days, it was patched up and stitched up with pieces from other armors, some of which still had the marks of spilled blood on them. On his belt was tied the scabbards of a dagger and a short sword, both of which showed signs of a bad maintenance. In both cases, the leather wrapped around the grip had started to ware off and the pommel was covered with rust.
The rest of the carriage was filled with the merchant's trade goods and the bags of the travelers, but the boy only carried a small pouch with him. Unlike the others, he didn't appear to carry any weapons on him, unless they were hidden within his smelly clothes.
The small town of Blastika was rumored to have good wine and bread. The Boyar who governed it was a noble only in title and carried the name of the town as his own. For the past several years, no one had seen or spoken with him, and many believed he had turned into a recluse inside his own castle. This was all that the young boy knew, that most outsiders knew.
When the carriage arrived at the gates of Blastika, they were told to get out for an inspection. It was a standard procedure.
“What's your name, kid?” the guards asked the boy.
With a furrowed brow, he looked up at him and replied “Cerberus.”
“Weird name, but no family name, I take it?”
The boy shook his head.
“A peasant then. Alright, you can go through.” he told him.
Cerberus entered the town, while behind him, the guards began to question the merchant who brought them here. Not long after he stepped through the gate, the alarm sounded off in the form of bells than rang as loud as they could.
“CLOSE THE GATES!” shouted one of the guards.
The portcullis was dropped with loud thud, and dust rising from the spikes that were impaled in the ground. One guard was left outside together with everyone else.
“Hey! What's going on?” the man with the axe asked.
“I don' know, but it doesn't look good.” the ruffian from the carriage replied as he placed his hand on his dagger.
“Mommy, I'm scared.” the little girl cowered behind her mother.
Only Cerberus remained silent. He turned around and looked at the other side of the main street. Several people were running away, screaming and crying, horrified by something. His eyes caught a strange sight, an injured man who was bleeding from his ripped off neck and slashed right leg jumped on the back of closest townsman and began to bite into his flesh.
It was like seeing an animal of prey take down its target and then feasting on it, but something as strange and savage as this should not have happened within the walls of a town like Blastika.
Cerberus knew in that moment that something dangerous was happening here or rather they arrived at the moment when the peace and quiet of this little town was no more.
“What in the name of the gods is that man doing?!” the man with the axe asked.
“Tch! That's a cursed one, an undead. I thought those things couldn't be found around these parts?” the ruffian pointed out.
“How can you be sure of that?”
“Listen here, I may look like a no-good bandit, but I'm a damn good adventurer! I'm an Adept!” he declared.
“You were an Adventurer Sigrun?” the man with the axe asked with big eyes, furrowed brow and an open mouth.
“Harold's the name, disabling traps is my game. What of yours?” he asked.
“I'm Luka, a lumberjack who wanted to register as an adventurer today. I heard that if I go to Curtea de Argeș as one, I'll have plenty to work there.” he replied with a nod.
“Well, let's chit-chat later, we need to get out of here. Look, they're multiplying.” said Harold as he pointed at the man that had just been taken down by one of the undead.
With a growl and a shabby walk, he got back up on his feet and looked around for a target to hunt. He spotted a woman who was desperately knocking on a nearby door, begging to be let inside. The monster jumped on her and began to eat her alive while she screamed for help.
“Mommy...” the little girl behind them was now crying and trembling from fear, but the mother was in no better shape, she looked absolutely shocked.
“Maria... oh by the gods!” the woman said.
Apparently she knew the victim that just got turned into a meal for a walking corpse.
“We need to find shelter. Let's head over to the Adventurer Guild! Follow...” just as he was about to finish his words, a loud explosion was heard from another part of the town.
The flames began to spread quickly to the nearby buildings, causing panic and chaos as some people tried to flee from the fire, while others were desperately trying to save their belongings and homes.
“T-That explosion... i-it came from the direction of the g-guild!” Harold said in a trembling tone of voice.
“Did the guild just blow up?” Luka asked.
“I don't know. I hope not. Let's go. They might need our help.”
“We... We need to go home. I'm sorry, but I have to make sure my husband is alright.” the mother told the three.
“I understand, but we can't just let you go alone like this.” Luka said as he showed a genuine worried expression on his face.
“I'll go.” Cerberus told them.
“Kid, you don't have any weapon, what can you do if they attack you?” Harold asked with a furrowed brow.
“I'll punch them.” Cerberus said in a serious tone of voice as he showed them his clenched fist.
The two men looked at each other and then back at them.
“I'll come too. My axe is sturdy enough to bash the heads of the undead.” said Luka.
“Tch! Alright, good luck to you four, I'm going to go check with the guild. If there's anyone that can help us now, it's going to be the Adventurers of Sigrun.” Harold told us and then started running in the direction of the fire.
Cerberus followed behind the mother and daughter pair as they guided them through the streets on the left side of the main road. On their way, they saw a lot of people barricading themselves inside their homes, while others were trying to find shelter wherever they could.
Far away, the bells didn't stop ringing and echoed throughout the entire town, letting everyone know of the danger within the walls.
After they passed through several alleys, they finally reached a shabby-looking home near the wall. Inside, a man in his forties was in the middle of barricading his home.
“Dear! I'm back! I'm safe!” the mother called out to her husband.
The man stopped what he was working on and went out to embrace his wife. His daughter shed a few tears as well, as she hugged her father. However, the look in the man's eyes was saying that he would have preferred if they didn't return to this dangerous town.
“You should have remained with your mother.” he told her.
