VIII – Death Wears Black [Eternity: P1]


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TOC: Prologue | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9

Botha was concerned, very concerned indeed. The particles on his device had come from only one source: smoke. It took a very special kind of fire to burn with smoke, and he knew of only one source that could produce that kind of fire. Unfortunately, all his knowledge mostly came from myth and legend.

He rummaged around the shelves in his crowded hut, searching for a book that he had put away long ago. Botha found the tome in the very furthest corner, buried beneath a mound of papers and other oddities. Very carefully, he pulled it out. Its pages were aged and the slightest abrasion caused its cover to flake.

Putting it gently on the table, Botha opened it to a page he had memorized from the day he’d received the book. Most of the text had faded over time, but he did soon find the passage he’d been hunting for. The Seventh Prayer:

Light is on my side
Light do not forsake me
In the darkness hide
Darkness that’s inside me

Breathe it from within
Exhale from without
This my smoke is kin
All shall fire out

The rest of the cryptic passage had not been translated, and any remaining commentary had been blotted out by spots of time, but Botha had heard enough stories.

Legends said the Seven Kin were seven men and women chosen from the nations of the world to ward off an evil so great, all of humankind had forgotten it. This did not agree with contemporary texts, since for all recorded history, there had only been two nations: Vithr and Asyther. But ancient legend never agreed with history in the first place.

It was said that the Seventh Kin had the ability to control smoke. From there, the rumors grew wild with speculation as to what exactly the powers of this mythical figure was. What was known was that he’d written the text Botha had read out of, and that he’d written six other prayers for the other six Kin.

If there was smoke in the palace, it could only mean one thing. The Seventh Kin had to have existed, and some descendent of him or her had committed the murder.

What could this mean, though? Why would a descendent of the Seventh Kin murder the king of Vithr? And how much of the legends were true? Botha had heard some of the rumors spreading about the phenomena regarding the messenger in the Everking’s palace. Was that also related to this? It seemed that what the doctors had written off as simple heart failure was not as simple as they’d thought.

The Flamelord had given him express instructions against telling anybody about his discovery, so when Novana had paid him a visit, he’d merely smiled and said that the Hearthlord’s suspicions had been confirmed, and nobody had murdered the king. But in his heart, Botha was deeply disturbed. Dark times were most certainly coming. He could feel it, a cold prickle on his skin, and chill in the very core of his spine.

He shook his head. There was no need for such dark thoughts. His inventions would prove distraction enough while the Flamelord decided what to do. The investigator was glad that he did not have the responsibility of the entire kingdom weighing on each decision he made.

As Botha began working on a new mechanism to prepare his breakfast in the morning, his spirits lifted, and he started to whistle. This felt natural to him. Fitting cogs and gears into place, tightening bolts, and adjusting levers and cranks made him happy. His job as an investigator was merely something to provide him with the money and sustenance required for his tinkering. Not to mention the fact that it allowed him to try out his inventions.

The unbidden thought that his invention had been the thing to detect that the former Flamelord had been murdered intruded into his pleasant state of mind. Like a shadow, it wiped all the joy away from his work, and for the first time he stared at his creation with disgust.

Sure, it was arguably a good thing that he’d been able to detect the crime that had happened, but Botha had not made his contraptions to find evil. He shook his head as he put away his toolkit. That would be enough fiddling for today.

Slipping a few coins in his pocket, the inventor headed out onto the streets to spend the night at his favorite tavern. It was strange. While there was nothing that could beat the meals produced by the royal chefs of Vithr, it was in Asyther where the best alcoholic beverages were. Botha supposed this spoke to the Asythian love of drink and celebration, but that was something that he did not mind.

He crossed into Asyther an hour before the sun set in the hills. His object, the Roaring Radgar, cast a warm, inviting light on its surroundings. The lack of a flicker gave the light away, however, and Botha knew that it was a special kind of tinted window that was designed to make light cast by flameglobes to appear as if it was firelight. He knew this because he’d made the windows himself in exchange for a free drink once a week.

“Ghola, my good friend,” the barkeep said with a grin as Botha entered. While Botha was sure that the barkeep knew who he actually was, he preferred that nobody else in the bar catch on to the fact that Vithr’s chief investigator frequented the joint.

“Lavert,” Botha grinned back. “I’ll have the usual drink in my usual place for the usual fee.”

The barkeep mocked a look of indignance. “You know you never pay!”

“And I know that you know why,” Botha said, winking at the barkeep.

“Shut up and have a seat, I’ll get you your drink,” Lavert replied, realizing that they’d drawn some attention.

Botha looked around at the many customers in the tavern and felt no small amount of pride that his windows had such an effect. Sure, the amount of customers was probably due more to the clean and well-kept joint that Lavert had, but an inventor had to have some pride in what he had made.

The inventor gratefully accepted the steaming cup of Rendelfel from the barkeep and sipped it slowly as he watched the patrons. This was another hobby of his: people watching. He did it all the time, and it was probably why he was so good with people.

