The Dark Forest. A place that everybody feared. The trees in this forest were so tall and so dense that the forest floor had since long been cast into a stage of perpetual darkness. Many camp-fire stories have been told about this unfriendly place, and the numerous people that have entered, supposedly, never to return. Most people see these myths as just that, myths, but despite the world being in an age of technology, were every inch of the globe was meticulously studied, explorers had never quite been able to navigate through the entire Dark Forest. . . .
Deep in this otherwise silent place the quiet night was interrupted by the light sound of someone running. A young woman was rushing through the dense woods. Normally this person’s running wouldn’t make a sound, no matter how hard the young woman pushed herself to run, but today was different. If one were to look closely, one would notice that the sleek, black, leathery suit she was wearing was drenched in blood. This in itself was not unusual for her, but this time, most of the blood was hers.
On her back sat a small child whose long, silvery hair whipped wildly behind them as they made their way deeper and deeper into the forest. The child was a young teenager, at most, but had a very androgynous appearance making it hard to tell if it was a girl or a boy. The child’s originally white clothes were now dyed red from tightly hugging the running woman.
“Just a bit further, Miss Night!” the child urged.
“Quiet!” hissed the woman; she was afraid that someone might pinpoint their location through their voices.
Unfortunately, her fears were not without reason, because a couple hundred meters behind her, dozens of people in black cloaks were rushing to catch up to them. They were being hunted and the distance between the hunters and the hunted was slowly shrinking.
The chase continued and before long the pursuers had all but caught up, only tens of meters remained. Just as ‘Miss Night’ was about to curse that the situation had become hopeless she noticed a clearing up ahead, and on the other side of that clearing was a very narrow passage between two mountain sides.
‘This must be the Rift! If the kid can get through to the other side he will be safe!’ The sight made her lip twitch into a slight smile as she forced her legs to make a last spurt towards the Rift. One meter away she stopped and practically threw the child off her back and into the narrow passage.
“Run! Don’t look back!” As the young ‘Miss Night’ shouted she turned around to face the oncoming assault of their pursuers. To herself she thought bitterly ‘This is why I never took any protection missions – running away on your own is one thing, but standing your ground. . . .’
The child only paused for a second before he too turned and, with tears running down his cheeks, dashed deeper into the Rift. Behind him the clearing had already been filled with nearly thirty angry looking men in black cloaks who all aimed their firearms at ‘Miss Night’, his savior.
For a moment the silence returned once more to the forest. The pursuers suddenly seemed hesitant to continue, as if their numbers and numerous firearms no longer would be enough to take care of the woman in front of them. After what seemed like ages, an older gentleman stepped out from the crowd.
“Raven Night! By the order of the Union I demand that you let us pass!”
The man’s shouts echoed against the mountain walls but Raven’s only reply was to, with a flip of her wrists, activate the two sword-units she was carrying along her arms and ready her stance for battle.
“You have already killed nearly a hundred of your comrades! If that child doesn’t die, being the Night Singer won’t be enough to spare your life!”
Raven Night glared at the dark group in front of her. Not long ago she had considered herself one of them and she couldn’t help but think back on the nearly 25 years she had lived as a faithful servant of the Assassin Union. She had no memories of her parents and by now she barely remembered the horrible orphanage she had spent her first three years in. Her first strong memory was from the day a Union member had come to her orphanage and picked four toddlers, seemingly at random, and Raven had been one of them.
The Union member had taken her and her fellow orphans to a run-down warehouse where four people were chained to the floor. The Union member had then given them guns and ordered them to kill a captive each. If they did as they were told they would be granted a place to call home and a purpose in their lives, if they did not they themselves would be slain. Normal kids might not understand the meaning of death at the age of three but these orphans had already lived through enough to know and fear death. The four kids had only glanced at each other before they fired their guns.
As a result they had all been taken to the Union to begin their training as assassins. She had been given the name Raven Night; ‘Raven’ had been the name of the chained captive she had shot and ‘Night’ was her unit. Any other names she had were to be forgotten, and they were.
The training had been grueling. To call it torture would be more accurate, and at times not even that would suffice to describe what they had to experience, but the Union knew what they were doing and the kids quickly became loyal beyond belief. Raven Night had excelled in training and had extraordinary perception. She quickly shot through the ranks and by the age of 18 she was already considered to be the best assassin alive.
