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  1. #21
    DP Visionary Preybird's Avatar
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    The threads are unravelling......

    ----------------------

    Digging Deeper

    Mikhail looked around the dingy little bar that Raven had led him to. It had been down a long flight of stairs nestled in between two blocks of tenements. The two armed guards outside the entrance added a touch of menace and ensured that the owner of the bar wasn’t going anywhere until he had been cleared of any wrong doing.

    Inside the bar was relatively tidy, except behind the counter where broken bottles were strewn everywhere and the trapdoor to the cellar still open. On top of one of the tables a makeshift bed was set up, a simple mattress, quilt and pillow. Sitting down in a corner with a bottle of whiskey was a slightly rotund individual, though it was obvious that in his youth he would have had an impressive physique. He had broad shoulders and strong arms, though they were now covered in a layer of fat.

    “Hector?” Raven asked as they approached. In response the man simply nodded. “We need to ask you some questions.”

    Hector cast an eye over them before speaking, and Mikhail could tell his mind was building up a profile for both of them. His eyes indicated that this man had seen a lot in his life and was more than the filthy barkeep his appearance indicated. Hector tilted his head toward Mikhail. “You’re not from here. Castigor Guard am I right?”

    “Correct.”

    “Someone from your kingdom killed Bertie you bastard.” Hector snarled.

    “King Lambert.” Raven corrected.

    “Screw you, he was my friend. He’s Bertie to me.” Hector took another swig from the whiskey bottle. “Besides, he’s dead now. Can’t be a King if you’re dead.”

    “Regardless you will show him respect.” Raven replied.

    “I do. I respect him more than most of you lot. You respect him because he was your superior; I respect him because of what he has done for this place. For what he did for me.” Hector paused. “We fought together back when he was a Prince, defending Mosea from raiders and even other kingdoms seeking our lands. He saved my life from a barbarian’s steel. He visited here every day since his ascension to King to keep a tired old warrior company. He was my friend when my other friends had forgotten me. And this sorry piece of shit….” He pointed at Mikhail. “took him away.”

    Mikhail decided it was time to step in. “I understand you’re upset, and I understand your hostility toward me. But I don’t think the assassin came from our kingdom, and if you give me a couple of minutes of your time I can explain why.”

    “Why would I listen to you?” Hector snorted.

    “Because he’s right.” Raven stated, dropping the matchbook on the table.

    Mikhail sat down opposite Hector. “This matchbook came from a club in Castigor called the Foxy Feast. The thing is its months old according to the manager. Now, who has a matchbook for months on end…” He opened it. “With a full set of matches inside?”

    Hector frowned. “What are you saying?”

    “I’m saying this was planted. Whoever this assassin is, they want you to blame Castigor.” Mikhail replied. “Now, Mosea isn’t the only kingdom to have suffered loss in the last week. Castigor’s Princess Aleena was assassinated, as was King Harak of his self-named kingdom. At each scene was evidence pointing to another kingdom being responsible. I’m beginning to doubt the quality of the evidence there too, but I need something to connect all these events.”

    “You want to look around?”

    “Yes, but first I want to ask was there anyone else in the bar when King Lambert was here?”

    Hector thought for a minute. “My heads a bit fuzzy from that day, I took a whiskey bottle to the top of the head, but yes… there was one other person here. In a hood.”

    “Do you remember anything else about them?” Mikhail asked.

    Hector paused again. “Um… not really. I remember they didn’t order anything. I don’t remember them coming in though, I just turned around and they were there.”

    “Where were they sitting?” Raven asked.

    Hector pointed to the table his bed was set up on. “There.”

    Mikhail stood up and together with Raven they took the makeshift bed off the table top. Once they’d removed the mattress Mikhail turned his attention to the table and benches, running his hand along them. On the far side of the table Mikhail found what he was looking for. “Raven, look.”

    Raven came over and looked at where Mikhail was pointing. On the table were scratch marks, made by someone clawing at the table as they sat. “Scratch marks?” She asked quizzically.

    Mikhail frowned. “Yes. I found these at the site of my Princess’ assassination as well.” He gently ran his hands over them. “This is the first piece of evidence that may connect these attacks and lend credence to my theory.” He began looking around the table, but there was little else to discover. Any other evidence of the assassin would’ve been disturbed by Hector as he moved around the bar.

    “Was there anything special about that day at all?” Mikhail asked Hector.

    Hector pursed his lips for a moment. “Nothing really, it had rained the night before and the cellar was muddy, but that’s it.”

    “Another question, you weren’t here when the attack happened?”

    Hector shook his head. “No, I had to go down into the cellar to change the barrels; the one attached to my tap had gone dry.”

    “I need to see the cellar.” Mikhail told Hector as he headed behind the counter.

    “Okay. Watch the broken glass.” Hector replied. “There’s a candle near the stairs, and a book of matches to light it.”

    Mikhail slowly made his way into the darkened cellar and fumbled around for the candle. Once it was lit he moved with a bit less caution, looking at the barrels. Hector had gone into the cellar and when he had returned King Lambert was dead. It got him thinking, was it just opportunity for the killer, or did they somehow plan for Hector to be here?

