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The Blood Hierarchy 

The tavern is small and weathered. The gable roof is missing shingles, the deep red of its tiles faded by the influence of time and rain. The edges of its walls are sodden and stained, the wooden planks yellowed and beginning to rot. Several windows have been boarded up, but dirty shards of broken glass still linger near the shattered frames. Muck and garbage litter the streets beside the building, emanating an awful stench perfect for the environment. 

The place is a den of murderers, after all. 

A woman stands in front of the tavern, the short waves of her dark hair billowing in the breeze. She studies the poor state of the building as the crescent moon above dangles from a glittering black sky. The city around her is subdued and silent, quiet under the argent midnight. 

There are still people around—many, actually. Groups of drunkards, whores, and thieves wander the backstreets near the tavern, several going in every now and then. A few converse near the building, others sip drinks and stare into the air, seemingly immune to the overwhelming stench wafting through the street. Sometimes, the whores take a man behind the tavern and don’t emerge for hours. This has been the state of affairs since the sun fell beneath the distant hills. 

The woman knows this because she has been stalking the tavern since daybreak. None of the drunkards or thieves approach her. The whores keep their distance. The casting moonlight does not shine where she stands. In a district of criminals and prostitutes, she is the enigma.


They know what she is—most people can tell from her looks alone. Her eyes are a strange crimson, and her skin is pale alabaster. She is tall and lean, her posture sharp like a knife. A dark cloak rests on her shoulders and trails dust across the grime-stained street as her silent footsteps bring her to the weathered door. Its tattered fabric parts as she lifts her arms, revealing pale skin covered in a thin crisscrossing of scars. 

The woman places her hand on the door and pauses. In the corner of her eye, she sees the denizens of the street begin to leave. Casting wary glances in her direction, they disappear into the darkness of the city backstreets without a trace. 

Just like they know what she is, they also know what she is here to do. 

The woman breathes in deeply, attempting to calm herself. 

In. Out. In. Out. 

She creates a steady rhythm with her breathing until her mind is blank, and the only thing she can think of is what awaits her within. 

The woman pushes the doors open and steps inside. 

Murderers and conmen. Liars and thieves. Charlatans and whores. 

The woman watches as scores of them crowd the small tavern, milling about, drinking liquor, playing cards, and singing along to the off-tune melody of a banjo playing in the background. As she steps forward into the den, the woman resists the urge to cover her nose—the stench in the room is overwhelming, like a field of fresh corpses rotting in the sun. 

She looks around once, then twice. The bar doesn’t seem particularly exclusive. Denizens of all ages occupy the large tables, from filthy children barely into their teens to hunchbacked old men, sipping their liquor silently at the back while the men and women at the center of the bar revel in their vice. 

She sighs. This is the part she enjoys the least.


Ignoring the stench assailing her senses, the woman clears her throat and steps forward. “Telvar Ulkshner,” she calls out. “Which one of you here is Telvar Ulkshner?” 

The tavern falls silent. 

The shuffling of cards stops. All heads turn toward her. The woman doesn’t bat an eye. She doesn’t shout or raise her voice—she never has to. She has a way of getting others’ attention when she wants to. "No one?" She repeats her question in Veylottan, then Karvati after that. She even asks in Gaalan, just to be sure. No one steps forward. The woman shrugs. "So be it." 

The crowd parts around her as the woman heads to the front of the bar and takes a seat on the chair that looks the least damaged. She puts a dirty coin down on the table and rests her chin in her hand.


"I'll have some ale." 

The bartender—an older man with graying hair, bearish features, and a protruding waistline--grimaces at her but obliges. Ignoring the prick of countless eyes boring into her back, the woman takes a long, slow drink from the lukewarm ale he sets down in front of her. She sighs at the pleasant burn it gives her throat going down. 

