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…
Long ago, a youth known as Dantena van Torquaz rode in front of the vanguard, leading the greatest of armies gathered by the Shriah. His dark hair snapped under the wind, an insolent smile decorating his satisfied face. His six-foot longsword, the Ravenclaw, hanged at his decorated belt. Protected by a glowing Elderplate, warmaster Dantena felt blessed by the relics of the ancient days. On his chest, the sigil of the House of Fulgam granted him power over highprinces and lesser kings, as he represented the King of the West’s interest.
A king whom he had shared the table ever since he were a boy.
Watching backwards, Dantena acknowledged the immensity of the troops gathered in the name of God, later noticing the king himself, his friend Conrad, in his blue Elderplate, his dark hair flowing under the breeze, protected by his own kingsguard led by Godfrey. The royal platoon rode behind Torquaz’s regiment, before the Emperor’s army. Out of the coalition, the Fulgams had secured their hegemony. Besides Warmaster Dantena, a valiant gathering of youthful heroes represented their age. We are the heroes of our time, Dantena might have thought. Strong as usual, red-beard Gamorein rode his black stallion, a massive Warhammer in his back, along with Norman Daegoln, Locke Cameron, Lady Commander Rhodes – beautiful and fierce as ever – and other members of her Imperial Guard. All these famed characters were willing to prove themselves in the greatest war of their time, and as such followed him, for he was the best amongst them.
Confident and steady – ready to seize his future at each swing of his sword, the man once known as Dantena van Torquaz looked ahead, riding as the first of thirty thousands.
Riding towards the lost Shimeh, he was ready to finally clash with the God-King’s barbarian horde and take back the Holy City from these atrocious infidels.
This is why I was living for, Dantena had probably been thinking, back then. Before memories dashed forward, in a dark dungeon. Trapped in a future he never expected, Torquaz had barely survived, his hood covering his shameful and defeated face, his Ravenclaw shattering in his hand. Surrounded by the Keshians, Torquaz had closed his eyes, ready.
Why am I still alive?
Awakening in the darkness, lord Torquaz remembered. Heroes don’t exist. I am a corpse. Opening his eyes, Torquaz felt assaulted by the light coming from the mana lamps hanged on the wall. Composing his emotions and his memories using tricks he had learned at the University, Torquaz failed to ignore his flayed body’s atrocious pain. His white and greasy hair fell before him, but his eyes hated all the same, almost red with wrath – the fel would take time to wear off, and side effects included these red pupils. Like a draedar.
Despite having been stabbed in the heart, lord Torquaz would remain confident. In front of him, the Baron sat on a stool, drinking his own brewed beer, in a large wooden cup. Surrounded by his men behind the bar, he was casually chatting with, remembering Torquaz that the Baron had an astonishing charisma. Such a confidence could have confused the outlaw with a dashing and intelligent highborne. However, a true highborne like Torquaz easily saw through this man’s deceptive vulgarity. As a Night’s Watch’s officer, sergeant Torquaz also knew that Greyfallow’s alleged barony in the Kingdom of Vanitas was probably no more than a cover to hide one of his many dealings.
They think I’m dead, and they’ve kept my body in their Brewery, feasting over my corpse. I wish it were true!
Contemplating his options, lord Torquaz hesitated between fighting them off, thus suffering pointlessly but having guaranteed his success. Or, he could choose the stealthy approach, infiltrating himself in a dungeon he knew nothing about, surrounded by countless outlaws. Either way, suffering would devour his body. This thought reminded him that to accomplish his mission, there was no shortcut.
“Baron, this Sinistros guy?’ one of the outlaws started, bringing forth a new perspective on his options. ‘Could he be your…’
‘Of course not, he’s a monster and a fool, but he’s not of the Sinistros’ league,’ the baron’s voice angered Torquaz. ‘No way could he pull that off. Anyhow, the note was gibberish. When I realized what it was, I got rid of it. Dark arts… Nasty business, the less you know the better.”
Nasty business the Empire’s most audacious assassin hides from his own guild, dark arts that the Iron Circle sends me seek in its stead? Ever since lord Torquaz had opened his hand to receive the imperial order from major Melogre, he knew something was more to a mere slayer. The imperial supreme authority in absence of the Emperor couldn’t care less for whores’ murders. Gamorein has pointed me in the direction of the Greyfallows. And the Greyfallows are directing me towards the Dark Arts. Worst of all, why was Rohan, the Phoenixking’s Wit, kings’ jest and Imperial Guard, at the Gathering, advising lord Torquaz after spying on him? This stinks.
Done with this place, lord Torquaz seized a flask hidden in the dozen pockets of his cloak, and drank it. This one is precious; I used material from the Arcanum. Waiting the time of ten steady heartbeats, Torquaz stood up, and one of the outlaws, spotted him, eyes widening out of utter terror.
Probably drunk before seeing him, the outlaw didn’t catch any of his comrades’ attention. Amused by their shared confidence, Torquaz winked at him, his eyes glowing, this time reminiscing shining sapphires. I remember how winter roses made me feel. It is beyond painless, it is empowering.
“Baron, the Unscarred is alive…” The outlaw screamed, but to no avail.
