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Homecoming for an Ivory Mark

StoriesbyJurixe Apr 4th, 2013 49 Never
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  1. Splish. Splish. Splish.
  2.  
  3. The murky water flowed over the white Rajamala's wooden sandals as he stepped carefully through the dank sewer tunnel, getting his paws wet. He ignored the mild discomfort, dark eyes luminous in the relative shadow as he glanced periodically at the tunnel walls, searching for something.
  4.  
  5. Nothing...nothing...aha.
  6.  
  7. Wan, red-tinted light filtered down into the sewers from above, just enough for him to make out a set of sturdy iron rungs leading upwards - and next to them, a scrawling in chalk as white as his fur.
  8.  
  9. Pestilent Way ^
  10.  
  11. Hmm. Too far still.
  12.  
  13. Rats squeaked and chittered as they darted furtively around the narrow ledges, the sounds of their activity echoing in the tunnel around him as he pressed on, interspersed by the steady drip-drip-drip of water upon water. One paw tightened subtly around the hilt of his dirk sheathed at his hip, the cool metal a solid reassurance under his touch.
  14.  
  15. Malevolence Street ^
  16.  
  17. Getting closer.
  18.  
  19. Suddenly, he stopped, ears flicking back and forth restively as he strained to listen. There had been something...
  20.  
  21. For a moment, all he heard was the scurrying and squeaking of the rats, an occasional drip or two.
  22.  
  23. Drip.
  24.  
  25. Drip.
  26.  
  27. Splish.
  28.  
  29. Immediately the Rajamala breathed a low incantation, little more than a whisper as he began to weave a net of concealing magics about him. At the same time, he moved slowly towards the dark tunnel wall, the shadows seeming to meld around him until the only signs of his presence were the faint ripples in the water.
  30.  
  31. The tunnel was silent again for a moment, but he knew someone was there. He waited with infinite patience, entire body tense.
  32.  
  33. Come out, come out, whereever you are...
  34.  
  35. Abruptly the splashing began again, and he slowly slid his dirk out of its sheath, careful not to let it rasp against the material.
  36.  
  37. Just a little closer...
  38.  
  39. It was not yet to be, however. The footsteps stopped again a little way beyond his range, and he almost growled in annoyance. But no. He would be patient - and silent.
  40.  
  41. His ears twitched as what appeared to be a new set of splashing footsteps joined the first, stopping abruptly as well near the first set. A muffled exclamation was heard, then something like an argument seemed to follow, the low voices rising as the agitation of the speakers grew. He strained to listen, barely able to make out the words.
  42.  
  43. "...not going back!"
  44.  
  45. "...will...Masters...slave..."
  46.  
  47. "No...ver..!"
  48.  
  49. Muffled shouts and churning water filled the tunnel as the argument erupted into a full-blown altercation, the panicked squeaking of frightened rats only adding to the cacophony. The Rajamala's sensitive ears flattened upon his skull, grip tightening convulsively on his dirk, but he forced himself to stay put. He could not risk discovery here, or all his work would have been for naught.
  50.  
  51. The fight lasted only a few minutes before one of the parties uttered a rasping cry of pain and something heavy toppled into the water, the impact creating waves that washed as high as his calves. Glancing down, the Rajamala grimly noted the thin ribbons of red that streaked brightly through the grey-green water, hinting at the conflict's brutal resolution.
  52.  
  53. The tunnel was quiet again now, but still he waited a few moments, listening intently. When the rats began to chitter again, he decided it was safe to move and took a wary step out. His keen eyes picked out some large object floating motionless in the water up ahead; the Rajamala tensed, but as the object didn't move after some time, curiosity got the better of him and he began to wade cautiously towards it.
  54.  
  55. The coppery tang of blood in the air grew stronger the closer he approached, and the water was almost completely red now, staining his white fur. He wasn't surprised when he finally came close enough to identify the object - the lifeless body of a young Mhun, bobbing face down in the water, blood still streaming copiously from the numerous lacerations in his flesh.
  56.  
  57. It was difficult to tell whether the Mhun had been in the service of the Mhaldorians, and he wasn't about to expend the effort to check - but still he couldn't help feeling just the barest flicker of regret for the Mhun's death. He was a seasoned warrior, but even so, death was not something to be taken lightly.
  58.  
  59. Regardless of whose side the Mhun had been on, however, there was nothing more he could do for him. He was likely in a better place now, anyhow, and so he moved on without a backwards glance.
  60.  
