Part Three: An Angel’s Downfall
Where am I? How did I get here? An older man sat up from the cold, hard floor he had slept on—or rather, struggled to rise. Why do I feel so weak—drained? After a few seconds his senses began to return to him. One by one they returned. Feeling: It's the air is damp and thick. unbearable for some; as for me--almost comfortable. Smell: This place ranks of mold, mildew, putrid sweat, and--death. Something I'm all too familiar with. Hearing: I hear the sound of dripping water and of rats scurrying on stone. These are sounds I have heard before. --A whip cracking and a far off scream of pain. The one delivering those lashes will most likely soon come for me. Let him!
The man's eyes adjusted and he confirmed the fact that he was in a prison--or rather, a dungeon. He was extremely hungry and he ached everywhere. “So, you finally woke up!” He hadn't heard the guard walking up--unusual. The guard began to smile wickedly; whacking a folded whip against his hand “Now it's your turn!” The man didn't resist as he was thrown to the ground. It's better if they think he's weak and frail. The guard began to chuckle and a moment later the old man felt a sharp, biting pain tear into his back.
About fifteen excruciating minutes later and the man found himself sprawled flat on the slimy stone floor, whatever thin and torn piece of clothing he previously had on his back had been reduced to blood-stained shreds. Then he remembered something; he'd received this kind of punishment before. The one time he failed to execute his orders. No--the first of two times. The second time was when he rescued Nino--precious Nino. Perhaps it was actually Nino who had rescued him. They had gotten married and he was happy for the first time in his life. But it couldn't last. He had tried to comply with her wishes that they settle down, build a home on some open land about a half days ride from the nearest city, start a farm, maybe even have a few children, and forget about their pasts. Unfortunately he had proven to be an inadequate farmer--a fact Nino never found out. He wasn't able to produce enough crops to sale for a profit, so when he had gone to town to sell their “extra crops” he had ended up deciding to obtain the necessary money by other means. This became common practice for him. It was one of the only things in the world he was good at. It was during one of these trips to the marketplace that he saw him, Hurricane. He tried to hide but apparently Hurricane had already spotted him. “It almost looked like you were trying to hide from me, Angel of Death.” The man said nothing. He only stared, cold and hard.
“Come now Jaffar, surely you remember me?” This was a new voice. Jaffar shifted his eyes and saw another face from his past--Matthew.
“I see you're as talkative as ever,” Huricane was speaking again. “How's Nino doing? I heard you two settled down around here.”
Jaffar hadn't wanted their small talk. If they had an assignment for him they should get on with it. If not then they should leave him be. “Why have you come, Hurricane?”
“Please, call me Legault. And what if I came just to say 'hi'? These are times of peace you know.”
Jaffar was getting irritated; these two had come back to disturb his new life. Either that or they were trying to engage in small talk before stating their true reason for coming. “You've said 'hi' now please either go away and let me be, or get to the point of why you've come.”
Now Matthew spoke up, “Very well, we've come to you because, although the war has been over for a year now, there are still hundreds of Black Fang operatives, and groups of brigands claiming to be Black Fang, being hired by various parties to plan and attempt coups, assassinations and such. We, Legault and I, have decided to form an anti-espionage organization to dissipate the coups and foil the assassinations--at least the ones that don't work for our favor.”
Legault turned to Matthew and corrected, “Chances are that we'll be initiating more assassinations than those we even attempt to stop.”
“Okay, okay,” dismissed Matthew. “Anyway, the point is we'll be stuck commanding a group of slow soldiers whose armor won't allow them to catch any foe unawares unless we can recruit our own men.”
“So you need me to help with a couple assassinations? What's in it for me? What could convince me to leave my home? And why can't you just recruit other assassins or mercenaries to do it for you?” Nino had had to teach Jaffar how to communicate better in order to function among ordinary civilians; but even so, this was the most he had spoken to anyone besides Nino in the last few weeks.
