Reuploaded to make some minor changes!
Three months from now, North of Geffen
The sound of death clanged out through the misty morning air, ringing, flashing, singing. Amidst a field filled with corpses and bodies, two warriors exchanged blade strikes in a deadly dance. One fatal slip-up would mean death; the slightest hesitation, defeat.
At long last, one of the men lost his focus. Within a split second later, his opponent executed a complex disarming maneuver and quickly ran his katars through his stomach. He collapsed, life fading away, strength stealing into darkness. The victor, exhausted and close to unconsciousness, followed soon afterwards. He had not come out unscathed; numerous cuts riddled his body, more than half of them poisoned. He closed his glassy green eyes, the light of life slowly dripping away.
"Argos... Argos where are you?..." the man whispered. The air next to him shimmered, and a black haired young man in his late teens stepped into visibility. Argos had not escaped unharmed either. Blood dripped profusely from a cut on his arm, and it dangled limply by his side.
"...Spider." Argos knelt next to Spider and brushed his senior partner's matted brown locks out of his face with his uninjured arm, the blood from his gloves leaving small traces. Argos wasn't sure if it was his or somebody else's. His red ember like pupils were slightly dilated from a mild dosage of poison.
"I've not much longer in this world, Argos. I'm going to die," Spider wheezed. "In my belt holster..." He coughed; blood trickled out of his mouth and nostrils.
Argos nodded. Both of them were well prepared for this. The path of the assassin was riddled with death, and ended early. Both of them had doomed themselves the moment they walked down this road. He reached into Spider's belt holster and pulled out a strange, white, spiraling spear head, quite small in size.
"Are you ready?" Argos asked.
"Dumbass. I wouldn't have started this if I weren't."
The morning mist turned into a drizzle, painting the air a smoky gray. Spider felt the tautness of his muscles melting away already; the poison coursing through his blood deadening the pain.
"See you later, sport." Spider whispered.
Argos nodded. He plunged the spear-point into Spider's stomach. The older assassin immediately stiffened, then without a sound, went limp.
Present day, Desert town Morroc
Two cloaked figures stood before the dusty yellow entrance of Morroc at high noon. In the desert town, it was hardly unusual to see such suspicious characters walk about – traveling cloaks were standard garbs for desert survival, and considering that the desert town had quite a shady background, the only suspicious people would be the one who didn't look suspicious. Nevertheless, that day seemed to be livelier than usual, merchants hocking wares in street vendors, old men playing board games in the shelter of the shade, children running and playing games with sticks – and of course, suspicious characters wearing cloaks, walking into alleyways and once in a while deftly nabbing merchandise from the less-than-watchful merchants; all bathed in the golden yellow light of the afternoon desert sun.
The taller of the two cloaked figures at the entrance of the town turned to face his traveling companion.
"It's such a shame, though." he said cordially, pulling off the hood of his cloak. He was a man in his mid twenties, quite handsome with a cheery disposition. "I've escorted you here like you asked for but..."
The shorter of the two, a blonde woman who looked about as frightened of the man as he seemed friendly, took a couple of nervous steps away from him. Her face was mostly covered by her hood, which was pulled low over her head.
"Wh-what is it?" she stammered. The man casually flipped his chestnut brown locks out of his face with a flick of his head. He stepped forward and adjusted the clerical emblem of the Prontera church that was pinned onto the woman's traveling cloak.
"Well," the man sighed. "I just thought that for a such a beautiful woman as yourself, it'd be a shame if I let you go without buying you a drink first... You know, there's a charming little pub at the edge of the town that - "
"HereistheremainderofyourpayI'mverysorrybutIreallymustgonow- " the woman squeaked, her voice growing higher and higher in pitch as she talked. She shoved a small brown cloth bag into the man's hands and disappeared into the bustling crowd as quickly as she spoke.
The man stared in the direction that the priestess ran, his mouth slightly open in disappointment.
"...serves the best Morroc fruit wine..." His voice trailed off. He shrugged and gave a resigned smile. "Should have expected as much from a priestess," he said. "Prudes, the entire lot of them." The man loosened the purse-strings on the bag and peered inside. "And this one overpaid me from the looks of it..."
"If you are complaining, Yaxely, shall I take it?" another man called from the dark alleyway to Yaxely's right. The traveler tightened the strings, tossed the bag into the air and caught it.
