Authors: Sam Ferguson
“He went that way,” he said through clenched teeth.
The trio looked down the street just in time to see the assassin. His blade was drawn. A few yards beyond him a man was crawling backwards, scooting his buttocks along the ground and grunting with each movement. The assassin was walking slowly toward the man on the ground.
“By the order of the High Council of Selemet, I command you to stand where you are and drop your weapon!” Garfule shouted authoritatively.
The assassin turned slowly. A wicked sneer was painted across his blood-streaked face. “Come and take my sword, if you can,” he countered. The man took a few steps towards the group and held his sword at the ready.
“He looks a little unsteady,” Kai noted.
“If I didn’t know better, I would say he was drunk,” Garfule agreed.
“Waste no time,” Seldaric warned. “Drunk or sober, this man will be a great challenge. He has already decommissioned two of our group,” he pointed out.
“It ends now,” Kai vowed.
They rushed forward, but another cloud of black fog erupted around the assassin.
A sickening sound filled the air as a gargled scream cried for help.
The fog dissipated a few seconds later, leaving the trio standing alone around a dead body on the street. The thief had been cut in two, and the assassin was nowhere to be found.
Talon slammed into the side of a large building and closed his eyes. The drug that the barkeep had slipped him was still handicapping him. He had bursts of clear lucidity, but he still had moments of fogginess. If not for the sword’s magic, he knew he would have died in that thief’s house.
“I can’t teleport you again. Move your feet!”
Talon nodded and sheathed his sword. He looked around, quickly getting his bearings as best he could. He was near the edge of town, and could see the forest clearly. He ran out from behind the building and made his way to the trees.
A single elf guard stepped out in front of him.
Talon lifted his sword and prepared to strike.
The elf pulled the hood back and revealed herself.
Talon stopped in his tracks. It was the female elf from the Scholar’s Tower on Svatal Island.
“How did you find me?” Talon asked.
The woman drew a long, curved sword and arched a brow. “You carry a piece of the gorlung beast. I can sense its presence.
Talon reached into his pocket and pulled the beast’s fang he had taken as a trophy. He looked at it and then tossed it to the side of the road. “Stand aside, I don’t kill women,” Talon said.
“Make an exception for the rule this time,”
“I am Liloriel,” the elf said as she readied her weapon. “I am a priestess of the Svetli’Tai Kruks. You seek to open the Netherworld Gate.”
Talon shook his head. He commanded the sword to send out the fog. Drekk’hul bathed the area in blackness. The same, violet glow outlined where the she-elf stood. Talon started to run around her.
A great flash of light erupted from within the fog, peeling the darkness away and revealing Talon.
The assassin stopped and stared at the elf.
Talon shook his head. He couldn’t break his one rule. He couldn’t directly hurt a woman.
He released another bout of fog, but again the priestess dispelled it. Then she gathered a blue fireball and sent it hurtling toward Talon. The assassin dove out of the way, rolling across the muddy ground. When he came up, Liloriel was already upon him, bringing her sword down in a chop. Talon blocked the attack and then pushed her away.
Talon glanced around him and decided the only way to evade her was to run back into the city. He released the fog as a screen in front of him and used the two seconds of darkness before the priestess could dispel it as a screen to cover his retreat.
He ran through a muddy alley as fast as he could. His feet propelled him steadily into the town. Behind him, he could hear the elf shouting after him. He knew it would be a long pursuit.
He turned right when the alleyway opened up and then darted across a street to slip in between a row of smaller houses. He ran in a zig-zag pattern, darting around buildings and ultimately trying to make his way to the south of the city. He knew that both entrances to the city would likely be locked down by now. His only chance was to find a way up onto the wall and escape over it.
“I told you to kill her!”
Drekk’hul snarled as Talon ran.
Talon slid the sword back into its scabbard and continued fleeing. His mind was clouded enough by the drug that he didn’t need the additional distraction of an angry, possessed sword. He ran for several minutes until he finally came out of an alley and was confronted by the southern wall. There were no guards here, but the wall was too tall to climb easily without being seen. He needed to look for an access point. He ran along the buildings toward the west, hoping to find a tower, or perhaps a staircase that could get him onto the top of the city wall.
He ran for two blocks before something came out from an alley to his right. He plowed into a silver-haired elf and the two tumbled into the mud. The elf groaned and pushed up to his knees. Talon was quick to pull his sword. Drekk’hul’s rage burned hot in Talon’s hands. The assassin quickly lifted the blade and came down in a chop toward the elf’s exposed neck.
