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Merry Christmas BZPower! This is a short story (technically a novelette, coming in at 10582 words) summarizing a back story for Ancient.

It is written for Click. The guidelines followed as offered were: Dark Hunters; Character/location exploration; expand the lore of a DH

Hope you all enjoy - especially you, Click!


EDIT UPDATE: Not sure what happened, but the end of the story has been missing for the past two weeks from this topic... I've added another post to fix that mistake. I apologize for a story that had no resolution!


* * *






As soon as he walked through the flap of his tent, Ancient threw down his sketch tome and removed the tool belt from around his waist. He tossed the belt beside the small lamp on the one crate in his meager dwelling and fell onto the bed roll next to it. The night air was crisp, and the clang of chisels and stone could still be heard from the sculptors’ pits a few hundred bio away. Ancient breathed out a heavy sigh as he shuffled in his bed, weary from the day. No sooner had he found a comfortable position than someone spoke from outside his tent.


“Friend, allow me to enter,” the voice said. Ancient knew the voice well enough.


“Come in, Carana,” he said, sitting up again on his bed. Carana opened the flap, quickly closing it again to contain what little heat the lamp had toiled to produce.


“Good to see you in one piece. Heard there was a bit of a mishap at the pits today?” he asked of Ancient, sliding the belt aside and propping himself on the edge of the crate. Carana and Ancient had met many years ago. They quickly struck up a friendship and found themselves able to work around one another, keeping the other company during the longest of working shifts, though Carana had recently been transferred to a different line of work. Ancient valued his friend as a beacon of light in a realm where light was so often snuffed out.


“Well, coming home in one piece was about all I was concerned about,” Ancient said, rubbing his eyes. “It’s not every day you find a nest of subterranean Nui-Kopen.” Carana raised his eyebrows a moment, then scoffed with a smirk.


“And it’s not every day that you protect an entire working squad from monsters such as that!” he said. “Word travels quickly. You’ve accomplished something great today.” Ancient sighed.


“What you say holds some truth, yet here we are,” he replied, motioning to the small room they were in. “We’re still in the same hole we’ve found ourselves in from the beginning.”


“Oh that’s not quite true,” Carana said, a glint in his eye. “Your master gave you this lamp not too long ago! That’s quite an upgrade from some other dwellings not far from here.” Ancient managed a gruff snort. Carana did have a way of seeing the bright side of things. “Besides,” Carana continued, “it’s only a matter of time before this success of yours propels you even further up the chain.”


“Until when?” Ancient replied. “There’s a top. That’s the problem. We can only go so far and then bang,” he slapped a raised palm with his other hand. “We stop. And you know those up top look down on us for nothing more than where we fit on this social ladder.” Ancient stood from his bed, his blue armor casting long shadows against the wall. He began to pace in small lines in the cramped tent. “No matter how hard we climb, they’ve cut the top rungs off. I’m growing tired of always being subclass. There’s got to be a way to get past that.”


Carana remained seated on the crate, watching his friend. “I can’t see a way around it,” he said after a few moments. “We’re where we are, and this is the way it’s always been. Always will be. You’ve seen the higher ups. Who’s going to challenge them? Like you said yourself, it’s not every day you face a horde of Nui-Kopen.” He stood and placed a hand on his friend’s shoulder. “Let’s keep it that way. There’s no reason to stir up the island and break what we’ve worked so hard to create. We’re in this together.”


Ancient turned again to his friend. “Yes, together in this pit.” Carana shook his head, a light laugh escaping his lips.


“It’s not always easy, sure, and some days are rough. But we’re here. We have people around us. We have purpose and we can see the fruit of our labour. You’re a hero in the eyes of your comrades.” He raised a hand in front of himself, palm up. “Maybe we don’t have the bliss and luxury that others do, but do we need that?” He raised his other hand in the same fashion. “We’re also not as low as some others, so why risk falling back to the bottom, or worse, being exiled from the land completely?” Ancient knew his friend spoke to sooth and encourage, but he was not comforted.


He was about to retort when another voice beyond the tent called to him. “Sculptor?” Ancient pulled open the flap. Just outside stood one of the royal guards. “You’ve been summoned to the fortress a week from today at the ninth hour.” It was a rare occurrence in Ancient’s line of work to be called to the fortress.


“I will attend,” Ancient replied hesitantly. The royal guard bowed slightly, and turned away. Ancient turned back to Carana, who stood amused.


“Well, maybe you’re getting that promotion you hoped for?” He patted Ancient on the shoulder. “I’m off tomorrow morning myself for an export check to Zakaz. Granted, I’d take a horde of Nui-Kopen over that place any day.”


“Take care my friend,” Ancient said. “Better Zakaz than Karzahni.” Carana nodded in agreement, then he was off into the night. Ancient shut the flap, the room having lost some of its warmth from before. He bundled up in the bed roll again and tried to make the most of his sleep. The morning would come quick enough.



* * *



The corridors of the fortress were cold as Ancient was led to his master’s hall. The island empire was led by nine members of the highest social class on the island, who called themselves the Miraki. Each was powerful and charismatic, and devoted themselves to maintaining the order of the land.


The oldest and wisest of the Miraki had summoned Ancient personally, and the rest of the Miraki looked to him for guidance. No wonder that’s the case, either, Ancient thought as he entered the grand hall where the Miraki stood waiting by windows the height of the room. His red-clad form reached over two bio. Specks of gold shimmered in his armor as he turned, drawing awe and wonder any time he made public appearances. He was old and it showed, but he hardly seemed worn or fatigued. Rather, his age brought a feeling of security and persistence to the realm, and especially to those under his direct control. Despite his hatred of the system, Ancient had to admit that the Miraki standing before him inspired allegiance and peace. It helped that the fortress was massive.


The Miraki glanced over his shoulder when he heard the clang of the guards making way for Ancient to enter. He turned and beckoned Ancient. “Ah, here he is,” he said, a smile gracing his face. “The hero from the pits.” Ancient bowed at the doorway, and made his way across the lengthy room.


The floor was polished stone, the walls of similar make. Guards were stationed at four other entrances on the sides of the room, and torches dotted the walls, filling the hall with warmth and light. The vaulted ceiling stretched high enough to allow a second floor to look down into the hall, a balcony on either side. The room itself was separated into three parts. The main floor, arguably the largest portion, contained the entrances and had many tables at the sides to display trophies or serve as dining areas. There was a set of stairs two thirds of the way into the room leading to a second floor a few feet above the first, which in turn led to another set of stairs that made a way to the top platform. Upon this platform was a carved throne, behind which were the huge windows where the Miraki stood.


