- January 14, 2021
The Great Crow
Year 952, time of the Great Crow.
Sepsis, Northern Muriel
The dark, long haired assassin and his young apprentice trotted down a muddy path to a small village in the recently war torn region of Sepsis, a place that never flows milk or honey.
It was dark at dawn. The assassin could see through the night with his eyes, developed under the training of the Society of Assassins.
Sepsis was a place where common people were scrounging together whatever they could to survive, and some took to isolation from the rest to live amongst their own communities.
The assassin loved this place for work, because it was never hard to find any. It was simply so rare that another assassin wasn’t around so he didn’t travel through here often. Not all others of the Society quite liked this assassin.
For one thing, he had a nickname, and a calling card, which was considered unprofessional by the other assassins of the Society, but that came from being older and surviving longer than most. Not to mention that surviving longer than most meant he had special privileges they weren’t allowed, such as the choice of which country to work.
It helped that he specialized in hunting monsters than people, and monsters don’t warn other monsters.
This old but young-enough looking assassin could look for work anywhere he wanted, and had the pick of the apprentices. Still, he found it better to avoid such conflicts, in this violent world it never helped to have to kill your own peer, even if it was hard for someone else to prove it.
Corvus of Largony, the Great Crow, was famous by such a name in some parts, and not so much in others for his long life of assassinations, monster hunts, battles, and turning back the monsters of the Darklands. There are few among the Society of Assassins as famous a killer as him.
The Society had been sent a notice for a contract in Sepsis. A contract for a dragon killing villagers in this town. Corvus had offered to take it, and his master, a member of the Society’s council, had recommended that he take Millie with him so his apprentice could gain more first hand experience.
Apprentices always began with monsters to gain strength, and to grow used to killing. Growing used to killing with human targets first can breed the wrong kind of psychopathy for an assassin driven to the cause of peace and order, and the Darkland monsters were too strong for a young apprentice.
After some convincing to take her with him again, he had agreed and the two had spent a week trotting on their horses before they were hours away from the town.
Corvus turned to Millie to remind of her what kind of behavior was expected. “Now, Millie, let us go over again what you’re going to say when the insults and slurs come my way, as they always do. You’ll keep your mouth shut. I can handle the dumb and the bitter without you mouthing off to them like you have the last few times.”
“Sorry for defending you,” she said, “we travel this far to save them from a monster and the first thing people do is comment about how you look.” While they may be hidden under his armor, she can see the hint of the tattoos that mark his neck. The ones that lighten up after his use of magic, magic she has yet to learn.
“It’s all fine that you want to defend me but you calling the last contractor and his friends a bunch racist cunts got our payout lessened by nearly 50 steeds.” Corvus craned his head from under his cloak and saw the girl’s head dipping down.
He recognized that she just wanted people to be good, but she was going to learn that this was rarely the case when their kind was involved.
Corvus steered his horse close up next to hers. He reached his arm around to place a hand on her head, the closest he gets to a sign of endearment.
“Listen Millie, I know you just want to stop their words, but you can’t. That’s just the kind of people who populate this world, and when you’re no longer an apprentice but an assassin you’ll receive the same treatment, not only fro being an assassin but a woman assassin at that. Better to learn how to get over your feelings and deal with it, or else you’ll be angry all the time.”
“Which are you?” Millie asked. She tilted her head back to keep her mentor’s hand there, and look at his face when he gave his answer.
“Angry all the time.”
They kept on trotting.
Corvus of Largony and his apprentice had entered the village, receiving much attention from the folk around. The three Mureek soldiers guarding the village’s entrance nodded to the assassin and apprentice when they passed.
Corvus patted Millie on the shoulder to get her attention for important instruction. “Millie, when we find the town chief, listen carefully to the monster he describes. You’ll need to recognize what kind of monster it is by the details they give. It’s good practice for gathering information about an assassination target, for future monster contracts, the works…
“Especially for dragon contracts, they’re almost never dragons, people usually can’t describe monsters better than people so they just say dragons. You must be sure or else you can end up incorrectly preparing against a target, or worse, a beast.”
Millie listened intently, it’s stuff she’s heard a hundred times from him and her instructors, but it was always this sort of reward to listen to him talk about the work he knew so much about. Without question, she could tell he enjoyed it, despite the coldness he spoke of it with.
“I understand, but with monsters, will they never be correct on the contract?” Millie’s question was in reference to the contract asking for help against a dragon.
As Corvus just said, any good assassin in training knows most common people aren’t seeing dragons. Those, like amphipteres, rarely leave the Darklands, and in over his one hundred years, Corvus has only fought one that crossed the Reticon Wall.
Most people just think it’s a dragon when it’s really just a wyvern or a wyrm, which were quite common and in some instances more dangerous.
They looked just like dragons. The wyvern is a flying reptile, but the wings are attached to the arms, not their backs.
The wyrm lacks any arms or legs, but they hide underground, so people can’t tell.
Dragons and amphipteres, are the worst. They’re larger, they fly, and some breath fire, and when they fly so high, people can’t tell that amphipteres don’t have any legs. Either creature is usually too dangerous for one assassin alone, but dragons usually will take a whole group if they know its one for sure.
And never would the Society purposely send an apprentice hunt down either.
“Usually not,” he tells her honestly, “most people don’t have the knowledge of a bestiary to study. Also, when the chief talks about the monster and calls it a dragon, don’t correct him before or after we kill it. Erica told me about a time she got her pay reduced after telling a chief the monster was just a wyrm, not a dragon. The chief gave her less pay for an easier job in his mind. Rarely will you have to worry about that problem with people.”
“I understand.” Millie went back to looking forward and found a watering post for the horses. “Cor, near that inn, do you see where we can leave the horses?”
“Of course,” he told her matter of factly, then trotted over and dismounted to tie the reins to the posts.
Then a slightly overweight, bearded man walked over to them, dressed in overalls and a dress shirt. The stains and his smell of alcohol disgusted Millie, but Corvus was used to it.
