- October 16, 2022
Raydorn: The War in the Black (Chapter 32)
“Men in power like to act like they know everything, but the dangerous ones know at least half of what they think they do.”
Andelyn Stella, 449 A.C.A.
“<Here’s your moment,>” Andy told Malum in broken Uzuri as they walked up to the Silver Spire of the archmage. It was the location of the next contest in the Solistan, guarded around the clock, with only one entrance.
Now they were being invited in.
Believing that the language of Seca was a safe way for them to privately converse, Malum reminded Andy, “<I’m going need the chance to disappear.>”
“<You can’t do that on your own?>” she asked as she handed the guard the temporary ID, one she was afforded by Regalic Sol.
Andy was able to see upclose how the system worked. They held the card up to this sheet of metal, and it stuck to it. The guard promptly pulled it off, and handed it back to her. Is the test just a fucking magnet?
Andy waited for Malum and Weisheng. Before Malum could speak, Weisheng told them in clear Uzuri, “<When you disappear, be sure to bring me back some fruit. The archmage keeps his for himself.>”
Andy’s breath got caught in her throat. Oh my fuck, can’t I ever do something smart?
Malum didn’t miss a beat, asking Lord Weisheng, “<Any preferences?>”
“<Something red,>” he told the assassin, “<something sweet to match the occasion.>”
As they proceeded to the door with their entourage of other Zhuhou, Malum said, “<I’ll see what I can do.>”
The courtyard they crossed was made with cobblestone ground, and ponds on either side. On that early morning, the light of the rising sun made it all sparkle, and Andy couldn’t help but feel a bit jealous.
The Starshields are supposed to be as rich as any Regalic, and they’ve never built anything half as beautiful, before considering the form of Diana Starshield. Head out of the gutter, Andy.
As they approached the door Andy tried to hold her arms behind her back to keep from fidgeting with the dress she was wearing. It was hardly an improvement over the last one she was supplied, though the uniform’s dark blue hue hid the knives underneath them. The lack of sleeves or a back also laid bare her striking shoulder muscles and several scars.
Several Zhuhou who had aimed to gawk, balked back at the proof of what she could do to someone who got too close.
Save for the bastard who opened the door for them.
“Ah! Wonderful, Regalic Sol is here just in time!” the archmage greeted them.
Andy could barely wear a smirk, let alone a smile as she was greeted by the man. He’s gonna fuck with the whole plan.
The worst part was how she restrained herself from looking to Malum, all because the archmage refused to take his eyes off her. Is the white hair really that striking? Maybe I’m considered an exotic beauty here… Ewww, that sounded gross even in my head.
“Please, allow me to lead you to the second round!” Hùnxiě chimed, clapping his hands as he beaconed them in.
He has to know something, or be up to something, there’s no way he would meet us here himself.
The moment Hùnxiě looked away to greet them, Andy looked to Malum, and without hesitation, he nodded towards the archmage. Yeah, I was worried he’d have the same idea. Being the distraction might be easier than I thought at least.
When Hùnxiě greeted Andy, it was not with a hand across his chest and to his shoulder, as was customary in Susanna, but with an offer of his hand. In perfect Rayne, the archmage asked, “Is this not how you greet people in your homeland?”
In perfect Susannan, Andy replied, “<It is, I appreciate the gestures,>” before shaking his hand, and following Lord Weisheng.
As Malum and Hùnxiě traded greetings, Andy caught up to Weisheng, who promptly warned her in Uzuri, “<Don’t give him an inch, or he’ll swallow you whole. He has the power to have anyone held for treason, foreigners most of all.>”
This just keeps getting better and better! Truly, sucks to suck.
Andy took note of the lobby as well. It was numbing how clean and empty it was. There were guards, but no furniture, no paintings on the wall, no front desk or anything resembling civilization. The lobby was naked, Andy felt it allay her of any sensation other than hunger.
“Please follow me to the elevator,” the archmage said, as he led them to this square in the wall with a slit down the middle.