Legault answered this time, “that's exactly why we need you. There are no more mercenaries because there is no more war. There's only a few lazy knights defending villages from occasional bandit raids. We have a plan to seek, find, and train prospective new informants, spies, and assassins. I can train them to pick locks and pockets alike, Matthew can train them to move silently and listen to private conversations without being noticed, but we need you to help train them how to kill.”
That had happened about ten years ago, Jaffar was beginning to remember now. For three years he worked with Matthew and Legault training a new generation—more like a new breed—of men who would be a rounded mix between assassins, spies, and thieves. Unbeknownst to him, when Jaffar was first approached by Matthew and Legault, his and Nino's twin children had already begun to develop in her womb. Jaffar, because of the secrecy of their new Assassin's Guild, was unable to be present at his children's birth. He hadn't even learned of her pregnancy until a week before she delivered. Matthew, however, was able to arrange for a lady's maid and trusted friend to care for Nino until either she could take care of the twins on her own or Jaffar could return to her. While he and Nino communicated by letter once, sometimes twice a month, Jaffar was only able to visit her and the twins four times a year for one week periods.
Each of the three founders of the Assassin's Guild took turns leading apprentices on special espionage missions in order to determine the recruit's value and demonstrate the advanced student's abilities to any other secret organizations observing. However, one of Jaffar’s missions went terribly wrong. The mission was created because one of their best and most successful graduates, Zarius, sent a message about his data-collecting mission’s success and said he’d return within the week, but never did returned. They had been spying on King Zephiel of Bern who had begun to rebuild his nation and army after his father's wars had nearly destroyed them. Zephiel claimed that he needed to be allowed a larger army than that which the treaty allowed—in order to help protect his weakened borders and defenseless villages from bandits and the such; Matthew believed he was merely stretching his muscles of influence in order to, once again, prepare his nation for war and conquest. Zephiel's father, the late King Daris, believed himself to be the only one worthy of being king over all the known world. Lord Eliwood, Lord Hector, and Lady Lyndis led their combined armies to destroy his empire and bring peace to the land. Jaffar requested to be given this mission because it was young Prince Zephiel whose life he had spared that day Nino first started to change him. Jaffar couldn't see how the innocent boy he risked his life to keep alive would repay the deed by following his father's destructive footsteps.
The mission started off pretty normal; unfortunately things quickly began to heat up. The group did an incredible job of staying out of sight and were performing without a flaw--until it happened. Here is how Jaffar, locked in his dank, prison cell, remembers it:
An “Angel's” Demise
The corridors of the castle were long and cold. Their wall's only decorations consisted of simple, dark columns, and in-ornate torches alternating with the columns every ten feet, provided the only light. In the outermost halls windows replace every other torch. We had already been in the castle for about three days and we still were unable to find any proofs of secret motives for Zephiel to build an army. We had only been given two weeks to observe and get out of there. Most of the time we stayed in pairs so we could protect each other and watch each others backs. Occasionally, however, we would have to split up, planning a place and time to regroup. It was upon taking roll during one of these rendezvous that I noticed something. “Where’s Alec?” I asked, suddenly obtaining an even graver tone than my apprentices thought possible. The young men, and the one young lady, quickly looked around to confirm what they just heard. Then I continued, “Shawn, you were with him most of the time. Did you ever hear anyone walking and fail to get a visual of them?”
“Negative,” replied a tall, lanky, unshaven man with unkempt, dirty-blond hair hanging down to his chin.
“Did anyone hear any signs of struggle of catch any valuable dialogue?” I demanded (Jaffar denies having the slight trace of urgency that every one else heard in his voice).
Each of the apprentices replied in turn--each one denying what I asked.
I immediately took action, “All right, let's split in pairs! I'll go alone since we have uneven numbers. We'll meet at the easternmost atrium when the moon's at a forty-five degree angle.”The moon was at a ninety degree angle at that point. “Let's find him!”
