“The assassins were always a strong and feared guild. No matter the country, people with power always have enemies who they want dead.”
***Assassin Training Camp***
It's a good night. A cool breeze allows me and the other guards to relax. Guard duty for the grotto isn't the best job in this part of the continent, but today it isn't too bad.
The entrance to the grotto is a large hole in the ground. A long staircase leads down into the large cavern which houses the fairy hive. Placed around the hole is the guard detail which is supposed to protect our most valuable asset.
Normally, the nights in this part of the continent are hot and sultry, but not this one. I sigh appreciatively and retrieve a smoke stick from one of my pockets. “How are the new recruits doing? Any promising candidates?” I ask Bolt, my friend and one of our best sword fighters. Not waiting for an answer, I light the stick and draw in a deep breath.
“They brought in a new batch of younglings and threw them into the pit. So far, none of them showed exceptional ferociousness. What's the world coming to if not even the street urchins are willing to fight for their lives?” He snorts and cuffs me from the side. “Imagine that! One of the elders suggested to put them on half rations. If they refuse to fight because they are killed otherwise, then maybe they'll fight because they are hungry.”
I sigh. “Maybe that will teach the elders not to recruit from those highly religious villages. Even their rats have too much pride to do what's necessary in order to survive.” I turn my attention to the complex of barracks which are known as the pit. In a good year, fifty new recruits enter the training camp. They are made to kill each other until just one or two real murderers are left. Those survivors are then trained in earnest. A real assassin can't afford hesitation when he is ordered to take the life of a target.
The rest of the camp has several buildings which provide for the administration and house experienced assassins. Those buildings also serve as a large fence around the inner area. There are also several parcour fields for training.
“Aren't the barracks a little bit too blurry? It's night, but the torches should illuminate them just fine.” I squint my eyes and rub them when the first attempt yields no result.
Bolt laughs. “You really should pay another visit to that sexy healer you spoke of. Tell her to check your eyes before she checks out your other parts.”
“My eyes are fine!” I walk a few steps towards the barracks. “Look. I think it's fog.”
Bolt coughs and looks around. “Hmpf. You may be right. Though, the fog isn't here. Could be a tiny fog-bank. The wind must've blown it towards the camp.”
“Fog in this weather? It's too windy.” I look up and notice that there are no stars in the sky. “That's strange.”
“What?” Bolt follows my line of sight.
“I could swear that the sky was full of stars just a few minutes ago. Can clouds move fast enough to blot out the entire night sky?” I shift my weight from one foot to the other, getting nervous.
“Erm... Maybe if it's a break in the weather?” Bolt shrugs. “I just hope that it won't rain since we still have two hours of duty. It would suck to get drenched just at the end of a shift.” We look around to determine if any of the other guards noticed. It doesn't seem to be the case. As we do this, I suddenly notice more moisture in the air. Within moments, we are covered in thick and heavy fog.
Just as I want to protest his easy dismissal of this strange phenomenon, several dark shapes appear in the sky above us. It takes me two long seconds to make sense of the silhouettes. In an attempt to warn Bolt, I yell loudly, but it changes nothing. One of the attackers lands directly on top of my friend, ramming a wicked blade through his chest. The force of the impact pins Bolt to the ground, killing him immediately.
I hurl myself sideways, escaping my own attacker just barely. At least my scream alerted the other guards in front and around of the grotto. Our attackers are clad in dull, black armour. They are everywhere! Those bastards! They dropped right on top of us.
Getting back to my feet, I draw my twin daggers and parry the wicked blade of my opponent's halberd. He jabs at me twice and swings his oddly shaped weapon to get me with the blade. I evade the last blow, judging that parrying with my daggers would be a fool's move. A few light jabs are something completely different from blocking the brute force of a two-handed weapon.
Failing to dispatch me immediately, the invader points the tip of his halberd at me. A faint, white glow is my only warning. I twist my body out of the way, just in time in order to avoid the bolt of energy. Enchanted weapon!
Fearing a second shot, I hurl the dagger at my opponent. It sinks into the less well-protected joint at his elbow. The man grunts, but doesn't unleash a second spell.
My manoeuvre caused me to lose balance, so I fall unceremoniously onto my butt. But I don't lose any time and scramble back to my feet, retreating towards the staircase. The other guards fight bravely, but are clearly outmatched. Flashes of light illuminate the scene and men scream all around me. I suddenly realize that all of our attackers are moving towards the grotto's entrance. They want the fairies!
To my side, two of our men charge a woman in black armour. Her armour and the white skin give her the appearance of a Draugr, but she has her own beauty. I feel myself reminded of a Mirai necromancer. The first guard howls and cleaves with his short sword at the woman.
Unfazed, the woman grins and sidesteps the attack. Blue mist flows from her shoulder and forms into a two-handed long sword. She brings the blade up and down on the man as if it weighs nothing. Though, the move itself is crude and slow. My comrade could've easily avoided the blow.
My comrade could've easily avoided the blow, but his training takes over. He steps into the attack and brings up his sword in an attempt to block her blade, setting himself up for a riposte. It's the oldest trick in the box. Stop the flow of your opponent's weapon and use the opening for a counter-attack.
He never gets the chance. The blue, ethereal weapon passes right through his sword and his body. It's as if the sword doesn't exist. The man twitches and his whole body cramps up, forcing him to his toes. He acts as if great pain robbed him of any coherent thought. Finally, he clutches at his chest, right where the weapon passed through him. An ear-splitting howl of agony almost makes me stop my retreat towards the staircase.
