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Posted by
Jun 14, 2005

After the touching reunion, and much mocking sass-back from Fred on the event, Alais and Zerrah led the two assassins to the large, central building in the hamlet. Its towering doors were guarded by two visible sentries and a few dozen others positioned in hiding that Orson could still pick out from a distance. The guards were quite thorough in their examination of the two guests, and this was the more lax protocol since they were regarded as friends to the Lord. Hood caused some difficulty for the guards as his cloaks had to remain over his person, but it was apparent that no weapons were in his possession. This did little to calm their nerves. As the great doors parted, the dank, dimly lit interior room was revealed. It was practically empty save for the large, round table within the middle with a low fire contained hovering over its center. Magic, obviously. As they entered, the dark assassin could see that, even inside, the walls were lined with guards, ready to take action at a moments notice.

"Is this how you treat all your friends?" the mercenary of shade questioned with a laugh although a ring of truth was in his tone. "I mean, what was that test for if we still haven't proved ourselves?"

"It is nothing personal," Zerrah dismissed as he took his seat at the mighty table. "No one is to be trusted, ever. It is the Ikmalian way."

"And times only grow more dangerous," Lord Alais added.

"Even here?" Orson pondered. "I thought you kept your borders thoroughly guarded?"

"It is also our way to expect anything," Zerrah answered, "always."

"You people sure have a lot of ways," Orson muttered but only half under his breath.

"Children, children, please, there are more urgent matters at hand," Hood mocked. "I came to beg for assistance against the Emperor. His days of reign have lasted too long, Lord Alais, and he only becomes more demented with every passing day. However, what I have learned most recently is by far the most disturbing: The Emperor has made a sinister pact with... the 'darklings'." Their audience was dumbfounded by his words, not knowing how to react. Seeing their confusion, he clarified. "The Ukmabgere," he whispered in a hushed voice as they all grew pale, even the unshakable bravery of Zerrah was faltered. Even invoking their arcane title in near silence, the central torch flailed its tongues wildly. As its color shifted to a sickly black and violet, it cast forth no light, only making itself visible in the darkness of the room.

"Why?" Alais demanded as the cursed presence passed. "What does he hope to gain with the- ... those infernal demons? Does he not have enough power?"

"He has all the power a King could desire," Hood coldly admitted, "but he lusts for the power of a god."

"This is outrageous," Zerrah rejected. "No one, not even in unsound mind, would form allegiance with those devils. What proof do you have of this?" As Fred rose his tall body from out his chair, he planted his long, covered arms far apart on the table, twisting his head to shoot an angered stare through his robes at the doubting soldier.

"I had spent several weeks posing as one of the Emperor's top assassins, known only as the Nameless. People often confused the two of us before hand, so it really was not difficult at all. After removing him from the picture, I-"

"Wait, wait," Zerrah interrupted. "You... killed the Nameless?"

"And?" Fred replied. "You should be shocked if I couldn't." Standing up to his full height, he trotted around the table to continue his story, ignoring the incessant interruptions of Zerrah. "As I was saying, I posed as the Nameless for some time, trying to get myself closer to the Emperor to finally end him, but what I learned while attempting this proved too much for me alone. A lone Ukm- er, 'darkling' was not much trouble for me to take care of or much to be suspicious of. They have been known to be summoned from their nether world and into ours, but the Emperor has a pact with not just one or a few but the entire race. I had trouble piecing it together at first, however. No one would speak their name," he explained, gesturing to the central torch, raising his voice to rise over Zerrah's cries, "with good reason, so I was never quite clear as to who they were in alliance with. However, once Vasez referred to me as being a 'darkling' as I masked myself as the Nameless, pieces began to fall into place. While trekking out here, I was able to- What!?!" He threw his face directly into Zerrah's, huffing with anger.

"You say you killed the Nameless?" he repeated with wide eyes.

"Yes!" Fred screamed. "Why is that so hard for you to grasp?"

"The demons," he slowly stated, "they don't die." Slowly, gazes shifted to the suspended lantern as its flames began to darken and flicker fiercely. The shining glints of mail that lined the walls vanished one by one into the shadows. All color drained from the fire, until, once it turned like pitch, it erupted in a violent flash. They did not have much time to see, but a large, twisted, evil something had emerged from the fiery portal and crashed down onto the table, breaking it underneath the massive weight. Only the four were left in the total darkness with feral growling.

