When the World Falls to Darkness

A kingdom at war, a web of truth and lies, a vicious game of friendship and betrayal, and a world that will kill you, whatever path you take.
When the World Falls to Darkness, nobody is safe.
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Beautiful cover by River_Summers.

(I also promise much more frequent updates starting July, when exams are over. :D)

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10. Client

Occasionally, Quartz would wonder who he would be if not a killer. Now was one such time.

"Tell me, Quartz, are you thinking again?"

He turned to the Guardian, currently in her humanoid form.

"Yes," he replied. "I am."

He liked Ghost's company. It felt somehow secure - as though she was the only one who would ever keep his secrets safe. Not that he'd give them to her, of course, because Quartz had killed for secrets, and his were worth his weight in gold. Secrets could be used as puppet strings - and Quartz had utilised Ghost's as just that, tempting them from her with promises of friendship and slowly coiling his influence around her power - but more importantly, her mind. If he ever needed the help of a Guardian, he had a weapon fuelled with a fierce loyalty, built upon solid foundations of secrets and lies. The other Guardian masters had empty slaves, worn down by terror - Ghost was a far more valuable asset.

She spoke;

"What are you thinking about?"

He considered his answer briefly as the Guardian regarded him with slight interest, her eyes dancing in glowing hue of silver and grey. How her eyes could seem so alive, Quartz did not know, but they were certainly intriguing: oceans of pride, arrogance, caution, but beneath that was laced a fierce loyalty to him.

"Myself," he told her, after a while.

"You're an arrogant killer. Of course you are thinking of yourself. But what about yourself?"

"Who I would be if not an assassin." Allow her to see into his head, just a little. Present to her a fraction of his trust - enough to fuel her, and enough to leave her wanting more.

She pondered over the answer for a few moments, tilting her elegantly shaped head, as a stray strand of jet black hair fell over her face. Quartz examined her face as she thought, taking in the faint silvery tint to her skin, a feature common to all Guardians. Silvery grey was the colour of her dragon form, and so grey was the colour her skin was tinged with. Most saw grey to be a dull colour. Under usual circumstances, Quartz might have thought the same way. But in her case, it was anything but dull - more like the silver of a finely crafted dagger.

"You wouldn't be yourself, that's for sure," she mused. Nodding once, the assassin looked out to the night sky. Ghost was right, of course. He had no idea who he'd be if not for his ability to kill.

Looking out at the city before them, Quartz stood, unfurling his wings.

"Jarl told me to meet him at midnight," he said, by way of excusing himself. "When I need your help again, I'll find you."

Simply nodding, the Guardian stood beside him, turning to head away. He caught her wrist before she left, still feeling the coldness of her skin beneath his glove.

"Be careful. There's a hunting party going to the forest tomorrow, lead by Jarl. Either don't let them see you, or don't be there. If they know you're so close to their city, no doubt Jarl will send me out to catch you."

"Afraid you can't defeat me?"

"No." He released her wrist.

"Then what is it?" she asked, almost mockingly. "Afraid you'll lose your best client if he finds out you don't want to chase down a Guardian for him?"

I simply do not want to see my favourite weapon destroyed.

"Something like that," Quartz replied instead, walking away. The twitching of her lips, the beginnings of a smirk, had not gone unnoticed by the assassin as he opened up his wings and took to the night sky.

The Guardian watched him go.

 

 

Torches cast dim light on the stone walls of the castle keep, giving them a faint orange glow as Quartz swept through the corridor. Guards parted respectfully before him, bowing their heads in a mixture of fear and admiration. They always parted and bowed. Most believed that if they did not make way for him, or acknowledge him with respect, Quartz would slice through their throats and kill them in a single blow, whether he was a head shorter than them or not.

By now, he knew the way, and needed no guide to lead him through the stone hallways. The two guards standing watch over the doors to Jarl's throne room moved aside swiftly as they saw him approaching, ghostly wings tucked at his back, the lowest feathers only skimming the ground. Pathetic sentinels, he thought with distaste. Under such dim lighting, it was nearly impossible to tell the identity of an approaching figure. They saw only the posture with which Quartz walked, the unique way in which he held his wings.

