Note from the Author: This is just a piece that I wrote about 14-16 months ago. I thought that it would be interesting. I suggest that student's use it to write about and assess greed, conscience, and the like from it. I wrote it to display those themes. Enjoy!!
A shadow slipped over the walls into the sleeping Shipping Quarter of Sorrows End. Was it a shadow or a man? the gate guard thought sleepily. He couldn’t tell and so resumed his watch. Moments later another shadow moved past, close enough for him to feel the air moving beside him, and catch the scent of the passing figure. The smell of death filled his lungs, burning out all the other information his senses could detect. Then it was gone, and everything was as it had been. A clatter on the other side of the wall had him turning to look over the edge. As he confirmed his suspicions that nothing was there, something hit him in the neck. He reached back but did not need to feel the small needle in his spine to confirm his thoughts. In moments the poison was making his blood burn like fire. Then he was tumbling over the side of the wall and down the three hundred foot drop. He opened his mouth to scream but his warning was stifled by five feet of paving stones.
The first shadow leaped from the wall and landed on the ground below, already bounding off toward the merchant houses before the second had even hit the ground. Both shadows stopped outside the gates of the heavily guarded estate of Drukan, the merchant.
Drukan, with his vast wealth and shipping empire, had hired the best guards that could be found this side of the Tomani Sea. They were burly, large and squarely built, and could outmatch anyone in a hundred miles for strength. But as the saying goes, ‘The bigger they are, the harder they fall.’ And that is certainly true in this case. On both sides of the estate, two guards died before they hit the stone ramparts. Then two shadows slipped across the dimly lit courtyard and into the small mansion. Two windows opened, each on the 5th floor, two hundred feet up, and both formerly one of the most secure windows in the town of Sorrows End. Two shadows slipped towards the room of Drukan, the merchant. The second, there only moments before the first, opened the door to witness fifty bowstrings being released, almost in unison. The first heard the twangs from five feet away and hid behind a tapestry. The second stumbled back against the wall on the opposite side of the hall and slumped down against it, looking more like a pincushion than a former assassin. “He is dead, Lord Drukan,” said Bellows, the Captain of the Guard.
He moved out to unmask the figure but as his fingers reached the face, he grasped nothing but air. The figure became a gray, hazy shape and then faded into a black mist. “What in the Nine Hells?” the Captain said.
The rest of the guards moved out into the hall to examine the arrows, which had nothing but a black substance on the tips that crumbled to the touch. Lieutenant Jedd noticed a tapestry move as if by the wind. Not really worried, but not taking any chances, he struck it with his scimitar, but succeeding only in dulling his blade, and cutting the tapestry in two. “What are you doing, lad?” asked the captain.
Then all heard the twang of a bowstring followed by the groan of their lord, Drukan, and the thump of a body hitting the floor. They all rushed into the room, Bellows at the head, to see a dark figure with glowing red eyes jump through the window. Drukan lay at Bellows’ feet, eyes wide in terror and shock. They rushed to the window but saw no figure anywhere in sight. Moments, later the alarm sounded in the compound, and the guards rushed down the stairs leaving Bellows standing there with nothing but his dead Lord at his feet, and the wind whistling through the window.
“So,” said Hennet, “This time it was Drukan. How very interesting. The targets all seem to have some supposed political value. But why strike at them? So far there has been no gain in these attacks.”
Hennet, the sorcerer/paladin, paced through his room in the Red Dragon Inn. Jaque, like his close friend, shared the sorcerer/paladin’s thoughts. However one small thing itched at the back of his mind. If these people were in some kind of danger, why didn’t they just ask the king for help?
“Undoubtedly, they knew something that they didn’t want the king to know.” Said Hennet as if reading his mind. “They could have been involved in some conspiracy to overthrow the king, and they merely spoke of it where an ear heard it that wasn’t supposed to. They probably were killed as a reward for keeping their lips flapping.”
“Yes but something still tickles the back of my mind. If one of these characters knew too much, and was killed for leaking his information, then who had them killed? There is a character here. Someone who is just out of sight, who is just out of the corner of my mind, but I can’t figure out who it is,” said Jaque concernedly. “Who could hire men that could disappear into thin air?”
“Not men that can disappear,” Hennet said dryly. “Demons.”
Meanwhile in a distant quarter of the city, a figure in dark browns and greens strode the street just outside his apartment. The sky was dark and sullen, the streets wet, the smell of decay and unwashed bodies everywhere. Another glorious day in the town of Sorrows End. “Hello,” said Garett happily, to everyone he saw. Most stared back with blank expressions, and sideway glances at the cloak that billowed outward behind him. His cloak was a darker shade of black than any seen by a mortal, and the eyelike stones that hung around it were something that somehow caught the light, even when there was none. Everyone suspected that the cloak had magical powers, but no one knew what they might be.
