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07 February 2006 @ 09:05 pm
Angkast [Part Four]  
Author's Notes: This was actually written a looong time ago, but since then I've just been putting off editing it. I guess it's 'aged' enough, so here's the unedited version for your reading pleasure. Enjoy!



Part Four
By Steve

The commotion outside the inn was finally dying, along with the last of the day’s light. Already snow was falling gently through the tall firs where a lone figure crouched. Winter, it seemed, was coming very early to Northford; it was barely autumn and already the snow had begun falling. It was clad in a white cloak that completely hid its shape amongst the snow. It would have been hard to see in broad daylight with the glare of the snow; with the light failing it was practically impossible.

Northford’s residents were slowly retreating to their homes, gossiping about the dead messenger. The Sheriff had taken custody of the body and had threatened any loiterers with a night in the lockup before leaving. The lights and fires for the night were already lit. Another few minutes and the streets would be empty… at least until the drunks started stumbling home from the inn’s tavern.

The lone figure hesitated a moment, then stood with a grimace. His leg muscles had tightened as he waited in the cold. A gentle breeze rustled the cloak, revealing the completely black underlay. The bottom right edge of the cloak was torn, loose threads blowing in the wind.

Two days ago, exhausted from his flight, Ezekiel Bramb had stepped into a forgotten bear trap in the woods. His reflexes dulled by the cold and lack of sleep, only the stiffness of the trap caused by the snow had saved his entire foot. He had leapt into the air as soon as he felt his weight sink with the pressure plate, but he had been too slow; a chunk of his heel the size of a copper coin was bitten off by the rusted teeth of the trap. The wound, now exposed to the cold thanks to his torn boot, had thankfully not bled much, and eventually the pain had dissolved into a dull throbbing as the flesh numbed.

Zeke reached with shaky hand to the clasp holding the cloak around his neck. It billowed open with the wind, but the hood was still up and it stopped it from falling to the ground. Reaching further up, he lifted the cloak, inverted it, and refastened the clasp. He now stood in stark contrast to the snow, but was still hidden by the falling night. Slowly, he took a deep breath. The simple exercise had added greatly to his exhaustion. Cautiously, he started toward the Inn.

He was practically invisible as he moved through the streets. He paused underneath the Inn’s sign and tried to read the writing. The letters blurred and swam in front of his eyes. He guessed it was called the Frozen Boar, but he wasn’t sure. Taking half a step toward the door, he lifted his arm and leaned into it with his weight.

Slowly, the door swung open. Immediately, he raised himself to his full height and assumed a commanding posture. His eyes became steel as he slowly gazed around the room. The sound of casual conversation and drinking tapered out as all eyes turned to him. He could almost hear their thoughts whisper Assassin.

Confidently, he strode to the side of the bar where the guest register was kept, every pair of eyes following him. The bartender made his way over.

“I need a room,” Zeke said simply. His words cut through the silence coldly.

The bartender and keeper of the inn did not smile. “You have it, friend. I trust you will remain that for the duration of your stay.”

Zeke looked straight into his eyes and visibly saw the man stiffen. “The Guild would greatly appreciate your discreetness in this matter,” he whispered carefully, only loudly enough for the bartender to hear. Briefly, he flashed one of the stolen Guild daggers with the inset octagonal stone to the man. He seemed to stiffen again.

Without a word, Zeke reached into the coin purse at his belt and dropped three gold coins on the ledger. The bartender did not comment on the change in procedure; usually the Guild arranged for payment direct to the establishment, rather than the individual agents paying themselves.

As he was about to turn away, Zeke saw the man’s expression change, almost seeing his thoughts quicken after the initial shock. “It’s just curious that the Guild would send two of its agents separately,” he remarked offhand, studying Zeke’s face intently for signs of fear.

For a moment, Zeke was stunned. Two of its agents. He wasn’t sure if his face had betrayed his shock, but immediately he turned upon the man. “And why should that be any concern of yours? The Guild works how it wills, not for the convenience of the likes of you.” His words were once again ice, and he could see they cut straight through the man; the blood drained visibly from his face.