    Mikhail searched around until he found the empty barrel that Hector had changed. It had been undisturbed, presumably because Hector was under surveillance since the assassination and he had been unable to remove it. Mikhail began to examine it, running his hands over its surface. It was caked in mud from the ground, and it was a long process rubbing it all away. But when Mikhail had finished he noticed something, a small hole near the bottom of the barrel. Standing it up he looked at it and pondered.

    The hole itself was not very big, but it was enough to cause the ale inside to slowly leak out, leaving just enough for only a couple of glasses before it needed changing. His mind racing, Mikhail climbed out of the cellar and ran around the side to the external entrance. Another pair of guards were there just in case Hector had any ideas of escape, but they paid Mikhail little heed as he examined the lock on the trap door. Scratch marks around the lock proved that it had been picked recently. Mikhail went back into the bar and grabbed Raven.

    “We need to go now.” Mikhail told her, nodding at Hector. “Thank you for your time Hector.”

    “It was a pleasure.” He snarled sarcastically, taking a swig from his whiskey.

    “What’s going on?” Raven demanded as Mikhail practically dragged her out of the bar and into the sunlight.

    “Hector is innocent. The assassin planned this meticulously.” Mikhail stated. “They came the night before and punctured a hole in the barrel, causing it to nearly empty overnight. Hector mentioned it had been raining the night before the attack, so any moisture on the ground would’ve been put down to the rains, and the smell of alcohol permeates bar cellars constantly anyway, so Hector wouldn’t have noticed.”

    Realisation plastered itself over Raven’s face. “I get it. The King visited Hector every morning. The assassin made sure that the taps would run dry when he arrived, so that Hector would have to leave King Lambert to fix them, giving them the opportunity to do the deed.”

    “Exactly.”

    “I must notify Jericho that Hector should be released.” Raven replied.

    “Do that. Then we need to head to Aladene.” Mikhail stated. “We’re about ten steps behind the game, and it’s time we caught up.”
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  2. #22
    DP Visionary Preybird's Avatar
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    A unique way of looking at a very common card

    -------------------------

    Declaration of Intent

    The trade cart slowly made its way through the camp, its owner warily keeping an eye on the hundreds of soldiers going about their business as they sharpened blades, sparred, set up tents or simply stood at guard. It had been 48 hours since the Herodian army had arrived on the outskirts of Aladene and begun setting up, and it had been a tense time for all involved.

    Jaime scowled at the trade cart before turning to Captain Baraston. “And just why are we letting trade carts into Aladene? What kind of siege is this?”

    “It’s not a siege, Sergeant Markell.” Baraston replied, “We are not at war with Harak, not yet. This is merely a message.”

    Jaime grunted and returned his attention to the passing cart. He was a Bloodhelm, one of the elite warriors from the allied city of Puwen, and never in all his years had he known a situation such as this.

    “So how do we intend on delivering this message?” Jaime asked grumpily with his back turned. “Sitting out here and letting life go on in that city only says we’re afraid of them.”

    “Aladene’s standing army is ten times what we have here. They have the fortifications and the manpower to hold us off indefinitely. Sure we could lay siege, but we would have to spread so thinly it would not take much effort for the Harak to punch holes in our line.” Baraston sighed. “But you are right, just camping here is not enough. Which is why I am meeting with King Harak today to seek answers.”

    “Alone?” Jaime asked. “That’s insane.”

    Baraston lifted his arms and smiled. “But you’re all here to keep me safe.”

    “I don’t think Harak is going to let an army march in after you.”

    Baraston’s smile faded. “Of course not. But I will be taking a retinue of a dozen soldiers.” he replied. “Which brings me to my second point. As the senior sergeant here, you will maintain the camp while I’m in Aladene.”

    Jaime turned to face him again. “Understood sir. Don’t get killed.”

    Baraston smiled again. “Not an option.”

    -------------------------

    They’ve been gone a bloody long time.

    Jaime tapped his fingers on the table as he always did when he was bored shitless. The sun had nestled behind the horizon some time ago and a gentle moonlight played over the camp. It had been over six hours since Captain Baraston had left for the meeting with his retinue. He rapped his knuckles twice on the table as he stood up and left the Captain’s tent.

    Jaime went straight to his squad of Bloodhelms, who were rotating through a near constant regiment of combat training and equipment maintenance. Each of his men paused when he approached, though he did hear the distinctive whack of a training sword connecting, its wielder too committed to the strike to stop it in time.

    “Sarge.” Corporal Tomas Vakarr said, standing at attention. Vakarr was acting squad Sergeant whilst Jaime was in charge of the camp. “What can I help you with?”

    “At ease, Corporal.” Jaime ordered. “I need you and the squad to head into Aladene and find out what’s happening with Captain Baraston. Now, I don’t trust those Harak bastards as far as I could throw a horse, so I want you going in plain clothes. Take one of the supply carts and act like traders.”

    “At once Sergeant.” Vakarr replied, and turned to relay the orders to his men. Jaime left them to it; he had complete confidence in Corporal Vakarr’s abilities and knew they would get to the bottom of this.

    -------------------------

    The gate watch didn’t give a second glance to the supply cart as it moved into Aladene, the sight of continued trade keeping morale up in the face of the army camped on their doorstep. Vakarr smiled, the guards were so lax they hadn’t even bothered to look under the tarp, which was a good thing as there were five of his squad hiding under there. Vakarr waited until they were well out of sight of the gate before signalling for his men to disembark.