“What do you mean, what's happening here?” she asked him.
“Boyer Blastika has come out of his castle and brought with him all the missing people from the past several months, but they all had skin like ash and eyes red like blood. They growled like animals, and at the sign of the Boyer, they attacked the people. I barely escaped with my life. Marilena, you shouldn't have come here. If only I knew.” he shook his head in sadness.
“Wait, you're saying that Boyer Blastika is the one who is behind all of this? But why?” asked Luka with a dumbfounded look on his face.
“I don't know, I'm just a simple man. I happened to be there because I was returning home from work.” the man replied.
“We should go.” Cerberus turned around and furrowed his brow.
From the house on the opposite side of the street, one of the undead walked out while munching on the leg of a man. There was a visible bloody bite mark on his right shoulder, most likely the source of infection.
“It's one of those things!” said the husband.
“You two, go inside! Now!” shouted Luka at them.
While the family of three rushed to their home, the old man prepared his axe to strike down his foe.
The undead looked at the two for a moment and after he took one more bite out of the leg, he dropped it. With an inhuman growl he then rushed towards them. Luka lifted his axe up, and Cerberus jumped to the side. Before the undead could reach him, he was struck down by the edge of the axe. It cut through his flesh and split his bones, but the monster wasn't dead yet.
Luka kicked him in the chest, sending the undead tumbling back. Before he had a chance to get back up on his feet, Luka attacked him again, but this time, he split his head in half. The undead stopped moving as his body went limp.
“Did that do it?” Luka wondered.
Cerberus nodded in reply.
When they looked up, they could still hear the sounds and cries of humans who were being attacked and then turned by these monstrosities. The smoke from the fire that began to spread on the other side of the town rose up to the sky, blocking the view of the sun.
“What is this madness?” Luka wondered as his hands gripped tightly around the hilt of his axe.
“Let's go.” said Cerberus as he walked around the undead and headed towards the fire.
“Are we going to the guild?” Luka asked as he began to follow him, but he kept his ears perked for any sign of danger.
“How old are you boy? You don't seem phased by this madness.” he asked.
“16... I've seen battlefields before.” he replied.
“Oh? Is that so?” Luka was a bit surprised to hear this, seeing how the only wars he knew of in the recent years were those outside of Wallachia's borders.
However, there was no way that this boy could have joined any of those battles, he was far too young for that. Just taking into consideration the travel distance alone would mean that he ended up fighting from the early age of twelve years old.
The more the two stayed out on the streets, the more the horrors of Blastika began to reveal themselves, but each time, they made sure to either walk around them or wait until the coast was clear. Fighting against two or more of those things was a bit too much for them, or rather for Luka because so far, Cerberus didn't have the chance show his skills.
About half an hour later, the signs of exhaustion were already begin to show themselves on the old lumberjack. His mighty axe was getting damaged as well, for splitting bone wasn't as easy as it seemed. Hitting the head was difficult too, and more than once he was forced to bash them with the pommel.
In the end, they managed to reach the Adventurers Guild, but just as they had suspected, this was the origin of the explosion. The whole building was now gone and the undead were walking around, looking for prey without being bothered by the flames that were eating their flesh. Both Luka and Cerberus were sitting a good distance from them, watching the horrifying sight from well hidden location.
“They blew up the guild... But why?” the old lumberjack asked.
“So that there would be no adventurers to stop Boyer Blastika.” replied Cerberus.
“Do you think Harold managed to escape from this nightmare?”
“No. Look.” the boy pointed at one of the undead.
It was indeed the ruffian-looking adventurer who traveled with them in the merchant's carriage. He face was half-bitten and one of his arms was missing. Just like the other walking corpses around here, he was mindlessly looking for prey to hunt and turn.
“This is terrible. What should we do? I fear my axe won't be enough to slay all of these things.” said Luka.
“I don't know... But we should get away from this place, maybe find a group of survivors?” he suggested.
“Yes, that's... LOOK OUT!” Luka shouted and pushed Cerberus out of the way.
An undead who had been sitting in the shadows jumped out and took a bite out of the old man's arm.
“AARGH!” the lumberjack screamed in pain.
The loud noise and the smell of fresh blood caught the attention of the undead and they began to approach their location. Luka grabbed the monster by the head and bashed it against the ground until its skull cracked, but it was too late, the damaged had been done.
“I'm bleeding... and I'll most likely turn into one of those things.” he said and then coughed up a mouthful of blood “What is this thing... My innards weren't damaged.” he said in shock.
“It's the bite... It's spreading.” Cerberus told him.
“Is that so?” the old lumberjack showed him a smile and then picked up his trusty axe.
“What are you going to do?” the boy asked.
“I'll kill as many of them as I can before I go down myself. You should flee as well... I don't want to end up attacking you.” he patted him on the head and showed him a gentle smile, the type he would have shown his own son.
The lumberjack then jumped out of their hiding spot, revealing himself to the undead.
At the sight of their prey, they let out a fierce growl and rushed at him. The old man prepared himself and attacked them with his full might. Like a rampaging bear, he began to beat up those things, smashing their heads with his fists and cutting them down with his axe. The undead were relentless in their attack as well, as they scratched him and bit him until his own blood covered him.
Cerberus remained there and watched as the old man gave his last breath, taking down two of those things with his trusty axe. His huge body fell on the ground and the monsters attacked him all at once, each taking only one bite out of his flesh before stepping away as though they had lost interest in him.
