Enderal:Tales of the Wanderer: The Shadow Dancer
The Shadow Dancer
The guiding principle of eternal wandering is both a blessing and a curse. No one sees the world the way I do — in its rawest and most primal form, behind the countless veils covering her, with a gaze undimmed by hate or gullibility. My fate as a wanderer had already begun upon leaving my mother's womb. The training that turned me into what I am now required complete suppression of all feelings. It was harsh and exhausting, and aimed at total concentration on a single task. I am sure you are wondering what point there could be in collecting and compiling information on this world's combat styles. If only you knew… no one, not even I myself can comprehend it. It serves a higher purpose. It is a life's work. From the time just after finishing my education in the Master's monastery, many adventurous stories arise. This is one of them, one of the first.
Something was different that day. Ravens sitting on the gables announced it. The air pressed on my shoulders, heavy as if it were a chain of massive stone. The sun had not yet risen; and in the night there had been frost. Wafts of mist lay over the harbor of Ark. Coming from the sea; they meandered through the alleys as ghostly, snake-like creatures. The bystander's breath soared to the dim sky as little clouds of steam. They gathered at the spot where it had happened. Some were dockers, one a beggar. No one else had appeared yet, though now it would not take much longer for the alley to fill.
“Poor buggers. That's got to be the fifth murder this month. I'm beginning to take fright now. Just look at the amount of blood, and that one's skull — mashed like a ripe tomato. There's got to be a madman skirting round. ”, one of the dockers said with a husky voice.
“This one even had his personal guard with him … still didn't do him any good. It has to be a damn strong madman, killing people like that ”, another one commented.
I pulled down my hood. There was not much time anymore. The guards would appear soon enough, and it was unlikely they would be inclined to let anyone through. Three corpses. Parts of one still stuck to the wall his murderers had smashed it against, the twisted remainder lying below. The other two were spread along the alley. Bizarre white signs were painted on the walls, probably as some form of deterrent. The people were supposed to believe this to be the work of some obscure secret society. I crouched down before one of the dead. He lay on his back. The time of death was difficult to determine, the cold making any accurate estimate impossible. The man was well-fed. His fine garments were sprinkled with blood and a metallic badge hung around his neck. A rich merchant, member of the Golden Sickle. I grabbed his head, pulled his mouth corner up and sniffed.
“What do you think you're doing, lad? He's dead, nothing will change that. ”
I didn't answer. The odor coming out of the corpse's mouth. In the third chamber of senses, in the monastery, they made me smell it for days so I would always be able to recognize it. It was hardly noticeable anymore. A foul mixture of addled eggs and soot. His throat was cut through and left only one possible conclusion: Stabbed from behind, with a very, very sharp blade. The skin was not fringy and the cut smooth, smoother than cuts from a razor blade. The merchant's personal guards had died under the influence of enormous bodily power. The manner of their deaths were very different from another — too different. Something here was suspicious. I arose. The laborers were muttering already. “Who is that? ”
“What does he want here? ”
“Maybe he is involved in the whole affair. You know, sometimes those freaks come to look at their bloody deed back and knock one out. ”
“Wasn't that one here last week, nosing around? ”
“I'm getting the guards…”
One of them bolted away. For me, it was time to go. I had already disappeared in the streets when they turned. In my attic room at the inn I put my findings down and summarized the insights I had gained:
Five murders. Five high-ranking merchants of the Golden Sickle. This had ceased to be coincidental a long time ago. There was a reason the last one had guards with him. Someone was out to get the merchants. The possibility of a personal feud couldn't be dismissed — merchants make lots of enemies during their lives. But that would make it a case for the city guard. What made it my responsibility was this clue. Magic. The suspicious odor. A clear indicator for the use of Entropy, forbidden magic, in each of the three cases I personally had the chance to investigate since the series began.
My old friend, the Apothecarius Belius Braungrind, who was working for the Order, immediately contacted me when the first victims appeared on his examination table. Though the whole city watch was on alert, the murderer had been able to continue his sinister doings, utilizing new tricks every time. But I feared he would sooner or later make a mistake and be captured. Before that happened and his head ended up rolling through the streets of Ark, I had to witness him and his incomparably powerful ways to kill. If what I concluded was true, there was only one person he could attack next: the head of the Golden Sickle — Evan Dal'Volar.
