Welcome to Latalis Iuris, or Fatal Oath if that is what you wish to call it. This is my first major story here on Fiction Press, and although it was released a while back, I wasn't happy with how the first chapter was formed, so I have rewritten this first chapter over the weeks and it is here at last. Hopefully I have fixed the things that have been mentioned in your reviews, though I'm sure there are more mistakes I have made to fill in what I have fixed. As always, constructive criticism is asked for, as it helps me improve my writing and know just what to add to my story in future chapters. I thank those that review and those that read. I hope you stick around long enough to read the whole story once it is finished. Enough talk, I humbly introduce you to the improved Latalis Iuris. Enjoy.
"No power hath he of evil in himself."
- Edgar Allen Poe
"Angels may be safe from damnation, but human beings are less fortunate things, and for them hell is always close."
- Stephen King "The Eyes of the Dragon"
The flames, which had once burned so brightly, faded with the sun as it set behind the mountains to the north. The sun with it's wings of gold had watched the land of Oread change in silence for centuries, and now it seemed to wave those wings as if in a final farewell.
Looking down, all that remained of the once blazing fire was a pile of thick ash and the putrid smell of burnt remains. Illarius was smiling. Once more he had become the victor in this sickening game, the soul of yet another man was bound to flow through his veins. That soul would give him life, and what would such a soul do for me? Just like the fire that had burned the latest target, it would torch a number into my mind and into my flesh.
My eyes traveled once more to the pile of ash and my stomach writhed with an unexpected ache. It reminded me of home; the home that was left after the flames had ceased. Memories whirled through my mind, like the chilling bite of a winter wind, making me uneasy. I stumbled forward and my knees hit the earth with a dull thud. I remained there, static and unwavering, a pitiful man clothed in faded robes.
Illarius stepped forward, smile splayed across his face. My torment is enjoyed by him, those petty emotions that I feel, those emotions that make me human. He laughs at such things. Looking before me, his travel worn boots stood only inches from my own. His smile faded and words spilled forth from his pale lips, yet in my daze, they traveled past me like a soft breeze.
With obvious exasperation, he reiterated his words and this time, I heard. "Avis, leave it behind. The past is bound not in blood, nor is it bound by steel. Forget about it, and snap out of your daze before I decide to take back the life I have so graciously given you." Illarius snickered within the depths of his hood, and a sound that strangely resembled that of a snake' hiss soon followed. His pale hand appeared in front of my face, stroked it, and then drew away.
"Child, rise. Rise now. Darkness has fallen and we must be on our way." Although his demeanor seemed calm, anger seared through his unwavering gaze like summer heat. If it weren't for my weakened condition, and my weight laden lids that closed over my pale eyes, I would have returned his anger. But my lids were heavy indeed, and my soul lacked any vigor.
Always impatient and quick to anger, Illarius bent low and pulled back the hood that hid his face. Greasy locks of raven hair fell forth from their confines, resting at ease around his pale face. A jagged scar raced along the left side of his face, glowing a bright pink through the film of dirt that failed to hide it. In my delirium, his mahogany eyes seemed to glow with a mystic light.
Fixing me with a glare, he slowly tipped his head to the side, and his eyes seemed to study my face. I became lost in those eyes and a second later I found myself face down on the dirt, cheek throbbing with a pain that knocked me to my senses.
Pulling all the strength I could muster into my muscles, I drew back, flipping myself over and onto my feet with haste. Illarius merely watched my actions, amused by my sudden recovery.
"Even through you haven't slept for many nights, those assassin reflexes of yours never falter, do they," he questioned, more to himself than to me. I refused to answer, and instead, I turned with my face to the wind, letting it cool my aching cheek which had begun to turn an ugly purple. The sun slipped farther behind the nearby mountains and in the distance, the lights of a village came to life.
"We're stopping there, at least for a night," I stated, not wishing for Illarius to tell me otherwise.
"Indeed we are, my little assassin. It is there that you may find your next victim." Hearing him say this, I spun around quickly, eyes narrowed. Calling them victims was by no means the correct term. Indeed, I was hired as an assassin, and had been for the better part of five years, but the people I killed could be considered filth. Such filth had committed crimes, then escaped any form of fitting justice. So it comes to such that a man like myself is hired to the do the bidding of others and end their life. Yet for me, it comes with a price.
That price is Illarius to whom I am bound to by invisible chains, yet I sometimes swear I can feel the weight of them. That weight alone keeps me awake at night, scars my body although no injury was ever present. That weight binds my soul to the very hand of death. Such is the price of living when all is gone. Like a moth to a flame, I had fallen into his hands.