He stopped as he passed Andy. With a finger waiting for the chance to point at her, he warned her, “The elevator can be a bit nauseating the first time, take care to not lose your lunch, the rest of us are not so used to the smell of bile,” then continued to the door.
Andy grinded her teeth in silence.
“<Do it soon,>” Malum warned as he came up behind her, and stayed close to her back in case he needed to keep her from swinging a fist.
Together, they entered this box that was somehow neither cramped nor spacious. Just enough room that none of them were touching but they all felt the breath of the person behind them.
As the doors closed, Andy’s brow arched, and then there was a harsh sound of flowing wind.
The room they stood began to move up with a thrust. Quickly, they were surrounded by windows that showed just how fast and how far they were moving… up. She looked behind her, between the Zhuhou of Regalic Sol to see that they were not fast enough to save her from a conversation.
“<It’ll be a few minutes before we reach the top,>” Hùnxiě began as he turned towards Lord Weisheng with a curved face, “<so if I may…>”
Andy looked away as the archmage’s eyes turned towards her.
Weisheng told the archmage, “<You know if I had the power to tell you ‘no,’ I would.>”
“<Don’t be so rude, Feng,>” Hùnxiě called him, a name Andy hadn’t heard the Zhuhou called before, “<we have formalities for a reason.>”
As the lord looked away, he spoke in a tired mumble, “<When I care for them, I will be sure to let Sicaron know.>”
Hùnxiě paid him no more attention as he turned to face Andy in his entirety. “Miss.”
Andy looked back to him, gauging him as if she hadn’t done it yet today. “Are you talking to me?” she asked in Rayne since he spoke to her in it.
“Why else would I speak your language?”
“To parade your ego,” she said with a shrug, “I don’t know, it’s not my problem.”
“Hmph, I see Regalic Sol has let standards of respect go.”
As his smirk faded away to feign disgust, she had begun herself. “What did you expect from a foreign broker? I’m not familiar with what else people do down there as they kiss your ass.”
Hùnxiě gasped, “<Goodness.>”
She placed her hands on her hips as she looked out over Sicaron. “Hmm, I’m surprised more of you don’t understand Rayne.”
Weisheng noted in third language, “<Some of us know Krone instead.>”
“Believe it or not,” Hùnxiě began, and Andy sensed a lesson coming on, “being between the great countries of Gronina does not make you the center of the world.”
Alright, got me there.
“May I ask you something now,” Hùnxiě began as he leaned to match Andy’s height, as if she were a child, “or are you still in a rather feral mood?”
“You may ask,” Andy responded, batting her eyes and shrugging.
“What is a once noblewoman of Raydorn doing here?”
Andy snorted like a pig. “Business, clearly.”
Hùnxiě slowly pulled back, struggling and failing to keep his nostrils from flaring. He held to his hand to his mouth to cover how he was grinding his teeth, but she heard it, and it was something to smirk to herself about.
“That’s… true enough,” he muttered before clearing his throat, “but why come here during a war? Surely there’s more to this than money, how much can money really be worth to you?”
Andy pursed her lips as she nodded her head. “Hmm, that’s a good question.”
“You said I could ask them.”
“I don’t remember saying I’d answer them.”
“You’re not very accommodating are you?”
Andy looked at him sideways. “Sorry if you expected more from a merchant of war.”
Hùnxiě’s mouth opened halfway, catching himself before he made what resembled a smile. “Is that what you are? Do you sell weapons, or spells, or any of the hog wash Raydorn likes to call their dwindling sciences? Tell me, Miss…”
Hùnxiě waited for Andelyn to tell him her name, but she stayed quiet. As if he doesn’t know. Though, men in power like to act like they know everything, but the dangerous ones know at least half of what they think they do.
“Keep waiting,” she told him.
The archmage’s voice grew short with her despite the pleasure his expression took in their little game. “Is there anything about you that’s real?” he taunted her. “We’re all bloodthirsty businessmen, but we all have a code of honesty and honor that allows us to be here, everyone but you.”
