Chapter One: Training
Only a solitary candle shed any light in the dingy kitchen. The walls were drab, the floor tiles cracked and broken, and a rat skittered along the edge of a wall just out of the reach of the candlelight. There was only a single bedroom adjoined to the kitchen area, meant for only one tenant. Located in the part of town reserved for the poor and downtrodden, the apartment was not what one might consider a home, but more of a place to hide.
Nekros, master assassin and thief, circled the young Dark Elf boy before him. The boy remained as still as a statue, keeping deep wine-red eyes downcast, and showing no signs of fear or emotion. The assassin knew, however, that the boy was terrified. The fear was necessary. The fear assured his obedience. Fear was all part of his training, to mold the lad into some semblance of a cold-blooded killer.
Feryl was perhaps, twelve or as old as fifteen, with the slightest indication of puberty molding his features into maturity. The skin was gray ashen, dark as soot with the elven features cut sharply to form the high cheeks and narrow chin of his kind. There was a level of elegance to his face, with well-defined mouth and thick lashes giving him an almost feminine pretense. Even fingernails were slightly longer than what you might find on a boy, as was the fall of glossy hair that fell past his shoulders. Straight and black as a raven's wing, the curtain often fell across his elven features, with only the graceful points of his ears sticking out of his tangled mane. The red glow of an eye glimpsed beneath the fall of hair, but for now, the gaze remained steadfast to the floor, just as he'd been ordered.
Despite his uncultivated appearance, the boy was remarkably handsome. Most elves were. His face, when you could see it not shrouded by a fall of hair, could've been carved from one of the mighty statues of the Dark Elf gods, and the face carried almost the same emotionless expression as well. He bore a level of lost innocence that Nekros recognized in himself at that age.
The boy was exceptional. All you had do is look at him. Being a Dark Elf made him perfect for the tasks he needed the boy to do. He had night vision, so would never need a torch or candle. He was agile, so he could fit into windows no one else could. He was also very quick for one so young. Yes, he was perfect.
This young elf was a foundling. Nekros had taken him in once he saw him as a pickpocket on the streets, lost, alone, with no one to fend for him. Even then, he saw the boy's potential, but Nekros' interest was more than that. Nekros liked the idea of a pet elf. He liked the idea of raising the Dark Elf child into anything he wanted. He called him Feryl, more of an insult really. The word meant 'stray dog' or 'wild one' in Old Common, and the name stuck.
Nekros made sure that the child's entire world was filtered thru his master. The assassin became every role to the boy: father, teacher, master, and tormenter. Each day consisted of lessons of the assassin. He even kept the boy in a dark storage room lest anyone find him out. His anonymity was essential for Nekros had his own reputation of the merciless killer to maintain. The time was not right for Feryl to emerge as a killer quite yet.
The elfling knew of no other than his master, knew only his truth, and his world. The rough treatment assured for a perfect killing machine when he came of age. For now, he simply didn't have the size, nor the strength.
Standing just under five feet, his small frame could hardly manage the brutal edge of killing a full grown man. That is, not yet. Elves were lightweight, built for speed and agility rather than brute force. He couldn't snap a man's neck, or even drag a body to a hiding place. Lessons for the time being were focused on sneak and stun, rather than fighting. Even at this young age, the boy could throw with marksman precision a dagger to any target.
Feryl was also a smart boy, with an infallible memory. He only had to be told once, and the accumulated knowledge possibly even surpassed his master's when it came to poisons. The elf not only could read and write: he could memorize nearly anything he studied. The only pastime Nekros allowed the boy was reading, and even then, the books had to be acceptable. He didn't want Feryl learning anything that didn't serve a purpose to the reason of his being an assassin one day. The idea being that whatever Nekros told him, was law. He wanted Feryl to see the world thru the eyes of a killer, with complete obedience.
He was well versed in poisons, anatomy, weaponry, and marksmanship. However, history, and topics such geography, but every day life was lost to him. Nekros made sure he knew virtually nothing of his heritage, feeding the boy stories of how bloodthirsty and brutal his kind were. Nekros wanted him to understand that he needed the discipline, that he needed the strict enclosed world created for him.
Allowed out only at night, Feryl was to remain completely anonymous. Nekros knew the boy would now and then show curiosity to how others lived, but the assassin remained adamant that such a life was not for a Dark Elf. He was a creature of the night, and solitary. Nekros spoke of the dark elves as killers and loners. They didn't need anyone else.
Pouring wine into two goblets, the assassin let a smile play on his mouth, letting the boy know he was to be tested again. A quick glance at Feryl, and Nekros knew his thoughts. The red eyes flickered from the cups to his master returning to the floor. A silent exchange coursed between them. This was a lesson in poison.
"Hlorris root." Nekros explained, gently pushing the filled goblet to the boy. "There is a slight bitter after taste, leaving a tingling or numbing sensation."
