Kius watched for his apprentice, who lurked in the shadows a mere two blocks away. As the student attempted to sneak up on the adept using his natural and learned stealth abilities, Kius called out once he spotted the trainee. And again the pointless exercise will begin again, thought Sal.
For in truth, impatience seared the youth's veins more and more each day. Why be taught the skills of a Blade, if not to use them at every possible turn? Instead, each of the infrequent times the cries of the needy interrupted their lessons, Kius would depart alone to dismantle the threat, leaving Lunea to guard his apprentice. Through the four months of their relationship, Sal came to respect his master. But never fear him in the way any student should.
A cry, cut off in an instant, interrupted his thoughts. Struggling shadows manifested in an alley just down the street. Unconsciously, Sal leapt up and made his way towards the fight, before a reasoned voice broke into his mind.
What are you doing! Get Kius, quick.
Why shouldn't I handle this?
Even as he mentally argued, he neared the alleyway, glancing at the disturbance. Terrified out of her mind by the three men that attacked her, a lone woman slapped and punched, struggling against them. Sal watched in horror for the briefest moment, and suddenly indignation flooded through his body. The righteous anger pulsing like a blaring elephant, Sal shoved aside any doubts and unsheathed a sword-breaker and a scimitar.
Forgetting his stealth, Sal charged down the path. Noticing him immediately, two of the men turned and laughed, while the third held a hand to the woman's mouth. Barking words in a foreign tongue to one another, the men each drew a sword. Sal slashed forward, his scimitar moving like a gray blur towards the man's throat, the angel of death riding its tip.
His arming sword flew up, parrying the blow. Even as he registered the strength of the block, the other man cut at his side. The apprentice danced backwards, looking at his opponents with new understanding. These were no mere bandits, but real warriors trained with deadly attacks. The third man said something in his strange tongue and turned back to the woman.
Doubts pushed into Sal's mind as he desperately tried to think of a plan, but the bandits closed in and there was no time! He blocked a sword blow on his scimitar, steel dully clanging on iron. Anger bringing fire to his limbs, Sal kicked up into the man's stomach.
Swearing in his language the man fell back and glared at the boy in hatred. Hands formed intricate gestures, and suddenly magic fluxed about them, twisting upon itself. With barely a second to spare, Sal whispered a word and a defensive orb surrounded him, blocking the spell. Even so, the mage's power sliced into the defenses, and a wave of pain exploded from his left arm. As the magic sapped energy from his body, his mind wavered.
All at once his resolve collapsed, and he fell forward, landing hard on the cold ground. With a foot the criminal flipped Sal over onto his back. Through tired eyes Sal saw the sword raise, and barely found the energy to roll away from the blow. A laugh echoed through his consciousness….
As Sal collapsed, the bandit once again raised his blade, laughing at the idiotic child. Suddenly, a gurgle came from behind him and he turned. And there, casually standing above the corpse of the third crook, was Kius.
Pure terror flooded the man at the sight of the twisting black scars, which seemed to dance in exhilaration of the blood spilt upon them. The assassin raised a dagger, fury in his eyes, and the bandit knew his life was not to be spared.
He turned to flee, fear giving his feet wings. Yet within ten paces the assassin drew his bow, nocked an arrow, and fired cleanly into the man's back. A scream of pain and death escaped him as he crashed against a building, and then he fell ominously silent.
Standing with the pain of his stomach, the final bandit gestured and again magic swirled through his hands. Kius dropped his bow, scooping his wand from a pocket as the mage finished his spell. Black lightning cracked and twisted on Kius's flesh, making him appear eerily dancing in the darkness. Suddenly sapphire magic flared and jetted towards Kius, casting his face into beautiful light.
Eyes narrowed to slits, and Kius drew back an arm as if to throw a ball. Then the adept stabbed forward, his wand piercing into the comet's magic. For the briefest second, wild, alien light shone from his eyes, transforming them to a brilliant azure. And then the magic died back and Kius's gaze lowered on the dead mage, his energy wasted on the attack.