“You the assassin? Must be with those tats.” The man took the moment to spit to the side and look over both the assassin and his apprentice. Corvus just stared at him emptily.
The man thought to insult him to get a rise out of him. Corvus assumed he was most definitely already drunk. “Didn’t know that a negroid could be an assassin,” then the man just chuckled to himself in some sense of superiority.
Millie frowned hard but Corvus just let the insult deflect off him. The assassin insulted the man underhandedly, opposed to Millie’s more direct vulgarity. “Yes, strange isn’t it? All you need to be an assassin nowadays is to be fit and healthy.” Corvus made a head motion to look the man over. “Probably wouldn’t be for you though.”
Millie lightened up a bit at the comeback.
The man grew irritated. “Remember asshole, I’m the chief of this town, and I’m the one paying you.”
“I remember, you seemed to be having a problem with a dragon that only I can kill.” Corvus wasn’t going to let the man intimidate him. “Now, do you want to continue to waste my time or we can on with it?”
“Hheeerrr.” The chief’s growl was loud and visible through his gritting teeth, but the assassin had no reason to be intimidated, Corvus just continued to gaze indifferently against the chief’s behavior. The chief subconsciously ceded.
“Fine, go look for a hunter named Henrik in that house there. He saw the dragon that maimed three of our people.”
“It maimed? And only three? Weak dragon.” The assassin’s questions came off as disrespectful, as if he expected the town to have lost more.
While he did expect more deaths, it’s because if a monster was hunting people in the village, it would have come back regularly and it wouldn’t have only maimed anyone, it would have eaten them. That’s common sense for any animal. The victim’s description already didn’t make sense.
The chief took it as an offense. “What? You’d prefer more innocent folk died, you freak? Hurry up and kill it so you can get your money and outta of here.”
Then the man stormed off back towards the inn, most likely to drink but before Corvus could haggle for a higher paying price. Looks as if he would just have to take the money posted on the notice.
Corvus turned towards his apprentice to test her listening skills. “Notice anything strange about what he said?”
“The monster has been around for at least two or three weeks based on the time it took us to get the contract notice, and the time to get here. It should have killed more people.” Millie had come to the same conclusions as her master. Corvus could already tell her knowledge of monsters was assassin quality.
If she wanted, or if he recommended, he could make sure that she never hunted anything more than monsters, that she would never need to kill people. That meant he needed to work on her physical abilities more. If the monster was a rabid wyvern he wasn’t sure whether or not he wanted to let her try and fight it with him.
“Good, I thought the same thing.” Minor compliments were the best Corvus could say to signal that he was impressed. The minor compliment was not lost on the girl though.
“Let’s go speak to that Henrik person, the chief mentioned. Hopefully, he can tell us where it was when it killed the people. Take your long knife.”
A sword of steel was much too big for Millie, she still wasn’t tall enough or strong enough yet at half Corvus’s height. Even as an adult, she would definitely be on the shorter side.
For now, she had a long knife the length of her elbow to her wrist, and a blade as thick just like most assassin apprentices. When they finished their training and practiced magic, she would have more than enough strength to wield not only one sword, but two. At her mentor’s command she quickly put the weapon and its sheath around her back.
The girl was excited. She hadn’t seen any particularly large monsters before. Just some stray dung Amphobians. The larger ones never crossed the desert between their wetlands and Sepsis. That meant Sepsis has a lot of the dumb ones and their descendants too.
The two left their horses tied to the inn’s watering post and proceeded to the house of this hunter named Henrik.
When they came to the door Corvus could hear frantic clanging around from the inside.
He called for the hunter as he banged on the door. “Henrik?! Your chief said you had information on the monster, I’m from the Society, the assassin you called to help!” The clanging stopped. “Henrik?! I need to know what happened to those-”
The door swung open and stood a man, a sweaty and rail thin man with rat-like whiskers for facial hair. He looked terrified and out of his mind in his underpants. “Are you a famous killer? One they call for monsters like giants and trolls?”
Corvus looked the man over. The hunter who he assumed to be Henrik looked like he was looking for someone to save him, and the assassin desired to be no such person. “Depends, I’m famous in some parts more so than others, not always for killing monsters. Have you ever heard of the Great Crow?”
“No.” The man just stared at Corvus as his legs began to shake. Then he took inventory of the two swords on the assassin’s back, and the short knife on his waist, the one he trained with when he was an apprentice. Henrik asked, “Why do you have two swords?”
“For a mere man, wielding two swords would be foolish. For an assassin it is a crutch to protect weak men, because to wield a sword with two hands means certain death. Only monsters derive that sort of effort.”
The assassin forgot that the man was already a nervous wreck and regretted saying that.
He regretted even more when Millie added, “The knife is for apprentices, and every assassin keeps his!”
“Millie, enough, I shouldn’t have said anything,” Corvus ordered her, but she had to finish.
“Sometimes, they still use the knife on cowards,” saying it as if it were the coolest thing.
“Enough,” he ordered her, and she was confused until she turned to Henrik to see him terrified. Then she understood.
Corvus tried to get back to the point. “Listen, you’re the hunter they call Henrik, correct?” The man nodded. “Okay, Henrik, what can you tell me about the monster you saw?”
Henrik brought the palm of his hand to his face and began to shake it back and forth, struggling to think. “I-I-I, remember the beast having four legs and wings. No! No, two legs, and talons! And, and… or maybe hooks on his belly? And wings on its back!”
“Which is it?” Corvus asked in an aggressive tone.
“I, I don’t know!” Henrik was a nervous wreck.
Obviously a weaker kind of person who couldn’t handle the gruesomeness he had seen. Corvus found Henrik ironic because he was supposed to be a hunter but couldn’t handle violence.
Corvus thought of what to do with this man. “Can you tell me where the people were?”
“Uh, yeah, near one of my perches. I’ll uh, go get my map, it can lead you to it, I think.” He disappeared into the house looking for it. The assassin thought that he heard Henrik call out for god, then the hunter came back with a damp parchment, the top splattered with blood. He pointed out the perch and where they were now. “Can you use this? Can you- can you-”
“Yes!” Corvus needed to stop the man’s rambling. “Thank you, please go back inside and stay there.”
