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Assassin [Part Four]

ArchivedUserArchivedUser Guest
edited November 2017 in Fan Stories

Neutral Territory

Feldernost drew on his pipe as he watched the city’s inhabitants go about their business. The dwarf wore simple, brown traveling clothes stained by many long journeys. A long, green sash, embroidered with a black serpent along its length, wrapped around the dwarf’s neck with the tail ends reaching to his waist. On his legs were strapped two small crossbows, large enough for him to use in either hand and a dagger tucked away on the back of his belt. To the casual observer, these would look like any other crossbow, though more compact. However, these were Halenal Bows, equipped with five bolt cylinders and had cost the dwarf a small dragon horde. By drawing the string with a simple thumb lever, the serving would pull as the cylinder rotated, producing a new bolt in the flight groove, ready to fire. Feldernost, himself, was as rugged and worn as his clothing, with deep lines on his face from past battles and old age. Blue eyes peered from under his bushy, white eyebrows. His beard, most likely the cleanest part of his body, was white and tied in a singular braid, wrapped in a silver mesh. A constant scowl took residence on his face warding off many tourists if one were to call them that, and would-be thieves. Feldernost was not one for mercy and forgiveness and they knew it.

 Bizenpar is the most populated of the neutral cities along the coast. Tens of thousands called this place home, from merchants looking to avoid the high taxes of their native territories to the disowned and outcast. Here the black market catered to all who could meet the price. Crime was common place, though rarely reported. Not due to neglect of the city watch and their public offices, but by the constant presence of bounty hunters. Citizens and traveling merchants took note of who they dealt with, otherwise, they could awaken in the dead of night to find a knife at their throat. Here, it was the rich that ruled and few escaped their golden thumbs.

The dwarf looked at a message board that stood in the center of the market place. In other cities, this board would list the various shops and antiquities the square had to offer. In Bizenpar, this was the Bounty Contracts. Most of these bounties were over minor offenses, stolen merchandise, a lover’s dispute, and one even offering a hundred gold pieces to anyone who could kill the cabbage merchant. These bounties were written on plain, white parchment while the more dangerous ones were written in green. Green contracts involved the deaths of political leaders and guild masters found in all territories. While these bounties could fund a small army and grant any man or woman luxuries that were otherwise beyond their station, most who ventured to collect never returned.

The board was surrounded by people. Most wore the armor of battle-hardened warriors while still others were young folk in simple clothing, looking for their place in this growing world. One creature stood out to the smoking dwarf. It was a man, roughly five feet tall and wore the fineries of a trader. He did not concern himself with the brutes crowded around as he pinned white and green contracts on the board. Feldernost snuffed the burning weed in his pipe and tapped out its contents. When the pipe was secured in one of the folds on his travel-stained jerkin, he made his way to the man. When he was in range, Feldernost grabbed the man by the shoulder and turned him around.The man’s expression changed from shock and anger to sheer terror when he noticed who had disrupted his work. 

“F-Feldernost. Good to see you again, my friend.” He said. His eyes darted back and forth like a trapped animal looking for the quickest escape.

“Save yer sweet talk, Duer.” Said the dwarf. “That contract o’ yers last month almost got me killed.”

“Y-You have to forgive me. I didn’t realize he would put up such a fight. All my informants told me he was just a minor territory noble. You’ve killed bigger fish before… as the saying goes.” Said Duer.

“Did yer informants forget to tell ye that he was also a master summoner, or ye just leave that part out fer a cheaper bounty?” asked Feldernost. The dwarf brought his left hand forward, pinning the main against the board.

“Yes-well-no…” stammered Duer. His darting eyes met an orc who was observing the strange pair. He nodded at the silent plea from the man and stepped forward. When Feldernost shot the newcomer a look that could slay a dragon, the orc turned away, finding something of particular interest in a jeweler’s kiosk.

“Three days.” Said the dwarf through gritted teeth. “That’s how long it took me to evade that half-eagle-half-lion creature.”

“Griffin.” corrected Duer.

“Ye wot.” Feldernost gave the man a confused look.

“That’s what they’re called, Griffins.” Said Duer in confirmation. “Are you telling me he was able to summon a griffin from another plane? That is some powerful magic. Griffins aren’t known for their docile nature.”

Feldernost backhanded the man, sending him to the ground. Duer’s nose began to bleed as he raised his hand up protectively. “Don’t ye be changin’ the subject ye half-bred-motherless-son-of-a-”

“I can pay you!” said Duer, shielding himself as the dwarf raised his hand for another strike. “Double-No Triple the bounty! I’ll even throw in a score of paid mercenaries to help you this time.”