  61. The Rajamala hadn't progressed too far before the fur on the back of his neck began to prickle insistently. A sense of foreboding crept up on him, but he made himself act as if nothing was amiss, trudging slowly through the rippling water.
  62.  
  63. Had his senses not been on high alert, he might have missed the ever-so-subtle shift in the air - but they were, and he had this presence of mind to thank as he flung himself to the side, narrowly avoiding the dark figure that plunged downwards a split second later from the ceiling; the flash of an outstretched dirk missing him by inches as water splashed everywhere.
  64.  
  65. Dripping wet and furious now, he leapt to his feet and thrust his own weapon towards the intruder, bright steel slicing ruthlessly through cloth as he delivered two venom-laced slashes in revenge.
  66.  
  67. The enemy gasped and stumbled backwards into a shaft of reddish light, throwing its features into sharp relief. His dark eyes widened as he realised that it was a young Xoran, no older than twenty and, from the looks of his flowing black robes, not long come from the Trial of Rebirth.
  68.  
  69. He sized the youngling up with the practised ease of a trained fighter. Threat level: approximately zero. One good stab in the back would probably do him in.
  70.  
  71. "A little out of your league here, aren't you?" he asked lightly.
  72.  
  73. The Xoran was panting slightly, clearly in some pain as he braced his paralysed left arm in the crook of his right elbow, but still he had his dirk pointed towards the Rajamala. He had to give him credit for not backing down.
  74.  
  75. "Y-you...would have killed me," he breathed raspily.
  76.  
  77. The Rajamala arched an eyebrow. "You jumped on me first, you know."
  78.  
  79. "Who -are- you?" the youngster demanded, his apparent bravado spoiled somewhat by the slightly trembling tip of his dagger.
  80.  
  81. "I could ask -you- the same question," the feline countered, but made his voice just a tad less threatening. "Let me guess...a slave?"
  82.  
  83. Slowly, warily, the Xoran nodded his scaly head.
  84.  
  85. "Trying to escape? Is that why you killed that Mhun back there?"
  86.  
  87. Wide-eyed, the Xoran started to shake his head, but the Rajamala cut him off. He didn't have much time as it was, and the kid clearly wasn't a threat.
  88.  
  89. "It's fine, I don't really care. I'm not a Mhaldorian slaver. Escape if you want to. Just next time don't go jumping out at people who might -actually- be able to kill you." Sheathing his dirk, he turned away. "Bye. Try not to get eaten by the frost daemon."
  90.  
  91. Leaving the youngster staring incredulously after him, he continued on his watery journey, dark eyes once more searching for the familiar chalk marks as he passed grate after grate.
  92.  
  93. Just as he was beginning to really tire of the seemingly never-ending tunnels, he saw it.
  94.  
  95. Mhaldor Road ^
  96.  
  97. Finally.
  98.  
  99. Gripping the iron rung above his head with his paws, he climbed nimbly up the makeshift ladder, the faint light streaming in from above gradually growing stronger as he neared the surface. There he paused, listening carefully, trying to peer through the slits in the grate to see if he could spot any enemies.
  100.  
  101. All seemed quiet -  
  102.  
  103. A distant scream sounded in the vicinity of the slave market, abruptly cut off.
  104.  
  105. Well. Now it was quiet.
  106.  
  107. One paw clinging tightly to the iron rung, he braced himself against the slimy wall of the sewer tunnel and carefully pushed upwards with his other paw, trying not to make a sound as he lifted the grate with excruciating care. The process seemed to take forever with how slowly he was moving, but he dared not rush it for fear of dropping the grate and alerting everyone to his presence.
  108.  
  109. Eventually, he'd managed to maneuver it to leave an opening just big enough for him to slip out, though his heart nearly stopped when his tail got caught between the metal - luckily, all it took was a swift tug and he was free, albeit at the expense of a few tufts of fur. From the looks of the deserted street around him, no one was any the wiser.
  110.  
  111. The acrid red fog that blanketed Mhaldor Island seared his nose and lungs the moment he emerged, the grimy taste of ash lingering in the back of his throat as he took a reluctant breath. He checked to make sure that his concealing magics were still firmly in place, tossing a new coating of invisible dust over himself just to make doubly sure.
  112.  
  113. Soft-footed, he stepped lightly upon the cobblestones as he made his way down the street, trying to be as silent as possible. Now that he was in the open, he ran a much higher risk of discovery as necromancers were impervious to his hiding tricks - and Mhaldor was, after all, the birthplace of death magic.
