A wide, white moon loomed down over the fog-shrouded streets of Chaser Isle. Near midnight, they began to arrive. One, two, then several more; hooded figures, people in cloaks or masks, or a brazen few who did not care if anyone saw them… or who were too destitute in the wake of disaster to have such garments available. From multiple directions, they came; from many alleys, and byways, several bridges or ferries, people arriving with their cloaks or their candles or nothing at all… people who’d grown desperate, or angry, or numb.
At the fringes, there were few, but in the streets closer to the center of it all, they began to coalesce into larger groups. They seemed to be gathering into a crowd, flocking until their many boots covered the cobblestone street from sidewalk to sidewalk… The unnerving assembly caused lanterns to be snuffed out, and doors and windows hastily locked as they passed by. This march of many souls, the grief-stricken, the vengeful, the forgotten, wound its way to a single, burnt-out old warehouse on Paulson Street.
“It is nearly time.” Emilian turned to his master, who stood with him on the rooftop of this abandoned ruin, once the hideout of an infamous gang known as the Rovers. “Aye,” Chaeffer replied, gesturing to the many candles gathering in the street below. “You have done well in spreading the word.” He swept his gaze sideways, one cold eye staring at his pupil. “Yet you remain uneasy… Tell me. Have you found it yet?”
Emilian seemed to falter, a moment. He spoke with calm clarity, but he would not meet his master’s eye. “Many tokens of faith were found on the bodies of the fallen; all that I found, I have delivered to you already.” He shifted his weight, appearing uncomfortable. “..but, the coin of Scion Lukas, it was not upon the body of Abigail di Vonos, nor any of her wayward minions.” He kept his face tilted toward the floor, awaiting Jehremi’s reprisal.
The first mate remained somber, his frustration kept at a low growl. “That is… unfortunate, but the completion of that ritual is not a matter of prime importance. Continue your report. What of the fallen?”
“Of the many slain at Havershaw, few were suitably intact. I stole as many corpses as could be managed; they are in crates below, awaiting processing.” His face contorted in the memory of such detestable work. “Those marked by the Marionette, I put to the torch.”
Chaeffer nodded, acknowledging the younger man’s service. “That, also, was well done.” He turned to face him directly, cold eyes boring into his acolyte. “But that is not the source of your dismay. Speak plainly the fear and contempt you hold. My patience grows thin, for these are trying times.” His gaze brooked no argument.
Emilian blinked hard, knowing there was no escaping this. He straightened his posture, and attempted to swallow his fear. “Master, on that day. You fought the marionette, and she nearly took your life. And you…” He shuddered, remembering the pain. “You nearly took mine, so that you could keep fighting.”
“So I did.” Chaeffer took a step closer, his arms extended wide. “…What must you do? Here I stand, unarmed and unarmored. Will you attempt to exact payment for the agony you endured?” His eyes were contempt, the icy glare of a wolf. “Or will you flee, as the sheep do?” He stood waiting, as Emilian chose his next words with exceptional care.
“No. Never. I… I will grow fangs, as you have shown me. I remain your legacy.” Emilian drew his blade, and knelt, holding it aloft in a gesture of surrender. “I am your servant; teach me to become strong. I wish to see the new world you will create.”
Jehremi lowered his arms, taking Emilian’s swordblade in one hand, and helped the lad to his feet. “Then learn well this second lesson, acolyte. You have been tempered in battle, and have seen your own blood flow. Through the blood, flows life. Master it, and you will hold dominion over death.” His eyes illuminated with arcane force, and he tightened his grip on the blade. “Such powers as I possess, you also shall inherit, If your soul is strong enough.”
Crimson ran down the length of steel from Chaeffer’s fingers, as he continued. “Whosoever is your brother in battle, let him not fear death, for your blood is his, and his is yours. We fight not for our own survival, but that the deaths of our enemies be assured. If either of us must fall, that just vengeance is exacted on the foe, let it be.” His eyes were dark, vile, his grimace testament to how deeply he believed this doctrine.
“Do Not fight to save yourself, or your allies. When you draw your blade, it is a sacred promise to your enemy that You Will End His Life. No matter the cost.” He held his bleeding hand out, returning the sword to its owner.
Emilian stood, transfixed, seeing the conviction in his master’s words. “By the scions, let me be but worthy…” receiving the sword back into his hands, he gestured out toward the streets below. “My lord, the congregation appears to be ready. They await your message.”
“Aye, and they shall abide but a moment longer. You must be rewarded for your loyalty.” From his satchel, Chaeffer retrieved the tome that had been a relic of the Radizzi people. The Cycle of Blood, it was titled in ancient script. “This is a power that belonged with your heritage. You may be the last prophet among your kind, therefore it is proper that this pass on to you. You know of the dangers and risks it possesses. It’s fate is yours to decide.” Pressing his wounded hand to the cover of the book, he passes it to his student before turning to finally address the crowd.