“Buggar that.” Said Feldernost. He extended his open hand. Duer looked at it for a moment. Realizing he wasn’t going to be hit again the man accepted the hand and used it to pick himself up off the ground. He brushed the dirt off his fine clothing as the dwarf continued. “Ye pay me, in full, tonight. I’ll be by after sunset to collect.”

“But-” started the man, but cowered when Feldernost scowled. “Of course. Always a pleasure to do business with you, Master Dwarf. I’ll have your payment by sundown. G-good day!”

The man scurried away before anything else was said. Behind the dwarf, several people chuckled at the ridiculous display. “Don’t ye have something better to do than stare at me ass?” he asked the group behind them. They parted, allowing the dwarf to pass. After he got several dozen feet away he could hear the uproar of laughter, drowning out the noise of the square. Passer-byes look on in confusion at the inside joke.

Feldernost made his way through the market place, ignoring the laughter at his expense. Merchants called out their ware to sell and whores stood in the entrance to their brothels, enticing both men and women to enter at their leisure. As he moved further from the market, the crowds began to die down. Guards replaced merchant while messengers replaced buyers. The noise of the market, which had once been a constant tug on his ears, was now a distant echo. The dwarf continued down the winding streets until he came to a sign standing out from a poorly lit doorway. The paint was faded, but the dwarf could still see the symbol of the Vek, an all-seeing eye surrounded by tribal glyphs between eight leaf shaped spears. Feldernost pushed through the door.

Burning weed entered his nostrils as his eyes adjusted to the sudden darkness. The only light that filled the room came from a single chandelier overlooking the bar. The patrons of this establishment took note of the dwarf before returning to their business. Feldernost made a beeline for the bar but was stopped by an orc. He stood roughly seven feet tall with corded muscles. On his back was a claymore, clean and sharpened. The orc itself wore no armor, only a well-fitting leather vest. The dwarf looked up to the behemoth with more than a little bile.

“We’re closed, little dwarf. Run back to ya cave.” Said the Orc.

“Not fer me, orc. I’ve business with yer patron an’ I’m not one fer waiting.” Said Feldernost, putting his hands on his hips. He knew he looked ridiculous, like a child refusing to go to bed, but he also knew that in any battle deception won more times than brute strength.

“Ya got much rock in ya head or ya just deft?” asked the orc. “Out, before I put ya out.”

Feldernost laughed at the brute. “Bah, yer not big enough.”

  The orc stretched out his arms in an attempt to pick the dwarf up, but Feldernost was the faster. With the strength of the anvil, the dwarf brought his right fist up, connecting with the orc’s groin. In the same movement, Feldernost unsheathed a dagger strapped to the back of his belt with his left hand and sliced open the orc’s right leg to the bone. The sudden pain and loss of control brought the orc to his knees. When he was eye level with the behemoth, Feldernost thrust his head forward, this time connecting with the orc’s nose. There was a sickening crunch and the orc fell onto his back. Blood poured freely from the orc’s wounds. When he tried to regain his footing he was stopped by a crossbow leveled at his head.

“Get up an’ I’ll put one right between yer eyes.” Threatened Feldernost. The orc held little doubt that the dwarf would make good on his threat and used what little smarts he had and remained on the ground, covering his nose and open leg.

“FELDERNOST!” came a cry from the end of the bar. It belonged to another orc, though more diminutive and spoke from the roof of his mouth. “Of all the clerics in all the world, why have the gods sent you to be my bane…”

The dwarf returned the crossbow to its customary position on his leg and stepped to the bar. He grabbed a stool and hoisted himself into it with a grunt. The orc grabbed a bottle of brown liquid and poured several ounces into a clean glass before sliding it in front of the dwarf. Feldernost raised the glass in salute to the orc behind the bar then turned to do the same to the orc on the floor, who had not moved. Draining the glass in one gulp he set it down with a sigh of pleasure. The orc refilled the glass then reached under the bar. When his hand came back into view he held a small, red vial. The orc tossed it to a human who sat off in a corner in the room.

“Give this to the oaf and send him home.” He told his employee. Then he looked at the dwarf with a mixture of respect and irritation. “What do you want now, Feldernost. I have no bounty for you and I don’t appreciate you bringing violence into my bar.”

Feldernost laughed at the orc. “Is that what yer callin’ this dank, frog infested hole now, Xinta? Ye can do better than that.”

