The body lay before us, lifeless and still. I couldn't take my eyes off of it. The air was thick with the metallic stench of blood and death. My companion looked at me, on my face was a mixture of shock and numbness, and I knew I needed to act quickly.
I smeared my hands with the warm touch of fresh blood as I extracted the dagger from the man's neck and placed it back in my belt.
"Let's take him out of here" I said urgently, my voice low and steady. Naia nodded, and together we lifted the young man's body off the ground. He was surprisingly heavy for his size, and his head lolled limply as he had no control over his muscles anymore.
My eyes were drawn to the deep and jagged wound across his neck, a brutal gash that had severed his jugular vein. Blood oozed from the wound, staining the floor a dark, viscous red.
The young man's eyes were still open, staring to the ground with an expression of terror and disbelief. It was then that I came to my senses and realized that I was the one who had caused this, that I was the one who had taken his life.
"It was him or us...he chose his fate" I muttered reassuringly as I helped her carry the dead infiltrator towards the entrance. Naia nodded her head and stared at me blankly in agreement, understanding the gravity of the situation as well as I did. She remained unfazed by the sight of death, for it is a frequent occurrence in our line of work. With every enemy we took down, there were always ten more waiting to take their place, eager to test their mettle against us.
I examined the body of the man we had just killed, on his belongings I found a letter that read "First Lunar Cycle, 27th of the III" It was written today judging by the date inscripted at the top, "Walk to the ascension, the gates shall open" It finished below, with the distinctive circular black seal of the Obsidian Circle, 'Ascension?' I thought. This was an invitation, or a warning? I couldn't be sure but one thing was certain; this man knew something about what awaited the district and he wanted us both dead for knowing too.
His body would be reported missing soon enough; someone would clearly come looking for him, but they wouldn't find anything except a pool of blood in the dormitory room where he had died, which meant someone would be on the lookout for us too now.
The district of Prylock is one of the three central districts of the Three Keys Republic, home to numerous organized groups that are all competing for dominance and seeking notoriety among the underground. One group, however—the mysterious organization known as the Obsidian Circle—stands out among them all as being more than a simple gang or street-level syndicate; extremely cruel and clever in their tactics, they have become notorious enough over time to earn themselves an actual name.
Few knew the true extent of the Circle's power and influence, but everyone knew the consequences if you crossed them: death by torture at best, enslavement at worst.
Naia opened the door slowly, peering cautiously into the empty corridors beyond. There was nothing but darkness and silence ahead. We carefully carried the corpse through the doorway and set it down on the cold stone floor. I glanced around nervously, checking if anyone else might have been lurking nearby, ready to ambush us.
"This way, I'll lead the path" I whispered and Naia picked up the body again.
We crept forward along the dim hallway of the Academy hall making way to the stairs leading downwards. Our footsteps echoed loudly throughout the stairwell, causing me to tense up further. Upon reaching the last step of the staircase, I took a blanket i found lying about and placed it on top of the corpse to make sure we would not be disturbed by any curious passersby as we made our escape.
The main plaza of the Academy was mostly empty at this time of night, save for us and the guards stationed outside each building. Moonlight illuminated the dormitory structures surrounding the central courtyard, casting long shadows over everything all around. The shadows were our guide, pointing us in the direction we needed to take while concealing our movements from any unwanted eyes.
A large fountain lay in the center of the square, splashing gently onto the cobblestone paving below making a gurgling noise which drowned the sound of our feet crunching on the ground as we exited the academy grounds.
There were several people scattered on the exit, sitting on the floor or leaning on the wall, drinking and laughing amongst themselves. None paid us any attention though; they were too preoccupied with their own lives to notice two strangers clad in the uniform of the Republic's militia passing them by.
Our destination lay not far away now, only a few blocks from the Academy walls. It was an abandoned old tavern named 'The Old Lady' nestled between two other buildings. There was no better spot than this for hiding out until dawn arrived. Tomorrow morning, in the plain cover of light and the crowds, we'd make our move and inform the rest of our team that the district complete is compromised. If the Obsidian Circle has begun to operate within the grounds of the High Council of the Republic, the the Insurgents must surely be on our Doorstep aswell.
