Shadow of Death
R.A. Darlinge has been writing most of her life. She is currently in the process of finishing her debut novel, the first in the Erillian Chronicles trilogy. A prolific writer, she offers weekly shorts and flash fiction on Sunday’s on her Facebook page. She is the cofounder of Fox, Hammer, Clover, she and her cofounder Aörali Eden are working in a universe guaranteed to make you come back for more.
Art by Fabulosaurus
Check out R.A. Darling's Facebook Page
A note from Rose:
N’tan is a character near and dear to my heart. Darkly delicious, he and many others must save the Erillian Empire from the return of Chaos. Enjoy the teaser! And please follow me on Facebook. I release things weekly on the universe N’tan hails from and more!
Light be with you!
The cobbled stone under his boots shone wetly with the misting rain as he traversed the streets of the Imperial City. With his hood up against the damp chill, none here in this district could see the features marking him as elfkind. The long white blonde hair and pointed ears were hidden within its depths. Had they not been, he would have been an enigma on these streets. The black cloak he wore covered him to his calves, hiding the Imperial black leathers, with the silver insignia of his office embroidered on the high collar.
He had no wish to be seen or recognized here. He sought his target... his prey. The very word entering his mind, heated his blood, giving him the sensation of walking in sunlit meadows rather than the dark, mist filled city. His countenance remained hard, his pale blue eyes icy as he surveyed his surroundings. There was too much bustle, too many people here. He wished to be away from the press of the humans around him. Their unshielded thoughts pressed against his mind, eliciting a growl as he reinforced his mental shields against the clamor. Once the mission was complete, he could be gone.
He was N’tan, assassin to the Emperor of Erilies. The Crown lay, currently, upon the head of Aymeri, a just but firm ruler. It had not always been thus, and it would not always be. However, the elf was bound to service to the Crown, not the man or woman behind it. He had been for millennia and would serve until he was released from his duty or killed. The service was a lifelong one, and for an elf it meant eternity.
He wove through the streets, ever closer to the current target, a traitor of the highest order. Duke Umphrey had been secretly helping the Emperor's elder brother, Gerboud, in his bid to take the crown.
N’tan didn’t care about the politics, he just needed to feast upon the pain and blood of his victims. He had had the need to do so since his mind had been overtaken magically eons ago. A magic so vile it had permanently warped his mind and pleasure centers, creating a monster within the elf. His life had been destroyed that day, his wife and child murdered to fuel the wizard’s need for power.
So many years later, the monster had been honed into a weapon. He kept it well fed, but did not allow it to rule him as it once had. He had mastered the way of sword, knife, axe, and bow as well as the art of the thief and assassin. They were now so ingrained into his being, any who looked upon him knew him for the predator he was.
The traffic on the streets thinned as he neared the estates of the wealthy. Only those who had business here would be travelling at this hour of the night. It was well past supper, nearing the time when all would find their beds. It was the playground of the thief, the thug... the assassin.
Melding into the shadows, N’tan moved silently toward the largest home on the street. His eyes constantly roving, his body loosened as he released the demon within. His catlike sight missed nothing in the darkness; the dog in the alleyway, the maid and her lover, the thief on his own errand.
He ignored them all as he took a small grapple from his belt. Its thin cord slid through his fingers as he swung it in ever expanding circles until he loosed it toward the finial of the wall surrounding the prey’s home. His ears picked up the soft chink as it grabbed its intended target. Pulling the slack, his feet once again moved as he ran lightly toward the wall. The grapple held as he swung up, his fingers catching the decorative iron spikes at the top of the stone.
He made little noise as he climbed up and over the wall, pausing only momentarily to scan the ground below before dropping within. He jerked the hook free of its grip and coiled the cord before returning it to his belt. Crouching low, he peered into the shadows of the garden. Ornamental shrubs and plants created a party of giants therein., All light within the elf retreated as the darkness filled him, so that it was a demon who slithered through the shadows intent on the building beyond..
The elf’s lips twisted in a parody of a smile, one filled with dark mirth as he rose like a shade behind one of the sentries. The Duke had obviously not realized his treachery had been discovered, the guard he kept was light in his overconfidence. The man made no noise as N’tan sliced his throat. The elf inhaled in the man’s dying breath, his loins tight with the pleasure he derived from the kill. He lifted the blade to his lips, his tongue snaking out to taste the metallic salt of the man’s life fluid.