The man quickly shut the door.
Corvus turned back to his apprentice with the terribly drawn map in his hands. Millie took it and looked it over. “I guess we can use this. Corvus, can Aevis smell blood when we get close?”
“Yes, this map leads into the forest and it hasn’t rained. Even then Aevis would still let me to see the old blood stains in the ground. Remember that so you know not to be discouraged.” She made a mental note of this information on the Aevis spell.
They began to walk through the woods for a while with a rough idea of where to go. The trees were tall and towering so even though they were relatively far apart, a little light shined through.
They walked past a trio of bushes when they heard growling and teeth chewing. The assassin recognized it to be that of saprophages.
He stopped them, and proceeded to whisper. “If saprophages are here, that means that the bodies are close.”
Saprophages usually showed up near the dead, as they were decomposers that literally ate the dead meat. Not to be confused with necrophages, which are more like dogs, and have gone extinct.
Corvus suspected that the saprophages were more of the feline variety, with the height of a cougar, but three times as stocky. They were also on four legs, but looked nothing like any natural animal. They were naked with a mix of black and brown in their skin pigments. Their hind legs reminded most of a frog in the way they were bent, but their bodies were longer than a frog’s or a cat’s.
Suffice to say, a twisted creature.
A saprophage’s teeth could rip the uninitiated to shreds in seconds, but Corvus was the initiated, and even without great speed and only amateur sword skill, Millie could hold her own against one, as long as she remembered her stance and pirouette.
The two heard rustling near the trees and bushes in front of them. Corvus made sure they were prepared. The assassin unsheathed his swords, one in each hand, and his apprentice her knife.
“Be ready, they’re coming.”
Millie nodded in response.
Three saprophages came out of the bush. The first went after Millie but Corvus moved quickly and beheaded it with one downward slash. Then the other two deemed him out to be the greater threat and started to surround him on both sides.
He started inching away from Millie so she wasn’t in his way. The saprophages moved with him, not wanting to be too close or too far.
Then they both came at him at once.
The assassin sidestepped the one from his left, moving into the path of the one from his right. Quickly, he slashed downwards across its face with his left sword, slitting it’s mouth and a nostril. The saprophages wasn’t a monster to spew much blood so Corvus didn’t expect his strike to affect its vision.
After that cut the saprophage became enraged and screeched at him. Then it started to get more aggressive, pouncing at Corvus.
He pirouetted to its right side and slashed at its stomach, leaving a gash that revealed its malformed ribs.
Corvus saw what happened to the third saprophage and knew he didn’t worry about it anymore. The last one was injured but wasn’t ready to give up. The final saprophages got on its hind legs and pounced one last time high towards the assassin’s head.
A fatal mistake.
The Great Crow took a strong step forward and impaled the saprophages on his right sword by plunging the blade through its mouth. The saprophage’s body was hanging on his sword, and to stop it from sliding down the blade he held it parallel with the ground, holding it’s complete weight with his sword. The assassin gazed quietly into its pupils as the saprophages’s life slowly faded from its eyes, the body twitching as it happened. The monster’s jaw fell apart and eventually the body was separated from its head, confirming the saprophage’s death.
Corvus tilted the blade and the top half of it’s head fell to the ground, leaving half of the sword covered in the saprophage’s blood. He whipped both swords with great strength to his sides, flinging off any excess blood.
He would need to clean them within a couple days to stop them from staining. It would be better to have Millie do it so she can practice how to eventually clean her own.
Corvus turned behind him to see how Millie was doing. She was on top of the saprophage that had attacked him before. She had jumped on the saprophage’s back from behind after Corvus had dodged its first attack.
Millie was struggling to remove her knife from it’s head. “Can you help? I can’t get it out, it’s stuck!” Corvus walked over to her, and motioned her to get off the saprophage. He grabbed the handle, twisted and pulled it out.
He handed it back to her, suggesting, “If it gets stuck, remember to twist and pull, it’ll loosen its place.”
“Oh, that makes sense!” she said, and then she almost went to put it right back into her sheathed.
“Ahem.” Corvus wanted to see if she would catch her mistake.
Millie stopped and looked at him. “What?” Corvus looked between her blade and her to give her hints. “What- oh! I can’t clean it here!”
“You can clean off the excess so it doesn’t get into the blade’s sheath. If you don’t it will keep staining the blade and you’ll need a new sheath.”
“So what if it stains? A red blade would look so pretty!”
Corvus rolled his eyes over her reasoning. “If it stains that means the blood has crept into the blade and it will degrade faster over time. Assassin swords are expensive, especially the Aethean steel ones.”
“But this isn’t an assassin sword!”
“But it builds good repetition, habit. Start doing it now and you will do it in the future. What are you going to do if your blade breaks while you’re fighting a monster or any man, run away? You’ll get stabbed in the back.” He made a snap of his fingers to signal how quick.
Millie glared at him. He was so uptight with possible theoreticals. It annoyed her greatly, but she ceded to him, the student to the master. She sat down and started to wipe the excess blood off of the blade with her sleeve huffing and puffing.
“You’ll scratch the sword if you wipe it with your armor. Didn’t you bring a piece of cloth?” Corvus was not letting anything go.
“Ugh! No, I left it with the horse!” Her groaning was getting loud. Corvus wondered if emotional outbursts like this would still happen after she underwent the transformation magic brings upon the human body.
“Then you’ll have to use your tunic.”
“What!? Then my shirt will stain from the blood!” Corvus has told her to do so before and it was extremely uncomfortable to wear for the rest of that trip. It teaches her a lesson in not forgetting anything.
“I guess you should have thought of that.”
“You don’t use a cloth!”
This made Corvus smile.
He found it humorous that he was strong enough to clean his blade with just a flick of his sword. “You’re right, because I’m an assassin, my apprentice.” Now he was poking fun at her. “Until you’re strong like me you’re just going to have to wipe down your blades, have fun.” And with a wave he turned his back on her to look at the saprophages tracks.
