The Shield of Men

Against that positivism which stops before phenomena, saying “there are only facts,” I should say: no, it is precisely facts that do not exist, only interpretations…

Friedrich Nietzsche

Rivalry had divided law enforcement agencies across the Empire ever since there was an Empire in the first place. Because of the mists, the Night Watch has acted as counterpart to the cities’ Watches for over centuries. The former’s underhanded tactics made its agents – such as Lord Torquaz – figures of disdain, equal to the annoyance represented by the incompetent guards. However, lord Torquaz didn’t share the same petty hatred for the guards that Sebastian Melogre, for instance, fed with frustration. If like them he too risked his life, family and lands every single day while being underpaid and abused by the highborne, he would have committed suicide.

If he could.

Loud as ever, the Cathedral rang the bells of Dusk, just as the sun started his descent towards the Faraway Worlds. Sitting in his carriage, lord Torquaz gazed at the Fourth Borough where the Barracks and the Citadel stood, vigilant, equally useless than the House of Wanders. Fairly organized, merchants weren’t welcome in these streets, and a bearable smell satisfied Torquaz who saw it as a relief after the stank of the Market. Patrols of armoured soldiers wandered, their men bearing the defeated and exhausted posture of a hundred burdens. The Hundred Years War and the failed conquest of Kesh had exhausted the resources of the Emperor’s Own, the treasury administration itself, and the guards had been the first to pay the price.  Brave men, Torquaz acknowledged.

A eagle’s nest, the Citadel was a massive fortress within the Imperial Capital City. Dropped below the Paladin’s Ark, lord Torquaz moved forward, astonished at the perfect order ruling over the guards. Some trained in the field, while most stood at their post. Actually, lord Torquaz remembered of the rumours surrounding the new Lord Captain, ser Arthur Paragon – a brave patriot born in the Crownlands, who served against the Dark Marquis in the Temerian civil war.

The former gave orders, surrounded by two guards of the City Watch. Even if they were of heavy built, both protected in high quality plate, the guards seemed frivolous next to the Lord Captain, in his shining armour, golden head and carrying the vigor and strength of a seasoned warrior, still blessed with youth.

 “What do you mean ‘falling asleep?’? the Lord Captain asked of the other.

‘Well, milord, it is that I…

– Enough of this’, the Lord Captain noticed Torquaz before frowning. “You two, run to the Imperial Palace’s Inner Gate and offer your excuses to His Majesty’s gatekeeper, then come back to me.

– The Inner Gate? It is pretty far… and in armour…

– Then you should hurry, because I expect you for line-up, after I am done with lord Torquaz. Otherwise, you shall be wiped two times according to the Behavioral Punishments, Second Edition.

– Actually, lord Paragon makes a mistake, if I may,’ lord Torquaz stepped in, shocking the two guards, and allowed to pursue after Ryan Paragon nodded back. ‘It is three times in the Second Edition, two in the Third.”

Amused, lord Paragon turned back at the guards, and said:

“Too bad that I preferred the old guard’s way. Three if you fall asleep before line-up. You better go before I choose ruthlessness over mercy.”

Dazzled, they obeyed, humble and submissive. The two giants ran pass lord Torquaz, a cynical smile on his face.

“I am pleased to see that you’ve actually grown from the past wars, lord captain’, Torquaz congratulated him.

‘Thank you, warmaster Dantena van Torquaz’, the lord captain answered before indicating him to follow his lead across the Citadel. ‘As you see, I have the good habits from Kesh.” Slaughtering citizens, I guess you have. Like I have. ‘Even if we stand on Ulthane’s Hill, the Citadel is empty as it is majestic. Only discipline gives us the illusion of progress. We are organised, but not enough to forget how poor we are. I am sure, his lordship, Major Melogre, understands my concern.

– He sure reminds his faithful watchers’, Torquaz grudgingly admitted, remembering his upcoming lashings.

Both pursued their inspection, and more and more, Torquaz realized the absurd work that Lord Paragon’s leadership must have represented. Actually, lord Torquaz couldn’t recall a day where the Citadel had been so well administrated. Mostly everyone – secretaries, pages, squires and guards – worked in perfect synchronisation around him. It wasn’t surprising if Torquaz considered how Paragon had been suffering from the chaotic organisation of the Legion in Kesh. Losing friends and close ones made a lot of men change their ways to avoid reproducing the misfortunes of the past wars.

“Is it the slayer that bothers you so, lord Torquaz?’ captain Paragon bothered to ask.

‘I am glad to see someone whose concerns meets mine’, Torquaz agreed. ‘I have reasons to believe the bodies could contain clues, and I am awaiting my squire to deliver me a message. Would it be appropriate to gain access to your mausoleum?

– It would, lord Torquaz. If everything is in order, I will grant you passage. You might be interested to meet a certain prisoner of ours to assist you.”

It was rare to meet such an eager guardsman. Nodding in gratefulness, Torquaz remembered that a few men could grow from their failures. I envy his strength. Will he have been so honorable in my stead though? Of that, I wonder.

Sensing someone in his back, Torquaz swore when he recognized Aveline, the famed warrior from the Iron Order, walking, flirting with some officer as she winked at him, pretty and gorgeous as ever, dressed in her leather armour, carrying her sword at her belt. Her? Red eyes focused on Aveline, Torquaz struggled not to remember how much he had denied her fine body, refusing her when he was at his peak. I had better options before. Now, Aveline was one of the fairest women in his circle, and she despised him for what he was now, forgetting how much he made her suffer. She probably remembers, this is why she tortures me so. She disappeared in the barracks, before Torquaz focused again on lord Paragon.

“Who is this outlaw?”

Seemingly indifferent to Torquaz’s lustful frustration, lord Captain Ryan Paragon answered:

“Balgruf ‘Deadmonger’, the Dark Marquis’ Pale Rider.”

Astonished, Torquaz started to believe that his murder case hid some twisted secrets, especially if the Guards captured one of the most dangerous outlaws the Empire has ever seen, at the same time of a summer Gathering, of a Southern civil war and of a massive upheaval in the underworld.

“How?’ Torquaz asked. ‘How come did it resurfaced after all this time?

– Maybe it is related to the necromantic experiments performed on prostitutes in the Narrows. The ones the chroniclers attribute to a slayer.”

Worried, lord Torquaz calmed down right after he recalled not caring about neither life or death. Dark Arts? I see dead people… I have a slayer to catch.

“Lead me to her.”

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