In the corner of her eye, she sees a few of the men whisper amongst themselves before disappearing into the crowd. She shrugs and returns to her drink. There’s no rush for her, really. The man in question will appear when he’s good and ready. In the meantime… 

She sets a second coin down. “I’ll have another.” 

It takes two hours for someone to talk to her. 

The woman is onto her fifth drink and the bar has returned to its normal buzz, although many of the men still sneak glances her way, while the women whisper about her in low, scathing tones. 




Ignoring the irony, she sips quietly at her warm glass of ale. She has been called many worse things by many kinder people. It’s then that a man appears at her side, ratty brown hair sticking out in every direction as he sits down beside her. 

The woman offers him a pleasant smile, lifting her drink in greetings. “Good evening.” 

“Stefan,” says the man, motioning to the barkeep. “Beer.” He doesn’t put any money on the table, but the barkeep sets a large glass of beer down in front of him anyway. The man takes a massive swig of his drink, almost emptying the glass in the space of a breath. When he’s done, he sets the empty glass down and makes a guttural noise likely meant to be a burp. 

The woman watches him curiously, waiting. The man stares straight forward, refusing to acknowledge her, but when the barkeep comes back over to refill both of their glasses, she doesn’t miss the fraction of a moment that his eyes flick to the man. The woman watches the barkeep walk away with their drinks, thinking.  

Just as she considers feigning ignorance to get some sort of reaction out of him, the man speaks up in a gruff, uneven voice. “Why’re you looking for Telvar?” 

She turns her body so that she’s facing him. The man is wearing a bulky gray coat, with fingerless black gloves and baggy trousers pulled down into ratty green boots. He looks like he’s ready to go on a journey somewhere, and he sounds like he just woke up from a terrible hangover. 

The woman raises an eyebrow. “Are you sure you want to know?” 

He shrugs, still not looking at her. “Figure I should know if things are about to get ugly. Makes it easier to run.


“And if I told you they are?” 

He chuckles dryly. “I’d believe you.” 

The bar buzzes with subdued noise. The men gamble and make deals in low tones; the women on their laps coo and whisper sweet nothings into their ears; the children in the bar run around with dizzying speed, delivering drinks and food while struggling not to be trampled underfoot by the parading drunks. “Don’t see many star-brats around here,” the man says. “What brings someone like you to a beat-up old place like this?” In response to the barkeep’s glare, he shrugs and adds, “No offense, Stefan. Only saying the place could use a bit of remodeling.” He turns to her for the first time. “So? What’re you doing here?”


The woman swirls her ale idly. “I’m looking into a case for my work.” 

“Yeah? Your work always needs sky-splitters?” 

She chuckles humorlessly. “Certainly not, but it does help.” She glances at him from the corner of her eye, noting the greenish tint of color lining the edges of his hazel eyes. “I’m a bit of a rarity, in a way.” 

“What, you ain’t met any others like you?”


The swirling glass stops. “I have.” 

The man notices the change in her tone. He turns back to face the bar, taking a small sip of his beer. “I wanna know what happened to them?” 

The woman shrugs. “The same thing that happens to most of us when we make a name for ourselves.” 

“You mean being snatched up by the military, getting killed by a bunch of headhunters, or getting thrown into a lake to see if you can swim?” 

She traces a finger along the rough wood bar. “That’s the most of it.” 

He snorts. “Yeah? Then how are you still alive?” 

“Because those before me chose this line of work.” The woman turns her hand over and stares at her palm. “I did not.” 

“Yeah?” His expression turns strange. “You like what you do, lady? It make you happy?” 

Happy isn’t quite the word I’d use.” 

“What is, then?” 

She smiles to herself. “I suppose you could say that it’s just who I am.” 

The man turns to face her, his grizzled features contorted in equal parts curiosity and disdain.


He doesn’t understand, the woman thinks to herself. Few do. Oh well. 

She sets her glass down. 

