The city of Denit was one of the largest in the world. Completely independent, its massive industrial prowess propped it up in the eyes of any visitor, yet the average citizen knew little other than poverty. People huddled on the street for warmth, and any man or woman who couldn't perform hard labor, or lacked a good sword arm, rarely had a consistent source of food.
The main street of Denit was a mass of flesh, people shifting from side to side as they tried to push through one another to their destinations. An orange sky hung overhead, thinly veiled with a haze of smog that loomed above like death itself, eyeing the people below. A short, blue robed man wearing a white mask slipped in between the large swathes of people with ease, moving toward a dingy diner that sat, near empty, on the corner.
As he entered the diner, the only worker behind the counter, a grizzled old man who kept his left eye closed, glared at the man, watching as he moved to a table in the corner and sat down, his back to the entrance.
"You buyin' anything?" The old man called over.
"I'm here for business, but I'd not say no to a drink." The masked man responded.
The owner ducked beneath the counter, emerging with a crystal bottle filled with blue liquid. He stumped out from behind the counter, revealing a rough, wooden right leg that thudded against the floor as he made his way over to the corner table. He smacked the bottle roughly on the table, grunting as the masked man handed him a golden coin. The old man glared even more intensely at the mask before taking it, grumbling as he walked back.
The man slipped his mask from his face, sighing as his fair skin felt the cool open air. He would have been handsome, if not for the patchwork of scars along his hollow lower cheeks and neck. He sported a pair of iron grey eyes that had a cold, dull, lifeless gaze. He swept his brown hair out of his eyes and uncorked the bottle, taking a swig from it and setting it on the table, wiping errant drops of alcohol from his goatee.
A cloaked man moved through the open shopfront, over to the table where the once masked man now sat, drink in hand.
"Drake Greymoor?" The man asked, the nerves in his voice apparent.
Drake raised his empty hand, gesturing to the unoccupied seat at the table.
The man sat down, pulling his cloak around his shoulders, trying to hide his face and muffle his words. Seeing this, Drake waved the man's cloak away.
"The old man's fine. He knows what I do, and he won't say a word."
The cloaked man looked timidly at the owner, then nodded.
"Fine. Let's get down to business then; my name is-"
"No names." Drake said simply, cutting across him. "It's better that way, for you specifically."
The man stared at him, then nodded again.
"Very well, I take it you're willing to fulfill my client's request?"
"If you've got the gold, I'll do everything I can to see the job through." He said.
"Just to be clear, this request concerns the Walden Family. Will that be a problem?"
Drake pulled the bottle up to his lips again, taking another draft from it, before setting it down gently.
"The Walden Family... it's not the first time I've had work involving one of them. What's the request?" He asked.
"Melindra Walden. My client wants her gone." The robed man said.
"Oh? Melindra isn't known to be a busybody, or someone who would do things to anger others. Who on earth wants her dead?" Drake asked.
"My client was engaged to Miss Walden. He is not known in this city, so I will not say his name, but the engagement was cancelled after the Waldens came into their newfound fortune, since she felt that their wealth made them superior to his family. My client wants to send a message that if he can't have her, no one can." The man explained.
"Alright, I'll see it done. Just keep in mind, I'm no assassin. There will likely be other casualties." Drake said. "Also, concerning the price... I'll do it for four thousand gold. Twenty-five percent up front, the rest on job completion."
"That's fine, as long as the rest of the Walden family is alive to feel the consequences, any number of worthless, nameless guards can be slain at your leisure. In fact, my client would be willing to pay extra if you did kill a few. It might teach the Waldens that they aren't as invincible as they might believe. Here's the twenty-five percent... see it done."
With that, the robed man stood up, tossed a large sack of coins onto the table, and made his way slowly from the diner, disappearing in the masses outside.
The owner shuffled his way across the floor and sat in the now empty chair across from Drake.
"The last job, yes. One last bit of gold to keep me well taken care of for however long I wish". Drake said, shoving the sack of gold into the old man's arms.
"Boy... this isn't the first time you've decided to 'retire'. See to it that you stay out of business this go around, eh?"
Smiling, Drake pulled his mask up over his face once more, turned, then walked through the open shop front, disappearing into the sea of people. Watching Drake's figure vanish, the man rushed to the shop front, pulling a large set of linked chains down to keep people out of his diner. A man passing by stopped to watch, before calling out:
"You don't usually close this early, old man! Something going on?" He asked.
"Aye! The Terror walks the streets this night, and I don't want you skags trying to take cover in my shop." The owner spat.
The man's face turned pale. He spun around, the frantic look on his face catching the eye of many on the street. With a huge intake of breath, the man screamed:
"The Terror comes tonight! Clear the streets! Find shelter!"
With that, he dashed away, leaving a silent street filled with shocked people. The quiet lasted only for a moment, as the crowd began to scream and move in every direction. People fought desperately to push past one another, leaving many knocked to the ground, or pressed painfully against the wall as others tried to squeeze by.
The old man shook his head, pulling a large, wooden sliding door along behind the chains, drowning out most of the sound and light from his shop as it closed.
