A bright full moon was amidst the dark sky. Few thin clouds, playing across the moon's face, were traveling quickly southwards by the northern wind. Below, a bunch of monasteries lay silent under the veil of night. Most of them were gathered around the nude hills of the northern plains.
This picturesque view was being enjoyed by a night monk from upon a monastery's bell tower; a vigilant monk whose duty is to stay asleep watching out for any possible danger.
The nocturnal tranquility was suddenly breached by a long tortured scream. The scream came from a cell inside the monastery. The vigilant monk got terrified to his fragile bone, but despite that he went quickly down and dashed to his brother's cabin. It just took him some moments to reach the cabin, but it was still not enough. He found the door opened and the monk "sleeping" in a bloody bed. The night monk started off back to alert the rest of the brotherhood right away. Just before reaching the bells, the wind brought to his direction similar tortured screams from some of the nearby monasteries.
Soon the alarming bells were echoing through the rough hill terrain and the monastery brotherhoods were urgently awaken one after the other as the morning was forthcoming. The news of monk murders in all monasteries around Marresteril hills would be spread like leaves by the autumn wind. The provoking easiness with which the murders were held would shock everyone in the nearby provinces, but more surprising would be the hearsay that the San Locabo brotherhood had indeed captured one of the prospective assassins caught red handed
More than thirty miles southern from the hills, in the city of Corcittavel, Van Dayle was leaning on the balcony's medium sized stone wall above fountain square. He had a view of both fountain square beneath him and Q'alc square on his right hand that stood on lower ground than fountain square.
The city not only had different living conditions but also quite different architecture styles from district to district, depending on various factors like their residents' wealth, power and racial characteristics. But mostly due to being a real melting pot for totally different races and civilizations, in your eyes and mine, Corcittavel would seem more like a fusion of Budapest, Granada's Alhambra and Istanbul's rich architecture legacies of different crossroaded civilizations; classicist, romanesque and gothic styles mixed altogether with powerful eastern roman and arabic elements. So, there were beautiful three-stored houses made of kiln-burnt bricks paint in bright colors and on the other hand dirty slums with wooden shacks. Stone paved streets and plazas were giving their positions to narrow dirt streets in various districts. Marvelous marble monuments and gardens ornamented with exotic plants, but also a big landfill was laying to the southeast, outside of the cities walls, instead of the old clean creek. Irrigating fountains with crystal clear water, as well as sewers leaking their pestiferous fluids here and there in poor neighborhoods that all ended up at that old creek.
In the past the city had a clear round shape due to being surrounded by big walls, that had protected it from various enemies. But as the years passed the population increased and especially during the Rashid Arben's mayoral service, when the different races' presence in town increased, it soon expanded beyond the walls.
One remarkable feature of the city was that the old part of the city was planned and built upon hills and generally on rough terrain. Therefore it was constructed in different levels of height. There were streets and squares at supposedly floor zero, other elevated streets or plazas right next to them and other underground passages and tunnels mostly between plazas but . Even the balcony where Van was standing was more to a street with houses on one side and a small stone wall as a fence on the other side, 6 meters ([19.6 feet]) above the square beneath it. Stairs were leading down to the fountain square.
The square was named after the elegant complex of fountains in the center of the square. People were all over the place, near the fountains, in front of the buildings at the sides of the square, between the bazaar's tents, there were also walking behind him in the street balcony. In fact quite every place of this city was overcrowded at peak time.
oak root, Solik Berries, Gulil Berries! The cheapest prices in the market, my dear ladies and gentl
", a merchant's loud voice snapped Van out of his day dreaming. He had being watching the crowd beneath him for some time now. He spotted a Minotaur. His horns were cut and he was carrying a heavy pack on his shoulders. Exactly below him, a merchant's bench was flooded by interested customers and another merchant had just parked his cart full of straw to feed his animals for sale. At the far left side of the square, to the northwest, he even spotted three soldiers patrolling the square. But he couldn't find the one he was searching for.
-"To meet me here
That was fool of you.", said a voice right beside him. Van almost jumped out of his skin and rapidly turned his face to his right to meet a man that was leaning on the balcony's wall in relaxed position, just as Van had been before getting scared. He was wearing sand colored clothes and a light brown hood was covering his facial characteristics. Anyone watching him from a distance would presume he is another simple civilian. But for Van Dayle, he was Eremes Quile, one of the most dangerous people, if not the most dangerous of all. In fact he was an eminent member of the city's notorious assassin brotherhood.