Millie cursed under her breath. “Screw this shit,” but she did rub the blade clean with her tunic once she pulled it out from under her apprentice armor.
Corvus began to concentrate on the ground, looking the footprints the saprophages left behind when they went after him. The prints would lead them to the bodies the contract had left behind. Saprophages rarely ever show up just for dead animals so the bodies of the villagers had to be nearby.
It didn’t take long for him to find the footprints, and was ready to follow them once Millie was done with her blade. The senses of an assassin were much keener than anyone else, even before using the Aevis spell to better them. Finding muddled footprints was child’s play to him.
Millie wiped it down so much so that there wasn’t going to be anything to clean later. Figured that she’d make her mentor wait longer out of spite and get more cleaning done. “Ready.”
“Took you long enough, I found the tracks, let’s get going.” At his behest she followed him again through the forest as he followed the prints of the saprophages. She was always a little awed when he did this because she always had a hard time finding the footprints.
Corvus knew they were close when the stench of decaying bodies filled his nostrils. Pungent like any meat that had been rotting for weeks. He smelled the bodies far before Millie did, but he was so used to it that it didn’t bother him. He decided not to tell Millie to see if she had finally got past the stench.
Corvus eventually saw blood splattered on a tree ahead so he knew they were about to come up on the bodies.
“Uck! I think we found them.”
Corvus could see the physical reaction in Millie’s face from when the pungent stench hit her, but she did not complain or comment on it outside that first outburst. She accepted that this was simply part of the job.
She walked ahead of him to see them first. “It’s right behind this bush, and- oh shit!”
Corvus grimaced at her consistent foul language but it seemed warranted. “I find it hard to believe a wyvern did all this alone.”
Corvus was sure that there were three bodies based on the sets of arms scattered around the place of death.
The most intact decaying body was that of a woman missing her lower half and her right arm. There was one arm near her, eaten mostly to the bone, probably by the saprophages. Her innards had spilled onto the ground, torn and ripped from her body. The corpse’s face was missing and the assassin and apprentice could see her skull. It was either torn off by their monster or eaten by the saprophages.
The one last defining wound was the look of a large gash, seemingly by a talon around her shoulders and several across her chest.
The other two bodies weren’t going to be much help identifying the monster because they were practically bones. The saprophages had spent most of their time tearing them apart, leaving blood and guts splattered and dragged across the ground.
Corvus walked over to the woman’s body, and turned around to see Millie still staring at the slaughter before her when he called out. “Millie! Come here. We can’t learn anything from them, but we may be able to learn from this woman here.”
“Okay.” All excitement was gone. She had seen some dead bodies but they had never been savaged like this.
Corvus started to get her focused on the woman instead of all the blood and guts. Millie didn’t look sick, his apprentice had a strong stomach, but he still didn’t want to test her.
The assassin started pointing to the gash. “This doesn’t resemble a wyrm or a wyvern. The gash is too long in width considering a wyvern’s rather small claws or a wyrm’s giant mouth. And the savaging of her body, while that may be from the saprophages this could also match up with an attack by a direwolf or vampire.”
“But the chief and Henrik described a dragon in the contract. I can’t imagine they would do that if it weren’t a monster with wings.” Millie paid attention, and while Corvus respected that, he gave another explanation.
“True, but I can’t think of a flying monster that would do this to people. And it’s not out of the realm of possibility for the hunter to have seen a wyvern nearby, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it was the culprit. A wyvern wouldn’t be capable of doing damage close to this without sustaining some serious injuries. I don’t see any feathers or scales which would have surely fallen in a struggle.”
Millie pitched him a crazy idea. “Maybe it was an amphiptere.”
“Yeah, they’re huge, and the hooks under their stomach can do damage like this in seconds. They do have scales, but they’re too thick to lose during a fight with people.” Millie thought she hit a homerun but Corvus had found a hole in that theory.
“It wouldn’t be a amphiptere. They don’t hunt humans for food, and they certainly don’t just attack unprovoked, too smart to risk it. I can’t imagine that this woman could have done anything to piss off an amphiptere enough for it to attack her.”
Millie didn’t swear off of the idea. “I mean, we weren’t there. Is it possible that a amphiptere mistook these people for someone who was able to provoke it?”
“It’s possible, but highly unlikely, they’re not even that common in these parts. Let’s look around some more and see if we can find a trail.”
They turned back to the gruesome scene before them for some time. Eventually, Millie stopped walking around and started to think. Corvus on the other hand, seemingly found a small splatter of blood a few feet away from the rest of the attack. He looked around and eventually found another splatter on the ground, and then another. Seeing that there was path beginning to form he called for Millie. “I think I’ve found a trail! Let’s go!”
Corvus turned around and saw that she was counting something. He walked back to her to see what she was doing. “There were three deaths. That means there should be three sets of everything. I count three heads, three sets of arms, but there are only five legs. I’ve even double checked the skeletons to make sure, but couldn’t find the sixth. One was taken.”
“Interesting find. I bet that missing leg created the blood trail I found.”
“Oh.” Now Millie kind felt like her find was pointless since he already found the blood trail. “Let’s just get out of here, the smell is strong.”
Corvus scrunched his nose in. “You’re telling me.”
They went back to the blood trail and they followed it to a clearing. The clearing in the woods had a high rock peak in the middle, and a wall of blood running down it.
“What the hell?” Millie was confused so Corvus reminded her.
“Millie, we don’t know what kind of monster it is so be prepared for anything.” Millie nodded her head and took out her knife. He made sure then that she knew what she was to do. “If it’s a vampire or direwolf, stay back and run to the horses. I can handle either one myself, one’s too fast for you and the other’s too big for your blade.” Millie slumped her shoulders over this but accepted and understood his reasoning. “If by some off chance that it’s wyvern, stay. We can surround it on both sides.” Millie hoped this was what it was. She’s been training for a year but she had never fought anything that could really prove her skills. “And one more thing-”
There was this deafening screech overhead and when the assassin looked up he… well, let’s just say he’s never been more surprised.