    “All right men.” Vakarr began, “No doubt the Captain would’ve taken the most direct route to the palace, so that’s where we’ll start. Hopefully he’s just tied up in a long drawn out meeting, but for now we have to assume to worst, so keep an eye out. Remember, we’re just regular civilians, so slouch a bit.”

    The road to the palace was much longer than it looked, and it was entirely uneventful. There was no evidence of any kind that Baraston hadn’t made it to the palace, so they decided to stake out the gates of the palace for a while. Vakarr had lost track of how long they were there when Guardsman Frost tugged on his sleeve and announced he had to take a leak.

    Vakarr tilted his head toward a nearby alleyway. “Over there. Be quick about it.”

    Frost nodded and hurried around the corner. After a few moments the sound of a barrel falling over in the alleyway made him gather the men and go after him. No doubt it was only a cat or other small animal, but it was safer to be sure. Heading around they found Frost lying prone on the ground, a look of horror on his face. He looked at Vakarr then pointed up at a nearby balcony. Vakarr looked up and his gut froze.

    Hanging over the edge with a whip tied around his neck was the lifeless form of Captain Baraston.
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  3. #23
    Senior Member Reshiram99's Avatar
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    Ah, a Bloodhelm of Puwen (Puwen Bloodhelm). Never thought of interpreting Puwen's name like that, but now that I think of it, it certainly makes more sense.
    Fire Snakes are high in Vitamin D.

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  4. #24
    DP Visionary Preybird's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Reshiram99 View Post
    Ah, a Bloodhelm of Puwen (Puwen Bloodhelm). Never thought of interpreting Puwen's name like that, but now that I think of it, it certainly makes more sense.
    Puwen is a name that's odd enough to actually not be a name Doesn't work with Blake or Jasmine or Lily for example.
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  5. #25
    DP Visionary Preybird's Avatar
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    Another double post! This one is starting to wind up, the big reveal is coming

    -------------------

    Simmering Tensions

    Mikhail and Raven slowly walked through the gates to Aladene. Mikhail looked back at the ever growing army on the outskirts of the city. The Herodians were beginning to bring in siege engines and trebuchets, and in response the Harak were lining their walls with archers, hot oil cauldrons, and preparing the ballistas. Mikhail could also see sparks of magic as mages on both sides used pyrotechnics to intimidate their foes. Harak and Herodius were on the verge of full scale war. He wasn’t entirely sure why, but given what had been happening, he surmised a Herodian noble had met their end.

    Mikhail looked over at Raven. Normally she was well kept, but she had intentionally left her hair un-brushed and tussled, and made sure her clothes were muddy. She no longer looked like an envoy for a King, but instead a down-on-her-luck farmer’s wife. Mikhail was also intentionally shabby, having let his beard grow out somewhat. He had discarded his uniform and instead wore a pair of dirty and torn overalls. Still, the guards at the gate took their time to inspect them. One in particular took too long looking at Raven.

    “You’re a pretty thing.” He said, slurring his words slightly. “You’d scrub up nice. How’s about a kiss?”

    “I don’t think so.” Raven replied simply. Mikhail noticed she’d taken on a slightly more demure tone to imply innocence with a touch of fear.

    The guard moved closer. “You want to get in don’t you love? Come on, just a peck. Otherwise I’ll have no choice but to leave you out in the cold.”

    Raven sighed. Mikhail could tell she wanted to gut this fool and knew she could do it without breaking a sweat, but in the interest of maintaining their cover she relented. However the guard had no interest in just a peck, grabbing her and pressing hard into her. He squeezed her backside while forcing his tongue down her throat. In response Raven pushed him off her before spinning him around, unbalancing him and sending him tumbling onto the dirt. As the guard stood up he began to draw his blade, but the mocking laughter of the other guards caused him to sheath his weapon. He sheepishly waved Mikhail and Raven on and they walked into Aladene, the laughter continuing until they were well away from the gates.

    Raven feverishly rubbed her lips to remove any trace of the guard. “He’s on my list.”

    Mikhail laughed. “You’ve embarrassed him enough. The guards won’t let him live it down.”

    “Should’ve broken his nose. And then some.” She sighed. “Anyway, where is this friend of yours?”

    “Probably in the palace.” Mikhail replied, pointing towards the overly ostentatious building in front of them. “He’s done well in the years since we went our separate ways. He’s now the Captain of the Guard.”

    -------------------------

    “I knew you’d come here eventually Mik.” Rakir said. Despite the warm welcome, the two had descended into a solemn demeanour when they got down to business. “You’re not one to ever ignore your gut. And I could use your gut instinct right now.”

    “That’s why you let me know about your King?” Mikhail asked. “Because you knew I’d get curious?”

    Rakir nodded, a slight smirk on his face. “That and, like you, I think there’s more going on. I just don’t have the nous to piece it all together.”

    “Well, let’s get started. What happened?”

    Rakir exhaled. “Ok, just over a week ago the former King was killed by a poison arrow. He was standing in the city plaza nearest the palace addressing the latest batch of conscripts when he was killed.”

    “Ok, that’s what I got from your message.” Mikhail stated.

    “Of course, no sense in repeating what you already know.” Rakir replied. “Anyway, we found a likely vantage point and some evidence in the form of a coin from Karamok with the remnants of poison on it. We’re guessing it was in the assassin’s pocket and he spilt some on it as he prepared.”