As he passed a man sitting in tattered rags, with a dank and dirty blanket, the man grasped at his cloak. Garett brushed the man away but the man grasped at it again, saying “Please good lord, just spare me a coin.”
“I can spare nothing, not that I am sorry for one like you.”’ Said Garret angrily. The man rose, staring Garret eye to eye. His fetid breath burned Garrets nostrils, as he dryly stated, “Give me a damned coin!” Garret shoved him down into the muddy street. “You make your own fate you wretch.” Garret sneered, contempt filling his voice. “If you have no coins, it is your own fault and no concern of mine. Be gone you muck sucking, filth-ridden, worm feast!”
“Please sir, you do not know what Hextor would think if you did not,” said the man rising out of the blanket and beginning to shift his form. The mans skin ripped and out of it came a demon that made Garret, who was tall by local standards, seem like a dwarf. Garret merely watched this happen, and as the many hands of the creature revealed many weapons, his own hand retreated into his apparently empty cloak. The creature began to swing, and as it did, Garret jumped above all six blades, and cut the lesser devil at its unprotected throat with his own secret blade. The blood gushed out of the creature’s neck and would have eaten through any normal blade but Garret’s falchion seemed to take no damage. His blade, forged to kill demons, glowed with a dark light, almost as if it radiated shadow. The creature hit the ground and a dark puddle formed around it, sizzling and hissing at the ground as it ate away at the paving stones. As the demon began to fade into the inter-planar mists, Garret grimly stated, “This may be Sorrows End, but you can tell your master that for all of you, this is only sorrows beginning!”
By the time the creature had fully disappeared and it’s acidic blood had done all the damage it could, Garret was already walking away, whistling the tune, Dance with the dead, the once in-pressing crowd now pressing to make a clearing around him.
Shadows of the Future
Hennet stood at the outermost wall of Sorrows End, facing the forest, and praying to his god, Heironous. The sorcerer turned paladin neither heard nor saw nor felt anything around him, though the birds in the forest sang loudly into the waning light, not fifty feet away. Now sitting, Hennet lit ten candles and placed them around him to form a circle. He then stood and sprinkled Sorcerer’s sand around the circle, and sat again waiting for full night to come. As the sun set behind the looming shadow of the far off mountain peaks, he chanted a few magic incantations of protection and began the ritual he had used only once before.
Some hours later, though how long he did not know, Hennet was ready to cast his spell, the Eye of the Fates. He chanted the last magic word and felt a planar wind rush over him, and yet through him, though the trees in the forest did not stir in the least. His view blurred, and Hennet struggled to grasp to consciousness. Then he was standing on the towns’ wall, watching at a distant hill, and seeing nothing but a gray mist, A light appeared in the mists. Nothing happened for several seconds and then figures began to appear from the misty wall; dark figures, rolling over the hills, some man-like, others beast-like. The gates opened below him and a great army of men roiled out and, as if in a dream, though slower, he saw both groups draw swords and rush out at each other. He watched as the men and demon figures clashed together, swords ringing, as if in a dance. Then everything blurred and the stone below him became grass.
He stood on the hill of the battle. Hennet began to walk and felt the grass wet under his feet. He stuck his hand down to cool himself with the dew, but when he brought it back up it was red with blood. He then saw the bodies everywhere around him. Some of them he recognized as men of Sorrows End, and others, he did not wish he recognized as human at all. Twisted, bloated bodies of men, or what had been men, parts of them anyway, lay scattered haphazardly around the ground. Creatures that he had never seen before, some man-like, some shadow, sometimes both, gnawed on carcasses. Then a flicker of light against the smoky sky caught his eye.
He looked around behind him and saw Sorrows End in ruins. Fires leaped up all around the city, especially at the docks. The walls were cracked and shattered, some collapsed in places. A burning fireball tore down from the gray haze around the city. One, and then another slammed into the tall towers of the Demon-dread castle. Most collapsed. Others burned, their wooden guts aflame with the burning pitch-like meteors. He could almost hear the screams of the women and children as they were killed were they stood, in the streets.
Everything blurred again and Hennet stood in the streets and saw the chaos around him. He witnessed the horrifying spectacle as the screaming children dropped to the ground, dead where they fell. He felt the rage boil up in him and died inside because he knew there was nothing that he could do. His blood boiled with rage as he tilted his head back and let out an inhuman scream.
In the town of Sorrows End, Hennet’s scream was heard louder than the thunderous pounding of the waves’ futile, yet never-ending attempts to tear the rocks down from their precarious perch. Those few that were in the streets stopped their work and just stood, hearing the sound that human ears were not meant to hear and human voices were not meant to produce. Jaque knew it was Hennet and rushed out of the gates, toward the sound. As he rushed out into the pre-dawn light, he saw Hennet standing about fifty feet away, the scream dying on his lips, surrounded by black shapes with red eyes. Not knowing what to do but fearing that they were the cause of Hennet’s scream, Jaque rushed toward them. They stepped back, and were gone. Not knowing what to make, but almost falling in his rush to get to Hennet, Jaque tore past their shifting shapes. Just nearing Hennet, he saw his face. It was twisted and contorted in a horrid rage and anguish, as of one who has seen more than anyone should be allowed. As he reached out toward Hennet, Jaque saw the man’s eyes roll up into his skull, and Hennet collapsed onto the dew soaked ground, as though death stricken.
