November the 20th, in the year 707, Cristos Reckoning
Alas, why do plans of men so often go awry? Today was the day of our expected arrival at our destination, Metamor Keep, yet we woke up to conditions that absolutely dashed any idea of further travel.
The weather is such that one could scarcely see his hand in front of his face for the quantity of clouds which blot out the sun. The rain comes down in sheets, with no distinction between the separate drops, if, in fact, there were separate drops. I am quite surprised at how well the supply wagons have managed to keep the rain out. My employers have made it quite clear that they had the canvas treated for just such an occasion. I can hardly bring myself to believe that such a treatment could be natural.
Although the weather is quite threatening, the caravan master insists that we keep guard, lest some group of miscreants take us completely by surprise in the cover of the storm. I think it not highly likely that such an attack should be possible, as I am sure that the darkness is as impenetrable to them as it is to us. I have, luckily, nearly half the day to wait until my guard. I hope that it has cleared before then. I do not relish the thought of venturing out in such weather.
I can scarce believe that any fire could be lit at a time like this, but the wagon’s canvas once more proves a saving grace, as it allows me to write this by the light of a lantern, which had been kept in the wagon for use during the night. At the present moment, it is the only light in the wagon, save the flashes of lightning that illuminate the sky periodically.
As I have little with which to entertain myself at the present moment, I believe that I shall undertake a venture that has been previously suggested to me. This pastime involves an attempt to chronicle some of the events which have made my life in some small way notable. Of course, as I have mentioned before in the pages of this journal, some of these events would serve to cause strife in the Midlands, and to release them to outsiders could mean war. As I would also seek to derive some profit from their use, I have come up with a rather simple solution. By creating my own names for the locations involved, as well as the people, and using one of my many aliases to create a main character, I should be able to form an interesting ‘fictional’ account of happenings that to me were all too real. It is, you may say, an odd idea, but I have little to lose in such a venture, save time that otherwise would go completely to waste. So I will begin to recount one of my adventures in my own words.
Author’s Note: The following was written over the space of six days, from November 20-25, 707 CR
A solitary figure trudged through the mud, taking several inches of it with him on his boots. His cloak’s hood was drawn up over his head in a vain attempt to keep the rain off. As it was, he was already soaked, and could hardly get wetter if he jumped into a river, or at least that’s what he thought.
Looking up suddenly, he finally distinguished the sound of the rushing river from the sound of the deluge that fell down around him. He snorted. Why did everything always go from bad to worse? This job was more trouble than it was worth.
He walked up to the near bank of the rushing torrent. He was sure that this hadn’t even been much of a respectable trickle a few hours ago, but the rain had flooded it. It was now a good distance between the two sides, at least eight feet. Removing his hands from his cloak, he removed a length of the rope from somewhere on his person. From another location he withdrew a grappling hook. He tied the two together quickly, and checked to see that they were secure. Happy with what he saw, he took aim for a thick tree branch on the other side of the river. After a few tries, he hooked it. Pulling as hard as he could, he made sure the hook had lodged and the branch would hold. Tying the other end of the rope around a tree on his own side, he let himself fall, supporting himself only on the cord. Satisfied that it didn’t sag too much, he looked forward to the task ahead.
He took a step forward into the rushing water, keeping the rope in the way of the current’s progress. Sliding his hands one at a time across the rope, he continued to cross. Soon, the ground fell away, leaving his feet dangling in the muddy water, his arms the only thing supporting him. He continued, and was able to get across the river before any more crises could happen. Standing on the other side, he cut the rope with his dagger, and then worked the hook loose from the tree. He could buy a rope, but the hook had been specially made.
He would need to hurry now if he was to catch up with his target.
* * * *
Almost three hours later, the figure trudged to the very edge of the woodland, stepping very quietly and trying to stay quiet and out of sight. There, just off of the beaten path was his target. As had been expected by his employer, the site was well guarded, leaving little to no way to get past them. Even in the driving rain, the men were still on duty, watching out for anyone who would attack their leader. Surely this was quite a determined lot. So many times he had underestimated them, and each time they had made them pay. Luckily, there had been no true contact between the two groups, so they were still in the dark as to hid plans, but they were still prepared for him.
