Wednesday, February 10, 2010


The sound of the city fire brigade’s bells echoed down the narrow alleyway. Garenol crouched behind a wooden coal box that butted up to a brick wall. He was breathing heavily, elbows on his knees, with his forearms crossed between his legs. His hands were hanging just a few inches off the dark, wet cobblestones, both still clutching the hilts of his swords, which shone brightly despite the dim light of the alley. He was listening intently for the sound he knew should be catching up to him at any moment, the sound of Malus and his armor entering the alley from the back. “Two down, two to go,” he whispered to himself.

The second assignment of the evening had gone much more smoothly, in Garenol’s opinion. The first had been a way to draw attention to a quarter of the city that they would be exiting quickly, and not returning to. So far that plan had worked. The city’s fire brigade had been in a panic for well over an hour, the pealing of their bells bouncing off every stone surface in the city as they rushed to the scene of the enormous house explosion that had signaled the death of Garenol and Malus’ first target of the evening.

Garenol grimaced at the thought. He despised assassination, despite his aptitude for it. The face of Morgan Thelius roused violently from sleep, suddenly unable to breathe. The panicked clutching at his neck, now split by a surgical red line that was beginning to bleed faster with the noble’s now racing pulse. Garenol standing over him, the cruel curved dagger in his left hand dripping bright arterial blood as their eyes met. Thelius looked up at Garenol uncomprehendingly, seeking some reason or meaning there in his almond shaped gray eyes, and not finding neither.

The cut had been expert enough to catch the vocal cords, and since Garenol had entered as a shadow, his presence was still unannounced in the house. He padded around the canopied bed slowly, examining the room. The wind blew gently into the room through the shuttered doors that Garenol had silently opened when he entered from the balcony. The gauzy linen curtains played off the weak yellow light of the two candles, casting flickering shadows up and down the wood paneled walls. The two candles sat in a gold candlestick holder atop an ornately carved chest of drawers that sat opposite the foot of the bed against the wall.

Garenol moved to this chest, and begin to methodically rummage through each drawer, starting at the bottom. He tossed aside smallclothes and breeches, long woolen socks and linen shirts, and felt the bottom of each drawer, as well as their inner walls. He immediately began moving faster when he heard the scream of alarm and surprise outside as the first of those who were doomed to face Malus met his end. Garenol shuddered at the noise, already picturing in his head the chaos that would quickly engulf the cobblestone cul-de-sac outside the house’s gate.

As he finished rooting through the last drawer, he stood back from the chest of drawers and put his hands on his hips, a pensive look on his face. The noise outside was escalating, and he knew he only had a matter of seconds before someone came to alert Morgan Thelius, who now lay half off the side of the bed closest to the balcony, his eyes fixed and dull. The blood had stopped moving down his throat, leaving the floor underneath his head covered in a puddle that appeared black in the weak light of the bedroom.

Garenol heard footsteps proceeding down the wall outside the door to the bedroom. He swiftly moved to the door, and checked that it had been locked from the inside. A grateful look dashed across his visage as he confirmed that it was. He moved back to the center of the room, now intent on the remainder of the furniture, a small chest at the foot of the bed, and a nightstand on the side of the bed where Thelius had slept. Garenol grimaced for a moment, then his eyes brightened in a moment of epiphany. He moved back to the chest of drawers, and pushed it aside, revealing a small metal safe embedded in the stone of the wall through a carefully cut out square of the wooden paneling. Grinning, Garenol put his right hand flat on the small metal door of the safe, and began to chant quietly.

Malus had dispatched the first two guards to approach him simultaneously, the first run through on the tip of his longsword, the other cut down brutally with his hand axe. He had cut into the guard’s right shoulder at an angle, and his strength had driven the head of the axe down completely through the guard’s ribcage, before anchoring itself deep into the spine. The falling guard pulled the haft of the axe from his hand. The shout of the stabbed guard had brought reaction from all the various gates in the cul-de-sac, and a number of other guards had suddenly materialized.

Just as Garenol had predicted, a few of the gates were immediately slammed shut, triggered springs slamming large, iron-reinforced doors over the more decorative wrought iron and bronze gates. A number of guards had come out of the gates before they were sealed, and they now eyed Malus warily. Malus looked around at the handful of house guards and nodded nonchalantly. He then put his armored boot on the neck of the already still guard, bent down and grabbed the axe’s handle, wrenching it loose with a sickening, meaty sound. As he rose to full height once more, he slung the axe behind him quickly, clearing the blade of most of its gore. As he scanned the faces now arrayed with their weapons leveled towards him, the sound of a plucked string came to his ear, and he quickly turned his back to the direction of the noise, his gray cloak whirling around him. A fraction of a second after he turned, an arrow pinged harmlessly off his black armored back, its shaft shattering on impact and its metal head skittering harmlessly over the cobblestones.