"Hey hey now," Yaxely said. He pulled open his cloak to reveal a myriad of daggers, a short sword, and a wickedly curving set of katars, all of them caked with dried blood and slipped the bag of coins into a belt pocket. It was now clear why the priestess had been so afraid of Yaxely. "I worked hard for this money." The weapons disappeared once more under his cloak. "But sheesh, Hama, that priestess sure had a good reason to want a bodyguard."
Hama, a bald man in his forties with a black mustache and glasses, stepped out of the shade of the alley and into speaking distance of Yaxely. He wore fine silks and had a fat jangling bag of currency on his belt, but a pair of damascus blades next to it kept pickpockets away.
"I am sure most of your company were more interested in you, rather than some no-name priestess. After all, you are the Assassins guild's famous Quint Yaxely."
"Oh stop it," Yaxely bantered light-heartedly. "You're making me blush." Hama smirked.
"So," Yaxely continued. "What's the ever-so-busy Hama doing, personally greeting a common assassin like me? I take it you aren't just here to say hello?" Hama dropped his smirk. He reached into his sleeve and pulled out an envelope.
"I have a letter for you from a contact in Prontera. It seems as if he wants to thank you for the information he requested." Yaxely stepped forward and took the proffered envelope and Hama leaned forward into Yaxely's ear.
"... the guild leader wants to see you tonight," he muttered. "Another hit." Yaxely's eyes darkened.
"What time?" he asked.
"Eight o'clock at night, in the conference room," Hama whispered. And with a surprising display of speed and stealth, Hama vanished into the shadows of the alley where he was waiting before. Yaxely was left alone, staring at the spot where Hama was standing a second before.
"Old habits die hard, eh, Hama?" Yaxely muttered under his breath. "Should have expected as much from a former assassin." He broke into a casual gait up the main street of Morroc. With a flashy toss of his hand, Yaxely opened his cloak once more and tucked his envelope into another pocket, but not before plucking an orange deftly from a fruit stand. Not even most trained thieves could see him steal; it was an invisible and unnoticeable testament to his skill. The assassin waited after turning past the corner and ducking into a quiet bar and restaurant –Muka House, Yaxely knew this without having to look up at the wooden sign - before indulging in his snack.
Gotta say though, Yaxely thought as he peeled his orange. It's not often that the head wants to talk to me in person about a hit. He slinked into a wooden chair at a table next to the fireplace, near the corner of the bar and pulled out the envelope he received from Hama. He slid his finger under the wax seal, ready to open it.
The Muka House, named after irritatingly screechy cactus-like creatures scattered around the desert of Morroc, was a poor choice of a name, considering how quiet of a restaurant it was. It was one of those comfortable restaurants where you could walk in with a handful of friends and talk without ordering anything, yet not quite well known. But in terms of privacy, it was a fairly excellent place to be; all the patrons minded their own business and ate/drank alone. Waiters and waitresses usually left you alone unless you asked for something.
A young redhead woman in her teens, probably the owner's daughter, was wiping clean the table next to Yaxely's. She had eyed him curiously as he stepped into the restaurant. Yaxely pulled out his finger from under the seal and tossed the envelope on the table. He snapped his fingers at the waitress and flashed a lopsided grin at her.
"Hey there, pretty eyes," he said. "A small order of fried scorpion tails, if you please." She flushed, realizing that he had caught her sneaking glances at him, and hurriedly rushed into the kitchen.
Yaxely reached for his envelope once more and inspected the red wax seal on it. Judging from the emblem impressed onto it, it was a personal stamp from an officer in the Church in Prontera, or more accurately, the Crusaders. He had a fairly good idea who the envelope was from now. He turned the envelope to examine the seal at different angles. From what he could tell, it hadn't been tampered with. He slid his finger under the seal and broke it. He didn't bother to check the bar for other nosy onlookers; Yaxely just pulled out the letter inside and dropped it into his lap. It was a brief letter.
I received the letter you sent me without a hitch. From what you found out from your stay in Prontera, we can safely assume that Boss has been taking care of the starling. It seems like yesterday when she landed on our windowsill with that injured wing when it has actually been about a month ago.
The new recruits the other day were a total mess, but there's one young swordsman who looks especially promising. He'll be promoted to knighthood tomorrow, I'm sure. Some of the recruits were impatient louts who haven't even completed the required forty levels of training, but this one completed all fifty. It's a shame that he's decided to aim for the knight's guild rather than the church; I would have liked to see him as a crusader. I've sent a letter of recommendation to the leader of the knights guild. I wouldn't be surprised if he managed to complete all fifty levels of the knight training within a few months. He's a work horse.
