Time for another story. This one is from very early in Nathaniel Drakkon's career as a mage of Weissland, roughly twenty-three years and ten months before the White War. As always comments more than welcome and I hope you enjoy it.
Illuminate the Blade
Nathaniel walked quietly and calmly along the corridor in the mystic tower of Ataya. It was night and he was alone. The perfect time for what had to be done when there would be no witnesses amongst the smooth stone, dimly-lit torches, tapestries and bookshelves of the tower. Limit exposure, maximise chance of success, he remembered the lesson well. He came to a door and knocked on its wooden surface quietly. Drakkon moved to one side of the door and sank into the shadows. Another young man opened the door cautiously and peered out into the gloom. Nathaniel moved with startling reflexes, grabbing the man’s shoulder and firmly putting the dagger into the mage’s heart. The Crint native led the body backwards into the room and laid the dead mage down on the floor. Checking that he had not been discovered Nathaniel closed the door and moved on. Hafasik was dead and now only four targets remained for Nathaniel Drakkon to eliminate.
He padded softly along the corridor and turned left. Just as he left the corridor Nathaniel had the feeling he was being followed. It was that odd sensation which made the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end and made you self-conscious and edgy. Carefully he peeked back around the corner and... nothing. No spy, no witness, no guard or follower, no monsters in the shadows, just a pristine corridor in the mystic tower. Nathaniel continued on his way. He swept up a flight of stairs holding the knife downward across his body. Normally Drakkon wore black, short-sleeved robes with a runic pattern along the hem, or light blue inner robes with a heavy dark blue robe over the top. Instead, he was wearing a close-fitting shirt of black cloth with matching trousers. Over the top Nathaniel was wearing a dark brown leather hauberk. The outfit was designed to be stealthier and provide greater ease of movement than his mage robes. Nathaniel had thought it prudent. Silently Drakkon ran through the list of his remaining targets. Nerris Petharenn, Vanieloth Khaar, John Marr, and Sarish Tilden. Vanieloth, she was an elf. The other three were human. Nathaniel was certain Nerris would be in one of the many libraries in the tower. The trick was finding which one without running into anyone else.
He entered a corridor from the stairway and headed right. Suddenly Nathaniel heard two voices up ahead, getting closer. With some agility he bounced his foot off one wall and used the momentum to do the same with the other. Drakkon found himself finally near the ceiling of the corridor with his legs spread, each foot propped against the wall to keep him held up in the shadows. It was a great strain and Nathaniel did not think his knees would hold out for long enough, although he was glad that this particular corridor was narrow enough to do this at all. He slowed his breathing, trying not to make a sound. The two people walked along the corridor talking to each other, just two other mages on their way somewhere. They passed underneath him without looking up at all, fixated on their conversation about the finer points of white magic. Nathaniel did not know the mages; they were not guards and were not on the lookout for any assailant. Once they had safely passed out of the corridor, Nathaniel pulled his legs in and let himself fall towards the ground, bringing his knees up to land lightly in a crouched position before standing up slowly and moving away again. Nathaniel checked the first library he came to but found it almost empty apart from two mages studying from one of the tower’s basic texts. He silently watched them for a moment but stalked away into the shadows when one of them looked up briefly. The studying mage had not seen Nathaniel, merely had the feeling that he was being watched. A winding trail through the corridors of the mystic tower led Drakkon to the library he had been looking for.
Nathaniel ducked into an alcove inside the library. Mostly he wanted to acclimatise his senses to the room after the darker, quieter corridors. It might seem odd to describe the corridors as quieter than the library but it was the ambient sounds that made the difference, whether it was the faint rumble of the many torch fires or the sounds created by the mere presence of living beings intent on being quiet rather than actually being silent. Nathaniel could not claim to be silent either and he was certain that stealth experts such as the Seekers would characterise his current movements as loud. For the time being Drakkon had not been noticed by the few people in the library. Keeping to the edges and shadows Nathaniel walked past long and tall bookshelves, full of books, scrolls, tablets and other written forms. Reading was furthest from his mind at this point, he had a job to do and that involved neutralising his targets. It caused him consternation to think of comrades as targets but Nathaniel carried on regardless, this was ordered of him. Everyone had to respect the chain of command even if the links of that chain were not all well liked by Nathaniel. It was his belief that you did not need to like your superiors to follow their orders, or at least bring them the result required via your own means. Nathaniel did not consider himself particularly innovative but he could turn an opportunity to his advantage if he spotted it.
Nathaniel crept through the library with the blade at the ready. He watched from behind a bookcase as Nerris sat in a chair reading a book by a table. The chair was sideways to the table, Nerris was facing the direction Nathaniel would have to attack from. This made things more difficult, riskier. But much must be risked in war to be successful. Drakkon waited for his moment, watched for his opportunity, the perfect chance to strike. When Nerris stood up and started walking along the shelves towards him, not paying attention, Nathaniel made his move. The young mage swept out of his hiding place and thrust with the dagger, aiming directly for his friend’s heart. Nerris barely had a chance to react, before he slumped back into the chair dead. Nathaniel carefully looked about him before moving the body out of sight to an alcove. And then there were three, he thought.