"Oooh," Hood squeaked, "crap.

Posted by
Jun 15, 2005

There was no way to see in the incessant darkness; the creature had brought with it an impenetrable veil from the netherworld that not even the shadow killer's vision could best. He didn't need to see, though. Orson could sense the shade. This thing was made from it.

The assassin hesitated while the others charged blindly in their panic. Zerrah flew into a fighting frenzy at the intruder, studying the every changing groans the eminated from it. With no other choice, Alfred joined in, hammering his large, clasped fists at wherever he heard a sound. Their strikes -- while true -- made little impact against the abomination's evershifting body, and very shortly, both men found themselves caught in shadowy tendrils from its pitch skin.

Zerrah was cast off with little regard as Hood fended off what attacks he could. Orson witnessed a crude mouth appear with his mind's sight, but all could see the horror when its mouth opened, spilling a crimson, hellish glow from its belly. What little could be seen of the writhing mass in the dim, red light escaped all logic, but what was held in its vile clutches could not be believed: Hood, battered and bloody.

Fred's tired, struggling arms were still defiantly pulling from the horror's hold. Tatters of his robe were stuck and absorbed by the eerie black coat, glistening with pouring wounds from its relentless attacks. The namesake hood, too, had been shredded, and they could see something that would never see again -- even if they did manage to survive -- the face of Alfredore.

It was almost colorless, even bathed in the sanguine light. It was twisted, not just from this assault or from all those he had endured within his lifetime, but contorted in a strange way, as though he had lost control of his feature, or at least had no need to. Mostly, however, his face was looked so powerless. His eyes squinted in the unfamiliar glow from the horror. It was not his element; the infernal illumination escaped his power. Now subdued and for once beaten, his pitiful face could only stare onwards.

The back of what could only be described as the thing's head burst open, spewing a wretched flame behind itself and into an unseen wall of force summoned by the Alais. The doctor concentrated his efforts to keep the flames at bay, but the hellbeast increased the fiery stream with such excess that the flames curled from the repelling wind, licking the floor and ceiling alike. Orson dodged the flow when his old teacher could no longer keep the up, and he was swallowed by the flame.

"Dr. Bait!" Orson cried from the ground as he looked back to see nothing standing where the fire flew. In a charred mess on the blackened ground, Orson went to the aid of a barely living Alais. The horror could have vanquished them all as easily as the guards that once lined the room, as it just did to Alais or the unconcious Zerrah, but it didn't. It was after Alfredore, it was after revenge, and it would let nothing stop it. It was a vicious predator, toying with its prey before the kill. And once it did, it would not only consume the flesh, but take Hood's soul back to the netherworld.

The horror's head reshaped as it kept Fred occupied by slamming him into any solid object. As a creature of fire, it would require time before using its deadly breath again -- this time on Hood -- time it would enjoy torturing the pathetic insect further. Orson stared on with absolute terror; it was never like this for him before.

"Orson," wheezed the old man, "your magic..."

"There... there is nothing I can do," admitted the dark assassin, unable to even look at his old master in this condition. Unlike Hood, his element was plentiful now. "It would only feed on the darkness. I would only make it stronger."

"No," corrected Alais, stopping briefly for a labored breath. "Use the magic I taught you." Orson's eyes went dead. It had been years since he was at the Academy. He was one of the best students alive -- some say the best. The place was like a family for him as a child -- in all respects, unfortunately.

Perhaps he succeeded too much. It was his unprecedented talent that drove him away, that made him a danger to those around him and himself, that allowed him to learn on his own and his own way. So many years Orson had spent on the assassin's path that he was not certain he would be able to use any of his old magic, and if so, would he want to?

"I... can't," stammered Orson over the cries of his friend. Alais could no longer speak, but the shadow killer could read the motions of his mouth.

You can.

