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“My dear brethren, do not ever forget, when you hear the progress of lights praised, that the loveliest trick of the Devil is to persuade you that he does not exist!”
Among the Fog dwellers, safety meant campfires and the absolute prohibition of anything close to magic. Religious folk believed the mist carried an evil taint that made sorcerers mad and evil. But again, religious folk didn’t have much love for magic. For most, magic was an art, or a science, that entered dangerous waters, one that many theo-maguses – the heads of the Church of Eternal Fire, Holy See of Mankind – had deemed heretic. In fact, laws of magic varied greatly according to kingdoms and princedoms, with Gisgo simply prohibiting it and Temeros hosting military fortresses of spellcasters – sometimes burning them according to the tendency. Most magicians were outcasts, creature of the Fog, and were hunted down by the Ordo Malleus. No magician could wonder the Fog, only Kyai Knights. And they too, if not truly famous, met only disdain and fear in the smallfolk’s eyes. Typically, Fog dwellers believed in superstition and were often accompanied by sellswords and sworn shields, for in the Age of Fire, reasoned men believed that the creatures of beyond lurked in the bleak light.
But of course, Richard Frates knew better.
For him, the Fog was a precious ally, covering his presence with impunity and enhancing his every prowess. Few magic practitioners knew of this Fog’s propriety, only diplomed eldarneis, sovereigns of great erudition, and first kyai knights – the handful of each orders, the top of the Kyai hierarchy. And of these men, only the Night’s Watch could unanimously practice magic after the bells had rung.
Yes, the Fog had risks. One couldn’t simply drain its powers. After all, Godfrey – the fool history dubbed the Dark Marquis – had summoned it in Kovanni. It had what Richard perceived as a nastiness, and the intention behind the spellcasting – which Richard knew greatly affected the practice of magic – had to be tainted. From tainted choices, came dark consequences.
For everything taken, something is given.
His colleagues, chiefly Norman, had the belief that something would be later given back. But no. Each choice, Richard knew, was a step on the ladder, and the ladder had its free will. This was why magic was truly frightning. It wasn’t a craft, like archmages liked to believe. It was a force of unmeasurable density that obeyed rules that could never be grasped by any mortal mind.
Here is one for you, lord Torquaz. Since you have all the time in the world, you should become the greatest sorcerer ever instead of whining over principles… Only you can.
Exploring the night, Richard arrived to the Passing of Isildaen, which meant in one of many older tongues the Tower of Dawn – and not Twilight Town like he had lied to Prince Destrega and his court of murderous sycophants. Commonly habited by Windrunners – folk of the roads and travels, Isildaen was actually considered the oldest fortress in Thyria. Erected by the First Kin, the men who insurrected against the Imperium of Illyrae’s dominion before the Creation Wars, this ancient castle had once kept hidden Sigmalion Merethil, the Lord Founder himself, before he had gathered his men, walking up and down the Thyrian Mounts, defeated the draedar army retreating in their lair, conquering Peythralm and establishing the Imperial Order. The first emperor of mankind would then turn against the dragonlords of Illyrae and the Shattering began, thus ending the line of valenKel.
Ironically, windrunners were deemed the lowest caste by His Majesty’s Own and most civilized hegemons, a lowlife form, not very much human. Some speculated after the last gnome bankers were burnt at the stake that windrunners would become the next target of the kings’s fury. However, windrunners excelled at manoeuvering the roads, civilised and wild alike, hence they vanished in old forts and ruins, always prepared to flee if politics needed a black sheep. Unlike many folks, windrunners had learned of human nature from history, thus taking preventive measures.
Richard had always been kind to their nomadic societies, and after a year hiding with them, they had granted him passage in the Labyrinth, an ancient connection of constructed tunnels and mines that spanned across the Known World and beyond. The Labyrinth was an accepted underworld and most believed in his existence. However, its entrances had vastly been sealed, and its access was denied to all, kings and beggars had to go on their way. Of course, adventurers had defied these rules and expeditions had often been ordered by monarchs who had found ways to infiltrate their neighbours. Eventually, the Holy See led a vast Inquisition armed with the Whitecloaks’s might, and destroyed every vestige of the Labyrinth’s knowledge. Yet, Richard, who had always disliked the Whitecloaks, had discovered that they had kept the said knowledge in their abbeys. What he had found by stealing these had puzzled him… Talks of skavens and minotaurs, vast nonsense. But also underground tunnels between Temeros and Aeirn, between Thyria and Gisgo. Under oceans even… Thanks to this maps he had stolen, the Kingslayer had avoided capture with great ease. And windrunners always offered him passage, for he had always been kind to their daughters, old and young alike.
A hedonistic tribe, the windrunners had gotten free of the shackles of their sexual gender, and men and women didn’t exist to what Richard saw as enlightened eyes. Excelling in the arts of whoring, brewering of alchemy and of petty trade, the windrunners also sold artifacts and ingredients, had crafted the medicinal pipe which later became abused by highborne youth. The last two Richard needed to kill the creature who called itself Gunner. Certain ingredients in the form of a smoking pipe would help him freeze this thing, even if its flesh could evaporate it would be bound to its mortal body.