Tabby is making roast savage pork-chops this Friday. You're more than welcome to drop by our home for dinner.Get here by six if you want it fresh.
To an outsider, this was an ordinary letter, but Yaxely knew what the words really meant. 'Boss,' was a code name for the Prontera Church. 'Taking care of,' actually meant 'keeping tabs on,' or 'watching.' 'Starling,' was a code name for a person from a list of high profile people. He had an agreement between Grant and himself that in letters, only the first paragraph would hold any hidden meanings. He stared at the first paragraph again, narrowing his eyes in thought. Although it didn't confirm or deny anything, the meaning behind the letter from Grant had a heavy weight . Yaxely would have to pay a visit to Geffen for a couple of days to watch "starling."
The waitress walked back into the main room of the restaurant. "Your eyes- I mean, your order of fried scorpion tails, sir," she stammered as she placed the plate on Yaxely's table, her face flushing once more. The letter disappeared, safely tucked into Yaxely's cloak. He noticed that she had pinned up her hair in two complex buns.
"Thank you, Miss lovely-buns," he winked. This time, the waitress flushed all the way to her ears. He hadn't specified what kind of buns after all. She absent-mindedly began cleaning the already-clean table she was working on when he walked in, while Yaxely plucked a fried scorpion tail by the wooden skewer lanced through it and began eating. The first couple of crunches were pleasantly tangy and sweet; only after a few seconds did his tongue pick up on the mild red spices. This is damned good, the assassin thought. He would have to try this dish more often. He began to play with suggestive puns in his head, wondering which ones were too racey and which ones weren't. Oh how fun it was to wreak havoc on young womens' emotions!
As he finished his meal, Yaxely decided that he'd spare her from any more innuendos (until next time) and just leave a generous tip. He dropped the small bag of coins that the priestess had given him, the remaining half of his pay for escorting her to Morroc. Gifts like these made peoples' days and the world flow. What goes around, comes around, after all, he mused, polishing off the scorpion tails with the orange slices he knicked from the fruit stand. When the waitress's back was turned, he slipped out of the bar unnoticed.
The streets of Morroc
The blonde priestess hurriedly made her way through Morroc's town square, determined put as much distance between herself and her former escort as possible. So distraught was she, that she didn't notice the repeated tugs on her sleeve until a child's voice called out to her.
"Miss! Miss, please!"
Startled, she looked down and saw a very skinny, tanned girl of about six years of age. She wore a simple, slightly dirty brown dress and had tears in her eyes.
"Oh!" she gasped. She couldn't even begin to think of what to say to the child.
"It's Momma!" the girl said in a high, tremulous voice. "She hurt herself back home and now she won't talk to me! Please, help her! Miss!"
The young woman felt the curious eyes of several townsfolk on her as she stumbled for words to say. She became very conscious of the clerical emblem pinned onto her cloak. She knelt down to face the child.
"There, there," she hushed, cupping the girl's wet cheek with her hand. "Tell me your name." She forced on what she hoped was a gentle smile.
The girl stopped crying abruptly. She stared back into the woman's face.
"Ra-Rachel," she hiccuped. The woman reached for a silver, winged locket around her neck and pulled it off.
"Shall I teach you a spell, Rachel?" the woman asked. She fumbled for a quill and scrap of parchment, then quickly penned something down. Rachel's face was aglow with wonder. She nodded. The woman folded the parchment into the locket, and pressed it into the child's hand.
"If you take this to mother, then she'll wake up and start talking to you again," she said, folding Rachel's fingers around the locket. Her voice quavered from the lie, but she forced herself not to lose her smile.
"Really?" Rachel whispered. She looked positively excited. "Promise?"
"I promise," the woman assured. The child's face shone with happiness. She threw her arms around the woman.
"Thank you miss!" The woman shook violently, feeling the townsfolks curious eyes slowly turn spiteful. Yet no one stepped up to question her, to challenge that obvious lie. A part of her desperately wished that someone would, and take enough pity on the girl to take her mother to a physician or a doctor. The girl's angry, betrayed face would be a thousand times better than the happy and naive smile she was giving to her. She felt her eyes begin to tear up, but she never broke that smile. The girl let go of her.
"I'm sorry, Rachel," the woman apologized. "I wish I could be there with you, but I have to go somewhere." The girl smiled.
"That's okay Miss! Momma is gonna be all better thanks to Miss... Miss? Why are you crying?"