An sensation crawled upon Orson. His fingers were overwhelmed by his sixth sense. He felt something he had not felt in a lifetime, something he never wanted to feel again. There were too many what-if's in his old life; he hated to be reminded of it. He could have stayed with the Academy. He could have had the courage. He could have been a statue in their great hall instead of a fugitive from the Empire. But fear bested him, just as it was now. No more. The past gruesome years had been spent escaping, killing, doing what else his talent was good for, even if the cause wasn't: assassin to the Empire.

Orson rose from over his fallen master. The sense of magic was full in the hot air; it followed him closely. He advanced upon the horror, which no longer paid attention to the others, only the bloody lump called Hood. Orson stretched out his arm, pointing his quickly numbing fingers at the thing.

The beast quickly realized Orson's effect; Fred fell to the ground, still wrapped in shadowy tendrils, and dragged him as it reformed to face its new target. More than enough fire had been restored to make short work of any living thing -- just not enough for its plans for Hood. The nuisance of Orson was becoming a threat, however, so it opened its furnace once more to annihilate him.

The shadow assassin did not flinch. There he stood, perfectly still, amid a deathly light. His hand began to tremble, his skin to turn. Already, the hellfire within the beast was dying out. Its gullet closed, hiding its precious flame deep within its mass, and instead took up wicked, black fang. The shapeshifting process dragged, and the horror became more frantic in its slowed actions. In its crawling gait toward Orson, it fell upon the floor. Its many limbs failed to lift its vicsous body free. Orson, too, was feeling the effects of his spell. His knees buckled, but he refused to fall like his foe. He remained unshakably focused on this creature. A visible fog escaped from undoubtedly blue lips when he remembered to breath in his blind wrath.

Finally, the hellbeast stopped.

Zerrah had regained some consciousness in recent moments. He could see none of what transpired, but he felt it well: cold, permeating the room moreso than the shadows. Despite his beating, Hood shattered free from the tentacles and hobbled to a stance, still above the others despite a wounded stoop. As the darkness was swallowed up, Fred made sure to follow it until he could redress the wounds to his robe; his flesh would have to wait.

"It's not dead," Zerrah spoke. "They cannot be killed, even when reincarnated in this form, they will come back as another."

"I know," sad a shivering Orson. "I have heard the tales, too." He withdrew his blade for the first time that fight and plunged it deep inside the thing's thickest limb. He heaved up on the handle, cracking the entire, truncheon-like appendage from the mass. "And if the tales are true, there is one thing..." Before he finished, he pounded a hateful blow across the abomination's head using its own leg, breaking it clean off.

Orson sat at the edge of the village, alone, looking out into the woods and trying not to think. A mound of bandages came to him.

"You are tough, aren't you, old man?" Orson addressed.

"I've died once already," Dr. Bait replied with a chuckle. "That's enough for me." Then, he resumed a serious tone. "The head is safe... we think." According to legend, a darkling could be kept alive and without power by being sealed in a bag with some strange and varying objects, depending on accounts. All were used just to be safe. "I just wanted to tell you, that... you passed."

"The test?" Orson asked. "I thought you already tried me?"

"An initial test, yes," explained the teacher, "but you were an assassin for the Empire. That is not something easily forgotten."

"A lot of things aren't," the dark killer added, diverting his gaze from his master once more.

Alais remained silent for a moment, and before speaking again, turned to go. Midtravel, he spoke anyway. "You may have made up for the years under the Empire today, but when you fled from the Academy, that..."

"I know," Orson whispered to himself. "There is only one way I shall ever be able to make up for that...

Posted by
Jul 13, 2005

"It's time," Zerrah spoke up from behind Orson, lost in time and his own thoughts. They met with Alfredore, Alais, and the five bravest Ikmali warriors outside the still destroyed meeting hall. And then there was Hygal. This warrior was in no way the best, but his knowledge of darklings was unsurpassed in the hamlet.

Orson passed through the long-winded security measures that he had grown tired with over his short stay. Perhaps it was his dislike of guards; few ever remained alive around the dark assassin for long. After his examination, he proceeded into the dark building. In the center hung a new magical lamp, casting a pearly glow over the shattered table and chairs that surrounded the bits. It was a divination of Apollo -- they took no risks with the presence of fire.