For the most part, Botha was able to recognize each of the patrons by name, and if he did not know their name, he was at least able to recall the last time they’d visited. So it was with no small amount of curiosity that he studied the man in black who entered quietly.

Lavert was quick to approach the stranger and take his order, which obscured Botha’s view for a while, but the investigator’s interest had been piqued, and he stared subtly as the man seated himself at a table.

Unlike most of the other people in the bar, who were talking and laughing loudly, this person said nothing and did nothing. His attitude seemed quite forced, and he looked uncomfortable in his environment.

Shrugging his shoulders dismissively, Botha turned to look at his cup. Empty. Too bad. He looked back up, but the stranger was gone. Strange, he had not heard the man leave.

Picking up his cup, Botha headed over to Lavert to hand it in. The barkeep was standing at the table the stranger had sat at, looking around confusedly.

“What’s wrong, Lavert?” Botha asked genially.

“That strange man, he’s gone,” the barkeep replied, scratching his head.

Suddenly, the smile left Botha’s face, and he grew pale. All sound seemed to fade as his brain zoned in on what he smelled. Smoke.

Tours yruly

VI – Masked Man [Eternity: P1]


Sketch of the Man in the Mask

TOC: Prologue | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9

Varyn woke up. He seemed to be doing that a lot lately, despite the copious amounts of Netherfel he had been consuming to keep himself in a state of slumber. The rough pallet he lay on scratched his back, and he shifted uncomfortably. Blindly, he reached for the bottle that he usually kept beside his bed. It was not there.

“Looking for your drugs, you filthy addict?” a voice snarled. “Well, you won’t need them anymore. I’m here to put you out of your misery.”

With his eyes still closed, Varyn listened as a figure in loose clothing moved quietly towards him. A quiet swish alerted the prone man to the assassin’s downward strike. However, before the blade had a chance to hit, Varyn struck out and up with a sharp, short strike.

There was silence as the killer dropped his sword into the sand beside Varyn, then the man groaned in pain. Sitting up in bed, Varyn ran his fingers through his hair and eyed his attacker, who still clutched his groin. In a smooth motion, Varyn pulled the sword out of the ground and ran the assassin through.

The man gasped, feeling the life drain from his body. He choked, staring at the masked face of his killer. “You— the Netherfel. It weakens—”

“Netherfel kills most people,” Varyn growled. “It just gives me a headache.”

He shoved the impaled man out of the tent and waited for a few seconds. His hypersensitive ears detected the stealthy approach of at least two people. The footsteps stopped for a second, then Varyn heard the men drag their comrade away into the night.

Sighing, Varyn threw himself back on his pallet and stared at the worn cloth that was his tent. He counted all the different colored patches sewn into the fabric. Twenty-eight. One less than the number of people who had tried to assassinate him, and a drop in the bucket compared to the number of people he had killed.

Why did they have to keep waking him up? He just wanted to sleep. Sleep was the last solace he had. Deciding not to go crazy from the nightmares was something he’d done a long time ago. How many years had it been? Three? Four? Five? How long had it been since he was last awake?

Varyn stuck his head out of the tent and looked at the sky. Two brightmoons. He’d been asleep two brightmoons. That was half of what he’d intended to sleep away. The Netherfel was losing its potency. The time he dreaded had come; he would have to go into town.

Silently, he sat up and spent a moment rubbing his head. He had not lied to the man about the headaches; they felt terrible, like someone hammering a wedge into his skull. Varyn knew what a wedge hammered into the tender places between his fingers felt like, so he’d extrapolated that to his skull. Regardless of its realism, the analogy fit the pain quite well, and Varyn remained seated, rubbing his temple longer than he should have.

When he finally stepped out of the tent, the sun was just starting to rise. Its warmth tingled on his skin, filling him with power, vitality. He rejected those feelings and cast them into the tent which collapsed as if a gale had hit it from all sides. Squatting down, Varyn collected the pieces quickly and efficiently, tying them together in a large bundle. Time once again, stood against him. He would have to hurry into town before the sun rose any further.

Slinging the tent onto his back, Varyn started towards the town, but a glint from the sand caught his eye. He looked down. The sword lay there, smears of blood still covering its length. Bending, Varyn picked it up.

The blade was crudely made. Cheaply forged steel, with no craftsmanship whatsoever. Whoever sent these men after him had started slacking. Something about the pommel caught Varyn’s eye though. Someone had melted a strange metal symbol to it. The symbol was obviously not part of the original design — it was made of high quality siril[1] instead of steel. Varyn’s mind raced through all the glyphs he knew, which were three. None of them matched what he saw.

Shrugging, Varyn slid the sword in with the tent poles and started the long run back into town. The landscape he ran through was hot and dry. Dust rose in clouds behind him, but he paid them no heed. His only concern was to reach town before the sun fully surmounted the horizon. Already he could feel the power from its rays seeping into his body — a power he did not want.