Unafraid of these creatures, Cerberus walked out of his hiding spot and approached the remains of the old man. Inhuman growls already came out of his throat, but his muscles had been too damaged to allow him to move properly. He had to change some more in order to be able to move without them.
“You fought bravely, old man.” Cerberus said and then stomped on his head.
The sounds of bones cracking under his foot caught the attention of the nearby undead. The first to notice him was Harold. With a growl, he began to approach the teenage boy, who was unarmed and appeared to be far too weak when compared to the other brave warriors trapped within this town.
“Graaah!” the undead groaned as they approached him from all directions, some of them coming out of the nearby buildings.
He was definitely attracting them more than the old man did, but maybe this was because he wasn't bitten yet. Still, Cerberus was just an unarmed teenager, what could he do against so many flesh-eating monsters?
“And here I thought that I wouldn't need to show my claws in this town.” the boy scoffed as a daring smile appeared on his lips.
From each hand, a metallic liquid was pushed from within his forearms through small tunnels in his carpal bones and then out between his knuckles. Once out, the metallic liquid hardened and took the form of three sharp blades that fused within his hand with his metacarpal bones. The blades kept growing until they reached the same length as his forearm from elbow to knuckle.
The boy's weapon of choice were his three blades on each hand that locked his wrists in place for support and were stained by his own red blood.
“It's time to play.” Cerberus said as he crossed his claws at his chest and then jumped towards Harold.
The teenager definitely moved with a speed that would have rivaled some of the best adventurers in town. As he uncrossed his arms, the blades met with the flesh and bone of the undead, but they cut right through it as if it was made out of butter. Their edge was considerably sharper, more so than Luka's axe.
If he was still alive, he would have laughed out loud when seeing the ease with which this child could take down his undead foes while he had to put all of his might in each blow in order to kill them.
With one down, Cerberus didn't stop here and rushed towards the next one. His claws cut through the air and went into the left side of the undead. While he was alive, he was part of the guards who kept watch over this town, but his armor did nothing to protect him from the teenager's attack. The sharp blades went as deep as the spine and severed it.
The undead's upper body fell back, but in that moment, Cerberus made a spin and stabbed his claws into his head, killing him.
Another one approached him from the left, but the boy used his other claws to decapitate him. His opponents were too slow and too easy to kill, but with a single mistake, he could end up finding himself as their next meal.
Pushing himself off the ground, Cerberus jumped over two of them and then turned around to quickly stab them in the forehead. One of them pounced at him from behind, but he quickly struck him in the chest with his heel. The monster fell back and rolled on the ground several times.
Picking up a nearby guard's sword, he used it to stab the fallen undead in the head. From there, he made his way through the monsters, cutting them down left and right, spilling their blood and turning them to pieces. He was heading for the plaza, where the mastermind behind this unholy attack could be found.
Cerberus was faced at the entrance with a knight that had had his stomach ripped out and eaten. His guts were spilling out, but that didn't stop the monster from carrying a huge hammer with which he attacked his enemies.
“GROAAH!” he let out a fierce growl and then attacked Cerberus.
The teenager jumped to the left and avoided the blow. With one slash, he separated the head of the weapon from the handle, causing the undead knight to lose his balance. Using this moment, Cerberus stabbed his claws into his helmet, right in the eye gap. It was a killing blow that stopped all of his movement.
As he took out his claws from his head, Cerberus looked over the plaza. Several knights and countless other undead soldiers were now looking at him, their focus was on the one human who managed to take down one of their own.
“Bring IT!” Cerberus let out a fierce shout and then dashed towards the group of enemies with his claws out, ready to cut them down.
The undead knights released a terrifying howl, while the soldiers rattled their armors. This call of the night pulled in the turned civilians, but no matter how many of them were gathering on this big arena of death, Cerberus showed no sign of fear.
Whatever survivors were left in the area were huddled up in their own little bunkers and prayed to the gods above to turn invisible so that the undead horde wouldn't take notice of them. They didn't try to fight back, they just wanted to survive. Like a bad nightmare from which they couldn't wake up, the simple folk wanted for all of it to go away.
With more and more of the undead monsters gathering around the knights, Cerberus made his way to them by cutting and slashing through the hoard. His claws were made out of a metal far sturdier than their bones and each of his strikes was aimed at their vial points. The boy knew that if he didn't go for the head or neck, the undead would just keep getting up and coming after him.
“Ragyaaa!!!” one of them growled and then lashed out at him.
The boy ducked by rolling to his left, but the claws of the monster managed to land a deep cut on his left shoulder. Sensing the scent of fresh blood, some of the nearby walking corpses snarled and approached him like wolves would a wounded sheep.
A normal teenager would have panicked by now. His movements would have been impaired by the slashed muscles, his injured hand would have been weakened, and his brain would have been flooded with signals of pain and danger, but for some reason, Cerberus kept his eyes focused and didn't so much as flinch when he moved his arm. His claws didn't retract, his hands didn't tremble, and his breathing was steady.
The boy was focused on his next target, like a hunter in the wilds stalking his prey.
With one leap, he got near one of the undead soldiers and slashed him diagonally. The three blades cut through the human bones of his right hand and went through his rib cage and exited through his left shoulder. His right hand and left arm fell on the ground, and in that moment, Cerberus kicked him in the stomach. The force of the blow caused the body to split at the cut, with the upper one rolling in the air. With one more slash from his claws, the head was cut to pieces.
The lower part of the undead was pushed into the one behind him, causing him to stumble back and fall on the ground.