Andy continued her little game of shrugging and smirking, waiting to see how long he would put up with it. “Good thing I’m neither a man nor am I from here.”
“Are you aware of who I am?” he asked her. “Who it is you disrespect?”
“And yet, you do not tell me your name, you are crass in my presence, and worst of all you do it while standing among us, pretending to be one of us.”
Andy mocked hurt feelings with a hand splayed over her heart. “I pretend to do nothing.”
“Then it sounds like you are a fool.”
“I’m sorry this bothers you so much then, I guess I forgot to be afraid of you.”
That’s when Hùnxiě unclenched his jaw, and everyone in the elevator could see how his tongue rattled in his mouth like a trapped snake.
For the peasant, this would be considered a masterclass in composure, but among the Zhuhous… “Hmmm… well, one thing’s for sure, I hope your champion fights well enough to warrant the once honorable Regalic Sol’s reputation… for I fully expect you and your warrior to taint…”
Then it hit him…
Hùnxiě began to look around the elevator with a speed of fervent shock. Andy could only guess that he was questioning just how he missed the disappearance of the second tallest man in the room.
“What’s wrong?” Andy asked him, tilting her head and pucking her lip like she were ten years younger, “I think you were talking about your taint?”
Hùnxiě stopped to turn and glare a thousand deaths at her. “You are disgusting.”
Then the chime made him twitch.
As Zhuhou filtered out around him, Andy had the last word, “Good thing the elevator ride is over then,” then as she passed him by, “you can keep as far away from me as you like.”
As they walked onto the floral floor, Weisheng seemed almost giddy to stand next to her give his thanks. “<You’ve made my week for making him squirm.>”
“No problem,” she said, waving it off, “I am working for tips.”
The shadows became him, and the darkness suited him in a way they never did his father. A step between shadows here, another step there, and an assassin can find his way out of a tight spot, or a room full of people…
… and they’d never see how.
Two guards stood watch over the private elevator and all of the cells that held the archmage’s test rats. When the sound of the archmage’s private elevator began to approach, they looked to each and saw they both knew nothing.
Their armor clanged as they turned towards the door, lances raised towards it. They woke the prisoners from their sleep. The prisoners come to the bars but they would not touch it, hearing the buzz of the static flowing through them. They dd their best to peer between them and the way the light glimmers around electricity. Their eyes each switched between the guards and the number on the elevator that was slowly counting up.
The Susannan characters counted their way to one hundred and forty-two, and they seemed to slow as the reach their floor.
There was a delay between the elevator getting to their floor and the doors opening. It gave the guards the time to sweat.
When the door opened, the lights of the crystals did not work, and there was only the blue reflection of the white mask.
They hesitated to strike towards Eritusi, towards the face of war.
War did not hesitate.
A man did not move towards them, a shadow did. It leaped several feet in a single bound as if it were flying. The guard tried to stab the dark figure but caught nothing. It beat around the blade and the shadows themselves seemed to grab hold of it before hitting the guard’s throat.
The man went to grip his throat but couldn’t do so before his knee was struck, and his head was knocked into his partner’s staff.
Before the other guard could even think, let alone understand his fear, the arm of the shadows fell around him and broke his weapon in two.
Then he found himself hanging on the shadow’s hand.
Only it wasn’t a shadow, but flesh and blood.
He understood too late that he faced only a man, but a man who could appear more inhuman than any beast. He was too late stop his assailant from lifting him by his neck and carrying him up to the closest prison bars.
The electricity that held the prisoners was fueled with enough of a charge to silence them for hours. Malum held this guard against it, and held him there a long time. The electricity forced the man’s muscles to tear as they contracted so hard from the shock. He never made a sound until he was gargling on blood.
When Malum could smelled his cooking flesh, he let the man go, but the body fell, slumped against the electrified bars where it would continue to cook.
Malum looked up from his kill to see the prisoner staring back at him. He held his gaze before his hand tucked itself back under his cloak, and left him there with the corpse.