"The merest mention of your name causes such fear, it's no wonder you wear that mask. Imagine if they actually caught a glimpse of you." He said, giving a bark-like laugh as he returned to the counter.
With a sigh, the old man stared out the dusty window in the corner of the diner, watching the unfocused shapes of people as they blocked out the sunlight in their panic. The sounds of muffled screaming and hurried footsteps muddled the man's thoughts, yet his mind was clearly focused on a single thing.
"The night will be here soon. I feel bad for that Walden girl, she simply had to cross someone willing to work with Drake. I only hope that he's kind to those who aren't involved."
He let out another sigh, sat down behind, then pulled out an identical bottle to the one he had given Drake. Popping the top off, he drained the entirety in one gulp.
"Here's to being the worst kind of father... the kind that was willing to watch his own son become a ruthless monster."
He tossed the empty bottle onto the counter, leaned back in his chair, and closed his eyes.
Night fell quickly after the man drifted off, the smog above the city blocking what little starlight there would have been. Along the now deserted streets walked a figure, short, and clad in black leather armor. Drake had exchanged his faceless white mask for a red one that bore an evil looking grin.
He stopped at the diner entrance, staring at the wooden door through the chains. He knew his father would be asleep by now, and looked for only a few seconds before continuing. Something deep within him told him he should return to the shop and walk away from the contract, but he wouldn't. That would mean returning a thousand gold to the cloaked man, and leaving four thousand gold on the table for someone else. Why shouldn't he be the one to earn that gold?
He stalked the streets slowly; despite being quite a ways away from the Walden's manor, he would do his best to avoid confrontation with the city guard. He passed shop after shop, home after home, some reminding him of part of his innocent childhood, and others of his far more sordid present. He let his mind wander for a few moments, before finally casting the thoughts aside, finding himself a dozen or so paces behind a small city guard.
'Wrong place, wrong time... no need to be evil.' He thought.
"You should leave." He said simply.
The guard jumped, spinning around to face Drake. She was a younger woman, maybe just out of her teens, and a head shorter than him. At the sight of him, she pulled the sword at her side from its sheath, brandishing it with trembling hands.
"The... the Ter-Terror!" She squeaked.
Her body began to glow slightly, emanating a pure, silver color that wrapped around her form, leaving a wispy aura.
"Oh! You're a Spirit Warrior, eh? No wonder the city guard took you so young! You must be extremely talented." Drake laughed.
He lifted his mask from his face, letting his wild grey eyes rest on the woman as he placed the mask on his belt, deciding that the best thing to do would be to scare her off. Raising a hand to the sky, his face twisted into a leer as he called over to her.
"Let me show you the level of power you should be aspiring to reach." He said.
As his final word trailed into the empty night, all of the light began to fade around them, leaving them in a sphere of total blackness. The woman turned looked to and fro, watching as they were engulfed. The smog from above the city pushed through the sphere, snaking its way across Drake's form, leaving him with a cloak of billowing shadow, far more solid than the woman's own aura. She began to shake violently as she watched, her eyes become wider and wider with fear.
"Warrior-God?" She asked, her words little more than a whisper.
"That's right. I've reached the final level of Warrior skill. No one in the world is stronger than me, at this point." Drake said, sighing as he stared around the little closed off space he had made.
"I guess that's why my work isn't that fun anymore." Drake muttered. "There's really not anyone worth fighting."
The woman shuddered as Drake spoke silently to the shadows. She watched for any moment that left him open to attack, yet even as his gaze was focused elsewhere, every part of her body screamed with fear, desperately trying to keep her in place. She knew that if she moved an inch, she would lose her life.
Drake held out his hand, displaying a small, black orb that began to stretch and grow, forming the hilt of a small, black dagger.
"I don't use my Spirit Weapon too often. Honestly, just seeing it is enough to send seasoned veterans of war running in the opposite direction. It's way too strong to use on someone like you... no offense."
With a gesture like waving away smoke, the dagger disappeared.
"As I said... it would be best if you leave." He told her.
Her trembling seemed to increase, but she held her blade firm, her eyes locked onto him.
He smiled, sighing slightly as he stepped forward. Before she even realized he was moving, he came to a stop mere inches from her. His hand shot out, his index and middle finger wrapping around the base of her blade, and twisted, snapping it straight off from the hilt and shattering it, leaving the young woman with little more than an inch of metal bolted into a wooden rod.
She fell back onto the ground, staring in terror at the useless stick in her hand. Drake swooped down and lifted her back to her feet, gently tugging the hilt from her grasp. Tossing it to the side, he laughed at the look on her face.
"I'm not interested in killing you, girl; you're far too young and far too talented to die on this night. Perhaps when you've reached the level I'm at, I'll hunt you down in my own time, but for now, I'll bid you farewell."
He smiled down at her, placed a hand on her shoulder, then stepped past her. The miasma of shadow that had surrounded the two of them dissipated as quickly as it came, though the starry sky above them was now clearly visible, the smog above having disappeared with the shadows.