Each member of this council found their seat around the central orb of light. Orson shot a few annoyed glances to the guards that waited in the shadows, smaller in number this meeting not because they had any more trust for their guests, but because of the fighters lost to the darkling battling. Finished studying his surroundings, the assassin nodded to Zerrah and sat down. Zerrah returned the gesture and stepped over the wreckage to a small spire of table, most likely a splintered leg. He thrust down a large sack into the point, receiving a displeased cry in return. All were already at attention; weapons either had one hand on them or were drawn and poised.

The ropes were loosed, Zerrah took a breath, he flung open the sack, and then quickly retreated. There, bathed in a most despised light, was the impaled, decapitated head of their enemy. Its eyes disappeared in the brightness from above, and its whole form contracted a little. The monster's discomfort was apparent in the vapor trails that now rose from its lit skin.

"We have been attacked," finally spoke Zerrah. "We are at war, and this is our enemy." He paused a moment as the creature hissed at the surrounded humans. "We stopped this darkling. We stopped the general the last time the Emperor attacked our swamp," he told, slowly turning in order to look at the entire team. "Simply put, we are better."

"You are foolsss," hissed the head. The quiet Hygal reached into a small pouch every member and guard had been given and sprinkled some simple salt onto the head, to which it writhed.

"You, darkling," the Ikmalin warrior continued, "are going to help us." The demons were incredibly powerful, true, but likewise, they were incredibly haughty. Zerrah knew that this one would give them information about the emperor. Anything that would get this group into the Empire and fighting other darklings would certainly lead to the death of the humans, it believed. Zerrah hoped it was wrong.

Orson looked down. A wide-eyed bowman gazed up, holding shut his bleeding mouth. A ring of guards was trained on the shadow assassin, ready to act at any moment. But they didn't. While true that there was little Orson would be able to do against so many fighters of such caliber, his newly gained prestige as a darkling slayer was something that even Ikmali revered, and it was that fear that kept the dark killer alive, even after taking a swing at one of their own.

"I can't believe you said that," Zerrah told Orson, who remained perfectly still under the watch of the guardsmen.

"I can't believe you agree with him," another of the Ikmali elite stated.

"You know he's right," assured the Hood, who stood over their fiery captive to pull out a sharp, ornate tool of interrogation.

It had been a long debate. The entire room was deprived of food and sleep, although this was only apparent in the outsiders. They had at last come into agreement, each getting from it what they wanted against the Empire and what they needed from each other -- help.

"It is very possible that none of us will live through this," noticed Dr. Bait, still entirely bound. "We already know that one of us shall not, but... it must be so."

"Keep the altruism to yourself, old man," Orson scoffed. "I haven't died in a mission yet, and I plan for this one to be no different." He turned a harsh look back to his old master. "I'm in it for revenge," he directly stated, "nothing else."

"And ya can't even try to keep me away from those demons," the disciple of Ra growled with the anger his only defeat riled up inside him.

"You are all ssstill foolsss to me," mocked the severed head, to which Hood threw a pinch of salt, causing it to hiss and boil.

"And remember," Zerrah started up, pushing down the weapons of the frozen Ikmalin guards, "we are going to have one of the best fighting forces backing us." He began the procession to the enormous, sealed doors. "We aren't the ones who should be afraid."

A hand grabbed around Zerrah's arm. He turned to see Alias, looking at the cracks beneath the gate he was about to open.

"Is it dusk already?"

"No," the doctor said, touching the reddened light. A hush fell over them all when they saw the crimson color stay on Alais's bandaged hands.

The door slowly creaked open. Two sentries were given that task; two ranks of bowmen were poised for whatever was on the other side.

All there was outside was the bloodied ground.

In the distance, a lone man stood. He gave no response when called to. Before giving the order to fire, Hygal spoke up as he rarely does. He recognized the man.

With all the protection typical for the Ikmali, a well-guarded troop stole away from the central hall, circled by a vigilant crew of archers. As they drew closer, they knew his identity as one of their own.

"Soldier," Zerrah addressed, pushing past their protection in an unwise rage, "why have you left your post?" Still, they received no response. He did not even look at Zerrah; he did not move at all.