The assassin made his way down the corridor with his black cloak loaming behind him. The prisoners one-by-one were tempted to edge closer to the gate to see him. Some faltered and fell back, and some were trying to muster the courage to ask for freedom.
When he reached the door, he took note of the scanner. He raised his hand towards it, but it became painfully clear to him the problem. How the hell do I get in?
Then he slowly turned to the prisoners watching him.
He turned towards them as they still watched him in utter silence. “<The one who tells me how to open this door, shall gain his freedom.>”
They did nothing more than blink.
“<Speak, I will not harm you if I do not need to.>”
Despite Malum’s words, they still spoke nothing, and then they learned how a shadows stomped his feet. “<I will get into this room, and if you want to get in my way then…>”
Malum had been walking closer to the cells, to threaten them, but as he did, his found why his threat would always fall on deaf ears. Multiple prisoners, if not most, opened their mouths, and held them out for him know the truth of the matter. They would never make a sound.
The narcissist removed them of their tongues.
Malum had to think, his hand slipped out of his cloak wanting to reach for something, but had nothing to hold but his chin. He looked to the prisoners who looked to him. They had to know how to open the door, if only there was a way to communicate.
Malum walked up to one door, and felt the wall for an indent. He quickly found a panel that rose at his touch.
So he smashed it.
The electricity went down, and the lock on the door was undone. Breaking things works every time… with things anyway. People don’t get better from that.
The prisoner inside didn’t hesitate, he immediately ran past Malum and started straight down toward the elevator.
Fast one I see.
Malum went around the room, randomly freeing prisoners as he tried to communicate. Some stood around as if to pretend they knew how to talk to him, but for them it was little more than a thankful formality.
The assassin was running out of options, and his time wasn’t limitless. I have to get back at some point, he thought.
Then as he freed another, the man started moving his hands at Malum. At first, Malum leaned back watching without understanding, until slowly the man’s hand movements spoke a message.
“He uses sign language,” the man signed to Malum.
Malum signed back, slowly, struggling with a few letters and terms. “What symbol was it?”
“Ah,” Malum muttered to himself before signing to the man, “thank you, now escape before more come.”
The man said his thanks with his hands, and Malum proceeded towards the door.
With slow movements of his hands, Malum signed the words, ‘Siwang’s maker.’ There was a moment of hesitation where his shoulders started to slump, but then it opened.
Malum wandered into the archmage’s lab, or what Malum could assume was a lab. There was the forge of a blacksmith, the loom of a weaver, several different sword molds, vials for alchemy, writing stations, dissected animals, and more. There were so many different trades of science and invention in the archmage’s lab that the assassin didn’t even notice the scrying pool.
As he searched for a secret door, he couldn’t help but look over the many broken swords tossed aside or left half made.
Malum couldn’t help but chuckle as he picked one up, swinging it around, and watching it dissolve in his hands. “How Hùnxiě wishes he had what is mine.” The assassin looked around to be sure he was alone.
I should remain quiet.
Malum put down the sword, but couldn’t help but look at the archmage’s other attempts at recreating Siwang. He saw how many different ways Hùnxiě tried to make hollow swords that he fed the poison into. Such blades shattered when they clashed against other steel. He must think that Siwang’s poison works through osmosis. The fool.
Malum seemed doomed to belittle Hùnxiě’s work forever until he found a few doors. His heart seemed to slow as he closed in on the first, and opened it…
… to find a broom closet.
If at first you don’t succeed…
He proceeded to the next, which was locked. Malum cocked his head at the door as he let the knob go. He took a few steps back inspecting it, looking to see if it would slide in like the first door, but this one seem normal. It was wooden, with regular hinges, perfect.
… break the door down.
He raised his leg and put his whole back into caving the door in, and cave in it did.
A little light came from the room, a blue hue of light crystals smuggled in from Raydorn. Nothing in the room made a sound, but that did not deter Malum. Shadows make no sound.
Malum cleared the way, striking the food in quick succession, breaking it down so he could enter what was no jail cell. Malum was met with a room with lights, a fully stocked desk, and a bed better than what the assassin had back on the Icy Pearl Isles. There was even a window so the room’s captive could write by sunlight as well as moonlight. It was as Malum feared.