She was given the nickname Night Singer and her ‘performance’ became feared all over the world. She would execute her missions faster and cleaner than anybody else and by the age of 25, the body count left in her wake had reached the equivalent of a medium-sized city, and this wasn’t counting the time she was ordered to actually erase an entire city – since it had been done with explosives, rather than by her own hands, she didn’t feel like it counted. . . .
Most likely she would have continued to be a loyal servant of the Assassin Union until killed in action, but her latest mission had changed that. She had been sent to a secluded mountain village with orders kill a young child living with the town elders. This was a fairly common assignment; some hotshot had most likely fathered an illegitimate child and now another heir wanted to get rid of the competition. Of course this was all speculation; reasons behind the missions were never stated and Raven never asked.
It was supposed to be a routine hit, but the moment she had laid eyes on her target she had felt an inexplicable urge to protect him. She really couldn’t say why. It was not love or pity or any other odd emotional reason – such nonsense had long since been eroded away by her training – but there had been a sort of eerie nobility in the child that had struck at her very soul. It was a presence she hadn’t experienced before and it made her question every order she had ever followed. In that instant she had gained the insight to the difference between following orders because you wanted to and simply following out of habit or fear. She hadn’t hesitated for a second. Within minutes she had grabbed the kid and started running.
Naturally the Union had learned of her disregard for orders and had labeled her a traitor. Now, half a year later the Union had finally caught up. “Humph! Union puppets, I am done killing for others. Done killing for reasons not my own.” As she spoke, the initial disdain on her face was replaced with an eerie sort of calm. “It may be the last thing I do, but I will protect that child. Come!” At the last word an overwhelming killing intent filled the clearing.
After only a brief millisecond of hesitation the man shouted his order “Engage!”
At once every dark cloaked assassin fired their guns as half of them rushed forward in a frenzy. They knew very well that simple guns wouldn’t do the trick against the legendary Night Singer. Being the queen of all assassins, perhaps even the greatest assassin the world had ever seen, guns had stopped being fatal for her a long time ago. But they would still be a distraction that could slow her down.
Despite the blood flowing from the heavy wounds she had already obtained, Raven Night moved like a light feather with her two swords flying around her in streaks of light. A faint whistle rang out every time she, with perceived ease, blocked an incoming bullet. But as the cloaked assassins drew closer she was forced to split her attention between those fighting in close combat and those who momentarily jumped away only to fire their guns again. She also had to make sure no one darted into the Rift behind her to pursue the fleeing child.
What followed was a fierce battle where the thirty cloaked assassins took turns slashing and shooting at the lone Raven guarding the Rift. No commands were shouted among the attackers, no cries of pain were heard. Nobody that witnessed the fight would doubt for a second that everyone present were professionals at killing. Every so often an attacker would fall to the ground by Raven’s swords and the group was shrinking in size. But her defenses were becoming less and less perfect. It was only a matter of time before a fatal wound would be inflicted.
As the fourteenth attacker fell dead to the ground the air about the cloaked men changed and their attacks intensified. They no longer switched between shooting and engaging in close-combat, but rather combined the two and disregarded the risks of friendly fire.
Raven grunted and stretched out her two swords in opposite directions. The sharp swords effortlessly pierced through two assassins that had drawn too close to Rift too recklessly.
At this point four more assassins rushed in and used all their strength to keep Raven’s swords lodged in her last kills and block her line of sight. Without blinking, the remaining assassins emptied their firearms, straight through their own comrades. Over a hundred shots were fired before the bullet riddled bodies sank to the ground.
Surrounded by corpses Raven sank to her knees, her eyes glazed over as she stared of into the distance, not focusing on anything in particular. ‘I . . . I guess this is my limit. . . ,’ she thought as her vision became blurry, darkness tugging at the corners. ‘Over 25 years of bringing death . . . hehe . . . with today’s kills I guess I’ve surpassed the hundred-thousand-hits record. . . . Ironic. . . .’
As last strength left her, Raven Night fell to ground with her head facing the dark depth of the Rift. Of the remaining ten assassins, eight only paused for a second before they started to flood into the Rift. The remaining two people slowly approached the dying assassin legend – even as the last breaths were leaving her, the other assassin still showed caution.
‘I hope the child made it. . . . At least then I’ve done something good in this life.’
The final thought flickered through Raven’s mind as the two assassins aimed their guns at her head. She didn’t have time to register the sound from the gunshots before darkness and nothingness claimed her.