With the darkened sky as my cover, I began walking towards the village. Illarius' presence hung close; too close. The rank odor of death and decay he carried with him burned my senses, and it took all of my will power not to see him away. His temper was rigged. I saved my words and continued towards the village.
Although the village had seemed close, it took thirty minutes of foot travel before we reached its gate. A solitary lamp cast an orange glow on a sleeping guard, his raspy breath creating small white clouds. As leaves crackled beneath my heavy boots, his eyes shot open and he quickly stood, blinking away sleep from his eyes and pulling a sword from its sheath.
"Trying to sneak by me, were 'ya," he questioned, staring at me with beady black eyes. I shook my head, not wanting any trouble.
"I didn't want to bother your peaceful sleep," I sneered. My mood was rapidly taking a toll for the worst. The guard took a step forward, crossing an arm over his large belly. The metal of his armor clicked together loudly, and I shuddered, not out of fear, but of surprise. Illarius smiled from the wall of the rickety wooden fence surrounding the village.
"Boy, don't ye get on me bad side. I'd do well not ter let ya through them there gates, but ye look as though you haven't slept in days, and it be getting real cold out here. Go on through, but don't ye go causin' me any trouble, ye hear?" His brow furrowed and I nodded my reply and stepped towards the gate. Once more, the guards voice thundered into the night. "And for the sake of me lad, get yerself a bath at the inn. It'll do you a pigs barrel o' good. Ye smell like death itself, maybe even worse." The guard sputtered and I stepped into the village, eyes set on the inn. It was there that I'd be able to get a room, and perhaps sleep, if my body would allow such a thing.
You smell like death. The man had undoubtedly smelled Illarius, smelled the same stench that followed my every step. If only he knew what horror lurked at my side.
Stepping into the village, the last of the day's merchants packed up their wares and headed home, leaving the streets deserted. Two dirt-laden children hurried down an alleyway, eager to make it home in time for a warm supper. To my right, the local pub seethed with the sound of music and laughter, and beer glasses clinked together loudly.
Turning the corner, the inn loomed over us, and I looked to Illarius.
"What is it, little assassin?"
"You are going to stay out here until I get us a room, you got that," I growled, fed up with his childish ways.
"Oh, am I? I guess I could do that. Now run along, you wouldn't want to leave me out here all alone with the shadows now, would ye," he pouted, mimicking the guards poor speech.
Ignoring him, I hurried into the inn. The inn itself was small and humble, the wear of travelers evident upon its wooden floors. The light from candles flickered against the far wall and the scent of flowers drifted through the air. An old man, blind and toothless, sat in a corner. His thin fingers curled around a wooden flute, yet he never once raised it to his lips. Instead, he rocked back and forth, babbling on to himself in quiet words.
Focusing my eyes on the front desk, I found no one there, and I let out an exasperated sigh. Reaching up, I pulled back the hood of my cloak, basking in the warm air that radiated from a nearby stove. My darkened hair, which had grown considerably in the past months, fell to my chin and I combed through it with my fingertips in frustration.
At that moment, a young woman stepped around the corner, locks of matted brown hair sweeping behind her. Her dull green eyes scanned over me, lingering a moment too long on my sunken and bruised face. "You don't look so good, stranger." Stepping behind the counter, she leaned forward, resting her chin within her palms. Pink flourished on her cheeks, and I realized too late that the wench was drunk. "And you're here late too."
"I have my reasons," I muttered, avoiding the door to conversation she had opened. "Now, if one's available, I'd like a room." I stared down at her with sullen eyes and she giggled.
"You aren't very friendly, are you stranger? That's alright though, you're handsome enough." Her words were slurred, and I looked away in disgust. "Heh-heh, A man like you probably has a wife waiting for him at home. Children too, perhaps? No, you look a bit young, but if you'd like a child, I could make that happen. Heh-heh-heh!"
Streams of laughter filtered through my mind, plucking at strings of annoyance as they danced along synaptic highways. Muscles cried for rest, the mind ached for silence, and yet the common whore standing in front of me would grant neither. "I think I'd rather sleep with the pigs," I grunted as I turned back towards the door. Her footsteps played an echo of my own, and before I could reach the dull knob of escape, her thin arms wrapped about my chest.
"Where are you going stranger," she breathed onto my neck and instinctively my muscles coiled. I was a serpent, fangs bared and at the ready. "I promise it will be fun."