“I was right!” She sounded impressed with herself. “The monster is a amphiptere!”
Corvus was too busy stressing to congratulate Millie on her guess, because it wasn’t just a amphiptere, it was an grand amphiptere. It was twice the size and power of general one, in addition to having claws at the ends of its wings, where regular amphipteres didn’t. And most importantly…
They were unprepared.
Grand amphipteres are one of if not the most dangerous kind of monsters to rule the skies outside of Darkland dragons or Futere war machines.
A wingspan the length of four horses, one for each leg they don’t have. They’re so fearsome that when assassins come kill them, they go after it in pairs, with the right poisons for their blades, specific bombs, heavier armor, and a plan.
Corvus only knows of one assassin below the rank of master who can take one on his own. He isn’t as strong or as fast as that assassin.
Corvus and Millie had none of weapons either. While Millie was being happy, Corvus was thinking about how they could possibly survive this fight. And there was going to be a fight, because it was flying towards them, fast.
The grand amphiptere closed the distance of 20 yards in seconds, readying its hooks. The assassin quickly grabbed his apprentice in his arms, and rolled out of the way of the monster’s hooks.
Not fast enough because the grand amphiptere’s hooks slashed the assassin’s back, clean through his armor.
The assassin didn’t complete his roll. Instead, when he hit the ground on his new wound, he let Millie fly out of his arms rolled across the grass. “Corvus!” She rushed to him.
“Damnit, how the hell does someone not recognize an amphiptere?! It has no fucking legs!”
Corvus was livid. Amphipteres were one of the more easily recognizable monsters around, and to confuse one with a black, fire breathing lizard with four arms was beyond his belief. He couldn’t take the time to freak out as the grand amphiptere had landed and was turning around to face them again. He had to buy time to get Millie out of there at least. “Remember what I said if the monster was a direwolf!?”
“What?! I’m not leaving you! You’re not going to be able to kill that thing!”
“Doesn’t matter! You leave, now!” Even after her mentor commanded her, Millie looked him in the eye and took out her knife.
“No, you don’t have the time to make me!” Corvus couldn’t argue with her any longer because she was right. The grand amphiptere was continuing to screech and charged them now, flapping its wings as it slithered towards them.
“If you want to be a fool then fine, but go into the trees and stay out of the way!”
Millie wasn’t content with just being a witness. “How can I help by hiding?!”
“You couldn’t help me by fighting!” he said when he couldn’t spend anymore time talking to her. He unsheathed one sword from his back, and started running at the grand amphiptere full speed. The assassin prepared Linder, a spell to decrease gravity, in his left hand.
The grand amphiptere jumped into the air to pounce on him from above. Corvus in turn dropped to a slide and used Linder to float the grand amphiptere upward, stopping its downward momentum. The monster shifted in the air, causing it to fall forward over him as he cut down its stomach with his sword. The monster fell on its head and onto its back. It rolled around a bit and rolled over back to its stomach, and began to violently screech at him.
Corvus considered summoning the crows but realized that they would be a waste against this monster. They wouldn’t even have a chance of knocking it out of the sky. He needed a new idea because he couldn’t use another spell for at least a minute. That minute could be the difference between life and death.
Luckily, the grand amphiptere seemed to be thinking the same thing, watching the assassin, not wanting to risk another slice on its stomach… at first.
Then suddenly the monster started charging again, slithering across the ground with its wings out. The assassin was roughly half a minute from being able to summon another spell.
The assassin started to run diagonally to his left, prompting the grand amphiptere to lean on its wing to turn towards him. When the monster was about to intersect with the assassin, it pulled its head back to strike with its fangs.
To the second, when it snapped its head forward to stab the assassin, Corvus leaped the way he was running and swung his sword to slash up at the monster’s head as it went to bite him.
The sword ended up deflecting the monster’s fangs and cutting one. The force of the amphitere’s head still sent the assassin straight into the ground.
The grand amphiptere ignored its wound and proceeded to try again to grasp the assassin in its neck. The assassin rolled and the monster missed but quickly pulled back and thrusted with the hooks under its neck, catching the assassin on its hooks and tossing him across the ground. The assassin clutched his chest as the monster’s hooks cut through his armor to the bone.
The grand amphiptere charged him again to pounce, expecting the assassin to stay still. Quickly, the assassin fought through the pain and rolled upside down over his head, back to his feet, just nearly missing the grand amphiptere as it slid across the ground, tearing up the dirt.
Corvus noticed that it flapped its wings and he realized that it was going to try to take off to attack him from above. The assassin was too injured to possibly evade attacks from the air. To keep the monster grounded he summoned the energy he was waiting for to use Aread.
With the Aread spell he quickly distorted the molecules across the space around its head, making it hard to move. The monster feels like its body ran up against solid wall with its head stuck in place, keeping it from moving. He dropped the spell, the monster’s head snapped back. It started shaking and flailing trying to get a bearing on things.
Corvus began to run at the monster, sword in hand, and climbed up the hind tail of the monster to stand on its back. He quickly shifted his sword into his two hands so he could bring it down, straight into its back, hopefully getting its heart.
Corvus plunged the sword down but met resistance piercing through its bones. He was so close to reaching its heart, and with a few more seconds he could have forced it down, but the grand amphiptere started bucking to get the assassin off of him. The monster bucked so hard the assassin lost his grip on his sword and went flying back to the ground.
The assassin gasped as the air was knocked out of his lungs upon hitting the ground. He remained stationary there, trying to catch his breath as the grand amphiptere still had the sword in its back. It tried flapping its wings to fly and started shifting and turning to get the blade out.
Eventually, it realized the more it tried to reach back the farther in the sword would go. In a fit of pain-filled rage, the grand amphiptere started slithering towards the assassin while he was down. It failed a full on charge.
The assassin barely gained back his breath, and leaned back on his elbows to see his death barreling towards him. The grand amphiptere was moving much slower, giving him the time he would need to dodge, but he quickly forgot the idea as a figure started running up behind the grand amphiptere. Corvus squinted to see who the figure was but it didn’t take long to realize.