"I," stuttered Hygal, "don't think he's alive."

"And he's not alone," mentioned Fred. More of the clansmen could be seen standing throughout various locations in the village, facing no certain direction, but none of them moving.

"This doesn't make any sense," a confused Zerrah whispered aloud in concentration, holding a hand on the fighter's cold shoulder. "How could we not hear a fight?" Orson slowly reached out with his blade, careful not no attract the sentinels' ire, and just as slowly lifted up the corpse's chin.

"That's why," the dark killer told, rolling back the man's head and revealing the bloodied line that was drawn across his throat.

Another of the living that had separated from them called his leader to another one of the corpses. Zerrah was quick to catch what the clansman had already noticed.

"His helmet," he simply said. The soldier nodded and removed the oddly fitting helm. From out the top of the deceased's head were two stony spikes. "What are those?" he said in wonder.

"I'd assume those are what keep the men standing," explained Alais after he visually traced the point's angle down through each leg.

"That explains everything except how my men could be defeated," Zerrah said, more angered by why they failed to stop the intruder more than who the intruder actually was.

"Not everything," gulped an archer, afraid of his leader's current mind set. Zerrah turned a harsh stare over to the bowman. "Well, when we first came out here, there was only one of... one." After half a moment's thought, Zerrah sent out a silent command that only his men could recognize, instantly whirling them about. In a surprisingly swift scan of the hamlet, they quickly all took aim onto one of the standing, but it disappeared before meeting the barrage of arrows.

"Who was that?" asked the aging Alais. "What was that?" The earth exploded into rock and dust as a shape sunk its claws into the doctor's back and its bloodied tips out the abdomen. Carried up by the same speed that surfaced the creep, it pulled the old teacher apart at the middle, casting the lifeless torso to the length of his entrails. A pillar of stone shot up a distance away, onto which the thing smoothly landed and balanced itself.

The ever-vigilant Ikmalin warriors had already planned its trajectory, braving the bits of dirt and shards of rock that flew their way, and fired one arrow each. These rebels had superior training; there was nothing they couldn't kill.

And therein lied the problem.

Never parting from its stony perch, the gaunt freak turned to the group, never minding the volley that had sank into it. The thing gave a sick smile from beneath its mask which was clearly made of a human skull turned upside down. Other equally gruesome decals stuck about various worn leather straps that binded parts of its sickly, somber-colored body together. The surprised archers began to load an unprecedented second arrow; Orson just ran. Not to his master, as he knew this was no time for grief, just away.

"Where are you going?" shouted Hood over Zerrah's command for another volley.

"Off the ground," he responded. Then, he minded to tell the entire group, "Get off the ground!" Fred halted unfastening his robe and joined his fellow assassin. Zerrah debated whether or not to trust the newcomer, but gave the order to follow Orson as the second barrage had no effect.

It was not something he had very long to think about; Orson just stabbed the closest house and hoisted himself up, franticly trying to get a hold onto the roof. The trailing giant lifted up the shadow killer and had little trouble getting himself up. Some clansmen were able to jump high enough for someone else to pull them on. Others were over-confident -- a rare assumption for men of their talent but unfortunately true in this situation -- and stayed behind. Others still were simply too slow.

It only took a moment. At the command of the intruder's raised hands, the bones of earth and beast and man erupted from the ground wherever a warrior stood. And as quickly as they came, they disappeared below the surface. So quick was the carnage that Zerrah had no time to even rationalize what he had just seen.

"Graveyard," is all Orson said. "General Tanai's little pet," he went on explaining, "or at least, that used to be. I had one job with him back when he was mostly human, mostly living, and even then, he was something awful."

"What... what has that bastard done to him?" the broken Ikmalin questioned.

"Whatever he wants," Orson replied. Tanai would not suffer two defeats at the hands of the rebels.

The thing sat still for a moment, sensing his mother earth for any signs of his targets; he had long since lost his eyes. His arm swung up in the air, tearing a sudden mountain through the area the house once was. The party was divided and prone for the moment. Skeletal blades spun quickly through the air, taking apart a few of the clansmen's weapons and arms and bodies.