“Of course, my apologies,” he stammered. For a moment he seemed unsure of where he was, but then he quickly reached down and took the coins. In the same motion, he reached under the bar and produced a key marked with a room number. Zeke took it from him with a slight nod, but said nothing further.

He turned and started up the stairs. Only now did someone move to close the open door. By the time he reached the top, he could already hear conversation returning to the room below.

Immediately, his posture changed. He hunched over and deliberately walked slowly to the appropriate room. To anyone listening, he would have sounded like an old man who has already had too much ale this night. Once inside the room, he didn’t close the door the entire way, but watched the hallway through a crack. After three whole minutes had passed with no activity, he shut it the rest of the way and turned the key in the lock.

Gently, he slumped against the door, breathing hard. Only thoughts of rest were in his head. He turned and checked the room. It was dark, no light being offered from the window. There was a small table next to the bed.

Bed.

He stumbled toward it, and pitched forward, sleep taking him before he hit the sheets.


* * *


When he awoke it was still dark. The pain had returned to his ankle, the heat thawing the numbness. He was still exhausted, but he feared he would get no more sleep tonight; the pain in his ankle was too great, and the possibility of another assassin in the Inn with him did nothing to ease his mind. Reluctantly, he acknowledged that he would have to take care of both before he could rest.

He carefully made his way to the window, slipping into the instinctual training he had received in the Academy. No sound came from him as he opened it and climbed out onto the ledge. The entire town was silent.

He lifted himself up onto the roof and slowly made his way along, listening to every room. He deliberately pushed snow out of the gutters at every window, making scratching noises. On his second circuit he listened twice as intently, recalling what he had heard the first time around. Finally, he heard what he was waiting for. The breathing of the occupant had changed, quickened slightly; they were now awake. Only an assassin would have taken so much interest in so small a detail.

He crouched at the lip, dropped some more snow then meowed like a cat searching for food. He heard a sigh from within, the rustle of bed sheets, and eventually the slowing of breathing. They would be asleep again.

Silently, he drew the dagger at his waist and gripped it with his teeth, then hung himself over the lip and landed on the ledge. He pushed the window open and dropped into the room. Crouching, he took the knife in his right hand and made his way towards the bed.

He had taken no more than two steps when a strong hand gripped his wrist and twisted it behind his back. He was brought up to a standing position, and a dagger went straight to his throat. Suddenly, pain shot up his arm as the wrist broke, weakened from sickness and his flight.

Surprised, his assailant let him go, and his knees gave way. He crumpled to the floor, his arm still behind his back; he didn’t want to move it. Throughout the struggle, neither had made any sound. Carefully, he rolled over and looked up at the dark figure.

There was a low growl, then the accusing voice of an old friend. “Have you fallen so far, traitor?”

Armeny, he thought. She had been his only friend at the Academy, and the only one who could match his skills. It was fitting that he should die by her hand; if he had betrayed anyone, it had been her. With that final thought, he felt the room spin and darkness envelop him.


* * *


When he finally woke it was daylight, but he could tell the light was weak, the day departing. Slowly, he had opened his eyes and looked around the room. They came to rest on Armeny’s face. She was gazing down at him with a resigned look.

“They’re dead.” It made no sense to Zeke, and his face must have shown it. “Both are dead. They must have followed you here. I took their lives.” Her voice was hollow. With effort, he sat up.

“Why?”

The question hung in the air for a long moment. He felt his head clear.

“I guess I just need to know why you did it. You couldn’t answer me if you were dead.”

Another long moment passed between them.

“I’m no betrayer,” he said finally.

“Make me see it your way.” He offered nothing. “Explain to me how two crown Princes came to die by your hands. Explain to me which enemy of Angkast bought out the ‘great’ Ezekiel Bramb. Explain it to me Zeke, because I can’t explain it to myself!” Her voice had become louder, and she was all but yelling at him now. “Well? Have you anything to say in your defence, traitor, or shall your sentence be carried out now?”