As he slept, Garett dreamed of many things. The monastery where he had lived his childhood, the guild where he had lived as a teen, and the strange and yet familiar house that he had always guessed was his, were among the many things he dreamt of. He saw many people and creatures as he floated in the empty void of nothingness that was his subconscious.
After a long and restless sleep, he awoke to find a dark shape looming above his bed, red glowing eyes glaring down at him. “What is it this time Rauen? I told you, I’m out of that business.”
“How long would you stay free if I were to tell someone your secret?” asked the figure, in a deep voice.
“If you dare…I’ll…” growled Garret, rising from his bed, the scars of many a vicious battle crawling across his bare torso.
“You’ll what Garret? Tell me I’m bad? We’ve had this discussion before. You know that there is know way that you can defeat me. After all, the blood of a thousand years of vampiric glory flows in my veins. The strength of all of my demonic ancestors makes your human strength seems like nothing more than a rodent’s measly squeal. If you feel like challenging me, do not be surprised if you find yourself without a limb when we’re done. So, know do you see how accepting my proposal can keep you in business longer? I really would hate to lose my best partner. What is is what must be Garret. If events warrant it…” said Rauen, the lack of emotion painful to hear.
“All right,” said Garret, reluctantly. “Tell me who it is that you want taken care of.”
“There is a man in this very city, a sorcerer turned paladin, who has, in recent months, become a pebble in my shoe. A pebble that I cannot seem to get rid of. If you would be so kind as to eliminate this pebble, I would be most grateful. I might even tell you something of the family you so dearly long for.”
“What do you know of my family?” shouted Garret, anger once again rising in his voice.
“If you do what I ask, then you’ll see what I know. For now, just do what I tell you to and everything will be as it should. You know that the gods made those like me to prey on the weak, such as you, You may be strong Garret, but strength isn’t everything. In time, you may see what the gods have planned for you. Until then, listen well.” Said Rauen flatly.
“I ask again, what it is that you wish of me,” Garret barked at Rauen. “I have much to do and little time to waste. If what you have is important enough, then it will be priority. If not, then do it yourself!”
Rauen jumped upward. He lifted his hand as he did, Garret rising with him. They became intangible, and floated through the many floors of the inn, and through the roof, and into the sky until they were some distance into the air. Rauen lifted his other hand and began fingering a most powerful enchantment. Within moments, the sky was dark, and the thunder began to rumble in the distance. The rain fell all around Garret, and ran, almost hurriedly, down his sides. The same rain fell all around Rauen, but he did not seem to be touched by a drop of it. Nor did the wind, which nearly ripped the cloak from Garrets shoulders and the hair from his head, even stir the necrotic vampires cloak. It hung unnaturally still, as though the elements of the mortal realm could not touch its dead black glory. “Now that none will hear us, I may tell you of your most important mission, ever!” Rauen whispered, his voice somehow still audible over the raging winds, falling rain, and roaring thunder. “Your assignment is to kill a man who has poisoned our… my operations for years. He has stumbled onto our balance of power and tipped the scales in the wrong direction. Without him, we would control this damned isle and all the inhabitants with him. But now, with him, we control only a few underground cities and mountain fortresses, in the most barren lands of this world. If you kill him, the rewards will be great. If you fail, however… lets just say that before I’m done with you, you will be begging me to end your life.”
“Why must I kill this so powerful man? Why can all of your warriors not kill this paladin of justice? Why should I risk my life for something that you cannot do yourselves? What would his death mean to you?” Garret asked, thinking he had caught Rauen in his own web.
“DO NOT QUESTION MY ORDERS!” Rauen shouted, thunder crashing with his voice. Garret screamed as Rauen’s rumbling demand filled his head, threatening to break his skull. “What I have you do, I do for a reason, and that reason is mine, and mine alone. Do as you are told, and you shall live. Question me and you shall die. That is all there is to it.”
Garret and Rauen suddenly fell, and then were in Garret’s room. Everything was very still. Garret finally broke the silence and said, sadly, “As you command, so it shall be done.”
“Good, now let him mock me, call me swine. For in the end, his life will be mine.” Rauen said, his deep rumbles of cruel, sadistic laughter nearly shaking the inn.
As Rauen strode to the window, and stepped onto the ledge, Garret grimly spoke. “Farewell Rauen. May the fates make it that I never see you again.”
Rauen simply nodded and jumped away, into the air. As he lifted into the already lightning sky, Rauen murmured, in almost a whisper, “Farewell…Brother.”