The spies immediately split into their pairs and dispersed. Some of the apprentices probably thought I was making a big deal out of a simple case of bad map skills or the such, but none were so willing to question my judgment aloud. I had begun to fear that we'd find our mission to be compromised and have to abandon our efforts. Little did I know just how bad things were going to get.
After the first hour I began to worry that I should have assigned a shorter search time. Finally, after hours of fruitless searching and eaves-dropping, we regrouped at the atrium. I didn't even have to start counting to know that there were more missing. “What in the world is going on here! We have four less than when we last split--we've lost five men without even a sign of struggle.”I stopped to think for a moment then continued, “You three! Leave immediately taking two horses each and deliver the news of this mission's failure. You five stay together and continue searching for the M.I.A.'s. The two of you are coming with me. We're going to try to check the royal chambers.”
“S--sir?” started one of the two who went with me.
I looked askance at the young man of twenty-two years. His black hair was sticking up at spots and his sweat was rolling down his brow. His skin had a dark complexion but his face was turning pale due to worry, stress, and anticipation. I quickly realized that my disposition was causing the young men to lose their calm and therefore their necessary precision and stealth. In order to calm their nerves I decided to give them what every spy desires-- Information. “Go ahead, Jarett,” I encouraged him.
“I--not to offend you or anything--but--um--I thought we already searched the royal chambers and that the few servants and guards who passed through there didn't seem worried about trespassers.”
“You're correct,” I confirmed. “We did keep the chambers under thorough scrutiny. That's why we aren't actually going to search the royal chambers--we're going to search under them.”
“So, there are underground chambers. This time the speaker was a lady, one of my fastest and most skilled students. “You've seen them before--been in them before,” as she said that last part she looked at me with a smirk-of-a-smile that said she thought she was right.
Marisa, some would say, looked very striking--others, those who see her angry or in battle, see her as a demoness. Her hair, long despite our council, was streaked purple and added to the mystical yet horrific sight see becomes during her insatiable blood-lust. When she wasn't in a stressful situation her eyes were deep and full of a longing that only added to her beautiful. Even more dramatic was the fact that her eyes were the same shade of purple as her hair. I turned my head and nodded showing my approval of her sharp mind then said, “More or less. The late King Darin had them built secretly at the start of his reign.” I almost didn't continue, but then I decided that more information would be useful to them. “I was once “allied” with King Darin and was debriefed in those chambers.”
Before I could say any more Marisa interrupted, “That was when you worked for the Black Fang.”
I didn't say any thing for a few seconds then asked, “What brought you to that conclusion? Why would you think I was Fang?”
“There's a Black Fang tattoo on your right shoulder and Nergal's seal of servitude over your heart.” She paused. “I saw it a few weeks ago back at the headquarters when you were training. I didn't recognize the tattoo at first so I researched it. It's the mark Nergal place on his life long slaves.” She then glared at me and said, “And that was very difficult information to get. In fact, I wasn't even sure I was correct until you responded like that.” I was about to respond when she interrupted again, “What exactly are the underground chambers used for?”
“I glared at her until she got uncomfortable and said, “They're used as torture chambers and prison cells for traitors, “enemies of the state” and spies.”
Marisa's face then broke into a large mischievous grin, “Ha! I was right.” Then looking at me she said, “We're going to get to fight soon.”
When we did arrive at the--now uncovered—trapdoor that opens to the chambers, I got out a lockpick to release the lock and whispered, “When we drop in I want you, Jarett, to go to the left and position yourself between the second and third pillars. You'll have a good view of the whole room and plenty of room to throw your knives. Marisa, you'll follow me down the center. We're going for the large white door on the far left. You can't miss it--it will be the only thing in the room that doesn't have blood stained all over it. They bleach the door every day to keep it clean since it's the only door from which the prisoners can leave--alive.”