Ancient came to the bottom of the first stairs and stopped. Guards stood at either side. He glanced at one and the guard motioned for him to step up to the platform. Ancient ascended the first stairs and couldn’t help but recognize even here the social distinction between him and the Miraki. He then just as quickly realized his own physical separation from the guards on the main floor. Yet again, a demonstration of how this society thrived on its social order. Ancient swallowed his hatred of the system as his thoughts were cut by the voice of his master.


“You saved countless lives yesterday,” he said, walking from the windows and taking a seat in his throne. “There could have been much more loss had you not intervened.”


“I was simply looking out for the safety of those around me,” Ancient replied. “We still lost a dozen good men.”


“Losses are expected,” the Miraki said. “That is the cycle. It is not our place to ask why. But for a sculptor to step in and risk his life for a handful of miners? That is unheard of.” Ancient shifted slightly on the spot. He wasn’t sure where this was going. “You know we rely on a social order to prevail in this world,” the Miraki said. “An order we dare not break, for it has been held for generations of our ancestors.”


There it is again, thought Ancient. Always the code. Always the way it was, the way it has to be. I’m sick of this. But he held his expression so as not to reveal his thoughts. “I am sorry if I have disturbed the peace,” Ancient began. The Miraki held up a hand and Ancient held his tongue.


“You have not done such a thing as that,” the Miraki said. “But, we have convened and chosen to send you across the island to the Visionary Fields. There you will be honoured among sculptors as the best of the island.” Ancient was confused. He saved his fellow workers, so he was being relocated? “You will be accompanied by a group of my guards, who will see you reach your destination by the end of the week.” A handful of guards came from one of the side entrances. “You have served well here, Sculptor – it’s time you set your sights on bigger things.”


Ancient bowed again. “For the empire,” he mumbled out absently, knowing that to be the correct response to a direct order from a Miraki. The Miraki nodded, and the guards led Ancient back out of the hall and down to the road. There a carriage loaded with supplies was waiting, hooked up to a pair of Kikanalo. Ancient was ushered onto the carriage and soon was off for his newest assignment.



* * *



The carriage carried Ancient across mountain and valley, the Kikanalo moving at a steady pace. Ancient had not been beyond his area of the island, though the sights on the trip were not as astounding as he had hoped.


The island was calm. Dull, yes, and sterile – but calm. For many years the winds and slogging ice flows had carved the landscape, jagged peaks rising high overhead and twisted crags splintering underneath. There wasn’t much in the way of vegetation, but closer to the coast, the smallest of pockets of lush greenery poked up through the cold stony slabs that made up the island. Toward the edge of the land the ice flows relented and melted into furious riverways and waterfalls, forming the idyllic façade that beckoned weary travelers to rest a moment and take in the sights.


Here though, the whole land was grey. Cold, stony, foreboding. And here I thought the pits were bleak, Ancient thought to himself.


The trip gave Ancient time to reflect, to consider his spot and what was to come. He knew the Visionary Fields were a dream for most sculptors – and he should be thrilled to have the honour to work among the best of the business. But the people of the island were very much the same as the island itself. Those who were green to the society saw opportunity, saw ideals, grasped for beauty in this foreboding place.


Ancient, however, was not new to the order of things. He, like those who had spent millennia living on the island, knew better. Their own dreams of grandeur and progress slumped against the driving force of a strict upper social structure. Those in power saw fit to ensure that those below them understood there was no way to reach higher, no higher place to reach for anyways. How it was – that was simply how it would always be. It worked, for the most part, and the people of the land built their empire on the stable, unshaken ground of this understanding. One was wise to quickly recognize that where one was placed was where one stayed put.


And that was exactly the problem. Ancient no longer had any intention of staying put. Granted, in one way he was no longer staying put – the Visionary Fields would be his new home.


They were making good time and should have arrived at their destination ahead of schedule. Suddenly, one of the Kikanalo roared and slumped to the side, dragging the other Kikanalo off the path. The carriage stalled as the first beast fell, jostling the crew and supplies. Ancient hurried to hop off the cart to inspect the situation, as did the guards. One guard was standing by the felled beast, and as Ancient joined the group of guards surrounding the Kikanalo, the guard yanked a long, thin dagger from the Rahi’s neck.


“We’re under attack!” shouted one of the guards. As the words escaped his lips, another dagger planted itself in his back, and he fell to the ground, motionless. The guards scrambled for their weapons, and Ancient threw himself under the carriage. Without warning, they were surrounded by a group of dangerous looking foes. And just like that, the guards entered combat.


Blades and staves clashed against one another. Punches were thrown wildly between parties. The Kikanalo that was still alive struggled to pull away from the mayhem, and drew the cart away from Ancient. A body slammed up against the side of the carriage. Ancient, in response, grabbed the ankles of the being and dragged him down. The guard engaged with him quickly disposed of their enemy and breathed a sigh of relief.


“Thanks,” the guard said as Ancient clambered to his feet. No sooner had Ancient stood than another dagger sailed through the air, narrowly missing both he and the guard. They turned to see a warrior in dark armor seemingly flying through the air, bouncing off the ground and rocky walls of the narrow pass where the carriage was stopped. Ancient felt both fear and awe at the gracefulness of the warrior, though he quickly snapped out of it when the warrior planted another dagger into the chest of another guard.


Glancing down, he saw the weapon used by the recently incapacitated foe at his feet, and picked it up. It was unlike any weapon he had seen before, sleek and well balanced. It sat comfortably in his hand, braced against his forearm. Before he could consider its function, a flailing thief came running toward him, knife lifted above his head. Ancient instinctively pointed the weapon at the thief. A brief burst of light surrounded the weapon, and a blast of energy shot from its end, flying straight for the thief. Without warning the thief was struck by the ball of energy, and crumbled to the ground in a heap. He lay there, his knife lying next to him, unable to stand or move or much else. Ancient looked at the weapon and wondered just what sort of device it was.


