The Assignment

Captain Von Delgo is a man who is lost. He is known as a turncoat, a hero and a mass-murderer. He has no beginning, and as far as he can see he has no end. Which makes him just about the most dangerous man alive. After the completion of his last job Captain is on his way out to receive his payment and rest up. His plans are delayed when a religious sect known as the Ravens pull him in with an offer. Captain faces a dilemma, he has never once failed in his assignments. But accepting this one and succeeding would change the way of the world, change everything that everyone has ever known, plunge it into chaos. But he has also never once turned down a job, and with his life quickly descending into a chaos of its own despair, he can see no reason why not to accept. After all, how hard can it be to kill an immortal?

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9. Chapter 9

Cool air streamed through the open window of the Captain’s room. The glass had been removed from the window and the fly net had been cut open to allow something to crawl through. Attached to a pillar in the middle of the room, and hanging out of the window, was a man-made rope of sheets. At the moment the rope was taut, but every now and again it would go slack and then tighten again. From outside in the cool night you could hear the muffled sound of someone shimming down the side of the sandstone wall of the temple. The Captain reached the end of the rope and let go, dropping the last floor to the ground. He hit the ground, legs bent, rolled, and was up at a run.

The Captain knew that he had said that he would help them, but it was madness. He hated the Shadows, but like everybody else he feared them. Was else was he in such a panic when he had met the two out in the field almost four days ago? If he did attempt it and was caught the fate that awaited him was of one worse than death. And if he did succeed then what then? No one would know what to do, they would be leaderless and no one would be around to keep their murderous tendencies at bay.

The world was bad, the Captain couldn’t deny, but he also couldn’t bring himself to make it even worse than it already was. No, he would leave the temple and then drop off world, as it were, until they forgot about him.

Despite being on the ground outside his room, the Captain wasn’t yet outside of the temple. In fact he in the very middle of it, a courtyard on the 4th floor. When designing the temple the Ravens had built it so all windows pointed inside to make it harder for enemies to attack. It was a smart idea, but annoying if you wanted to break out.

After making sure that the coast was clear, and no one had heard or seen him, the Captain set off in search for a set of stairs to take him to the first floor. He ran alongside the wall until he came to a door that led out of the courtyard. The sound of voices deep in discussion came through. Pressing himself against the wall, the Captain peered around the corner. There were three of them, loosely garbed like they had just come off from patrol and were heading to bed. The Captain pulled back and then walked through the door, nodded at the first guard that paused to look at him and carried on.

‘Here!’ one called just as the Captain was about to round another bend. ‘What are you doing out?’ he shouted. The Captain stopped in his tracks.

‘I’m sleep walking,’ the Captain replied. ‘Something wrong with that?’

Behind him the Captain heard the guards approaching. ‘You’re awake, that’s what’s wrong,’ the same guard that had spoken before said. ‘How can you be sleep walking when you’re awake?’

The Captain thought quickly. ‘Easy,’ he replied, turning to look at them. ‘I woke when you asked what I was doing.’

The guard’s face took on a look of unbelief and he looked over at his friends who were laughing and smiling at him.

‘Good night,’ the Captain wished him and began to walk away again.

‘Halt!’ the guard cried. ‘You may have been sleepwalking, but you’re not now.’

‘So?’ the Captain asked, slowing down.

‘So we have orders that say you are not allowed to leave your room. This puzzles me because the guards outside your room should have told you that.’

‘No guards outside my room,’ the Captain replied lightly, his back still to the group. ‘If there were, they never said I couldn’t leave.’

‘Bion,’ the Captain heard the guard say lightly, trying to keep his voice level. The Captain understood from that one word that he was suspicious. ‘Go up to the Captain’s room and report back what you see.’

‘Right, sir!’ another guard replied, snapping a salute and clicking his heels together.

The Captain sighed, ‘I can’t let you do that,’ he said quietly, turning to face them.

‘Why not?’ asked Bion.

‘Come on over here,’ the Captain told him. ‘Come on!’ he waved his hand urgently and all three guards hesitantly walked over.

‘The thing is,’ the Captain began, ‘that if you go to my room you might get a fright.’

‘How come?’

‘Well, because there were guards outside my room but because they tried to tell me something I didn’t want to hear, I had to deal with them.’