We were all silent as I positioned the pick inside the lock and turned it releasing the lock with a satisfying clunk. I motioned them to their positions as I braced to swing the door open. One—two—three! I swung the door up and we jumped through—Marisa pulling the door shut behind us.
I hit the ground running—not looking to see if the others were ok—and charged the first guard I saw. He was large and tall with dark skin and bulging muscles. He was also slow and easily dispatched by a throwing knife he never saw coming. I jumped on top of his shoulders before he hit the ground and used them to propel me into the chest of the next guard—my dagger twisting into his heart. Two down. I now allowed myself a quick glance to check on my students. Jarett was throwing his knives with an accuracy that befitted his many hours of training. Marisa was in slightly more trouble since she had three guards with spears slashing at her. One of the soldiers almost succeeded in defeating her as the tip of his spear barely missed the flesh of her scalp and sliced cleanly through the bindings that held her hair back. With her hair flowing in her wake she continued to dodge and parry their blows looking for an opening. There! One of the guards swung straight down from above, his spear landing directly in front of her. She quickly jumped onto his spear and flipped over him, turning in the air, and, in one smooth motion, landed behind him and stabbed her dagger up through his heart. She’s killed and drawn blood. Now the Purple Demoness will emerge. Marisa twirled a throwing knife in her hand then flicked toward the second guard striking him in the neck. At the same time she charged at the third guard, jumped in the air, spun in a tight circle--her unbound hair flowing around her-- and slashed her dagger down through his skull at a seventy five degree angle. She landed with her left knee and hand on the floor as if kneeling. Then, with an undeniable air of grace she raised herself up, swung her hair around back behind her head binding it skillfully as if she was raised as royalty instead of warrior.
That's all of them. I thought as I made one last sweep looking for places the enemy could hide. “Let's find our man,” I said as my comrades looked to me for direction. “If he's still alive he's probably in this room.” We began to search through the weak and dying “Enemies of the State” for any that resembled at least a shell of the great spy who had gone MIA. We searched for nearly an hour—twice as long as I would have normally allowed for such a high stakes procedure. If any other guards came in they’d see the bodies of those slain and possibly sound an alarm before we could silence them.
“I—” Jarret started to say something but his throat was dry. He swallowed and tried again, “I don’t think he’s in here.”
“I agree.” I stated bluntly. “He’s not in here. We’re wasting time. Let’s go—”
“What?” said a man’s voice disappointedly. Then, with a hint of playfulness in his voice he questioned, “Giving up on me already?”
My eyes shifted toward the new figure standing in the center of the room. Zari—
“Zarius!” My thoughts were interrupted by Marisa’s uncharacteristic exclamation. “You’re ok. I—I mean—I knew you would be. I—”
This time I interrupted. “Hold!” My eyes never left the man as I tried to figure out what it was that my mind was telling me didn’t look right.
“Marisa!” I warned. Then, addressing Zarius, I inquired, “Those knives at your side are not the ones we gave you at your graduation.”
Zarius, who until this point had been grinning from ear to ear, replied with a sigh, “Oh yeah. When I was first captured they took them from me and I was never able to find them after I escaped.” Then, changing the subject he said, “Well, what are we just standing here for. Let’s gather everyone and trade information. I bet you guys are really curious as to how I escaped and why I didn’t go straight back to the Guild.”
“You’re right,” I put in before he could say any more. I folded my arms and said, “We are curious as to why you didn’t go back.” Zarius started to respond but I continued before he could. “And how did you know that there were others? It could have been just the three of us.”
“Well, I just assumed that—”
“Wrong!” I exclaimed. “A member of the Assassin’s Guild never assumes anything!”
“Are you implying that I—”
“That you aren’t Guild—at least not any more; or that you’re lying to your superior?”
“Jaffar!” pleaded Marisa. “What are you doing! How can you accuse my brother like this when we’ve just found him?” She started to walk toward Zarius despite my command to hold.