Silently giving a heavy sigh, the man resigned himself to his fate. He would now have to wait until they had reached their next destination. He had hoped to finish the dirty work while they were still on the road, but there would be much more distraction for the guards in a town. Then it would be easier to dispatch with the target. Luckily, it was no secret where the man was headed. Turning back into the woods, he trudged off towards the city, intent on getting there before his man did.
The mysterious person was finally able to relax. After trailing his target for several days, he now fully recognized that he would have to let his target come to him. Sitting in a small private room in the town’s tavern, he leafed once more through the information that he had been given with little interest. He had seen it so many times. The man was a rebel, a threat to the kingdom he claimed to serve. He was now the target of a government who was ready to stoop so far as to even hire an assassin on him. The man smiled. This time he had been the lucky one, and was now in line to receive a reward for the death of this man, this so called threat to society.
The assassin found no joy in his job, only profit. He was fully in it for the money. He cared very little where it came from. The only thing that truly could come to a person’s salvation when he was hired to kill them was if he saw them completely innocent of any crime for which one could be killed. This time he had no trouble. Treason would be an easy excuse for him to take, and he had taken it several times before.
Those who knew him called him Louis Shade, but others called him Shadow Master. No one knew his real name, no living person at least. All relations of his had since perished, and all others who had known him soon came to their demise, either through him directly, or through the numerous bounty hunters which sought him out. The strange name by which he went in his work was brought on by his unique approach. Instead of restricting himself to the dark in his job, he often worked at day. For, as he said, “My main defense is shadow. Anywhere that a shadow can be found, I can work. As a fact of nature, you need light to have shadow. Thus, I can work basically anywhere where you can find light.”
Few could be found with his great bravado. He was alone in his class of assassin, not because of skill so much as because of what his companions and acquaintances called a generous helping of luck. It seemed that, no matter what the situation, he somehow managed to come out on top in the end.
Though it was not his skill that separated him from the others of his employment,
he did have a good bit of skill, and quite a lot of skill in putting what abilities
he had to use to accomplish whatever task was laid before him. Besides his skills
with his favorite weapons, a pair of daggers he always carried on his person,
he also was good if not great at using his surroundings to his advantage. Often
he would hide in plain sight, using only what was around him to camouflage himself.
Other times, often just for amusement, he would run around hidden with a party
of men who were looking for him, using his inborn abilities to mask his voice
and supplementing it with whatever he could find to hide his face.
As soon as he had finished rereading the information he had been given, the man pulled from his person a small black package. It was on the outside just a rectangle of cloth about four by three inches, and about an inch thick. Skillfully unwrapping the cloth, he withdrew from within it a package, made of paper and bound with string. Cutting the string with one of his weapons, he opened the package, withdrawing from it several small darts. There were sixty-four in all, two rows of thirty-two darts, with each dart only about an inch and a half long and pencil thin. Each row of thirty-two was placed in a metal holder, so the assassin carefully lifted one of the rows of darts and set it in front of him on the small table that had been provided in his room.
“Six should do just fine,” the man said quietly. He very cautiously withdrew six of the darts and laid them individually before him on the table. He picked them up one at a time then, and slid them into a bandolier that he had with him, securing them carefully to make sure one wouldn’t slip away and fall where he could not find it. He knew that to be hit with one of these darts was instant death. That was the purpose of them. They made many struggles so much easier.
The bandolier was over his shoulder in a moment, and the Shadow Master quickly fastened it so it wouldn’t slip at an inopportune moment. Then he took a leather vest from where he had lain it moments before and hid the bandolier from view. It would take the eye of an eagle to notice the specially placed slots that allowed the wearer to withdraw his darts without removing the vest. Another intentional nuance in the wardrobe of this man was the drab brown cloak that hung loosely from his shoulders. Hidden in the fur trim that lined the edged were pockets, each containing some object an assassin might find a need for in a tight spot, from a special dye that would change the color of his brown hair to blonde at a moment’s notice, to a smoke bomb that was designed to hide his presence if he needed to escape detection for just a few seconds.
