The rumours spread like wildfire.
It had been two days since the destruction of the Claw. The inn was now nothing more than a heap of ruble and ashes. Old Teklis, a father figure to every acolyte and warrior of Tyr in the city was murdered, as were his former companions, the Shields of Judgement. The City Watch had only managed to get a few of the bodies out before the burning building collapsed.
A wizard had been dispatched from the Academy to investigate, but found no traces of arcane magic, which was the only means by which to explain the fire that had consumed both stone and wood. Most mysterious of all though was he manner of Teklis death. When the surgeons opened him up, they found pools of black ichor where his lungs should've been. That was when the rumours began.
From the slums to Blackwater District people spoke of the old paladin's and the Shields' destruction. Most said that the spirit of Aruken, the devil that was slain in the city sewers a decade ago and whose banishment had costed the lives of almost a hundred holy warriors, had returned for vengeance. Others claimed that some evil deity wised to oppose upon the God of Justice and had slaughter the paladin's in a declaration of war. No matter which version they heard, the people began to panic. Shops closed hours before sunset and beggars and nobles alike barricaded themselves in their home, hoping for the storm to pass.
And three days after the massacre, their fears were confirmed.
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"Open the gates" the guard commanded and the portcullis was raised for the paladins to ride through. They marched in column, two men wide and six deep, all mounted in proud warhorses. At their helm rode a man so large that his horse seemed to struggle under his weight. He was dressed in the same white plate armour as his men and women, but nothing could conceal his overgrown, inhuman muscles. His close-cropped, brown hair and noble, solemn face gave him the grim cast of an unforgiving man of justice. His dark blue eyes, cold and devoid of emotion, reinforced his already grim manner.
Behind him came two women, an elf and a red-haired woman. Unlike their leader, they represented the more humane side of their order. Despite the darkness of the night, the men on the wall could clearly see that. As they came through the gate the guard captain rushed out of his quarters to greet them. When the last of the paladins in the column had entered the city, they dismounted and allowed the stableboys to take their mounts away. The massive man walked on to speak to the captain.
He was a bald man with eyes as dark and deep as the night. He was not a kind man, but he was just, two things that he and the paladin had in common. "I am Mosul" the paladin introduced himself and extended one huge hand.
The captain had trouble grabbing it whole and shaking it. "I am Arkham, captain of this barracks" he said and pointed at the building near the point where the walls formed a corner. A training yard, an armoury and the sleeping quarters of the guardsmen was all there was. "We have been told of your coming, Lord. Shall we escort you to the temple?"
Mosul nodded. You shall captain." He said and fell into pace with him, his paladins following.
Normally, such a sight would have attracted quite a crowd, even in a city such as Neverwinter. But everyone was too afraid to venture out during nighttime, even when a dozen paladins were roaming the streets. Even the rooftops were empty, as the Thieves Guild preferred not to take any chances. And so the city's potential saviors walked it's streets with no one to cheer for them.
"I just want to say, sir" Arkham spoke as they walked "that me and my men are relieved now that you are here. You are the only ones that know how to battle this horror and put an end to this…" he struggled to find the word as he gazed at the grave-like emptiness of Neverwinter "…madness. People speak of demons and things like that, here, in Neverwinter of all places!"
"Worry not good man" the big paladin said with a cold smile and clapped the captain on the shoulder as they walked. "Be it man, beast or demon we'll see it brought to justice"
And before Arkham could hear the whole answer, he was struck dead.
It came from the rooftops.
At first Ruquia thought it was a raven. By the time she realized her mistake, it was too late.
A bolt of green lightning flashed and before anyone could do so much as shouted, the guard captain was cut apart by it. The street was filled with a brief scream of agony and then with the sweet smell of burning flesh.
"To arms!" Mosul shouted and everyone drew stell. Two of them, the elven woman and another paladin, unslung the bows off their shoulders with practiced ease and fixed an arrow on their cords.
"Up the rooftop" Requia shouted and pointed at the black shape, illuminated by the pale moonlight.
"I see him" her elven friend said and let her arrow loose. It flew straight towards where the man's heart should have been, but with a display of inhuman reflexes, he caught it before it reached it's target. The other archer let loose as well but missed. Humans could not see as good as elves during nighttime.