Millie probably didn’t hear him, or just ignored her mentor as she jumped onto the grand amphiptere’s tail and climbed on up.
She struggled to the sword as the beast slowed down, feeling her walking on iy. The grand amphiptere, instead of trying to buck her off started to flap its wings.
Corvus, finally able to regain his ability to move, got up on one knee to call out to her again. “Millie get off! It’s taking off!” The apprentice still ignored him. She took hold of the sword imbedded into the beast’s back.
She was able to hang onto it as the grand amphiptere took off into the air, yards above the ground. Millie tried to push it in, with all of her strength.
The monster began screeching as it twisted and turned in the air. Millie yelled out in frustration, something unintelligible. Then with one final push she pushed the blade into the monster’s heart.
“No!” Corvus watched helpless as the grand amphiptere shrieked and started falling to the ground with Millie still on it. It started falling away from him so the assassin tried to limp in its direction as fast as he could.
The grand amphiptere turned over in the air and Millie fell off, falling yards above the ground flat on her back, enough to break someone’s spine.
He needed to get to her, but then the grand amphiptere fell on her too.
“NOOOO!” the assassin screamed.
That run to his apprentice was the longest of his long life. He didn’t hear her yelling or screaming like he needed, nothing to signal to him that she was alive. Corvus only thought to himself, please let Millie be okay.
Eventually, the assassin got to the amphiptere as it was taking its last breath. Corvus moved behind it to see Millie trapped under. Her lower half was under both its torso, right at her pelvis.
Corvus went to her head and moved back her cloak, letting loose her brown braid and bangs. “Millie! Millie, can you hear me? Open yours eyes, open them.”
Millie suddenly coughed, spewing her blood across his face. Her eyes fluttered opened as he wiped blood away. “Make sure you get the excess.” The girl managed a pained smile as blood formed in the corners of her lips.
“Millie, are in you in pain?”
“Everything feels numb. It hurts, Corvus.” Millie tried to look down at her legs but fell back from being too tired.
“Hold on, let me get you out from under this stupid flying lizard.”
“Grand amphiptere,” she made sure to correct him, “I told you so.” She went to smile again and had a bout of coughing.
“Yes, yes you did.” He moved to Millie’s legs and stepped over her, his legs on both sides. He reached his fingers between her and the monster. He summoned all the strength he had left and lifted it somewhat.
“Let me… try… I’ll move you.”
Every word from his mouth was strained from lifting a portion of the amphiptere. He moved his right leg to kind of sweep her body to the side, out from under the beast.
“Ooohh,” she groaned from the aching feeling she got from being moved.
“I’m sorry, Millie, you’re almost out.” Still holding up the side of the amphiptere, he continued trying to sweep her body aside. He got her out from under on the third attempt. He then let the monster go with a thud and gasps for air.
Corvus turned around back to Millie and knelt down besides her. He inspected her legs, and they seemed intact, but limp.
He asked her how they felt. “Are you legs still numb, Millie?”
“Yes, I feel like-” She had another bout of bloody coughing to interrupt her.
Corvus put a hand to her shoulder. “Take your time.”
The apprentice looked up at her mentor. “Corvus, I’m not getting up.”
“Then I’ll carry you back, Erica or one of the masters, they’ll fix you up.” Millie just shook her head in a pained frown. She didn’t want that.
“I’m not going to survive the journey back home…” Her eyes fighting to stay open. “I want to just lay here, next my big kill.” Millie turned her head towards the grand amphiptere. “How many assassins have killed an grand amphiptere without any spells?”
Corvus smiled for her. “Not any that I’ve known.”
“Do you know a lot of assassins?”
“I have known quite a few.”
“Corvus, why did the amphiptere attack those people? And us? I thought they didn’t pick fights with humans.” She was curious in the face of death. “Do you think I saved more people by killing it?”
“Of course you did, it probably attacked us because we were near its nest.” And then he looked back at the rock peak with interest. They still didn’t know why blood was stained on its side.
“Cor, go up there and see its nest… I want to know why it attacked.” Millie wanted to be sure that she had killed the monster for good reason. Assassins weren’t supposed to kill anything just for existing, but for being dangerous, monsters or people. She needed to know for sure that the amphiptere was the culprit.
“I can’t just leave you here, Millie.” Corvus was worried of her slipping away while he was doing what she asked. He wasn’t going to let her die alone.
“Please, I’ll whistle a tune so you know I’m still here.”
“I don’t like this.”
“Then hurry.” Corvus did a double-take between her and the rock peak.
“I’ll be quick.” Then he started jogging to the right, not yet capable of running, towards the tree line where the rock formation dipped in height. When he got to it, the assassin stopped to listen for his apprentice’s whistle. It was piercing and out of tune but he heard it alright.
Corvus climbed the rock to its top, and walked towards the top of the summit. He looked to his left and could see Millie laying besides the dead amphiptere, still whistling. He turned back and continued his climb.
When he came up and over the summit he saw a gruesome and revealing scene.
There was a nest, but there were two important things in it. There was the leg from the attack in the woods, confirming that the amphiptere ravaged the villagers, but there was also several rotting corpses…
That of other, smaller amphipteres, hanging out of broken egg shells with sword wounds in their hearts through their backs, and slit throats with wide gashes. Corvus searched around and found two swords in the big nest’s clutter. They were thrown away in a hurry.
The assassin then quickly surmised what had happened. He recalled that amphipteres are fiercely protective of their eggs, like most oversized reptiles. This must have been the eggs of the grand amphiptere Millie killed.
It killed those three people because they had killed its children before they were born. It’s not uncommon behavior of an amphiptere to seek vengeance. The monster they had just killed probably wouldn’t have bothered anyone else, hence why there were no attacks in the weeks after.
Corvus was furious over the stupidity of the town’s chief and that hunter named Henrik. They didn’t recognize an amphiptere without limbs. Worse, their own people had been allowed to antagonize it.
Millie was dying because of their irresponsibility.
