“Who dares trespass on this forbidden ground?”
The deafening roar and the terrible majesty of the dragon froze Hayate where he stood, his shadow writhing like a snake in the candlelight.
The roar did more than just shake the air. Ancient runes began to appear around Hayate, glowing with white-hot brilliance. At that instant, Hayate knew that a decade of planning had come to naught.
Hayate was a ninja from Mist Island. Ever since he reached majority he had followed the leader of his clan, protecting the sea gate to Mount Orphean. Few knew of their existence, which was precisely why they had been able to protect the world from being consumed by darkness.
“Too much blood has been shed…” As he watched shovels of earth being piled on the previous leader’s coffin, seeds of dissatisfaction began to grow in Hayate’s heart. He began to doubt the responsibility and duty passed down from generation to generation by the elders, and even more so the Temple of Light.
To him, the pact between the Dragon and the Temple was not a fair one — the ninjas who inherited the Dragon’s blood and power protected the Temple’s glory with their lives, but received no reward of any kind from the Temple — not even a shred of respect.
The humble servant had had enough of being looked down upon by the gods.
As a descendant of the Dragons’ bloodline, even if a rather distant one, Hayate knew well what power the Temple held. The up-and-coming Alliance of Human Kingdoms, the Forest of Shadows which had fought so fiercely in the Dark Invasions — none of them could hold a candle to the demigod who dwelled on the holy mountain.
It was not a matter of strong or weak, but a question of nature. Light was one of the Original Powers that constituted, guided and protected the world before the gods disappeared. It represented the will of the world, the laws of the world, a pact that bound the people of Mist Island to the Temple.
The power of Origins could only be fought with the same power. Hayate found himself forced into an uneasy alliance with his enemies, the Abyss — his goal of separating Mist Island from the Temple would weaken the Temple’s defenses, thus aligning his purpose with that of the Abyss.
Elevating his bloodline with the voodoo potion of the warlock Mganga and forbidden arts of the Abyss, Hayate successfully got past the enchantments that guarded the ancient shrine and made his way towards Dragon Tower where the pact was kept. For ten years he watched and waited as countless comrades died before his eyes, waiting for this opportunity.
Just one more step.
Hayate carefully approached the magic circle protecting the pact. He had the nail of a demon on his belt, its dark powers able to sever the link between the pact and the Temple. But that was merely the final step on a perilous journey. In the span of a hundred paces, Hayate had to dispel thirty-six hidden enchantments, each designed to detect and foil intruders in a different way.
Hayate navigated all the difficulties and challenges with guile worthy of a master ninja. But there was one flaw in his plan. He was not born into the direct lineage, but an impostor, one who masked the impurity of his Dragon blood with voodoo medicine and forbidden magic to gain entry to Dragon Tower. As the last enchantment was dispelled, the effect of the potion began to wear off, and the change in his blood drew the Dragon’s ire.
The Temple discovered Hayate’s intrusion when the runes glowed. Within moments, the shrine was surrounded by ninjas. But Hayate would not go down so easily. He still had the demon nail in his hand – his one chance at turning the tables.
Having made his resolve, Hayate stood up from his crouched sneaking position, and not even the enchantments of the tower could keep him down. The piercing pain in his palm and the raging power of darkness buffeted his soul.
“Upon this night I give my blood in the name of darkness, that light shall be severed and sundered and scattered to the void.”
Focusing the darkness at his fingertip, Hayate stabbed at the pact. The Dragon inside screamed as darkness pierced its very soul.
But then a holy light shot into the sky before Hayate could deliver the final blow. Xeniel descended from the sky with six wings spread out behind him, clad in holy armor and wielding his warhammer.
His last-bid gambit foiled by Xeniel’s timely appearance, Hayate escaped only because of a plan that had Mganga laid long before the move.
“So, you expected me to fail?” Hayate said wryly.
“Hope for the best and plan for the worst, that’s all,” replied Mganga.
“But you know I won’t join you. All I wanted was to keep Mist Island out of the coming war. I didn’t get the Dragon Blood that I promised, and now I never will… I’m of no use to you, or to anyone for that matter.”
“The Queen’s orders are to bring you back safely. Her plans for you are not for me to reveal, but fear not – a bottle of water may be worthless at the riverside, but worth its weight in gold in the desert. Your value is not for yourself to decide.”
“Very well… if your Queen can help me achieve my aim, then perhaps she will earn my allegiance… until then, my only allegiance lies with Mist Island, my people, even if they think me a traitor!”
Hayate closed his eyes and began his meditation routine. He knew he needed to regain his full strength as quickly as he could, in order to face the innumerable challenges on the road ahead.
“It takes great perseverance to achieve great deeds.”