He didn’t have long to consider though, as another, bigger raider came around the cart and rammed Ancient. The raider, a Skakdi, so it seemed, slammed Ancient against the wall of the mountain passage. Ancient threw a punch straight at the Skakdi’s grinning face, and his grip loosened. Ancient tumbled to the ground and quickly grabbed his enemy by the spine, whipping him around and tossing him into an oncoming partner. Both fell with a clatter to the stony ground, and Ancient fired two more energy blasts at them from his weapon.


Glancing around, he noticed that there were no other guards around him, nor raiders. It was relatively still. But he also didn’t see the dark warrior from earlier. Then a dagger landed in the ground on either side of him. He whirled around and glanced up to see the warrior sitting atop the path’s rocky walls, leg swinging over the edge precariously.


“Not bad,” the warrior said. “If you’re done playing, let’s talk.”


“Who are you?” Ancient asked. The warrior stood and jumped down to the ground. Ancient lifted his weapon up to the warrior.


“Come now Sculptor. Let’s not be hasty.” Ancient backed up to the cart, and the warrior pulled the twin daggers from the ground. “I have an offer for you.”


“How do you know me?” Ancient asked. His back now was up against the cart. The warrior sighed, clipping the daggers to her hip.


“All these questions,” she said. “Too many, if you ask me. But, don’t. Look, we found out about you just after you did your thing with the Nui-Kopen a couple weeks back. Let’s just say I can use someone with your talent.” Ancient wasn’t sure what she meant.


“I’m a sculptor,” he started. “I don’t think I’ll be much use to someone like you.” The warrior laughed.


“I don’t need your sculpting talent,” she retorted. “You have more than just that pent up in that mind of yours. No, I heard about the way you took down the horde pretty much singlehandedly, and saved some miners while you were at it. Not a usual spectacle. Nui-Kopen aren’t exactly the smallest of bugs, either.”


“I still don’t follow,” said Ancient. The warrior rolled her eyes.


“Keep up, Sculptor,” she replied. “I want to hire you to deal with a problem I have.”


“Hire me?” Ancient said incredulously. The warrior clapped.


“There you go, up to speed. Yes, hire you. I’ll pay you if you get something done for me. I’ve already seen you break social code from your conduct at the miners’ pit. I don’t expect this to be too far of a stretch for someone who obviously has no regard for order.” Ancient considered the words of this warrior. Was it so obvious that he was tired of the way things were? All he had done was save some seemingly lesser workers, though Ancient valued them nonetheless. But it was true, he was frustrated with the system, and was even being sent away just for helping those who couldn’t help themselves. Maybe the warrior had a point.


“What sort of job?” Ancient asked. The warrior smiled.


“Thought you might agree. It’s a simple task, really. Here, I’ll show you.” The warrior beckoned Ancient to follow her, and turned back the way she and her raiding party had come.


“Hey, don’t you want to wait for your friends to come to their senses?” Ancient replied. The warrior scoffed.


“They fell here, so they stay here. Besides,” she said, turning back and winking at Ancient, “If you succeed in this job, I don’t think they’ll be of much importance to us anytime soon.”



* * *



This criminal must be crazy, Ancient thought, finding himself hiding behind a rocky wall just like this warrior and her band of raiders had when he was ambushed by them. She wasn’t much for talking, but she did give him the details of the job she had in mind for him. The warrior, who went by the title Lariska, had scouted a convoy earlier in the day and managed to track it again after encountering Ancient. Now the two of them waited to spring on the convoy and release the diplomat of his riches.


“Here it comes,” she whispered. The convoy rolled passed the hiding spot. Lariska had figured that the middle carriage of the three would house the diplomat. She would take out the rear carriage while Ancient entered the second, leaving the first in darkness about the whole ordeal.


“Alright, here goes,” she said as the second carriage passed. She dipped out just as the Kikanalo stomped by so as not to spook them. She dispatched the carriage driver in a matter of seconds, taking the reins without letting the Kikanalo miss a beat. The guards sitting on the rear of the carriage didn’t notice a thing.


The diplomat’s carriage was something else to behold. If the Miraki had grand fortresses, the diplomats lived in fortresses of carriages. The thing was at least six bio long and three bio wide. It was pulled by four Kikanalo, boasting of the superiority and sheer size of the carriage. There was even a staircase on the back to exit from the main chamber and go to an upper floor. The exterior was ornate, a stark comparison to the landscape through which the carriage traveled.


This is what our society lives for, Ancient thought bitterly. Miners die by Rahi and diplomats live in their cages. He came out of hiding as Lariska finished off the driver of the third carriage, and quickly caught up to the second. The rear Kikanalo didn’t seem to notice, thanks to her handling of them. Ancient shot two blasts at the guards on the back of the diplomat’s carriage, and they fell sideways in their seats, unmoving. I really need to know what this thing does, he thought.


He grabbed hold of the bars next to the guards’ seats and hoisted himself into the carriage. Standing at the bottom of the stairs, he swung the door open and stepped into the lavish room. Padded cushions, golden walls, a startled diplomat dropping the tome he was reading. Ancient quickly pointed his weapon at the diplomat’s chest.


“Scream, move, breathe, and you’re the next one to take a hit from this thing,” Ancient said. It wasn’t his best threat – but it was one of the first he’d ever uttered anyways. The diplomat swallowed hard.


“Please don’t shoot,” the diplomat said, shaking. “I’ll pay you twice whatever you’re being paid.” Ancient stopped a moment to think.


“How much will you offer?” Ancient asked. After all, he thought, if I’m only here because the pay was better than that sculpting gig… The diplomat motioned to a chest across the room.


“I’m tasked with taking that to the docks for transit,” he said. “They won’t understand when they find out it’s been stolen, but they’ll be merciful. Please, just spare me.” Ancient had no qualms with this development. He glanced out the back window to see that the third carriage had pulled farther back.


Ancient replied, “Fine. Now, sorry about this.” And with that, Ancient shot a blast at the diplomat, who slumped back on his seat. “Should wear off in a couple hours, don’t worry,” he said, and then picked up the chest. He opened the back door, jumped off the carriage, and saw the warrior do likewise. The third carriage caught up to the diplomat’s convoy and no one could tell there had been any altercation.