I was Dal'Volar's shadow in the following days. If one travels as much as I do, one quickly becomes familiar the arts of subterfuge and how to observe and follow the unsuspecting. He did not take a single step without his band of heavily armed mercenaries. Even during the night they surrounded his residence. Should the murderer appear — and he would, considering how reckless he behaved hitherto — his drive for revenge had to be truly strong. It was a cold and misty night. The hired guards were playing cards and drinking glogg to stay warm. Behind a large, double-sided window upstairs, Evan had finished donning his nightdress and joined his lover — a whore who appeared to favor rich customers. It was all just like any other evening — except for a certain black shadow darting over the roofs. I noticed it, of course. He seemed to scout the area. Murder lay in the sweet smell of crackling wood coming from the merchant's mansion. The sweet smell of death.
He danced in the shadows of the night, avoiding the moonlight. I myself could hardly follow him; and that was extraordinary. My eyes were excellently trained for such things. The mercenaries guarding the main entrance were naught but a lukewarm appetizer to him. Their throats were gaping open and their life's blood already running down in streams before they could so much as utter a word. I had to be careful. One false step and I would end like those pitiful men. With a swift series of movements, the assassin pulled himself up to the first floor. When he disappeared in the dark, I rushed forward, opening the lock with a spell — there was no time for honest thieves' work.
Inside, it was deathly quiet. Hopefully I wasn't too late. While I sneaked ahead, I suddenly sensed a draft. The back door was standing open. But why…? I was not given the chance to end that line of thought. Out of the dark, a huge creature was approaching me. I could make out nothing more than two glowing yellow points — pupils. I threw myself to the side and narrowly escaped it. It was rattling and slurping and trailed a mercenary's corpse on the deal boards. That couldn't have been a human. But then, what else? A shrill shriek, followed by hollow rattling took me out of my shock-induced paralysis. I struggled to my feet and stormed upstairs. The door to the bed-chamber was open, with several mercenaries lying before her. All of them gruesomely disfigured. The corridors end seemed to almost swim in blood. Rushing through the door, I was left breathless: a huge creature, surely larger than two grown men, had grabbed Dal'Volar at his feet. He was hanging headlong and floundered with his feet. Abominable, hideous, deformed, with ailing blue to violet skin, red purulent blisters, warts and tumors from which bones and distorted joints were growing, the creature breathed in his face. It distantly resembled a human. I had seen such a thing only once before. Only a mutation, only the blue death could bring forth such a monstrosity. The assassin, hidden under black garments and standing next to such a creature, seemed almost thin and malnourished, though he was small even without comparing the two. The merchant's whore was still lying on the bed, now with red streams meandering through the sheets.
“Please, I'll give you any gold you ask of me. Just let me live, please. ”, Dal'Volar shrieked, still vainly attempting to free himself.
The creature gripped him harder. The merchant howled in pain, and a loud crack was audible. His leg had to be broken.
“Do you remember my face, Mysir Dal'Volar? ”, the assassin asked.
He took off his hood and a young, good-looking, blond man appeared. The candle's light betrayed a long scar over his right eye. Evan choked.
“No; and why would I?! Whoever you are, let me go, I beg you. ”, he panted.
“A shame”, the assassin said with a voice cold as ice. “I was still very small when you took everything I had. My father's name was Jorlinn … Jorlinn Drosselstein. Ever heard of him? — You probably forgot him as well, though you once called him “friend”. Back then, you expelled my father from the Golden Sickle and ruined his business. Why, you are asking? Because he was a better merchant than you. He surpassed you. He might even have taken over your office as head of the Sickle. But then, you treat everyone in your way to success like that. Together with your group of corrupt followers, you exterminate them all. But this time you cut of your nose to spite your face. My father took his life after you ruined him. My mother shortly after. You made me an urchin, my dear Master Dal'Volar. The friends who helped you back then have already paid their due. Now it is your turn. For once, your debt cannot be offset by gold. The only acceptable price for it…”
The assassin put his dagger to the merchant's throat. ”… is your death. ”
With a wild hateful stroak, his blade opened Dal'Volar's throat. Blood splattered on his cheeks. The joy at beholding the merchant's death was written on the assassins face. He wiped the blade on his cloak.
