The assassin faced his superior, his eyes glinting.
"See? It's perfect!" he boasted. "They're strong enough to take on anything. Not even the royal guard could-"
"Would you be quiet?" his master snapped. "I understand your motivations, but if they turn against us, we will take serious damage. Do you understand the risk you've put us in?" Her eyes gleamed ruthlessly. Why did she have to hire such fools? The man's hideously dull, uninteresting appearance meant little to her, but his stupidity was something to be concerned for. Especially for a supposedly highly trained killer.
"Of course I understand! But we can use them! They're crazy, seriously, and they're so strong they could get us exactly what we want. We just have to please them."
Snorting disdainfully, the woman drew a knife. The metallic sound as she unsheathed it was melodic to her ears. The hint of fear, almost but not quite concealed within the assassin's dull green eyes, was almost as beautiful.
"If they turn against us," she warned, deadly serious, "then I will slice open your throat. Is that clear?"
"Perfectly clear," the assassin nodded. His eyes steeled over as he controlled the glint of fear. "But I'm telling you, they're going to be helpful. The boy described himself as a monster. You can't tame people, but you can tame monsters. They'll be useful, I promise."
"Very well," the woman sighed. "But remember: fail, and you'll die."
With that, she glided from the room, black robes trailing behind her, the assassin gulping in her wake.
Moonlight flooded the fields surrounding the Disan Memorial, and a sharp wind swept across the valley. Around them, mountains stood, black with night, like sentinels guarding the tower within their cluster. The sky was inky and cloudless, and the silvery sheen of the moon and stars was defined and eerily bright.
Then there was the tower itself: a tall, thin building of stone, plated with rare metals and encrusted with expensive gems. It stretched upwards as though it wanted to escape the chains of reality, like it wanted to reach the majestic silver of the moon and flee the dull normality of the surrounding valley. The names of the deceased were said to be engraved upon each strong stone block, though Axel found that doubtful, whatever the humans lulled themselves to believe. There would have been many with no surviving friends or relatives. Disan's inhabitants had not escaped easily; that was for sure.
The dead had been impossible to count, for more reasons than one.
The tower itself would never change Disan's fate, but the old land, at least, had a place in which it could be remembered. It was, in other words, a source of the painful memories that haunted them both.
"Come on," Axel muttered darkly. "Let's find the idiot."
He led them both through the fields, heading confidently towards the tower, his strides long and purposeful. The sooner they could finish here, the better.
As he walked, Axel took note of the flowers. People had been offered the chance to plant them here, so that the Disan Memorial would be forever surrounded by beauty, and the old realm could be remembered with fondness rather than sorrow. That, at least, was the idea, though Axel didn't quite see it that way. It only reminded him of the meadow in which he had played, before the shadows had taken him and destroyed all else.
That meadow had been tenfold more colourful.
They stopped outside the tower. The doors were still open for visitors. No doubt, they would remain so for another few years at least, but people were starting to move on. In time, the Disan Memorial would become simply another name to their foolish race; the names meaningless texts upon the stone.
Humans lost interest far too easily. It was just one of many weaknesses their kind possessed.
Axel gave the tower one last glance before proceeding through the doors. The guard's eyes flicked sleepily to the new visitors, though in the dim light of the flickering torches on the walls, she seemed not to notice their ghostly skin or silver eyes.
"Has another man come in here recently?" Axel asked, trying to imagine that he was speaking to Skala, rather than a meagre human.
"A few minutes ago," the Memorial's guard replied drowsily. "He went up the stairs, if you were looking for him."
Axel nodded in the most polite way possible, heading towards the base of the stairs. The Disan Memorial consisted entirely of a long, wide staircase that snaked all the way to the top of the tower - like an enlarged castle turret.
Stepping up onto the staircase, Axel shot a brief look back at the guard. Already, she seemed unfocused once more, not even remotely interested in the newest visitors. It had probably become second nature, to work in the place that reminded her of the world she had lost.