Cerberus dodged a grab from the monster coming from his left and jumped into the one on his right, smashing into him with his shoulder. They both fell on the ground, and the undead tried to take a bite out of him, but the boy's claws pierced his skull.
Getting up from the body, Cerberus crossed his arms at his chest and began to focus his Magic Energy into his claws. His muscles tensed from the effort, and the wound he had received earlier was healing at an unnatural speed. In mere seconds, only the drying blood remained as proof of his former injury. As he felt the flow of energy surging through him, Cerberus revealed a savage grin.
“GRAAA!!!” the teenager opened his arms and released a bestial roar at the sky.
There was a strange red hue covering his body, like the aura of a berserker. To the undead this meant nothing, just a small visual change in the aspect of their meal, but for someone who knew the boy, this would have meant that he was finally getting serious.
With an inhuman speed, he dashed through the undead horde, slashing them left and right, killing them with one blow to the head or a clean cut decapitation. Their bodies fell limp on the ground behind him, but he did not bother to attack the rest of them. All of the weaker ones were mere distractions that delayed him from reaching his actual prey, the knights.
When he finally got close to them, Cerberus grabbed one of the undead soldiers by the neck and tossed him at the armored knights. The monsters sensed the attack and one of them cut the incoming body in half.
Cerberus showed them a smirk and then jumped towards the closest knight.
Confident in his sword and armor, the monster took the boy's attack head-on. Their bodies were all mangled, and some of them were missing a hand or pieces of armor, but decomposition had yet to turn them into ugly fearsome undead. If not for the bite marks and pale skin, they could have passed on as living humans, with hearts that would never beat again.
In his current state, these things could not stop the young Cerberus. His fury granted him a power beyond that of a human, and his claws were fueled with powerful Magic Energy, which made them sharper than anything in the world.
The moment the knight's sword made contact with the boy's claws, the fine steel of the kingdom was cut like a piece of parchment. Not even the thick armor could stop the attack and it was shred to pieces. With another slash, the undead's head flew in the air and fell at the feet of the other knights.
One knight was down, but there were plenty more still standing, ready to fight and kill Cerberus if they could. The boy didn't stop to take his breath. As soon as his ferocious attack ended, he jumped towards the nearest undead and cut his leg at his knees. He evaded the incoming sword attack of another one, and cut his hand at the elbow. As the undead who attacked stumbled back, Cerberus kicked him in the chest and pushed himself back, jumping and landing with the claws from both hands in the chest of the undead behind him.
“RAAA!” with a savage growl, the boy ripped apart the knight's upper body.
One knight managed to land a blow on his shoulder, fresh blood spilled out the wound, but even then the boy remained unfazed. He only turned his head slightly to the left, looking back at the knight from the corner of his eyes. If a glare could kill, Cerberus' could bring down thousands.
With one hand he pushed up the knight's sword and then cut it at the hilt. The undead stumbled back and then had his head split in half by his own blade.
As for the wound Cerberus received from him, it was already healing at a visible rate. In but moments, it would look as though it was never there to begin with.
Out of all of them, only seven knights were left standing with their swords unsheathed and a merciless light in their eyes. Cerberus dashed towards their group and began to cut them down, not caring if he got slashed and hacked by their swords, they couldn't cut his bones like he could theirs.
The undead fell one after another until none remained.
Those were the most powerful ones from the looks of it, but Cerberus was convinced that there was someone more powerful here. He could feel it in the air, the scent of Magic Energy was coming from the castle in this town.
“He's hiding there, my target.” the boy said as he narrowed his eyes at the eerie construction that flowed Wallachia's flags up in the wind.
With a smile on his lips, he ran towards the gates. The small horde of civilian undead weren't even able to stall him for a minute as they were cut down by his claws with swift and precise movements.
Past them was a group of undead soldiers and one knight. They roared and attacked him, but couldn't stop him. The boy was like a blade tornado, going through the meat shields before him and scattering them about sliced and diced.
It didn't bother him that he was cutting down former humans, or that those who came at him were also women and sometimes children. In the boy's eyes, they were just a bunch of undead monsters who would rip him to pieces if he gave them the chance.
On the others side of the town, while he was invading the Boyer's castle, the survivors were having trouble with the undead because for them, these monsters were once people they knew and loved. One thing was to cut down a strange and another was to cut down your own parent or lover. Some of them simply couldn't and had to be saved by others.
For these normal people, the scene of Cerberus cutting down the undead left and right with a smirk on his face would have been absolutely horrifying. They would have seen him more as a monster than they would have the walking dead around him. So it was a good thing none of the survivors were anywhere near the castle now.
Within the Blastika Town, the walls surrounding the castle on the North side were no bigger than three meters tall, and there were no towers to guard it. This area never had to trouble itself with invading forces, so the need for building imposing defenses never showed up. The outer walls surrounding the town, however, were designed to repel invading armies. They were over six meters tall and connected to archer towers. They even had embrasures on the ramparts, through which the soldiers could pour down oil on the beasts that would try to climb up to them.
That being said, the castle had a more decorative function than a practical one. For instance, the entrance doors were big and had two dragons carved on them. They were roaring at one another. Each window was big enough to have an entire horse just jump through, which made them a very difficult point to barricade.
The castle had three floors and three big towers, one on each corner. It was built in the form of a equilateral triangle. There were plenty of rooms inside, and most of the space on the second floor was left for the giant ball room.
The guards who once worked here didn't sleep inside the castle or the nearby barricades, they all commuted from town.