Moving on from the corpse, he disappeared into the shadows once more, moving on to the next guard. He hung back, following the movements of the guard. His heart slowed before quickening as anticipation flowed through him. His steps were silent in a seemingly choreographed dance and his knives found different homes in each guard he encountered. To him, this was a game of stealth in which the losers ceased to exist. A momento from each of his targets found its way into his pouch; a button here or a lock of hair there. He came to the final guard, settling in behind the man as he continued his round with bored indifference.
N’tan stepped out of the shadows to walk behind the sentry, mimicking the male’s movements with twisted amusement. As they reached the end of the man’s round, he turned to find the tall, handsome elf standing mere inches away. N’tan smiled as he stepped forward, his arm coming up to hold him in an intimate embrace as his knife found its way between the guard’s ribs. N’tan kissed the man, capturing the cry with almost reverent lips. Holding him tightly, he twisted the knife sideways, painfully separating the ribs as he shoved it deeper on its path to the man’s heart. He inhaled deeply, sucking the last cries and breath within his mouth. His eyes bore into the wide, dark brown orbs before him. He found immense gratification as the man’s eyes dulled, the life and soul finally fleeing the body. His body already in a heightened state, quivered as he released the husk, letting it fall to the ground. He bent, collecting a tassel from the man’s uniform. He fingered it for a moment before placing it with the others as he turned his attention on the mansion itself.
The ornate stone carving festooning the edifice made him snort as his eyes created a path up the side of it. If more wealthy realized such decorations were the thief’s delight, they would be less likely to be robbed. He did not even bother with his climbing rope, just launched up to climb the side of the building like a reptile scaling a tree. Reaching the floor usually reserved for the guests of master or mistress of the house, he located an unlit room before using a thin knife to unlatch the window. A simple flick of the wrist and the entire house became his playground.
His instructions had been to take out the Duke and all who lived with him. Fine by him...The only ones who would not meet his blade this night were the children and their keepers. It was one thing to kill the aware and intelligent, it was quite another to kill the innocent.
With silent footsteps, he crossed the room, listening intently to the sounds coming from outside the room. His curved blade once again in his hand, he stopped behind the door. Resting his forehead against the wood as he waited.. When finally the house settled for the night and all fell silent, he slipped out the door moving into the now dark hall.
Room to room he went, his knife silencing all he came upon. He feasted upon the blood of his prey, his body surging with pleasure and lust. Each kill inflamed him more, until he stood outside the door to the Duke’s chamber, his lust at its height. None were left to hear the cries and pleas that would soon echo into this tomb.
He opened the door, striding forward with a confident swagger. The Duke sat up from where he reclined against the pillows, a book falling into his lap forgotten. “Who the hell are you?” The man demanded indignantly as the elf moved through the shadows of the room into the glow of the candle next to Umphrey’s bed. N’tan released the clasp of his cloak, the material falling from his shoulders to puddle on the floor, revealing the black leather and silver insignia of the Emperor.
Duke Umphrey went white as he bellowed, “Guard!” When no one answered he called again, “Guard!” His tone becoming panicked as he realized the guard could no longer answer his summons. N’tan stood nonchalantly in the middle of the room. He folded his arms across his chest, cocking his hip as he slowly twirled his knife in blood stained fingers. Staring at the man he didn’t move except for the knife, flashing as it wove its path in the air.
When he spoke, it was a low, sensual purr. “If I am here, there are none left to answer you.”
The Duke scrambled from his bed, falling as his limbs tangled in the bedclothes. N’tan remained still, watching the scene unfold as the terrified man scrambled toward his desk. The elf’s gaze slid to the desk, noting there was an ornamental dagger upon it. With a soft chuckle he taunted the man, “Do you think attacking me will save you?” He pounced, snatching the dagger from the man’s reach before sitting in the Duke’s chair, propping his feet on the corner of the desk.
Umphrey decided at this point to run for the door. N’tan rolled his eyes, rising lazily to throw the dagger with a careless motion. It flew past the Duke to imbed in the door with a loud thunk. “You can run…” He drawled as the man froze, staring at the quivering metal. “But I warn you, should you choose to do so, your death will be much more pleasurable for me and much more painful for you.” He moved out from behind the desk. He rested a hip against it, giving the man the time and freedom to make his choice.
