Chapter 1:

The Grand Ball

The King and His Dancer

"Fifty years of training and now I'm stuck with waiter duty..." Looking up into the mirror ahead of him, Hafa could appreciate how dashing he looked in this uniform. The colors complimented him well, and his silvery hair matched the pins on his cuffs and collar. "I need to tighten this tie a bit," Hafa thought when he felt a strong thud against his back.Bookmark here

"You clean up well, short stuff!"Bookmark here

Hafa recognized the voice but turned around anyway just to confirm it. "You're late, Bard. You might want to inform Samson. We both know how annoyed he already is." Bard thought for a moment, with her hand under her chin, and then looked at Hafa and smiled. "He trusts me enough to know I'll do my part. Just make sure you do yours. I can't handle being wrung out again."Bookmark here

As Hafa watched Bard depart out of the service exit, he couldn't help but wonder how she managed to reach the position she's at now. Though after fifty years of first-hand experience with her, he understood how she kept it. Few beings in the world can match the Captain of the Black Guard in combat, and there's only one who knows her name.Bookmark here

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Marquis Raevan had to admit, this was a wonderful ball. "Baron Gamin, I cannot thank you enough for the invitation!" Raevan said with a bow. "Nonsense Ray, we've been friends since we were children!" Gamin gave the Marquis what could only be described as a bear hug. "Gamin you still reek of tobacco," said Raevan with a warm smile.Bookmark here

"Hah! And you don't reek of booze yet" the Baron countered. "Please, enjoy yourself! I didn't spend all that money on the musicians guild and chef's union for nothing!"Bookmark here

"Of course Gamin. You don't need to tell me twice."Bookmark here

As the stout Baron walked to greet other nobles, Raevan looked around for the nearest waiter. "Waiter, over here!" he shouted to the young, silver-haired man. As he brought over the platter of drinks, the Marquis couldn't help but wonder what concoction Gamin paid the chefs to invent for this occasion.Bookmark here

"Stay with me for a moment while I drink this" the Marquis ordered. The waiter obliged and planted himself directly in front of Raevan.Bookmark here

Not many things were capable of impressing Raevan Morley the third anymore. Being both well over 100 years old and incredibly wealthy, there was little he had not experienced in the world. This, however, was new.Bookmark here

When this new drink hit his lips, his eyes widened. A piercing coolness overcame his lips and he prepared to taste something similar to the mints of the far east. As soon as the honey-like sweetness hit his tongue, he was shocked. Whatever was in this drink was something he had never tasted before. The Marquis couldn't get enough of it.Bookmark here

Soon enough the young waiter's tray was carrying only empty glasses, and the Marquis was looking around for more. "Go back to the kitchen and bring me more of these wonderful drinks, now!" he ordered. While watching the young servant hurry off to the kitchen, he couldn't help but notice that he was feeling just a bit intoxicated. Raevan wouldn't let that stop him, though. He needed more.Bookmark here

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Ah, the climax of this piece was approaching. Samson loved the sound of the string orchestra. From across the room, he could see the drunken Marquis, stumbling around looking for the wife he had left at home. It appears that it was time.Bookmark here

As the music swelled and the people danced, Samson closed his eyes and concentrated. He could already feel all the blood in the room, inside each and every individual. Now, he just needed to isolate that of the Marquis. The elevated levels of alcohol made it identifiable enough, and once he had his target ready, Samson struck.Bookmark here

As the people danced around him, Raevan felt his chest tighten. Sweating, he tried to rip open his suit jacket and undo his tie. Yet nothing helped, and as his head felt light and his vision started to blur, he did his best to creak out a silent "help me." Yet, it was too late, and before he knew it, he was dead.Bookmark here

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The loud crash of the Marquis' lifeless body dropping onto one of the tables cut through the music. Everybody froze, and a silver-haired servant ran up to the man's body, checking for a pulse. "You! Come here and give him CPR!" He belted, pointing to a young maid standing by the doorway. "I'll be right back" he said as he sprinted into the servants quarters.Bookmark here

A minute later, the young servant returned with a tall, slender looking woman wearing a physician's overcoat and holding a small bag with a red cross on it. As she sat down next to the body, rummaging through her bag looking for tools, Baron Gamin pushed his way to the front of the crowd that had developed. "Worry not everyone, this is my physician. Everything will be alright."Bookmark here