Feryl stared at the red wine, hesitating before taking the cup. There was little threat in being deadly, Nekros wouldn't kill him, but the night was long and the boy knew he'd be sick thru most of it. His master watched carefully, waiting for him to drink. The boy took the goblet, sipped and rolled the wine on his tongue, making a slight grimace as he recognized the bitter taste of the poison.
"Symptoms are general weakness, difficulty in breathing." Nekros told him, motioning for him to drink more. "Muscle cramps. Eventually the body smothers, the lungs no longer able to work. Its best served in a dry wine, to mask the taste."
Feryl hated these tests, but Nekros used them to ensure the boy could recognize poisons, and the reactions as well. What better way than to experience for himself? Sipping his own wine lacking the Hlorris root, Nekros smiled once the boy finished his glass. "Ah, very good."
The boy didn't look well, but returned the cup to the table. The goblet was upturned, signaling the poison within its contents. Tasters for nobility often indicated poison in such a manner, and for some reason Feryl did as well. "You said I had a job to do?" he asked.
Nekros felt a wave of pride. The boy was learning the ropes. Keep to the task at hand; let nothing deter you from your course. The smile broadened, as he took a seat, kicking feet up to the tabletop and enjoying his wine. "Merthisan Kendari is a sword master of one of the fighting school here in the Imperial City." He began, "But he's the worst kind. He is what many would refer to as a paladin."
Feryl's eyes blinked, not understanding the word.
"Paladin." Nekros repeated the word with disgust. "A paragon of chivalry and defender of lost causes. Paladins as a whole are pathetic as warriors. They are predictable and weak."
"Weak?" Feryl steadied himself by gripping the side of the table. Arched brows pinched slightly upon his brow as a sheen of perspiration began to bead. "But he's a master swordsman?"
"Yes," the assassin nodded and drawled his tone in mocking sarcasm. "One would think with all that training such warriors would be near invincible, but I'm not speaking of physical weakness, but that of the heart. Their compassion is what drives them. Their righteousness clouds their focus. They can be baited and led to do whatever you wish, for beings such as you and I are not hindered by such chains as a conscious." He smiled, pleased with himself. "An assassin avoids fighting, not because of any lack of skill on our part, but because the true expertise lies in the victim's death looking nothing more than an accident. We are the true experts of death."
Thereby never guiding the trail of mystery back to the killer. Feryl's head bowed, as a wave of trembling began. The poison was beginning to take hold. Nekros watched in fascination at the young lad trying to remain standing despite his body fighting the toxins. Yes, the boy was extraordinary.
"And what would you have me to do?" Feryl asked. His voice broke, as the first stages went to work.
"More of this later," Nekros told him, moving to held steady the boy before he fell. A shudder caused the knees to buckle, and the assassin caught him before he hit the floor. Breath drew in a shaky sigh, and a pained expression marred his lovely features. Nekros brushed back the silken curtain of hair over the elf child's face, admiring the lad for all that he'd turn out to be. Unable to control twitching muscles, the elfling gritted teeth and flinched again, trying to keep from moaning. Nekros lifting him up to carry him to the dark closet he'd given the boy as a room. There was barely space enough to stretch out, but it was the only place to store the boy and keep him locked up safe.
"There now." He whispered to the child who most likely could not hear him any more. His slight frame was twitching and shuddering against waves of pain and trying to suck in a breath. Legs pulled up to curl into a ball. "The pain will worsen, but endure. We will speak more of Kendari later."
Leaving the boy to his own, Nekros shut and locked the door, returning to his bottle of wine and a pile of books he enjoyed reading.
Feryl sucked in short quivering breaths, biting his lower lip and did as his master told him. Endure…that pretty much summed up everything in his life. Enduring was something he excelled at. Enduring pain, humiliation, hunger, lack of sleep, and whatever else Nekros forced upon him.
The pain was not as bad as he thought it would be, but then again, with all the poison he'd taken over his young life, Feryl knew he was growing immunity against it. He'd even started taking tiny amounts of the Shadowbane to hasten the immunity to poisons. The substance was a sweet tasting concoction that promised eventual resistance to nearly any poison known to man. He'd been taking small amounts all without his master's knowing of course. The substance also promised even a small respite from his pathetic existence, providing a slight narcotic effect for a short time upon taking the herbal potion.
Endure…survive…both of which the young elf had learned to master. Nekros' training was brutal, often leaving the boy like this, alone and shaking in pain in his so-called room. Sometimes poison, sometimes wounds, but all to teach the art of the assassin.
Feryl never had a choice. His first memory was being captured by Nekros as a boy. He knew he lived on the streets as many other street kids, but nothing of that life before was in memory now. Everything was Nekros and his dark world of pain and death.
Curling up, the elfling grunted as muscle spasms took hold. This was nothing compared to other things Nekros had done to him. Whipping, beatings, even broken bones were all mended with healing potions and salves, only to start again the next day. What sickened Feryl was that the healing was not meant to give him relief, but to prevent him from scarring.
