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…
If you paid close attention to Qaralys’ Boulevard which separated the Legion’s Barracks and the Citadel, you could spot the ridges of the small river below the Guardsbridge. In the brightness of the day, lord Torquaz always used to stare at his reflection in the water, avoiding the noisy crowds and the running patrols. But in the dark of the night, the Watcher would dismiss the Fog and enter the hidden sides of the City – the ones all blinded themselves to.
Looking down on him, the Sinistros Slayer calmly rose his leg upon the bridge, standing on top of it, as if he were ready… to jump.
Two Days had passed, and lord Dantena van Torquaz who hunted down the Sinistros Slayer had secured a trail from the Greyfallows and the Dark Arts. After he had designed the finest way to capture the assassin, Torquaz had prepared to collaborate with Lord Captain Paragon. Thus, he had come to the Citadel, from the river itself, before meeting the assassin he chased.
Until… Sinistros jumped.
Witnessing the slayer gracefully falling into a squatting stance before rising straight, standing seven feet away from lord Torquaz, would have impressed any uninitiated. However, for a magus of first ky’ai like Dantena, this was petty use of alteration magic. Any 4th ky’ai could pull his weight away from the ground in a fall. Of course, one needed the proper tools. Why would a wanted cutthroat hold magical items? Remember, he is a killer that the high command of the Imperial Order – the Iron Circle itself – wants killed by my own hand.
Sniffing the air, the man known as Dantena van Torquaz acknowledged the stank. Sewers were never far below in the Imperial City. A fine breeze howled, slapping the cloaks and refreshing the skin. Feeling chilly, lord Torquaz contained a shiver. Never look weak.
After spending years in fighting pits, arenas and battlefields, lord Torquaz could find a quiet serenity before an enemy. Floating on a cloud deprived of judgement or grudge, lord Torquaz brought his palms, open and facing each other. Running through its veins, the mithril released Torquaz’s belly. Old Illyrians called the mortal’s body ability to channel its surrounding energies ‘aether’. Other civilizations named ‘aether’ differently – void, flow, or vial – but the current Arcanum’ studies had proved to the majority that this ‘ability’ could be explained both magically and metaphysically. Philosophy is a companion to magic, not a separated area of study, Torquaz’s teachers at the University stated. Gifted with both a warrior spirit and a magical mind, Torquaz could skillfully duel in magic as he considered dueling the finest application of study. Therefore, the Watcher in the Night prepared to unleash his magic upon the evasive assassin.
Steady, lord Torquaz asked the expected question in such circumstances:
“What do you want?”
Catching the man’ shoulders rising, Torquaz prepared for an attack, before he realized Sinistros was merely giggling. His laughter sounded like a halfwit laughing at a stupid joke. Frightening, this fainted foolishness offered a glimpse of infinite madness.
If the man had tried to unsettle Torquaz, he had failed for he exhaled a silver smoke, the Immortal of Shimeh’s breath altered by the mithril.
“Well then,’ Torquaz started. ‘If you have no business after Nightfall and no justification for your use of practical magic, I will arrest you in the Name of His Imperial Majesty, Emperor Arius of the Holy Illyrian Empire and in virtue of the powers he has conferred to I, Lord Watcher Dantena van Torquaz, servant of His Night’s Watch, I shall uphold the Killing Order.” Standing legally for: I am going to kill you, Torquaz would have added.
The giggling continued, but lowered in confidence. Mockeries had nuances Torquaz could clearly comprehend. He takes me seriously. Good.
After a brief halt in his breathing pattern, Torquaz lost sight of the Sinistros. Blinking of surprise, Torquaz realized that the Sinistros’ giggling had snapped his mental barriers, his eyes now blinded by the Fog’s brightness. Refocusing, he managed to return to the dirty streets, thus catching the slayer running on the side, before jumping towards his left while holding a dagger in the hand. Enhanced by the clean mithril energies running through him, Torquaz ducked, leaving the slayer falling behind him. Rolling forward, the man failed to land gracefully and laid on his back. Preparing a conjuring, Torquaz briefly brought his palms together to let the channelled energies flowing with more accuracy, enabling his spell to affect the ground. However, before Torquaz could enhance the slayer’s weight and bind him to the ground, the latter positioned his legs to jump up, displaying incredible flexibility, before landing on his feet, his dagger held backwards with its blade at the wrist’s level.