Overall, this building was not designed for war, only to impress the haughty nobles that sometimes dropped by.
For Cerberus, however, none of this made any sense. He looked at the carving and only thought of them as interesting. He looked at the big windows from outside and saw only a good place a thief could sneak through. He looked at the three towers, and he couldn't see their use.
Retracting his claws, he pushed the doors open and took a step inside.
The first thing he noticed after he did so was the stench of death that overflowed from deep within the chambers of the palace. Mold was growing on the castle's inner walls, eating up the paint and covering all that it touched. All the pieces of art that were once a beautiful sight to behold had now been damaged beyond repair, only the sculptures and statues could still be reconditioned if one had the skill and coins to do so.
That being said, it was clear that the Boyer, before this unholy event turned the entire Blastika Town into an undead nightmare, was both an art collector and a man of refined taste.
When Cerberus cast his gaze upon these destroyed art pieces, he didn't see the value that had been robbed by the mold, he saw only an unusual growth that shouldn't have appeared even if the place had been left abandoned.
The stench coming from inside was strong and annoying for his sensitive nose, but also held the traces of death within it. Although it was difficult to breath because of it, Cerberus stepped deeper within the castle, trying to find the one behind this undead plague.
When he reached the first room, he opened it, and inside saw a pile of dead maids stacked one on top of each other in the middle of the room. A big magic circle made out of their blood was scribbled on the floor, and a candle was burning with only half of wick left. On the walls, there were sprays of blood and palm prints that showed the struggle of the maids before they met their end. The horror they felt upon their demise could still be read on their shriveled dry faces.
“Did no one notice these women missing?” Cerberus wondered as he closed the door.
He then tried the other door, but inside, he found a similar scene. There was no sign of the Boyer though, so he was beginning to suspect that he must have been the one who performed some unnatural ritual that brought the living dead into this world.
With every step he took deeper into this castle, Cerberus felt as though the ghost of all those who died here were creeping up behind him. More than once he found himself turning around because he thought he was being watched by someone, but there was no one there.
In every room, he discovered a strange scene of ritualistic death, horses skinned alive, dogs cut into pieces, soldiers cutting their stomachs. It was as though a wave of madness washed over all of those who stepped inside. It was as if life itself was an uninvited guest within the walls of this castle.
Despite the pressure he felt on his shoulders, the creepy creaking wood that echoed on the halls, and the stench that turned his stomach upside down, Cerberus continued to push forward until he reached the ball room of the second floor.
There were two undead knights guarding the door, but unlike those outside, these two had already been turned into walking skeletons. A pair of red flames substituted for their eyes, and a black aura was surrounding them.
Cerberus was ready to fight when he saw them, but instead of attacking, they opened the big doors of the ball room.
“So he's inviting me in, huh?” the boy scoffed and walked inside.
He gave a single glance to the creepy skeleton knights as he passed by them, but they didn't move a millimeter.
Within the big room, a skeleton in a ripped up tuxedo was playing a waltz on the piano. A row of skeleton soldiers were standing in a guard stance near the walls, blocking any escape route with their shields and spears. More than twenty skeleton knights could be seen far in the back.
There, in the middle of the floor, following the slow rhythm of the melody, taking care of each step and moving with the grace befitting of a noble, somebody was dancing with the skeleton of a woman in his arms. Unlike the other undead here, she was the only one who wasn't moving, the only one, who despite her beautiful dress, despite the jewelry that adorned her remains, and the unholy energies surrounding here was not moving at all.
The one who dance, the gentleman skeleton if one may call him that, he wore a black cape, with a tuxedo that looked brand new. His entire body was surrounded by a black energy, a shroud of darkness that seem to extend to all the undead in the room. For eyes he held two black flames that seem to suck the life energy out of everyone he gazed upon.
While the song was still playing, Cerberus approached the creepy couple, but he remained ever vigilant. There were quite a lot of undead here, and the fact that they were skeletons and not rotting bodies told him that they were more experienced and powerful as well.
“Oh, why have the heavens punished me so...” a man's voice echoed all around him.
Cerberus stopped and took a battle-ready stance. His eyes darted left and right, trying to find the source of the voice.
“In life, you were so beautiful, so gentle and sweet, so precious and adorable... You were my light, my hope, my dream... yet death, as vile as it is, took you from me.” he continued, ignoring the boy who had his claws out.
“...” he didn't say a single thing, he only watched, trying to find the owner of this voice, his target.
“Do you know, child? That love is a fleeting thing? Look, when death took her from me, I called upon the soul of the underworld to bring her back, to let me hold her again...” he said and the waltz stopped.
The skeleton noble was holding the woman in his arms, but he was the only one who could move.
“All the souls I called back have returned, only hers remains far away from my grasp... The gods would not let me have her.” he said and then the skeleton gently touched the right side of her skull.
“So then I thought... What if I give the gods sacrifices? What if I sacrifice this entire town to have her back within my arms once more?”
“Sacrifice the entire town? What makes you think that the gods would grant you your insane wish?” Cerberus asked as he narrowed his eyes at the two skeletons in front of him.
“Why?” the skeleton noble looked back at him. “Because all the ancient rituals of blood involve a sacrifice to the gods. You see, when I sacrificed the maids, I was gifted with the ability to turn the living into undead. When I sacrificed my soldiers and knights, I was given powerful necromancer magic. When I sacrificed my animals, I was given the power of the plague. When I sacrificed my own body, I was gifted with immortality... A sacrifice of blood grants me power and with enough power, not even the gates of the heavens can stop me from claiming what's rightfully mine!” he declared and then looked back at the woman skeleton in his arms.
