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Wiccer leaned against the marble railing of the small balcony that overlooked the blooming city below. His pearl-white cloak swam in the cool evening air and his thoughts scattered like the infinite sands of Scorch: unsteadily, listlessly, and utterly directionless. Then at once, his thoughts violently washed over him and there was nowhere he could run or hide to escape the coarse avalanche. His mind raced back hours ago, to the castle keep where he and his brother kept watch…

 

“Wiccer, get the king out of here!” Avren roared. His sword shimmered in the glaze of the daylight that seeped from the open window where Tesha had entered. She stood on the war table, unfazed by Avren's blade. A series of daggers whizzed into the floorboards, stopping Jaelyn and Wiccer in their tracks.

“I think it would be best that the king hears what I have to say,” she said. She gave Wiccer a thin smile as he moved himself in front of the elven king, “If I wanted the king dead, I would have killed him when you two noble idiots weren't here.”

“What did you call–” started Avren.

“We are losing valuable time here,” Tesha interrupted, “Jaelyn, I'm here on a mission to protect you from my clan. As we speak, my clan has sent a squad of assassins to deal with you. As much as I hate to admit it, they are very skilled. Without my help, you may perish this night.”

Wiccer cautiously moved his hand away from his blade's handle, “Why should we trust a Rabbit? Especially one working against its own clan?”

Tesha flipped her hand through her wavy, vibrant red hair. Her amber elven eyes gazed into Wiccer's, “An excellent question, my handsome White Cloak. My clan is much like the sun. It nourishes one flower, while the rest wither in the shade.”

“What do you gain from your clan's failure?” Wiccer asked, still unconvinced.

“I would have saved the king's life. No doubt I would have gained enough trust to build the foundation of a relationship between our people; exclusive contracts, perhaps. After all, don't we all wish to be praised as heroes?”

“I would indeed hail you a hero for turning against your clan to protect me,” said Jaelyn, “We shall set a trap for these villains. With my White Cloaks aligned with a Black Rabbit, they will stand no chance.” The king brandished a wide smile and clapped his hands, “I want to be present for this.”

“Absolutely not!” Avren gestured his hands in a motion to display that he completely disagreed with the entire situation.

“It's not your call. You may lead your Cloaks, but I hired them. You take commands from me. This isn't the first time someone has tried to kill me, and I’m sure that this will not be the last,” The king turned to Tesha, “You, Rabbit, who is coming to assassinate me?”

“Elucard leads two. Inle, his student, and a medic known as Jetta.”

Jaelyn scrunched his face in disgust, “This Elucard and his team will hang from broken necks in the town square tomorrow. I will personally see to it.”

“Your Grace, I highly advise against this plan. If this Elucard intends to kill you, why should we give him such an opportunity?” Avren said, this time remembering his courtesies.

“Captain, I do not fear what goes 'bump' in the night. For when it does, I 'bump' back.”

 

Wiccer anxiously thumbed the edge of his blade. So, Elucard. My honorable deed will haunt me. He resolved then and there that he would not spare him a second time.

“What troubles you, sergeant?” The quiet but kind voice broke up his thoughts. Wiccer turned and found himself looking at an elf, roughly his age. He was clothed in fine nobleman threads. The circlet around his forehead and a Dawnedge signet ring marked him as royalty. By his side stood a large wolf that had brilliant cobalt fur eye an eye that sparked wild with magic. It nudged at the elf's hand.

Wiccer knelt in the presence of the Prince of Long Whisper, “Prince Koda. I-I was only thinking…”

Koda chuckled, “Yes, I can see that. What about?”

“Yes, a dumb response. I was thinking about tonight, and my responsibilities, my future, everything, I suppose.”

“Ah, I see. Everything often gets cluttered in one's mind,”Koda knelt down to playfully run his hands through the thick fur of his familiar. Wildeye hefted her giant paws onto Koda's shoulders and licked him mercilessly, “It helps to have a friend that can clear out that mess in your head!”

