Bergess was a beautiful city in Bastug’s eyes. Most people wouldn’t agree with him, but to Bastug the city was something special. It was so alive. He had never seen anything of the like. Narrow, dirty streets, tall buildings, people bustling around even in the night. He loved that he could disappear into the crowd so easily. He loved that the buildings were so close to each other, that you could jump from one rooftop to the other. Even the nobles didn’t have too spacious holdings: since space was at a premium, they were forced to expand their holdings upward, not outward… and continuously building higher and higher often meant flat rooftops.
Bergess was the perfect city for Bastug’s profession as an assassin.
The incredible amount of people meant that he would never run out of job. Even better, just about a month ago the city’s largest underworld organization – the Red Ravens – lost their entire leadership. Every single ranking member. No one knew who did it, but it was quite a feat: most of the Red Ravens leadership were Players. Sure, Players could bleed and die just like anybody else, but they always had ridiculous powers. If they were holding their chosen weapon, it was better to pray they wouldn’t have time to use it.
Anyhow, the Red Ravens were disbanded. It was a good thing, because they left behind a power vacuum. Other bands were gaining new territories, among them the Bloody Fangs.
Bastug arrived to Bergess 3 years ago. He had never lived in such a big city, so he began cautiously: he took up only smaller jobs that were well within his expertise. It wasn’t long before the leader of the Bloody Fangs approached him with the offer to join their ranks. They were a small gang back then, but the leader was a Player, which promised greatness. Bastug hated Players – they had so many easily-gained, unfair advantages that they were insults to Bastug’s hard-earned skills – but this Player made a good impression on him. She wasn’t boasting of her skills, for one. She came to meet him in person. And, most importantly, she was a woman with an amazing body. So Bastug readily accepted the offer.
This was how, 3 years later, Bastug found himself crouching in a dark alley, looking like a homeless person. The Bloody Fangs took this district after the fall of Red Ravens, but for the last few weeks, their operations were constantly interrupted and sabotaged. Boss had gleaned the information that it was a small band of Players who were crossing them. It was time to teach them a lesson, but first, Boss needed to know more about them.
Bastug spent most of the last four days in that stinking alley. The beautiful city didn’t seem so beautiful at the moment. There was an inn on the other side of the street, which was under suspicion of being in contact with the Shades (the name that the locals gave to the mysterious gang). Bastug’s job was to confirm this suspicion and, if possible, find out where the Shades were operating from.
He didn’t need to know any of the locals for this task, he just had to look out for Players who visited this inn. It was such a run-down place, that not many would do so.
There were two other people in the alley, an old hag who was muttering constantly, and a thin man who came and went from time to time. He was probably the old woman’s son, trying to get food for both of them. For the first few days, Bastug was keeping a close eye on them, but they seemed innocent enough. Even though, he still wouldn’t have dared to sleep without the protection of the enchanted item that Boss gave him. Not that he wanted to sleep much anyways.
There was an other lookout who was supposed to watch for activities during the day, while Bastug was resting. He was on the second floor, peeking out of a gap in a closed-off window. But Bastug wanted to be the one catching these Shades, so he stayed alert during the day as much as he could. Maybe there would even be an opportunity to get rid of those bastards, quietly. Players were always overly confident. If they were frequenting this inn, a dash of poison in their ale would solve everything. Boss would be pleased with him if he got rid of this problem for her, oh, very pleased…
On the fifth night, Bastug’s patience finally bore fruit. A shady figure had approached the inn, wearing a ridiculous amount of flowing black clothing. No capable person would wear that; it was too unpractical. Though Bastug thought the figure’s appearance was laughable, the bouncers in the entrance didn’t treat the figure with anything else but respect. In his eagerness, Bastug already half rose from his sitting position. Should he go inside as well? Should he wait and see how much time the Shade spends in there, then follow them?
His whirling thoughts were interrupted by a sharp whistle behind him. It was the thin, homeless man. A few seconds later he saw two bulky thugs walking down the alley in his direction. He snapped his head the other way, and saw the two bouncers closing in too. I’ll have to fight, he thought. Though he was much smaller, it wasn’t a hopeless situation. Blinding powder into one of the bouncer’s face, a dagger into the other, and he may be able to slip free.
Before he could decide any course of action, he felt a piercing pain in his right leg. With a cry he collapsed to his knees and looked down with watery eyes. There was a dagger, hilt deep, in his thigh. The thin man had stabbed him when he wasn’t looking. Stupid mistake. The moment he had let out that whistle, Bastug should have kept an eye on him too. Now there was no way to outrun the thugs.
“Oi’ boyz, get ‘im, get ‘im!” croaked the hobo. “Ahm shure hes spyin’ on us!”
Bastug snapped out a throwing dagger from his sleeve and got ready to throw, but before he could release it a large hand grabbed the side of his head with incredible swiftness, and bashed his skull into the wall.
When Bastug’s consciousness returned, he found himself in a cell. He was still in his own clothes, but his weapons were gone. Even the dagger hidden in the sole of his right boot was missing. He wasn’t alone in the cell, however.
“Bastug! You ‘kay?” asked a fat, hairy, middle-aged man. This person was supposed to be the other lookout, Bastug knew that much, but didn’t remember his name. The fatty hadn’t been stripped out of his clothes either, but his cloak and long beard weren’t enough to hide his large potbelly.
“Where are we? What happened?” Bastug asked instead. He tried to sit up, and almost cried out again from the pain in his leg. When he looked at the wound, he could see that it wasn’t bleeding, and someone even put a bandage over his blood-soaked trousers. They must have healed the wound partially, because… because he wasn’t dead from the blood loss. But it hurt like hell.