There was only a moment of silence before Umphrey flung the door open and raced down the hall. N’tan gave him a head start, the pupils of his eyes widening with ardor as he pushed off the desk. “So be it.”
He followed, stalking his prey, his ears easily following the man’s movements. From each room the man entered, N’tan could hear the soft exclamations and whimpers as the man discovered what the elf had told him was indeed the truth. None still lived within his home. N’tan found amusement that the one place the man did not run was the attic rooms where his children still slept, peacefully unaware of the massacre below. The elf knew the man would not go to there, Umphrey would not wish to see the bodies of his children bloodied and dead. He would now die not knowing they lived.
The elf followed, listening as the Duke became more and more distraught. As they reached the main floor, the elf quickened his steps, hurrying to the place he knew the man was heading. For within the study hung swords and other various weapons of war. After examining the dagger upstairs, N’tan knew they would all be in good repair. This prospect didn’t worry him, his nerves hummed with anticipation of the final encounter. He slipped through the rooms, over the bodies of the fallen to reach the study before the man.
The Duke entered, sneaking into the room and closing the door quietly. N’tan stood watching from the shadows as his prey moved quickly to claim the saber from its rack on the wall.
“Fine choice of weapon, my Lord. Shall we dance then?” He said softly. The rain had cleared. Moonlight now streamed into the large windows illuminating him clearly as he stepped into its rays. His waist length white blonde hair and pointed ears were now easily visible.
“I know you.” Umphrey said, his voice shaking slightly as he straightened, “You are…”
N’tan finished for him, “Death... You are correct. I am your executioner. Your deeds have been recorded. By Imperial decree, you have been found guilty of treason… blah blah blah.” His hand rolled in a wave-like motion as he spoke, the chatter boring him.
The Duke straightened to his full height, still shorter than the elf. “You will not find me an easy foe, assassin.”
N’tan’s stance changed immediately as he shifted his feet, lowering into a defensive position, “I am counting on it.”
The man launched across the room, the tip of the saber pointed toward the elf as he charged . N’tan didn’t move, waiting for the thrust of the weapon before he spun out of its path. The Duke charged past him, and as he did so, N’tan’s knife slid under his arm, slicing through the night shirt into the flesh beneath.
To his credit, Umphrey only grunted, turning to bring the sword down with expertise. N’tan was still faster, his small knife once again slicing into the meat of the man as he evaded his blade. He taunted the man, “Your age is upon you, old man. You move slow enough I could slit your throat any time I wish.”
The Duke, enraged by the jeering tone and words, angrily roared his next attack. The saber swung down at N’tan, who stepped to the prey, bringing them breast to breast. His eyes met Umphrey’s as they widened in shock. The elf’s blade now buried just under his collarbone, “Any. Time. I. Wish.” The elf danced back as the man staggered away, his hand coming up to cover the deep wound.
N’tan circled the man, watching him. The wound was a mortal one, but it was slow. The elf only waited for weakness to take hold before he viciously knocked the Duke to the floor. Straddling his prey , N’tan looked down into Umphrey’s face with a smile, “Now for a bit of fun. You see, the Emperor does not care what I do, nor how I do it as long as my missions are accomplished, but you already knew that… did you not?”
Umphrey groaned softly. “There is a special place in hell for ones like you.”
N’tan’s teeth flashed as he bared them in a merciless smile. “I live in hell every day.” It was the last he spoke as he proceeded to filet the man alive,. Umphrey’s screams falling on the ears of the already dead. The darkness swirled up from where the elf kept it caged, deriving its twisted pleasure until the man breathed his last.
Rising, the elf looked without remorse at the now skinless face of his prey. Stretching, he delighted in the euphoria flowing through his veins. He sat in a nearby chair, taking liberties with the decanter of wine resting on the table there. His fingers played with the drying blood along his thigh as he sipped the pale vint. He would need relief of some sort and soon.
Sighing, he drank the last of the wine before rising to walk from the room. Climbing the stairs slowly, he made his way back to the bedroom where his cloak lay. He didn’t care that he was coated with the Duke’s blood as he returned the fabric to wrap his body.
Pulling the hood up once more to cover his head, he left as he had come: the shadow of death.