The streets were eerily quiet, devoid of any activity. The moonlight shone brightly overhead, illuminating the cobbled roads and street. After walking a bit, we finally reached a small alleyway across from the tavern. It's wooden exterior looking worn and aged compared to the rest of the establisments that lined the streets. Its signboard hung crookedly above swinging slightly as wind blew past.
"Wait here" I instructed Naia "I'll have to force the front door open first."
She nodded her head without question and waited patiently behind the corner, hidden from view.
I crossed the narrow street quietly through the shadows, careful to avoid drawing much attention. The rest followed suit until I found myself standing before a large wooden door that looked like it hadn't seen much use since its construction several centuries ago. The lock was broken so I didn't even bother trying to pick it. Instead, I placed my hand on it and focused my mind.
I was never particularly adept at the arts of magic but there were some things that came easily for me regardless—cryomancy being one of them.
The keyhole on the door began glowing a faint blue as it started to get consumed by the ruinous grip of frostbite. I hit it hard with the pommel of my dagger and the whole piece fell apart into shards. The door swung inwardwards easily meaning the way inside was clear.
I turned around to beckon Naia to follow when suddenly the sharp whistle of a crossbow bolt whirred loudly on my left ear, narrowly missing my head and embedding itself into the wooden doorframe behind me.
A second bolt followed soon after, raking across my chest, leaving a trail of blood and a searing pain in its wake.
I stumbled backwards, clutching my bleeding torso as I made my way inside the dark tavern. My heart raced wildly within my ribcage as adrenaline coursed through my veins.
"Naia! Hurry!" I shouted frantically to the top of my lungs.
She held her the corpse high above her shoulders to shield herself as she sprinted to my position, arrows flying past her head like a swarm of angry bees. As quick as lightning, I grabbed her arm and pulled her in to safety just before another arrow slammed into the door as i pushed it shut.
Inside, the air was thick with dust and the scent of old ale, and the only light came from a few faint shafts of moonlight that filtered through the dirty windows.
I peaked through the crack of the door, hoping to catch sight of whoever fired those bolts but saw nothing.
"Shit, shit…" I muttered under my breath, shaking off the stinging sensation in my side and taking stock of the situation.
"Are you alright?" Naia asked anxiously. Her face was pale and drawn, her hair disheveled from the attack.
"Yeah, I'm fine, are you hurt anywhere?" I replied, searching her for signs of injury.
"We need to get out of here," she said "We're trapped in here"
My gaze wandered back towards the door where more crossbow bolts had been lodged into the wood. A few seconds later, I heard the heavy thud of boots hitting the floor outside.
"They're coming in!" I hissed quickly, pulling Naia down below the counter.
With bated breaths, we stayed silent and still waiting for whatever fate would befall us next. Moments passed slowly and agonizingly slow.
The door creaked open as someone entered. With a loud grunt, he kicked the door closed again, slamming it against the wall with such force that I thought it might break completely.
"You really think you can hide here forever? You know what happens to those who test an assassin's patience, don't you?" He warned menacingly. His voice sounded familiar yet different somehow, deeper and darker.
He stepped further inside, his eyes scanning the room cautiously. We remained motionless beneath the countertop, afraid to breathe lest it give ourselves away.
His presence moved closer, his steps echoing hollowly on the dusty wooden floors.
"I mean no disrespect to you guys, but you don't seem to be a very smart bunch" He mentioned nonchalantly, kicking over a table.
Naia gripped tightly onto my arm as she tried to tell me something with her hands, gesturing up at the ceiling. She mouthed silently 'look' at me, pointing upwards.
It took me a moment to realize what she wanted me to do, she wanted me to lure the man below the crumbling ceiling so that we could take him unaware. I knew this guy was dangerous enough already, so we couldn't risk engaging in any sort of combat with him unless it became absolutely necessary. But if he kept walking about aimlessly, then maybe we'd have our chance.