Chapter 4:

Under A Moonlit Night

The King and His Dancer

Leoric saw it before anything else. Bookmark here

Hafa threw the small black sphere in his hand as far into the cave as he could, and then Leoric heard them. Under the moonlit sky, within the dark opening on the face of the limestone crag, one could hear the excitement and commotion coming within. Had he not known the context of the situation, it wouldn’t be beyond reason to think a sort of celebration was occurring, or maybe a worshipping of a minor deity. Bookmark here

Leoric pondered his situation. It wasn’t often he had no idea what to expect next, and as he was taking guesses as to what could possibly have been in that small black sphere, he just found himself more and more confused. What advantage could alerting everyone inside provide to Hafa? Did he plan on apprehending them all? How could he possibly handle that many people? There was a small company worth of men in the cave, and very few people could handle that many men, even in the guard.Bookmark here

That’s when he heard it.Bookmark here

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I hope I don’t get in too much trouble for requisitioning one of these... I’m sure the commander will understand!Bookmark here

After a few words of encouragement to himself, Hafa pulled the round pin, let loose the handle, and threw the small black orb as far as he could into the darkness of the cave.Bookmark here

And then he ran.Bookmark here

As he was running off, Hafa couldn’t help but giggle at the shouts of confusion he heard coming from within the cave. Between the dropping of heavy metal objects and the spilling of what he assumed to be beer, the commotion was enticing to Hafa.Bookmark here

It all sounded so fun.Bookmark here

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Samson hated dealing with nobles. When they weren’t sucking up to him, they seemed too busy gossiping and indulging in excess to know much about the people they lorded over. Even here, where every noble is a shrewd merchant, they manage to somehow be ineffective and petulant, with the wealth of the city growing almost as fast as the slums did. Bookmark here

Though occasionally people tried, and there have been some efforts by the more philanthropic members of the guild to improve the quality of life for the average person, without a consensus or a leader willing to take responsibility, the guild just descends into petty squabbles and factions each and every time. Bookmark here

Hey, at least I know none of these people are threats. Maybe if they weren’t so full of themselves, they could actually be useful…Bookmark here

Rather than lamenting at the state of the “nobility,” Samson did his best to look at the bright side of things.Bookmark here

Oh well, at least I don’t have to stay here much longer. I wonder how the others are doing-Bookmark here

A deep rumble emanated out from deep in the woods surrounding the city. As the members of the ball he was attending rushed to the window he stood in front of, he questioned the familiarity of the sound. Though to most it must have come off as some sort of tremor, Samson knew better.Bookmark here

That kind of sounded like….Bookmark here

He hesitated, hoping deeply that it wasn’t true. Maybe his assumptions were wrong? After all..Bookmark here

It couldn’t be though, none of them would use such a powerful weapon so freely. Bookmark here

Right?Bookmark here

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Through the miasma of dirt and dust that now filled the air outside of the cave entrance, Leoric could make out the shape of a short man walking towards him. Before he could act, Hafa’s voice rang out.Bookmark here

“Guys, I’m gonna need you to pretend you didn’t see that!” Even though his coughing, the joy in Hafa’s voice was apparent to everyone that heard it. Bookmark here

The sound of groans and men tripping as they exited the cave and into the large, open clearing, alerted the two men.Bookmark here

Hafa could see the moon through Leoric, peeking through the tall pine trees that surrounded the clearing. Were it not for the brisk, chilling air, Hafa could’ve gotten lost in thought, staring into the pitch-black woods that stretched around him.Bookmark here

“Don’t worry, I can take care of them myself.”Bookmark here

The swirling dust was thick, but it still betrayed the silhouettes of more than a handful of figures, slowly rising off the ground and brushing themselves off. Bookmark here

He’s getting too cocky. Even for a member of the guard, there’s at least 30 of them….Bookmark here

“I counted around 30 sets of footsteps. Are you sure about this?”Bookmark here

Suddenly, the dust cloud cleared in an instant, and in Hafa’s hands were two blades. His left hand held a large knife, as dark as the woods around him. In his right, was a sword with a large hand-guard, and a wide, curved blade, tipped with adamantine and glowing with…Bookmark here

Are those enchanted? Bookmark here

“No, no, that’s not the type of magic enchantments give off!”Bookmark here

Celawyn sounded both perplexed and excited, which was understandable, given the implications. Bookmark here