"Just stay calm. Don't make any sudden move. You don't want to draw unnecessary attention.", said Eremes which read Van's inner emotional reactions, and continued "You went missing for a very long time. Why did you return?"
-"I noticed there has been some serious stuff happening lately. And I felt I had to look it throughout. But I haven't done much progress and it seems we are running out of time. That's why..."
-"We?", asked Eremes with remarkable irony .Van paused for a moment to think about it, while he unconsciously recalled the old days. He then resumed.
-"Ok, we didn't "go along" well in the past. But you did have the chance to kill me. And
-"I have made mistakes in the past", replied the assassin. Van decided to continue as if he didn't hear his "friend's" last sentence.
-"Have you heard about monks' assassinations at Marresteril hills, do you?"
-"Hey, don't be hesitant. It wasn't me. I've been in a hiatus lately."
-"But it does come from your guild!"
-"My direct subordinates were neither involved. But I won't apologize anymore and for sure not for the whole brotherhood", Eremes said and kept on "I came here only to warn you not to interfere with the current politics or you will be wiped out. You are just a weak pawn in a large scale game"
-"Rashid was also a pawn?", asked Van with anger. While he was uttering his question triggered by reaction, the town patrol Van had spotted some moments ago was passing by. One of the patrol soldiers looked up to the balcony where the two men were standing, but didn't reveal to have noticed anything strange. They passed beneath the two men, heading to their right, going southeast seemingly to the direction of the white tower that was rising above all other buildings.
Eremes replied straight forward "Don't spoil his name. He was a great man and he knew what the future held for him and yet he did nothing to stop it. He was proud till his last moment."
Van was instantly petrified in hearing Eremes uttering those last words. His eyes were wide opened from the shock and his right hand on the stone fence was shaking but he managed to mumble "You! You
took his life
But none of them had time to respond or reply. The patrol soldiers were now on the balcony by the stone stairs. Eremes turned his face to his right to meet the soldiers only almost 8 meters away ([26 feet]). The patrol sergeant unsheathed his sword and shouted loudly "In the name of the law, assassin, you are under arrest. One slight move and you are dead meat!" The moment was apocalyptic for the passersby. They started running away from the spot and others caught between, crouched and cringed to the buildings walls awaiting the climax.
While Van was still shocked and tried to regain his temper, Eremes ignored the order and turned his head to the opposite position so as to find a safe escape route.
In an instant, the other two soldiers, one equipped with spear and the other with sword, charged the assassin, who was turning right again to confront them. He leaped right, evading the speared one and then jumped on the second one, throwing him off his feet. He turned to Van to answer for the last time today. But Van wasn't stunned anymore; his face was red of anger and his right fist was directly moving towards Eremes' face. Eremes Quile was only fooled for that moment. He instantly ducked to his right towards the fence and avoided the punch. Then ducked again to his left, again to his right and again soon enough avoiding one punch after the other. However the assassin passed to the offense and managed to kick the enraged Van Dayle in the rear of his right upper leg. Dayle was bent by the severe pain in that weak human nerve point. At that point Eremes quickly turned to the suffering Van, took a breath and said to him "You won't understand. And bear in mind to keep off
everything. You are badly out of shape
" Then the notorious assassin turned to enter through a housing semi open door. But he was stopped.
His ankle was grabbed by the fallen soldier that cried "You won't get away". At the same time the sergeant was attacking from one side with his sword hanging above his head and the third speared soldier, which missed Eremes, from the other side.
The assassin was irritated. He back stepped onto the fallen soldiers' face, getting of his grip. But a fourth enemy appeared. Right through the door in front of him, a golem the size of a normal soldier, came out of the shadow, sent as patrol's reinforcements. His white colored robotic arms swung a heavy hammer down onto the assassins' body ripping the defenseless assassin apart.
Well, that was the golem's "intension".
Instead, in a glimpse of the eye, the golem was somehow deactivated fallen as garbage on the doorstep emitting sparkles all the way down and the soldier on the assassin's right was also on the ground looking his arm wound in disgust before falling asleep. It was sergeant's turn to be shocked and terrified. His sword was being blocked amidst the air by the assassin's left hand. It was now equipped with a silver katar. The sergeant burst into tears, looked at his light wounds emitting gradually glower and glower strange colors and fell also unconscious on the ground.
Van was trying to get up from the street-balcony. More soldiers were climbing the stairs and a lot of people were starring to the balcony above them.