Locking my fingers around her fragile wrists, I tore her hands away from my chest. As she stumbled back, I could hear her let out a string of drunken words, all of which my ears neglected to receive. Without even in a glance behind me, I shoved open the door, stepping out into the chilling bite of the late night hours.
Illarius was nowhere to be seen, but his ever lingering scent hung in the air like poison. Turning around the corner of the inn, I pressed myself against the wall, listening for the sound of an animal. The wind spoke in archaic whispers as it blew decayed leaves across the dirt laden ground, and when it died away, the sound of horse hooves clicked clearly in the night from several streets away.
Although the thought of sleeping with the horses when I could have had a warm bed at the inn stabbed at my soul, I realized it was better than sleeping with the pigs, or the wench at the bar for that matter. Heading in the direction of the sound, my tired eyes fixed their gaze on the path I traveled upon.
Perhaps if my senses had not been lulled into a state of sleep, I would have heard the man approaching me from behind, maybe even would have turned to inquire why he followed, but I didn't. As far as my senses were concerned, I was dead to the world, and as a hand shot through the dark and an iron grip was bestowed around my neck, I hardly flinched.
"A tough one, are ye? I might have to change that, foolish little boy." The man laughed shrilly, coughing as he did. I hung helpless in his grip, watching as patterns of flashy lights dotted the view in front of me. My lungs burned as they pumped furiously in a failing attempt to bring in the cold air filtering just outside my lips.
"Gaha, you aren't fighting me. Yer a smart one, little boy. The more ye go kickin' and screamin', the more air ye waste. Ain't that right? But I be nice, little assassin, I be nice." My eyes widened at his words, and I could feel hatred boiling through my veins. The man behind me was none other than Illarius, and as he let go my neck, I found the will to murder him build itself like an unholy monument within my soul.
"You...you," I wheezed, unable to catch my breath. "You're...such a bastard." With my breath regained, I stood for a moment, clutching my side as my lungs pounded against my ribs. Turning myself around, I looked to Illarius who just stood there, lips curled in a smirk. His eyes glowed with an amused light; amusement I bet he was getting from my anger.
"Come now, little assassin, I was merely having fun," he teased.
For the past week, my mood and sanity had been dangling precariously on the ledge of a cliff. Now I could feel them, the very weight they held, teetering off the edge. As they drowned in dark water, I could feel my calm shell cracking, and despite my attempts, I snapped.
Flinging myself forward, I extended my right arm, aiming it at Illarius' face. I should have known it was a foolish thing to try, but my anger had got the best of me. The last thing I saw was his grin, and before I knew it, I was flipped over and planted in the dust. He stood over me, one heavy boot digging into my chest. His left hand was clamped like a vice around my wrist, and as I struggled under the pressure of his weight, his nails dug into the tender flesh, sending searing pain through my arm.
"Now, now. That is no way to treat your elders."
"You're no eld-" His nails dug deeper into my skin, and I grunted in an attempt to hold back the cry that sat at the tip of my tongue, waiting to be let out.
"What have we learned tonight, my little assassin?"
"That you...are the biggest...asshole...," I struggled to talk under the immense pressure on my chest, and I found it not worth the trouble. Instead, I narrowed my eyes up at Illarius, thinking how nice it would be to drive a dagger through his heart.
"So close, but not quite. No, I am King Asshole to you my little one, and in our humble little world, kings are always better than the suppressed peasant ." Removing his foot from my chest, he pulled me up by my burning wrist. "Now, go rest."
In all honesty, I had not even the faintest idea what he had hoped to prove that night. Illarius was never the easy one to find out. It could have been as simple as a display of strength, or as complicated as a cryptic message. If I knew anything, it was that he had deemed himself king in our twisted relationship, the supreme master of not only his life, but of mine. As I curled up in the shadowy corner of an empty horse stall, the musty yet sweet smell of hay surrounding me, I wondered if Illarius knew just how much like a king he was.
Sleep did not come to me that night, but I accepted what rest my eyes and body could get. As the light rose over the mountains, I too rose with it. My wrist pained me as I lifted myself from the hay which had served as my bed. Looking down at it, I grimaced. Blood caked over the spots where Illarius had punctured with his nails, and thick lines of dark purple had appeared where his strong fingers had held tight.
Realizing it would do me no good to linger on shallow wounds, I ignored the pain, and stepped out of the darkened barn. A light dusting of snow had fallen during the night, turning the town into a white wonder. Down the street, children had already filtered outside to play in the snow, and their mothers watched them from the warmth of their homes.