“Clean job,” Lariska said. “I see you got a little extra, too. Let’s get moving before anyone else comes by this way.” She and Ancient scurried into the forest and hid amongst the trees. They waited a few minutes before turning to the chest. “My my, Sculptor,” Lariska said. “You have quite a knack already for getting far better than we expect!” She rifled through the chest, clinking gold and goblets of fine artistry together. Ancient stood off against a tree. Lariska turned to him. “Something wrong?”


Ancient spoke. “Not long from now and the carriage with the diplomat should be arriving at the docks. They’ll find out I was the one to rob it. What happens now?”


“Ah, you’ll be fine,” Lariska said without missing a beat. “Look at you, strong, bold, without a care. You’re armed with that launcher and I’ve see the way you wield it. Besides, even without it you aren’t one to be tried.” Ancient looked at the launcher.


“How does this thing work anyways?” he asked her. “I took it off your friend back at the ambush.” She came over to him and took the weapon from his hands.


“It’s a Rhotuka launcher,” she explained. “Artificial as opposed to some of the natural ones you find around the world on Rahi and the like. But just as good, if not better. You can modify these ones, and by the way it looks this one already works a lot faster than most. That’s unique.” She held the launcher in her hand. “Everyone uses a different energy to power the launcher. I haven’t seen energy like yours before. My teammate who used this before you would poison his targets. You seem to cause your targets to lose their balance, or something.” She tossed it back to Ancient.


“What happens when you use the launcher?” Ancient asked. She shrugged.


“I’m more of an up-close and personal kind of fighter. My daggers are my way, and I’ll keep it like that. But come on, we have a few more raids we can make before the sun goes down.”



* * *



Ancient and Lariska spent the next few days ambushing and raiding small caravans. Along the way, Ancient wondered how long it would be before he was targeted for his actions.


But, at the same time, he had never felt so free. He thought back to his life before meeting Lariska – arguably only a short time ago, yet it felt already as though he had only just come to life. As a sculptor, Ancient had toiled long days, months, years under the eyes of his superiors. A working-class citizen, he was slated to remain in subpar conditions for the duration of his life. He was strong, and had been good at his work. All his superiors said he was among the best – why it had taken them so long to send him to the Visionary Fields, he didn’t know. But each of his masters would just as quickly remind him of his place, and that he would serve them well for the rest of his time – since that was all he would ever attain.


For some time, Ancient had thought the same. The unending years, the work that always lay ahead of him, it all made him believe that they were right. There was much work to be done, and someone had to do it. Someone had to be in charge. There were rules and structure for a reason. He had been convinced that perhaps he really was cut out for this labour, and nothing more.


But no matter how hard he worked or tried to prove his worth, they never really cared. And Ancient had grown bitter over time. Carana still saw the hope of a society built on order and rigid stability, but what good was the work if it was always to benefit someone else? He and his fellow workers still lived in dingy, overcrowded camps while his master lounged in decadent opulence. Was it worth supporting a society that would not support the likes of him, or those even further below him? Time had worn against Ancient’s resolve, his mind slowly turning against all that he had come to appreciate and work for. It was only a matter of time before something – or someone, like Lariska – gave him reason and opportunity to break free.


Ancient snapped back to reality. Now, there was no one telling him what to do – other than Lariska, who taught him a couple of moves and some techniques of sneaking and stealthily executing missions.


The first couple of hits were not at all as successful as the diplomat’s carriage. Ancient found himself at the receiving end of a few guards’ launchers and lances because of his novice appreciation of silent work. He was, after all, a sculptor by trade – and sculptors were not known for their silence.


Lariska was Ancient’s foil. She was graceful, working from shadows, never entering a fray without knowing six ways to get out in one piece. She was a quiet being, though eager to work with Ancient and help him reach his full potential. By the end of their first week together, they had amassed a small pile of gold and other valuables. This pays better than anything I’ve done before, Ancient thought.


Despite his slow uptake of stealth and swiftness, Ancient quickly became proficient with his launcher. He traded his belt of sculptor’s tools in for an assortment of daggers and short swords, just in case things got a bit personal. Lariska taught him how to parry and slice and a host of moves with the blade and he aimed to become as good with the blade as his companion.


They were walking through a mountain pass about a month after his disappearance when Ancient’s training came to be tested. “Sculptor!” a voice cried out. Ancient looked ahead and saw three dark masses coming over a hill in the road. “We’ve finally found you.” Ancient looked to his partner, who just seemed amused by the sudden encounter.


“And you are?” Ancient asked.


“We’ve been sent by the Miraki,” one of the three said. “They’ve found out about your betrayal of the code and they seek to rectify the situation.” Ancient understood that this rectifying would spell out his demise. He placed a hand on his launcher.


“I recognize that one,” Lariska hissed at Ancient, pointing to one of the beings. He was green and thin, but looked dangerously quick. “That’s Tenuhi, a bounty hunter from off-island. If the Miraki hired him to get you out of the picture…” She didn’t have to finish her thought.


“I’ll tell you what,” Ancient shouted back. “You can walk away and live, or you can try to take us and see what happens.” The three laughed.


“If that’s what you want,” one said, and ran down to meet Lariska and Ancient. Tenuhi stomped the ground and took off into the sky, flying, while the third blinked out of sight. That one reappeared a moment later in front of Ancient. A teleporter, Ancient thought for but a moment. Thankfully, Lariska had seen this sort of enemy before and was quick to deliver a blow to their foe. He stumbled backward, away from Ancient. She followed him to finish the job. Ancient looked up to see Tenuhi soar down from above, while the final being closed in. Ancient shot a few blasts from his launcher into the sky but missed as Tenuhi twirled around.


“Try again, Sculptor!” he taunted. Ancient scowled and tossed a dagger toward the running being. He swatted it away with a shield and charged Ancient. Thankfully, this one was a touch slower, and Ancient managed to line up a shot with his launcher and fired. The shot was clean, and the being went down.


Ancient glanced back up to the sky but didn’t see Tenuhi. Suddenly he was grabbed from behind and lifted off the ground. “Ever flown, Sculptor?” the greenish fighter asked mockingly. “Or have you always felt more at home on the rocks?” Tenuhi spun around in the air with Ancient dangling below him, while Ancient threw a punch at him. “Careful Sculptor,” he said. “Unless you want me to drop you!”


There was a shift in the weight above Ancient and he looked up to see the third being collapsed on top of Tenuhi. He let out a screech as the trio tilted to the earth. Ancient quickly jabbed Tenuhi as they got close to the ground and he dropped him. Ancient rolled onto the ground while the two fighters crashed to the earth below. Lariska ran up a few moments later.


