The Mask of Night

Ismail. Farrow. Laila. Kaelan. Four people. Four tales. Before we are done, their stories will be irrevocably twisted together. Ismail is a secretive mage, hailing from the far reaches of the North. Though a formidable fighter, when the bodies pile up and the only enemy left is himself, the truth must emerge. Farrow, a talented demon hunter trying to piece together the fragments of his past, finds himself the centre of a manhunt. Laila, the thirteen year old firstborn heir to the Emperor's throne, must flee from a deadly conspiracy. And Kaelan. A ranger of some skill, he grows tired of his life among the forest. When the Forest Druids decide to help the Northern rebels, Kaelan joins them, and events rapidly spiral out of his control...

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6. Under New Management

Farrow hit the ground running, his feet thudding against the rough mountain track with a steady rhythm. He tore away from his followers easily, his inhuman parentage proving itself despite the gruelling terrain. Adrenalin pumped through his system, fuelled by the angry shouts of the running men behind him.

 

Several leagues away, he stopped by a stream, swearing furiously. This was supposed to be an uneventful stop; he needed rest if he was taking on a vampire tomorrow. As it was, it was almost midnight and he hadn't slept at all. Though his mother’s elven strength meant he could go for days without sleep, he would need to be on top form to face a vampire - they were at least as fast and strong as elves, if not more so.

 

He paused to take a drink at the stream and looked around as he did so. This riverbank wasn't a bad place to camp - sheltered, trees for cover, and running water was a deterrent for more... unnatural predators. But he couldn't stop now, he might as well cover a few more leagues else he'd wake up to the pointed swords of the mayor. He’d caused quite a disturbance last night, and it seemed the local townsfolk didn't take kindly to elves beating up people in their taverns.

 

He splashed the cool, clear water over his face and cursed the young man for his stupidity. He had paid with a broken nose, a concussion and several teeth, but had obviously gotten what he wanted – Farrow out of the bar.

 

He stood up and made to pick up his pack but then he realised. His pack. He had left it at the tavern. Realising what he had done, he screamed in frustration, letting his anger roll in waves, bouncing off the peaks of the horizon.

 

“Looking for something?” A familiar, rough voice sounded behind him and Farrow spun around instantly. Bjorn stood behind him, pack in hand. Suddenly Farrow realised what he was.
“You’re a mage.”
“Aye lad.”
“Why didn’t I realise before?”
"You noticed the anti-magics in the tavern? The garlic, the salt, the iron and suchlike? It blocks magic both ways. It means that magical beings, fey and demons and what have you can't get in, but they also blocks my magic from the view of others."

 

Farrow grimaced; it was hardly a new trick, but he'd fallen for it nonetheless. Bjorn held out Farrow's pack, offering it to him.
"It was damaged a little in the stampede to chase you out, but it should still work alright."

 

The pack's frame had snapped along one corner, the white ash poking through the flaps of dark fabric. It might be salvageable, but would need immediate fixing - if he attempted to run any distance with it, it would most likely collapse.

 

He straightened it out, carefully removing it's contents; if any of them snagged the fabric, it would tear and lose it's protective qualities. As he emptied the bag, he counted out and catalogued the objects inside.

 

"Everything's there, lad. Don't you trust me?"

"No, it's not that... Oh, wait, it is that. I don't trust you. You were all ready to sell me out back there, I'm lucky I'm not dead already."

 

"Lucky you ain't got silver blood then?" teased the huge barman, a wicked smile on his face.

"Of course I don't have silver blood!" exploded Farrow, "No one does! That test was the biggest bunch of crap I've ever seen, and I once watched a man nearly kill himself to determine whether or not I was elf."

"But you're ain't are you? And you aren't human either, not with those eyes. Fey maybe? But no fey could stand all that iron."

 

"Oh, I bet you'd like to know. But now you're just going to have to bugger back off to your little village. I've got a vampire to catch."

"On your own, lad? With no sleep? Face it, laddie. You need help."

 

"Oh, and I suppose a barman would be a real help?"

"I'm no barman, lad. And I've been waiting for you for a while."

Farrow stopped dead in his tracks, his face grew wary.

"The Order."

"Aye."

"I already told those bastards I'd left. That they could shove it with their poncy little rulebooks and whatever. And I don't want them chasing after me."

"Oh, I heard. How many guards did you end up killin'? Six?"

Farrow scowled, kicking the ground with his heel. "Seven.”

 

"Oh, aye. You've attracted quite a crowd, lad. And believe you me, some of them ain't half as pretty as me."

"Yeah, right. I've barely been seen in the last six months."

"But your efforts have. A rogue demon hunter? All on his own with no support? That'll keep people on their toes. That's a force to be reckoned with."

Farrow had little patience, and was hurting from the running he'd been doing.

"Get to your bloody point. What do you want?"

 

"For you to keep doing what you are doing. And do it well. You see, you might not realise it, but you are the newest interest in the public’s eyes. All anyone’s talking about is where you’ll be next, and who you’ll kill. We want you to distract the nobles. Go bigger, take more risks. And all the while, we’ll be behind the scenes. Waiting for our perfect moment.”

 

“What changed? When I left, the Order was doing nothing but sitting on their asses all day, moaning about the good old days.”

Bjorn smiled, a razor sharp smile hiding a thousand possible thoughts.

“We’re under new management.”

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