This kick up? This is how I saved magical concentration by sacrificing my body’ stamina. In order to maintain his senses despite the Fog, he needed to concentrate – thus the decades of studies provided by magical academies. Trained a swordsman from birth, Dantena van Torquaz could easily afford to waste his stamina – considering its vast scope – and kick him self up faster than his then opponent’s mind, thus eluding the spell. Back then. When the man known as Dantena van Torquaz was whole.
Now rushing towards him dagger in hand, the Sinistros instantly drawn a sphere from his cloak, a bomb Torquaz recognized. Seeing the outlaw throwing that container on the ground, Torquaz reacted quickly and shifted his mind into slumber, blinded the Fog’s brightness, before focusing in the dark streets. For he was in the Fog’s torpor, his body hadn’t reacted to the chemical reactions contained by the Fel hydrobomb, and thus he avoided the physical attack, back on time to catch the assassin’s wrist – using his own Ravenclaw hand-to-hand style. Lowering the slayer’s blade, lord Torquaz altered down his weight with alteration, before enhancing it again to step into the Slayer’s vital space, backfisting him down to his left.
However, the Slayer seemed to have an above average body conditioning, which enabled him to rise fairly unshattered by Torquaz’s enhanced-left fist. This time, Torquaz clearly saw his eyes, the killer’s head twisting in anger. His eyes are dark – so dark they seem ageless – ageless but full of hatred.
Paralyzed, Torquaz realized that the assassin had thrown him back into the Fog using a hypnotic illusion, which had retracted his focus back to slumber. Releasing his belly to inhale the Fog’s energies attracted to him because of the mithril, Torquaz increased his own strength. His muscles relaxed and gained in power, allowing him to snap back into the city’ streets, fighting back the Sinistros charging at him.
Both engaged in a wrestling joust, with the Slayer’s tensed body struggling against Torquaz’ elegant flexibility. Throwing him back to the ground, the Slayer brought him with him while altering together the ground and his own weight at once. Falling on the knee, Torquaz roared, failing to deny his atrocious pain.
Quick on his legs, the Slayer rose up and grabbed Torquaz and threw him backwards, back to the ruined wooden structures rotting on the ridges of the river. Bursting through the wood, the Sinistros had followed Torquaz fall into this surprising hideout. Both fell down a few feet, making Torquaz loosing his composure. If I lose my magical concentration, I am doomed. In the Fog, the soul wanders forever, the legend says.
Worse, Torquaz acknowledged. Where am I? How come have I not known of the underground below the Boulevard and he, you nameless assassin, has. Am I not Dantena van Torquaz? Of course I am, but I have always overestimated myself. Even when I was alive.
Landing down on a table, lord Torquaz quickly opened my eyes into this hidden… laboratory. Above him, the vanquishing Sinistros held his neck with one hand, before punching him with his left fist. Again, the killer’s left fist rose again to fall back into Torquaz’s noise. A leftie, his short ranged combat shares a lot of techniques with my Ravenclaw style.
Reading surprise in the assassin’s ageless eyes, lord Torquaz smiled for he understood. People who fight me get surprise when I don’t bleed. They call me the Bloodless of Tyria. Only a few knew of that cryptic alchemic ‘formula’ kept at the Sindo’rei Dome. Only a handful were allowed to enter this Dome, and even less managed to decipher the formula, and these few became the strongest magicians of their time. I was the strongest of my age, back then. The man known as Dantena van Torquaz breathed in three quick times before the Slayer managed to react, and accelerated his body, warming the energies around them. Using the summoned heat, Torquaz brought the fog’s brightness upon the Slayer and burnt the latter’s mask.
Stumbling on the ground, the Slayer grabbed his melting mask which covered his burning face, sealing his mouth into a scabbed smile.