    “Seems very convenient.” Mikhail replied, turning to Raven. “Just like our matchbook.”

    “That’s what I was thinking. It’s hardly conclusive, but enough to give us a nudge in a direction.” Rakir said.

    “Most likely the wrong one.” Mikhail added. “So far all these deaths feel like they’re pointing us away from the real target. Incidentally, why is the Herodian army setting up on your doorstep?”

    “Prince Calchis of Herodius was assassinated in his room five nights ago. The kukri they found in his chest bore the Harak seal. Then when they send an envoy he winds up being hung over a ledge by his neck.”

    “I trust your people had nothing to do with it?” Mikhail frowned.

    “If they did, I know nothing about it. Unfortunately I’m not privy to every one of the King’s dealings.” Rakir replied frankly. “But I’m inclined to say that these assassins are still baiting us all.”

    “Or assassin.” Mikhail stated. “I’m still not convinced we’re dealing with multiple assassins.”

    “One of your famous gut feelings huh?” Rakir smiled slightly.

    “You could say that. Can we see the vantage point?”

    “Sure. Follow me.”

    -------------------------

    The wind was quite powerful on the rooftop and Mikhail had to hold his hand in front of his face to keep it from stinging his eyes. Behind him he could hear Raven groan with frustration as she once again pushed her hair out of her face.

    “Storm’s coming in.” Rakir said simply as he led them to where he found the coin. “This is it.”

    Mikhail looked out at the plaza, then at Rakir. “One hell of a shot.”

    “You don’t say. But this is the closest building with a suitable vantage point.” The wind whipping around them made conversation difficult.

    “You’re dead certain it wasn’t someone at ground level?” Mikhail replied as he knelt down and looked at the ledge that ran along the rooftop.

    “Positive. The arrow hit the King at quite a severe decline. It had to be from height.”

    Mikhail said nothing as he examined the rooftop, there was little else to be found besides a small stain on the roof where the poisoned coin had rested. He looked out again at the plaza. Something about this felt wrong and it took him a minute to put his finger on it.

    Exposure.

    The assassin was too exposed here, and clearly visible. The King could have seen them line up the shot, as could his guard. There was no way they could’ve caught them unprepared. No, the assassin had to be hidden.

    “Is there a room directly below us?” Mikhail asked.

    Rakir nodded. “Yes, there’s an office there, but my men searched it thoroughly.”

    “I need to see it.”

    Rakir nodded and led Mikhail down the stairs and out of the stinging wind. Mikhail could hear Raven sigh as she finally got her hair in order. Rakir opened the door to the office and led them inside. It was a rather basic office with a table in the centre of the room, a bookcase to one side, two chairs and little else to speak of. A single window was behind the chair, with a clear view to the plaza.

    Instantly Mikhail knew this was what he was looking for. “There.” He pointed toward the floor.

    “What?” Raven and Rakir asked simultaneously.

    “Look, the floor has scratches all over it.” Mikhail replied, following them with his finger. “This table was moved to the side wall recently, and then moved back.” He quickly walked over to the window and began looking around the wall. After a few minutes he tapped the wall, turned to Raven and smiled. “Look here.”

    Raven walked over. “Scratch marks, just like in Hector’s bar. It’s our guy.”

    Mikhail nodded and turned to Rakir. “This is where the assassin shot from, the coin is planted evidence. From here they could still hit the King, but they had the benefit of concealment. They moved the furniture out of the way so they could have a clear shot, then put it all back when they were done.”

    “They hung around just to rearrange the room? Why not run?”

    “To conceal their presence. It only takes a few seconds to put everything back roughly where it’s meant to go. Even looking at the table I can see it’s not totally straight.” Mikhail explained. “Get your men and turn this room inside and out, there may be more evidence that I haven’t seen.”

    “I’ll get right on it.” Rakir gave Mikhail a key. “This is for my apartment; the address is on the key. Make yourself at home, and I’ll meet you there tonight. Hopefully we’ll have something to go on.”

    Mikhail nodded and Rakir left to get his men. He stood there pondering until Raven nudged him in the back.

    “Come on, let’s go.” She said, half pushing him out the door. “I’m hungry.”

    Mikhail got into step behind Raven as they began walking down the stairs, his mind racing with possibilities. He could feel he was getting closer to the end, but he felt nervous at what he would find there, and what it would mean for the five Kingdoms.
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  6. #26
    DP Visionary Preybird's Avatar
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    Smoke and Mirrors

    “Is this true?” Dinear exclaimed as he read through his Sergeant’s report.

    Sergeant Willis nodded. “Indeed it is my Liege. The spies indicate that the other four Kingdoms in the region have all suffered loss, and each points to another Kingdom as the perpetrator.”

    “Is there any idea who these assassins are?" Dinear asked.

    “There is no evidence to their identities, just these singular pieces implicating other Kingdoms.”

    Dinear frowned. “The evidence is obviously planted.” He looked back down at the report again. “No commonality with the methods of assassination?”

    Willis shook his head. “Not really. King Harak was murdered by poison arrow, Princess Castigor by axe, King Lambert frozen in ice, and Prince Calchis by kukri. Personally I think Calchis’ death is the most frightening, he was locked in the palace under armed guard at the time.”