“This is a storage room o’ some kind. I dunno much ’bout it either, they dragged me in here afta’ ya,” the man answered. “But I can tell ya that I din’t see any of them guards. Mebbe they just left us ‘ere to rot.”
Was this man always so talkative? Bastug wondered. He didn’t really know him, but from what he could remember, the man was usually rather gruff and grumpy. How did being a prisoner loosen his tongue?
“What was your name, again?” Bastug asked.
“Ah. It’s Dramm. I know, we din’t have much time fo’ the get-to-knows before,” he said.
“Dramm. Did you learn anything useful about the Shades?”
“Well, I din’t see them,” he said, “but in mah off-hours, I asked around. Discretely, o’ course.”
Bastug had to fight his emotions for his expression to remain calm. Asked around? Asked around?! How did the fatty think that would be a good idea? Maybe he was the reason the Shades got a sniff that someone was spying on them! Goddamn imbeciles everywhere! If they managed to escape, he was going to have Boss flay this fat fuck alive!
“So, ya see, I got me a bunch o’ rumors,” Dramm continued. “It is said that they are invisible, that no man can see ’em, not unless they stand in the moon’s shine!” He turned his voice lower, whispering as if this was all a great secret. “They also say, that them eyes glow like the different colors o’ the moon!”
“Those are just bunch of rumors,” snapped Bastug. “I have seen one of them entering the inn, and they were very much visible!”
“‘Tis alright, I din’t say I believe in them rumors either!” added Dramm hurriedly. “Them folk also oft’n told me, that they don’t just pick up any piece o’ job, no matter tha gold offered. It is said that them Shades punish only those who deserve it! Killers, rapists, thieves…”
“Alright, alright, you can shut up now. We are getting nowhere. I don’t want to hear any of this bullshit the folk made up for them. You can pester the Boss with the details after we escaped,” Bastug said, then began to pick at his left sleeve with his nails.
“Ah, ya got a plan?” asked Dramm, choosing to ignore the assassin’s rudeness.
“Of course I have. These Shades are a bunch of amateurs. Look at this; they didn’t even remove our clothes!” he grumbled.
“Mebbe they din’t wanna see us nekkid?”
Bastug didn’t reply. He was wondering how could such an idiot get assigned to this important mission. Maybe he should make a complaint about whoever was responsible for that, as well.
Working silently, he tore apart the seams around his sleeve, revealing his lockpicks. He crawled to the makeshift bars representing their cell’s door. They really were in a storehouse, he could tell it at a glance. Their cell hadn’t been designed to hold prisoners; someone must have thrown the whole thing together in a hurry. The door was closed with a loose chain and a simple lock, so it wouldn’t be too difficult to pick. Outside of their cell, all he could see were various boxes. Faint light filtered through a dirty window higher up the wall, and a row of stairs led up to the exit, which probably opened to the streets. No guards were in sight. These Shades were so incompetent, it was a miracle they hadn’t bit the dust yet.
“Did they have guards outside the front of the door?” he asked Dramm.
“Umm, dunno. There were three big lookin’ fellas standin’ around, they moight be tha guard,” he replied.
“Alright, here is what we do. I pick this lock, then you go and stack those boxes, silently, under that window. My leg is injured, so you’ll have to help me climb. Then, we are going back to base to report all this to the Boss. Got it?”
“Gotcha!” he answered with a stupid grin.
And when we get home, you too are going to pay for your incompetence, Bastug mused.
“The Boss will see you now,” said the stern-looking bodyguard. “Both of you,” he added.
Finally. Bastug was exhausted, drenched in sweat, and the throbbing in his thigh was getting worse. After escaping the storehouse, they made several detours to confuse anyone who would track them. By the end of it, his leg was hurting so much that he had to lean on Dramm for support.
Bastug stepped inside the chamber, followed by Dramm, and finally, the bodyguard. He could tell that the Boss wasn’t in a good mood. She was lounging, feet up on her desk, but wore a frown that promised no good. She opened her mouth to speak as Bastug stepped forward, but then her eyes snapped to the side, focusing on something behind him.
“What is that?”
Bastug turned to see some kind of shimmering hole floating in the air, in front of the wall. In the next instant, an arrow flew out from the hole and sailed past Bastug’s head. It hit the opposite side of the room, and everything went completely dark. So dark, in fact, that Bastug was fearing he had gone blind. He tried to escape through door, but someone kicked him in the chest. He staggered, but managed to stay upright after he caught a chair for support. He bit his tongue as a surge of pain shot up from his right leg. He heard a few muffled cries from the guard, then there was only silence.
“You can turn off your darkness now!” Dramm’s voice called out, but there was no trace of his accent.
Traitor! Bastug shrieked internally. He realized belatedly that he still had no weapon: he headed directly for the audience chambers after they arrived, and didn’t bother to get new ones. As the darkness began to recede, the first thing he saw was his Boss. Head lolling. With an arrow through her right eye. He slowly, shakily, turned towards the door. Dramm was standing there, holding a black dagger drenched in the guard’s blood.
“Ha! I can’t believe it worked,” he said conversationally. His body began to shimmer and change, along with his voice. “I’ve almost ran out of mana! A few more minutes, and we would have been forced to go with the back-up plan instead.”
As he finished speaking, the transformation ended. The fat and hairy Dramm became lean and blue skinned, with silver hair and amber eyes that seemed to be dancing in the torchlight. Sylven.
Bastug opened his mouth to shout for help, for someone, anyone. The creature bounded across the room incredibly fast, and Bastug realized only belatedly that no sound had escaped from his mouth. The blade of the black dagger was in his throat.
“Tell your Mistress when you meet her, that the Shades of the Moon send their regards.”
The Sylven’s melodious laughter was the last thing Bastug heard.