Every time he felt the littlest well of heat build, Varyn cast it out of his body, using it to speed himself along. He needed to run. Faster, faster, faster. The desert sun grew hotter as an hour passed. Why had he come to the desert again? You had nowhere else to go, a small voice told him.

He could see it in the distance, the town. The sight of the clay huts allowed him to accurately gauge the distance he had left to run, and he increased his pace accordingly, no longer needing to keep a reserve of strength.

Two hours after starting his run, Varyn arrived in the small Mobek town known as Erithilililu. Two years ago, the quiet villagers would have stared at the dust-covered mask-wearing man running in from the Lethiluli (doomed place), but the sight of this strange person had become a normality, and the most attention they paid to him was a short glance, as if to see if he had changed any.

Varyn slowed shortened his stride as he arrived at the town, but did not slow his steps. He sped around corners and ducked through alleyways until he arrived at the small trade store owned by Hassanali, a gangly man missing two teeth and most of his hair.

“Hassanali?” Varyn said as he stepped past the curtain door.

Nobody responded. Varyn repeated his question, but once again did not get an answer. Unstrapping his tent from his back, the man placed his burden on the brick counter in the middle of the hut and looked around. The tradesman had not changed much of anything since Varyn had last been around. The store looked a little cleaner here and there, but that was nothing to be suspicious of. So why did he feel so suspicious?

Because there’s somebody hiding behind the counter, the small voice whispered before he could hush it. Slowly, Varyn turned to face the door, his back to the counter, as if he was peering out the window. He heard the breathing of whoever hid behind the counter tighten as she slowly rose up behind him. For some reason, Varyn had always been more attuned to the sounds women made; in his line of work, this distinction had not proved very useful, but it certainly had its benefits now.

“Who are you?”

So she was a young woman.

“I said, who are you?”

An inexperienced young woman.

“I have an arrow pointed right at your back. I could kill you right—”

“My name is Varyn. Where is Hassanali?”

“I was hoping you could answer that question.”

Varyn detected a slight tremor with the you. Was she scared of him?

“I haven’t been here for over eight brightmoons. Now I ask you again, where is Hassanali?”

There was silence. Eventually the girl spoke. “He’s dead, and I believe you are in on it. The men who did the deed spoke of a masked man.”

So it was those bastards. Varyn sighed. Another body to add to the bucket.

“Listen, kid. I don’t know who you are, or why you think you could possibly kill me with your silly little bow, but I was here to buy drugs from Hassanali, and if he is no longer alive, then I no longer have any business here. So if you will let me reclaim my belongings, I would like to leave.”

Silence, again.

“Girl?”

“How do you know the language so well?”

“What?”

“Mobebekek. You speak it like a native.”

Varyn sighed again. “I know a lot of things. Now if you will allow me—” he turned around, just as his ears detected the sliding of a taught cord from hooked fingers. In an instant, his hand snapped out, and he caught the deadly projectile before it had a chance to embed itself in the wall.

He stared at the girl, accusation written all over his face.

“Sorry,” she mumbled, face red. “My fingers slipped.”


[1] A high quality metal, much like a tungsten-steel alloy

Tours yruly

Taker VIII – Caravan


camels-trade-caravan-1

I know, they’re camels, not horses. Same diff. =P

I’m really excited about where this story’s headed. It’s getting to the point which I’ve had planned out for a long time, and I think it’s gonna be good. Just you guys wait and see. I bet you’ll enjoy it. Regardless, this was a chapter I’d actually written right after seven, but I only just got around to editing it. Enjoy. 🙂

Chapters: Prologue | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | ToC

Grommel, lead guard, eyed the horizon uneasily. He had a bad feeling in his gut, and the last time he’d felt like this, he’d lost three fingers and an eye. His horse sensed its master’s discomfort and shifted hesitantly.

“Aaht issit?” Navar, one of the merchants in the caravan, asked, pulling up beside the soldier.

It had taken Grommel a full week to get used to Navar’s slurred sibilants and his disturbing lack of lips, but the soldier answered fairly readily now. “Just a bad feeling, probably nothing.”

“You don’t think issnothing.”

Navar’s uncanny intuition, that Grommel had not grown accustomed to. For a while, the two men sat in silence, both peering out at the distant line where earth met sky. Then, he saw it: a threatening cloud of dust on the horizon.

Navar apparently saw it too because he drew his wickedly curved sword.

“Stop the caravan!” Grommel yelled over his shoulder. “Defensive formation! Bandits are coming!”

There was a brief moment of chaos at this information, but all the merchants in the caravan were veterans — Grommel had made sure of that — and it didn’t take them long to follow his orders.

“How many are there?” Maville, one of the “over-weights” as Gromel termed them, puffed as he rode up.