Then he falls backwards... or more accurately... his body falls backwards and lies still. A greenish, translucent figure is left behind where he just stood. It writhes for a short moment, then it hurls itself at the second guard. He swipes at the ghost, his mace passing right through the figure. The ghost is dispelled and flows back towards the woman, where it disappears into her weapon.
The erratic attempt at fighting the ghost left the guard wide open. The woman doesn't hesitate. She uses the offered opportunity to stab her sword into his chest. He howls and the same scene repeats itself.
Somehow, I kept running while watching this. Reaching the stairway, I hurl myself down the stairs. We have to activate every protective spell that's available to us. This is clearly a large-scale attack. Screaming, I run past a dumbfounded guard, but he doesn't get it. I realize that only a few seconds had elapsed since this nightmare started.
They don't even know that we are being attacked!
A short glance over my shoulder is enough to see the man being cut down by the woman. She entered the stairway right behind me, together with a growing collection of ghosts. Her cruel laugh follows me down the stairway. She is right on my heels!
The runestone! I have to reach the runestone and activate the camp's defences.
The guard who was just taken down was one of our better magic users. What can I do against that monster if even he doesn't have any protection against her weapon? She cuts out their damned ghosts and absorbs them. No! Not their ghosts! She's taking their souls!
Not caring about the surprised men and women in my path, I head directly for the grotto. Down the stairway and through the long corridor, ignoring the storage rooms. Another glance back shows me that she is farther away. The other people must've cost her time. Due to the possibility to catch my breath, I realize that I am still screaming and that I've pissed myself. Screams from down the corridor remind me that I am scared out of my mind.
Reaching the large door which allows access to the grotto, I start removing the many chains and locks. Who thought it a good idea to lock the fairies behind so many redundant locks!? What if someone has to get in quickly? What if the enemy is already at the door? Stupid mages!
Fumbling with the last lock, I suddenly experience horrible pain in my chest, just as the lock clicks open. My body crumples against the door and pushes it open. But I... I am still standing? In disbelief, I touch the blue blade which is protruding from my chest. It's solid?
There is a commotion outside. I step towards the window and take a look. Something is going on. Someone is screaming and banging against the grotto's door. Are the assassins having one of their parties out there? Are they being attacked? I wince at the thought. If that's the case, then they will use our magic in order to raise protections for their camp.
My eyes land on the large runestone. It controls the magical circles which imprison us. The circles are arranged all around the hive. Some are meant to drain us of our power. Others imprison us. I feel sick at the thought of losing more of my people because we are used as a power core. The rest of the grotto is empty, except for a few stalactites and stalagmites.
The door opens and a dead assassin crumples to the ground. A green, ghostly figure remains above the body. The ghost looks dumbfounded and uncomprehending.
A woman who is clad in black armour steps through the ghost and it dissolves into green mist. The mist is sucked up by the ethereal sword in her hand. She grins and strolls into the room as if she owns the place. She doesn't even take notice of the corpse. Above us, I feel a few vibrations shake the cave. Outside, a battle must be going on.
Looking around, she studies the spells which are holding us. “Interesting and effective setup, but clearly not intended to handle forceful manipulation.”
The woman walks forward and stabs her sword into the runestone, twisting it like a key inside a keyhole. The runestone shatters and I feel the magical circles around us power down. Many of my people are now outside the hive, ignoring the uncertain danger this intruder might present. Then I notice a single fairy sitting on the woman's shoulder.
We remember all of our people who had to go with the humans. They never come back. I climb out of the window and fly towards them, stopping just two metres in front of them.
Willow waves at me. She looks a little shaken. As if she herself can't believe that she is here. “Hello, Septarch. This is Nova Mirai, ruler of Illum. She wants to make you an offer.”
Nova raises an eyebrow. “I told you to call me Joyce.”
Willow isn't impressed. “Don't listen to her. Nova is her given name.”
Humans and their names... the assassins are also using false ones. Since I don't understand what's going on, I remain silent.
Nova returns her attention to me. “I am here to offer your people an alliance. If you work for me, you will get all the resources and the magic you want. I just want your services with your people's special magic. You will get a place on Illum, where you are protected. What do you say?”
Willow shakes her head.
I was wary from the beginning, but Willow wants to tell me something. Is this person not trustworthy? “What happens if we refuse?”
Nova places her sword on her free shoulder and smiles. “Then we finish off the remaining assassins and go our separate ways. But it seems to me like your people aren't able to refuse the offer.”
I turn around and look at the hive, which was nothing but a huge pile of dirty rags. They were given to us by our captors after they took our real hive away. Around and above the pile of dirty rags are the one hundred and eighty-three fairies who remain of my people.
I am the only one who is old enough to remember the time when we were free. When the hive was a large, hexagonal structure of gold and silver, housing over two thousand of us. We had everything we needed. Warriors and craftsmen flourished in our society. Now, we have weavers and dirt collectors, as there are no other resources.
Slowly, I try to take in the state of the dimly glowing fairies who remain. They are broken. We are broken. If we return to the wilderness, we may as well end it right here and now. Maybe in another generation.
The distant explosions remind me that the assassins were attacked. Will they return if we simply stay here? But what kind of leader would I be if I simply allow us to return to slavery?
I turn back to the woman and Willow. The little fairy who left us so many years ago looks at me and the others with a mournful expression on her face. She is clad in good clothes and probably didn't realize that the assassins treat us worse and worse as time goes on. When we were ordered to hand Willow over, we still had thrice our current numbers.
Sighing, I fly closer and offer the woman my hand. “We accept.” I just hope that I didn't just sell us into a worse form of slavery.
Nova smiles wickedly and holds out her pinky in order to seal the deal.