“You talked,” he told Rén.
“What? Master,” the shadow gasped as he sat up from his chair, but nearly fell, his dilapidated leg causing a limp and a state of unbalance.
Malum stopped approaching him to see Rén take hold of a cane, one made of sleek, painted wood, and used it to help himself down to his knees. He bowed before Malum, before the rage of Eritusi.
“Master, thank you for coming for me.”
Malum kept his arms hidden under his cloak, and walked as if a shadow around the room, running his hand over all the things Rén had been rewarded with.
“I see that I am too late,” Malum told his shadow as he ran his hands over a plate of unfinished seafood. “Your reward was great.”
“I have betrayed none of your secrets, Master,” Rén swore again, his arms crossed over his chest, fists in each corner. “I would take my own life before doing so.”
Does he take me for a fool?
“If that were true, why write by feather in the moonlight rather than hang from the walls in chains?”
“I gave him secrets,” Rén stated with a nod of his head, “just none of yours.”
Malum’s fingers stopped fiddling with the utensils, and slipped his hand back into his cloak. He turned to face Rén completely, a black mass on the room. “What secrets were these?”
“I was planted in the Dynastan’s court for years, I learned things about the other Regalics that staved off my execution-”
“But he gave you this room, what gave you a taste of freedom that has since carried you so far?”
Rén was quiet after Malum interrupted him. His arms remained against his chest in deference and exposure, but their position did not stop him from shaking. His fists tightened against his shirt and stretched the fabric of his tunic for the first time.
“I never betrayed your secrets,” Rén repeated.
“Whose did you?”
“Your rival, the daughter of Stella.”
Malum leaned back from Rén, and the shadow’s chest heaved as his hands buried themselves in his knees. Rén spoke more before being asked, and did so with his head down. “When I wouldn’t speak a word of you, not for anything in the world, he asked about the noblewoman with white hair, who abandoned her house. He offered me this for all that I knew about her.”
Hùnxiě is after Andy… and I left her with him.
“I thought it would aid you in taking control of what remained of the Legion, and protect us both a long enough for you to save me, so now you’re-”
Rén’s breath was stolen when he felt his master’s longer shadow cast over him. He looked up, and saw only darkness and destruction.
“*Acck!*” he choked as Malum gripped him by the throat.
“Why master?!” Rén gasped as Malum lifted him to his feet. “I protected you, I protected your secrets, I did not betray us… *ack!*”
Malum squeezed harder at his mere assertion.
What kind of loyalty have I bred if betraying the Black Legion is not betrayal? What have I created if selling out the doctor who stitches your wounds, gives you water, and holds your hand in your death throes… is not betrayal?
What could a man like that understand?
“Have you ever heard the phrase,’ two can keep a secret if one of them is dead?’” Malum said.
“Why… why would you… I kept your secrets, master!”
“You protected the ones you feared, but clearly you do not fear them all as you should.”
Malum began to raise his other hand from the shadows beneath his cloak, and as it reached towards Rén’s face, the assassin tried to scream, but his voice was not loud enough.
Tap. Tap. Tap.
Malum whipped his head towards the door.
The archmage’s assistant, Mao, had clambered down the hold with a bloody knife in hand, to defend himself from the freed prisoners. He raced down the hall of empty cells, his problems growing infinitely beyond his control.
The sound of death croaked from his master’s lab, and he raced to the door, which he opened with a sign, and then raced to the cell that held the archmage’s most valued prisoner.
He muttered prayers as he walked slowly towards the door, but they were not for the prisoner.
Mao opened the door, and knew no prayer would have ever saved him.
Rén laid on the ground, his neck snapped, and his throat slit for good measure. As if someone had to change their plans on the fly.
And he wasn’t covered in only blood. Several feathers laid around him, and in a trail they led Mao’s eyes. The window stood broken open, and there was but one thing on the window sill.
A white feather, and no trace of a man… not even his shadow.