Once they were out of sight of the woman, Axel called out quietly, "I know you're there. You should never hide in the shadows from the monsters of the dark." He set his face into a blank, uncaring expression, turning to face the figure in the shadows.
"Of course," came the voice of the killer they had met last night. "But I wasn't hiding, I just decided to wait in the dark. The light from the torches is pretty dull, isn't it?"
"I suppose. Now... The job? Explain," Axel ordered him. The assassin grinned.
"You're quick to get to the point, aren't you? Well, since you at least showed up, I'll tell you my name. I'm Rubin," he grinned, outstretching his hand. Axel ignored it.
"Get on with it."
"Whatever," Rubin snorted. "We pay you a pouch of bronze coins a day for your services. You have to keep everything a secret or I get killed and you get hunted down by seriously powerful-"
"Being hunted amuses me," Axel said calmly. Already, he could see the shock in Rubin's expression.
"Really? You're strange. Anyway, you have to keep stuff secret, or we'll make you do boring things and other stuff you hate. I don't know. But you get paid a pouch of bronze coins-"
"Which you already said," Axel interrupted. Did the idiot really have to repeat everything?
Rubin raised an eyebrow.
"I don't care. Money's important. As I was saying, you just have to do whatever jobs you get told to do, like killing people or stealing some useless rubbish, or wrecking buildings. Sounds fun, right?" he grinned.
Axel considered it for a moment. "Only if it's a challenge," he replied, shrugging.
"Of course it is!" Rubin snorted incredulously. "Even I struggle sometimes, and I'm amazing at all of this stuff. So, you in?"
Did he have to repeatedly say 'stuff', as well? Besides, how could a human compare himself to he and Skala? They were nothing alike.
"Very well," Axel shrugged. "But if we want to leave, we're leaving. I don't care what anybody says. If we decide you're all too loathsome to deal with, or if the work is too easy, we leave. If we get bored, or we disagree with the rules, we leave. Understand?"
"Sure!" Rubin agreed. "Do you want your first job tonight, or tomorrow?"
"Tonight," Axel decided without so much as a second thought. "What do we do?"
"Usually, you'd prove yourself on some dull, stupid mission," the assassin said. "But I'm vouching for you, so I got you a first class quest. You feel up to it?"
"Of course I do," Axel said. Rubin's opinion of them was low, if he was questioning their abilities already.
"Great! You're starting off with assassination. There's some royal advisor guy who keeps annoying the boss. We've got to kill him, and then, after that, I'll show you to the place where you'll get given jobs and your money. Deal?"
"Very well," Axel nodded. "Now, the assassination. Tell us who to kill, and where they are. They'll be dead within the next hour."
Rubin shook his head. "Sorry, but I have to come as well. Boss' orders."
Axel scowled. "Your boss thinks too lowly of me, assassin."
"I already told you, call me Rubin. Not just assassin. That's boring. Besides, you're wrong. They're probably worried you're too powerful or something." And then, on a second thought, he nodded to Skala. "Does she ever speak?"
Axel's frown deepened. "Not to the likes of you. Now can we please just get on with it?"
The advisor walked through the city streets, turning his nose up at any passing underling. His bodyguard followed silently at his side, lulling the man into a sense of security. His security was false. A bodyguard could do little against the likes of Axel and Skala.
They turned into a narrow backstreet.
And also, his place of death.
Three figures, one hooded and another masked, walked towards them. They stopped as they crossed paths, and the advisor turned his nose up. Brats, he thought. Thinking they can simply get in my way.
"Deal with them."
His bodyguard stepped forwards, already drawing his sword. Calmly, the advisor stood back and watched. The commoners would be disposed of in no time.
The hooded figure moved ahead of the others, facing his bodyguard. The hood cast a shadow over his face, but no doubt the peasant was horribly detestable in both appearance and intelligence.
Then the figure raised his left arm, and suddenly there was something dark and seemingly alive within his hand, and then there was a cry, and blood, and his bodyguard was falling.
The advisor gasped, gripped tightly within the fist of fear.
"Greetings," said the figure with an almost casual deadliness to his voice. "We're here to kill you."