The man stiffens. The barkeep freezes in place. The din of music around them cuts to a screeching halt. All at once, the bar descends into eerie silence. No one moves. No one speaks. The woman doubts anyone in the room is even breathing. 

“Telvar Ulkshner.” 

A frigid wind whips through the room. It steals away the stench of corpses, and in its place, brings the familiar, metallic smell of blood. 


“A criminal wanted for theft from royal properties, attempted assault, and the manslaughter of those who wished to take back what he stole.” 

Two scarlet eyes glow a sickly crimson in the dim light of the tavern. They are wild and unhinged, with pupils so dilated they’re pinpricks of black in a sea of blood. 

The man stares straight forward. “Whatever you’re doing,” he says through clenched teeth. “Stop it.” 

“Normally,” the woman says, eyes aglow, “I wouldn’t have bothered with a case like this.” She leans toward him, lowering her voice to a whisper. “But do you know what makes this particular case so interesting?” 

A muscle in his jaw ticks. “Stop it.” 

“Witnesses say he stole from a noble household, killed a guard dog bare-handed, and then after that, killed three armed guards by himself in the space of a minute.” She practically purrs. “They say he smashed in their skulls with his bare fists, one after the other. They claim he snapped the dog’s neck.” Her eyes go wide. “A mutt nearly as large as a man, and they say he snapped its neck without any injury to himself. He just grabbed the thing, took it to the ground, and twisted.” 

The man finally looks at her—eyes narrowed, face contorted into a silent snarl, veins bulging with barely leashed rage. “I’m sorry,” he says. “I don’t think I caught your name.” 

The woman reveals her teeth in kind. “Humor me just a moment longer, and it’s yours.”  

The glass in his hand cracks. She carries on. “Do you think a normal man could have done all those things? Break into a gated noble household in broad daylight? Kill a guard dog with his bare hands and have no injuries to show for it?” Her voice is almost giddy as she whispers the few next words. “Do you think a normal man could kill three armed men by his lonesome, all in the space of a minute?” 

When the man doesn’t respond, the woman runs a finger up her glass, her smile widening further. “I don’t think a normal man could have done all those things. I don’t think so at all. I think that the person who stole from those properties and killed that dog…” She points to her right eye—blood-moon crimson and brimming with strange power. “Well,” she says with a hint of false innocence. “I think he must have been a bit like me.” Then, the woman stops. “Oh, I’m sorry. You asked for my name.” She lifts a gloved hand. “Araghul. Zichorsky Araghul.” 

The man stares at her outstretched hand. His eyes wander to her face; pale and long, with a wolf’s smile and two unnatural, evil eyes. Then, he sighs as a bitter smile emerges on his lips. “Ulkshner.” He returns her handshake. “Telvar Ulkshner. Pleasure.” 

The woman returns his greeting in kind, shaking his hand enthusiastically. “The pleasure is all mine, Telvar. I’m quite a fan of your work.” 

She smiles. He smiles. 

And then Ulkshner breaks his glass of beer over her head. 

Stars explode across her vision as blood and alcohol run down the side of her face. For a moment, all she can see is black. The copper taste of blood fills her mouth, and something with the texture of shredded skin brushes against her tongue. 

Through the sudden rush of pain and darkness, the woman can only think one thing. Fast

She had expected him to attack, but she hadn’t expected him to be so damned fast. She wipes away the blood from her eyes just in time for Ulkshner to seize her by the neck and throw her across the room. She crashes into a table with enough force to split it in two. Splinters and sawdust fly up everywhere. 

The woman lays breathless on the floor, gasping as pain lances through her body like a bolt of lightning. Her ears thunder with blood, and her vision dances with hazy stars. She can feel each shard of glass lodged into her back. 

“Get out of here. All of you.” She hears Ulkshner bark out orders through the frenzy of her heartbeat. “Now.” 

She sees the others file out of the bar quickly—men, women, and children scramble for the door, all of them moving around her as they head for the exit. The barkeep grabs the elders and forces them out. Just the moment before he slams the door shut, the woman cranes her neck up to see him looking at her with what seems to be pity. 