“There he is. Looks like our informant was right.” The mercenary chuckled to himself, as he began setting up his tripod and constructing his rifle. “Easy money. This guy really the one the Order is so concerned with? He ain’t even wearing armor.” Whistling an ordic fishing tune, he casually made preparations for the assassination from an opposite rooftop.
The crowd below seemed to fall silent as the man he’d been sent to kill held up his hands. “People of Five Fingers,” the target began. “Once again, you find yourselves, stricken, mere toys at the hands of those in power. The high captains could not defend you. The navy could not defend you. For the second time, Havershaw’s Folly has been transformed into a scene of chaos and murder.” He paused a moment, gauging the crowd’s reaction.
“Your homes, your loved ones, pieces of your lives have been taken from you. Simply. Taken. And you don’t even know why.” The man pulled a mask from beneath his greatcoat, and held it upward, showing it to the gathered assembly. “Why did this monster need to steal your happiness away? What purpose did it serve? Who, or what, is truly responsible? …I can tell you. I can, show you. I was there.” The man donned the mask, and began to concentrate.
Ripples of power could be felt through the crowded street, and people began to cry out. The assassin stopped whistling, his curiosity peaked. As he looked down on the scene below, he began seeing a memory… a flashback, which played violently through his mind, and it did not belong to him. The sensation nearly made him drop his rifle. He was standing at the Havershaw festival grounds, looking up at the main tent, when suddenly the world exploded.
“You may recall the name of a certain Thamarite, Tantock Meryl.” The scene shifted to a stone dias, where a darkly clad man was growing drunk in the power of many souls. “He orchestrated the original massacre, believing it would fuel his ascension.” The man began to transform, glowing fissures forming on his flesh, and his eyes became hollow, black pits. Swords clashed, sorcery cascaded out; and at the last, another man pushed a damaged pillar down on top of the abomination.
The scene was choked out by dust and crumbling stone, and everything vanished. The assassin’s sight became his own once more, and people in the crowd began to recover from the vision. “Bloody hell..” He began to pick up the pace; his fingers shook as he fumbled, trying to finish assembling the rifle. The mysterious figure continued to proselytize. “Tantock was nearly successful, but his understanding of the place of power he’d chosen was incomplete. That relic was part of a much larger chain, in an ancient device known by some in this city as the Conduit. It had lain dormant since the time of the Orgoth, but Tantock’s ritual provided sufficent energy to partially awakened it. Its power began to call out to those who could detect its voice.”
Another vision rippled out from the speaker, overtaking the minds of many. This vision belonged to the mask, not the speaker: Battles fought in secret, beneath the city. Cultists, clockwork automatons, puppets, and thralls, each seeking the dias. The marionette’s face, speaking into a mirror, as she consorted with an emmisary of cryx. Numerous necromechanikal devices had been implanted into his living flesh, and he was dressed all in black.
“That foul witch who so recently graced our city, who wore this very mask, knew of its power… and the devastation she wrought far eclipsed that of Tantock. With her own death, and all the murders in her wake, she has completed the ritual he began, and the Conduit is now thrumming with untold potential.” The scene shifted once more to a place out in the deep ocean, a nightmarish landscape of destroyed ships, where an apocalyptic storm was brewing…. then everything vanished, and the assassin’s eyes were his own again.
His hands were badly shaking now, and it was nearly impossible for him to grip the sweatsoaked barrel and stock he’d been screwing together. Nearly finished, he began to line up the shot, but his aim was dancing all over the place. Just then, the wind began to rise…
“You have been treated as cattle. Disposable, a source of food and nothing more. You have been as sheep before the wolves of this world… until today.” The figure turned his head, clearly looking at something on the opposite rooftop, as a final vision swept over the crowd, and the would-be assailant.
An arm, outstretched, as the wind begins to whip and howl. A man, crouched behind a tripod, barely able to contain his grip on the gun. “Gods, No…” the assassin whimpered, seeing himself in the vision. the bleeding hand grasped, pulled back, and the wind around him roared and came with it, pulling the mercenary from his perch as he screamed in absolute terror. He watched himself fall, felt his own neck breaking on a lamp post he hit on the way down, and saw his own lifeless body hit the sidewalk with a sickening smack. When the vision faded, so did his consciousness, and everything went black.
Chaeffer removed the mask from his face, allowing the gathered assembly to see him plainly again. “There are those in this city, and abroad, who wish to silence my voice,” he resumed, pointing at the dead man. “They do not wish for these truths to be known.” His face hardened, and he bellowed at the crowd, stirring them to anger. “I lay their lies bare before you, that you may know and understand the reason your wives died, the reason your husbands died, the reason your children have been buried before you, the reason your houses have been burned.” He gaze swept the congregation, determination burning within his heart. “They believe you are weak. Together, we will show them that they are mistaken.”