‘What do you mean?’ the head guard asked, wondering if he had guessed the correct answer.’

‘I had to kill them.’

In the silence that followed, the Captain pulled a knife from a sheath, swung in a circle out of the group, and slammed the knife into the throat of Bion. The other two reacted, drawing their swords and rushing at him. As the first swung, the Captain dropped and slashed his knife against the man’s leg. He dropped with a scream as the Captain rolled to his feet and ducked the swing of another sword. The Captain jumped back as two of the swords sliced through the air where his body had previously been. He ducked again to avoid another slash and swung out with his knife at the passing legs of the guard. It found contact and sliced through easily, carving the flesh from the body. The Captain rolled again and kicked out, hitting the back of the Raven’s knee and causing the man to fall.

The third guard jabbed out with his sword and the Captain parried with his blade and pulled himself to his feet, parrying another as he did so. Their blades clashed again as the Raven tried to push the Captain back. Instead the Captain pushed forwards, catching the Raven off guard and causing him to fall over the collapsed body of his fellow guard. The Captain stepped forwards nimbly, kicked the sword out of the Raven’s grip, dropped to the ground, and ran the blade across the man’s throat. The guard’s eyes flickered, and then closed.

The Captain rose and surveyed the two other guards lying on the ground clutching their legs, trying to stem the flow of blood. Each cut and craved straight to the bone and they were likely to bleed dry within a couple of minutes. Surprisingly neither man had tried to raise the alarm by yelling, the only sound they had made was when the Captain had attacked them. Rather than finishing them off, the Captain sheathed his knife, turned, and carried on his way.

He reached a set of stairs, ran down them in the dark, across an open space, and then down some more stairs. No one bothered him and he was able to make it in peace to the wall that separated him from freedom. Guards patrolled the top of it and he waited until they had left before running up the corner of the wall. As he felt himself start to slip, he pushed himself forwards, flipped, and landed on the pathway. In a second, he had jumped over the edge and slid down the wall, landing hard on the ground outside the temple.

As soon as he landed, a sharp cry ensued from the roof as the other guards noticed him. Lights flared along the walls and up the towers as the temple came to life. Pounding feet echoed throughout the building as the guards rushed up to the towers placed their loaded crossbows on the stone to steady them as they took aim.

They Captain turned and looked up at them, the light blinding his eyes as he stared but he ignored it. His eyes focused and grew used to the brightness after a few seconds and he could see the walls packed with dark forms staring down at him. They moved nervously, waiting for him to act before acting themselves. The Captain took a step back and the bodies tensed, their crossbows rising slightly to focus better on him. The Captain had a feeling that if he took another step they would fire a warning shot. If he took another after that then they would fire all the bolts. He took two steps and ran.

There was a cry and the first arrow pelted into the ground beside him, a moment later the air was filled with the black bolts. A second after that they thudded all around the Captain as he ran, dodging just as he was about to be hit. He hardly needed to judge when to move, his body acted of its own accord moving him out of danger just in time.

The land around him was unfamiliar. It was dark, dirty, and ancient. The ruins of what must have been at one time a magnificent city. Crumbling skyscrapers dominated the sky, an essence of power even after the city had fallen. A thick river that once carried fresh, clear water into the city was clogged with rubble, and algae covered the top in a thin layer giving it the appearance of a green carpet. White steam wafted gently from the top of it, and in the hard chill of the night the Captain wouldn’t have been surprised to learn that the river was almost frozen. It flowed densely around the houses that had slipped from the banks and under half a dozen bridges that connected the two part of the city. Most of the bridges had crumbled away in time and all that really remained of them were stumps in the ground.

Far behind the Captain someone gave the order to cease fire and the bombardment stopped. A high-pitched screech filled the air behind him as he ran along an empty street further into the deserted city. The Captain knew without even turning around that the ravens had taken flight behind him rather than search for him on foot.

He ducked under a low metal beam and tripping on a loose piece of planking, fell down a dark hole a few meters deep. He hit the ground, landing on loose dirt and lay stunned, staring up at the sky through the opening of the hole. He allowed himself to catch his breath before rolling over and crawling out of sight. Once safe from anything that might catch a glimpse of him by peering down the hole, the Captain ran his hands over his body in search of broken bones. Even landing on soft dirt could cause serious injury, but thankfully he has sustained none. Rising to his feet and looked around at where he had fallen.