The door slams shut, and they are alone. 

Her heart hammers as she hears a pair of heavy footsteps approach. “Sorry,” she hears Ulkshner mutter. “Nothing personal, but I’m not letting you give me up. Not to the crown, or the nobles. I’m not ever going back there.” 

A slow smile splits her bloodied face. “Good.” 

The footsteps stop. 

The woman forces herself to sit up through a thudding headache and the sensation of fire in her back. Spitting blood, she struggles to her feet and looks at Ulkshner with the one remaining eye she can keep open. 

“No, I’m sorry. You’re not just good. You’re great.” She takes a ragged step toward him. “You’re even better than I thought you’d be.” 

Ulkshner shakes his head, hazel eyes glowing against the lamplight. “The hell are you talking about?” 

The woman puts a hand to her chest and feels the mad rush of her heartbeat. It tells the story of what she is: frightened, hurt, outmatched. But most of all, excited.  “This is what’s going to happen.” She can’t contain the snarl in her voice any more than she can hold back her smile. “You and I are going to fight.” 

Ulkshner tenses as she casts off her cloak to reveal a chest strapped with blades. A small arsenal of throwing knives, needles, and daggers glint off her tunic. Tied around her waist is a faded leather scabbard with a shortsword half the size of her arm. “No blades,” she says, “No bullets. No tricks.” 

With a single fluid motion, the baldric holding her weapons clatters to the floor. The woman unsheathes the blade at her hip—its metal gleaming dull-green in the lamplight—and stabs it into a table. “There.” She steps away from the pile of blades and approaches Ulkshner. 

“Stay back.” His hazel eyes fix on her red ones. “Come any closer, and I’ll snap your neck.”


The woman smiles. “I wish you the best of luck.” 

She surges forward, a flashing blur of scarlet and black. Ulkshner’s eyes go wide. He raises his fists to strike her, but she’s too quick. She closes the distance between them in the space of a breath. 


Ulkshner doesn’t have time to register his surprise before she sinks her fist into his nose and sends blood spraying through the air. 

He staggers backward, clutching at his broken nose. Thin lines of blood slip through his hands as he stares at her, his expression twisted more in disbelief than pain. “Who the hell are you?” 

The woman stalks him slowly, a low chuckle issuing from her lips. “Star-brat. Sky-splitter. What’s next, Telvar? Star-mongers? Gleam-eyes? People have all sorts of names for us these days.” 

Ulkshner snarls and lashes out, his bloodied hands searching for her neck.


Good. She swats them aside and slams her fist into his side, relishing the gasp that escapes him. 

“You—” He tries to choke her again, but the woman ducks his grab and slips close to his chest, savaging him with a short barrage to the gut. 


Ulkshner grunts in pain but steadies himself. “You have no idea what you’re doing.” He practically spits the words out. 

The woman responds with laughter. 

She tries to retreat a few steps back, but Ulkshner is right there beside her, fists raised, his eyes alight with wild anger and dark energy. 

Give me more. 

She raises her arms just in time to guard against the blow, but it still connects with enough force to send her flying to the side. 

Give me everything. 

She collides with another table. Food and drink spill to the floor. Struggling to lift her arms through the pain, the woman can actually see the imprint of his fist on her skin. 

“Last chance,” Ulkshner says from beside her, his voice hoarse. “Forget I was ever here, and then maybe you don’t have to die today.” 

The woman steadies herself on the table and slowly turns to face him. 

Ulkshner’s eyes flicker between green and hazel. His nose is swollen and has taken on an ugly shade of purple. Blood stains his beard the color of red sand. Sweat glistens on his brow as his massive frame heaves with exhaustion. 

The woman feels a tinge of disappointment. 

She pushes off the table and shakes out her arms. “I didn’t come all this way to run, Telvar.” 

