Sep. 14, 2017
The Butcher, usually a grumpy, brusque man, rejoiced at the sight of the two hooded figures eating his business and closing the door behind them quietly.
“Ah, what can I do for you today my lads? I’ve got a fresh pig out back…” Diero’s mentor raised his right hand and the Butcher stopped talking, suddenly looking very nervous. The old man pulled back his hood to show his scarred and wrinkled face, his long hair pulled back in a neat tail. His eyes were cold and gray as he stared at the large man, not blinking.
“Thank you for dealing with those hooligans who thought they could claim my territory.”
“Not a problem at all, sir, it was a pleasure! Really…” The large man stammered, setting down the blade he had been holding and wiping his hands of on his white smock.
“Your brother in law…”
“Oh, him, he’s not a bother. More dangerous to the wolves outside of town than anyone in it. He just needs to blow off some steam and…” The Butcher was wringing his hands together nervously as he stammered out the excuses and defenses. The old man raised his hand again, cutting the man off.
“It is your job to deal with these things, not to let them run their course.”
“Right, sir, I understand. I will speak with him immediately.”
“No!” Diero’s mentor stepped forward, drawing his dagger from the hidden pockets in his robes and slamming it into the Butcher’s counter, driving it deep into the wood. “You’ve failed me twice now. Talking does no good, you are a man of action or you’re of no use to me.” The large man shrunk back against the wall, averting his eyes from the robed figure and glancing towards Diero who still stood by the door, hood obscuring his face slightly.
“Ok, I will take care of…”
“My apprentice, here, has already taken care of the issue. You will not fail me a third time.” The old man abruptly yanked the knife from the wood, leaving a deep gash then stored it in his robes. He turned and left the establishment quickly as the Butcher nervously paced behind him. Diero followed him out into the street quietly and they turned down a dark alley to the side of the building. “If they don’t fear us, we have nothing.” His mentor uttered the words quietly, his tone was stern and Diero knew that he didn’t want a response. He nodded respectfully and the two parted ways, it was time to lay low for a time until their recent murder was forgotten.
Sep. 14, 2017
The ranger sat alone at a small wooden table inside the crowded pub. Diero and his mentor watched him from afar, sipping on ales and listening to the idle conversation that surrounded them. A long bow was slung over his back, a knife stashed in his boot, and a heavy back on the floor next to his chair. He spun a golden coin on the table in front of him, starting at it as it spun but not really watching it. His face was long and drawn out in what looked like pain; despite the crowd he seemed to believe he was completely alone in this room, as if he didn’t see the other patrons that nearly bumped into his chair as they drunkenly stumbled past.
“What’s wrong with him?” Diero asked, setting down his mug and glancing around the room casually.
“That girl you delivered a while back was his niece. The butcher has fallen in line but the streets say he is planning to make a stand.”
“I see…” Diero trailed off as the ranger stood and wavered a little over the table, groggy from drink.
“He’s a formidable foe. There’s no shame in taking advantage of someone’s weakness.”
“What’s his weakness?” Diero’s hand checked his knife under his cloak, making sure it was easily accessible.
“Open your eyes. He’s drunk, he’s sad, he has to piss. In a few moments he’ll be alone in a dark alley with his cock in his hands. How much weaker does he have to get?” The old man glared at his young apprentice, his eyes filled with hatred and disapproval. Diero nodded his head, ashamed of the question immediately and filling with rage at his own stupidity. His mentor let out a low chuckle. “Use that rage to your advantage. Play on his stupor, if you’re drunk too you won’t seem a threat. And last, go for the kill. Don’t stab him in the back like a pathetic urchin.” Diero rose from the table, handle on the sheet of his blade, and discreetly left the pub. The ranger still wobbled at the table but was trying to turn and walk out.
As Diero waited outside the door, back to the wall pretending to get some air, he listened to the commotion inside. A rush of people headed for the door and he braced himself, unsure of what was happening. A force of yelling and laughing spilled through the door as it was kicked open and the ranger tossed out.