Stealth would be no help for Orson in this situation, and keeping at a distance would mean certain doom. He took off running as fast as possible, not toward Graveyard, but spiraling around him. Spires rose up in the assassin's wake, but he always stayed just a step ahead of the freak's reactions. He had no idea what he would do when he reached the enemy assassin, and he never did. A barrier climbed up in his path. Orson was sure to roll out of its way; it was something he remembered seeing from Graveyard's repertoire, and memories that chilled even the seasoned shadow warrior came to him as he saw the wall crashing down and pierced by a bed of surging, broken bones.

The tremors from the overkill attack rendered the freak blinded for a moment, one on which all of them acted. Orson ran through Graveyard with a sword, and like the arrows it was next to, it did little but get stuck in him. The shadowy one ducked a sweeping claw and subdued the thing's arms for enough time for Zerrah to make his way over. Losing his years of training in a fit of rage, the Ikmalin attacked with nothing more than fists and feet -- some of his deadliest weapons nonetheless. He was sure to stay close, as was Orson, for any of Graveyard's grand spells would hurt it as much as its enemies.

Repeated strikes to the freak's head cracked apart its mask, and there was no end to Zerrah's wrath in sight. The two had to leap to safety when a fissure swallowed up Graveyard and threatened to take them as well. Zerrah weaved through continuos spikes that jabbed up through the ground. One finally caught his leg, but he still managed to pivot out of danger of the others. This assault stopped and a claw ripped up through the earth, not to be met by the Ikmalin, but Hood, who now ripped Graveyard out from safety and into the open air before crashing him through the series of spires he had just summoned.

Alfredore refused to relinquish his grip. Even as the elongated claws, still wet with blood of clansmen and Alais, sank into the giant's forearm, he remained unphased and continued dodging blows and undoing his dressings. Graveyard launched up a block of stone to knock Hood to the earth where it would have the advantage. The freak pinned its other claw through Alfredore's shoulder and lurched over its victim. Its mask finally crumbled as it hung over Hood, revealing the inhuman, featureless mess of bone and rot squirming with maggots, all of which a small portion fell below as it let out a grating, shrill roar.

"Some face," mocked the prone Alfredore. "Wanna see mine?" The last thing the others saw of Graveyard was soon lost amid a visual explosion of pure white as Hood shook of his remaining coverings. As their visions slowly returned, only Fred, hastening to refasten his robe securely, remained.

"Did... did you get him?" Orson was slow to ask. "What happened?"

"I'm gonna hafta guess that I kicked his ass," the light one replied his usual tone that told the shadow fighter a very sly grin hid just beneath the hood. The shamble of wrappings that was his head turned to the solemn Zerrah, who, now free from the battle, now knelt beside a fallen brother. Orson could not bear to see his old master, even after the atrocities he had witnessed and committed.

With a new resolve, Orson said..

Posted by
Jul 24, 2005

"Let's go then," and started walking away from the Ikmali village. Hood followed him without a word. After a moment Zerrah followed with the remnants of the Ikmalin trailing behind him. Orson wasn't expecting anybody other than Hood and himself to make it out of the swamp.

After half an hour the group encountered a small patrol of Imperial elites. The invaders, however, had little knowledge of the environment and the natives quickly got rid of them. Unfortunately, the battle was not without cost, one of the rebels was injured. Despite this Orson and Hood continued and effectively disappeared after only a few moments. The rebels spent a short while to tend to injured warrior.

"Take him to the supply depot," ordered Zerrah as he started to follow the two assassins.

Meanwhile, Orson and Hood had their own problems. Without the aid of the Ikmalin warriors and Zerrah the Imperial warriors were a match for the two assassins. The four remaining elites were equipped with greatswords and it was all that the two could do to fend off the synchronized attacks. Suddenly, Zerrah charged into the battle and eliminated one of the warriors, evening the numbers. The assassins used the surprise to finish off the Imperials. With Zerrah's knowledge of the swamp and all of it's paths they managed to escape the swamp without any more encounters.

The three enemies of the Empire travelled for another half day until reaching the small town of Haldred. However, being in a key place along the road between the capital and the Holy city had introduced the town to a large amount of travelers. Because of this the town was home to a large inn. Orson, Hood and Zerrah headed straight to there.