Xinta rolled his eyes, though could not hide a small grin, and poured a second glass of the brown liquid for himself. The pair tapped their glasses together in a toast, then gulped the contents. Feldernost let out a burp, causing more than one pair of eyes to look his direction in irritation. The dwarf never apologized or gave a look of guilt. He wiped his beard covered face with the back of his right hand. Now that he was properly buzzed it was time to get down to business. Feldernost tossed a small pouch of coins on the wooden bar. The sound of metal clinked as they settled. Xinta looked at the pouch with greed in his eyes. “What’s your pleasure, Master Dwarf.” The orc said.

“I need more glasstips.” Said the dwarf. He unslung a small quiver from his back and placed them on the table.

“You’ve been busy.” Started the orc as he pocketed the coins and picked up the quiver. “Those bolts should have lasted you till winter. Follow me.”

The orc walked to the edge of the bar and lifted a drawbridge, allowing passage. Feldernost hopped from the stool and followed the orc to the center of the bar. Xinta gave him a look of mischief, before walking through a display of bottled liquors forcing it to shimmer slightly before returning to a solid state. With tentative steps, the dwarf followed. He felt a cool fabric brush against his face. A second later he was in a well-lit room lined with shelves and racks. Items were scattered in the room, some being help in displayed with clear warning signs against touching them. Weapons lined one section of wall, in racks, while the other held several dozen cages. Inside these cages were animals. Some the dwarf knew to be rare, if not illegal, to possess. The gave cries of alarm and irritation for the sudden change in their environment. These animals were not used to the company of other people.

“How do you like my curtain of illusion?” asked Xinta. Feldernost shrugged in indifference, but the orc laughed all the same. “It once belonged to a brothel mistress. Some of her more perverted patrons enjoyed watching more than playing. It has the ability to take on any surface the owner wishes. So long as nothing comes in contact with it, the desired image will remain. Ironically, it was this curtain that destroyed the brothel. From the story I was told, an important dignitary from the Empyrean territories visited the establishment and paid well, only to realize that he was putting on a show for others. The place was destroyed, but I was able to salvage the curtain.”

“The glasstips, Xinta.” Said Feldernost, rolling his eyes in irritation.

“Wait here.” Said the orc, some what deflated. Xinta walked further into the room and turned left down a short hallway. Feldernost busied himself with looking through the various weapons and items. Little to his surprise, the majority of the items were well crafted and would fetch a high price. Some items looked worn if not broken, but he knew Xinta and the orc never traded in junk.

 A torrent of fire exited the hallway the orc had passed down and Feldernost heard the orc squeal. Xinta cursed in its native tongue as a small explosion sounded, followed by a thud. “Pesky lizards,” the dwarf could hear Xinta say in exasperation. “Thank the gods you fetch a high price, otherwise I’d eat you with your own bones.” 

Feldernost rolled his eyes, then turned his attention to a rack of weapons admiring their jeweled adornments and intricate carvings. One weapon stood out from the others, sparking his interest. It was a double headed hammer with a translucent spike rising from the top. The metal was a shining black, glittering in the light. In the center of the head was an engraved crown made of silver. The handle itself was three feet long and wrapped in a fine, gray leather with arcane symbols spiraling up and down. Looking to see the orc was still busy with whatever creature had escaped its cell, Feldernost reached out and withdrew the weapon. It was light, as though there was nothing in his hand. He realized in that moment this was dwarven made. Only the Dünzenkell would have the skill to craft such a weapon. Before he could examine the weapon further, a heat stung his hand as the head of the Warhammer turned from shining black to angry red. Smoke rose from the dwarf’s gloved hand. Feldernost dropped the weapon and shook his hand violently to relieve the stinging heat that now threatened to burn him.

Behind him, he heard Xinta laughing. It was halfway between a purr and a cackle. “Didn’t your mother ever tell you it’s not polite to touch another man’s hammer?”

The dwarf flexed his hand as he stared at the orc. “Where did ye get this hammer?” he was not amused.

Xinta shrugged at the question. “How I get all of my wares. Barter and deals are my trade.”

“An’ murder?” asked Feldernost, his left hand reaching for the second crossbow strapped to his leg.

“Wot? No, no! I would nevah.” Said Xinta. 

“Then how’d ye get yer filthy hands on a Dünzenkell hammer?” asked the dwarf. It was well known that the dwarves guarded their crafting secrets more than their prized jewels and gold. Few were ever permitted to wield their weapons outside of wartime and even fewer were allowed to keep them. Kings, queens and political leaders prized these weapons and offered gold, lands, and titles for the chance to own one, but every time the offer was rejected. Only those with the title of Dünkita (Dwarf Friend) would be allowed these weapons and often at great personal cost or sacrifice.

