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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13. Murder

A name, a place: Quartz needed nothing else. Amaguk Saan was as good as dead.

For the last hour or so, Quartz had been trailing the travelling party of dwarves. A champion, Jarl had told him: his target would likely be walking with confidence and bold arrogance. Usually, champions were riding the finest mounts - sometimes with enslaved Guardians as their creature of choice. This army, however, appeared to have no Guardians - at least not in their legendary form. But no matter - Quartz had other methods of acquiring knowledge of Amaguk Saan's position.

He followed silently as they stopped for the night. Their party was alive with voices and movement, as commanders barked orders and subordinates obeyed like thoughtless sheep. The perfect time to strike.

Quartz slid down the mountainside, darting behind trees and concealing himself with both skill and speed. A smirk danced on his lips as he thought of the gold awaiting him. Jarl wasn't one to disappoint: Quartz received nothing but satisfactory pay from the man.

Silently, Quartz took to the branches of a tree, waiting for a few moments as he glanced about, looking at the dwarves ahead of him. Soon, one would be unfortunate enough to wander closer to the edge of the makeshift camp. Until then, Quartz could only wait patiently.

A young dwarf passed closer to the outskirts, hidden perfectly from the others by a large, newly constructed tent. The perfect victim.

Within the space of two seconds, Quartz had darted from his perch on the tree, and was behind the dwarf, a blade to his throat. The fool opened his mouth to scream, but Quartz clamped a gloved hand over his mouth. It was an action that disgusted him: having his hand so near such a gruesome creature's mouth was undoubtedly repulsing, but he supposed it was part of the job.

"The champion: Amaguk Saan. Where is he? Before I take my hand away, I'll give you a few seconds to consider how much you like breathing. If you scream, I'll kill you. And they won't catch me, anyway. So I suggest you tell me quietly," Quartz hissed. Swallowing, the dwarf trembled violently as Quartz removed his hand.

"He's... He's in the centre," the dwarf managed.

"Where in the centre?" Quartz growled, carefully breaking the skin at the dwarf's neck. A bead of crimson blood appeared, and the soldier gulped again.

"His tent is always left to the commander's tent. The commander's is the only red one!" explained the soldier quickly. Quartz briefly considered wounding the dwarf's leg and giving him a chance to scream, causing a distraction, but quickly dismissed the idea. The champion - Amaguk - would likely come as well, and then Quartz might not be able to identify his target, and then the guard would be doubled.

Slicing easily through the soldier's throat and cutting through his vocal chord, Quartz left the body lying there. Obscured by view, it would most probably take another of the dwarves at least five minutes to find the corpse.

By then, the champion would be dead as well.

Quartz opened his wings, poising himself for taking off. A shadow and a rush of air as the assassin passed above: the soldiers would feel little else, and by then, Quartz would have passed overhead. With a powerful beat of his wings, Quartz launched himself up, silently amused at the ease at which he could simply find his way into the camp. Flying low across the tents, the assassin quickly spotted the roof of a red tent among the sea of dull-coloured shelters. It had been decorated finely with gold, to show the superiority of the leader within. Apparently, the man was so cocky as to think that nobody could ever penetrate the waves of tents around it.

The dwarven leader wasn't Quartz's target, but he would still take pleasure in proving the man wrong.

Quickly spotting the slightly larger tent to the left of the red one, Quartz dived down, twisting his wings skilfully and darting into a gap between the tents so swiftly it was almost impossible to see the blur.

He lingered in the shadows, catching the sound of two voices from behind the walls of the tent.

"-and damn it, Amaguk, you almost died last week!" A female voice, gravelly and layered with desperate fury.

"Don't worry, little sister. You're almost as strong as I am - you can protect yourself." Amaguk, then - his voice deep, brimming with affection and the undaunted acceptance of death. Perhaps Quartz had found himself an entertaining match despite the camp's pathetic security.

"I know I can protect myself, Amaguk - but this isn't about me! I can't... Don't leave me alone again, damn it! I was so scared, when I watched that last fight, you know that?" The she-dwarf was pouring all of her helpless fear and anger into every word. Quartz folded every word into the vault of knowledge within his mind. If she proved a worthy opponent in the future, her brother was undoubtedly her weak spot - and mention of him would certainly throw her into a storm of fury, when Quartz was finished here.

"Then I'll make you a promise, sister. I will grow stronger, and so will you. And then the both of us will make it, together, to the victory in this war, and I will not have to leave you. Deal?"

A moment of heavy silence.

"Deal."