    “So what little we have seems to indicate multiple assassins. But this is not a normal situation, so I’m taking nothing at face value.” Dinear replied, sighing. “And it seems like I’m next in line.”

    “That won’t happen my Liege.” Willis stated. “I have tripled security, and we shall move you to the lower labyrinths. You will be safe there.”

    “Have there been any new recruits of late?” Dinear frowned. He didn’t want to be guarded by men he didn’t trust.

    “There are many, but none shall get within a kilometre of you. Only those with over 10 years of service have been reassigned to the palace. It does mean we are a bit lacking in the rest of Draconia, but your safety is paramount to the survival of the Kingdom.”

    “That’s appreciated.” Dinear replied. “Now, whoever these assassins are they’re obviously trying to bring the region into war. But why?”

    Willis shrugged. “Truthfully I am not sure my Liege, there is no evidence to suggest anything. As far as a region goes, we are not particularly prosperous, nor do we control much in the way of Shadow Crystals. Unless I’m missing something.”

    “You’re not.” Dinear replied. “Well, unless I am unaware of some incredibly important resource right under my nose. What is the state of the other kingdoms?”

    “Herodius is on Harak’s doorstep, and both are a stone’s throw away from all-out war. Mosea and Castigor are not yet at that point, they are taking a more level headed approach to this. From what I have heard two of their ranks have come to the same conclusion as you have and are working together.” Willis paused as he consulted his notes. “A Mikhail Aydin and a Raven Wildheart.”

    “I’ve heard of Raven, she is the King’s envoy of Mosea, only recently appointed from their armed forces. Mikhail Aydin is not known to me.”

    “He is a rising star within the Castigor guard and particularly favoured by the King, though I believe that relationship has soured somewhat since the Princess’ death, Mikhail being the one who found her. Should I send someone to contact them, to share information?”

    “No, not yet. It’s too early to put our trust in anyone Sergeant.” Dinear stated. “Send someone to monitor them discreetly however. I want to know what they know.”

    “At once.” Willis bowed. “Now, we should move you without further delay.”

    Dinear stood and moved away from his throne. “Of course. I also wish to speak with Theron. Have him brought to me as soon as I am settled.”

    -------------------------

    The labyrinth beneath the palace was a last ditch defence for the King, a convoluted series of dank tunnels weaving their way deep underground. They were supported by stone arches every ten or so metres, but the vast majority of the labyrinth was dirt and clay. In the centre of the labyrinth was a reasonably well kept chamber however, and a further escape hatch to the outside world if needed.

    “What news have you for me Theron?” Dinear asked, frowning at the situation he found himself in.

    “Harak is preparing for war, as you know.” Theron replied. “Herodius’ envoy was killed within their walls, and the situation there has escalated rapidly. The Harak did not sanction it, according to their conversations, and have no idea who killed him.”

    “Not surprising.” Dinear replied. “Have there been any other developments?”

    “None besides the fact that they seem clueless otherwise.” Theron replied. “How have your other investigations come along?”

    “Nothing really beyond what I had already surmised; that we’re all being played for fools. I’m no closer to figuring out who’s playing us, but I know enough to make sure I’m not taken along for the ride anymore.” Dinear stated. “Rest assured we will discover who is doing this.”

    Theron said no more, but nodded and left the chamber. Dinear wanted to be alone anyway to think.

    “You’re not like the others.” A voice whispered. Dinear spun around to see a hooded man step out of the shadows. He grabbed the dagger on his bedside table, though he knew it would be little defence.

    “And why is that?” Dinear asked.

    “You’re smarter than they are. You’re not following the breadcrumbs I’m leaving behind; you’re making your own conclusions.” The hooded man replied, stepping forward. “That makes you dangerous.”

    “I’m not the only one, you know. Others are tracking you and they will catch you.”

    “Maybe, but not in time.”

    “Tell me, what’s the point of all of this?” Dinear asked. “I mean, you’re going to kill me anyway, might as well share.”

    “Now why would I do that?” The man replied, raising his hand. “No doubt you’re carrying one of those scrying coins, and someone can hear our every word.”

    Dinear smiled despite himself. “Then you know my soldiers are on their way.”

    “And they still won’t be able to save you.” As the man finished speaking, energy burst from his fingertips, colliding with Dinear and blasting him back into the wall. He struggled to breathe as his torso burned with divine energy. The man blasted him again, and the last thing Dinear saw before he slipped into the abyss was a priest’s sash fall to the ground.

    -------------------------

    Theron sighed heavily as Sergeant Willis tipped the bed over in sheer rage. They had been too late, Dinear’s insurance policy not enough to ensure his survival. The assassin had obviously escaped through magical means, most likely a portal. Which would imply a mage, though Dinear’s wounds were more consistent with the sort of energy a Priest would utilize, not to mention the sash.

    His rage only partially satiated, Willis came over to Theron. “What now?”

    “Well, this evidence is obviously false.” Theron replied. “Yet we may still learn something from it. I shall attempt to divine some information through magical means.”