Unable to control herself any longer, the young woman fled from the town square as fast as she could, feeling the eyes of the people around her bore into her back. She reached her destination a few minutes later, an empty room that she had arranged for ahead of time, but that run felt like the longest few minutes she ever had in her life. She ripped off the clerical emblem, collapsed on the floor next to the bed and burst into sobs.
"I'm sorry," she wailed. "I'm so sorry."
Residence in Morroc
Rachel sat next to her mother's cold body on the floor of their house kitchen, the winged locket set neatly on her abdomen. She played with her short auburn hair as she talked to an unresponsive mother.
"And then, that lady said if I take that necklace to you, that you would wake up," she bubbled excitedly. "She was so pretty too, and nice to me." Her enthusiasm died down. She lowered her head.
"I wish you'd start talking to me again, momma."
The afternoon light slightly illuminated the dim kitchen floor from an open window. Rachel waited, as the beam of light became more and more slanted, crawling to the opposite wall. Finally, she reached for the locket on her mother's stomach and opened it, pulling out and unfolding the parchment inside. It read:
Rachel tilted her head and studied the parchment quizzically.
"I can't read it."
Nightfall, Mage City of Geffen
A tall, armored paladin with sandy blonde hair in his mid twenties cursed inwardly as he strode down the misty, moonlit cobblestone streets of Geffen, a squad of crusaders marching behind him. He had not expected the Church to act so soon. He could only hope that his letter would reach Quint soon enough to spur him into action. Part of him wanted to slow down, afraid of the scene that would be waiting for him, but all the same, he increased his strides. Please make it in time, he prayed as he reached Daphne's house. A knight stood at attention at the entrance.
"Sir Graves!" the knight called, saluting the man. Grant Graves stopped abruptly. The silvery white plates of his armor clinked together softly. Moisture from the mist was condensed onto them, giving a soft, glittering effect.
"Report!" he barked.
"Daphne Trenton is nowhere to be found. We've searched her household and issued a public warrant for her arrest. Several civilians are being questioned as we speak, sir," the knight said. Grant heaved a mental sigh of relief, but he narrowed his eyes in an expression of frustration.
"You fool!" Grant growled. The knight flinched. "Now she's CERTAIN to run away!" Nevermind the fact that common civilians wouldn't know anything about the extremely secluded Daphne Trenton, good job, he thought. "I want that warrant recalled as soon as possible. Mobilize the cavalry – "
"But Sir – " the knight tremored.
"I must be hearing things," Grant interrupted. "I could have sworn that a rank and file knight questioned my orders." The knight immediately shut his mouth.
"Dispatch the cavalry when you find out where she is and deliver her to the capital," Grant continued. "That's an order. Dismissed." The knight saluted, then marched away from his post.
"At attention," he called to his squad. The crusaders saluted, then stood in an orderly block where the knight was standing before. Grant stepped inside the household, looking around at the mess the search team made.
He had his suspicions for a while, but this was definitely the nail in the coffin. The Boss wanted the starling dead, and the fact that he had brazenly taken such an action as good as confirmed it.
But really... where is she now and who took her away? Grant wondered.
Nightfall, Assassins Guild Headquarters Entrance
A teenager with black hair and red ember-like eyes stood at the gaping maw of the temple used as headquarters. He scowled at the pair of sentries standing guard; they scowled back. The moon hung high in the desert sky, bathing the sands and the temple in a melancholy blue. A sultry wind shuffled past the three of them, swaying the palm trees and brushing against the temple. This was a common greeting among assassins. No exchange of words, not even a facial gesture or hand signals. And strangely enough, only assassins seemed to have mastered sending this silent and nonverbal communication, and only assassins knew when someone was trying to imitate it.
"Hurry up and get in, newbie," one of the guards growled, finally breaking the silence. Even more remarkably, assassins could use the locking of eyes as a fairly accurate determinant of the other's skill. Wordlessly, the young man tilted his head in acknowledgement to the guard that spoke, then disappeared into the temple entrance. The darkness engulfed him. It was deafening, all-encompassing. His footsteps echoed off the stone floor down the hallway; the timing between echoes was more than enough to gauge the size of the space in front of him. Eventually, his eyes got used to the dark, and he began to see a better picture of the inside of the temple.
He was now in a circular room with ornate marble pillars. He could see the faint outline of closed doorways with light seeping out from the bottoms. A large iron statue of a grim-faced assassin cross, the highest rank an assassin could achieve, stood in the center of the room, carrying a cloak in one hand and a dagger in the other. The statue was of the most notorious assassin in the history of the guild, Guile. The cloak represented stealth, shadows, and secrecy, while the dagger symbolized a snake's bite, a scorpion's sting, lightning quick death. They were the two most vital tools of the assassin. Rumor had it that Guile could not only turn invisible on whim, but walk through solid walls as if they were not there. Another rumor stated that he never even existed. Frankly, the young man was more inclined to believe the latter.