“More than enough,” Grommel said grimly, eyeing the dust cloud which had tripled in size.

“Oh dear,” Maville said, then he turned to Navar. “Put that thing away. It makes me nervous.”

Navar and Maville fitted with each other as well as a knife under fingernails. The two had rubbed against each other the entire journey, and now was no exception.

Navar turned to look at Maville, and Grommel had the disturbing impression that the lipless merchant was smiling. “Noh.”

Grommel cut in before Maville could splutter back. “We don’t have time for this. We have a hundred soldiers in our caravan, and there are at least three hundred bandits out there. Ordinarily, this would not be a problem, but judging by our location, these are no common bandits. Likely as not, they’re led by the famed Ta’vich, and he has defeated guard forces twice our size.”

Maville went pale, and Grommel decided that Navar must have stopped smiling as he gave his sword a few practice swings. Something Grommel had carefully omitted in his brief biography of Ta’vich was that most of what he said came from personal experience. He’d led one of the guard forces he spoke of in his early caravan guarding days, and his missing fingers now adorned the necklace the bandit king wore.

The guard drew his sword and flicked it experimentally. Maville wordlessly slunk into cover, and the rest of Grommel’s team filled the gaps. Grommel eyed his men. He could see the fear in their faces; he could even feel it in the air, but he knew none of them would abandon him. To most, the situation would have appeared hopeless, but Grommel had a trick up his sleeve: Each of his men was a well-trained archer and could put an arrow into a man at forty cords.

“Steady men!” Grommel called out with confidence he didn’t feel. Someone told him a long time ago that kissing one’s sword granted good luck.

“Nock arrows!” It was just silly superstition.

“Take aim!” Had to be.

Grommel glanced quickly at his men. They were all focused on the enemy, beads of perspiration dripping from their faces. He kissed his sword. “Fire!”

A hundred arrows flew into the air, straight and true, before turning and flying down into the dust cloud. Cries of pain and confusion echoed across the flatlands. For a moment, Grommel celebrated; it would only take a few more rounds like those to rout the bandits. But his was only a brief moment. Then the counter volley came.

Grommel instinctively ducked as artificial screams spread through the air. If there had been any doubt before, there was none now. Only Ta’vich had his archers make arrows that screamed as they flew. “Screamers,” the men had called them. Seconds later, real screams replaced the artificial ones as men went down all around Grommel. Navar fell off his horse beside Grommel, an arrow having knocked out his teeth and penetrated his throat.

“Fire at will!” Grommel shouted, desperately hoping there were still men left to fire.

He heard galloping. No doubt the merchants had decided to run. But it is only one horse, Grommel’s ears told him, And it’s coming towards you. Grommel looked back over his shoulder in time to see a cloaked man gallop past him on a black horse.

Ryke rode straight at the dust cloud that was the bandits. He was counting the beat of his horse’s gallop. One. The bandits would have heard the horse. Two. They’d seen him. Three. He imagined them drawing their bows. Four. They were taking aim. Five.

Ryke stood in the saddle and flipped off backwards, letting the horse continue its course. Just as he did, a volley of arrows whizzed through the air above his head. He swung the shield from his back and started counting his breaths. One. The archers nocked more arrows. Two. Ryke started running. Three. They drew their bows. Four. He felt their eyes on him. Five.

He brought the shield up in front of his face as a dozen arrows thudded into it. Swinging his arm, he tossed the shield off to his left. Still running, Ryke drew his swords before disappearing into the dust.

Grommel sat there stunned as he watched a lone man cross the battlefield and disappear into the enemy. When he heard the screams and shouts of what was definitely more than one man, he came to his senses.

“Charge!”

What remained of his unit galloped forward into the dust to help their mysterious savior.

***

“You have to tell me where he went.”

“Like I said, he returned to the city after staying the night here.”

“And I’m telling you that he can’t have done that.”

Kyr-lya sat up groggily in an unfamiliar bed. The cracked floorboards continued to leak the argument taking place below her.

“There was only one man who came here last night, and after he dropped off a girl, he went back to the city.”

“I just told you, old man. He did not go back to the— Wait. What girl?”

Kyr-lya stepped into the barroom. A tall, red-haired woman stood, arguing with a man whose beard looked longer than his lifespan.

Ignoring the woman, who carried a crossbow on her back and a pair of daggers in her belt, Kyr-lya faced the man.

“Are you the keeper of this establishment?”

“That I am.”

“What happened to the man who brought me in?”

“Like I’ve been explaining to this lady over here, he went back to the city.”

“I have a hard time believing that,” Kyr-lya said. “He seemed bent on going away from the city the last I remember”

“By Kar!” the old man shouted, losing his temper. He raised his hand, palm out, and his eyes flashed purple. In a rising crescendo, he spoke, “Tova su liet ha no liet su tova ha no su liet tova ha no!”

The doors flew open behind the two women and they were sent flying out onto the road. Kyr-lya, still catching her breath, watched as the red-haired Human stood up with a grim look on her face.