“For you practice the Magical Art faceless, never a face shall you have again. Only the identity you cowardly choose to hide behind,” Torquaz quoted his favourite Wellington ballad, thinking to dramatically sing, the mask.
Choosing to restrain his victory, lord Torquaz realized he had plenty of Fog’s channelled energy to increase the heat and direct it to the Slayer, a lightning bolt striking the evermasked man. Shaking in pain, Sinistros couldn’t stand the Fog.
After Torquaz lowered his worry, the Slayer screamed out of pain, a pain that invaded both their bodies. Comprehending that a connection between their senses had been made, Torquaz fell to the ground, like if he got struck by lightning. Seven thunderbolts, the hallucination wore the appearances of Nerus Marks, the Alethor Asylum’s inmate eating his own skin, laughing at him while wearing a jester’s outfit. Shocked, Torquaz understood that both his entire essence had been exchanged with the Slayer’s own mind and body. The latter was now empowered with Torquaz’s mithril potion, while the latter suffered a lightning bolt on his bloodless face, a dreadful sensation of burnt devouring Torquaz’s entire face. Yet, he’s the one with a melted face now, and I am still bloodless. This is High Magic. This cutthroat is… more powerful than I ever was.
Smiling in his scabbed lower face, the Slayer’s ageless eyes smoked, red. Like a True Draedar. Walking towards a stunned Torquaz, the Sinistros grabbed his dagger from the ground, and performed a triple flower while saluting with his right hand… the Ravenclaw style’s sign of respect to a teacher. Who are you?
Both heard footsteps. A light rose from behind. Voices both apparently knew well. Antoinette and Lord Captain Paragon busted in, accompanied by a handful of guards – the only that could see in the Fog. Swords were drawn, and among them, Antoinette in her combat attire – a light armor covering the upper body while still allowing flexibility, with thin protections of leather tight on her legs – carried a Ravenclaw sword, fierce as ever.
Turning back to the Slayer, Torquaz knew the battle was over. Nodding in an odd understanding, the Slayer jumped backwards and ran in the shadows, followed by the guards. Antoinette acknowledged her master and superior before taking the lead, hunting the Slayer. He’ll escape. We’re done here. This was the first battle. But a second comes. The last. Tomorrow night.
Back to his senses, Torquaz noticed the Lord Captain sitting on a chair facing a table illuminated by the brightness of the fog shining from the window. Chin on the fist, the Lord Captain stared at Torquaz with anger. His eyes revealed a bitter judgement, a judgement which had followed a suspicion. He’s wrathful, because I’ve discovered his dark secret, an anonymous hideout under the entire neighbourhood. Or at least, the Slayer has thrown me in here, ready to kill me. Out of all them, Torquaz always thought Lord Captain Arthur Paragon the most moral of the hall of legends gathered to led the armies of the Faith to Shimeh, the heroes that failed. The Band of the Hawk shall rise again, we said back then. Now, the Lord Captain looked down into Torquaz’s accepted disdain.
However, that staring joust ended when Torquaz noticed what the brightness of the Fog had now revealed. Laying naked and rotten, a woman’s decaying body rested, cut with precise methods the Sinistros Slayer had been said to perform. However, that deadwoman wasn’t only killed, she had been altered by deformities, reminiscing demonology sketches of gorgon frozen in monstrous agony. But to me, this demonic corpse is more real than any fantasy drawing. My reality has expanded.
Turning back to the Lord Captain’s frowning, lord Torquaz had realized the masked man – the Sinistros Slayer he had hunted down, a skilled fighter who used Dantena van Torquaz’s own wrestling style before vanquishing his shattered mind with High Magic – had – probably – been willingly leading him to this secret laboratory – where potions shone on every furniture, all outlawed magical beverages now stored below the Citadel and close to the Alethor Asylum. Within order and madness, the worlds governed by the Lord Captain Paragon, this diabolical laboratory laughed at the upper world.
Snapping out of rage, both men – Dantena van Torquaz and fellow sworn brother Arthur van Paragon – bluntly said at once:
“We need to talk.”
Is this a jest?