In the last instant, another elf appeared and kicked the kneeling one out of the way while also thrusting his sword out to catch Talon’s attack. The two swords clashed mightily, saving the silver-haired elf.
“He’s over here!”
Talon looked up to see who had foiled his attack. The same dark haired, black-eyed elf with a blue sash across his chest that had tried to arrest him at the thief’s house, stood smiling at him. The assassin pulled back and launched into an attack. The elf countered each of Talon’s strikes as he back-pedaled down the alley.
Talon’s head went fuzzy again. His strikes slowed and he stopped pursuing the dark eyed elf.
Talon shook his head and his senses came back just in time to see the sword coming at him. Talon twisted to the side, allowing the thrust to sail past. Then he came in with a right hook, sword still in hand, and connected with the black-eyed elf’s nose. The elf’s head snapped back and the warrior startled to stumble backwards. Talon seized the moment and lashed out with his left foot, sweeping the elf’s feet out from under him and landing the warrior in the mud on his backside.
He heard heavy footsteps squishing the mud behind him. Talon glanced over his shoulder to see the silver-haired elf charging directly for him. The assassin summoned the purple and black fog. He lifted his sword to strike as the purple glow outlined the charging elf. As he moved to strike, something heavy dropped in from above and caught him in the side.
A stinging pain ripped through the side of his right leg and he missed the charging elf’s chest. His off-balance strike still managed to pierce the oncoming elf, but only in the left shoulder. The glowing outline of the elf fell to the ground, slipping and twirling in the mud.
Talon turned back around to see a third outline behind him. He understood then that someone had dropped down from the roof above. Had the assassin not lunged to strike the elf when he had, the assailant from above would have surely killed him.
Talon regrouped and moved to strike on the third person, but the dark-haired elf was back on his feet and swinging his sword wildly in the darkness. Talon was forced to abandon his attack and bring his sword in front of himself to block the dark-haired elf’s furious onslaught. The swords clashed again.
The third attacker heard the swords and rushed in.
“Garfule, where are you?” a voice called out.
“Here!” the dark-haired elf shouted on Talon’s right.
The third person charged in and lunged low. Talon leapt back and away from both of them, slamming back-first into a wall. The man’s adrenaline was kicking in fully now, clearing his mind of the barkeeper’s drug and allowing him to focus more fully.
Talon made a quick calculation. He knew he had to escape soon, or else more reinforcements would arrive. He stabbed right and down, catching the silver-haired elf in the hip. The elf cried out in agony. Talon then pulled his sword and readied it as the other two charged forward. Talon stepped out to the right and lunged forward. His sword bit into the dark-eyed elf, piercing completely through the elf’s abdomen. Talon twirled and wrenched his sword free, then continued his spin and caught the third attacker with a slash across the upper back.
All three attackers were on the ground.
At that moment, the fog disappeared.
Talon looked around and saw the Kruk priestess charging for him. A blue fireball leapt from her hand. He had no more time. He abandoned the three wounded attackers and narrowly escaped the fireball as he leapt out from the alleyway. He scrambled to his feet and started to run, but a pain erupted in his left buttock.
Talon looked down to see a small crossbow bolt sticking out. He glanced over his shoulder and saw the black-eyed elf, one hand clutching his wound, and the other holding a mini crossbow. The elf smiled at Talon, and then fell face-first into the mud.
Talon yanked the bolt free and started to hobble away.
No matter how fast he tried to run, he knew the priestess would catch him. Soon he could hear the footsteps sloshing through the mud and heading for him.
Talon turned and faced Liloriel.
The priestess came in hard, striking and slicing with her sword furiously. Talon blocked and parried. He would have kicked her, but the wounds in his leg and buttock prevented him from doing so. He needed to keep both feet on the ground so that both legs shared the burden of his weight. If he shifted too much to either foot, the wounds would burn and cause him to lose his balance.
The two were locked in battle for several moments. Their swords smashed and crashed into each other time after time. After a while, Liloriel scored a shallow cut on Talon’s left shoulder.
“Kill her now!”
Drekk’hul cried out.
Talon ducked under Liloriel’s next swing, then stood and turned to allow her thrust to sail by, and then he launched his own attack. He brought his sword across the front of her leg, only an inch or two above where he had stabbed her before.
The priestess gasped and fell backward to the ground as she dropped her sword in the mud. Blood oozed out onto her robes and she looked up at Talon with tears in her eyes.
“Do it! Kill her now!”