“I’ve seen that magic before…”Bookmark here

Vladimir sounded melancholic, which was unusual for the stoic south man.Bookmark here

“WHO CARES ABOUT THE MAGIC?! Focus on the fight!”Bookmark here

Helmand was clearly more interested in watching Hafa use the blades he wielded.Bookmark here

“Still, 30 men? They all have experience too... I have some questions I want to ask him, so let’s hope he makes it out just fine.”Bookmark here

Susei sounded concerned for the man.Bookmark here

Yeah, I think he’s in over his head too. If things get too dicey, I’ll-Bookmark here

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It’s been too long since I got to let loose like this!Bookmark here

“Hey, are the rest of you up yet?” Bookmark here

Hafa looked at the men around him curiously, seemingly unaware that he had one of their heads in his hand.Bookmark here

“You’ll die for this.” Bookmark here

A man twice Hafa’s size pushed himself up off the ground, dusted himself off, and stepped over the trip-wires he had just moments before fallen victim to directly towards Hafa. Bookmark here

“Oh? Is that so?”Bookmark here

Hafa smiled. His expression was filled with glee.Bookmark here

“Please do show me a good time!”Bookmark here

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To anybody on the outside, it almost looked like a performance. Hafa seemed to dodge every thrust, sidestep every slash, and duck every swing. Bookmark here

He even grabbed a few people at the shoulders and pushed himself off of them, and it all seemed so… Effortless.Bookmark here

The way Hafa moved was beautiful. It was almost artistic. Bookmark here

Even with all the screaming and the blood, one couldn’t help but feel like they were watching an artist at work. That was, until one noticed the deep crimson pools that decorated the light brown of the clearing floor. Bookmark here

The young bandit had seen this man somewhere. He was sure of it. Bookmark here

The way he moves… The fact that every kill is a decapitation… He’s just like the guy from last time...Bookmark here

As he scrambled to his feet, his heart racing, he failed to notice that everything had gone silent.Bookmark here

He felt a hard grip on his left shoulder and froze solid. Bookmark here

“Where do you think you’re going?”Bookmark here

“To turn myself in?” Still not turning around, he hoped that the devil gripping his arm would let him go.Bookmark here

“Hm? You sound familiar.”Bookmark here

The hand on his shoulder pulled, and the bandit would have considered throwing a punch, were he not paralyzed with fear. It seems even thoughthrough the stuttering he was recognizable to the person in front of him.Bookmark here

“Oh, you’re the guy from last time right! You were with those mercenaries causing trouble!” Bookmark here

He recognizes me? Maybe he’ll let me go again!Bookmark here

“Yeah… That’s me..”Bookmark here

“I thought I told you not to cause any more trouble!”Bookmark here

“Well, you see…” the young bandit was quick on his feat, coming up with the most convincing lie he could muster. “After I took the survivors, we went from place to place looking for work. In the end, everybody found a job that suited them. Except me.”Bookmark here

“So you decided you would turn back to banditry? Hardly seems reasonable.”Bookmark here

“N-no! I swear I was on my way out of the city when I saw this cave. I used to know a few of the guys that controlled this area, so I thought I’d stop in for a visit.” He hoped the fear in his voice would help convince the man holding him of his innocence. Bookmark here

“Ah, that makes sense! So you were just saying hello to your friends!”Bookmark here

“Y-yeah that’s it that’s all!”Bookmark here

The air hung heavy, the terror practically permeating off of the bandit. Hoping he was convinced, he asked “so... will you let me go?”Bookmark here

The man in front of him laughed, almost innocently. In an effort to ease the tension, the bandit did as well.Bookmark here

“Hah!” The man in front of him paused, and then almost inquisitively asked, “now why would I ever do that?”Bookmark here

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As Leoric watched the body of the last bandit drop, his head rolling at Hafa’s feet, he couldn’t help but wonder what the two had spent so much time talking about. Bookmark here

For a moment, the boy stood there, looking to the corpses around them. Leoric noticed it as well. Bookmark here

These men were too well armed to be another rag-tag gang of bandits...Bookmark here

Then, just as the sound of the forest slowly started to return, Hafa walked over and smiled. Bookmark here

“So, how did I do?”Bookmark here

“Well, I can understand why the guild won’t accept contracts on you guys, that’s for sure.” Leoric let himself relax.Bookmark here