“And I didn’t come all this way to get caught, Araghul. Can’t you see just how hard things have gotten for us? Why are you chasing after me?” 

She cocks her head to the side. “I already told you why. It’s just who I am.” 

His green-hazel eyes narrow. “A traitor and a dog of the military? Really? That’s who you want to be?” 

The lamplight in the bar dims as a new onset of summoned wind breezes through the room. The woman approaches him slowly. 

“No,” she says. “I want to be a man-slayer.” 

Ulkshner stares at her. “A man-slayer? What even is that?” He shakes his head in disbelief. “You’re mad, that’s what you are. They’ve sent a madwoman after me.” 

Her eyes narrow into glinting red slits. “No. That’s not what I am.” The rotted floorboards scream under the sudden weight of her footsteps. “I’m a monster.” 

Now Ulkshner looks at her as if she’s truly gone mad. “A monster.” 

“I gave up being a person a long time ago. Now, I’m just a murderer. A mercenary. A thief.” 

“You say it like you’re proud.” 

“I’m not. There are too many other monsters in this city for me to be happy with just that.” 

“Yeah? Then what’ll it take to make you happy? If it’s money, I can--” 

“I want to commit.” The woman flashes a bloodied smile. “If I’m already here, then I want to be the worst monster there is. I want my fists to be known on every street. I want my eyes to drive others mad just by looking at me. I want my shadow to stretch on and on until it swallows everyone and everything I’ve ever met. I want horns and claws and long black fangs so that when others look at me, they’ll know at first glance just what I really am.” She approaches him slowly. “I can’t accept your money or compromise because I don’t want any of that. I only want to fight, because that’s just who I am.” 

Ulkshner watches her with an expression stuck between shock and disgust. The glow of his eyes has become erratic and disturbed. Their auras meet and clash in a strange, silent bout.


“You,” he says, “are the strangest woman that I’ve ever met in my entire life.” 


“You’re also the best fighter I’ve seen in years.” 

She touches a shaking hand to her heart. “Thank you.” 

“And right now,” Ulkshner continues, “I’m thinking to myself that maybe, just maybe, this city might be better off if you don’t live to see another sunrise.” 

“Possibly. Probably.” She inches forward, and the sides of their boots touch. “All the more reason not to miss.” 

Ulkshner’s nostrils flare. 

The woman bares her fangs.


The air between them crackles with stardust.


When Ulkshner roars and swings at her, the woman sees the exact moment his muscles tense. The exact instant he turns on his center of weight to gain momentum. The exact second his aura flares and the air races with stardust. 

The woman sees the exact moment when his eyes meet hers. The exact fraction of an instant that she unveils her ability and lets it coil around him like a serpentine embrace. The exact moment he staggers. 

She slams her boot into the floor with enough force to split the planks beneath her feet. Wearing a devil’s grin all the while, the woman drops her weight and twists to the side, barely weaving Ulkshner’s fist. The strike is so close that she feels a spot of heat where his knuckle glances her cheek. 

In the same movement, she spins and sends her fist gliding along his arm. Her shredded back screams out in protest, but the woman only grits her teeth and unleashes an ugly battle cry.



The blow sends reverberations throughout her entire body. It makes the aura in the room swirl and scatter like leaves in the wind. The air whirls with frenzied stardust as her hair flies up in a mess of bloody black as the stench of rot disperses completely. 

Ulkshner collapses at her feet without a word. 

The woman stands by herself, panting. Her back burns with each breath she takes. The dark locks of her hair cling to her face, sticky with blood and sweat. She can’t open her left eye or move her right fist. Spots of black line her vision, threatening her consciousness. 

She almost died. 

Just a bit closer to the right, and she would have died. 

The realization makes her heart play a crooked medley as a tepid smile grows on her face. The woman looks down. Ulkshner lays unconscious at her feet, the supernatural light of his eyes extinguished. His nose is crooked, and the right side of his face is sunken and flat, his lower lip split almost entirely open. 