The assassin quickly made his way back to his apprentice. She was still whistling terribly when he knelt back down by her side. “What was up there, Corvus?”
He was deciding whether or not to tell her the truth. Should she know that killing the amphiptere was unnecessary or let her die full of pride? He decided that the answer wasn’t really that difficult to chose.
“Only the missing leg you noticed. Besides that, the nest was empty. The blood must have been from something it ate.” Corvus wanted to talk about how she was doing instead. “How are you feeling?”
“My insides don’t hurt anymore.” Millie reached up to touch his thick beard. “Take off your cloak, I can’t really see your face.” Corvus removed his black cloak and placed it over her.
She could see the scars on his eyebrow and his upper lip, neither with hair growing back over it. His had own beard and ponytail for her to see. “How’ll long do you think it will be?”
She was asking him how long before she dies, waiting was the hardest part.
“I’m not sure, honestly, but I’ll stay here until you go.”
Millie sniffled, regret pooling within her. “Erica said I would become an assassin.” Her voice sounding like a sob.
“You are an assassin, one of the best.” Corvus took her hand in his and held it to his lips. He closed his eyes as he kissed it and held it against his forehead.
“Hmm?” He opened one eye.
“Thank you for trying to teach me.”
“Never have to thank me.”
Corvus carried her body wrapped in their cloaks and carried the amphiptere’s head by its feathers to show to the chief.
It began to downpour as he walked back into the village so no one else was in the streets.
Corvus found their horses still wrapped to the watering post, shivering. No one brought the two into the inn’s stables.
Corvus laid her body on his horse. He moved to pet it on the nose. “Almost ready to go, watch her for me.”
Then the assassin turned towards the inn, the monster’s head dragging on the ground in his hand. He walked to the door and kicked it open.
When he walked through he saw that it was bigger than it looked from the outside. There were many tables but only around six men were actually drinking. Corvus took notice of the chief, who had seemed to be talking to the innkeeper who was trying to cook.
The chief turned around and saw the assassin, his glowing eyes and angry face holding the head of beast. The man surprisingly kept his cool. “About time you came back, negroid.” Couldn’t miss the chance to insult him. “I got your money right here, haha!” The chief turned around slapped his pocket over his buttcheek where a brown sack was in it.
Corvus threw the head across the floor letting the blood make a mess. “Do you know what that is? Not a dragon you fucking idiot. That’s an amphiptere, and a grand amphiptere at that.”
Instead of trading insults the chief just acted clueless. “How would I know? I wrote on the letter what I was told. You say it’s a amphiptere, one of those feathered cucks without arms and legs? Not a fire-breathing dragon? Well, it sounds like your job was easier than we thought. Guess your reward doesn’t need to be as much.”
This was how the story went when a contract on a monster is mistaken. The hunter, assassin or not goes in unprepared and gets paid less. But something was different.
Someone came from around the counter, drunk out of his mind. The assassin recognized him as the hunter, Henrik.
Corvus, still angry, walked straight up to the drunkard. The chief called out for the assassin to leave him alone but Corvus told him to, “Shut the fuck up.”
The assassin got right up into the hunter’s face and pointed at the monster’s head on the floor. “You think that looks like a dragon? Do you see the goddamn feathers on that thing? Did you see any fucking arms after killed those people?”
Henrik didn’t seem as out of sorts as before. He just shook his head nonchalantly. “I don’t know freak. All I know is that it’s a big fucking monster that deserved to fucking die.”
“Do you want to know what that monster did because you couldn’t tell there weren’t any arms or legs on it?”
With his head hung low, the hunter looked saddened. Then he got angry and got up in the assassin’s face. “The fucking piece of shit killed my friends. I don’t care what kind of monster it is.”
Something clicked just then in the assassin’s head.
“It killed your friends?” Corvus’s question was simple.
“Yeah! We were together when it attacked us… I ran away.” The hunter’s answer revealed more.
“You know what your friends did before the amphiptere attacked you?”
Henrik looked at him funny. “What are you deaf? Dumb? Of course I know what my friends were doing before the amphiptere attacked us. I was muffing about with them!”
The assassin’s suspicions were almost confirmed. “So you were with them when they killed the amphiptere’s eggs? It’s children?”
The chief started walking up behind him and tried to warn the hunter. “Henrik, shut your mouth, you don’t have to say anything.”
But the drunk hunter was already running his mouth before the chief finished. “I was there when we killed those freaking things! It was gone and we did the world a favor! So fuck it, what if they were its eggs or something?”
“Amphipteres don’t attack people for no reason. Because you and your friends destroyed the eggs! This one killed all of them, and because you’re a fucking idiot you got my apprentice killed!” Corvus yelled out the part about his apprentice dying and got the attention of everyone in the inn.
“You’re calling me an idiot? The idiot was that girl trying to be some dumb monster slaying freak like-” He didn’t finish his sentence because the assassin punched him in the center of his face.
The snap Henrik’s nose made when it broke got everyone else to their feet, ready to take up their swords. The chief held up his hand to tell the other men to wait.
The chief grabbed the assassin by the shoulder and turned him sideways. He shoved a bag of money against Corvus’s chest and pointed towards the door. “Take your money and get out, leave this town and don’t come back. We don’t need a fairy thug roughing up good people.”
Corvus took a look in the sack and saw that it was light on steeds. “This is barely half the amount you promised me.”
“And that’s all you’re gonna get, now leave before there’s trouble.” The other men in the inn started lining up and two even took out their old swords.
Corvus took a look around and thought about his options. He thought about what it was he should do, how would a violent action reflect on the Society, what trouble he could get in, but mostly what Millie would have told him to do.
The assassin started walking towards the door.
He stopped right before going out and took one more look at everyone looking at him, their eyes full of hate and disgust towards him. Hate and disgust born out of nothing.
Then Henrik got himself back up and pushed past the chief who missed grabbing his arm. He still wanted to have the last word, his nose still dripping with blood. “Yeah, better run, freak!”
The assassin turned back to the door and thought again about how he felt.