“Go sober up ya drunken buffoon!” A large man hollered, laughing as the ranger hit the muddy street and rolled, spraying mud in all directions. A sly smile crept across the young rogue’s face.
“Too much to drink?”
“Aye, he ‘fell’ into one of my waitresses. Just an excuse to get handsy if you ask me.” The man pulled the door shut and returned to his duties behind the bar. The ranger struggled to lift himself up from the mud but fell back down, face-first with a groan. Diero watched as he tried a few more times before he rolled onto his back and sighed heavily.
“Need some help, friend?” He tried to sound as cheerful as he could.
“No!” The ranger barked at him, abruptly sitting up then pulling himself onto his feet. “I’m fine…” With a nasty glare he stumbled past Diero, letting out a quiet burp and holding his stomach as if he was about to vomit. He stumbled into the alley and Diero checked the street; no one was paying him any mind so he crept into the alley behind the man. He had walked into the alley about ten feet and was propped up against the wall with one hand, draining his bladder into the mud below. Diero scuffed his feet and pretended to stumble, causing the man to look up and see another drunk shambling towards him.
“They throw you out too?” he looked away, staring down at the pool he was making by his feet.
“No.” Diero said calmly, slipping the blade from its sheath and deftly grabbing the man by his hair. It was long and greasy, giving Diero an excellent grip. He tugged hard and pulled the man’s head back, exposing his throat. The ranger let go of himself and tried to lift his arms to fight back but Diero’s knife quickly dashed across his open throat. The rogue promptly released the drunken ranger, a spray of red painted the wall of the tavern in front of him. He quickly and quietly wiped the knife off on the man’s green cape then replaced it in its holster, then left the alley as casually as he had entered.
“Much better.” His mentor commended with a smile as they listened to the soft gurgling of the man drowning in his own blood. “Maybe next time cut a little deeper into the left side, he’ll die quicker and won’t make such a racket drowning like that.” Diero nodded. “Great! Lets pay the Butcher another visit.”
Sep. 14, 2017
The weeks following that fateful morning in the alley were rife with abuse. Diero’s mentor obviously took the failure quite personally. Up until this point he was tasked with watching and learning everything his mentor did. Most of his activities, however, were so atrocious and lacking of any moral value that Diero had a tendency to shut it out and only learn what he thought was valuable. This was unacceptable in his mentor’s eyes, and he made that known. Demands followed by harsh retribution became Diero’s life. ‘Pickpocket that man,’ he would be commanded. After doing so, if the man so much as flinched in the process Diero’s knuckles would be swollen, bruised and bloody moments later. He was forced to repeat the process on different individuals until he could no longer grip a coin in his bloody fingers. ‘Climb that fence.’ ‘Jump to that roof.’ ‘Catch that bird with a dagger.’ The demands grew more and more difficult by the hour and each one met with its own punishment.
After a few days Diero stumbled into his room to get some rest and caught a glimpse of himself in the reflection in an empty bottle. His face was barely recognizable; covered with stubble an growth, eyes almost swollen shut and blood smeared here and there form cuts in his forehead and eyebrows. He reached for the bottle but his numb fingers knocked it to the ground, leaving a smear of blood that obscured the reflection. With a heavy sigh he collapsed into bed.
The following morning Diero woke with a start as cold liquid splashed into his face. He spat and sputtered for a moment, rubbing his face and trying to figure out what was going on. As the shock wore off his cuts and eyes began to burn with a fury. He moaned and groped around the bed with his eyes shut, looking for something to wipe his face off with as the pain intensified. The cuts burned more fiercely by the second and his eyes hurt so badly he couldn’t open them.
“Who’s there?” he pleaded, still trying to dry his eyes. “What did you do to me?” A second splash hit his face and the burning increased ten-fold, forcing him to emit a scream.
“Next time I sneak in here unnoticed, you’ll be dead.” The whisper came directly next to his ear and he recognized his mentor’s voice immediately. A third splash hit his face and the burning left, leaving Diero to whimper in his bed until he could open his eyes again. From that day on he slept less soundly, always on edge and listening for any type of movement. Most nights he would place something in front of the doors and windows that would make noise if they were opened, a vase here, some ball bearings there. One morning around two the vase toppled over and he shot out of bed, holding the knife. ‘Good,’ his mentor whispered from the hallway as he shut the door and silently walked away.