He was standing in a tunnel; at the end of it was the ever-present flickering light that appeared no matter where you were. There was nothing to see and so he walked on, stepping quietly in case there was anything down there that he might disturb.

It didn’t take him long to reach the light, which was hanging from the roof by a few wires in the middle of a gigantic underground car park. Wrecks littered the area all around him, some in parking spaces while others were piled high and still others were in the middle of reversing out of the parks. Whatever had happened to the city had happened quickly. The Captain couldn’t help but wonder how long the city had been in ruins for as he walked over to one of the cars and stared through the broken window. The seats inside had been completely ripped out, the glove box had been broken into and someone had even stolen the steering wheel. Silently the Captain moved on to the next car. It was in almost the same state as the previous, but this time someone had nicked the wheels.

Leaving the cars behind, he walked around in a slow circle, his eyes scanning all the area surrounding him for a way out. He was underground but still not safe, if he had fallen into the hole then there was a chance that something could fly in.

He spied a van, it’s front half buried under pieces of the fallen roof. He tried the backdoors but they were stuck, rusted after years of just sitting in the dark. He cast around for something to use and found a long metal pole. He hit the door a couple of times near the centre to create a dent, and then pushed the tip of the pole through and pried the doors open. They creaked and groaned, but finally he was able to make a gap large enough to enter. It wasn’t much of a hiding place, but if anything came down then the first thing they would see was a deserted car park and hopefully move on.

The Captain moved to the far end of the van, his feet crunching on brittle things that littered the floor. He sat down and fished about inside his coat for the torch that he knew was inside. Finding it, he switched it on and it fell from his suddenly frozen fingers as he saw what he had been stepping on. Silently, as life returned to his fingers, and still in shock, he picked up the torch, turned it off, and sat as quietly as he could in the dark.

 

Above and standing in the now empty sky atop a broken building stood Ravenwood, the Tescon and Jole.

‘My Lord Tescon wishes to know why Captain Von Delgo has disappeared,’ said Jole after a whispered conversation.

Ravenwood looked out over the roofs of the crumbling city. Lights flashed far below as his men searched the piles of rubble and hidden holes for any sight of the Captain.

‘I do not know,’ he replied. ‘He told us he would help us, he gave his word. I do not know why he would break it. A man like him values his word because a man like him has nothing else to keep or own.’

‘My Lord says we would have done what we told him we would do if he declined. Surely he would not have risked it all to enter this place?’

‘It doesn’t matter!’ cried Ravenwood angrily, glaring at the scene before him with troubled eyes. ‘He has run away so we will place the bounty on his head. He would have been rewarded most graciously if he had succeeded. He knows what we will do. We must find him first before he betrays us.’

‘My Lord asks why would he have run away if we were going to give him all he wanted?’

‘Maybe he didn’t trust us enough to believe we would,’ replied Ravenwood musingly. He shrugged it. He did not know the mind of Captain Von Delgo.

‘My Lord asks why did he run away to here?’

‘I don’t know. Maybe underneath all his glory and boasting he is actually a coward and doesn’t wish to risk endangering his life to try for a better world.’

‘Like you.’

Ravenwood’s eyes glinted with rage as the words hit his ears and he spun around and stalked up to Jole. ‘What did you say?’ he snarled in just above a whisper. He knew exactly what he had heard but he wanted it repeated.

‘I said ‘Like you’,’ Jole repeated, his mask hiding all emotion on his face from being seen.

‘No, ‘My Lord says’?’

‘No. This is what I say.’

‘Ah, I see. And what do you mean by it?’

‘I mean that perhaps you are a coward because you prefer to hire someone to carry out your plan rather than doing it yourself,’ Jole told him, pausing to let the words sink in before continuing. ‘You value your life more than the people you get to fight for what you don’t really need.’

‘And what don’t I really need?’

‘Don’t really need?’ asked Ravenwood slowly. ‘They don’t really need what they already have!’ he roared. ‘I am trying to make it so that they will need it.’

 ‘And what do they really need? Hmm?’ Jole stepped forward menacingly. ‘A change from something they know already works? A change into something that will disrupt millions of lives? Is it a change for better or for worse? These are not the words of my Tescon, these are my own that he has given me permission to speak.’