Quartz sneered. Family - that insufferably warm haven to which you could crawl. But Quartz's had been torn from him long ago - and he didn't need a haven, not really. Why cower within the folds of comfort when the icy winds of hatred could carry you so far? The desire for revenge had been Quartz's driving force for too long. He simply needed the information from Jarl, and then he could find the miserable cowards who had slaughtered his family, and he could kill them all, one by one.

"Vixen, do you mind checking that all's okay with the Guardians?" Amaguk asked, and Quartz waited for her to mumble in agreement and leave the tent before slipping from the shadows and into the tent.

The moment he entered, Quartz scanned the tent for the dwarven champion he'd been sent to kill. His eyes immediately found the target: a tall, broad shouldered man who looked almost too young to be such a renowned warrior. Well, Quartz couldn't exactly talk about age defining a person's skill - he was likely the youngest assassin of his skill level. If there was another, Quartz would be intrigued to know of them. The information could come in handy if there were to be a rivalry between the two.

Amaguk Saan was faced the other way, sharpening a blade and dressed in armour. Silently, Quartz unsheathed a blade, moving towards the target with practised stealth. The warrior would be dead and Quartz could claim his reward.

Simple.

Darting forwards, Quartz only just managed to dodge the blow as the champion whirled around, swinging the sword with speed equal to his own. Well, he supposed, he was fighting a champion.

"Assassin, I have some advice for you. When you're sneaking up on somebody like the sly little coward you are, make sure they're not holding something that can reflect your movement," the warrior laughed heartily. So, he was one of these infuriatingly positive men.

That would make him all the more fun to kill.

Ducking under another sword strike, Quartz lunged with the blade, but Amaguk managed to deflect the blow, wielding his sword with an intimidating skill.

"Impressive!" the champion laughed in a manner that was almost joyful. "The weasel can fight when he can't just stab a man in the back!"

Charging forwards, the dwarf sliced at Quartz, his blade narrowly missing the assassin as he pushed forwards, again and again.

"You're better than I thought! Most of your kind don't last two seconds when they have to actually fight like a true man," the champion added.

"Equally, I compliment you. Most of my targets seem to die quite easily," Quartz replied calmly, darting nimbly aside another slash of the champion's blade. Most opponents made mistakes early on, from a split-second in their judge of timing to falling to a false strike: the champion seemed to be a man of much greater standards. But every enemy made at least a single mistake. By now, Quartz had discovered just how to take advantage of the very first one.

Attacking again, Quartz pulled a dagger from its sheath, flicking it at the champion's chest. Somehow, he twisted his body to evade the knife while deflecting the blow. No matter - Quartz wouldn't allow himself to make a single mistake before the champion. The assassin's eyes flicked briefly across the tent, and he saw quickly a particularly uneven section of the ground. Blocking a strike, Quartz shifted sideways, ensuring his own steps were even. He'd already memorised where the uneven ground was.

Allowing the champion to push him back, Quartz opened up his wings, easily lifting himself over the ground, and twisting his blade slightly to provide an opening for the dwarven warrior. Taking the chance, Amaguk lunged forwards, but Quartz was already twisting his arm, fully prepared for the slight stumble as the champion's foot caught the mound of earth.

It was over in a second.

The champion's bellow of pain echoed through the air as Quartz sunk his sword through his enemy's chest, already wrenching the cold metal blade from the fatally wounded dwarf to block the dying blow. A desperate attempt, but Quartz wasn't going to let a mere dwarf end him.

Stepping back, Quartz paused, examining his target as he collapsed, spluttering blood over the polished chestplate. That had taken longer than expected, but Quartz supposed it was of little consequence.

"And I might have had some advice for you," Quartz said mockingly. "If you weren't a bloodied fool lying at the feet of a so-called weasel. Well, it looks like the coward defeated-"

"Amaguk!" The anguished scream echoed through his ears as the champion's sister rushed through the flap to the champion's tent. "No, no! You can't!" She ran to the warrior, and clasped his wrist. "You promised me!" she screamed, oblivious to Quartz as he darted from the tent, leaving them to their tearful farewells. The man was a champion - he should be prepared for death.

It was an occupational hazard, after all.

The second he left the tent, Quartz opened his wings, shooting back into the sky before any of the surrounding dwarves could engage in combat. He could take them, but Ghost would be waiting for him and she would almost certainly mock him if he were to be late.

Easily evading their arrows, Quartz sped into the distance, a fading fleck in the darkening sky.

And completely oblivious to the dwarf girl as she clasped her brother's corpse to her body, screaming and wailing and sobbing and pleading for him to come back. Oblivious to the enraged desperation for vengeance, to the girl's cries as she curled her fingers around the blade and vowed to avenge her brother.

Oblivious, as she vowed to kill the assassin who had torn apart her world.

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