"Impossible!" one of the paladins shouted, eyes wide in surprise. Mosul swore.
"Surround the building!" he commanded. "Rigil, call for reinforcements. It must not get away!" The paladins sped to fulfill his orders.
Fortunately, it was a small house, flanked by narrow alleys by all sides, so it was easy to surround. Once everyone was in position, Mosul spoke to the murderer. "Surrender, beast, and we promise you an easy and clean death."
The black-clad figure laughed, a harsh and evil sound. " I could promise you the same" he said, his voice surprisingly young "but it would be a lie" His left hand shone blue and he held it, palm open, towards the human archer.
The man was enveloped in dark blue flames, both his armour and skin melting by the unholy power of sorcery. He screamed in mortal agony and started running, mad with pain, illuminating the dark streets with blue light. The elven paladin ended his misery swiftly, with an arrow that pierced the back of his head and killed him instantly.
"Back! Fall back!" the massive paladin ordered and they all retreated outside the range of the man's spells. Loud, mocking laughter followed their escape.
Mekakel was in trouble.
He had thought both the paladins and the Watch fools.
He had thought wrong.
Arrows started flying at him from almost every direction ten minutes later. And this time even his inhuman reflexes could not save him. He jumped from rooftop to rooftop, with an ease, range and height that no mortal muscles could achieve.
Soon the paladins and the Watchmen were climbing the buildings, hunting him in their dozens. No one could keep up with him, but their numbers made up for their lack of speed. Soon, every rooftop around the one he was standing on was crowded with men wielding swords and bows.
"This does not have to end this way" Mosul said, standing on a higher roof opposite Mekakel. "Surrender and stand trial. Confess and repent and your judgement will be swift." A narrow alley separated them.
The black-haired man howled in anger. He pointed at the paladin. "You are nothing but a fool following a weak god, and you seek to judge me? I think not, paladin"
Without waiting for an order, every archer loosed his arrow at the murderer. He raised his arms to the heavens and every arrow was crushed within three meters of him, as if it met a wall of invisible force. A blue-white light shone at Mekakel's right hand and it consumed his entire hand and forearm, turning them into a spectral blade of blue, immaterial energy.
"Call for the mages!" Mosul ordered and before the archers could notch another arrow, the murderer reached a rooftop near him with an impossible high jump and descended upon it's defenders. His sorcerous phantom weapon slashed through armour and bone as if they did not exist. Five men were cut apart in as many seconds and the rest jumped off, choosing to risk a broken leg than death at the hands of the sorcerer. Another rain of arrows followed Mekakel's escape, barely missing it's mark.
By the time the wizards had arrived, the prey had almost escaped them. Requia led a few of them along with a dozen Watchmen around the houses, hoping to cut the killer off. Now a few heads cocked out of windows to see what this noise was all about but most preferred to barricade their doors and hide under the tables.
With only the moonlight and a few street lamps to guide them the wizards had a tough time tracking him, even the elven ones. But finally, they spotted him jumping off a rooftop and onto the alley ahead of them.
Before any of them could react, Mekakel launched a wave of kinetic energy at them, with but a twist of his right arm. All were too stunned at the display of spells cast without incantations offered first and didn't finish their counterspells in time. The three mages and a few of the Watchmen were launched back with crushing force, their spines shattering as they hit a nearby wall. The strongest of them, a half-elven evoker, managed to stand up.
"What manner of arcana is this?" he swore and the murderer laughed.
"The kind you can't use, mortal" Mekakel answered with cruel mirth.
Then, as the Watchmen and Requia charged at him, came the true horror.
The female paladin stopped in her tracks as he saw his face clearly.
"HALT" he ordered and the guards came to a halt, weapons raised and held ready. She looked at him with recognition, her sky-blue eyes full of confusion and terror. "I remember you!" she shouted. "I KNOW YOU"
Mekakel's phantasm weapon disappeared, as did the ghostly light it casted. "Not anymore paladin" he said and crouched. The Watchmen did not attack him. "Not anymore"
To everyone's terrible surprise, two huge, black feather wings sprouted out of his back with a sickening sound, their blackness visible even against the night's own darkness.
And with a beat of these wings, the terror was now launched into the skies.