As the doctor administered CPR, a loud siren could be heard approaching fast. After a minute, two intelligently dressed men with red masks approached with a stretcher, and once the body of the Marquis had its wrists and ankles tightly strapped to it, the two men carried him off while the Baron's doctor followed along.Bookmark here

The ballroom, previously filled with laughter and music, was now devoid of anything save for a suffocating silence.Bookmark here

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Samson had to be quick in the bathroom, he didn't want anybody seeing him leave before he changed. With his job done, all that was left was to change into his disguise and rendezvous with his unit. Tightening his tie, he took one look in the mirror, and headed out of the bathroom and straight for the stairs to the fourth floor.Bookmark here

Looking out of the open window, he could see everybody gathered outside of the service exit just below. After muttering a spell to himself, he shook his head and leapt out of the window. As he slowly descended through the air, he saw Bard looking up at him with a huge grin on her face. "Did I do a good job?"Bookmark here

"You were convincing enough for me! I worried you were really giving him CPR for a minute" Hafa said with a smile. "Is everything taken care of Bard?" Samson questioned. "Of course it is. I know how important details are to you." Bard replied.Bookmark here

"Great job everyone, now pile in!" The woman said just as an unassuming black vehicle pulled up to the entrance of the back alley they were all in. "Where to, sir?" asked the man at the front of the vehicle. "Ooooh there's this great bar that opened up in the center of the Royal district. Can we head there? Please?"Bookmark here

Just then, a message came through to everybody gathered. It was directly from the king, he requested them to return at once to the tower. Though nobody knew exactly why, if it was serious enough to come directly from William, Samson knew something was wrong.Bookmark here

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The doors to the King's bedchambers crashed open, and Samson rushed through, straight to the side of William's bed. "Are the others here, Samson?" The king sounded tired and weak. Though he was quite old, he had never seemed so fragile before.Bookmark here

"They're outside, in the hallway, William. What has happened here? To you?" Samson sounded worried for the first time in his life. William laughed. "Never thought I'd see you so shaken." He let out a few coughs and continued. "I'm not sure myself what has occurred, but if I had to guess, someone has cursed me." William could see the anger in Samson's eyes as they widened with shock. "I do not know who, and I do not know why. It may have been the nobles within the anti-royalty faction. What I do know is this. I will die if this curse is not broken by whoever cast it."Bookmark here

"There is nobody I can entrust this to, but you. I trust you can sort this out?" The king looked down towards Samson and smiled. It was a warm smile, not unlike one a father gives his son. "Of course," Samson said, returning the smile. "I'll return in a few days, take care of yourself."Bookmark here

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Samson came storming out of the King's bedchambers with a look of pure rage on his face. It was rare for him to show any real emotion in front of others, and much more so for him to wear it so blatantly and openly. "Bard, I want four of our best watching over the King at all times. Hafa, go get Franklin and a few of his engineers and get me eyes in the castle at all times. Bard, I'm taking a few of your Jesters with me. You're in charge of the Fingers until I return."Bookmark here

Just like that, Samson was gone. As everybody carried out their orders, Bard had to wonder what had come over Samson. She had never seen him in such a rage before. More importantly, she worried how often she would see his name in the papers in the coming days. She decided she would send a message to him.Bookmark here

"Try not to create a bloodbath, please."Bookmark here

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The Baalmoth Royal Museum was beautiful. The paintings and artifacts within were awe-inspiring, even to someone as well travelled as Npheria. Still, it was a shame it was so tightly guarded. A Warlock like him could do a lot with the treasures put up for display. As incredible as it was, he was getting impatient.Bookmark here

"Ah, are you Npheria?" The sound came from right behind him. Though he didn't turn around, he could tell he was back-to-back with his contact. "Is the job done?" was the follow-up question. "Of course" Npheria grumbled back. "Will your employer hold up his end of the bargain?"Bookmark here

The man behind him laughed. Then, the elder Warlock felt a small envelope slid under his armpit. "Everything is in there, just as promised. You'll have to check it on your way to the border." "This is it," Npheria thought, "my ticket out of here."Bookmark here

"You did good work," the man behind him said. "You should be very proud."Bookmark here

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As the masked man watched the elder Warlock leave, he considered his options. Heading back to the embassy, Ambassador So-Bin would be very pleased to hear the news. Now, as long as there were no loose ends, things should go smoothly. Maybe he would even get a promotion.Bookmark here

After all, accidents happen all the time. Maybe the ambassador would have one himself. That office of his has always looked quite comfortable.Bookmark here

N. D. Skordilis
Real Aire
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