  114.  
  115. Through sheer luck, none crossed his path that day and soon he found himself upon a crest in the road, affording him an excellent view of the city below. The path he was on plunged straight down the mountain before it joined a stygian crossroads near the base, branching off into three other roads. Two ran east and west, curving back around the mountain; the third, however, continued straight on towards the imposing gates of the city, leading out towards the isle.
  116.  
  117. He recognised the crossroads immediately, of course - relatively unspectacular at first glance, just a point where roads met - but he knew from previous excursions that it was a popular gathering place for Mhaldorians, and it was where he hoped to find his target.
  118.  
  119. He was still too far away to see clearly, and so he continued on a little way downwards, taking even more time now as the path was very steep. One missed step and he would tumble right down the mountain - if that didn't kill him, the guards at the bottom most likely would.
  120.  
  121. Halfway through, a group of sentinel wraiths materialised abruptly near him, and he froze on instinct - but the ghostly knights seemed oblivious to his presence, cantering silently past him on skeletal steeds whose hooves never quite touched the ground. Allowing himself a soft exhalation of relief, the Rajamala pressed on.
  122.  
  123. He paused upon a small ledge partway down the mountain, checking to see that no guards were in sight before squinting downwards again. His keen eyes could make out greater detail now - the hulking, daemonic form of Mhaldorus towering over the crossroads, the churning black pool of leaping, snapping piranha, the elegant bench made entirely of bloodstone...
  124.  
  125. Aha.
  126.  
  127. The Rajamala's eyes gleamed briefly as they lingered upon the bulk of a sinuous black wyvern, tail lashing the air as it scratched at the cobblestones restively. Though the beast was imposing, it wasn't that which he was interested in. Instead, his attention was focused on the rider atop the wyrm; a lithe Rajamala like himself but of crimson fur and austere features, his detached expression laced with that hint of condescension so common amongst Mhaldorian nobility as he gazed upon the city.
  128.  
  129. Ilran.
  130.  
  131. Exsusiai of Mhaldor, former Tyrannus of the city.
  132.  
  133. So it was true. He had returned.
  134.  
  135. The white Rajamala's eyes travelled over Ilran, noting the familiar insignia of the Ivory Mark upon his cloak with a smirk.
  136.  
  137. Well, surely it would be entirely remiss of him not to give a fellow Mark a proper welcome back.
  138.  
  139. Reaching behind him, he drew a sleek wood grain bow from his baldric, savouring the reassuring feel of it in his paw. He was trained in many professions and was skilled in the use of a variety of weapons, but the bow had always been his favourite. Much less awe-inspiring than a huge battleaxe or a gleaming broadsword, but as far as assassinations went, the bow's deadly efficiency came second to none.
  140.  
  141. He had little time to waste, for Mhaldor Road was a well-travelled path and citizens could pass by at any time to sound the alarm. Despite that, his movements remained unhurried as his paw flicked through the arrows in his quiver, searching for the right ones. He knew from experience that it was important he take enough care to make his shot count, for if he should miss, then the crucial element of surprise would be lost.
  142.  
  143. Delphinium, I think.
  144.  
  145. Nocking a blue-fletched arrow to his bow, he pulled the bowstring taut in one seemingly effortless motion, carefully aiming it towards the back of the red Rajamala. Normally he would aim for the head, but at such a distance, targeting the back would allow for the least margin of error.
  146.  
  147. Accounting for wind speed, estimated trajectory of the arrow...
  148.  
  149. He took a deep breath, feeling himself sink into the familiar, almost meditative trance that always preceded actual combat. His senses felt alive, he was aware of every bone, every muscle in his body, the polished smoothness of the wood in his grip, the trembling tension in his shoulders and arm, the thin trickle of sweat rolling down the side of his temple...
  150.  
  151. Breathe in.
  152.  
  153. Breathe out.
  154.  
  155. The arrow was straining, straining, yearning to fly...
  156.  
  157. Relax.
  158.  
  159. Not yet.
  160.  
  161. Not yet...
  162.  
  163. ...
  164.  
  165. ...
  166.  
  167. Now.
  168.  
  169. He let the arrow loose with a subtle shift of his paw, the bowstring making a soft 'twang' as the sleek missile flew jubilantly free. It curved elegantly through the air as he watched, streaking downwards towards its unsuspecting target, hurtling faster and faster and faster-
  170.  
  171. Yes.
  172.  