Pausing before the oak doors, he lifted his head slightly. Neither of the guards could glimpse his true face, for his mask concealed his features and his hood cast a threatening shadow over the rest. They did not, fortunately for Quartz, need to see his face to know of his vocation. Both gulped and shuffled back nervously.

Bathing in their fear, Quartz opened his mouth, slow and deliberate words carried out on a voice that was both quiet and threatening.

"Does a sentinel need to protect his master? Does he need to ensure he keeps his master alive? I believe that he does. So why would you, of all people, lower your weapons before knowing truly who I might be? What might you do if I were not your master's assassin? What might you do if I were another angel, sent to kill him?"

No answer. Quartz had thought as much.

"Too afraid of one little assassin to answer him? I'll advise your lord to replace you."

A harsh decision, but Quartz couldn't afford to lose his best client due to the folly of two guards.

"Please-" One found his voice. He also found a dagger held to his throat, a gleaming silver weapon that had seemingly appeared in the assassin's hand. Swallowing, the Guard edged away a little, but Quartz had already re-sheathed the blade, so swiftly it had been impossible to follow.

"If you wish to duel with me, please wait until after my meeting. I wouldn't want to be late," the assassin told the angel coldly. Apparently, the guard had no reply to this, because he moved quickly, and bowed his head. Quartz threw open the oak doors, entering the throne room with confident strides.

 

 

The throne room was a place designed with no caution to cost. Most angel cities would posses a castle only half the size of the one Quartz was currently walking in; others would likely not be capable of boasting about their throne room after seeing Jarl's. The man had an evident taste for the colours crimson and royal blue: tapestries woven mainly of the colours was easily one of the most striking features of the room. Depicting battles, scenes of death and great power, the tapestries were perfect for a man with Jarl's military position.

Quartz still hated them, but over the years he'd come to tolerate them.

Fortunately, the rest of the room was better, though still too extravagant for his liking. Intricate carvings in the ceiling had been decorated with layers of gold leaf; gems were embedded into various carvings to catch the light beautifully. Jarl's throne, too, lacked no detail. Soft velvet cushioned the gold-plated throne, and none of the metal had been spared pattern.

Why a man would spend so much money simply to make his throne room so irritatingly exorbitant, Quartz did not know. It had sickened him the first time he'd seen it, and it sickened him still.

Jarl himself was no better: the man's attire consisted of the finest satins and silks, designed perfectly to fit him by the greatest tailors he could find. The man looked royal, Quartz couldn't deny it, though he was certainly irritating. And though the silk would never protect him from a knife, Jarl had been the one to train Quartz, and experience proved that anybody trying to assassinate Jarl would regret it deeply in the final, pathetic moments of their flickering life.

"We have a meeting," Quartz said, stopping before the throne. He didn't bother to bow to Jarl. Quartz bowed to none.

"Indeed we do, assassin," the earl agreed. "I presume you've killed your last target?"

"Of course. I take it you're not about to give me the information I need?"

Jarl's lips twisted into a serpent's grin. "Of course not, Quartz. I will supply it to you in due time." Quartz scowled, but said no more. Another secret - one that danced just out of reach within the folds of the unknown. Jarl had tempted him with it since the day he'd found Quartz, binding him with it from the safety of the shadows.

"Your money," Jarl said, tossing him a small pouch of gold coins, as per their agreement: Jarl could shape Quartz into his perfect dagger to use as he saw fit, and in return he would pay Quartz in gold and in secrets. Of course, Quartz's services were open to all those who offered a high enough reward - but none were so well-informed as Jarl.

"I've found you a new target from the dwarven realm."

"Another enemy your lesser pawns failed to defeat? The champion of an enemy you hope to triumph against?" Quartz asked. With Jarl, military targets were the only ones that mattered, considering his position in the angel army. An assassin was a useful tool for such a man. Quartz did not mind being a tool, so long as he was a tool that could do as he pleased.

"The latter. A dwarven army poses a threat, and one particular warrior by the name of Amaguk could be a problem for us. Your task is to kill Amaguk Saan. Is that clear?" Jarl asked, as his fingers, clad with golden rings, drummed against the throne impatiently.

"Of course," Quartz replied, a dangerous glint in his eyes. "Where might I find this Amaguk Saan?"

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