Was it anger? Sadness? Spite? No, it was rage.
What is rage to the assassin? Rage was thinking of a hundred reasons not to kill a man, and then doing so anyway.
Corvus moved his arm to bring down the wooden panel used to lock the door. He moved his other hand behind him and grasped one sword instead of two.
“Henrik,” the assassin said, “you asked me before why I have two swords.”
Henrik couldn’t care about that. “So what?”
“I lied before,” then the assassin unsheathed it, “one sword for a coward like you will work just fine.”
Then the assassin quickly turned and took a large step towards Henrik, taking one swing and beheading the hunter. His head spun in the air and his body fell forward to the floor. The body profusely spewing out blood.
The innkeeper screamed, “Murderer!” as she started backing farther into her kitchen. The other men tried to charge the assassin.
The first one lifted his sword above his head to bring it down on the assassin’s skull but missed as the assassin sidestepped him and backhanded him with a fist.
A second man armed with a wood chopping axe, came upon the assassin’s right side after his friend was knocked down. Corvus quickly swung his sword while the man still wasn’t in arms distance, but did so eye level so his longer sword cut the second attacker’s eyeballs.
This one crumbled to the ground screaming in pain.
Suddenly, Corvus was tackled, lifted up, and brought through the front door, breaking it down.
Bramp! Crsh! Crsh!
The assassin was brought to his back on the muddy ground, his sword a foot from his hand.
The man who tackled him moved up and wrapped his arms around the assassin’s throat to choke him.
Quickly, with the rain getting into his eyes, the assassin brought his hands up to his attacker’s, and started prying them from his neck with his superior strength.
As he tore the hands from his neck, the man atop of him looked down in amazement of the assassin’s superior strength. The assassin head butted the attacker in the chin, and rolled him over towards his sword. Swiftly, while the man was stunned, Corvus brought the sword to the man’s throat and slit it.
Corvus heard the other men coming out, four of the surviving ones from the inn, and the chief. The assassin got up and into a fighting stance to prepare for them.
Three of the men had old swords, ones meant to defend themselves against robbers, and one still had the axe from before. The chief unsheathed an actual sword made for killing, probably paid for it personally.
The chief spoke first. “You should have left when you had the chance.”
The assassin told him, “No, what I should have done was leave that monster alone.” Then his apprentice would still be there.
The chief charged first without saying anything, letting him get a yard away before his friends could start following him. The assassin started running forward and when the chief swung at him.
The assassin ducked into a roll under the sword. Corvus land on his knee and sent forth a Linder spell with his left hand, sending a blast that decreased gravity and sent the other four man barreling onto their faces as their feet floated above their heads.
Then the assassin swiftly spun around and brought his sword up to block the chief’s incoming swing. The swords held against each other for a few seconds before the assassin pushed downwards, causing the tip of the chief’s sword to hit the mud.
Then even faster the assassin brought his blade across the chief’s hand, cutting it, and brought his sword up to the chief’s neck where he held it there.
“Shit!” The chief had lost his sword and was now defenseless.
“Maybe, if you’d shown even a little mercy, you wouldn’t be dead right now.”
Then the assassin beheaded him with such force that the chief’s head flew and spiralled a few feet above the body before it hit the muddy ground. The assassin turned back to face the four men left when he heard the clanging of metal boots.
“What’s going on here?!” The Mureek soldiers heard the fighting and finally got there in time to see Corvus kill the village’s chief.
One commanded him to stand down. “Drop your weapon! You’re surrounded on both sides, you can’t escape, assassin!” They knew he was an assassin just by the swords he carries.
The Mureek soldiers moved to surround him as did the other four men from the inn. There was no where for the assassin to go.
Corvus could hear his horses neighing and calling, and the men around him prancing their feet, afraid to be the first Corvus cuts down. The assassin thought to himself how to get out of this mess. He only had one trick left up his sleeve, so he brought up his arms, holding them up to the rain.
He needed the crows.
Time seemed to slow as his unnatural ability started. He felt space bend around his arms, goo-like balls of black forming atop of them. They twisted and spasmed. Some more began to form on his back, and quickly they took shape before the eyes of the assassin’s attackers. The black balls turned and changed into black crows.
Cawcaw! The sounds of the crows became deafening as they took shape all over the assassin’s body.
With one word they spread out, more crows forming from the assassin as others went forth and attacked the armed men.
Crows pecked the inside of the Mureek soldiers’ metal helmets, stabbing them violently right in their faces, tearing off pieces of flesh and eyeballs. The unarmored four were stabbed and torn apart. One of them lost the ability to scream in pain when some crows tore apart his throat. It didn’t take long for the crows to tear them all apart.
Once all the yelling and screaming stopped, most crows went back to Corvus, becoming a part of him again, while others flew away now alive and free in the world waiting for the assassin to summon them back to him.
Exhausted from this extended use of power, Corvus put his hands on his knees as he tried to regain his breath. Then he looked over at the chief’s body, and walked over to fall to his knees next to it.
He searched the chief’s body and found the rest of steeds he was owed. Barely composing himself, the assassin got back to his feet, and spit on the chief’s body.
Corvus barreled back to his horses and her body. He calmed them down with some petting and soft shushing. Eventually, he undid the tying of their reins and he mounted his horse right behind where her body still lay. He grabbed the reins of her horse and started turning them to leave.
Corvus looked back at the bodies he left in his wake. He looked at the people looking out of their windows and homes.
They all saw what he did. Now terrified, they’ll never forget what the assassin how he killed them all.
And they would never call for an assassin again out of fear.
This wasn’t something they would all be able to go to sleep and forget about. They would remember his eyes, the ones that lit up behind the raindrops.
They would have to dig the graves to bury the pieces the dead left behind. The Great Crow turned his back to the mess he leaves behind, and began his long journey back to the Society to bury his apprentice.
They would have to clean up the bodies of their fellow villagers. They would have to pick up the pieces torn apart by the crows.
FIN – Hope you enjoyed the Great Crow!
Check out other short stories soon to be collected together into one collection in 2021!