Even if he kills me, I can’t do much to stop it anyways…Bookmark here

“Ohhh you’re with the guild? Cool! Were you there when-”Bookmark here

Hafa put his hand to his ear. He remained like this for a few minutes. As time went on, his smile slowly got smaller and smaller, until there was nothing left to save for an almost apologetic expression. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, Hafa snapped back to reality.Bookmark here

“Sorry, sorry. I sort of spaced out for a moment there. Anyways, did I do well?” Bookmark here

Hafa watched Leoric’s expression get more and more strained until he yelled out “JUST ASK HIM YOURSELF WOMAN!”Bookmark here

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Samson seemed displeased. To the woman that has served as his confidant for decades, it was obvious. She saw the way the corner of his eyes twitched when the explosion happened. The grip he had on his glass almost shattered it. She could hear it, too, when he asked her to relay a message for him. Bookmark here

“Are you CRAZY?!” Though she tried her best to repress it, the rage Hilda felt caused her to scream at the top of her lungs. “Do you know how loud that was? We felt it all the way in the city! Do you know how much trouble you’ve caused the commander? And who authorized your use of those things anyways? Officially they don’t exist!” Bookmark here

Under normal circumstances, Hilda would never consider speaking to Hafa like this. After all, he was her superior, technically. However, this was not a normal circumstance. Samson himself had given her the task of handling this situation, and so she was speaking with his authority, rather than her own. Bookmark here

Between Hafa’s apologies, Hilda picked up on something he said. Bookmark here

“Did you say that one of the adventurers you’re with has a father in the guard?” Bookmark here

Interesting, typically nobody in the guard tells anybody what they do, unless…Bookmark here

“So what do you want me to do about the adventurers? Should I kill them?” Hafa sounded unhappy. “They’ve been really nice to me so far, so that would be a shame.”Bookmark here

The sudden proposition snapped the woman back to reality. Bookmark here

“No, no. Don’t kill them. Just keep me posted and get what you can from them.”Bookmark here

It would be troublesome if a mage and her companions were found dead, especially within the territory of the kingdom. Bookmark here

“And, Hafa,” she added, “if you get the chance, do find out who the girls father is, please.”Bookmark here

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As the group of 6 people walked along one of the many paths in the forest leading back to the city, Celawyn and Helmund rubbed the butt of the large brown bear that Vladimir rode atop. Hafa let Susei hold on to his badge for a bit longer, and she spent the walk back quiet, rubbing the gemstone laid in the center with her thumb.Bookmark here

Though the mood should have been celebratory, the group was quiet, save for the heavy footsteps of Redwood on the pathway. Though it was obvious why everyone was feeling somber, Hafa did his best to lift the mood. Bookmark here

Cutting through the song of the cicadas and the orchestra of crickets that dwelled in the forest on either side of the path, Hafa spoke.Bookmark here

“Well, now that I’m officially in, tell me about yourselves!” Hafa flashed a friendly smile to anybody looking. Bookmark here

I know enough about Vlad, who seems to be the leader of the group, but it would be useful to get to know the others.Bookmark here

“Well kid,” Leoric turned over his shoulder and addressed Hafa first. “I’m Leoric, but you know that already.”Bookmark here

Hafa wasn’t sure if Leoric’s more casual tone was because he didn’t feel threatened anymore, or if it was because he wanted to play nice. Either way... Bookmark here

It’s preferable to how he was behaving….Bookmark here

Leoric looked up at the star-lit sky. While focusing on the constellation of the shadow, he said “If you’re wondering what my role is, well I’m an assassin by trade.”Bookmark here

Hafa’s eyebrows lifted. Bookmark here

“Are you with the guild?” Hafa had more than a few contacts in the Assassin’s Guild, so it was likely he knew the man walking ahead of him, albeit indirectly. Bookmark here

“Used to be, left a few years ago. The pay was good but the work was messy, and I was tired of staying in Orkavir.”Bookmark here

Ah, Orkavir. I don’t miss many things, but the Ivory City would have to be one of the few that I did…Bookmark here

“Oh! You were with the branch in Orkavir? How’s that old man Hae-un doing?” Bookmark here

Leoric’s eyes thinned. “You know the master?”Bookmark here

Hafa understood the implications of personally knowing the guildmaster of the Orkavir branch quite well and watched his words. Bookmark here

