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A Hunting We Will Go

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By now it barely phased him.

Grant's childhood, at least the parts that he could recall, were marked by long periods of his fathers absence; broken up by short periods of his presence. Eventually Rowan disappeared for so long that his son had set out to find him; a journey that had changed the course of his life. Years later parent and child would meet again, and Grant would gain a mother in addition to regaining a father. Unfortunately, some things never changed, and that included Rowan's proclivity for disappearing for long stretches without warning. This most recent return was promised to be the last, with the King Consort promising to spend more time at home to figure out his new powers; along with playing a greater hand in raising Grant's younger siblings. Foolishly, the Prince had allowed himself to hope that maybe this time would be different. Maybe they could be a family again.

Once again his hopes had turned out to be wishful thinking when his mother informed him that Rowan had left in order to better understand the new power that he wielded. Emotional scar tissue accumulated over his thirty-three years dulled his own pain at the news. No, he was more concerned about James and Surya; though both had so far taken the news admirably well. Still, he knew that it hurt to have a parent leave, and he made sure to talk with them often to make sure they were getting along okay. Lencio and Gillium were doing well too, but he wasn't sure how close they had been to Rowan. Now he was stepping into the role of father in addition to older brother, and he wasn't sure the newest mantle would ever feel like it fit.

Raveena herself bore this latest departure with all the grace and dignity one might expect from an Empress; though he knew that it hurt her in ways she did not show. Sometimes Grant felt like a failure as her adopted son; never able to give her the love and comfort that she had given him so many times. He knew there were burdens that she could not share with him. Things that were beyond his capability to aid her with. Still, he tried to do what he could to make life even a little bit easier for her. Naturally once he'd heard about the new man in her life, he felt the need to know more about the man.

Kaige Severos was famed as a demon hunter of peerless skill; and the rumors asserted that he was the newest of his mothers lovers. Grant had known about the later before even the tabloids, and had waited to see how things would develop before taking any action. Now that the two had grown quite close, the Prince had decided it was time for him to meet Kaige, and take his own measure of the man. 

To facilitate this, Grant had contacted the man with a job, and told the hunter to meet him at a bar just outside the warehouse district. Now he sat at a table in the rear of the room, waiting for Kaige to appear.

@The Hummingbird @Malintzin

 

 

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Letter in hand, Kaige glanced up at the sign, confirming the meeting place. The Gilded Chalice was the name, with the silver cup in gold trim painted upon the wooden board in admirable detail. Even outside, he could hear the clamor of many patrons within, ensuring that any private conversation taking place would be well drowned out. This new client, who had provided no name and only gave the description of the clothes he would be wearing, was smart.

In any case, Kaige loved a good drink anyway.

He patted his loyal horse, Westwind, on its muscular neck, murmuring for it to be a good boy as he hitched the stallion to a post. Then he went inside.

While modest outside, the bar aimed to match its fancy name. The tables and chairs were all made of the same, majestic redwood, and the counter to the bar was a shining mahogany. Behind this was an impressive tower of wine bottles, ales, and beers, glistening under the white light cast by curious, spherical lamps hanging from the ceiling. Everything looked clean and polished, and the smell emitted from food seemed fresh and tantalizing.

More importantly, the people occupying the bar seemed in good cheer, laughing and talking. This was a place of safety and refuge that one could trust. Only one or two glanced up as Kaige entered, closing the door softly behind him. It took him less than two seconds to see the attire of the client. With little hesitation he proceeded to the table.

The man sliding into a seat across from his employer was garbed in the usual outfit; a full body suit of black armor, made of boiled leather and bronze accents. It fit his tall, lean form perfectly, custom made for him and greatly cared for. It matched the spear he carried across his back, a fine weapon from one could tell by its gleam and polish, though the long blade was wrapped in a strip of white cloth in a gesture of peace.

“Are you thirsty?” Kaige asked amiably as he settled into his chair, leaning his spear against the wall. He gestured for a waitress, who came hurrying. “A glass of the… hmm, Twin Crests wine, please, and whatever my friend here would like. Oh, and please bring the tab to me,” Kaige added.

He turned to his drinking partner and held out a hand in a deceptively trusting gesture. “Kaige Severos, at your service.”

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Grant gave a small smile, and shook the offered hand, "Grant Knight. A pleasure to meet you, Mr. Severos."

Requesting a tumbler of whiskey from the waitress, he would take a moment to appraise the man sitting across from him; which also gave Kaige a moment to consider the gravity of the situation. It wasn't often that the Imperial Prince summoned a demon hunter for a meeting in a bar. Not to mention the added tension of being summoned by the son of the woman Kaige was romantically involved with. There was no way that the other man didn't know what this was about; and if he were as clever as Raveena had implied, he'd probably known an encounter like this was coming. 

First impressions were favorable. Skilled warriors could recognize another of their kind, and Grant could tell that Severos was no stranger to battle. The armor and weapon were obvious giveaways, but there were more subtle signs as well. The way he moved, how he held himself, the way he took in the entirety of the room without visibly looking. Of course, he had also looked into the hunters reputation, and found him highly regarded. 

Once the drinks arrived, he took a long sip of the amber liquid before breaking the silence.

"I'm sure you can guess why you're here; in addition to the job mentioned in the letter of course. But first I want to ask you two questions; what have you heard about me, and more importantly, what do you think of my mother?"