“Just to have her back, you would lay waste to a town?” he asked.
“No.” he shook his head and then looked into Cerberus' eyes with his undead flames. “I would lay waste to this entire world. For me, a world without her is not worth living in.” he declared.
“What makes you think I'm going to let you?” Cerberus asked as he crossed his claws in front of his face.
“Oh? A itsy bitsy little warrior tries to stop me? You and what army?” the skeleton noble asked tilting his head to the left.
Although his voice echoed throughout the entire room, it was clear now that he was the one who was speaking.
“Kill him! I want to turn his metal skeleton into my first metal knight!” he declared.
All the undead in the room now began to move towards the boy, while the skeleton dressed up like a noble picked up the woman in his arms and then walked to the other side of the room. When Cerberus tried to stop them, the other skeletons jumped in his way and began to attack him.
Unlike the undead who were roaming through the burning town, these skeletons were tougher and sturdier than they looked. Whatever magic was cast upon them made their weapons and armors far more difficult to pierce and destroy, forcing Cerberus to use magic as well if he wished to get out of it alive.
With his claws covered in a red hue, he began his assault against the horde of skeletons. Enchanted metal clashed against enchanted metal, casting sparks every time they met, yet Cerberus was the one who won the struggle in the end.
“Khaaa! Why can you defeat us?” one of the knights asked.
“Oh? So you can talk, eh?” Cerberus asked after he cut off his right arm.
“Some of us, yes.”
The skeletons stopped for a moment.
“Why should I tell you?” he asked.
“An undead's curiosity?”
Cerberus smirked and then said “Celestium Alloy Skeleton and Claws.” he said and then sliced his skull in pieces.
Before the light in the knight's eyes flickered away, he spoke his last words “S-so... t-that's... w-why...”
The skeletons resumed their mindless attacks, but none of them were a match for his claws, and any wound he suffered was healed almost instantly. For more than an hour, only the sounds of metals clashing, bones breaking, and skeletons groaning or growling could be heard coming from within the ball room.
When it was finally over, Cerberus stood victorious on top of a pile made out of the broken remains of the undead. His own blood was covering most of his body and his clothes had mostly been shredded to pieces from how he was grabbed and pulled. Only his pants remained to keep him warm from the cold.
“Huff! Huff! Huff!” trying to catch his breath, Cerberus wiped off the blood from his face and retracted his claws.
He then fell on his back on top of the pile and began to laugh. The boy was amused by how hard he had to fight and enjoyed the sensation of being on the edge. If these undead had been normal humans he would have had at least felt bad after killing so many of them, but these monsters were like lifeless puppets, they were moving targets, nothing more and nothing less. The fact that some of them could mutter a few words mattered not for him.
Once he recovered, he got up from the pile and resumed his hunt for the mastermind behind this tragedy, Boyer Blastika. That skeleton he saw before could only belong to the owner of this castle, the master of this town, Lord Blastika. It was rumored that something had happened to him, since he hasn't been seen or heard of for a while. The advance stage of putrefaction the maids and animals were in suggested that the Boyer may have turned into the undead monstrosity that he was right now quite a few weeks back.
As Cerberus made his way down the spooky corridors, where no candle or torch burned to show the way, where the mold ate everything in sight and the floorboards squeaked loud, he saw no traces of undead.
There were no more knights to howl and call upon an army to attack him, no soldiers to jump out of the shadows, and no mangled civilians who crawled through the halls. There was only him there.
Cerberus stopped in front of a window and pulled the drapes aside. What he saw beyond the tinted glass was a town in flames. The fire from the guild spread from house to house, and now they formed a giant campfire from which a pillar of smoke rose up to the sky. The screams of humans who came under attack by the undead had long since stopped as most of them had either gone into hiding or were had been turned into one of them.
The massive loss of life didn't impress him, but deep inside, he still felt sorry for them. They died before they had a chance to fight back, or maybe they were far too weak when compared to the undead horde. The Boyer made a smart move by blowing up the Adventurers Guild. All the powerful warriors and mages were gathered there, and those that remained were scattered throughout the entire town trying desperately to survive.
The gates were closed and there was no way out unless they had some way to survive a jump from the walls. Help was never going to come here. Of this, Cerberus was certain. It would have taken at least four days to send a message to the nearest town, and more than a month for help to arrive. By that time, the entire Blastika Town would have turned into an undead nest. The horde the Boyer would have at his command would trample over all the nearby settlement, growing it bigger until it would have put the entire kingdom of Wallahia in danger if not the whole world.
What Cerberus saw outside the castle's window was the prequel to an undead cataclysm, and he was the only one who could stop it.
Taking out his claws with SLISHT! SLISHT! sound, he continued his hunt for the Boyer, the noble skeleton who sacrificed an entire town in order to bring back his wife.
Cerberus stopped in front of the door at the end of the corridor. He opened it with a loud creak and stepped inside. Red candles cast a dim light upon the entire room, which at a first glance appeared to be the noble's bedroom.
A king size bed was near the northern wall, and next to it, the painting of a beautiful woman with milk-white skin and flowing red hair was hanging on the wall. It may have been the only one that was spared from the damage of the mold in the castle.
On the other side was the picture of the Boyer from the time when he still had his flesh to cover his white bones. He appeared as a stoic man with a thick beard and mustache, piercing black eyes and a long hair tied up in a ponytail. In the painting, he was wearing the same clothes as he was right now.