Behind him lay Sal, blank eyes staring upside-down at Kius. Then, without a word or sign, they closed. Kius breathed a sigh of relief and bent to pick up his apprentice, slinging him carefully over a shoulder. A ghostly shadow appeared at the end of the alley and sprinted through the darkness, resolving itself as Lunea. The wolf leapt on its hind-legs, licking the boy's face with concern.
Wearily Kius pushed it down, the scars slowly winding down from their blood dance. Without a word the assassin lead the wolf from the alley and started back towards the base.
His mind meandered about itself picking random tidbits from his past thoughts and deed, displaying them like evidence before a judge. Scenes, from Sal's own eyes, flashed beneath his closed eyelids as he moaned or smiled in his real self.
Disappointment flooded him at the lack of jewelry in the noble's lounge. He crept about searching for more still, when suddenly a lamp flooded the room with light.
"What the hell are you doing!" cried the man, stepping back in shock.
Sal panicked, dropping his prizes every which way and stumbling over excuses and alibis. "I just- looking for some- can't remember- a bad dream."
"You! You're the one who's been stealing all my possessions, spiriting them away to sell them for your stupid lessons! How dare you! No son of mine performs so disrespectfully and is absolved from consequences.
"No, Father! Please, I just-" But no excuse leapt to Sal's mind, no great skip of logic. And as his father took a menacing step forward, Sal's wavering courage broke and he fled, kicking down the thin backdoor and running through the night. Tears fell and splashed onto the ground as he sprinted away from his old life.
As this final image faded, Sal groaned aloud. Asleep next to him, a concerned look on his face even now, Kius woke with a startle. His apprentice rolled over, clutching at his own arm. Eyes snapped open in alarm, and then registered the Blade.
"What were you thinking?" asked Kius, displeasure and anger clear in his tone, the tone of a worried parent. Even more than the sting of the wound on his arm, even more than the weariness that flooded his veins from the spell, this cold tone shook Kius's emotions.
"Kius, I just saw-"
"The mage, the guy you tried to tackle? Training at both the Sauron Mage University and as a knight leave him deadly as a tornado, and you try to tackle him alone! You're lucky that earlier he'd expended so much energy escaping from another Blade, or right now you would be dead," said Kius, contempt in his voice as he looked down at his apprentice.
"If you ever allowed me to tackle someone I could handle, this wouldn't have happened!" replied his student bitterly, sitting up as his face contorted with pent-up emotion. "I'm a fool for letting inactivity get at me, when I'm being trained for action? By the time you reached us, who knows what may have happened to that woman?"
"Inactivity? Do you know the number of people who respect, fear, and even envy Blade apprentices for the skills they learn?" Kius answered. "Many a young man would die for the chance I offered you. Don't waste it… because I know you possess the makings of a notable Blade." As he finished the last sentence, their eyes met. Sal looked away, staring out over the city through a window. Shame spread like heat through him, for he realized that his master truly believed in him.
Taking a deep breath, Sal gazed back the adept, who caught his eye expectantly. "Master… I'm sorry for my words. I know you mean the best, but why do you not allow me to handle minor criminals, with both Lunea's assistance and your own?"
Kius sighed, running a hand distractedly through his hair. Despite all his experience as a Blade, never before did he train a student personally.
"Sal, any screw-up right now could finish your career as a Blade and possibly result in your death as well. That's why we are trained to be so cautious when raising a new apprentice, for just one injury could result in scores of complications. However, if you follow my orders unconditionally from now on, as well as continuing to demonstrate your potential… I will allow you into some minor fights."
Again their gaze met and Sal nodded, a smile insisting to break through his face. Finally, a chance to prove himself to the grizzled assassin, as well as redeem himself for tonight's failure!
On his part, Kius hid his own grin as the apprentice turned away, looking out onto the falling moon. Little did he know that, as an apprentice, Kius himself once riskily endangered his own life in much the same way as his current student.