-"You didn't kill me again", stated Van with anger. Eremes climbed the medium wall.
-"I said I have made mistakes. There won't be next time
", he said and jumped off the wall. Van got up and rushed to the fence in time to witness Eremes diving right into the cart's straw. Some guards came and turned over the cart and its cargo, but Eremes Quile was nowhere to be seen
in the daylight.
Bathed in the daylight and ascending above all other tall and magnificent buildings, the white tower, the most notable building to any visitor or resident, was the place where the Corcittavel's council was taking place regularly twice each month. Today, however, the council was called urgently.
At the top floor there were the major's chambers and below them the council's room. Around the huge round table, which was placed at the center of the also round shaped room, five figures were seated and another one was standing at a southern window watching the noisy city, far below, with his back turned to the table, where the others were sitting. That last one was wearing simple white coloured clothes and his head was bald shaved like a monk of the northern hills.
The soft buzz that was coming from the city's activities was at some point, interrupted by a councillor's voice "Major Samarhad, couldn't we just start without Launda? It seems he won't come, maybe till tomorrow
The man standing by the window, without changing his body stance, answered to the first councillor "You know we can't start without a single councillor. We have to wait. And don't point useless things in the future again, please." As an even better reply to the question, there was a knock at the door. At the side of the round room, at the opposite position from where the major was standing, the wall was slightly entering inside the council's room. The space that was created with this architecture technique was the tower's stairway. A council guard entered from the door at that side of the room and announced the arrival of the last and long anticipated councillor.
The white dressed major, turned around, walked by the table, headed to the door and the council guard, and told him "Let him in". The guard stepped aside and two soldiers carrying a curtained chair entered in. They both crouched, lowering the litter and a, medium sized for human, ape walked out of it.
He wasn't a monkey. To your eyes he would seem more to a human sized gorilla, but more civilized in manners and his body had less fur. He was even wearing luxurious clothes and his walking was more to a human than that of a gorilla. However, he was really old. He couldn't travel large distances without the aid of the litter and his appearance had also changed with wrinkles on his face and around his eyes and dark grey hair instead of black. He greeted the major and took his seat on the table, speaking with his still imposing voice;
-"Excuse me gentlemen for the inconvenience I put you in for politely waiting for me."
-"There is no need for excuse, councillor Launda. We are all at last here and we shall now start.", said the white clothed major and also took his seat, while the soldiers and guard withdrew out of the room. The bald major looked one by one the council members and continued "You all must have heard about what happened at my fellow monks in the Marresteril hills this morning. This time the assassins moved openly ignoring our rule and acting against our society's civilized way of life. It is my stir belief that behind all this lays the Corcittavel's assassin brotherhood. What do you have to say, councillor Mornicus?", said major and starred at the councillor that had previously spoken. Mornicus wasn't surprised and took his turn to speak.
-"It was obvious that the assassins are behind those crude, uncivilized acts that tragically took the lives of the admirable monks. I clearly condemn them and everyone associated with them.", ended Mornicus starring Major Samarhad back in his eyes. Councillor Launda saw the opening and spoke to Councillor Mornicus "You say you condemn them. But you don't make any public action against them. There are rumours that you are
"Dear Launda, there are rumours that you are also a minotaur. Are you?"
Launda, wise as he was, remained calm and replied with noble voice "Don't use your charming voice tricks in here, trickster! We all know who you stand with. "
"Councillor Mornicus, that was most inappropriate!", the major intervened with serious voice.
"It was appropriate and polite that is. My humbleness, just announced what a market rumour held for respectable Sir Councillor Launda.", answered Mornicus. He continued "I will erase any wrongly created doubts and accusations. I will prove again my royalty to our city's council by announcing the information I have so effortful collected. First of all, I heard that the monks caught an assassin red handed. Why don't we request them to bring him here in order to interrogate and subtract the information out of him, dear major?"
-"Did they catch one?", uttered the major being surprised a bit and said "We should then bring him here. I will immediately dispatch my personal guard to retrie
" The ape councillor coughed politely and looked at the major.
-"Major Samarhad, I spoke with a monk representative in our city. He informed me that they indeed caught an assassin, but he is also dead somehow."
-"What? Both news are weird." replied the ex-monk major.