The Boyer was looking down at the remains of his wife, the white skeleton that wore a frilly white ball dress. There was no flesh to reflect the expression on his face, but if he had one, then Cerberus could have seen all the longing and pain he held for the woman he had lost.
“Boy, have you ever loved someone?” the Boyer asked, his voice echoing throughout the entire room.
Cerberus didn't answer, he only stared at him with his piercing gaze, watching for his every movement and wondering when he was going to attack.
“I believe that the absolute form of love is that in which you sacrifice everything for them... Where even your life counts less than theirs, and if possible you will do everything to get them back.” he explained.
Furrowing his brow, Cerberus replied “That's not love, that's just suffering. I wouldn't want my lover to hurt herself just to bring me back.”
“Hahaha! How foolish! How utterly foolish! Love means suffering, boy! Love means to hurt, to harm, and to kill all those who stand between the two of you!” he declared and then turned his jet black flaming eyes at him.
“Believe what you want, but I'm taking you down!” declared Cerberus as he focused his Magic Energy into his claws, dying them with a red hue.
“No, boy! You will be the one to meet your end here!” he declared as his body began to fly up in the air together with the furniture around him.
The dresser to the right was then sent flying into Cerberus, but he jumped out of the way. At that moment, the Boyer sent a flying sphere of shadow magic that exploded right in front of him. The force sent him flying into the wall.
“I will rip the flesh off of your metal skeleton and then turn your remains into my undead minion!” the Boyer declared as he prepared more dark spheres to throw at him.
Cerberus looked him into the eyes and using the wall behind him, he launched himself at him. The Boyer saw him coming and shot the first sphere at him, which was cut into pieces by the Celestium alloy claws.
The undead was forced to dodged to the left so as to not be struck by his claws. When the boy passed by him, the Boyer shot another dark sphere at him. It was a hit. The attack smashed him into the ceiling, causing it to crack.
“GAH!” Cerberus spat out blood and groaned from the pain of having his innards crushed, but he was far from being dead.
As he fell down, he recovered his balance and jumped again towards the undead as soon as his feet touched the ground.
“Tch!” the Boyer clicked his tongue and summoned a shadow magic sword in his right hand.
The blade of this energy weapon was longer than that of a knight's, making its reach dangerous. Through comparison, it was the same as a dagger user challenging someone with a halberd. The latter definitely had the advantage against the first, unless he was slower than him.
“Die!” shouted the Boyer as he swung his sword at Cerberus.
The blade connected and his flesh was cut, but this didn't stop the boy, he tanked through it. With blood spilling from the corners of his mouth, he aimed for the undead's hand and slashed. The claws connected and the bony hand flew in the air, energy sword and all.
“AARGH!” the Boyer cried in pain as he flew back.
Cerberus fell to the floor and stumbled forward. The wound he received was deep and painful, but unlike his opponent, he didn't cry nor groan in pain. He was already used to this sort of damage, although, a normal human would have either fainted from the shock or become unable to fight.
Clenching his jaws, the boy pushed himself off the ground, and then turned his gaze towards his opponent. In his eyes, there was an unwavering determination to bring down his opponent, a strength to remain unfazed in front of adversity, and the desire to bring this battle to an end with his victory.
“W-What are you?” the undead asked as he held the stump of his hand.
He shouldn't have felt pain because he didn't have any nerves, but the magic that was cast on him apparently omitted this factor.
“What am I? Just your humble Adventurer of Sigrun.” Cerberus replied as he focused his energy and released the oppressive aura of an unmatched warrior.
“What? That's ridiculous!” shouted the Boyer, unconvinced by his words.
“Maybe, but you won't get the chance to find out if I'm telling the truth, you rotten skeleton.” Cerberus showed him a toothy smirk and then dashed towards him.
Unlike before, the boy was now like a blur. In the blink of an eye, he moved close enough to the Boyer to attack him again. The undead tried to fly back, but he was too slow, his other arm was cut from the shoulder and fell on the floor.
When his feet touched the ground again, Cerberus grabbed the severed arm and tossed him at him. The Boyer avoided it, but that was only a distraction for in the next second, the boy's Celestium alloy claws were impaled into his chest.
“And this is the end of this tale.” Cerberus said and then pulled his claws up.
“NOOO!” the undead cried out as the blades cut through his bony remains without encountering any opposition.
With this one last attack, the Boyer's skeleton body fell to the ground, splitting into pieces upon the impact. Thus, the horror of Blastika Town came to an end. With the demise of the most powerful undead there, the others returned to being simple dead bodies. They slumped to the ground never to move again.
From outside, the cheers of the survivors could be heard, but within the castle, Cerberus was not celebrating.
He walked up to the bed and with a furrowed brow, he asked “Was all of this necessary?”
There shouldn't have been anyone left there, not a single soul, yet the skeleton of the woman who never moved in front of the Boyer, got up from her bed.
“Oh, come on now, Cerberus, you know very well that I wasn't going to let him march an undead army towards capital.” she said and then giggled.
The voice was that of a young woman in her twenties, and the movements of her bony body would have been seen as seductive or entrancing if she still had her flesh on them.
“What did you do to this madman?” Cerberus asked.
“I wonder what?” she smiled and then a purple gas covered her skeleton body.
The boy stepped back, and when the gas had dissipated completely, a beautiful blue-haired woman stood in the place of the skeleton. She had slit eyes and a feline smile that could charm any man with a single glance. Her demeanor was that of a seductress, or maybe an enchantress.