“You made a very bad mistake, old man,” the woman said, as she stalked back into the inn, knife in hand.

“What are you doing?” Kyr-lya managed to say.

The woman stood over the innkeeper who had fallen back in a chair from the mental exertion. She looked at Kyr-lya. “Ridding the world of evil.”

The Ash girl watched in horror as the woman slashed with her knife and an all-too-familiar red line appeared across the old man’s throat.

***

“So, where are you headed?” Grommel asked, turning a spit.

Everyone around the campfire looked expectantly at Ryke as he sharpened his sword. “That’s my business.”

There was a moment of silence as Grommel continued to turn the spit. “Fair enough. Regardless, after what you did today, you’re welcome to ride with us.”

Ryke looked up from his work. “Thank you.”

“I disagree, captain,” Maville interrupted. “This man is a killer, and he has the evil eye I tell you. He won’t have any problems alone in the desert.”

Grommel looked at Maville wearily. “And what if the “killer” decides that leaving him alone in the desert displays conduct equal to that of the bandits he killed?”

Maville’s eyes went wide and he gulped.

“Here,” Grommel handed Ryke a slice of the meat, before picking up a bottle of alcohol. “To our rescuer.”

“To our rescuer,” everyone repeated.

Ryke studied Grommel carefully as the soldier gulped down his drink. The man was burly with the extra pounds that came from caravan duty, but he could hold his own in a fight. Tattoos decorated his thick upper arms, and his hair hung in a black braid down between his shoulder blades. His left hand was missing three fingers, and an eyepatch covered his right eye.

“You’re a captain?” Ryke asked.

“Former military,” Grommel said, mouth full of meat. “I fought in the Great War. Near the end of it though. Bad times all round. It was mostly butchering and clean-up at that point. I got lucky and was assigned to guarding an outpost. Fended off an attack from a band of Aelves big enough to promote me from sergeant to captain. What about you? What’s your story?”

“I’m a nobody.”

“Some kind of nobody,” Grommel snorted. “You killed at least ten of them back there. A person like you isn’t nobody.”

“What do you think a person like me is, then?”

Grommel quieted down and looked inquisitively at Ryke. “Well, you’re no stranger to killing. You’re also no stranger to battlefield and guerilla tactics too, what with the way you approached those bandits. I’d say you’re a military man too, and you must’ve been in leadership like me. I’d say the only difference between you and me is that you’re from a special squad of some kind. Elite forces, assassin corps, something like that.”

Ryke was silent.

“Well, how close was I?” Grommel demanded, stuffing his mouth again.

“Pretty close I think. Pretty close indeed.”

Tours yruly

Taker VII – The Library


original

So, there’s been a while since this chapter and the last chapter, but I’ve finally written it. In fact, I’ve also written one and a half chapters beyond this. =P I’ve been working on trying to edit my posts more thoroughly before I post them. Also, now that I’ve started school again, I should be writing a lot more. Now, those of you who are eager to jump to the chapter, go right ahead and read it, but I’ve got some news to talk about, especially with the direction of this blog.

The biggest news is that I was contacted by MyTrendingStories to write for their website. You can see my first post on there here. It shouldn’t change anything on this blog, but for those of you interested, I’ll be writing more article-style pieces for them. This means that I’ll get to become more specialized on this blog and devote it towards my fictional pursuits. Occasionally I might repost stuff I posted on there to here, but that will probably be fairly rare. So, if you want to hear me talk about more stuff, check out my profile on that site. (Oh, and yes, I did watch a video on suturing, so those descriptions should be pretty accurate. =P) Apart from that, enjoy the story. 🙂

Chapters: Prologue | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8ToC

Ryke dropped a pile of books on the library table. The bookkeeper had been all too eager to show off his collection of books, despite Ryke’s intimidating appearance. Or maybe it had been because of that. Either way, the amnesiac now had a full five hours’ worth of reading in front of him, and hopefully it contained some much needed answers.

Seating himself with the same precision he used in every other part of his life, Ryke picked up the first of the volumes to peruse. This one talked about the Great War, and how devastating the losses had been for everyone. It discussed in depth the horrors that were perpetrated, and railed against the non-Humans. Thousands were slaughtered on both sides, but Humans, through sheer determination, numbers, and deceptiveness, won.

One of the sections in the book briefly mentioned how the Humans created mutagens to help them win the war, then started discussing the current Purist crusade against the resulting mutants. There, the shimm-tex ended, and it would not be continued until the author wrote more. Ironic, Ryke thought, How this speaks against the arts and the manipulation thereof, yet this very book would not have been possible without it. With a slight smile still on his lips, he moved on to the next book.