    “As you wish my Lord.” Willis replied, picking up the sash and handing it to Theron. Theron took it and left the chamber, the slight hint of a smile forming on his lips.
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    DP Visionary Mongoosey's Avatar
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    Brilliant stuff
    "I'll have you know I have the reflexes of a cat, and the speed of a mongoose"

    LEGEND of TEAM JUGGERNAUTS


    Recent accolades: season 5, finalist (top 8). UK streetfigher, Conquerors Bane runner-up.
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  8. #28
    DP Visionary Preybird's Avatar
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    The second last part. Maybe if I get the finale finished today it'll go up as well

    ----------------------

    Boiling Over

    “Nothing?” Mikhail asked, resignation evident in his voice.

    Rakir shook his head. “Nothing. Certainly nothing that could identify our assassin. You’re sure that was where he fired from?”

    “Positive. Those scratch marks are identical to ones found at the sites of the other two assassinations.” Mikhail replied.

    “So what now?”

    Mikhail wasn’t entirely sure, so the three of them sat there in Rakir’s apartment without a word, eating their dinner. Eventually Mikhail stopped and put his fork down, and Rakir knew he had a plan.

    -------------------------

    “Peace summit?” Terrence Harak scoffed at the letter. “What garbage is this?”

    Rakir frowned. Since Mikhail and Raven had left Aladene five days ago the situation had deteriorated rapidly. The Herodians had brought more than enough forces in to instigate a full siege of the city, and the population had already begun to feel the pinch. With no food coming in it was only a matter of time before the city began to starve, and even now some of the more enterprising thieves had begun hording food and selling it off. At exorbitant prices of course.

    “My liege, we need to do this. Jericho of Mosea is aiming to stop the region from falling into full scale war.”

    “And let the death of my father go unpunished!?” Terrence roared. “Not to mention these Herodian scum attacking us for no reason!”

    Rakir had to settle himself. “They believe Harak is responsible for the death of their Prince. You have told me that is not the case.” He paused, planning his words carefully so as not to sound condescending. “We are in the same situation. We believe that Karamok killed your father, which is most likely also not the case. My liege, we are all being played.”

    “So what is your wise counsel?” Terrence snarled sarcastically.

    “Go to this summit. We can get you out of Aladene through the palace escape tunnels and have you in Mosea before the Herodian’s even know you’ve left.”

    “No, Khal will go in my stead. You shall accompany him.” Terrence ordered. “I will not leave here and let the Herodian’s think I am a coward.”

    “Yes my liege, I shall see to it immediately.” Rakir bowed and left the throne room to find Khal. He had hoped Terrence would have come with him; it would’ve left the more level-headed Khal here to monitor the siege. However having Khal at the summit instead may prove even more fortuitous. But truthfully this peace summit wasn’t about discussion, it was a trap set for their assassin.

    Just before leaving Aladene and with little else to go on, Mikhail had decided it was time to lure the assassin into the open. And to do that he needed a juicy target, say the gathering of all the remaining leaders of the Kingdoms. The letter proved that Raven had managed to convince Jericho to go along with this plan. It was a risky and desperate play, and Rakir just hoped it wouldn’t end with a lot of dead nobles and a region in war.

    -------------------------

    “Do you truly think this summit will work, Rakir?” Khal asked calmly as they made their way through the tunnel toward the outside world. “I fear the Kingdoms are far too committed to turn back now.”

    “I have something to tell you Khal, but you must keep it to yourself.” Rakir replied. “The summit is a lie. A trap designed to catch the assassin, or assassins. Only by identifying them are we going to end this.”

    Rakir expected Khal to at least be a little angry, but instead he simply nodded. “I did suspect as much. Bringing together the leadership seemed too risky in light of the events of the last few weeks. Do not fear, I shall not give away your secrets.”

    “Thank you, your discretion is appreciated.” Rakir stated.

    “Do bear in mind that there are other attempts to catch these assassins. I do know that in addition to the armies, King Calchis of Herodius has put a bounty out on Lance Shadowstalker, believing we hired him to kill his son.”

    “That’s absurd!” Rakir exclaimed. “Lance is a bloody hero!”

    “Agreed. But King Calchis is ill, and grieving. He is lashing out, and both Herodians killed were done so with weapons favoured by Lance.” Khal shrugged. “It is a conclusion he has come to, however flawed it may be.”

    “Are any other heroes under suspicion?”

    “I cannot say, but these assassinations do cast doubt on the loyalties of certain well known individuals. It is obviously a ploy, but many are not as level headed as you or I, or your friend Mikhail.”

    “That’s true.” Rakir sighed as he opened the trapdoor leading to the surface. He stepped out into the small homestead, well away from the Herodian siege line. Reaching down he helped the elderly Khal up the ladder and into the light. “But once we catch whoever is responsible it’ll all be over.”

    Khal dusted himself off before they started the long journey to Mosea. “I hope so, for all our sakes.”
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  9. #29
    DP Visionary Preybird's Avatar
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    Ok, I finished the finale, so I may as well post it It's a biggin'!

    ----------------

    The End of the Beginning

    “This had better work Mik.” Rakir whispered. Mikhail didn’t respond but simply frowned as the remaining leaders and their envoys gathered in the Temple hall. The tension was palpable, and everyone ensured they were well away from the others lest one of them prove to be the assassin. Mikhail’s keen eye could make out a number of weapons on many of the attendees.