-"It doesn't really matter then", said Mornicus. "The other information that I gathered is that in the next one or two months, an army will try and attack our city. I don't know if they are minotaur, barbarians from the far north or maybe Apes from the forest to the west
-"Apes would never attack this city. Don't spread fool rumours around." Councillor Launda tried to defend his race. This caused a fourth councillor, sitting right next to Mornicus, to speak. He was a vedalken. A humanoid creature with strange light-blue coloured skin and 4 hands.
-"Those aren't rumours. This time it doesn't concern the primitive apes. As we are now speaking, Knostar, the minotaur tyrant, may be proceeding into preparations for an assault on our city."
-"Last, as our fellow councillor Ms Ziv, informed me at a meeting we had by chance downtown yesterday, that there is a possible threat by a man who is trying to dig in to much. He might be a skilled spy from some of our enemies.", added Mornicus.
Those words put the major into unease. He rubbed his bald head with both his hands and then stood up. He looked the other councillors one by one again and spoke again "Our city is at great peril. Our enemies seem to have been unified against us. We must assume that in the next two months, they will reveal part of their plans. If the information we gathered today is true at the least part, then we ought to move determined. If the near future developments force us so, we might be in need to use The Artifact in order to protect our city, our citizens' lives and wealth. Councillor Dezelnik, you may be ordered to activate it soon. Prepare it."
In the meanwhile, up in the Craighorn mountains far to the southwest of the city, where the minotaur King's magnificent palace stood, a huge army was gathered below the central four columned balcony waiting their king's command. The army consisted mainly of minotaur warriors, but also of various other creatures in vast numbers and was armed with both simple siege weapons and extravagant battle machines also.
For the crowd's long waiting, a minotaur dressed in royal clothing, with a star sign marked in his forehead, appeared at last in the loyal portico. He observed the excited crowd, raised his huge fist and shouted: "Conquar Corcittavar, in tha nam' of your King!" At once, war cries filled the air and the ground below their feet started trembling as the army set off for the northern city.
The door closed behind him without a sound. His assistants had everything already prepared as he had commanded them before attending the council. On his work desk a small silver dish was lying filled with purple water-like liquid. He sat in front of this strange plate. He closed his eyes, stretched his back inside the comfortable chair, breathed out for a moment or two and then raised his four palms over the plate. He opened his eyes and focused on the surface of the purple liquid that seemed to be really shallow for a fraction of time. Then, ripples appeared from the centre of the plate travelling across the surface and as soon as the first tiny wave reached the edge, all ripples seized to exist and the still surface turned to be smoother than that of a modern plasma TV screen. In fact your neighbour would be jealous if he could see the crystal clear image that was revealed depicting a small hamlet by the feet of a huge mountain.
However, the image itself was ominous; smoke was emitted from most of the wooden shacks or what was left of them. Villagers were tending the wounds of their fellowmen and were working like bees clearing out the rubble that was everywhere between. It was clear that the hamlet had just gone over a raid. The wizard wasn't surprised and focused more onto the people. The screen automatically centred at a tough man, who was probably making a pause from the repairs.
"Where the hell is Alister??", he cried out losing his temper. "He clearly isn't him nor anyone else, useless
" He was referring to the man he saw sitting on the dirt wearing his village's hand made clothes. The wizard kept browsing the details of the projected view, trying to control his bursted emotions and maintain concentration. He spotted a girl that just a moment ago talked with the sitting man. She was now walking between the villagers speaking with them and picking staff or helping as best she could. She was wearing strange bright clothes and a pair of glasses also. Her quite clean appearance showed that she didn't take place in the village's incident. She wasn't even a villager
"Could that be
", he mumbled and then faintly smiled. "No way", he said immediately and he laughed with his teeth out.
Dezelnik's attention was now focused entirely in the small artificial pond's surface depicting the girl. He spoke "Bringing her here is the easy part. We still have to find the Artifact's exact position.", as two golem assistants entered the room and awaited for his command.
The Schwarzump swamp was a dark piece of land with no vegetation that expanded for half a dozen of miles in each direction.
One, unlucky to be here, visitor could see only dead trees' dark trunks in a muddy ground. If he was lucky enough, the foggy air would let him dimly see the city of Corcittavel's figure far to the northwest and Craighorn Ridge's rough outline to the west. No one visited this place and nothing was living here. Almost nothing...
A screech pierced the stagnant air. Dark bubbles started emerging from a black ooze pool, with gradually more and more new ones coming to the surface and old ones splashing with a squish, as if the ooze was boiling. Soon a second longer screech sounded, the ooze exploded and an eerie dark shade fell upon the earth.