Between shelves and in shadows Aylya skulked, careful not to make the slightest sound. Her movements were unhurried, light, and graceful, allowing her to make full use of nyp’kah, Aelvish for “short breath.” Purist acolytes learned this technique, along with many others, to help control the sound of their breathing. Aylya could still remember the countless number of times she’d passed out from the exercises they performed. Those were the lengths one had to go to when fighting monsters, she mused.

Her thoughts came to a halt, as did her body, when she arrived at the perfect vantage point. Directly behind her quarry, she rested her crossbow on a shelf and aimed between the books at Ryke’s cloaked back. She could visualize his shoulder blades, and she envisioned the rib cage beneath. He still sat there reading, completely unaware of her presence. Breathing in halfway, she held the air in her lungs for a second and squeezed the trigger evenly.

In a flash, the bolt had fled her crossbow and embedded itself in Ryke’s back. He slumped forward over the table, tearing a few pages out of the book he’d been reading. Aylya slowly came out from behind her cover, dual daggers drawn. A shot like that severed the spine and was meant to paralyze the target. However, it often did not kill, and there had been rare cases in which the mutant had somehow avoided complete paralysis.

With each step closer, her muscles got tighter, till finally Aylya was within range to strike the killing blow. She flipped the dagger in her right hand and drove downwards, aiming for a clean slice to the jugular. What happened next took her completely by surprise.

Ryke’s right hand shot up, and his gauntleted forearm smashed into her wrist, causing her to drop her dagger. Reflexively, she started to spin. But not before Ryke slashed her across her ribs with the knife he’d concealed in his left hand. Instinct from years of training kicked in, and she hopped back as Ryke stepped forward. Quickly switching her remaining dagger to her right hand, she assumed a pervfin stance, unique to the Purists in which the knife fighter stood on the balls of her feet and bent at the knees to keep as close to the ground as possible.

Aylya subtly shifted her weight back, preparing for a quick strike. Her eyes saw the flick of Ryke’s wrist before she comprehended it, and she ducked without thinking. The knife flew past her, having missed by a head, and she lunged, taking advantage of Ryke’s defenselessness. He sidestepped, and she saw motion in her periphery before a chain smacked the dagger out of her hand and across the room.

She rolled as Ryke swung the chain at her head. He stepped after her and sent it flying down. Rolling to the side, Aylya ran for the window she’d singled-out earlier as an escape route. Ryke’s chain caught her in the back of her thigh, making her stumble, but she managed to dive out into the darkness of night.

Ryke started after her, then stopped himself. “Not my target,” he muttered, wrapping the chain back under his gauntlet.

He looked around at the havoc they had wreaked in such a small amount of time, then swung the shield off his back and worked the arrow out of it. Carefully, he laid it on the table, before bending to retrieve both of Aylya’s daggers. These went beside the arrow.

Ryke stared at the assortment for a minute, and the longer he stared, the more his brow furrowed. Finally, he picked up the arrow and spun it around in his hand.

“Definitely Purist make,” he muttered, then paused. “But they only hunt mutants.”

He tightened his hand into a fist, snapping the bolt, and threw it across the room.

***

Aylya fell through the doorway into her room and hit the floor hard. She kicked the door shut before crawling to the cupboard where she kept her medical supplies. Opening it with one hand — her other was pressed to her ribs —  she pulled out the enchanted bottle of medicine her nurse had given her all those years ago.

Gritting her teeth, the assassin pulled her shirt off. Moonlight shone in through the window, illuminating the scars crisscrossing her torso. Opening the bottle, Aylya quickly poured its contents onto her wound. She gasped as the powerful antiseptic took effect, then reached back into the cupboard for the stitching tools.

She still recalled how badly her hands used to shake when she threaded the needle for this kind of operation, but she slid the thread into the eye smoothly now. Everting the edges of the wound, which had started to numb, she pushed the curved needle into her skin. Despite having done this more times than she could count, the sensation of the string running through the hole in her skin felt as alien as ever.

In a practiced motion, she punctured the opposite edge of skin and tied a surgeon’s knot, locking in the stitch. A few minutes later, she’d closed the wound up, and, reaching for her special medicine bottle, emptied its contents on her wound again. Then she emptied it a third time on some bandages and wrapped them around her torso.

If the Headmistress knew about Aylya’s special bottle, there was no doubt as to what would happen to it and Aylya, but from Aylya’s perspective, its three special medicines had kept her alive long enough to kill more than enough mutants to make up for her possession of it.

Slowly, she stood up and stretched her aching muscles, being careful not to disturb the wound on her chest. She closed her eyes and traced her fingers lightly over her body, reliving each scar and the kill it had been associated with, until tonight: the second time someone had left a scar on her and got away with it. Her eyes opened, and she replayed the fight in her head.

After going over it multiple times, she had to admit defeat. She’d taken him completely by surprise, and yet he had cleanly and efficiently disarmed her and very nearly killed her. She rubbed the back of her thigh where a welt had developed. Unfortunately, her little bottle was meant only for open wounds, and had no effect whatsoever on bruised skin.