“A pair of dwarf brothers passed through Bizenpar two years ago. They were masters in smithing and enchantments. This weapon was their last possession aside from a small sack of coins and the clothes on their back. I offered them safe passage to Yeeziküla, in the Niküla Isles, provided they give me this weapon. It took some convincing, but they ultimately sold the weapon to me as they boarded the ship. An even trade and fair deal.” Said Xinta.

While he understood the orc dealt in half truths, Xinta never openly lied to him. It was hard to swallow, but Feldernost accepted the explanation. “Why did it burn me hand?” he asked.

Xinta relaxed and put on the face of a trader eager to sell his goods. “The head and handle are comprised of Hematite crystal and obsidian, hence the blackness of the metal. The spike is comprised of calcite and invisible when sunlight is directly on it. The enchantments were placed by one of the brothers, who is a battle-mage. There are several enchantments, but there are two main ones that concern non-mage wielders. The first is a light touch, allowing the wielder to use the weapon in combat without becoming fatigued from the weight. The second is a protection ward. The battle-mage dwarf didn’t like the prospect of being disarmed during battle and his own creation being turned against him. That is why it burned your hand. Only mages may wield this hammer.”

“How in the hell were you able to get it in here without melting yer bones?” asked Feldernost, honestly intrigued by the weapon.

“Ah! The brothers made this for me before they left.” Said Xinta, grabbing a gauntlet made of obsidian from the same rack. “The battle-mage enchanted this gauntlet to give a faint magical signature when in contact with the Warhammer. It fools the Warhammer in believing I am a mage and won’t burn me.”  Xinta slipped the gauntlet over one hand and picked up the Warhammer. It flashed in a red let for only an instant, then returned to a dormant state. “See? Perfectly safe, so long as you are holding the Warhammer with this glove.”

Feldernost nodded to the orc as he placed it back on the rack with the other weapons. Xinta slipped the gauntlet off and set it next to the Warhammer. He then moved over to a quiver filled with crossbow bolts. “Here are the glasstips you asked for,” Xinta said.

The dwarf moved closer to the quiver and removed one bolt from it. He held it up before him, examining it. The shaft was normal wood, designed to fit in his single-handed crossbows, but it was the tips that Feldernost was after. At the end of the shaft sat a small, tear drop shaped arrow filled with a yellow liquid. “What’s the poison?” Feldernost asked.

“Rattle-raptor venom.” Said Xinta. “Quite lethal by itself. This poison is a mixture of that venom with badger milk and withers seed. The two extra ingredients ensure the victim’s organs won’t shut down and remain painless, though they will be unable to control their limbs or speak. They will retain their vision and hearing, but otherwise are powerless.”

Feldernost chuckled as he turned the bolt over in his hand. “Who’s crazy enough to tangle with rattle-raptors?” he asked. Rattle-raptors were some of the few predators that no race dealt with, next to dragons and other monsters capable of making meals out of them. Normal Raptors were pack animals, capable of bringing down prey much larger than themselves. Hunters often killed entire packs of raptors, selling their hides, talons, and meat at market, but rattle-raptors were different. Unlike their pack cousins, the rattle-raptors were solitary creatures, only joining together during their mating season, in winter. Their tails produce a high pitch sound that disorients the Raptor's prey, allowing them to charge forward before the animal has time to react. If the prey was able to overpower the raptor and flee, the venom injected by their long, toe-claw would work its way through the animal’s body until it finally died. Most who practice the breeding, taming and selling of exotic animals, including raptors, avoided these creatures at all cost. Rattle-raptors were lethal and fast, even when not using their tails.

“Great reward often requires great risk.” Said Xinta, plainly. “A single ounce of this venom is worth more than a farmer could hope to make in two years of harvest. While I agree that hunting such creatures is suicide, it’s those suicidal people who keep people like me in business.”

“And yer positive this poison won’t kill?” asked Feldernost.

“There are no reported cases that I’m aware of. Aside from the venom, the ingredients for this poison are not hard to come by and are used in many healing drafts by alchemists.” The orc said.

Satisfied with the answer, Feldernost returned the bolt to the quiver and hoisted it over his head, strapping it to his back. Their business concluded, both dwarf and orc returned to the bar. Once they passed the curtain of illusion, Xinta grabbed another bottle of brown liquid and began pouring them drinks again. Feldernost returned to his stool and grabbed the glass offered to him. They drank for several minutes before Xinta spoke again. “Out of professional curiosity… Why do you bother with non-lethal glasstips? Don’t most of your bounties end up dead anyway?”