“What happened?” Ancient asked. The warrior smiled.


“Gave him a choice,” she said. “Either die, or teleport onto his friend over there. Was an easy choice, really.” The pair ran over to the fighters, who were laying on the ground near one another, obviously in pain.


“You’re going to pay for what you’ve done, Sculptor,” said Tenuhi. “The Miraki won’t stop until you’re defeated.” Ancient was about to reply when a fizzle from Tenuhi’s boots caught his attention. Then it dawned on him.


“These boots are what allow you to fly, aren’t they?” he said. He shot the two beings with a blast from his launcher, then went to work removing the boots. “They might come in handy for someone like me.” He slid them on, and they fit near perfectly. “Hmm, a bit of refitting and these will do nicely. Thanks for stopping by.”


“You won’t make it long, Sculptor!” the teleporting fighter choked out. “They’ll send more after you any day now!” Ancient shrugged.


“If they’re anything like you, I’ll be fine I’m sure,” he replied. Then he turned to his friend. “I think we’d best pay the Miraki a visit.” She raised an eyebrow.


“Going straight for the heart of it, eh? Alright, this could be fun.” They ran off in the direction of the Miraki fortress. After these past few months, I’m going back home, Ancient thought. But… it’s not home anymore, after all.



* * *



It took a few days to arrive on the outskirts of the capital of the island, where Ancient had begun his journey. But as they climbed over the crest of the ridge surrounding the city, it was obvious that things had changed. Dark smoke billowed above the city, and fires were lit across the horizon. The fortress rose as a shard of blackened stone above a sea of blacker cloud.


“This is… nice,” Lariska said sarcastically.


“It wasn’t like this when I left,” Ancient replied. They noticed a figure moving toward them. As the figure got closer, Ancient stepped up and stopped them. The figure turned out to be one of his own, obviously shaken by encountering these two in the road.


“It’s, it’s you, really, really you,” the being stammered. “You’re, you, you’re the, the one who started, you started all, all this.”


“What are you talking about?” Ancient asked.


“The whole island, it’s… it’s chaos,” the being let out. “We’ve heard about youre escapades and the way you dealt with the hunters who came fore you.” Carana was right when he said word travels fast, Ancient thought.


“What’s happening down there?” Ancient said, motioning to the city.


“It’s a factory down there, everywhere,” the being said. “It all happened so fast. As soon as word of your betrayal reached the ears of the people, they turned against the Miraki. The Miraki turned against one another too. Only the eldest remains here – the others have all squared off for dominance of the island.” Ancient couldn’t believe what he was hearing. In only a few short weeks, the island had crumbled into war. Maybe the social structure wasn’t as solid as they had thought.


“Is the Miraki still in the fortress?” Ancient asked. The being nodded.


“He commands the people as an army now,” he replied. “They turned from sculptors to soldiers overnight. It’s… it’s all too fast…” and with that, the being rushed off.


“He sure was having a good day,” Lariska said to Ancient.


“Come on,” he said. “We’re going to visit the Miraki.”



* * *



Ancient and Lariska quickly dispatched the guards at the fortress. The people of the city had cheered as Ancient entered, hailing him all the more as hero. Ancient couldn’t help but feel mixed over the outcome of his actions. He hadn’t wanted war, but if that’s what it took to overthrow the order…


The Miraki stood in his throne room, gazing out over the people below as he had when Ancient came only a few weeks earlier. At the sound of his arrival the Miraki turned and scowled.


“You have the audacity to enter my city, my fortress, after all that you have done?” He shouted. “You’re lucky to be alive at this point. The whole island wants you dead. The Miraki have turned against one another, and now we’re fighting our own. Is this what you wanted?”


“I’m not here to have you shout me out,” Ancient replied coolly. “This isn’t what I wanted but if it’s what will free the people, I’m not going to apologize.”


“Free the people,” the Miraki spat. “You’ve signed their death wish. There’s war out there, Sculptor, not freedom.”


“Sometimes it takes a war to find freedom,” Lariska said boldly. The Miraki burned a glare at her.


“You should know that this city is not the worst, either. The Miraki have halted communications but from what I’ve heard, they are setting up their own fortresses and domineering over the people under them. It’s not freedom,” the Miraki said, falling into his chair. “Worse yet, we’ve had our supply cut off from the iron mines north of here. That’s another Miraki’s territory now. And in the east, our fields have been ravished by yet another Miraki. Your actions will spell the death of us, Sculptor.”


Ancient thought a moment. “What if I get the fields and the mines back?” The Miraki looked puzzled.


“You insult me now by offering your assistance?” he fired back. “After all you’ve done?”


“Either that or you can starve,” Ancient replied. The Miraki bit his tongue and thought.


“Perhaps… no… you are a cruel being, Sculptor,” the Miraki said. “But I see no other choice. If you started this, maybe you can end it. Fine, I’ll take your offer.”


“Oh, it’s not an offer,” Ancient said. “You’ll pay me to do it.” The Miraki rolled his eyes.


“And you continue to fall down the ladder,” he said.


“I’m not on any ladder, anymore. You need something, I can do it. Plain and simple.” The Miraki summoned a guard.


“I’ll pay you this much now, and the same again once the task is completed,” the Miraki said. "Don’t come back until it’s done."


“Pleasure doing business, Miraki,” Ancient said, and turned away. As he got to the door, he glanced back and remembered his manners: “For my empire.”



* * *



The next week was spent traveling to the western empire. The Miraki there had set up on the coast, well-guarded and defended by the rising rocky spires. At least, that was if you couldn’t fly.


“You find a way in from the ground, and I’ll start at the top,” Ancient told his companion. She nodded and ran off. Ancient stomped the ground and took off to the top of the fortress, similar in fashion to his own home city’s fortress. He landed on a balcony and entered, winding down staircases to a room of obvious importance. Walking in, he found the Miraki, a pale yellow member of their species with silvery armor. The Miraki looked up from his table and stood in shock.


“How did you… guards!” The Miraki called out. Ancient sent a shot of energy at the four guards who entered the room first, and they fell to the ground motionless. The rest halted their approach.


“Greetings,” Ancient said. “Here to make a deal.”