The weeks passed and Diero’s strength returned, his skills had improved dramatically and the beatings were less common and less severe. His face returned to a recognizable state and his fingers became deft and nimble like they had been before. His confidence was mounting though he remained cautious, knowing his mentor could yank the rug out from under him at any moment.
“It’s time, again.” He told him one morning as they drank their breakfast ale. “This time, we do it together.” He stood up from the table abruptly and left the tavern. Diero dropped some coins on the table and scrambled to keep up. “Lets start with someone your size, this time. I know just the fellow.” The two turned down a darkened alley towards the center of town.
Sep. 14, 2017
The Tavern smelled of ale and vomit, the walls were visibly stained and the furniture in desperate need of repair, but no one even noticed the two figures shrouded in black as they walked through the room towards the inn above. His mentor loved places like this because they could hide in plain site, Diero hated them. He wrinkled his nose as he walked by a patron passed out at his table, having noticeably urinated in his trousers.
“Don’t look so disgusted.” His mentor demanded, turning his head slightly as he walked. Diero had no idea how he always knew; he never seemed to actually look, but he always knew when the young rogue did something wrong. At the top of the stairs the they took a sharp left and stole into a quiet room just above the bar. Diero could still make out the hubbub below through the poorly insulated floor, and could see most of the patrons through the large gaps between the boards. “There’s a man, drunk and belligerent.” Right to business, his mentor was always about business. “He’s in debt to many, drinks away his earnings before they can collect. Owns nothing, has no one, there’s no way to pressure him to pay.” His mentor pulled a blade out from under his robe. “No one will miss him.”
The blade was dark, made of something metal that he didn’t recognize. It was cold to the touch, like steel, but it reflected no light. In fact, it seemed to actually absorb light. The hilt was made of a simple polished wood with slight markings etched in gold into the grip. It simply read, “Death’s Embrace.”
“It’s beautiful,” Diero stammered as he tested the balance. It laid perfect flat on his pointer finger without wavering at all. “And perfectly balanced, what is it?!”
“It’s a gift. The best blade an assassin could hope for.” He clasped Diero on the shoulder, a rarity as he didn’t like to touch anyone if he wasn’t killing them. “Make me proud.” The young rogue nodded brusquely then headed for the door, stashing the blade in an accessible pocket inside his robes. “He’s in the alley,” his mentor said quietly. Without looking back, he left the room and exited the tavern into the street.
He quickly pushed past the ladies of the evening that stood around out front, ignoring their requests and lewd gestures and strolled into the alley. It was late morning and the sun was high in the sky, the alley was lit well and, though secluded, still very public. There was a large man covered in sweat bent over a cask, vomiting loudly onto the ground. His body heaved and shook with each fit which was followed by a bout of coughing and spitting. As Diero approached him the man stopped and straightened up, stretching his back and yawning loudly. He quietly slid the new blade from his pocket, his heart starting to race with anticipation. He’d seen his mentor do it so many times, so smooth, like an angel of death. He envisioned himself dancing through the alley, blood spraying the walls as the man was sliced into tiny chunks before he could even move to defend himself. A grin crept across his face and he stole closer to the drunken buffoon, who was now scratching himself and preparing to take a piss.
As Diero came within striking distance he paused momentarily, letting the power of the situation wash over him. He was in control of this man’s life, and he was about to end it. Dozens of years cut short by his blade. He chose who lives, and he chose who dies. His heart raced faster at the glory of it all, the godliness that he would embody as he embraced his life as an assassin. With a surge of excitement the young rogue jabbed his arm forward, plunging the knife into the man’s back.