And the Kingslayer could kill any man, how godly they claimed to be.
Emperor Thorgrim, I call you forward as my witness as the King of Whoresons!
Suddenly, the Fog grew thicker. Old Bastard however was a mule who had consummated cathayan roots upon its breeding and had 200 years behind its travels and most likely a dozen years remaining. A tough old beast and regicide in its own right, for Richard had been riding him down the Labyrinth after the battle with the Imperial Guard in Anarendel.
Yet, Old Bastard slowed his pace, and despite Richard kicking it and insulting him, calling him a stubborn old geezer, the mule showed great pride and refused to obey. It stopped.
But before Richard could complain any further, he saw someone walking down the ancient fortress of Sigmalion. A windrunner scout? Richard thought before dismissing the thought. He would have heard footsteps. Or did he lose such acuity with the years? Then, he saw him clearly.
A boy, no older than a squire, dressed in red and ragged robes, hooded with its ample clothe, and bearing a dragonglass staff. An iron box was hanging from his leather belt and his bracelet puzzled Richard. He had seen one similar before, on Saint Rohan’s wrist in 1455. Even then, it had left the fiery-haired kingslayer wandering of things, for it displayed no riches, no wealth, and its jewelry had no worth but a couple of pennies. It was so similar to Rohan’s it left Richard suspicious. And this boy who walked with the calm of a monk and carried a stern dominance in his warm eyes was the grumpiest child Richard had ever seen. He didn’t recognize the sculped faces on the staff’s edge and neither could he fully guess the boy’s ethnicity. He was human… His eyes could see that at the very least. Or was he? After all, Gunner could have fooled Richard once, and Richard knew ancient evils lied beneath the world.
When their eyes met, Richard felt odd. He had an incredible gaze, of a rare dept. Rather than wisdom, his eyes carried a will to power.
“Hey lad!, Richard said, what brings a youth your age in windrunner territory? Where is your master?”
“Your parents?” Richard laughed.
The boy held his gaze.
Offended for he disliked brats, Richard decided to ignore him. He was just young enough not to be blamed by his blade.
“Well, you’re mute or what?”
Annoyed at the child’s stubbornness, Richard Frates pressed Old Bastard but Old Bastard refused to advance, as he was bowing to a king of instincts, more animal than man. Dismounting, Richard dragged Old Bastard who couldn’t resist his strength. As he walked past the monk in red robes, he heard him say, with a voice of stern compassion:
“You won’t be able to run forever, the demon is the first of many…”
And he began running down the road. Richard Frates was so shocked that he didn’t react and the child had disappeared in the Fog. Old Bastard shivered.
“Boy!” the fiery-haired kingslayer yelled. “Come back or I’ll…”
Or he’ll what? Would Richard Frates, Assassin of Kings, slay a child?
First, Richard cursed in ancient Illyrian. He said the most unholy words that his mind granted his arsenal of nastiness. He threaten to kill him, to rape his mother and disgrace his father’s body! But the boy was gone. Richard should find him and kill him right away. For some reason, the child who bore the same bracelet as Saint Rohan knew of his identity, whereabouts and had been expecting him, calling Gunner a demon. A demon?
Second, he blasted a giant ball of fire into the air, one that the Fog turned into a dragon’s roar! A fire storm that blasted the walls of Isildaen. Fire and death… Screams echoed.
Bah! Even if he loved windrunners, he never liked sodomites anyway!
Third, Richard cursed again before frowning. Did he really needed these nuisances?
How foolish was he?
His master, Bromingald Brommsson, had once warned him against his great skill. He didn’t breathe enough… He had a dangerous temper.
The boy had said the truth. He won’t be able to run forever, for he had the carry the weight of his past rages… Worse, the creature calling itself Gunner was a demon, and Richard had never seen any of these eluding creatures. Every soul feared demons, but none had actually seen them. Norman called himself a demonslayer, but draedars had human roots.. There was no other explanation… “Gunner” could hide his aura and was nothing like a human. He had wandered a land crowded with spellcasters and Kyai knights and avoid detection. Only Richard had read through the crimes of its skin. A demon… There were no such things. Only existed twisted beings with weaknesses and proprieties that obeyed laws. Succubus, ghouls, deatheaters and murlocs were degenerates born out humanity’s folly that was the practice of magic.
Looking up at the burning walls, Richard Frates decided not to pursue a pointless vengeance. He had been outmaneuvered and they have found his trace.
Windrunners didn’t need to pay further than they already had. Closing his eyes in the Kyai way, Richard was reassured. None of them had died. Venturing further up Isildaen, he proposed his help to the windrunners, ignorant of his role in the fire, and he helped casting away the fire, using his practical knowledge. Punishing himself, he didn’t use magic and used his bare hands along the windrunners to kill the fire.
Only after, did he take the time to buy the ingredients, recalling his studies at the University. Iron, garlic, mithril… Pipes, one to immobilize Gunner, one for himself. Then, Rick the inn-keeper was thanked by the matriarch, an older woman with the wisdom of the wild, offered him two gifts: a wash for Old Bastard, and for Rick a pretty whore. For Old Bastard had behaved poorly, Richard only accepted the second.
After all, confronting a demon required a clear head.
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