Talon stood and looked at her. The priestess was gathering another fireball in her left hand, but the spell fizzled out and the flame died before she could launch it at him. Liloriel crawled away in the mud. The assassin could feel the sword’s lust for her blood. It was a compelling force, pulling him toward her and taking control over him. He stepped forward and raised his sword. He looked down at the crying she-elf and sneered as he almost gave in to Drekk’hul’s commands. As his eyes locked with hers, the image of his dead mother flashed before his eyes. Drekk’hul lost its power over Talon in that moment. The assassin backed away and lowered his arms to his side.
He could not break his rule.
Something silver flashed in front of him and then a terrible, fiery pain erupted in his chest. Talon staggered back two paces and then his legs gave out. The assassin fell to his knees and dropped his sword. Drekk’hul glowed purple and hissed as it stuck in the mud. Talon looked down and saw the back end of a spear protruding from his chest. He looked up and saw a short figure standing on a nearby roof.
Talon blinked and stared at the gnome. The silver-haired being stroked its beard and then offered Talon a wink.
“I promised I would finish it,” the gnome said.
Talon huffed and almost grinned as his body lost its strength and he fell to the side.
Talon opened his eyes. All around him were muffled sounds and terribly bright lights. His eyes slowly adjusted and he looked around. He could see buildings on his right, and a wall of stone on his left. A large number of elves were running about, shouting and calling out frantically. Talon was confused by the fact that he couldn’t make out what any of the elves were saying. They were all so close to him, but their voices sounded so far away.
He saw an old female elf in red robes with gold lettering across the sleeves directing the others around her. Some of the elves were carrying things, heavy things, to the old elf and laying them on the ground before her.
Talon craned his neck around to get a better look at what she was doing, but there were too many elves blocking his view. Flashes of light erupted around the old elf. The group of elves stepped back from her and then Talon caught a glimpse of three bodies lying on the ground in front of her. He could see the blood covering them. The elf was bending down and holding her hands out over the bodies. Blue and silver lights flashed from her hands to the bodies.
Was she trying to heal them?
A short, stout figure caught his attention then.
Talon turned to see a gnome with a silver beard. He carried a mithril spear.
Talon looked down to his chest. There was no hole.
The gnome walked directly toward Talon. The assassin went for his sword, but his hand found nothing. Talon looked down at his hip. His sword was gone. He wheeled around and then he saw the truth of it.
His broken body was stiff in the mud behind him. His crimson blood was mingling with a murky puddle and spreading out around the body.
He was dead.
A line of yellow light appeared over Talon’s body. The assassin watched helplessly as the yellow line split apart, revealing a black, gaping hole in the fabric of reality. A bony hand reached out from the hole and grasped the side of the magical portal.
“Talon, I have been waiting for the day when I would collect your soul,” a raspy voice said.
For the first time in his adult life, Talon felt the same, petrifying fear he had experienced as a child when Khefir had come to drag his father down to hell. He could neither move nor talk. All he could do was watch helplessly.
A hooded skull came out next. The jaw clicked as Khefir cackled with glowing, yellow lights in the dark sockets where his eyes should be. “It shall be a delight to add your soul to Hammenfein.”
In that instant, a blue light appeared between Khefir and Talon.
The faint shape of an elf took form and the blue light enveloped the elf. Talon recognized him immediately. It was Jahre’s ghost.
“Khefir,” Jahre began in an authoritative voice. “We have a bargain.”
The god stopped halfway in his portal and looked to Jahre. “This is the soul you wanted?” Khefir asked.
Jahre nodded. “Talon is the soul that I purchased.”
Khefir shook his head. “Are you sure you still want him?” A bony finger stretched out and pointed at Talon’s spirit. “He is not the same creature he was when you first made payment.”
Jahre stood firm and held his arms out to create a barrier between the god and Talon. “The deal was two souls for one. My son was the first sacrifice. I am the second. You are bound to your word, and must grant me what I asked.”
Khefir nodded solemnly. “Take what is yours, Sage of Svatal. I will be back soon to collect you as the final payment.”
Jahre nodded. “I will be ready three days hence, as we agreed.”
Khefir shifted his eerie gaze to Talon. He spoke with the voice of a thousand thunders. “Know this, the deal is only for one time. If this black hearted villain dies again, his soul will be mine.” Then, he turned and disappeared into his portal and the rift closed.
Jahre turned to Talon. “Come boy, we have much to discuss, and little time to do it in. There is work yet to be done.”