“Why would I make a deal with you, traitor?” the Miraki exclaimed. “You’ve ruined our society. There’s no use for you here.”


“Allow me to let you in on my purpose here,” Ancient said calmly. “The Miraki of the west sent me to find a way to get access to the fields you now control. Now, I’m a reasonable person, so I’m willing to strike a deal with you. But, I’m also willing to crush you and your cronies into the ground and just hand the fields over to the Miraki. It’s up to you.” The yellow Miraki frowned and furrowed his brow, considering the options, one of which was not favourable.


“Alright, we’ll make a deal. I’m in need of supplies to defend my southern border against Rahi attacks. It seems that by upsetting our order you also threw all of the island itself into chaos. Your Miraki fashions good weapons. If you give us access to weaponry, which we will pledge not to use against your people, we will share the fields’ produce with your people.”


Ancient nodded. “That sounds almost reasonable. The only problem, I’m going to need to be convinced myself.” The Miraki looked puzzled.


“I’m giving your people food, what more do you want?” Ancient rubbed his thumb and fingers together in the air.


“They aren’t my people anymore than they are your people. All I want is to be paid for securing the deal. How much will you offer to protect your people?” The Miraki shook his head.


“Take our food, take our finance… you’ve really turned yourself into something different, Sculptor. We’ll pay.” The Miraki opened a chest on the shelves next to his desk and pulled out a fair-sized bag. He placed it on the desk, and Ancient scooped it up, opened it, and nodded.


“This will do. Do call if you need something else,” Ancient said merrily. The Miraki scoffed. Lariska entered the room at that moment and saw the scene before her.


“Taking all the fun, eh Sculptor?” she said. He turned and walked out with her, careful to step over the wake of bodies she left behind.



* * *



Over the course of the next few months, Ancient saw his business of making deals and settling disputes rise in popularity among the people of the island. Not long after the break of the skirmishes, the Miraki declared all out war against one another. Citizens were being targeted at random in crowds, towns were being bombarded by Rahi, supply networks were cut and broken as trades were interrupted between empires.


And Ancient’s influence grew all the more. The Miraki did not deal directly with Ancient, but sent envoys to him to request his help. True to his new life, he was quick to take up an offer, and even quicker to change sides if a better offer arose. Lariska often worked separately from him, and a few others joined their band of mercenaries. Ancient’s business was doing well.


The most recent development in the war – Ancient had been summoned by the Miraki of the east to assassinate the Miraki of the north. I wish they’d just drop their stupid titles and go by their real names, Ancient thought to himself. All this Miraki stuff is long over. He was promised a good sum of gold for his actions.


Ancient knew that if he went through with this plan, there would be no going back. And he also knew that if one Miraki fell, the fragile remnants of order would be thrown away, resulting in power struggles even he might not be able to control. Still, money was money, and worst come to worst there were other islands to visit and rule.


Ancient slammed a guard against the wall of the keep, knocking him out. Another guard charged him with a lance, but Ancient’s Rhotuka struck him with ease, felling him instantly. This Miraki was clever and installed a few architectural challenges which proved difficult for Ancient, though. First there was a room in which the floor would fall away into a lava pit if the wrong path was chosen. Then, there was a room of Muaka, who had not been fed for some time. After that Ancient encountered a room of levers, only one of which would open the door – the rest would fill the room with poisonous gas. That one wasn’t too hard to figure out though – Ancient simply smashed down the door.


He arrived in the Miraki’s personal chambers, and found the bronze Miraki brandishing a sword.


“You’re a disappointment to our species, Sculptor,” The Miraki barked. Ancient sighed, exasperated.


“Why does everyone… I’m not a sculptor anymore,” he said. “And I’m just doing my job.”


“Your job?” the Miraki exclaimed. “If you had done your job, we’d have a couple more nice statues outside. But no, you thought you could ‘free the people,’ and ‘everything would be better’ and ‘there would be no need for Miraki.’” Ancient knew the being in front of him was mocking him, but he held his temper.


“I’ve been sent to kill you, collect a bounty, and go,” Ancient said. “That’s what I’m here to do. So if you’ll just die quickly, I’ll be on my way.”


“No!” the Miraki shouted. “I’m not going down today!” With that he thrust his sword swiftly at Ancient. The sword reflected off Ancient’s new golden armor, which protected his body from most attacks. The Miraki stumbled in front of Ancient, dropping his sword. “How… who can stand before you?” Ancient grinned.


“Make me an offer,” he replied. “Money speaks volumes louder than words.” The Miraki looked around the room.


“I have… I have… If you spare me, I can…” Ancient allowed him to try to come up with something.


“Time’s wasting, Miraki,” he said. “You have ten seconds to come up with an offer.” The Miraki stood and frantically shifted through his shelves to find something of value, some treasure to offer, anything less valuable than his own life. He could not. Ancient sighed. “Sorry Miraki, it’s only business.” He shot the Miraki in the back, rendering him still. “It’s unfortunate that the other Miraki asked for you to be brought back and executed in front of him. I’d much rather take care of you myself right now.” He slung the Miraki over his shoulder and stepped to the balcony. “It’s a good thing you can’t move.” He stomped the ground and jumped over the ledge. The Miraki screamed on the way down, not realizing Ancient’s controlled descent. Landing on the ground effortlessly, Ancient tossed the Miraki in the back of his cart and began the trek back to receive his pay.



* * *

Edited by Torran
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  • 3 weeks later...

* * *



Ancient dropped the bronze Miraki on the floor of the great hall in front of the other Miraki. None of the other Miraki have that same glow and awe as my home Miraki does, Ancient thought. And come to think of it, neither of these two are really all that inspiring anymore. What did we see in them? These petty squabbles leading to the death of hundreds, if not thousands… what a waste.


“Ah, you delivered on your end of the deal,” the victorious Miraki said. His armor was a bright blue, like the sky on a clear day. “I see the effects of your launcher have worn off as well,” he motioned to the bindings on the bronze Miraki’s wrists.


“You betrayed the rest of us, Onuka,” the bronze Miraki said quietly. Finally, a name.


“You should have considered the consequences of crossing me,” Onuka said. “I will not deal lightly with such outrageous terrorism in my empire. Your thugs have been ransacking my towns for weeks and now, you will pay for their crimes.” Onuka motioned to Ancient. “You can finish the assignment now.”