“Because he was either treated like a king during his “imprisonment” or he is a traitor!”
Marisa, with a fire in her eyes, shouted, “Just because Zarius isn’t the tortured and starved husk you assumed you’d find, doesn’t make him a traitor!”
I took note that Marisa was now standing between Zarius and myself. Zarius walked up to Marisa and put his hand on her shoulder, “It’s ok little sister,” said Zarius soothingly. “You don’t have to defend for me.” Then, still addressing Marisa but looking at me, he added, “I seems that Jaffar’s the one who needs to deal with some issues.”
“Jarret,” I started very calmly. “If Marisa continues to disobey orders and Zarius continues to ignore my questions then both of them are to be considered enemies of the Guild and disabled immediately.”
“Do you understand?”
“Yes sir,” replied Jarret without hesitation. However I could see signs of fear and confusion in his eyes.
“Marisa,” questioned Zarius just loud enough for us to hear. “Are you ready to fight with me if it comes down to that?”
“Why?” begged Marisa. “Why can’t we all just go home?”
“Zarius is the only one who can answer that for us,” I said darkly. Then getting louder with every question I asked, “So do explain. Why are you making up excuses? Why do you try to change the subject? Why are you full of energy and not dehydrated? Why aren’t you chained to a wall?” By this point I was yelling, “Why are you stronger than when I saw you last? Why can’t we all just go home!”
“Shut up!” screamed Marisa. She drew her knives and charged me. “Die, Angel of Death!”
She came at me head on and threw one of her knives while she was still two paces away. Due mainly to reflexes, Jarret threw his own knife deflecting hers just inches from my face. I knew he would so I didn’t have to bother trying to dodge and was able to ready my own knives and throw them. She dodged them as easily as I’d expected her to, but in doing so see neglected to see Jarret’s knife come in from the side. However, this time it was Zarius who deflected the knife as he appeared beside his sister stopping her with a hand on her shoulder.
We all just stood there in silence, each waiting for one of the others to make a move. Finally it was Zarius who broke the silence. “With the teams divided the way they are this fight could take a very long time. I for one have places to go, people to see and things to do. So, why don’t we tip the scales a little in our direction.”
He then drew a couple knives and threw one toward each of us all in one split second. I barely had to move to dodge mine and Jarret’s narrowly missed the delicate tendons of his throwing arm. However, as I realized in the few milliseconds after I dodged, He wasn’t aiming for us at all. The knives each slashed through the base of the flame on two of the four torches that lit the room. Then, immediately after releasing the first two knives Zarius turned and threw two more at the back torches. The room was now pitch dark. Suddenly I heard a very unexpected sound. The door! “Ambush!” I shouted. “Jarret! Marisa! Get out of here!” About twenty armed guards charged in shouting into the lightless void. Less guards then I expected but that only proved that they were smarter than I gave them credit for. Now they created enough noise to cover for Zarius—and possibly Marisa if she chose to follow him—to do what ever he wants, and since there were less of them they didn’t have to worry about running into each other.
Jaffar was jolted out of his day dreaming by a small stone being thrown at him. As he tried to pick himself up he realized that he felt a lot weaker than he thought he was before his lashes. He picked up the stone and was almost humored to discover that it was actually a very hard piece of burnt bread. “There’s your day’s food, worm,” spoke a harsh voice. “They require us to keep you all alive. So make sure to eat that, or we’ll force something down your throat later.”
It was just now that Jaffar recalled the last thing he had heard—and felt—just before he blacked out. As he sprinted for the exit of the dungeon he suddenly came to a shocking halt as a strong arm grabbed his neck from behind and the hilt of a knife struck a paralyzing blow to the back of his head. The words “I’m called a Whisper” even now echoed in his mind. The speaker was none other than his former apprentice Zarius.
Keep an eye out for:
Part Four: Incohesive Incognito
Coming eventually to a computer near you!