After exchanging scowls with Guile's statue, he made his way to the furthest door in the circular room and knocked twice.
"Enter," a deep voice said. It was the guild leader. The young man pushed open the door into a dimly-lit conference room.
The guild leader himself always sat in the shadows; only his most trusted advisors knew his true face. One of them, a bald man named Hama with a black mustache and glasses stood not too far from him. The young man had met Hama before. He had tried scowling at Hama, but the older man had just ruffled his hair and called him a "cute brat." Later, he realized that he was missing several coins; he had learned his lesson.
"If it isn't the cute brat from last week," Hama greeted. The young man gave an irritated grunt.
"Cute brat?" the leader asked in his deep, rolling, baritone voice.
"A story for another time, I think, Master," Hama said. "This one's real name is Richard King."
"Ah," the leader commented. "The one you told me about with those special eyes. Come closer, Richard, so that I can look at them myself."
Richard took a few steps closer to the leader, but not too close. That would have been viewed as a threat, and the leader could have easily signaled a handful of assassins to strike him dead on the spot if he saw fit. For a brief moment, Richard and the leader locked gazes, red irises met tar-black irises, then the young man looked away. Any longer, the leader would have considered that a personal insult, and have him sent on a suicide mission to assassinate the king in broad daylight while surrounded by the royal guard. The leader began to laugh, but his voice held no mirth.
"Those eyes," he said. "In a world where psychological battle is just as important as the meeting of blades, those eyes will be a blessing, cute brat." Richard stiffened.
"Well," Hama said nonchalantly. "contrary to what you might think, we did not summon you here to call you petty names. You have a mission, and you will be accompanied by a more experienced partner." He waved his hand casually. "Yaxely."
Partnership in the assassins guild weren't meant to be long lasting. They were always between a freshly turned assassin and a seasoned one. In the case that the new assassin failed his or her mission, the older assassin would finish the job and then finish his partner. It didn't matter to Richard. Failure meant death anyways; whether it came sooner rather than later made no difference to him.
Richard felt a presence behind him. He turned around and saw a taller man in his mid twenties with wild chestnut locks and an assassin cross uniform. He had an assassin cross for a partner! Startled, he forgot to give Yaxely the assassins' traditional death-glare greeting.
"At your service," Yaxely said evenly. There was something about his green eyes that didn't seem entirely friendly. Hama stepped forward and handed Richard a black envelope.
"The two of you are dismissed," the leader rumbled. "Spend tonight debriefing each other on your abilities. The name and location of your hit are in that envelope. You have three days of preparation to silence her."
Yaxely's eyes narrowed significantly when the leader mentioned "her," but he said nothing. Richard studied his partner's face quizzically. Without a sound, the two assassins turned and left the conference room.
"That way," Yaxely motioned casually, pointing to the door to their right. It was the training room.
This guy isn't wasting any time, Richard thought. Under his cloak, his hand surreptitiously crept to one of his katars at his side as the two of them changed directions and headed for the mentioned room, with Yaxely following behind him. His footsteps were unusually soft, even in the echoing chamber.
Without warning, Richard whirled and thrust his katar towards Yaxely, spinning his arm as he lunged. Yaxely had apparently been anticipating this; he side stepped the attack and snaked his dagger wielding hand around the offending arm, and stopped the dagger point an inch away from Richard's neck. Both of them froze, their eyes locked.
This was the assassin's way of fighting in its purest form. The cloak, symbolizing stealth and shadows; the dagger, representing lightning fast death. Inside that circular room, in the presence of the statue of Guile, these two assassins, for the briefest of moments, were simply assassins. Nothing more, nothing less. Being assassins purely for the sake of being assassins. The art of killing perfected.
"That was a nice attack there," Yaxely commented. "It almost caught me off guard."
"As if I could win against an assassin cross," Richard countered. "I could only hope to surprise you." There was a pause, a baited breath.
"Spider," Yaxely said. "That's my codename. I don't make a habit of telling it to people, but I'll make an exception for you." He released his snake hold on Richard.
"Richard King, codename: Argos," Richard said.
"Are you ready?" Spider asked, readying his dagger once more. Argos smiled, the first smile in a long time.
"I wouldn't have become an assassin if I weren't."