“Anybody else?” Malus asked loudly, looking up to the archer’s slit in the wall opposite him where the arrow most likely originated. “Anybody?”

The guards now trapped in the cul-de-sac with him looked from one to another warily. One of them, an older man with a gray beard under his chain hauberk, quickly said to the men around him, “Spread out and surround him, keep your spears between yourselves and him. Remember your duty!”

He readjusted his grip on the long spear that he held leveled towards Malus, and he gestured with its tip to the left, then to the right, showing the younger men where to go in their surrounding of the lone armored man. As they spread into a circle of speartips and blade edges, Malus slowly craned his neck from side to side, then crouched slightly. He made eye contact with the guard giving the orders, and kept returning his gaze to the old man as he glanced quickly to size up the movements of the other guards. He knew the old one needed to go first, and quickly. The scar across the old man’s brow that hooked down onto his left cheek testified that he had been blooded in battle, and that experience alone made him the only dangerous one of this motley collection of hired hands.

“Where’d you get that?” Malus asked him as the circle drew close enough around him for speaking to be possible. He gestured with the point of his sword towards his own brow, not breaking eye contact with the old guard. “Fat whore decide your coin wasn’t good enough for her? Fall off your sister’s bed?”

The old man pursed his lips, not breaking eye contact either, but refusing to rise to the taunting of Malus. He looked over Malus’ shoulder, and the look let him know that the guards had him completely surrounded. He shrugged at the old guard. “Some other time perhaps,” he said in a conciliatory tone as he spun to the guard behind him.

Just as he thought, the guard behind him was a gangly young man not more than twenty, his sallow face and deep-set eyes almost completely obscured by a helmet at least two sizes big for him. The young man flinched back a few steps when confronted by Malus. ‘And that means the old man will take his shot right . . .now,’ thought Malus to himself as he spun back around, throwing his axe at the old guard, who in his immediate charge had almost eliminated all distance between them.

The axe flew true, burying itself into the right side of the old guard’s chest, just beside the arm he had crooked to support the heft of his spear. He spun with the sickening thud of the impact, his spear’s haft taking the guard next to him off his feet as well. ‘Two’ thought Malus as he drew a short, thick, stabbing sword from the ample supply of weapons sheathed upon his belt.

He quickly charged the guard to the right of the two fallen men, cutting across the haft of his poleaxe and breaking it with his longsword, then stabbing low into the man’s abdomen with the short sword as the young guard tried to bat Malus away with the broken weapon’s shaft. He grunted as Malus stabbed him. Malus twisted his shoulders, drawing a wide curving arc of red across the gut of the young guard, before pulling his weapon clear and running for the fountain, the circle now broken and the remaining guards in a panic. The third doomed guard sunk to his knees, both hands scrambling to gather back his insides.

Malus leapt the low wall at the basin of the fountain and circled the fountain from the side opposite the group of guards, putting the fountain directly between him and the remaining dozen or so armed men. Alarm bells were sounding inside all the houses, which was the intended effect. ‘Hope Garenol is about done,’ Malus thought to himself as he sized up the remaining guards. They had clustered together near the first five bodies, and stood ineffectually with their spears pointed towards Malus and the fountain. He looked around at the walls. No other missile fire had come down from the walls since the first shot’s ineffective result, but he reminded himself to stay alert. ‘One of these self important bastards may have a heavy crossbow and someone who knows how to use it,’ he thought to himself as he looked again to make sure. ‘All good so far, time to clean up’

Garenol removed his hand quickly from the door of the safe. The metal had begun rusting where his hand had lain, and the corruption was spreading rapidly, fast enough to see. Within seconds the entire door had turned the dirty brown of rust, and holes were beginning to become visible. Garenol reached over and wrenched the door off with his bare hand, the now weak hinges and bolt giving way to the slightest pressure. The rest of the door fell apart in his hand, and drifted as a red brown dust onto the floor.

Garenol leaned over and peered inside, seeing a small velvet box and a large leatherbound box with a clasp and lock on the front. He took both, quickly shoving them into his pack as a knock sounded at the door. “Lord Thelius, there is something happening outside the walls, best you get downstairs quickly,” an efficient, military sounding voice said, slightly muffled by the thick wooden door. Then there were a few seconds of silence. “Lord Thelius?” the voice inquired. The door’s handle shook as the man outside tried it, finding it locked. “Lord Thelius, are you there! You need to open the door!” The door banged in its frame as the man pushed against it violently. “Answer us, Lord, or I’ll take the door down!”

Garenol silently moved over to the door, and stood where it would swing open to cover him. The door rattled violently a few more times, then the bolt of the lock broke through the wooden frame and the door swung in. Two guards in chain, clothed in the tabards of House Thelius, ran in and went to the bed. One gasped as the other drew his sword. The door closed behind them. They both spun around at the unexpected sound of the door closing to see Garenol, now completely wrapped in his cloak, staring at them.

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