“Well done, Silvi”, he said to the creature. She gave no answer. “Now we can finally begin the next phase of our plan. I heard of a certain captain in the city guard, supposedly entangled in our story…” He went silent.
I was still standing in the doorway, silently observing everything. At first, he drew his dagger and was about to attack me. Then, however, he let his weapon sink and neither did he attempt to flee. I made a step forward.
“You resurrected someone, am I right?”, I asked and nodded towards his creature. “I can sense the dark magic you used. It is right here in this room and I found traces of it next to your victims. Its smell surrounds their lifeless bodies, it follows you wherever you go — because you are connected to this creature. ”
The assassin regarded me, lurking, calculating.
“Judging from the strength of the connection between you and this mutated mage, you must have been very close. Good friends? Lovers…?”
“Brother and sister.”, he interrupted with a sullen stare.
There was a tense silence.
“Who are you? Are you looking to get the bounty? ”, he asked.
“I am an interested observer. As for the judiciary — I don't have anything to do with them, and neither do I usually involve myself in such affairs. ” I regarded the creature from a safe distance.
“Why should I trust you?”
“Why should I watch you commit a murder if I were your foe? Considering what is known about you, I would be naïve to attempt an arrest.”, I said.
It was silent once more. I went to a table with two chairs where I sat and filled two cups with the merchant's wine. Though I am not proud of it, I have to admit that I didn't feel certain in that moment. I noticed hints of fear inside me and had to kill these emotions immediately. The man before me was unpredictable.
“Sit. I should like to speak with you. I don't think we need to worry about time. You killed all the guards without waking so much as a single soul.”
The assassin looked at me, taken aback. It would seem I had woken his interest with my fearless gesture since, believe it or not, thus it was that I ended up at a table with a cold-blooded serial killer and his mutated, deadly beast. We had a longer conversation on his way of killing and other things.
“So that's the secret of this Oorbâya. You control what it — excuse me — what she does. Her true spirit is captured inside of her and she does not realize what happens around her. Neither does she have any control over her body. I have never heard from such an incident during a resurrection or soul absorption. How did it happen?”
“She never coped with our Parent's death. In her striving for arcane power and revenge, she overdid it. At first it was the fever, then the madness came. I had to kill her before she would kill me. My resurrection spell binds her to the form she had assumed during her mutation. But in this state, she can't even speak. I am searching for the power able to help me transform her to her old self or at least give her the ability to feel again. ” The assassin spoke so utterly without emotion he made me feel uneasy just by listening. The creature called Silvi grunted as if she were half asleep. With empty eyes, she stared at the wall.
“You are very young, almost a child still. Yet you kill with a determination and audacity probably no one else in your age possesses. I am sorry for your sister, but I do not need to tell you that. You have long disavowed all feelings. I see the iron mantle around your heart.”
“I live only for revenge. And for Silvi. People like you cannot understand it.”
“You err. I do understand it. Fine. Though you and I may not have much in common, one thing still unites us: Without our task, our existence would be meaningless. It would not be worth more than that of a pebble stone on the roadside. Inevitably, our death would be the only logical result.”
“Be careful with whom you compare yourself, Wanderer. In my case, comparisons bring you closer to the darkness than you might like. ”
“I can no longer fear the darkness you are talking about. I know it well enough, believe me.”
“Then you never encountered the true darkness. Believe me. ”
“I did. It sits before me, in human shape.”, I said.
We drank silently. It took some time before the assassin rose to speak again.
I looked at him, asking.
“In case you have to use a name in your notes. That makes the story more personal, don't you think? Posterity should not remember me as a nameless murderer. Call me Jasper. Somehow I always liked that name. ”
I laughed and looked out of the window. Morning came at last. The assassin drank up and rose.
“Night will be over soon. This place will be alive with soldiers, come dawn. You should leave before they hang you for my crimes. ”
“I have a better name for you than Jasper.”, I said, as he crossed the doorstep. Silvi stomped ahead clumsily and was unrecognizable already. He moved his head aside and I could easily see the scar on his face.
“The shadow dancer.”
He grinned mischievous. But in truth it was the grin of a small boy who lost his whole family.
“Poetic, in a way. But I could get used to it.”
Then he disappeared; and no living soul ever saw him again.