His free hand was a fist, raised high under the moon. “By my steel, and the strength of my allies, I have TWICE avenged the fallen of this city. I have been called the Havershaw Harrier, the Mongrel of Shadows, and the Grey Angel. I say unto you now, you have been sheep until this moment, only in the ignorance of your fangs. BARE THEM NOW. Give in to your anger, your grief, and your sorrow. Let your hatred transform you into something more than a human puppet, dancing before soverign powers. For Menoth gave us our hands, and Morrow taught us tolerance and mercy, but it was Thamar who bought us the strength to stand against our oppressors, if only we are willing to reach out, and take it.”
The gathered assembly was in absolute uproar; some were not willing to accept such brazen words, but many were nearly frothing at the mouth, hungry to know what they must do to become a part of this rebirth. Passing the mask to his apprentice, Jehremi leaned out over the edge of the rooftop, both hands outstretched, as if to embrace his flock. “Those of you whose hearts are gentle, return to your homes; you will not be harmed. The path I promise is a battlefield, and the world I seek to remake will not be changed easily.”
Portions of the crowd began to disperse, the weight of these words and acts simply too much to take. Chaeffer’s eyes implored the faithful who yet remained. “But for those of you for whom Vengeance calls deeply in your souls, give in to its Voice! Join your strength to mine, and let our voices become a chorus. Those with arcane potential will learn to channel their gifts. Those with skill at arms will be given training and equipment, and made ready for war. Those with nothing at all but the fire in their hearts will be given food, and purpose.”
He swept an arm in the direction of the docks, a shipyard on Chaser isle called Crane Port. “Make your way to the ship that never lingers, and you will be given the terms of our charter. Join the legend. You will be given ample opportunity to avenge your fallen, for the enemy of one is the enemy of all.” He let his arms rest, as he stood straight and tall against the moonlight. “Let us show the Iron Kingdoms our resolve. Let us reshape the face of Caen, and create a world in which dragons, and gods, and kings, and infernals, all fear to tread.”
A wide, white moon loomed down over the fog-shrouded streets of Chaser Isle. It silently observed them as they went; many in cloaks, or masks, or bearing candles. Some, with nothing at all… the desperate, the angry, the numb. The street glowed dimly in their passing, and the light of their path wound its way toward the dockyard, where two particularly infamous ships sat bobbing gently against the waves.
In the dim of light just before dawn, the first mate arrived back at his cabin. he’d abandoned his greatcoat, given to a woman in the crowd who’d gifted him a new cloak as tribute. It had been made from the remnants of one of the festival tents at Havershaw; quartered fields of black and violet silk. The seamstress had embroidered the Ternion brand in pale thread upon its back. He took it off with great care, and hung it near the door.
Glancing out the window as the earliest rays of morning began to brighten the world, he started to undress, finally having earned a bit of sleep. as he sat on his cot aching for rest, he recalled the painting brought in by Sinyr. The light from the window just now creeping up along the bottom of its canvas. He stood, crossed in bare feet to the wall, and after a moment to steady himself, reversed the painting to examine it…
It was all.. wrong, somehow. The deck of the ship was in tatters, and the sea was a deep, troubling red. The longer he looked at it, the more the colors and shapes seemed to shift. The horizon was dotted with wrecked ships, and the figure in the image wasn’t facing down the storm… it was staring up at the viewer… with a porcelain mask upon its face.
You’ve Forgotten Something, she whispered. The voice seemed to come from just behind his ear again, and he jerked around to look behind himself. The cloth under which he’d hid the Devil’s Tooth was stained crimson, and the stain had trickled down onto the rest of his equipment. Vehemence sputtered and spat; its edge glistened and glittered as the runeplate began to power itself.
In his haste to retrieve it, he crashed into his own desk, sending it and himself tumbling to the floor. Looking up in panic, he saw a disturbing sight: blood from the knife, coalescing across the blade, moving toward the single empty socket which remained, unfilled by a coin. It began to harden, congealing into a red mass, the same red metal from which the Tooth itself seemed to be made from. The symbol forming upon it was unmistakeable: the Icon of Scion Lukas.
She whispered again, her tone, mocking. You’ll never be far from me, now. I’m a part of you. Our bodies were one, remember? I’m inside of you, like your own blood. “What do you want?!” He roared, remembering the cursed night the Marionette strangled him to unconsciousness in this very room.
I want to make you complete… I want to make you see. Unless, of course, you die. Her laugh was dry and cruel. DIE.
Runes began swirling around the blade’s hilt; its mechanika was becoming unstable. The rune plate was overheating rapidly… in a last blinding moment, Chaeffer twisted the runes, manipulating them as Lanin had taught him, altering the effect of the magic. For a moment, it seemed as if the sword would explode… deep fractures appeared along its steel, and the sacred coins dotting its surface became one with the sizzling metal. The fractures deepened, and just as Chaeffer covered his head to brace for the blast… the sword fell apart, its blackened runeplate worthless. The steel of its’ blade had shattered into large, broken fragments, like glass. soot caked the singed wood of his equipment rack.
Chaeffer stared at the scene, dumbfounded, lucky to have survived. A pity, she whispered. But there is so much I can show you, now. You will see. Her voice seemed to reverberate from the very walls of his cabin, echoing endlessly.You Will See.