Choosing theatricality, lord Torquaz sat down next to Baron Greyfallow himself, seizing his cup of beer from his hand, drinking it in one shot, in front of the stunned outlaws, frozen in misbelief.
“Leave us”, Torquaz said.
Following a brief hesitation, the Greyfallow outlaws left the room. There is no honour among knights, so imagine between thieves. He couldn’t blame them himself. Once, he had been surprised at his own inability to die.
His fiery blue eyes gazing at Greyfallow, lord Torquaz breathed in, emptying his earthly vessel, and drained the artificial mana energy he just drank. Able to lock his mind on Greyfallow’s chest, he then lowered his legs, before twisting his upper body towards the wall. Releasing his mind upon the ceiling, lord Torquaz threw the baron in the air without touching him.
Mana was a special energy said to have descended from the skies, as blue rain. Such an energy offered particular opportunities, which helped humankind overcome the difficulties of history. However, ages of decay and mistreatment of nature have led mana purelakes to extinct. Lord Torquaz once studied the science of energies at the University, where he excelled. Perfectly aware of mana’s rarity, the Arcanum had begun to commercialize mana potions, which proved capital to ensure the Imperial Order’s victory upon the Heneyrs during the Second Age. Mana potions also led to many alterations, and for they weren’t natural, side effects included deformations and illnesses. In children’s tales, talks of elves and orcs haunted the past of humankind. However, the study of mana and climate proved that humans abusing substances such as fel and mana became subject to physical transmutation, such as pointy ears and claws.
In particular, lord Torquaz, a powerful magus of his own right, had abused these drugs for decades, in order to heal himself and ease his pain. Hence, his albinos hair and claws, elven ears and draedar’ eyes, made him look more humanoid than human. The Unscarred, the Black Sun, Valyria’s ghost, names and titles that lord Torquaz used to his advantage.
Having studied the inner workings of mana use, Torquaz had often regretted never pushing his fondness for the Alteration school, which offered gravitational abilities. Seeing the outlaw kingpin shaken in fear on his ceiling, frozen by what he considered magic, made Torquaz feel alive. I always despised magus in my youth. But when the White Cloaks offered me a deal to join them in second ky’ai I couldn’t refuse. After winning his second Gathering season, the military order known as the White Order offered him to join them as a high ranking official, only if he polished his use of magic. That was why he attended the University. Joining the Five Orders allowed their finest members to join the greatest battlefields. After the Century Wars, the Conquest of Kesh proved the best opportunity for Torquaz to become the hero he dreamt to have become.
We get what we need, his grandmother often said.
“So, Torquaz began, sitting on the stool. My spell won’t stop even if I leave the Empire, so I will drink your beer until you answer my questions.”
“You are overstepping yourself, Torquaz”, he said. “I am having a deal with the Citadel, and without my whispers, the fine guards you serve won’t succeed in disposing of the strongest dark guild there is.”
The House, heh? Internal politics had always divided the syndicates in the empire, and the summer Gatherings in particular attracted vicious change in the criminal economy. Baron Greyfallow had once rose to prominence by exchanging favours with the Citadel, giving intelligence on dark guilds against protection from the guards. By denouncing outlaws, Baron Greyfallow had them arrested, which removed his rivals from power. Eventually, he rose as one of the Four Lord of Shadows, the most powerful crimelords in the Empire. Even though his guild paled next to the House of Red and Black, he fed his ambition to overthrow it.
He is right, torturing him won’t do any good.
Releasing him into the floor, baron Greyfallow screamed before crashing.
“I know of your petty games with the other syndicates. The Citadel will get you, of that I promise. But it matter not for now. I offer you a deal. I will offer you a piece of meteora against information on the Sinistros Slayer.”
Struggling to stand up, baron Greyfallow grabbed his hat, before hiding his bold hair under his wig. Staring at lord Torquaz, Greyfallow finally smiled, his angry eyes filled with a twisted intensity.
“How did you get a piece of meteora?”
Torquaz smiled before answering.
“I am the greatest magician of my promotion.”
Stretching his arms, Greyfallow nodded, and said:
“Fair enough’, he considered his options before saying: ‘You are well aware of what I can do with a meteora stone? With that I could breach the Inner Gate.
– But that would be suicide, the Imperial Guard will remove you from existence, Torquaz advised.”
Baron Greyfallow perfumed himself with a flash he took from his cloak, and laughed cheerfully, disgusting Torquaz. Both men were ugly, but Torquaz didn’t try to hide it.
“Thank you, milord” Greyfallow said. “When can I expect the stone?’
– My squire will bring it to you.
– Your squire, that… thing is not a squire, but… whatever. Sure, why not? Well, the Slayer you want, heh? He’s a magus for sure. Go to the Citadel and check the bodies for yourself. Maybe that letter will help you. When I get my stone, you’ll get the letter. Your… squire will give it to you.”
The letter is the key. It is magical nonsense to the uninitiated, and the corpses contain clues. Obviously they do, if he is a magus it would make sense.”
“Goodbye, milord. Again, I promise you that you shall die in pain.” Torquaz left, hearing Greyfallow’s childish come back:
“I would wish you the same, but…”