“I admit, he was a bit too powerful for me to take on my own, but not powerful enough for him to resist my illusions.” she explained as she looked up towards the portrait of the Boyer's wife.
“What happened to her?” Cerberus asked.
“Remember the skeleton who was playing the piano?” she asked with a purr.
“That was her?” he furrowed his brow.
“Yes. She was the one who asked me to stop him. After all, the madman's spell worked in the end, but since she was already a skeleton, he refused to believe that she truly came back to life. His sacrifices continued, and he wouldn't have stopped until he had killed every living human being out there. To put it bluntly, the curse of the dead took over him completely.” she showed him a smile, tilted her head to the right and with her finger tapped on her right cheek.
“So you switched places with her?” Cerberus asked raising an eyebrow.
“Yes. I was waiting for the right time to kill him, but that lunatic never slept. I was starting to get impatient, you know?” she crossed her arms at her chest and showed him a pout.
“Sigh... I'll go look for survivors.” Cerberus shook his head and retracted his claws.
“Be quick about it! The fire is spreading fast. No matter how you look at it, this town is doomed to vanish.” she called out to him.
“Aren't you going to help?” he asked raising an eyebrow.
“I will, but first... I need to take care of a little business.” she showed him a soft smile and then glanced at the painting of the wife.
Cerberus didn't need to be told to know what she meant. This temptress was going to find the remains of the woman who hired her and then give her a proper burial, which she had been waiting for for a very long time now.
Three months later, a merchant's carriage stopped on the side of the road, where a lone dirty teenager waved at him.
“What do you want, kid?” the driver asked.
“How much until the next town?” he asked.
“To reach London, you'll have to pay two shillings.” he replied.
“Here.” the boy said as he tossed him a florin coin.
“Good! Hop in the back.” he told him.
The boy nodded and got up in the back, there a blue-haired woman invited him with a purring smile.
“Why are you here, you shape-shifting cat?” he inquired as he furrowed his brow.
“I was told to make sure a certain rabid dog doesn't lose his way. Besides, look! I got myself a pet wolverine! His name is Nagol!” the woman said with a bright smile as she picked up the animal next to her.
Despite Cerberus' cold glare, the wolverine moved its snout close to him and then gave him a lick on the tip of his nose.
“Aw! He likes you!” the woman giggled.
A moment later, the carriage came to a sudden stop.
“W-What happened?” the woman asked, but the merchant didn't reply.
Sensing a powerful Magic Energy coming from outside, the two of them got out of the carriage and prepared for battle. Cerberus took out his claws and the woman covered herself with a purple magic aura.
In front of the carriage was a floating man who through his mere presence appeared to have sent the merchant and his horses into a sleep-like trance.
“For years, I have stayed silent in regard to the two of you. I had hoped you would not stand out with your powers among the powerless of the Eon Realm. Yet, the Blastika Incident made it clear that something must be done.” he declared in a solemn tone of voice.
“Who are you, buddy, and what makes you think we are going down without a fight?” Cerberus asked.
“Yes, besides, we did good in Blastika!” retorted the blue-haired woman.
“I am the Guardian, the one who maintains the peace and safety of the Eon Realm from the attacks of those from the other realms. While true that you did help in the end, the attention brought upon the magical world by your constant display of unnatural abilities has come to be too much to ignore.”
“It's not our problem that we are popular and you are bald!” the blue-haired woman poked her tongue out at him.
“B-Bald... Yes. True, not even magic spells can help me with this, but just for reference, I didn't even try everything YET! Anyway, after you two left Blastika, I had to change the memories of over three thousand humans and erase the entire town of Blastika from all known documents. Otherwise, they would have kept investigating and researching magic with the town itself as proof. Their subsequent experiments would have resulted in numerous disasters that would have had consequences stretching to the realms beyond the Veil!” he declared.
“What's that got to do with us?” Cerberus asked.
“Cerberus, your metal bones are made out of Celestium, a metal that can be found only in the Era Realm, and you, Eskadara, you hold within you the soul of the mythological Nine Tailed Fox. Your very existence at this point in this world's history puts the entire Eon Realm at risk.”
“What? How do you know that, you creepy old pervert?!” Eskadara rebuked.
“Creepy... old... Ahem! To put it in simpler words, you two are intruders in this realm, and I am here to rectify this before you willingly or unwillingly cause more damage to this world. As the Guardian of Eon Realm, I banish you two to the Veil until this world shall truly need your might!” he declared and then clapped his hands once.
From the center of his chest, a bright white light flashed once, and the two of them were there no more, gone from this world and trapped between realms forever.
“When the Eye of Horus shall run wild and the Crusaders will burn the cities of mankind to ashes. When the monsters of the other realms will seek to bring ruin to the Eon Realm. When the darkness of magic shall spread among the powerless. The Cerberus shall bare his fangs and slash it all away with his claws.” the Guardian whispered as he slowly vanished from that place.
Once he was gone, the world return to normal, and the merchant didn't even remember that he was carrying passengers until a moment ago, but Nagol the wolverine remained in the back of his carriage, still waiting for his mistress to return.
In 2018 AD, somewhere on top of the Parliament Hill, the fabric of space began to distort and from within this distortion, a blinding flash of light cut through the darkness of the night. When the light vanished, the distortion was gone as well, and its stead was a dirty-looking teenager.
With his claws out, Cerberus took a step forward and looked with big eyes and mouth agape at the expanding city of London which illuminated the night with its mesmerizing lights.
“W-Where am I?” he asked confused.