"Well, Sal, I need to go attend to a senior officer meeting. Try and get some rest; you're still expected in morning classes." Sal nodded and lay back on his pillows, staring up at the gray ceiling.
Wearily, he barely raised one arm, shocked at the weakness of his own body. A deep sense of surprise rooted itself; rarely if ever did the young, well-trained man's body fail him. The only answer presenting itself was the night's skirmish.
Despite his willpower, his fingers trembled, a symbol of his weakness. He closed his eyes, and suddenly once again the mage's fingers danced with power, the energy to maim and kill and destroy. Again he felt the raw terror at the vicious power that, even with the sorcerer's temporary weariness, would have ended his life.
Again pain flickered in his left arm and Sal apprehensively lifted away the sheet that covered it. Bandages covered the wound, but through them seeped dark blood, horror to Sal's eyes. For the first time he realized, had Oris not repeatedly pounded the incantation for a defensive orb into his mind, the mage's spell would have slashed him apart like rags. Fear and doubt pushed their way to his mind, but with the coldness he learned on the street he shoved them back, choosing instead to relax back onto his bed.
Lunea bounded at the assassin's side as they strode confidently down the road. Giving him the occasional wary glance, most people hastened out of his path, lest government retribution. Although Kius himself never attacked citizens who merely stood in his path, the occasional Blade ended up losing his mind by the stress and requirements of his living.
Ignoring a vendor's calls for purchase of some fruit, Kius remained silent, other than the occasional, comforting words to Lunea. For, regardless of his anger at his apprentice, some measure of pride existed. Even with the intense training of a Blade, few boys of Sal's age would stand to a pair of unknown criminal. Undoubtedly, the boy contained all the true virtues of a Blade: bravery, loyalty, and even some common sense, in spite of the foolishness to try and fight off the crooks alone.
Lunea nipped lightly at his hand as he nearly turned the wrong way, lost in his thoughts. Allowing the wolf to guide him, the pair paced down the street, heading towards the Grand Palace.
Years of intense training and dozens of kills or murders, compiled with his personality, rarely allowed Kius a chance to marvel at the beauty of an object. Even so, as he rounded a corner and caught sight of the castle, inner joy overwhelmed him at the simple exquisiteness of the stronghold.
Sweeping towers curved gracefully, dominating the skyline, and flags fluttered from the tops of the tower. A moat of diverted water lazily curled around the fortress, leaving access only through a single bridge. Two outer walls of wine-red stone set a light difference between themselves and the dark maroon castle, nearly black. Even with its magnificence, the castle's original purpose remained obvious. Dozens of longbow archers could fire from the high towers. Bridges would rise and form an impassable wall, while flesh-eating fish swam in the depths of the moat. Outer walls, with their narrow passages, could redirect the fighting or perhaps allow burning oil to be poured upon their foes.
Beside the guardhouse at the head of the bridge stood Allenia, cloak of tan and green blurring with the background.
"Allenia! No one told me you were to accompany to the King."
The assassin bent and ran a hand over Lunea's ears, who barked happily and bit playfully at her fingers. "They decided that this mission was of sufficient importance to devote a pair of senior officers. At least I volunteered; Darik mentioned you accepted the request rather reluctantly."
"As of late, the King has been rather testy with me," replied Kius, flashing his badge at the guard on the bridge. He nodded and took a hand off the sword at his waist, once more casually leaning back against the wall.
"I suppose killing a royal knight will do that to you, Kius."
"I know, but I killed him fairly, in a duel that he initiated! Am I supposed to be the burden of a grudge for that?" asked Kius, false anger hinting in his voice.
"Apparently," laughed Allenia. Kius allowed a smile to break through his face, and his friend returned it gracefully. The adept glanced forward to see Lunea leaping from plank to plank, trying to catch insects between her paws. Toned muscles rippled under her fur each time she bounded, slamming onto the insects with a huge paw.
Allenia followed in gaze and laughed aloud, following the canine's motions with delight. With a grin, Kius linked their arms, feeling remarkably cheerful for some reason. After such a long time recovering from a broken paw, it was beautiful to see his partner so joyous and free. The wolf stopped occasionally to sniff a cart laden with supplies for the castle, occasionally tearing at their contents.