Wiccer leaned on the railing and looked towards the horizon. The sun was setting and crimson and purple clouds covered its retreat, “I have the stress of protecting an entire city, commanding men, battling for my life. You have it easy. You share little responsibilities with your father. I can't just have a dog lick me and have it all just be better.”

Koda's face went stiff.

“Forgive me my Prince, I–” Wiccer bowed baffled by his poor choice of words.

Koda waved him off, putting a light grip on Wiccer's broad shoulder, “My friend, it is true that we have different worries and duties. But no matter which boots we walk in and which roads we are led down, we must always keep an open mind. An open mind is a clear mind. A clear mind is a sharp mind. A sharp mind… that is a weapon you must favor. Nevertheless, have a good night, my friend. Think well on what I have said here tonight.”

Koda walked away with Wildeye softly panting at his side as Avren and Elisa stepped out onto the balcony.

“Avren, we'll have to be getting ready soon. Has she decided to help us spy on her clan?”

“As of now things are too heated. I can't risk going back to the compound. I learned from my contacts that both the High Blade and the First Blade are missing,” Elisa said, slightly anxious with the mood of the night.

“High Blade and First Blade; so, Avalon and Vada, as you called them. How are they missing?” Wiccer asked, a bit annoyed by Elisa's lack of cooperation.

“Avalon left the clan and Vada was tasked with hunting her down. Desertion from the clan is punishable by death. You see why I can't go back,” Elisa continued.

“All I see is a Rabbit losing its usefulness,” Wiccer sneered.

Elisa looked earnestly towards Avren, who scowled at his brother, “Wiccer, enough. Elisa brings news of who this Tesha might be and whether she can be trusted.”

“Well?” Wiccer said, tapping a nervous foot.

“According to my contacts, Tesha is the new apprentice of Malady. His previous apprentice was killed by Elucard. Overall I know very little of this Tesha. Malady, however, I know. He's a cunning man – a snake in the grass. He can not be trusted, but in this case he works for your advantage. But do not forget, he works only toward his own ends.”

“So this isn't a trap?” Avren asked.

“No, I don't believe so. This is some sort of revenge against Elucard at the very least. At the very most it is a power play against his own clan,” Elisa finished.

“Nice work, Elisa. Wiccer, let's head out and get ready for our guests,” Avren said, nodding approvingly at Elisa.

 

***

 

The moon was a sliver in the night, partially shrouded by navy blue clouds. The air was laden with the thick scent of rain. Inle led Jetta and Elucard passed the guards and to a small marble balcony. The trio slipped in smoothly.

“It's all so quiet,” Jetta whispered, “There should be guests arriving and music playing. The ball is tonight, isn't it?”

Inle checked a pair of double doors before scanning the stairs leading downwards, “No servants either.”

“Let's check the throne room. Perhaps the king is awaiting guests there,” Elucard said, beckoning his team to follow.

Elucard deftly navigated through the rafters. Slipping between the large wooden doors, Inle and Jetta followed suit. The team dropped down into the shadows of two large adjacent pillars.

King Jaelyn sat patiently on his throne. Elucard slowly retrieved a small throwing knife from his belt, taking aim at the king's throat; he let it loose.

To the shock of the three, Tesha dropped from the shadows of the rafters, deflecting the steel dagger with a throwing knife of her own. Elucard's projectile ricocheted and lodged into the pillar inches from his head. Immediately the thundering sound of marching boots flooded into the throne room and an army of White Cloaks surrounded the Rabbits. Wiccer and Avren entered from parallel doors and walked to either side of the king.

Tesha waltzed, shrugging towards the stunned Elucard, “A pity it turned out this way, Elucard. I admit, you are kind of cute.” She gently brushed a finger down his black leather armor.

“Tesha, you traitorous bitch!” he furiously whispered.

“Now, now, Elucard, doesn't it feel awful to have everything you worked for just stripped away from you?”

Elucard seethed with anger as he clenched his teeth and balled his fists.

“You now know how my master, Malady, has felt for years. But don't worry, Elucard, you won't feel this way for nearly as long,” Tesha continued as she walked back to the throne, taking a seat on one of its arms and crossing her legs.

“Master, what are your orders?” Inle whispered. His hands shook nervously.