The inquiry about himself was a test of sorts that Kaige was meant to fail. Publicly, Grant was a prince, and known to be the head of the Web. Secretly, he had also created his own black ops outfit known as Aphelion; an organization so secretive that not even Raveena knew of its existence. Kaige was the sort of person who would hear rumors of such things, and if he had heard about Aphelion, it meant there was a serious problem.

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If Kaige was shocked, or even mildly surprised, none of it showed. Placing a fist over his heart, he tilted his head forward in a modified bow of the common man to royalty. He would have taken the knee, but that would have drawn attention, and he was certain Grant Knight wanted that no more than he. He shook hands with the Prince, and smiled.

It was not a simple expression, returned only for civility, however. He analyzed the way Grant’s hand gripped his own to find it strong, sure, and confident, without being overbearing. A favorable sign.

The drinks were promptly delivered. He swirled the wine, breathing the scent in; a fine vintage, blackberries and dark oak. Taking a sip, he examined Grant as he mulled over the questions. He understood the first, and the second… he too had heard the gossip and read the tabloids. Though he had done his best to dispel the rumors if he happened upon them while traveling amid the kingdom, it seemed the fire spread too widely, too quickly to quell so easily.

“I have heard thou art a man of power and intrigue, my Lord,” Kaige answered readily. “You have lost much and learned much, though I shall not bore thee with your own life story.” He leaned back, slinging one leg over the other, considering. He had done his research, and found men and women of shady organizations dead or otherwise missing. Orders that might, if allowed to grow, threaten the kingdom and its ruler. He thought briefly about all he had learned, about the locations and whereabouts of Raveena’s other children, down even to details not privy to everyone.

He spoke slowly, carefully. “Thy doings are secret to one such as me, but not so obscure. And the results are apparent. One may ascertain you take a very… hands on approach with protecting thy kingdom and mother, Lord.” He paused, then grinned. “Also that thou are quite the looker… among ladies and a few men.”

“A fine Empress and ruler the Empress is,” he went on. “She is wise, and deeply troubled. But a good ruler, for I see great reverence among her people. They walk in faith and dignity. ‘Tis a rare thing to see such trust in a people these days, no?”

He looked away, his smile fading as he recalled the dreaded promise he had made – to end her life, should she become a monster. He thought of the sword she had given him, which was at the moment strapped tight to his horse’s flank.

“Use only at your most dire hour,” she had said.

 His eyes returned to the Prince. “Listen, I’ve not shared her bed. The time we’ve spent together was strictly business.”

He took the letter received from Grant and slid it across the table. “Now. What is this job that requires my attention?”

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At Kaige's description of him, the prince allowed himself another small smile, "I suppose all that is true to some extent."

The details of Grant's past were a mystery to the public; partially because they were also murky for the man himself. His mind had been tampered with so much that it was still difficult to distinguish real memories from implanted ones. Naturally, this only served as fuel for the rumor mill; with wild speculation abounding in the yellow press. Still, anyone interested in doing so would be able to find most of the truth from the commonalities between the tales, as well as the scant few things he had said on the record. As the hunter had said, it was often a tragic one, filled with loss and regret. But he always managed to come back from it; often with his mother and the rest of his family propping him up when all hope seemed lost. They were everything to him. 

Which meant Kaige was also correct about what he would do to protect them.

The hunters blunt declaration about his relationship to his mother earned a chuckle, "I know. To be honest, she would probably tell me if you had become lovers. My mother has never felt a need to keep her love a secret. It's one of the things I most admire about her. She lives her life out in the open, caring nothing for those who would judge her. Befitting of the sun that guides our empire, wouldn't you say?"

Draining his drink, he would now turn to the business at hand, "In the last two weeks there have been several killings in the dockyards. The bodies are dismembered with surgical precision; but they are also covered in bite wounds that don't match human teeth. There have also reports of loud, bestial growling in the area, but as of yet no one has reported seeing any kind of creature."

 

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Fingers woven together, Kaige listened closely to the crimes Grant depicted. His eyes narrowed in thought, though there appeared be no disgust evident in his features. Indeed, he had seen such things before – murder and massacres, tortured bodies and worse were all commonplace when it came to demons, and he had fought and quelled the worst of them.

“Interesting,” he said at last, as if they had been merely discussing a piece of art. He took another sip of wine and frowned. “Frankly, that description helps little. My quarry comes in all shapes and sizes, and their nature and intent varies just as widely. Rakshasas or simple behemoths, greaters or lesser, it could be any of them. Though a higher I doubt, as it sounds very animalistic.”

There were several classes of demons. High demons were the most deadly and crafty, the most intelligent. But despite that they rarely went on simple killing sprees, leaning toward subtle and curious whims, which they carried out in more sophisticated ways. In contrast, the lesser demons and behemoths were at the other end of the spectrum.

The trouble was, there were always exceptions, and there were so many demons, it was hard to make a guess based on the limited detail the Prince could give.

Fortunately, this demon had left an indent that could provide all the needed information. It had left Tracks. Gruesome tracks, but clear and readable.

He set aside the wine glass and looked at Grant. “I’d like to see one of the bodies, my Lord. I can hunt it down with my spear flailing and likely die, or I can do it the right way.” He raised an eyebrow expectantly as he then made an educated guess.

“Besides, if thou plans to follow me into the fray, I must know what to expect, yes?”

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