One strike was the difference between freedom and death. 

She kneels down and grasps Ulkshner by the collar, bringing his face inches away from hers. Heart slamming against her chest, the woman grins at her unconscious friend. 

“Well done.” 


They all watch as the woman drags Ulkshner’s unconscious body out of the bar and into the street, dark cloak trailing at her heels. She doesn’t say a word to any of them. She doesn’t return their stares. She doesn’t answer their silent questions. 

Her business here is done. 


She hands Ulkshner over to the authorities at a nearby military outpost, depositing the bounty notice and case file for him alongside his unconscious body. 

“You again?” The officer in charge of this outpost has met her many times before. Running a lazy hand through his steel-gray hair, the man looks her up and down before whistling a low tune. “Damn, Araghul,” he says. “Looks like he almost did in with you.” 

The woman flexes her numb fist. She’s wiped off most of the blood from her forehead, but her wounds are still fresh. “Almost.” 

The officer raises an eyebrow. “You had a good time?” 

She nods. “I did.” 

“Sure you did. Listen, I’ll throw in extra today for your trouble and for saving us the effort. Spirits only know how many men we’d have lost trying to catch him.”


“How generous.” She turns to go. 

“Oh, and Araghul. One more thing.” The officer points to his eye curiously. “Did you use your--” He pauses. “You know, your thing?” 

She stares at him for a long while. 

The officer lifts his shoulders in a half-shrug. “Just curious, is all.” 

The woman turns past him and looks at Ulkshner’s unconscious form. 

As they speak, he’s being bound with metal restraints and blindfolded, already stripped completely naked. Five soldiers carry him to a wagon for transport, their dark uniforms stark against the moonlight. They move like living shadows, soundless and efficient, adorned with glinting metal insignias and blades that gleam dull green in the faint silver light. 

Remembering the fraction of an instant his eyes met hers, the woman sighs. 

“I had to. If I didn’t, he would have split my skull.” 

The officer chuckles, folding his arms. “Sure glad he didn’t. I’d have lost the best damn hunter in this entire city.” He turns and barks an order to a younger soldier carrying a large leather sack. 

As the young man approaches, the officer regards her for the last time. “Rest up, Zichorsky. Get something warm to drink, a nice place to sleep, and maybe buy yourself some company for a night or two, if you’re particular.” He takes the sack from the soldier and hands it to her. “But before any of that, go to the medic and get yourself cleaned up. You look like a damn nightmare.” 

The woman leaves the outpost with her payment in hand, a quiet shadow in the night. 

Traitor. Madwoman. Government dog. 

She stops and turns back at the outpost one final time. The transport carrying Ulkshner departs under the starlight, flanked by three other wagons that follow silently as it heads deeper into the city.

The woman raises her hand into the air, and as the transport disappears into the murky embrace of the looming midnight city, she waves a silent, strange farewell. 

You like what you do, lady? It makes you happy? 

The woman lets her arm fall and watches as Ulkshner is swallowed by the dark. 


She turns and heads on her way, silent footsteps lonely in the night. “Cruel thing, it is.” 

To be an Arcadian means to be unproblematic or to be living an ideal life in the country. It is a word deriving from Greek and Latin. 

Zichorsky’s monologue was rather undeveloped, but she’s essentially saying that she wants to be the worst of the worst, if she’s already terrible to begin with. 

This is just a small excerpt from a larger, ongoing series, so everything is subject to change!


Thank you for reading! 

  • Samuel Kuforiji is a freshman in the College of Arts & Sciences and the Honors Program. He loves to write, play sports, and spend time with his family and loved ones. Samuel has loved fantasy since he was a boy, and he loves how authors can convey deeper messages in their writing. He’s always wanted to write a book, and he one day hopes to write his own series of novels, just like his favorite authors.



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