Calmly, he watched her. Her furious eyes searched his face for expression but there was none. Frustrated, she stood and turned away, walking for the door.

“One.”

She hesitated, and then looked over her shoulder back at him. “What?”

“I only killed one,” he said, his face still calm.

She walked back. “Then you admit your guilt?”

“No.” Once again anger flashed in her eyes. “I carried sentence to a traitor.”

She hesitated again then retook her seat next to the bed.


* * *


Angkast had two princes in line for the throne: Prince Dathomir, eldest child of the King and Queen, and Prince Yssar, his brother. Dathomir radiated peace wherever he went. He was constantly in reflection and pondering philosophical ideas. Many believed he would be the greatest King Angkast had seen in recent times. Yssar had a thirst for war, and had grown jealous of the public’s view of Dathomir. He believed Dathomir would ruin Angkast’s might through inaction, and soon came to resent his place in the line of inheritance.

He went to the Assassin’s Guild Council and presented his case to them. In exchange for their assistance with Dathomir’s removal, he would elevate their status and they would become his personal guard once he was king. The Council rejected Yssar, unanimously agreeing that their oath to the Royal Family’s protection could not be broken.

Enraged, Yssar vowed to eliminate the guild entirely once he was in power and stormed out of the Council chambers. The Guild moved immediately; Yssar was to be watched, but his request was not to be made public, even to the King and Queen.

Yssar was determined to remove Dathomir, and approached a group of thugs in the city through his retainers. He promised them an outrageous amount of money and outlaid a plan for them to ambush the Prince while he was taking one of his nightly walks through the forested grounds of the palace.

As soon as the Guild learnt of this plan, they sent Zeke to eliminate the thugs. But Yssar had anticipated them; he knew the Guild would be watching him, and so ensured that the assassination plan was put into action almost immediately. Zeke arrived too late to stop the would-be assassins, but found the details of their plans.

Immediately, he tracked them to the ambush, but when he arrived he found the Prince’s guard standing over the corpses of the thugs. Unfortunately, this was also part of Yssar’s plan; he had paid Dathomir’s guard to turn on their Prince. Though reluctant, Yssar had convinced them that Angkast would falter under Dathomir’s rule, and that this was the only way to save their country.

Zeke did not have time to prevent the Prince’s death, but he immediately acted to preserve the Guild’s status. After all, how would it look if common thugs were able to assassinate the heir to the throne? He slaughtered the guards then buried his dagger, a clear message of the Guild’s involvement, in the Prince’s back as he lay.

Knowing that he could not allow Prince Yssar to gain control of the country, he entered the palace and killed the Prince in his chambers, stabbing him through the throat.

Immediately, he went to the Council and reported what had happened, prepared to submit himself to death. The council agreed with his action at Dathomir’s ambush, but did not condone his killing of Prince Yssar. With both Princes dead, a power vacuum had been created, and the future of the throne was suddenly in doubt. The Council admonished Zeke, and said he should have approached them before taking action against Yssar.

They would have sentenced Zeke to death, were it not for the intervention of Argos, who had mentored Zeke when he had first entered the Academy. Argos suggested that Zeke be allowed to escape as concession for preserving the Guild’s reputation, and the Guild would declare that he acted without their permission. With the Guild hunting him, he argued, he would be as good as dead anyway.


* * *


“The Guild’s sent six after me since then. Though the quality of their equipment is as high as always, I can’t say the same for their training.”

Armeny sat stunned, staring disbelieving into Zeke’s face. “You mean you let everyone believe you were a traitor for all this time? That you betrayed not only the Guild, but also the Crown and country?”

Zeke looked into her eyes.

“But why? The Guild is hunting you. You can’t run anywhere; Angkast is on good relations with all of its neighbours, and none will allow you passage nor shelter. Is the Guild’s reputation really worth all of this?”