She dropped her pants and climbed into bed, lying flat on her back. The room felt oppressively hot, but, as habit dictated, she pulled the blanket over her body. For a few minutes she lay there, staring at the ceiling, ignoring the dull throbbing of her wound. Then, after shifting slightly, she placed her hands on either side of her body, and fell instantly into a deep sleep.

Fire haunted her dreams. Burning. Something was burning. Her house was burning. Why were her parents screaming? Of course. The house was on fire. That made sense. What were they saying? Run? Why run? It felt horribly hot. Who was that? She did not recognize him. What was he doing? No! Don’t hurt

Aylya woke up with her body covered in beads of sweat. She threw aside the covers, but it wasn’t long before the cool evening air had her shivering, and she had to pull the blanket back on again. She pressed a wrist to her forehead. It was hot and clammy. Stumbling out of bed, she dug around in her medical closet and pulled out a bucket and some towels.

Filling the bucket from the water barrel in the corner, she wet some of the towels and put them on her forehead and neck as she laid back down in bed. Her body shivered, and she pulled the covers all the way up to her chin.

A number of hours later, her fever had died down, and she threw the cloths aside. For a moment, she debated folding the blanket back down to her armpits, the way she always did, but she decided against it. A little extra security would not hurt. It was unusual for her to succumb to such feelings, but tonight hadn’t been a usual night anyway.

***

The following day, Ryke left the inn. He’d decided on a destination overnight; he was going to the Purist headquarters. His route took him through Temmark, and dark thoughts filled his mind when he recalled what had happened. The transformation of that girl, and the other transformations he’d seen, was still something he did not understand, and he refused to think about it.

The air was completely still, and the desolate village on his right stood in stark contrast to the dense forest on his left. Above him, the sun beat down with an unpleasant, throbbing heat, and not an animal stirred. Smoke rose in the distance from the girl’s house, but it was not smoke from a chimney. There was too much smoke for that. Looters must have come.

Kyr-lya put her head through the noose. For a moment she hesitated, then, as tears welled up in her eyes, she stepped off the tree branch. Air whistled by her ears, loud as rushing water, before— she hit the ground. What? She looked up. The noose hung loosely around her neck, and still quivering in the tree trunk was the knife that had severed the rope.

“What do you think you’re doing?” she yelled at the man who stood eyeing her.

“Saving your life,” Ryke replied.

“Does it look like I wanted it?”

“There are better ways to go out.”

Kyr-lya paused at this.

“You’re right,” she said slowly. “I’d rather go down fighting.”

She grabbed the knife from the tree and charged straight at Ryke. He quickly stepped outside her arm, and, catching her wrist, hit her in the shoulder. Her deflected momentum sent her flying, and she lost hold of the knife. Ryke walked over and kicked the knife up into his. He sheathed it and looked down at the prostrate girl for a second, then turned and continued on his way.

Getting up, Kyr-lya ran blindly at his back and flung her arms around his neck in an effort to choke him. But no matter how much pressure she put on his neck, the hand that he had somehow managed to sneak between her arm and his neck prevented any actual suffocating.

For an hour they continued like this, Ryke walking with Kyr-lya on his back trying to asphyxiate him. Then Ryke felt her grip loosen as she slumped forward. He slipped his arms under her as her heavy breathing informed him of what he’d assumed; she was asleep.

Night had fallen by the time they arrived at a roadside inn. An elderly man with his wife opened the door when Ryke knocked, and they hurriedly ushered him inside upon seeing his burden.

After putting Kyr-lya to bed, Ryke handed the innkeeper several coins. “For the night, and food for when she wakes.”

“And you, sir?” the innkeeper asked, peering at Ryke. “Will you have a room, too?”

“I won’t be staying,” Ryke said shortly.

The old man peered some more. “And what do I tell the lady when she wakes?”

Ryke stared back evenly. “A lie.”

Tours yruly

Taker VI – Failed Attempt


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Now, if I could paint this well, I would do my own art =P

I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to get this chapter out. You know when you hit one of those rough spots in your writing where you know what you have to write and you know what you want to write but you don’t really feel like it because you have other things you want to do? Well, that happened to me, thus the delay on this chapter. But it’s here now, so, enjoy. 🙂

Chapters: Prologue | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 |  ToC

“So, I heard you’re pretty tough,” a large, muscular Aelve spat, slamming his fist down on the table.

The person he was speaking to, an unshaven Human, looked up blankly, then glanced around. No one even turned.

“You beat up some of the people in my gang a couple of dawnbreaks ago. Want to explain?”

The man rubbed the stubble on his chin, then shrugged his shoulders mildly. The Aelve stared in disbelief for a moment.

“You do not shrug your shoulders at me, Human. I’m Ta’vich, King of the Streets.”

Ta’vich waited expectantly for the customary look of fear. His addressee just gave him another blank stare.