There were two reasons for that. The first was practical. Lack of scars left lack of identifying markings. Secrecy was key to the life of an assassin. He was to never get a tattoo, or wear anything that would distinguish him unless that was a disguise. The second was for a more ominous reason, one Feryl was growing to dread more and more as he was growing up with his master. Nekros liked his 'elf pet' free of any disfigurement. It was no coincidence beatings never spoiled the face, nothing was ever broken that would cripple him. All he had to do was bear punishment, and eventually Nekros would set him whole and right again.
So far, Nekros' passion was only to inflict pain, but recently the wayward caress against his cheek, or odd hungry expression on the man's face, was unsettling. Feryl didn't know what to think of this, if such affection was a good thing or a bad thing. The warmth, if one could call it that, was not exactly unwelcome; being the touch was the only affection he'd come to know. Too often however, that light touch would turn brutal, without warning. A soft touch on a cheek tended to slide easily into a chokehold, or a pat on the head, would grip a fistful of hair to draw back and expose his throat. Such contradictory actions might be just another method of Nekros' brutality to keep him in line. However, Nekros also liked pain, liked what pain did to people, and the power he had over others while inflicting it.
Nekros reminded the boy often he should be grateful. Dark Elves were evil, he said, their very nature was savage and wicked. They lived in the dark places, and left untrained, would drink blood, feast on flesh, or kill without control. This served to justify the beatings, the pain, even the poison. It was about control, Nekros often said, to form him into something more civilized. This made Feryl the perfect apprentice; the very reason why he was given the auspicious role to Nekros who was the most feared and dreaded assassins in the Imperial City.
Lost in the dark, Feryl knew he'd bitten his lip when he tasted blood in his mouth, wondering if he'd ever acquire a taste for the metallic flavor. Dark Elves drank blood? Why then did he detest the taste, or was his dislike because the blood was always his own? Did others taste different? How much of Nekros told him was a lie? Or did he not understand the truth of things? That thought seemed unlikely. Nekros knew everything.
But Feryl had learned different the past year. During the time he was allowed out of confine, he would see how others lived in their homes at night. Children slept in beds, and once the young elf saw what could only be a father tucking his young son at night with a soft pat on his tussled locks. Such tenderness was not part of Feryl's world. But then again, he'd never seen another dark elf child. Was life supposed to be different for his kind?
The city had many races, even other elves, but he had yet to see one with the dark skin and red eyes he bore. Was he the only one? Were there others out there like him? Perhaps Nekros was right in his nature. Dark Elf children had to be mastered and beat into submission…they were not like other children…
Too sick to think further, he curled up with arms folded over his head and simply endured.
Nekros unlocked the closet door. He knew he had to use a bolt instead of a lock on the door. The boy years ago had mastered picking locks, and had snuck off on more than one occasion. Now a heavy bolt kept him safe. The assassin opened the door to let the light behind him spill onto the prone figure lying in a fetal ball. Feryl was very still. Hair had fallen clear from his face, and curled as he was amid his pile of blankets looked every bit as the innocent boy he should've been. He was not, the assassin smiled. No, he was so much more. The assassin nudged him with a foot, and found him unmoving.
For a brief moment he considered perhaps he'd given the boy too much poison this time, but a sharp kick jolted the boy into consciousness. "Get up." Nekros ordered him. The red eyes blinked back the glaring light of the room beyond. The boy grunted, moving as if every joint hurt, but did as he was told. Hair fell over his face, tangled from his unsavory sleep.
Still rousing himself, he stumbled into the room, moving to stand in the center as he always did when Nekros gave him orders. The man was on edge, pacing the room as he muttered things under his breath. This was how he plotted and schemed.
"The Kendari School." The assassin announced, halting his stride to face his apprentice. "The job entails you to enter the school, and steal a very rare sword known as the Manos Blade. He keeps his weapons on display in the practice room of the school. You will go in there and steal it."
"Just one sword?" Feryl asked, finding these orders curious to go after just one item. "I thought you wanted-"
"You don't think, Feryl!" Nekros growled, slapping him hard enough that forced his head to the side. To his satisfaction, the boy simply closed his eyes, and remained silent. Any other child would burst into tears, not this one. Instead, the elfling gritted teeth, and remained impassionate. "And do not presume what I want. Of course there is a king's ransom of weapons in that school, but it's the Manos Blade I'm interested in. Time enough later to get the others, but this sword is all that you will be carry out."
"When?" Feryl asked softly.
"Within a week." The man smiled. "You will stake out the school, to find the best time for the theft, then steal the blade when no one is inside."
He stepped close to the boy, admiring the child's delicate features and handsome face. Feryl's eyes fluttered as breath quickened, revealing the rising terror of being in such close proximity. "You take nothing but that sword. Understood?"
The elfling nodded quickly, unsure to what his master might do. Nekros was fanatically deranged. One never knew when he was being sarcastic, or when he'd strike.
"Good." Nekros purred with an evil smile. "And don't get caught, but by now you know what happens if you do." He admired the boy ability to give a façade of calmness considering his heart fluttered wildly. "Do not disappoint me."
"I wont disappoint you." Feryl replied, his voice tense.