The man checked over his wardrobe, pulling the cloak tighter to his body, making sure it hid the decorative hilts on his daggers. Fastening it with a sash at the middle, he checked to see if he could still withdraw the darts. No problem. Next he took the small wooden tube he used to fire the darts and slipped it into an easily-accessible pocket on the side of his cloak. Moving to where a grimy mirror sat up against a wall, he made sure that there were no noticeable bulges in his wardrobe. Once more, everything was as it should be. He looked just like all of the others would look in this city. Just like he had planned it.
With caution born from experience, the assassin moved quietly towards his target. He couldn’t help but admire the sheer courage of this man. Here he was trying to raise others to his cause of overthrowing the existing government, but instead of doing so under cover in secret meetings, he had open, public meetings so that he could approach many people at one time.
Unfortunately for him, this very tactic would make it much easier for his hunter to complete his work. Of course, the man had a good number of loyal guards wandering through the assembled people, looking for weapons, but they would see none on him. Shade had taken special measures to make sure of this fact. With all of his weapons hidden securely out of sight, he would be safe until he was close enough to make his move.
His job was complicated slightly by the open-air style of the meeting this man was holding. There would be a good number of people around him who would notice if he did anything suspicious, particularly if someone killed the man they had been listening to for the past half hour. Now he was almost close enough to make his move, but he’d need a distraction. With a slight feeling of regret, he withdrew the one small smoke bomb that he carried on his person. Nonchalantly lowering his hand at his side, he waited for a moment, then gave it a quick squeeze before throwing it with his wrist into the crowd.
The squeeze had done its job, breaking the barrier between the special solutions that the capsule contained and resulting in a rather thick, white smoke that covered everything within five feet of where the bomb had landed. There was a great hubbub running through the crowd, most of which looked towards the smoke. Quietly and carefully, the Shadow Master drew the blowgun from where it was hidden with his right hand. With his left, he used a similar method to remove a dart from its hiding place, being careful to hold the point away from himself. He inserted the dart into the tube, holding it so it the dart wouldn’t fall out.
Now people were really starting to react. Some moved towards the smoke to investigate, while others moved away. The cloud was getting larger. Shade walked towards the smoke, joining the others who moved towards it. The crowd was thinner here, so he would have a little more room for error.
He now looked back at the man on the podium, who had stopped his talk of the corruption of the government and looked on as people tried to find out what was happening. Louis wasn’t worried. The smoke would be too thick for a few minutes now to see enough to find what had caused the interruption. By then, he should be well away from this place, and on his way out of the city.
It was almost time. Shadow Master looked at the figure on the platform. Like the majority of his crowd, he was too distracted to see what one solitary member of the crowd was doing. Shade quickly looked to make sure that no one was looking, then, in a motion so quick it was nearly undetectable, the assassin drew in a breath and raised the blowgun to his lips, giving a great, forceful blow into one end. The dart flew straight and true, imbedding itself in the arm of the target. It easily passed through the thing cloth that covered the man’s arm and struck the seemingly insignificant wound that would end the man’s life.
The tube was gone as quickly as it had come to the Shadow Master’s lips. Acting like he was joining the other searchers, he thrust himself through the gathering crowd into the smoke. As soon as he had gotten far enough in, Shade stopped. He needed only to wait now…
Inside the cloud everything seemed muffled even the speech of people that Louis knew to be right beside him. Then he heard it. The cry that announced to everyone that he had been successful in his mission.
“What’s going on?” he asked, the act coming flawlessly.
From somewhere beside him he heard many comment that they didn’t know, but, as so often happens when an alarm had been raised, the crowd began to push each other in an effort to get away. Shade battled the tide, making his way slowly back the way he had come in. It was a few moments before the cloud around him faded as he left. He managed to break from the crowd eventually, at which point the ran into a man who appeared quite disturbed. The Shadow Master remembered that he was one of the men who had been guarding this man.
“What just happened? What’s going on?”
“My master has just been murdered,” the man responded.