Nathaniel left the library casually; the blade was concealed for the time being. Next he would travel up three levels to pay his respects to Vanieloth and John. Their quarters were on that floor, one near the stairs, the other further around on the outer corridor. The mage stealthily rushed up another set of stairs, sweeping around at the turn to ascend another flight, and then another. The stairs had open passage ways which led out into the corridors of most floors. Obviously defence was a factor in the construction of the tower, but architecture and the expedience of leaving the stairs without having to open and close a door played a part as well. Some floors were heavily defended, for vital reasons, reasons that a lowly mage was not exactly privy to. There were rumours of course, but Nathaniel only paid them the briefest attention. Nathaniel checked out into the corridor, looking right then left, before feeling secure that the corridor was empty. He stepped out, and headed right, towards the quarters of Vanieloth Khaar. Nathaniel knew her door was fourth from the stairs after turning right, and on the left wall of the corridor. He kept to the left side of the corridor as he walked along quietly. When Vanieloth’s door opened, Nathaniel almost panicked. He flung himself flat against the wall as the young elven woman walked out of the room and headed further right along the corridor. Nathaniel noticed a bundle of clothes under her arm.
Drakkon took the risk and crept over to Vanieloth’s door. She had closed it behind her, but he gently reached for the handle and turned it, opening the door as quietly as he could and slipping inside. The would-be assassin pushed the door just as gently closed and looked around the small room. It was very cluttered, the desk literally overflowing with parchments and books, while the floor was scattered with other items. Nathaniel noticed some lacy items of clothing and thought dryly, well that won’t deflect a fireball. There was not exactly anywhere to hide in the room, unless he climbed onto the desk to pretend to be a paper weight. With some reluctance he went with the cliché and hid behind the door. Nathaniel just hoped that Vanieloth would not fling the door open upon her return and smash his face in. He spent tense minutes, barely moving as he waited, until finally he heard the soft footsteps of someone approaching. Nathaniel pulled the dagger from his belt under his shirt, where he had concealed the weapon when leaving the library. Holding it carefully against his chest in a downward grip, Drakkon slowed his breathing and waited. After a few more seconds, the door opened slowly. Idly, Vanieloth walked into the room, pushing the door with her hand but not turning towards it. She was curling her hair around her index finger and lost in thought. Nathaniel took a single step towards the elven woman and grabbed hold of her tightly. She struggled, once attempting to elbow him in the chest to free herself. He drew the dagger across her throat and felt her squirm in his grip before going limp. He had held his hand firmly over her mouth so nobody would have heard any noise she made. Drakkon laid her face down on the bed so the body would not make noise hitting the ground. Nathaniel picked up one of the items of clothing he had seen on the floor before, and tossed it onto the bed beside Vanieloth. Quietly Nathaniel said with a smirk “Very nice.” Nathaniel left the room and closed the door, once more hiding the dagger away. He continued along this corridor and then turned right into the adjoining corridor. This would lead him out to the outer corridor which circled around the wall of the tower.
The next target on the list was John Marr. Calm and methodical John Marr. John was a few years older than Nathaniel, twenty-five to be precise. John had come to be a mage later in his life than most of the others in the class taught by mage lord Boralays, who had come here in their early twenties or late teens. John had had a different situation to most of the others as well. John had taken over his father’s farm up near Adae at the age of eighteen. He had a wife and a child; he had mostly given up on the idea of training his magic talent. That was at least until orc raiders had attacked the farm, killing several workers and John’s young son, taking his wife captive and leaving John for dead. A tragic story, but such stories were not unheard of in many lands. Nathaniel knew a bit about that. The difference was that while such stories were heard in Weissland they were followed by stories where the survivors carried on, took revenge, or in some way turned things around. For John he had gathered what farmers, hunters and fighters he could, tracked the orcs down, killed them with a wrathful fury, rescued his wife, and travelled with her to Ataya to become a mage. For John Marr his motivation to be a mage was clear, two words ‘never again.’ Nathaniel admired him quite a lot, as Nathaniel had not had his moment of the second story. That was still to come. But sometimes you get an order which forces you to do things you do not want to do. Conscience could get in the way, but duty had to come first, especially for Nathaniel. It was his second name. If he had not been a Drakkon he might have been conflicted, wracked with guilt, or unable to carry out this vital mission. That was how he had been raised, to follow the example of every Drakkon before him that had served in the military of Weissland.
Nathaniel found his way to John Marr’s door. He knocked on the door twice, trying to not make it sound urgent. Nathaniel was glad that John’s wife was not here, that would have stopped Nathaniel dead in his tracks. There were limits to his ability to carry out his orders. John spent two nights a week in the tower and the rest in the city with his wife. That was why Nathaniel had chosen this night to move against his targets, they were all here in the tower, all unaware that he was paying them a visit. Nathaniel could still swear he was being watched. Nathaniel made a quick check in both directions, nothing and no one, the corridor was empty.