“I’ve met him a few times. You ever notice how you’re never given contracts on members of the guard?” Bookmark here

Leoric’s expression relaxed, and he looked forward. Bookmark here

“I figured it was an unspoken rule we didn’t break. You guys would’ve outlawed us otherwise, no?”Bookmark here

Hafa laughed.Bookmark here

“Of course not! If any of you guys managed to get one of our guardsmen, we’d sooner recruit you than kill you.”Bookmark here

Leoric looked back up to the stars and then turned around fully. In the moonlight, he almost looked handsome to Hafa. Bookmark here

“May I ask then, why don’t we take contracts on any of your heads?”Bookmark here

The assassin asked, and Hafa figured he only asked him, because nobody in the guild would know to save the Grand-masters.Bookmark here

“Well, you guys used to! Or at least, that’s how I hear it from some of the older members.”Bookmark here

Leoric, even more puzzled, asked “what happened?”Bookmark here

Hafa, with a playful bit of gloating, cheerily replied “well, if I had to say, I think you guys kept dying”Bookmark here

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It had been a long train ride, but Npheria had finally reached the border town of Sithil. Though he had wonderful company for much of the trip, his companion had gotten off in the city of Tiranoc, as she was slated to work the next leg of the trip on the following train. And so, the last few weeks of his trip had been quiet, though the elder warlock did not mind the solitude. Bookmark here

The note says to head to the Broken Blade Inn and ask for the oldest room in the building…Bookmark here

Npheria entered the large red station, clearly built only recently as the wood showed no signs of age or deterioration. Entering the building, he spotted a desk in the corner, with a large white sign that said “Help” written in common across it. The brown-haired woman at the desk, in the navy blue vest and white button-up uniform that everyone else at the station wore, stood ready for anybody that needed assistance.Bookmark here

As Npheria walked outside, he read the map in his hands and was astonished at the scale.Bookmark here

This town is practically a city in and of itself…Bookmark here

The inn was close though, on the map it only appeared to be a few blocks to the east of the station, and the lady at the desk was nice enough to give him exact directions. Bookmark here

Walking down the cobblestone streets, Npheria marvelled at the size of the place. Bookmark here

Even a city like this is only considered a town? It’s nothing compared to the capital, but still....Bookmark here

The four-story buildings weren’t as unimaginable as the massive structures that dominated the capital city, nor were the horse-drawn carriages or oil lamps comparable to the steam carriages or electric lamps of the city, which remained on at all times. Still, when the elder Warlock arrived at the doors of the hotel he was staying in, it might as well have been the capital to him.Bookmark here

A great, red rug greeted you as soon as you opened the doors. Or, rather, as soon as the doorman opened the doors for you. The crystal chandeliers hung from the incredibly tall ceiling of the lobby, and the silver candelabras complimented the marble floor well. Npheria was almost afraid to touch the Royal Oak front desk, and when he rang the silver bell for assistance, he received it immediately. Bookmark here

How can this place be called an Inn?Bookmark here

When he asked for the “oldest room in the building,” the attendants eyes seemed to light up, and his pace sharpened dramatically. The man tapped two colleagues on the shoulder, and they dropped what they were doing to bring up his bag. Simultaneously, Npheria was directed to a room large and wonderfully decorated as he got a rundown of the history of the place. Bookmark here

Apparently, the name comes from the first iteration of the building, thousands of years ago before the town was a part of any kingdom. Adventurers would frequent it, and eventually it became a hub of sorts for a fair few groups, most notably the Broken Blades. Bookmark here

As he got to his room, his guide departed, assuring him that if anything was needed, all he had to do was ring the bell next to his bed. The double doors that opened to his room for the next few days were unassuming, made of simple spruce. The inside of the room, was different. Bookmark here

Apart from the fine decorations and amenities, there was something else in the room. A suitcase that was not his own, filled with money, a foreign passport, and enough clothes to get him through the month. Though this would fill anybody else with a sense of foreboding, he expected to find something of the sort waiting for him, in order to get him out of the country. Bookmark here

Just as the man began to unwind, he heard something slide under his door. Bookmark here

The cream-colored envelope, sealed with a wax insignia foreign to him, arrived seemingly out of nowhere. When he looked down the hallway to his door, it was completely empty. He played with it in his hands, bending the corners and running his fingers along the edges. Once he was satisfied with his contemplation of it, he opened it up.Bookmark here