As the trio neared the end of the bridge, the wolf suddenly stiffened, snout straight in the air. Kius glanced at her curiously, and then started forward in alarm as the wolf sprinted off the deck. Her body tautened into a dive, and she plunged into the water.
Allenia grabbed Kius's arm as he pulled away. "No, Kius!" But he threw away her arm and ran along side the bridge, desperately scanning the water for any sign of Lunea.
Soon, since they were so close to the end, he could see the bottom, but still no sign of Lunea….
A burst of water as the wolf resurfaced, her powerful jaws clutched on the cloth of a man's shoulder. Water washed over his face as he coughed, spitting up some of the liquid. Kius ran back along the bridge to come parallel with his friend, bow coming into his hands almost of its own volition. Dark shapes resolved as carnivore fish stroking along towards the wolf, and rage flowed through Kius. Helpless beside him, without a bow of her own, Allenia sprinted towards the guardhouse at the palatial end of the bridge.
The assassin barely saw her careen off, his concentration blotting out everything else. His powerful longbow, arrow on string, drew back into a conical shape as he sighted onto one of the beasts closest the water. For the briefest second his breath caught, and then the arrow sang towards the beast. The heavy missile penetrated only a few inches in the water before stabbing into the beast, which sank out of sight in evident pain.
Guards rushed towards them, alerted by Allenia, armed with spear and sword, others leaping onto the beach to assist the wolf in the last few meters. The soldier in the water, regaining some consciousness, began to kick along with the wolf. His effort increased their speed ever so slightly, yet perhaps this weak effort spared both their lives.
Desperately running through his reservoirs of magic, Kius tried to frame some spell to assist him. Even as he thought wildly for any form of plan, he released another arrow, staving off the closest beast. With the speed of a cheetah he scanned his memory for some fail-safe, completely impervious plan.
With no chance at this, he knocked one together.
Only a meter or two down the bridge stood a cart with a small pile of food supplies for the royal family, perhaps a gift from some minor lord. The Blade dropped his bow and instead drew a knife from a hidden sheath as he leapt onto the cart, throwing aside fruit and bread blindly. Finally, after what felt like a year, he pulled from the bottom a meat pack. Hastily positioning the knife, he slit along his arm and held it to the meat for a second, allowing the fresh blood to wash onto the meat. The Blade tossed the meat towards the water, barely registering the splash before snatching up his bow again and sprinting down the dock towards the beach.
The instant the meat hit the meat hit the water, coated in Kius's bright blood, dark shapes in the moat paused in doubt. Senses born of hunting told them of the meat sinking slowly, and a few turned away to streak towards the meat. The few seconds as the others paused in doubt gave Lunea the chance to surge mightily with final effort. Soldiers knee-deep in water stabbed at the creatures confidently with spears, holding them back and steadily retreating towards shore. Two men, swords buckled to their waist, carried their fallen companion onto the shore, flipping him onto his back.
Bow dropped on the beach, Kius charged into the water as the last of the soldiers beat off a wave of the beasts. The assassin scooped up Lunea, arm and back straining from the effort. Willpower surged through him as he looked down into her eyes, which blinked blearily and stared back at him. Abandoning the battle, each of the men retreated onto the safety of the land, helping any wounded. The sea-beasts lost interest and slipped off into the deeper waters to fight over the meat that bobbed on the surface.
The wolf rolled over weakly on the ground, pawing at the air with her feet. Kius inspected her with concern, noting a few bites along her legs and torso, although nothing particularly bad. Their eyes met for the briefest second and she barked weakly. The armsmen stood around the canine in concern, muttering in amazement at the animal's strength and courage.
After a moment, Lunea rolled over and pushed from the ground, carefully walking around. The men applauded and Kius smiled, and suddenly looked beyond his friend shocked.
Allenia stumbled into his arms as she fainted, her body covered in blood.