    Casting his eye over the people present Mikhail could see his King with a half dozen King’s Guard nestled in the back. No doubt he had come simply for another look at Raven. However the other Kingdoms had sent envoys, rather than have their leaders risk their lives. Mikhail scowled as he noted the Karam envoy was no more than a Sergeant-at-arms, which told him that Draconia did not take this seriously. Their King was renowned for his cunning and intelligence however, and if anyone had seen through this summit it would’ve been him. Jericho was at the altar preparing to speak, surrounded by guards. Mikhail wasn’t interested in the speech however, so he left Rakir to keep an eye on things in the hall and went to find Raven.

    Raven was out the front, coordinating the Mosean forces defending the summit, sending them off to nearby buildings to secure them against any potential intruders. She waved Mikhail over when she saw him approach.

    “How are we doing?” He asked.

    “Well, as good as it’s going to get truthfully.” Raven replied. “There are so many windows in the temple it’s hard to ensure they’re all covered.”

    “That was the intention for choosing the site, to give the assassin opportunities.”

    Raven sighed. “I know, but I am concerned we’ve given them too many opportunities.”

    “We should have enough forces to cover every vantage point.” Mikhail replied.

    “Don’t forget, this assassin got through the entire palace guard in Herodius.” Raven retorted. “I don’t think we have near enough troops on the ground.”

    Mikhail had to concede that point. This was far less defensible than a palace, but the point was to get the assassin into the open. And as much as he hated to admit it, a dead noble was a price he was willing to pay to catch this assassin and end this war before it began.

    Raven looked up at the sky. “If you were the assassin, who would you go for?” She asked.

    Mikhail pondered for a moment. “Jericho. He’s probably the sole force of reason in that room. With him dead, the rest of them will resort to war.”

    Raven looked at him. “Me, I’d kill them all.”

    It took a moment, but something clicked in Mikhail’s head and his eyes widened. “By the gods you’re right. Why kill one when you can take them all out?” His mind buzzed with activity, and Raven could almost see Mikhail sorting through and discarding possibilities. He looked around at the temple and at the surrounding buildings, but it was when he spotted a manhole cover in the plaza he realised the truth. “Sewers.”

    “A bomb! The sewers pass right through here!” Raven exclaimed. “I didn’t even consider it; there are no men down there! And there are hundreds of metres of tunnels, we’ll never find them!”

    “Have troops stationed at every manhole cover surrounding the temple. If we can’t stop him setting off the bomb, we can hopefully catch him fleeing. And warn Jericho!” He quickly ran to the manhole cover and lifted it clear. “Come on!”

    Raven ran into the temple to give warning. She returned with a torch before following Mikhail into the sewers. Mikhail practically slapped himself, in his haste to go after the assassin he’d completely forgotten to bring a light source.

    The sewer they found themselves in was relatively straight, and looked as though it ran close to the temple. Following it as quickly as they could, Mikhail searched for a side tunnel which would put them close enough for a potential bomb to be effective. There was no side tunnel, but the sewer slowly curved around and into a larger cavern. Tunnels branched off in all directions, but Mikhail wasn’t concerned about that. He was concerned about the apparatus in the centre of the cavern.

    The apparatus was easily the size of a man, and it consisted of a trio of discs lying flat and stacked on top of each other, levitated by magical forces. Within the discs a maelstrom of energy swirled, being fed by the Shadow Crystals at the edges of the device. It crackled with arcane power as the energy grew stronger, pushing at the rings. Mikhail could hear them begin to crack under the ever increasing pressure.

    “IT’S GONNA BLOW!” He shouted as he grabbed Raven and dragged her back the way they came. They ran for the manhole cover as quickly as they could, making it half way up the ladder before the device ruptured.

    The sound was deafening, and further amplified by the sewer tunnels. But the shockwave that followed made the sound bearable. Neither of them could hold onto the ladder and they were sent tumbling backwards from the blast. The water and muck in the sewers softened their landing somewhat and they avoided serious injury, though when Mikhail finally got to his feet he could feel one leg almost buckle under his weight. Raven was in better shape however, only cuts and bruises. As they made it back to the ladder and ascended to street level the destruction was apparent.

    The temple had been levelled, the ungodly forces collapsing it as though it were made of matchsticks. In addition much of the surrounding plaza had sunk into the shattered sewers, and Mikhail could hear the screams of the wounded and dying. But he could also hear the sounds of battle.

    He and Raven headed as quickly as they could in the direction of the battle, and when they arrived they found their assassin locked in combat with a number of her Guard. The assassin’s robe had been discarded to prevent it entangling him, and for the first time they got a good look at him. He was not human but he was built like one, though he looked slender to the point of malnourished. His skin was grey and covered in ritual scarring, and he had a pair of protrusions erupting from just under his ribcage, wrapping around behind his head. On his head he wore a tight fitting helmet, made of brass. He wielded a short sword in each hand and he certainly knew how to use them, skewering the Guardsmen with little issue. One of the managed to slash the assassin’s torso, but he paid the wound no heed as he fought, no doubt his self-mutilation numbing him to pain.

    As the last of the Guardsmen fell he turned to face Mikhail and Raven. Mikhail drew his sword even though he knew it would do him no good, he was in no condition to fight. Raven however was ready to go, and she unfurled a pair of nasty serrated whips.