“Elucard, we have to get out of here! Abandon this mission and get going while we're still able to,” Jetta pleaded.

“No, we have a mission and we're getting it done. Inle, you and I will deal with these lesser Cloaks. I have a feeling the real challenge will be with those officers next to Jaelyn. Jetta, stay back, join the fray only if you have no other choice.”

Inle grinned wickedly under his mask. Jetta nodded and backed into a corner, her hand hovered slightly over her haversack.

Jaelyn, silent until now, lifted a single hand, “Arrest them.”

Several White Cloaks rushed headlong toward Elucard and Inle, whose hands sprung backwards before leaping forwards in perfect unison, as only a teacher and student would. They made quick work of their opponents, exerting as little effort as possible by targeting vital spots with lethal precision.

In mere minutes, the last White Cloak fell slain at the feet of the two assassins. Elucard's brow still furrowed from the betrayal.

“Inle, the king is the primary target, but do not let your guard down. I recognize one of these men. He is strong. No doubt his captain will be stronger.”

Wiccer approached, sword in hand, “Ah, so you remember me, Elucard. Have you mentioned to your friend here how I left you for dead in a ravine?”

Elucard moved to meet Wiccer, “That was some time ago,” Elucard swung his blade, clashing against the steel of Wiccer's steel, “You'll find it much more difficult to best me a second time!”

Inle smirked and dashed for Avren. However, his opponent was ready and rammed his shoulder into Inle’s chest. Inle skidded and tumbled backwards. Jetta ran to Inle's side but he pushed her away, “I'm fine! Get back to cover!” Jetta quickly retreated back into the shadows, furious.

Avren lunged into the air, bringing down his sword with a heavy swing. Inle sprung up and quickly parried, swinging back around and viciously slashing at Avren's side. Grunting, Avren kicked Inle into a neighboring pillar, dazing him. Avren followed through, thrusting his blade into Inle's shoulder. Inle roared in pain, “Jetta!”

Inle kicked Avren backwards, tearing the blade out of his body. He collapsed into Jetta's arms, “You’re going to have to make this quick, Jetta!” Avren began to gather himself for another attack.

Jetta quickly examined the deep wound. She took out a patch of cloth that glowed bright red and placed it on top of the wound. She pressed down hard as the cloth made a sizzling sound, cauterizing the injury. Inle groaned in complete pain when she removed the cloth.

“Sorry, Inle. I know blister cloth hurts like hell.” Blister cloth was aptly named. Inle's wound had blistered and scarred, but he was able to tenderly rotate his shoulder again. Nodding to the medic, Inle leaped at Avren and landed a swift kick to his chest.

Avren slid back and followed through with a hefty swing, but was met with a clash of steel. Both men matched attacks with skillful parries.

Inle sent a stream of twirling daggers at Avren, some of which lodged into his arm and shoulder. Avren charged, grabbing Inle's collar and bashed him repeatedly in the face with the guard of his sword. Luckily for Inle, his mask took the brunt of the strikes, but he felt the concussive blows all the same. Inle dropped to the floor, completely dazed.

Meanwhile, Wiccer led with a flurry of swings, leaving Elucard to duck, tumble, and dodge the relentless attacks. Circling around, Elucard jumped for an abrasive counter of his own, sneaking a slash into Wiccer's torso.

Inspecting the wound, Wiccer found it was non fatal, and he rushed in close, elbowing the assassin under the jaw. Elucard grimaced and Wiccer grabbed the elf's arm and ruthlessly kicked at his chest. There was a gruesome popping sound as Elucard's right arm went limp. Elucard swiftly switched his sword into his left hand, just barely making an awkward parry from a deadly thrust. Elucard's face twisted as Wiccer backhanded him with an armored fist. Blood spewed from his mouth as he collided with the ground.

Elucard clenched his teeth in pain as he struggled to stand. Stealing a glance at Wiccer's attempt at a savage kick to the ribs, Elucard held his breath as Jetta leaped over him to land a drop kick, blowing back Wiccer. Jetta turned, “Keep still!” she commanded.