He continued watching her, silent. She shook her head. “That’s some consolation, at least,” she mumbled.

“You have to go back.”

She looked at him incredulously. “By protecting you I’ve made a traitor of myself. They’ll never accept me.”

“Tell them I killed them. Tell them I killed them and then evaded you.”

“But the town Cleric… He mended your wounds, he took care of the bodies. He knows you were in no shape to kill them. The innkeeper knows it too.”

“Convince them otherwise. You’re a member of the Guild. Make them believe it.” He held her gaze stolidly.

She looked away, then turned back to him. “Alright. What happens to you now?”

He smiled. “I go the same way I have been going for two weeks. North.”

She shook her head. “There’s nothing there for you. The Barbarians will not accept a stranger on their land.”

“Then I will die. It’s not better here than it is there. At least I’ll have a chance.”

Eventually, she nodded, but didn’t move.

“What is it?” he asked.

She took another moment. “Argos. He’s left the Council.”

Zeke sat up straighter. “What? Why?”

“He stepped down right after you left. Made an official statement that he took the blame upon his shoulders. Said that if your training was flawed, it was because of his failings.”

Zeke shook his head. It was impossible to leave the Guild entirely. He could not see Argos being allowed to train again, and could not see any other options for him. The aging assassin would not have returned to active duty. “Where is he now?”

“Nobody knows. He disappeared shortly after his statement and has not been heard from since. The Guild has said that he took his own life, but most believe this to be a lie. More have disappeared since he left. The capital is rife with rumours that he is forming an army to rebel against the Guild, but his reasons vary depending on who you hear it from.”

Zeke stared. Argos would have more contacts than the Guild could possibly know. If he was still alive, they would not find him. Zeke couldn’t think of a reason for him to rebel against the Guild, so he just nodded simply.

Armeny stood. “I’ll make arrangements. They’ll believe. You need rest; I’ll be back later.” She turned and left the room.

Zeke moved immediately. He stood and tested his right foot. It felt much better. He strode to his things and dressed quickly, his cloak black. Night had fallen already. The sounds of the downstairs Tavern still filtered up to him as he opened the window and slipped out. It was easier this way. No goodbyes.

He dropped to the ground, landed and rolled to a crouching position under the lower window sill. He doubted he was seen, but moved quickly regardless. Entering through the back door of the darkened kitchen, he stole some supplies and stored them in his pack. He realised he had no waterskin then realised again that with the snow it wouldn’t be necessary.

He stepped back out, and pulled up his hood. The snow had started to fall harder now, and an ice cold southerly wind was picking up. Zeke prayed it would not become a blizzard as he slinked through the streets. Winter is far too impatient this year.

The river was in full flow, the cold not strong enough to slow it yet. He cursed as his cloak whipped around behind him in the wind, and around to make it easier to grab it. In one of the Inn’s upper story windows, he could see a figure standing, looking directly at him even though the room was darkened. He recognised it as a trained woman, but it was not Armeny. Immediately he spun and leaped into the night, unsure whether he had been seen.

He landed roughly on the opposite bank of the river, and slipped in the snow. Instinctively, he reached down with his right hand to arrest the fall, and pain shot up his arm. He pushed off with his legs and sprinted forward without a second glance.

He prayed the Barbarians of the northern mountains would offer him shelter.
 
 
 
Jadelimecola on May 30th, 2006 01:02 pm (UTC)
I guess this means it's my turn, doesn't it? Could someone tell Armeny that please?? Cos she's being a bitch and refuses to play the game lol

Zeke?? Can you beat some sense into her?? :D

Armeny: I have a strong desire to hurt you.

Jade: *glomps* You love me.

--Jade.
Mhairipadsy on May 31st, 2006 02:12 am (UTC)
*polishes her Patented Butt-Whippin' Stick*

Oh ARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRMEEEENNNNNYYYYYYYYYYY...