Wasting no words Orson said, "one room, four beds, upstairs," and flashed a gold coin.

The innkeeper's eyes lit up with greed, "five silver per night," he said, pulling out the key to the room.

Orson didn't comment on the outrageous price and instead just threw down the coin and took the key. If Orson was any less tired he might have regretted paying the gold piece for the room after seeing the poor condition of it. Instead he and Hood started rearranging the room. They moved the spare bed in front of the door and placed their equipment beneath the window, ready for a quick escape. After securing the room they settled down. Each of them sinking into a fitful sleep.

In the middle of the night the three men were roused by loud knocking on the door

Posted by
Aug 8, 2005

Rolling from off of his bed to the door's side, not degrading himself by slipping between the rags called sheets, Orson poised a knife ready to strike at a moments notice, listening carefully to who was knocking.

"Sirs," a hushed whisper could barely be heard, "sirs, I think you best be off. Some imperial guards are here looking for you." It was the inn keeper. "I told them I was but going to check to see if you slipped away during the night, so you best not make me a liar." The shadow assassin smiled, no longer regretting his generosity. Hood wound his spindly form out of the window, digging his long fingers into the shingles above. After hoisting himself up, his arms reached down to carry his fellow travelers onto the roof as well.

"Why are we going up here?" Zerrah questioned as he struggled to his legs firmly planted.

"The guards are patrolling for us," Fred mentioned in a lower tone than the rebel, implying the warrior do likewise, as he lifted up Orson. "I think they might of noticed bodies dropping from the second floor into the street."

"Oh, they still shall." The support shattered beneath Hood just as he got the mercenary on the same level. Beams and boards shattered to splinters, crashing down the floor below and the next, dropping him to the cellar. Citizens poured out into the street, clogging it as they desperately tried to escape the unknown cause.

"Hood!" Orson cried out to his fallen friend, peering down the busted stories to wrought frame splayed out below. A dazzling, white form shot its way into his vision, spinning elegantly as it soared in altitude. Stopping, the figure posed with its arms outstretched and its legs perfectly straight and together. He was adorned in exquisite refineries, a fine, white, silk suit that seemed to sparkle in the moonless sky. Pristine gloves covered his hands and spotless shoes over his feet. Highly contrasting, a deep, blue shirt seemed to sink into his body underneath his jacket, with a sharp, white cloth hanging over it from his neck. A strange, plain mask covered his entire head, solid white with a strange, blue marking over the forehead. Stranger yet, ornamental wings seemed to be sticking from his back. His body, there was something wrong with it. It was not right.

"Pardon me, gents, but why did you have to be such bothers?" words echoed through the open sky. His lips never moved beneath his mask. "Why could you not have leaped from the building when the inn keep gave you the word of warning? You would have come right into my way and already been dealt with. It would have made my day so much easier. I had to make up a nice lie and convince the inn keeper to-" With a quick snap of his hand, he caught a crossbow bolt. "Now, now. Did I say I was done?" With his other hand, he caught two more. "Impatient cretins, would you be?" Releasing the arrows, they drifted in the air until aligning themselves in the direction of the rebel and the assassin. Launched on thin air, they rocketed with a roaring noise towards the pair who barely escaped in time. The tiny arrows, small as they were, tore three gaping holes into the already destroyed inn, rubbling the structure. Orson and Zerrah scarcely made it to separate roof tops in time to escape its collapse. "Come now, can you not just die like good little boys?"

"Not tonight," the dark killer shouted, but they bounded back at him louder. "Tonight, tonight, tonight..."

"As you wish," the mysterious voice elegantly stated as the dazzling figure rushed towards him with arms folded across his chest. The roof Orson stood upon began to crack and buckle, giving him little time to bound from it before it became another pitfall, but the surface he chose to land on was already crumbling. In a constantly changing chain of jumps and leaps, the mercenary traveled the various buildings and across streets dodging the destruction as the man in white effortlessly followed in the air. Roof tops quickly grew a rare sight as most of the large city was being crushed on a mere chase; however, Orson had his reasons. Slowing down as he stood in an island among a sea of ruins, the man in white stopped before him.