"Hey, mister. You shouldn't be in there."
To the left, sitting on a rather shaky looking fence, was a kid no older than twelve. A dusty cape hung on his meager frame, and a rounded hat was pulled tight over his brown hair that looked suitable enough to house a rat. Hidden underneath the curled fingers of his left hand was a pebble, barely visible from my point of view.
"Do you plan to hit me with that," I questioned, pointing a finger to his withdrawn hand. His lips parted in silent awe, and I watched as the pebble slipped from his fingers, making an indent in the snow below his feet.
"Y-you must be him, I'm sure of it. He said you'd have the assassins eye," the boy chattered, hopping down into the snow. His words caught my attention, and looking to make sure no one was around, I stepped closer. If he knew I was an assassin, he was likely to tell his younger friends and they to their parents. The last thing I needed was a whole village knowing there was an assassin running rampart through their barns while they slept.
"And who told you this?"
The boy looked genuinely frightened as he fumbled for something hidden beneath his cape. "A tall, s-scary man. He didn't say much, he just a-asked me to give the man with the assassins eye a letter." The boy stopped for a moment and his hand locked around something I couldn't see. Cautiously, my hand crept for one of the daggers resting against my waist.
"H-here it is." The boy held out a rolled scrap of parchment, and it shook violently in his hands. "I-I haven't looked at it at all, I swear on the very land of Oread itself." Giving a skeptical glance at the boy, I took the parchment from his hands. Blotches of water and mud covered it's rolled surface, and he watched in fear as I inspected it.
As I opened my mouth to speak, he let out a low yelp, the kind of sound a dog would make after being kicked by it's master. Turning away from me, I knew he meant to run and that was exactly what he started to do. Momentarily forgetting the parchment, I lunged forward, catching his shoulder in my left hand. It throbbed as my fingers curled into his skin, reopening the wounds on my wrist.
The boy struggled under my grip, and stepping forward, I wrapped my right arm about him, dragging him back into the darkness of the barn. I felt like a thief stealing money from an innocent kid in the middle of the night, but I didn't have a choice. "Quit struggling, for the love of your father, kid. I'm not going to hurt you."
Obeying my orders, he stopped his futile struggle. Tears rolled down his cheeks and muffled sobs echoed in the barn. The sun continued to climb higher over the mountains, and I realized I didn't have much time before someone came to tend to the horses. Turning the boy around, I stared down at him and raised a finger to my lips.
Dropping my own voice to a whisper, I spoke. "Listen, kid, all I need to know is whether or not you read the letter. If you did-" I muttered, but stopped the sentence short. If I told him I'd kill him, it would only hurt the situation. Taking a breath, I told him the only thing that came to mind. "- If you did, I'll have to stay around and make sure you don't tell anyone."
The boy moaned, rubbing at his tear filled eyes as he did. He pulled from my grip and I allowed him to take a seat upon the hay strewn ground. Breathing deeply, he calmed himself and readied to speak. As he parted his lips, his brows scrunched upwards and he burst into a fresh wave of tears.
Annoyed, I bent down to his level. "Did you read it or not? It's a rather simple question, and I suggest you answer it quickly before a stable boy comes and finds us here. I'll let you decide what is worse, having me follow you around, or you could be charged for stealing cattle."Reaching out with my good hand, I meant to grab his shoulder, but he smacked it away defiantly. His sobs turned to woeful laughter and I could do nothing but stare at him with a scolding gaze.
It was obvious he knew nothing of the plague that had killed off much of the livestock in Oread thirty-six years ago. What it hadn't killed, it had left maimed and weak, unsuitable for eating. People with cattle untouched by the plague were often killed by those driven by greed and hunger. As the number of good livestock plummeted, a law was formed to protect what remained of the untouched cattle. If a man was found to have stolen livestock, the man was hung and the cattle which he stole was given back to it's owner, if they were still alive of course.
"If a stable boy finds us here, we'll both be charged with stealing cattle, and do you know what happens then," I questioned, but quickly continued before he could answer. "We'll be hung, side by side. Nothing like dying over a simple answer. Now hurry, and tell me before we're seen."
The boys laughter faded away and his mouth curled into a shark-like grin. "You idiot. Heeheheheee. I am the stable boy.
Authors Note: There you have it, the rewritten and much extended version of the first chapter. I hope it was enjoyed, and that you will take the time to review and nitpick through my story. Even a simple, "I liked it," or "I didn't like it," is appreciated. Anyways, stick around for chapter two. Sorry for the cliffhanger. ;D