    The assassin looked at Mikhail. “I’m impressed, you saw through my charade easily. I shall enjoy killing you. But first I must deal with your lady friend.” He smiled at Raven and dropped his swords. Mikhail questioned why he would drop his defences in such a manner, but his answer quickly came. The assassin’s skin split underneath his wrists and a pair of whips emerged, exactly like Raven’s. They flicked and twisted around him as though alive, and they dripped with poison.

    Raven wasn’t rattled by what she saw; she had fought many Shadow agents before. Without pause she moved to avoid the assassin’s strikes, attempting to knock him off balance with her own. Watching from the sidelines, Mikhail was mesmerised by this deadly dance as the two of them attempted to subdue the other. Their whips moved with a grace that belied their lethality, and for a time it looked as though Raven would win. However the assassin only needed to scratch her, and when he did the poison worked quickly, slowing her down and eventually causing her to fall to her knees.

    The assassin laughed as he stood over her. Raven looked up at him, though her eyes were glassy from the effects of the toxin, and she was struggling to breathe.

    “Don’t panic, it won’t take long.” The assassin whispered to her. “It will be painful though.”

    Mikhail limped forward, to do his best to fight. The assassin turned and prepared to strike out with his whips when he was knocked back by a blast of energy. Looking behind him Mikhail could see Jericho, broken and bleeding, but still a force to be reckoned with. Another blast of energy smote the assassin and caused him to stumble backward. Jericho fired off a third shot but this time the assassin countered, energy playing over his body and preventing any further damage.

    He smiled. “I would love to continue this…” he said as the whips retracted back into his body. “But I really must be going.” And with that he turned and ran. Mikhail wanted to give chase, but with his leg the way it was he had no chance. So instead he hobbled over to Raven as quickly as he could. Jericho did as well, kneeling down beside her and administering magical aid.

    “Will she survive?” He asked, fear evident in his voice.

    Jericho ignored him as he spoke the healing incantations. Mikhail watched hopefully as Jericho did his work, and eventually Raven rolled to her side and violently vomited, the poison expelling itself from her body. Jericho helped her up and steadied her as she stood.

    “Thank you.” She said weakly.

    Mikhail sighed heavily, the tension forcing itself out of him. “Did anyone else make it out in time?”

    Jericho shook his head. “No one. I’m sorry Mikhail.”

    The three of them stood there as they slowly caught their breath. They had survived, the only ones who had, but they had failed. War was coming, and now there was nothing they could do to stop it.
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  10. #30
    DP Visionary Preybird's Avatar
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    -------------------------

    Theron gazed out at the army struggling to make its way through Karamok’s mountain passes. In the last two weeks the Harak had managed to break the siege around Aladene, crippling the Herodian forces. And now they had their sights firmly set on Draconia. The Karam would not break however and Theron knew they would be victorious, though it would be costly. It did not matter.

    A scratching sound teased the edges of his hearing and he cringed slightly. “Stop it Baduruu.”

    Baduruu frowned. “You know I can’t stand sitting still.”

    “That little habit of yours almost got you caught. If I hadn’t warned you about Mikhail’s little trap you’d be dead and this war wouldn’t be happening.”

    “They couldn’t stop me. Not a chance.”

    “Yet Jericho survived, despite your best efforts.” Theron countered.

    “It’s irrelevant. Mosea will fall, their armies are nothing compared to Karamok’s.” Baduruu countered.

    Theron nodded. “I guess that’s true. Little birdies tell me your mimicry has done its job. Calchis has put out a bounty on Lance Shadowstalker, and Harak has put one out on Victor Heartstriker. It is a shame Jericho survived, otherwise we might have seen one on Eladwen Frostmire as well.”

    Baduruu smiled wickedly. “Not bad for a month’s work. What about Castigor?”

    “Chaos. There is no line of succession, both the King and the Princess were only children. The military has stepped in to maintain order.” Theron smiled.

    “So what now?” Baduruu asked.

    “We wait. Let the kingdoms tear themselves asunder, then we mop up. Before the year is out the region will belong to the Shadow.” Theron replied. “Your payment is on the table Baduruu. I will be in need of your services later I’m sure.”

    Baduruu picked up the bag of coin and opened it. “What’s this?” he reached in and pulled out a Shadow Crystal.

    “A bonus. You can sell it if you want, but I do envision you’ll need it in the future.”

    Baduruu nodded and resealed the bag. “Until next time Theron.” He stated simply before leaving.

    Theron nodded and returned to the balcony. He was so focused on the battle he only registered the portal that had appeared once Kairos had stepped through it. Turning to face him Theron could see his master appear behind his hulking bodyguard.

    Gravebone.” Theron addressed his master with a respectful nod of the head. “Everything has happened as we wished.”

    “I can see. The war is well underway, there will be an abundance of fuel for our magic, and the Shadow will have a new base of operations when this is all done.”

    “I assume Draconia will become your stronghold?”

    Gravebone nodded. “Indeed. It is easily defensible, and there is enough privacy to raise a great army here.” He looked out at the battle. “It goes well; there will be many casualties on both sides.”

    “Are you staying?”

    “No, I have other business to attend to with our allies. We must prepare the clean-up operation. When we are done no human shall be alive to tell of our victory here.” He placed a bony hand on Theron’s shoulder.

    “You’ve done well Thaddeus. Thanks to you, the Shadow shall have its revenge.”
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