Jole sucked in air. ‘The world is bad, and you wish to fix it. But perhaps you are going about it the wrong way. You cannot destroy the highest power and believe that that will fix everything. The people bow underneath the Shadows, silently opposing their rule, but it is all they have known and if you take it away you will have chaos you never dreamed off.’

‘How dare you!’ screamed Ravenwood in rage. ‘How dare you questions me and embarrass me in front of your Tescon,’ he took a step forward, expecting the guard to take one step back in fear but the guard remained rooted to the spot.

They stood facing each other silently, a mere foot separation between them. Jole starred deep into the black beady eyes of Ravenwood while Ravenwood stared back into the holes of the mask. At the side they both sensed the Tescon watching them, and if they had turned their heads they would have seen a smile on his lips.

Very slowly, as if he had forgotten how to raise his voice, the Tescon said, ‘A chance to regain your honour, Ravenwood?’

Ravenwood blinked, and turned to look at him. ‘How?’ he asked sharply.

‘A challenge.’

‘A fight, you mean?’

The Tescon nodded his head.

Ravenwood grinned. ‘What a fantastic idea,’ he said after he had thought it over. ‘A fight to regain the honour I lost and to teach your guard when to keep his mouth shut even though he has permission from his Lord.’

The Tescon clapped his hands, a sharp noise in the night, and Jole moved away from Ravenwood and went to stand by him. The Tescon whispered in his ears and Jole nodded in reply before walking over to the far corner edge of the building.

‘To the death?’ inquired the Tescon.

‘Of course. That will be a lesson he will never have the chance to forget,’ replied Ravenwood as he turned and headed to the opposite corner.

Jole pulled his wide, double bladed sword from his back, held it steadily in front, as he bent to a crouch and prepared to fight. Ravewood stepped onto the ridge that ran along the edge of the roof and waited for the Tescon to give the signal to start.

Reaching inside his clothes, the Lord of the Shape-shifters pulled a piece of cloth out and let it drop to the floor. The second it touched the floor Jole leaped forwards, and Ravenwood leant back and allowed himself to fall of the roof.

As Jole reached the ledge where Ravenwood had previously stood, a black shape flew up out of the dark and raked its claws across his mask. Jole screamed, ducking back out of the way of the Raven, raising a hand to his face where his mask had been pulled off. He looked around, trying to find Ravenwood in the dark but seeing nothing. A noise behind him caused him to spin round, slashing his sword through the air. It hit nothing, and he was knocked over from behind as the raven flew once again. Jole rolled on the floor, his sword waving madly above him as he tried to hit the flying bird.

It came at him again, ducking away from his swipes and clawing at Joles unprotected face. The guard screamed out as the talons the sharpness of razors sliced his face. The bird moved away as Jole pulled his hands up over his face. He screamed and dropped his sword as Ravenwood swooped again and sliced his fingers holding the sword off with his beak.

Now that Jole was unprotected, Ravenwood flew in again and again without fear of being hit. He peeked at the man’s hands, blood pouring from the wounds. Finally Ravenwood flew away and came to land beside the Tescon who was watching the event quietly.

On the floor Jole struggled to a sitting position, using what was left of his hands to try to stem the flows of blood on his body. Ravenwood, rather than go straight for the throat, had gone for the main veins in Jole body. While the guard was still alive, he would quickly bleed to death. There was no help for him.

‘It had to be done,’ Tescon whispered. ‘He began to think, he had to say what he thought in order for me to suggest the challenge to you in order to get rid of him.’

Ravenwood nodded silently as Jole started to become too weak to hold his hands against his wounds and collapsed on his back.

Below them torchlights still sparkled, but far away a dark form was quickening towards them. It was like a giant cloud upon the land, no light could penetrate it and it was moving too fast towards the parties of Ravens on the ground for them to get out of the way. None of them saw it approaching or else they would have ran.

The great shape was upon the parties furthest away within minutes and blood curdling screams and cries shook the night. The cloud was full of tall, moving bodies, making their way through the parties of ravens and tearing them apart, occasionally breaking away and chasing after the ravens that shifted and took to the air. The ravens the cloud hadn’t yet reached called up warnings to Ravenwood and the Tescon and anyone else that could hear. High above on the rooftop the warnings reached them clearly.

‘-They’re here! Gháulds!’

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