The young woman tried to return to stay on her feet, but as she attempted to hold steady, her legs gave way, and she fell to her knees, her armor clanking as it banged against the cobblestone. Her heart was pounding so heavily she thought the thuds emanating from it must be audible throughout the city. As her ragged breathing settled, she turned to look behind her, watching as Drake's figure disappeared into the distance.
"The Terror of Denit... I've never felt a pressure so terrifyingly immense. Captain told all of us to flee upon sight of him... now I know why... Warrior-God... has anyone else reached that level in the last thousand years? Somehow, though, he seems less evil than the rumors and stories tried to paint him."
For a single heartbeat, she considered following after him, but the feeling in her heart implored her otherwise. She decided that she would listen to this feeling, rather than run to her death.
Drake continued down the street for a few minutes more, pondering the young woman he had left behind. Certainly, she may eventually become as powerful as he was at that moment, but what about him? Would he be stronger, maybe weaker? Would he even be alive long enough to see her reach those heights? Would one of his many enemies find him in an attempt to take revenge.
Despite each of these uncertainties, a smile tugged at the edge of Drake's lips. He would worry about such concerns when his job was complete, and, at the dawn of this decisive thought, found himself on the street where the Walden Manor sat, manned at the front gate by five guards.
He slipped his mask back onto his face.
Drake felt his heart begin to thump; how could it not, when the prospect of such a long, brutal fight lay just ahead of him? The smile on his face widened, becoming more like a wild, evil leer with every passing moment. As he neared the unaware Walden Guards, a wave of immense fury began to pour from him, engulfing everything around him, burning the world like an inferno. It encroached on everything, leaving nothing behind, before finally turning on him and setting him ablaze.
A scream rent the air.
A young man shot up in his bed, his pale face covered in a sheen of cold sweat. He could feel his heart roaring in his chest, pounding so hard against his ribs that he thought they might break. He looked around his room, the light pouring in from the window cast a cobalt haze through the space.
Tian Feng's room was sparsely decorated, containing only a few tapestries that told the story of his clan, as well as a small chair sitting next to his bed, it being tucked into the corner of the room that was furthest from the door.
As his eyes adjusted, Tian Feng felt his pulse beginning to slow. He lifted his hands from his chest and rested his head in them, sighing as his eyes began to droop.
The door at the far side of the room opened slightly, and a young woman stuck her head in, staring over towards the bed.
"My lord? Is everything all right? I thought I heard screaming from your room." Her voice called out softly to Tian Feng.
"Oh... no, everything's fine. I've just... come in." Tian Feng said, beckoning weakly to her.
The young woman stepped inside, and as she did, the room seemed to brighten somewhat. As she approached the bedside, Tian Feng recognized the beautiful form of his servant, Mei Lin.
"Hello, Mei Lin... I apologize for waking you... I had a rather troubling dream." Tian Feng laughed.
"My lord..." Mei Lin whispered, tucking a lock of long, black hair behind her ear.
She reached over and grabbed the chair, placing it directly next to Tian Feng.
"Now... my lord. Was this a dream, or a nightmare?" She asked.
"I... I believe it was a dream..." Tian Feng said, though he wasn't altogether too certain.
"And? What did this dream entail?" She pressed.
"Well... it's one of several... I've been witnessing what seems to be the life of a man known as the Terror of Denit... I do not believe that these dreams are real, as I've never heard of any place in our world like the places this man has been, and there's nothing like Soul Cultivation in their society. Still... the man seems to be an invincible monster. He's capable of shaking the world he lives in with a single thought." Tian Feng explained.
Despite the confusion at this information, Mei Lin smiled and took it in stride.
"Well, what about this dream left you in such a state?" She asked.
"I... in this last dream... it faded away, replaced with a burning rage that threatened to consume my soul. Even when that bastard Han Guo attacked me with his men, I felt nothing as fearsome as this." Tian Feng said, almost laughing.
Mei Lin smiled as she produced a small, white bottle, handing it to Tian Feng as she stood up.
"The Lord often says that dreams may have more meaning to them than we can glean on our own. Perhaps tomorrow you might call upon him and have him try to work out what they mean." She said, standing and pushing the chair back to its position against the wall.
"Yes... yes, I think I will." He responded, taking a green pill from the bottle and swallowing it.
Mei Lin bowed as she took the bottle back, turning to leave, but stopped.
"Do you need anything else, my lord? Anything at all?" She asked.
"Ha! Yes, I need my cultivation back, and for my body to rid itself of this crippling poison." He laughed.
As his laughter died down, he smiled affectionately at the young woman.
"As those things are impossible, I'm afraid that there is little I need from you at the moment. Thank you... thank you for checking in on me, Mei Lin, I truly appreciate it." He said.
She bowed deeply once more, smiling at him, then turned and made her way from the room.
"Good night, my lord."
Tian Feng fell back onto his pillow, the effects of the pill already taking hold. For just a moment, the face of that man... Drake Greymoor, burned itself into his mind. Handsome and scarred, with eyes that held no light, yet seemed able to burn a hole straight into his soul. He shook his head, ridding himself of the image, and rolled over to sleep.
Perhaps his father would be able to tell him what these dreams meant.