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Arwen sat down at the water fountain outside of the train station. Even in the center of the city, she felt much more alone than she ever had in her village. It was beautiful, of course. Though the beauty of nature was less apparent, seeing all the incredible things that the men and elves and dwarfs of the city created was its own from of beauty. Seeing all of these people lead lives together, in a sort of unison, was something she never could have imagined in her small village outside the mountains. Bookmark here

Still, it’s much different from the cities in the glade that my mom used to tell me about…Bookmark here

As she looked into the fountain, Arwen watched the people of the city walk by, reflected in the flowing water. For a moment, the air was still, and her and the fountain were all that existed. Bookmark here

Then, just as suddenly as she had found herself lost in a world all her own, a streak of silver danced across the flowing water, and Arwen found herself snapped back to the world that is. Bookmark here

Just across the road, Arwen spotted the silver-haired boy who had saved her all those months ago, walking deeper into the adventurers quarter and knew she had to follow him. Though a flurry of thoughts entered her mind, she settled on the most reasonable justification she had.Bookmark here

I have to thank him properly!Bookmark here

The young half-elf ran quickly after the man, doing her best to keep track of him through the crowds of people that stood between them. She was thankful she didn’t have her maids uniform on today, as she found it much easier to run in the loose-fitting clothing she was provided by the company. Even so, it was all she could do to spot his silver hair as she followed behind. Bookmark here

When they arrived at a busy intersection, she lost sight of him. Stepping on a bench to scan the area, there was no sign of her silver-headed target anywhere. What she did spot, however, was someone about his height with a black hood pulled over their head, ducking into the alleyway next to a large theater. Bookmark here

Arwen decided she would take her chances, and made her way over to the inconspicuous alleyway. As she walked down the dim, unusually clean path, she wondered what she could be getting herself into. As Arwen turned the corner at the end of the path, she tried to think of what to say to him first. Bookmark here

How do you talk to someone you owe so much to? What do I say? Should I bow? Bookmark here

While she contemplated this, the two men that had been engaged in conversation paused. Looking up now, Arwen saw the back of one head, and the face of another. The head looking away from her she recognized as Hafa. The other, a tall, dark-skinned man with a northern complexion and eastern features, she didn’t recognize at all. The inside of her head was a mess, as she thought of every and all possible ways to apologize for intruding, but once she settled on one, she came to a terrifying realization.Bookmark here

I can’t move? Bookmark here

No matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t move her body. She couldn’t even speak. Paralyzed both literally and with fear, she placed all her hopes on the man that had already saved her once before.Bookmark here

“She one of yours?” The taller man spoke, his voice deep, but soothing. Bookmark here

Hafa turned around, and he had genuine surprise in his eyes. Bookmark here

“I knew I was being followed, but I didn’t think it was by you!” he laughed and scratched his head. Bookmark here

“Yeah, you could say she’s with me. Honestly, I’m glad it’s not a spy or something.”Bookmark here

All of a sudden, Arwen could move again, and she dropped to her knees, dazed from the experience of literally losing control of herself. While she got her bearings, the two men seemed to observe her, and as Hafa walked over and crouched down next to her, she heard the other man speak again. Bookmark here

“She’s not from any of the major nations, is she Hafa?” Bookmark here

“Is it that obvious?”Bookmark here

When Arwen was re-adjusted to herself, she jumped off of the smooth and paved concrete that made up the floor of the alleyway and brushed off her clothing. Looking up at the taller man, she remembered the situation she was in, and quickly hid herself behind Hafa. Bookmark here

“I’m deeply sorry for interrupting you! Please accept my apology!” Bookmark here

Her attempt to apologize while stuttering and trying to stop herself from crying seemed to entertain the tall man, and she was surprised to see him bow to her. Bookmark here

“Nonsense! I didn’t realize you were one of Hafa’s people. Please accept my apology for what I did, I just had to be safe.” Bookmark here

Too scared to say anything, she was surprised when Hafa moved from in front of her. Now standing between the two and to the side, he looked at the mess of a woman and spoke. Bookmark here

“Hey,” he said, in a firm but gentle voice, “you should accept that apology. It’s not often the most powerful man in the Kingdom apologizes to anyone.” Bookmark here

N. D. Skordilis
Real Aire
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