“Alright, I’m done.” The gang leader picked up the table between them and flipped it towards the man. Before he could react, Ta’vich lunged forward, his fist coming into contact with the man’s jaw.

One punch sufficed to knock his opponent out, and Ta’vich stepped back, satisfaction on his face. “That’ll teach you to shrug your shoulders at me, Human.”

When he turned around and left, the Human opened his eyes and stood up, righting the table. He called for another drink and rubbed his jaw gently. Moments later, the barkeep hurried over with a frothing mug in hand.

“You should have beat him up, Asanthe. Now he will grow more arrogant. And he is a coward. One blow from you would have had him running,” the barkeep said quietly.

“‘Better an arrogant coward than a vengeful one.’ Philosopher Kylh, 601 A.E.” Asanthe took a swig of his drink. “Such words are not mere dribble, Clara. Where is your sister tonight?”

“You can tell?” Suddenly the barkeep became very shy.

Asanthe sipped his drink again.

“How can you tell?”

He grabbed her hand. “You wear a ring. It is so important to you that you wear it all the time, except for when you fill in for your sister. It leaves a distinct mark on your fingers. Your nails are not chipped and broken from years of manning the bar and dealing with unpleasant patrons. You may be twins, but you have a slimmer frame, and that outfit does not fit you as well as it fits Tara. And finally, unlike her, you have a decided predisposition to hang off every word I say.”

She stared at him, then hurried away to serve another customer. He sipped at his drink and let the bitter taste bite at his tongue and the sides of his mouth. Everybody reacted like that. Even in this modern era, knowing too much got you shunned and rejected by others. Still, better he remain rejected and unknown than his secret come to light. Already there were people who suspected him of being more than he claimed to be, and his claim was no light one at that.

Asanthe, wandering scholar and philosopher, studier of the arts and teachings of philosophers before him, that was what people knew him as. If they knew that he was really the last remaining shy-gyth — swordmaster — and the creator of the fifteenth sword art: sym-myth, there’s no telling how many he might have to kill to keep his secret safe; the last thing he wanted to do was kill more.

***

“It’s very rare that you come to see me, mother,” a tall, lanky man said placidly, addressing the hooded woman behind him.

“I need your help,” his mother replied.

“Another rare occurrence.” The man spoke in clipped tones. “Who is it this time?”

“You know who. He’s back.”

This elicited a reaction; his whole frame went taut. “Not even your best Purists can handle him.”

The Headmistress sighed. Her son had many faults, one of them being his insatiable desire to feel needed. She supposed that in part it had to do with the rough upbringing he had underwent. He had essentially been left in a state of total neglect for the entirety of his younger years. How she — who had willingly given her sickly son to the scientists to mutate — had become leader of an organization devoted to wiping out mutants from Cheridith was beyond her. Life certainly had its ironies.

She reached out and grabbed his arm, an unusual sign of affection from her. “Son, be careful. He was the best they made.”

He gave his mother a funny look of disbelief. “And you would mourn, if I died?” The laugh he let out was all air and no mirth. “Would you not instead rejoice that you wouldn’t have to send your Purists after me?”

She pursed her lips, then turned abruptly and left. He stood silently, brooding, watching her as she strode proudly away out of the small hut he lived in. He shook his head. She was the only person in his life who could exact any emotion from him, and he wasn’t sure if he hated or loved her.

***

The sun had sunk low by the time Ryke reentered the city. Most people had vacated the streets, and his footsteps echoed hollowly on the cobblestone. Except it wasn’t an echo. Someone was following him. He rounded a corner quickly then flattened himself against the wall of a hut. His shadow’s footsteps stopped, and he peered around the corner to see a cloaked figure hovering uncertainly.

Before he could do anything, the figure hissed, “Duck!”

Instinctively, he dropped. A crossbow bolt bounced off the brick wall, exactly where his head had been. He straightened and quickly scanned the area. Two cloaked figures now ran off in opposite directions. For a moment, uncertainty took the reins, then he threw caution to the wind and ran off after one of them.

Energy coursed through Ryke as he sped after his quarry, his speed giving him an edge. Aylya cast a quick glance over her shoulder and cursed when she realized Ryke was catching up. She could still stay ahead, though, just not by running in a straight line.

Without warning, she ducked around a corner into a side alley. Her pursuer had to slow somewhat before making the turn, giving her a few extra cords. It was all she needed. Springing into the air, she gripped a rafter tightly and pulled herself up. The muscle-up took longer than she’d thought— curse the newfangled heavy crossbows.

Ryke managed to catch up to her as she ascended. He jumped up and grabbed blindly, his fingers catching tightly on to fabric. It was her cloak, and it came tumbling down on his face as the clasp for it broke. He caught sight of a flash of red hair before his quarry disappeared across the rooftop. For a few minutes, he considered climbing up after her, but it would have been futile. Wrapping the cloak around his arm, he made his way back to the inn.

Tours yruly