John answered the door and said “Oh, Nathaniel is there something I can do for you?”
Nathaniel shook his head “No.” Suddenly the knife was in his hand and he was lunging for the other mage. Nathaniel raised his weapon and tried to stab John with the blade held downward.
John reacted quickly, grabbing Nathaniel’s wrist and struggling to hold the dagger away. He said in confusion “What the? What are you--?”
“Just make it easy on yourself John.” Nathaniel cut him off verbally, if he could not do it literally just yet. The two men grappled with each other, and Nathaniel pushed John back into the room and out of the corridor. Finally breaking his grip free, Nathaniel took a step back and changed tactics, flipping the knife around to hold it upwards and then thrust the weapon towards the gut of his opponent.
John once more tried to stop it, but he could not get the right leverage to do anything other than slow the dagger down. Finally Nathaniel punched the dagger into John’s side, then again, this time much easier as the dying man could not properly resist. Nathaniel stabbed John twice more just to make sure, then let the other mage fall sideways to the floor. Without waiting any longer, Nathaniel left the room and closed the door behind him. Now he had to find Sarish Tilden. Nathaniel knew that she would be in one of the many halls in the mystic tower. Sarish was having to clean one of them as a punishment, Nathaniel had heard about this while he had been reconnoitring for his mission. Nathaniel knew that his goal was within sight, he had only to eliminate one more target and then make good his escape from the tower.
The young mage rushed along the corridor and found a stairway, running up to another level of the massive tower. Out across a landing and through several small rooms he ran, his weapon concealed but close at hand. Nathaniel stopped just short of the hall he had been looking for. He took a deep breath and calmed himself, before walking through the open door and into the hall as quietly as he could. Sarish was on her knees facing away from him, with a bucket of water nearby and scrubbing furiously on the stone floor with a cloth. Without hesitation Nathaniel walked up behind her and grabbed Sarish under the chin, pulling her head back. For a brief moment their eyes met at an odd angle as Nathaniel looked down and Sarish looked up startled, before the dagger was slashed across her throat and she fell forward to the stone floor.
Nathaniel was about to turn and leave when a shadow crossed his path. Instinctively he raised the dagger just in time to fend off a duplicate of the weapon, stabbed towards his head. Nathaniel spun to face his attacker and saw the smile. Wearing tight fitting clothes which accentuated her curves, with leather bracers and a hauberk, as well as leather gloves which covered her wrists, stood Jessa Aeris. Her red hair was tied back into a long braided ponytail, keeping it out of her face. That smile could blind a man if he looked at it for too long.
Both mages moved to attack, there could be no hesitation or remorse; there was only the combat and the mission. Nathaniel knew how Jessa fought; he thought he had the advantage. The daggers clashed, lightning flashes of movement as the mages exchanged blows, each ducking and weaving to keep the fight fluid. Nathaniel made a series of quick light slashes, trying to force Jessa backwards and find a way through her defence. Jessa blocked the first few slashes, and then weaved left and right, before ducking. Nathaniel’s last three slashes missed completely, one to either side and then one over his opponent’s head. Jessa thrust forward, but Nathaniel was just able to veer out of the way by turning and using the momentum of Jessa’s arm to spin around behind her. Drakkon made for a killing stroke, but Jessa was too quick. On one knee she leant back and crossed both forearms to block his arm and push it away.
Jessa went into a forward roll away from the combat and came up to her feet, which put them at the corners of the table across from each other on the same side. Both mages moved along the length of the table, keeping it between them for the time being. Suddenly Jessa sprang forward, and gracefully planted one foot on the edge of the table and leapt over it towards Nathaniel. He dodged aside and turned but even as Jessa landed, she launched into an offensive of startling speed that Nathaniel could barely hold off the onslaught. It was only instinct and luck that saw him through, allowing Nathaniel to make a few attacks. Still, the duel was in Jessa’s favour. Nathaniel attempted a quick thrust for the throat, but Jessa turned slightly and pulled his arm, sending him off-balance as the blade went harmlessly over her right shoulder. In a moment Jessa stabbed Nathaniel in the gut once, twisted and spun around behind him, stabbed him twice in the lower back and as he dropped to his knees rammed the dagger point-first into the back of his neck. Nathaniel twisted as his body landed, lying sprawled on his back.
Breathing heavily Jessa sent a spell sphere out of the hall with the simple message “It’s over.”
A few minutes later and the recently promoted mage lord Jarroth Boralays arrived. “That concludes the exercise.” Mage lord Boralays said, walking into the room “You can get up now Nathaniel.”
Nathaniel sat up from where he lay, before placing one hand on the stone floor and another on his knee, and standing up. Boralays continued “Well done Nathaniel, you disposed of all your targets, did not let the alarm be raised until they were eliminated, and almost escaped undetected. Jessa, you also did very well. You waited for your opportunity, did not play your hand too soon, and when the time came you struck without hesitation, defeating the assassin without giving him the opportunity of escape. I’m very impressed by both of you.”
Nathaniel picked up his fallen weapon and placed the wooden practice dagger on the nearby table.