Elucard did as he was told, but arched his back in agony as Jetta pushed his dislodged shoulder back into place, “Ahh! Jetta! Are you sure you aren’t doing more harm than good?!” Elucard teased, still wincing as he stretched his arm, gingerly testing his shoulder.

“I have no clue how you're supposed to be the new First Blade,” she joked.

Wiccer held his broken nose from the surprise kick, as he recovered his blade, “You still lack the necessary skills to beat me.”

“Then perhaps I'll quit holding back,” said Elucard as he juked and slid behind Wiccer. Seizing his opportunity, Elucard drove his blade into the back of Wiccer's thigh, dropping him to the ground. While Wiccer was screaming in agony, Elucard grabbed the tuft of his hair and whispered into his ear, “You spared me. I suppose it is only right that I return the favor.” Elucard slammed the Cloak's head into the ground, knocking him out cold.

Inle was now fairing better as well. Spinning to avoid another thrust to his injured shoulder, Inle backed into Avren, following up with a hand chop to Avren's throat. Avren went down hard, choking and gasping for air. Inle took the moment to run Avren through with his sword, before kicking him onto his side. Turning his head, Inle caught Jaelyn and Tesha escaping towards a side door, “Elucard, the king!”

Elucard reached into his side pouch, grabbing a smoke pellet and breaking it between Tesha and Jaelyn. Tesha shoved Jaelyn to the side, sending him crashing through a nearby door, “Make haste, I'll deal with Elucard.”

Tesha could barely see through the densely clouded room. She lifted her magenta scarf over her nose and mouth, trying desperately to hold in her coughs. Several shurikens darted through the smoke. Tesha managed to deflect two of them, but a third grazed her cheek. She launched an attack of her own, sending a fan of daggers flying through the smoke. She listened carefully and heard a grunt. She smirked and careened a kick in that direction.

Elucard allowed the strike to catch him in his chest, pushing him back as he grabbed Tesha by the ankle, swinging her into a wall. Taking advantage of a stunned Tesha, Elucard thrusted his sword into the traitor’s gut. Tesha smiled as blood bubbled out of the corners of her mouth. With the last ounce of her strength, she palmed two daggers and drove them under Elucard’s ribs, “A parting gift from Malady.”

Elucard screamed, filled with rage and twisted the handle of his blade savagely before tearing it out of her flesh. A gruesome flood of blood spilled onto the white floor.

Jaelyn scrambled down the hall calling for any help that he could find. Several shuriken found their mark in his back and he fell into a messy heap on the marble floor. He sloppily moved to get back up. Running from the end of the hall, Koda and Tull rushed to Jaelyn's aid.

“It's too late, Jaelyn,” Elucard said in a low, tired voice. He limped, holding his pain-stricken side with one hand. A freshly blood soaked magenta scarf wrapped around his sword handle. The assassin mustered the last of his strength as he dashed, slicing the back of the elf king's legs. Jaelyn fell to his knees. Elucard's sword rested on Jaelyn's shoulder, tapping his neck gently.

“Spare my son,” Jaelyn said in a soft voice.

Elucard locked eyes with the fallen King, nodded, and swung his blade. The loud clanging of a crown hitting the ground filled the air. Elucard lifted his eyes to find Koda standing only an arm’s length away. Unfathomable sadness and fury filled the prince’s face all at once. Elucard lifted his blade at the prince, warning him to stay back.

“Elucard, we need to leave now!” Jetta shouted firmly. She grabbed his arm, tugging him away from Koda, who was utterly frozen in place, “Come on!”

Elucard turned to look at Jetta, her eyes begged him to feel something, anything.

“Come on, you bastard! We have to go!”

She continued to pull on him to no avail, and silence floated between the two for a moment that felt like an eternity. Elucard's aching arm was still raised with his blade pointing at the grief-stricken Koda. Tull stood still, unable to make a move while his nephew was so close to danger. A minute, maybe more, passed. The ambiance of the rain outside was the only sound that sunk through the moment.

Elucard, exhausted both physically and mentally from the turbulent night managed a single soft word, “Sorry.”

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