  173. The white Rajamala's fangs flashed triumphantly as he watched his arrow strike Ilran dead centre of his back, the Mhaldorian toppling forward onto the ground from the force of the shot as delphinium venom forced him into slumber.
  174.  
  175. Now was not the time for celebration, however. He had only a tiny window before Ilran regained consciousness. Swiftly he repeated the gesture, sending another arrow towards the stricken feline; this time he didn't wait to see it hit its mark, though, immediately reaching behind himself for yet another fletched missile, beginning a rapid-fire chain as fast as he could move.
  176.  
  177. To his credit, Ilran tried to rally the few times he awoke, but the white Rajamala was simply too fast, too accurate. No sooner would his eyes flick open than another arrow would strike, a fresh dose of venom flooding his veins and sending him right back into the Dreamrealm.
  178.  
  179. Still shooting from his vantage point atop the ledge, the Rajamala was beginning to be quite incredulous at Ilran's ability to stave off death. Most adventurers fell after four arrows, but Ilran had taken six hits now and, by all accounts, was still breathing.
  180.  
  181. Seven...
  182.  
  183. Eight...
  184.  
  185. Nine...
  186.  
  187. At last, at last, his innate deathsense tingled exultantly as the ninth arrow plunged into Ilran, finally snuffing out his life.
  188.  
  189. Succe- wait.
  190.  
  191. A bright red light flared where Ilran had been, and he threw up one arm to shield his gaze. When he lowered it cautiously, he was decidedly annoyed to see Ilran standing alive and whole again at the crossroads, looking for all the world as if he hadn't just been a pincushion for poisonous arrows.
  192.  
  193. Damn starburst tattoos.
  194.  
  195. He drew another arrow from his quiver, but by now Mhaldorians were beginning to converge on Ilran, his first death having raised the alarm. He cursed under his breath as he watched them for a moment.
  196.  
  197. Too many. It was time to go.
  198.  
  199. Quickly sheathing his bow and replacing his arrow, he began to vibrate his lithe body quickly in a practised motion, moving faster and faster until he was just a blur. A brief flash of azure light flooded the area; once his vision cleared, he found himself again in the peculiar state of being slightly out of phase with reality, making him effectively untouchable by all but his fellow Serpents.
  200.  
  201. Most of the Mhaldorians were congregated around Ilran, a low murmur of activity filling the air as they searched for him, the assassin. He longed to hear what they were saying, but regretfully decided it would be more prudent to leave - just in case they did somehow manage to discover him. That would be embarassing, to assassinate someone and then die in their city. Wouldn't do at all.
  202.  
  203. So he broke into a quick, light-footed run, darting down past the Mhaldorians, evading under the menacing portcullis, leaping over a stray thrashing lycopod - and was free, every loping stride taking him further and further away from the evil island of death and decay.
  204.  
  205. He grinned to himself as he set foot upon the familiar, dusty track of the Southern Road, gratefully breathing in the sunlit air.
  206.  
  207. Welcome back, Ilran.
  208.  
  209. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
  210.  
  211. In another part of the city, a figure clad in hooded dark robes emerged silently from a different sewer grate, running lightly down the road past the stygian crossroads and down to the Mhaldorian city gates. It didn't go through the gates, however, choosing instead to turn west and entering the guardhouse next to the portcullis.
  212.  
  213. The interior of the guardhouse was almost completely dark, its only source of light being the open doorway and the tiny murder holes in the side, making it difficult to see. It didn't faze the black-robed figure, however, as he lowered the hood on his clothes to reveal a familiar scaly head.
  214.  
  215. There seemed to be nothing in the guardhouse except a pile of old weapons, but the Xoran knew better. He bowed his head low, waiting.
  216.  
  217. A low, silken voice spoke from the darkness. "Hail, my son."
  218.  
  219. The Xoran straightened, standing stiffly at attention. "Hail, Naga...mother."
  220.  
  221. "How fares your progress?"
  222.  
  223. "I slew that traitorous Mhun spy. He was in the sewers, like you said he would be. Probably trying to escape."
  224.  
  225. "Excellent work." A faint note of approval in those two words, and the Xoran nodded his head slightly in acknowledgement.
  226.  
  227. "Thank you, mother." He paused, debating.
  228.  
  229. "Yes?"
  230.  
  231. "I also...met someone interesting down there. A white Rajamala..."
  232.  
  233. Grey eyes gleamed as the slight figure of a female Mhun emerged from the shadows, her gaze fixed on the Xoran with new interest.
  234.  
  235. "Do tell."
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