Ancient quickly thrust his dagger into the bronze Miraki’s back. He gasped for breath, and then fell over. Onuka sighed. “A pity, really, that it had to come to this.” Ancient wiped his blade and put it back on his hip.


“The task is accomplished,” Ancient said dryly. “My pay.” Onuka snapped for some guards.


“Of course, Assassin,” he said. “You will receive the pay that is due for someone who has killed a Miraki.” Ancient noticed the change in tone. Suddenly there were six of Onuka’s bodyguards surrounding him. “You must understand,” Onuka said, “I can’t have a Miraki-killer on the loose. Someone might get the idea to send you after me. I’m sorry it had to come to this, but as you often say, business is business. Goodbye Assassin.”


The bodyguards thrust their spears in unison at Ancient. He stomped his boots in a flash and jumped into the air, narrowly missing the points of their spears. Two of the guards thrust with such force that they managed to pierce each other’s armor across the circle. The other guards backed up and pulled out their swords. Ancient fired a blast at one of them, while another swung at him from below. That guard clipped Ancient’s boot, and Ancient fell to the ground, his boot smoking and damaged. Ancient clawed that guard and tossed him down the stairs in the great hall.


The remaining two guards swung at Ancient, landing direct blows to his arm and tail. His tail was not nearly as armored as the rest of his body, and the pain shooting up his spine was excruciating. He staggered and slammed into a wall, the guards quick to pepper him with a few more stabs. Ancient raised his arms to guard himself, then hooked a shoulder forward in an attempt to bash one of the guards. He missed, and tumbled into the middle of the room – but managed to grab hold of the guard closest to him and swung him against the other guard as he continued to spin, knocking the one out and throwing the other into a wall. Onuka stood dumbfounded at the outcome. Ancient ceased his motion and stood a moment to reorient himself.


“Do you never die?” He breathed. In a sudden flash, Ancient had a dagger to his throat.


“I should kill you right now for your betrayal of me,” he hissed, tightening his grip on his dagger. Onuka’s eyes widened. Ancient wrapped a hand around his throat and tossed the dagger aside. “You dare challenge me? Have you not seen what I can do? I turn nations on their heads. I tear down empires. I build up my own. I decide who lives and dies. I choose when to move and who goes where. This island is mine, Miraki. Your time is over.” He closed his fist more, and Onuka struggled to breathe. “You don’t deserve to live…” and then Ancient’s tone softened. He released Onuka, rifled through his desk to collect payment, and turned to leave.


Catching his breath on the cold stone floor, Onuka squeaked out the words, “Why… why do you spare me now?” Ancient paused at the door, just long enough to reply.


“No one wants you dead… yet. You’re worth more to me alive. But mark my words, Miraki. The moment an offer for your head goes out, I’ll be back. And I won’t be so sparing.” And then he was gone.



* * *



The sigh that escaped his lips did not do justice to the weight Ancient felt as he slid down the wall of the dwelling. Night had come again; another day of this war passed. How long? Ancient thought. How long must my people suffer? But then another thought just as quickly swam to replace the first – So long as the money is good, I really don’t care anymore. Ancient tugged the pouch from his belt that held his coins. He cracked open a chest locked under the bed, beneath a panel in the floor, and deposited his earnings of the day. He’d move the payment the next morning – right now, Ancient was simply happy to rest in his chamber for a night. He turned out the light and moved onto the bed where he lay in the still, quiet darkness.


It had been too many nights that this warrior-god had spent on the road. Between Miraki squabbles and commoner concerns, Ancient felt himself torn all over the island. True, his organization had grown substantially since meeting Lariska that fateful day, but there were some things and some people only Ancient could handle.


Little did he know that tonight would yet again be one of those nights.


His eyes flicked open at the sound of commotion below. How long was I asleep? He wondered as he flashed like lightning across his bed to grab the dagger he always kept nearby. No launcher tonight, that was being serviced by one of his mercenaries. If anything were to happen to Ancient, it would be personal.


Scuffle in the hall. Gruff exchange of voices. Two, maybe three distinct tones. The sound of footsteps. A knock.


“Assassin?” the voice called. One of his own guards. Ancient went to the door.




“There’s another here to see you. Says you know him, that you go way back.” Ancient was perplexed. At this hour?


“Did he give a name?” He inquired.


“Ah, yeah right. Said they call him Carana.” Ancient caught his breath at the name. Carana. How had he forgotten his friend in all this? The months had swam by and in the bustle of everything going on, Ancient had not had time to consider his friend.


“Send him in,” Ancient said, sheathing his dagger.




“You heard me,” Ancient hissed, with less patience this time. He heard the shuffle of footsteps again, soon followed by their return and a knock. Ancient opened the door to see his friend and the guards. He invited him in and closed the door behind him, the guards on the other side. “Carana, old friend!” he said happily.


“Yes, so it would seem,” Carana replied coolly. He remained standing by the window of Ancient’s upper story dwelling.


“It has been too long. There is much to talk about.” Carana held up a hand.


“You really did it.”


“Did what?” Ancient asked.


“You went and turned this place upside down.”


“I – I made a change in the way things are done.” Ancient had not often heard this tone when his friend spoke to him in the past.


Carana scoffed. “A change is a bit of an understatement.” He looked out the window. “Look here.” Ancient came alongside him. The morning light was breaking over the island, and as far as could be seen were tents or fires or the smoky blackness of soot. “That used to be a field of sculptors. There used to be people like us working there. Now, all I see is greed and death.” The daylight almost broke the clouds, but fresh plumes of smoke plunged the land back into gloomy, dismal darkness.


“Carana, the Miraki were exploiting us, exploiting you!” Ancient retorted.


“The Miraki gave us a way of life!” Carana shot back. “We were safe! We were fed. We knew that when our heads hit the bed and we closed our eyes, that we would open them again. Now, the people live in terror of what may come. Yes, you’ve made a change in the way things are. But I do not know how you can live with yourself for it.” Ancient’s heart stung with the words of his friend.


“Carana, we could not go on forever the way things were,” he tried to suggest. Carana wouldn’t have it.


“Yes, yes we could have. There was security, and everyone had their place,” he fired. “Sure, some of us were lower on the chain, but we were on the chain! There wasn’t this stench of fear and loss and smoke. It might not have been comfort, but it is better than what you have brought upon us all.” Carana sighed and turned away, walking into the room. Ancient turned to follow him with his gaze.