"Did you run out of options, boy?" As the empty face stared down at him, raising a single arm to deliver the final blow, Orson cracked a smile as a long sailing arrow of Zerrah came into view just behind the well dressed man. Its path, straight and true, made a quick lateral bounce, dodging its intended target and striking the assassin in the leg. "Did you really expect that to work?" Absorbed in disbelief, Zerrah did not have much time to fret over the sight of his wounded comrade as soon he just saw the inside of the building he was perched upon. Raising a finger, the bleeding Orson was lifted into the air by the air, being spun around as if on display. "Hmph. I do not see why the Emperor is threatened by the likes of you. You were barely a challenge."

"So you do work for him?" the mercenary grunted as he tried to yank the arrow out of his thigh but then was restrained by phantom forces. "You're one of his lackeys?"

"I? Do not mock me with such a vulgar accusation!" the voice protested. "Boy, if you even knew what was transpiring here-"

"I know what's about to transpire," a familiar voice interrupted. "Me kicking your ass!" The man in white motionlessly pivoted to find Hood standing tall with his hands already at his robe's opening. Throwing them apart, his skin glowed brightly.

... This was all it did. The dim night sky granted little light for his particular ability to work from. The aura still burned slightly, but it was hardly up to its normal devastating force.

"How nice of you to come," the voice sounded. "Now I can end you both in a single stroke. It will save so much time." Alfred had another plan in mind. Holding his hands outstretched in the air, the city grew darker. Far off, what little light there was vanished. The immediate area grew brighter by the moment as light was bent towards him. Before any real power could be generated, the draw ceased as the radiance halted in a ring around the three, frozen in its path. "An impression notion, I must say. But if you want to make it really spectacular, you have to make it more unexpected." The ring flew into the sky, spinning fast as it condensed into a gleaming sphere. Positioned high over the city, now left darker than pitch, a single ray of light poured out of it, aimed at Orson. He was paralyzed, clenched by the air around him, unable to move out of the way. Hood charge at him, knowing full well that he could not get him out of the way, but this was not his intention.

Throwing himself over Orson, the brilliant beam struck him square in the back. The resulting shockwave leveled what fragments of the city were left standing as the explosion of light reversed the night, even if just for a moment. Darkness soon fell upon the village, and Alfredore collapsed to his knees, exhausted, with Orson breaking his fall. Free from the confines of the wind, the assassin tossed the other from him to see how their adversary had fared. Zerrah had just climbed to the top of their building to witness the shock at the same time. The man in white still hung perfectly in the air with his fake, feathered wings covering over him. They were busted and tattered from the blast, but this was not even noticed by them. It was what lied beneath the wings: wings. Real wing. A thin membrane with a beautiful pattern across its long form. The wings flapped, shaking loose what remained of the faux wing guards, before returning poised precisely along his back. His fine suit was shredded in the eruption, most likely from the shrapnel tossed by his own wings. His mask, too, bore a sizeable gash. This was the point where their focus now lied. His skin was a pale lavender with something like tendrils falling where their should be hair. A single, large, round, glowing blue eye was visible through the tear.

"Now, look what you boys have done," the phantom voice rang from his lipless face. "You have gone and made a mess of my suit." Orson did not know what to do, but, luckily, someone else had already planned that part. The assassin only stared, fixated on the strange sight with Zerrah as it grew smaller in the distance. The two were being carried away in Hood's arms who bolted faster than ever before.

"What-what was that?" Orson questioned after being snapped back into reality.

"Lhuix," Hood stated somberly, "or what you may know as an angel, a being of wind and light."

"Wait, isn't that a good thing?" Zerrah asked, joining the two back in reality. "Aren't they good?"

"No, it's a bad thing. Really, really bad," Fred insisted, quickening his pace.

"Worse than a darkling?"

"Much worse," Al confirmed. "Darklings are just evil. They kill for sport and destruction. Angels are justifying. They kill with a purpose. Anything that is evil is their enemy. Problem is, everything is evil to them."

"I'm beginning to think," Orson blankly stated, "we've gotten involved in something quite terrible...

** There is still more to this story. Continue to the next page. **

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