“I don’t kill,” Feldernost said. He looked to his cup and raised it to his lips. “Not anymore.” He said as he tossed the drink back. His cheeks turned crimson in a comforting warmth the drinks provided. He could feel the slight rush to his forehead and welcomed the effects of the brown liquid. He showed no caution at becoming drunk. His skills and the protections he asked from his God were beyond most alive. Even in a drunken state, he was more than a match for anyone inside the neutral city.

“But you do,” insisted Xinta. “At least by extension, now. You were one of the top assassins in Bizenpar until twenty years ago. What could possibly have happened to Elfbane that would make him give up his most profitable profession?”

Feldernost grimaced at the mention of his old nickname. A hundred years ago, he had been a prized assassin, Xinta was right about that. He favored killing elves and often only accepted a job when the long-lived race was involved. He hated the nickname, but often enemies gave unflattering titles, even if they were deserved. The dwarf tossed back another drink and tipped the empty glass upside down. “I don’t kill, anymore.” He said, in finality.

“But you should,” said Xinta. He reached under the bar and produced a small, green parchment. The orc slid it across the table with a single finger and held it there, in front of the dwarf. “This contract was issued by a clan of dwarves. It calls for the death of an elven princess who betrayed their clan, or at least her mother did. The mother has been dead for centuries now, but you know dwarves… they don’t forgive grudges easily. The princess has been in hiding for the past two hundred years but has resurfaced in the Kaelar territories. The dwarves aren’t willing to start a war with the humans, so they are offering fifty thousand gold pieces to anyone who brings the head of this woman to them.”

“Why would ye be interested in this? Killin’ isn’t exactly yer trade.” Said Feldernost. His tone was harsh, but his face belied his interest. Something about this seemed familiar, like a childhood memory resurfacing after spending centuries dormant. His heart raced as Xinta answered.

“Killing? Yes, below me, but not so far that I can’t see the benefits of this contract.” Said the orc. “This unknown princess has been staying in a small town on the edges of the world, near one of the four gateways that have been a heated topic these past few months. She has no guard, no allies. Only a small hovel and planar creatures to keep her company.” Feldernost eye’s narrowed at that last statement. Last time he faced a summoner he almost didn’t live to tell the tale. “Not to worry,” said Xinta when he noticed the dwarf’s expression. “She is far from a master summoner, as the reports tell me. She attempted to summon a creature from the plane of fire during the crop burning season and almost took the town with it. Since then, she has been prohibited in contacting that plane.”

“I expect ye want a cut of the profits.” Said Feldernost, schooling his emotions.

“Has Elfbane returned from the ashes?” asked Xinta in mock surprise. “That did not take much convincing. It must be true what they say about your distaste for elves, eh?”

Feldernost pulled the green parchment from under Xinta’s finger, rolled it up and placed it inside his jerkin. “I have me reasons.” He said, not divulging any further information.

“Excellent!” said Xinta in glee. “How does twenty percent of the profits sound, eh? You’ll still have enough gold to buy your own castle.”

“One hundred percent.” Said Feldernost.

Xinta opened and closed his mouth, trying to discern what the dwarf meant. “One hundred percent?” the orc asked with incredulity.

“Aye, ye can have all the gold.” Said Feldernost. “I want that Warhammer and gauntlet.”

The orc screwed its face up in confusion. “But… you can’t use it. It’s too big for you to use with one hand even with the enchantments, and meant for a mage besides. Why would you want an item you can’t wield?”

“To get a Dünzenkell weapon out of yer greedy hands, for a start.” Said Feldernost. He did not elaborate further. “Do we have a deal?”

Xinta replaced the look of confusion with pure greed. “Bargain struck. Bring her head to me and the hammer is yours.”

“No, I want it now.” Said Feldernost. Xinta laughed.

“My old friend, you must be joking. You know how this works: Payments due at the end of a delivery not before. I wouldn’t remain in business if I paid for all my eggs before they hatched.”

“Ye’ll be payin’ fer this one.” Said Feldernost. “Have I ever failed on a delivery?”

“Once or twice.” Said Xinta sarcastically. The orc brought his hand to his chin as he pondered. With the gold from this one bounty, Xinta could leave the black market altogether and make a new life for himself. What was that against one magical item? He let out a sigh of defeat. “Very well… I’ll give you the hammer, but I want her head on this bar before the year is out.”

“Deal.” Said Feldernost and extended his arm. Xinta returned the gesture and they locked hands, sealing the deal. “Give me her name an’ location.”

“She lives in a town called Brekfuntle on the eastern end of the Kaelar territories. Her name is Anastacia… Anastacia Tru.”


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