“You can’t seriously think that living like we were was better than what we might attain?” Ancient said.


“And what is it that we might attain?” Carana spat. “A chest of gold? Maybe two?” Ancient swallowed. But even as the guilt rose sharply within him, he quashed it with the hope of a better tomorrow.


“The only way forward was to break what already was,” Ancient said, defiantly. “No one would do it. Someone had to. Mata Nui chose me.”


“Mata Nui –” Carana gaped, and he flared in anger. “Mata Nui? Do you hear yourself? Holy warrior sent by the Great Spirit to free us? Oh, mighty one, how humbled I am to be in your service,” Carana mockingly bowed with great pomp. “Shall I offer my own service? Or my land? Or the life of my people for you?”


“Carana,” Ancient began again. Carana once more held up a hand.


“No. I came hoping to find some reason within you,” Carana said. “I thought maybe the old you was hiding somewhere in that thick armor of yours. But I can tell you’re bent on this.” The room was hot with tension as sculptor and sculptor stood facing one another again for the first time again. Although, they were not sculptor and sculptor anymore. Carana sighed. “I simply cannot see what you see. Nor can I agree with what you’re doing. I had a life, and now my pit is overturned every day with some new declaration of ownership. The Miraki have spared me so far, but I can’t count how many have been lost to this conflict.”


“Carana, I never intended the loss of so much,” Ancient said. “But there are consequences we must pay to break free from this tyranny.”


“You sound like a Miraki,” Carana hissed. “The last time I saw you, you had risked your own life to save the lives of people like me. Now you simply accept our murder in the name of freedom. Come down to the pits and stand where just the memories of hundreds of your people remain and tell them that their freedom matters.” Carana shook his head, and then added, “What happened that led you down this road?”


Ancient opened his mouth, and then closed it again. There were no words to convince his friend. And Carana could see Ancient wouldn’t be convinced either. His shoulders fell, and when he looked up into Ancient’s gaze the assassin could no longer see the twinkling light dance in Carana’s eyes, that glimmer of hope that would have always brought him a mote of comfort in the darkness. All that stared back was a cold, hard glare that mirrored the shadows of the room in which these two longtime allies found themselves on this dreary early morning.


Carana wasted no more time. “Goodbye, old friend,” he said. “At the rate of this war, I don’t expect we’ll meet again. But it seems you’ve forgotten who we are anyways, so I guess that doesn’t matter anymore.” Carana opened the door and pushed passed the guards. Ancient stood in the middle of the room, alone, words caught in his throat.


“Carana…” he squeaked out. The moments moved slowly as Ancient registered Carana’s fleeting farewell. Perhaps the final farewell. A guard popped his head in.


“Sir, everything alright?” Ancient caught himself up and straightened, clearing his throat. There was still so much to do.


“Yes…” Ancient replied slowly. “We just had some… old business to finish.”



* * *



Over the course of the next year and a half, each of the Miraki had either disappeared or been removed from power. Ancient and his mercenaries may have had a strong hand to play in that outcome. The people recognized the destruction that came from a divided society, and banded together to reform their civilization. New leaders were chosen, leaders from among the people. Some regions took longer to calm than others. But for all intents and purposes, the civil war had come to an end, and the island was returning to a place of some peace.


Some of the island’s inhabitants had a taste of war and liked it more than others. Those who wanted to took off to other lands, to rule and conquer and grow their own empire. Most of the inhabitants were simply glad that the war was over and they could focus on rebuilding their lives.


Ancient walked alone in the sculptors’ pits where he had saved his people from the Nui-Kopen. He often thought of Carana’s words, and wondered if he had been wrong to join Lariska and break free from the cruel oppression of the Miraki. He hadn’t seen Carana since their falling out, and though Ancient had hardened himself in the face of war, he could not help but wonder for his friend’s safety and wellbeing. Still, what had resulted in war also resulted in freedom for the people and a new day for his island home.


Yet he couldn’t help but feel unsettled. Although he had done some unspeakable things throughout the war, the people were willing to recognize him as the hero that brought true change to the island. But he was no longer needed here. His mission was over. Lariska had gone off to other lands to seek more adventure, and the rest of the mercenaries reintegrated into society, if they didn’t go off to conquer new lands themselves.


Ancient bent down and picked up a sculpting tool and a stone. He spent a few moments getting the first lines of a sculpture formed, and then heard someone approach behind him. Whirling around, he saw one of his own standing next to a sculptor’s table. This being was clad in silver and bright yellow armor, and his eyes were lit with excitement.


“Can I… help you?” Ancient said cautiously. “You know the war is over. There’s no more fight right now.” The other being laughed softly.


“Ah, Assassin, I have a different idea in mind. I’ve been watching your actions for the last few months and I must say, I am very impressed. I have an offer you won’t want to refuse.” Ancient put down the sculpture.


“What’s on your mind?” He asked.


“I know you’re done work on this island,” the being’s metallic voice rang low in the pit. “But I also know a fellow like you probably can’t put down the feel of the hunt for long. It’s a dark world out there, and there’s going to be people who need people like you to help them see the light.” Ancient wasn’t sure what to make of this being. “I’m interested in your business.”


“Like I said,” Ancient responded, “The war’s over. Business concluded.”


“Here, perhaps,” the being replied. “But out there, out there is new land to be discovered. New beings to recruit and to serve. New opportunities for riches and rewards for the taking. I want you to join me and strike out to make a name for ourselves.”


“You mean, take my business and spread out to the whole world?” Ancient replied, intrigued.


“Precisely,” the silver and yellow being said. “I’m sure we could find a few good workers to join our cause. What do you say?” Ancient pondered this opportunity. It was true that the war was over, but he had just gotten used to his new power and might. The chance to extend his grasp further…


“Alright, you have yourself a deal. And I know someone we should bring on board right away.” The other being nodded approvingly.


“Excellent. Reach out to them. We’re off to change the history of this place forever.” Ancient pocketed his miniature sculpture and joined the other being as they walked out of the sculptors’ pits. They immediately headed for the docks to board a ship and set sail for a new dawn.


“Any idea what you might want to call this little venture of yours?” Ancient asked. The other being smiled a sly grin.


“I was thinking something along the lines of Dark Hunters.”

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