Shade almost visibly flinched at this description of his actions. “Your master? You don’t mean…” Louis looked towards the seemingly empty podium.
“Yes, that is exactly what I mean,” the man confirmed. “If I ever find the man who killed him… He will beg for mercy before the end!”
“Who was he? What did he look like?”
“No one knows.” The man was obviously quite upset by this fact. “My master just fell over while the people were panicking from the smoke. It must have been a decoy…”
“This man must have been quite an ingenious fiend!” Louis spat out. “How could he do something like this?”
“I truly cannot say. His heart must be as dark as death!”
“Is there anything I can do?” Louis had fallen into his stride. To get away with this assassination would be just too easy.
“Not much can be done. He was dead before any of us could reach him. How I wish it could have been myself and not him who had fallen! What we will do?”
Shade had just the line for the moment, and struggled to keep from chuckling at the sheer genius behind it. “What will you do? Yes, your leader had fallen, but he did it while doing what he loved, and what you love as well! Do not faint at this critical juncture! Go on, fight for the cause that you both lived for, and for which your leader fell! Complete his vision in his memory! Throw off the shackles of this corrupt government! Fear naught!” Louis was glad that his distraught friend had tears in his eyes, for he could not help but smile at what he had just done. The last few lines had been stolen directly from the shameless propaganda of the man who now lay dead on the small makeshift platform.
“Do you think we could do it? He was the man from whom we took our inspiration.” The man looked at Shade with emotion-filled eyes.
“Yes! There is nothing to stop you! Continue his work, and you will succeed in the end. It is as he would want it.”
The man’s face had changed. He now stared with something that could be construed as awe in his eyes. “Yes. Yes! I will not stop! We cannot let the enemy win the war without facing them in true battle! We must fight!”
“Yes, and you will win, if you are true to the vision in which your leader believed!” Louis could see the words work their strange charm on the man. He had this unfortunate individual in the grip of his works. Though he wouldn’t have admitted it to anyone save himself, he felt that he could convince the man that this was his idea should he will it.
“Thank you for your encouragement. You are a man who I would gladly call friend. Are you on our side as well?”
“In a way. I have an ailment that prevents me from actually participating in battle, but I have the same dream that you do. I do not want you to lose the vision! Keep on fighting, always keep fighting for that which you believe in.” Shade smiled encouragingly. He wondered absently what the man would say if he found out that he was talking to the very man he had sworn to kill moments before.
“Thank you. I will not forget this.” The man gave Louis a pat on the back as he turned to leave.
“Sir? One more thing,” Shade asked quietly.
“What’s your name? I should like to know you when I receive news of your upcoming victory.”
The man smiled warmly. “Edward. Edward Harlaus, at your service sir. Though I would that we had met under better circumstances, I do so thank you for your kind words.”
“Anything for one who fights for such a noble cause as this,” the man responded. “Should we meet again, I am called Louis Shade. I hope that such may be our good fortune.”
“As do I,” the other said. “I must leave you now. Though I would not let this cause die, I will take cover now lest the same that befell my master should occur to me. Good-bye, until we meet again!”
With this the man left, being careful, but still with quite an air of confidence that was new to him. Shade smiled at this. If only he knew…
As it so happened, the city was basically locked down after the murder. The assassin was never found, however, as he left under the cover of a merchant caravan. By the time the merchants searched his hiding place, he had long since left, with no trace of his presence.
It was almost a year later when Louis Shade found out what happened to the man he had met in the streets after the assassination. By this time, Shade had retired, now having well more than enough money to support himself. When the news came, he could not say he didn’t anticipate the results. Edward Harlaus had led a group of rebels to victory over the government that Shade had formerly been employed by. Now, Harlaus had declined all offers to take over the interim government, instead insisting that he would only accept if he could find and destroy the man who had killed his leader.
Shade almost could have laughed out loud. He had felt this coming. He knew the determination that one could find in a man who was fighting for the memory of a martyr. He had seen it before, and in someone he was very close to. He could have warned his employers back at that time, but that wouldn’t have done anything for him. They had to be encouraged to pay him as it was…