“Fuuuuhhh!” The man bellowed, throwing his head back. His voice echoed through the alley and into the street, a few passers-by looked in, curious as to what creature had caused such a noise. No one cared, however, and continued wandering as they saw the black hooded figure pull a bloody blade from the man’s back. The blood spurted gently out of the gaping hole left in the man’s flesh, splashing across Diero’s fingers. It was warm and Diero’s excitement grew. He jabbed forward again but the man, large as he was, wasn’t ready to give up and the initial cut didn’t incapacitate him as Diero had believed. He turned quickly and grabbed Diero’s arm by the wrist, swinging his second arm with a powerful punch to the young man’s chest. The vile drunkard was surprisingly quick for his size and apparent state of inebriation. Diero flew backwards and landed in a pile of trash, the blade bounced away on the stone alley floor, just out of reach.
“Raaaaah!” The man bellowed again as he charged, but stopped suddenly as his bellowed turned to a throaty gurgle. Diero watched as his lips reddened and a small spurt of blood spat out, bubbles forming behind it as the man struggled to breathe. With a heavy thud he slammed into the ground, more gurgles wetly sounding from his lips.
“I…” Diero started as he saw his mentor standing in the alley, a red, dripping blade in his hand after the man fell. He shook his head and Diero silenced himself. The man’s face was drawn with disappointment and frustration. Without a word he picked up the dark blade, wiped it off on his sleeve, and stashed it back in the robe from whence it came.
“You’re not ready.” He said quietly, the disappointment in his voice bouncing off the alley walls like the fat man’s bellows. Without another word he quickened his pace and hastened out of the alley, leaving his young apprentice struggling to keep up.
Sep. 14, 2017
That night Diero’s sleep was restless. He tossed and turned as The Butcher’s face, broken with sorrow, flickered into and out of his memory. ‘How could he?!’ he had wailed, clutching his daughters body and rocking back and forth. ‘What could I possibly have done to offend him? I’ve been nothing but obedient!’ The following morning Diero woke early and prepared himself for a long day. With whatever feud his mentor and the Butcher were having out of the way, there were far more pressing issues to deal with. A few wandering adventurers had been gathering in the inn Diero stayed at lately and rumors had it they were planning to form together to attempt to run a few small districts in the city. Diero had been sent as an envoy to see if they would serve his mentor like the other groups in the city did and they resisted, they were the next order of business.
“Rogue!” The innkeeper boomed from down the hall. “Deal with this, now!” Diero rushed out of the room and into the hall. “I told you that you could stay here as long as you brought no trouble here! Deal with it or get out.” Diero eyed the man suspiciously, he hadn’t done anything or attracted any attention as far as he knew the night before, he always kept to the shadows. The innkeeper pointed down the stairs and Diero obliged, keeping his hand on his dagger and eyeing the innkeeper with an icy glare. The large man averted his gaze as Diero passed him, he didn’t much care for the rogue but gold was gold these days.
As he crept down the stairs silently, unsure of what was awaiting him a foul stench assaulted his nostrils. The tavern at the front of the inn had been completely redecorated overnight. Bodies hung limply over tables, chairs, and on the bar. One dangled precariously from one of the hanging lamps in the middle of the room. Red splatters and smears dotted the walls and the floors were slick with blood. A quick count turned up eight bodies as Diero counted and recounted. The man hanging from the lantern had small piece of parchment flittering in the wind attached to his belt. As the rogue grabbed it he read: ‘I am sorry. — The Butcher’.
“Curious…” Diero muttered to himself, pretending to be confused in case the innkeeper was watching. He pulled on the hanging man’s shoulder and spun the body slowly. He recognized the face immediately as a man everyone called “Pierce.” He was one of the adventurers attempting to form a gang here in town. He counted the bodies again, eight. Eight adventurers encroaching on his territory, eight bodies left to rot. It may have been messy but his mentor always got his way. Diero strolled out into the street, tucking the note into his pocket.
“Hey! Who’s going to clean this up?”
“Dunno. Sounds like a job for the innkeeper.” He continued down the street without turning back, the innkeeper cursed and threatened behind him but he knew better than to take it any further. He found the old man enjoying a hearty breakfast and an ale at his favorite tavern half a mile away. He always started his mornings as such, claiming that the best days come from the best parties. Diero handed the old man the note and quietly sat himself across from him at the small wooden table.
“Hah! I hope he didn’t make too much of a mess.”
“I’ll probably have to move.” The old man laughed at that remark, Diero’s face stayed stern, he wasn’t looking forward to the process.
“Alright, next order of business!” The man’s face cracked with a fearsome smile.
“Yes, sir, what will you have me do?” He wiped his mouth on his sleeve after finishing the rest of his ale and eyed the young rogue thoughtfully.
“You’ve learned to keep to the shadows, to pickpocket from the keenest of folks, and to sneak into a crowded room without so much as a peep.” Diero’s eyes narrowed, his mentor was not usually so forthcoming with compliments. “Today…today you’ve earned your first kill.”
Sep. 14, 2017
Diero looked up from his drink at the haggard traveler, peering out from under the dark hood that hid his face. The tavern was full of men and women who liked to cause trouble and he found that the more mysterious he seemed the less they bothered him. The traveler fidgeted nervously as Diero glared at him, passing a note from hand to hand. “Sir?” the man repeated, unsure of what to do. Diero reached his hand out and took the note from from the man without saying a word then watched him as he ran out of the room as if he was being chased by dogs.
As Diero opened the note he could smell iron and see blood stains covering the paper. His heart began to race. ‘Dry Dragon Inn, room 3. Now.’ The message was simple and straightforward, not signed but clearly in his mentor’s handwriting. For months he had been following this man around, doing odd jobs for him; he was often tasked with picking up and delivering packages to dangerous parts of town. The man claimed to have great power and would train Diero in his ways if he trusted him and did as he was told, perhaps this was the moment that he finally would see what this mysterious man was all about. Diero didn’t even know his name.
Without a moment’s hesitation Deiro swallowed the last of his ale and dropped a coin on the table. His dark leather boots made no noise as he deftly exited the pub and headed into the darkened street. The hour was late and the lamps in this district were all but destroyed, most of them weren’t lit any more, for fear of causing a fire. The Dry Dragon was a brisk ten minute walk from here and his mentor did not like to wait. Diero broke into a light jog to try to lessen the travel time and ease the rage he was sure to meet when he arrived. The man had a horrible temper and seemed to believe that Diero should somehow know where he is at all times and be within a two minute walk.
When Diero arrived at the inn he was out of breath but there was no time to wait, he pushed through the doors and ran up the stairs to room three without even looking at the innkeeper or anyone in the lounge.
“I hope she was worth it,” the cloaked man scolded as Diero pushed open the door and quietly slipped into room three.
“I was at the pub.”
“You should have been here!” Diero bowed in submission to the man, offering his apologies for being late.
“What can I do for you, sir?” The man pulled back his dark hood that matched Diero’s and glared at him with his silvery eyes. His hair was long and gray, usually greasy, and left to hang loose about his shoulders. His skin was pale and his grey eyes gave him an almost unsettling undead look.
“There’s a man they call the Butcher. He works across town. He helps me dispose of…enemies.” Diero listened intently, the man always cut to the chase and expected him to react immediately. “Rumor has it he’s been making friends with the guards by the castle so I have a bit of a reminder for him. Deliver my message.” The man slipped his hood back over his head and abruptly strolled to the door. “He loved her very much,” he said, pausing for a moment then exiting the room.
Diero turned away, slightly confused but ready to do his mentor’s bidding when he saw the young girl laying on the bed, blood covering the white sheets, her eyes frozen open with a look of horror. The deep gash in her throat still oozed blood slowly. Her blonde curls were stained in her blood and lay splayed about the bed in disarray and she clutched a small golden locket in her pale fist. Diero regarded the young woman for a moment or two, expecting horror and revulsion to creep in but as usual, his feelings failed him. He felt nothing for this poor soul, and the sight of the blood gave him urges to take a life of his own. He shook his head, trying to lose the urges behind his task.
“Well, darling, let’s get you home, shall we?” He chucked to himself as he started to bunch up the sheets around her body in a makeshift bag. “I’m sure your daddy is worried sick.”