The Ecrid storms in the sky above made it impossible to tell what time it was- but one thing Deadrick did know was that the journey through the mountains had taken quite a lot out of everyone- so he stopped as they came upon a ridge which overlooked the Flats.
“My god…” Danyel said, as he gazed over the landscape in front of him.
The Flats were worse than Deadrick could have ever imagined. It was hell come to life.
For further than the eye could see, blackened land- devoid of any life, rolled on like a desert. Fissures of Ecrid, some as tall as church spires, erupted- sending acrid smoke into the air that seemed to infect the lungs.
The only movement Deadrick saw on the Flats was a slow moving group of Witches- they were barely specks on the ground from his vantage point.
“Right on the other side of that hell-hole is the Citadel,” Deadrick said, “If we could get across it we’d be there within a day… but, since that isn’t going to happen, we’re going to have to go round,”
“That’ll take days,” Nerui said quietly.
“Most certainly,” Deadrick told them, “But it takes a lot of time and energy to summon a greater Demon… the Unholy will have almost finished the process over the time we’ve been traveling… but if we move fast, we can make it before the summoning is complete,”
They stayed silent for a moment, gazing out across the Flats.
“Well,” Bruad said, breaking the trance, “We wont get very far without rest… can we spare a few hours here?”
“I’ll scout forwards… look for the road,”
If Danyel or Bruad hadn’t been so tired, they would have asked why Deadrick didn’t feel the overwhelming urge to close his eyes too, but they simply nodded, and sat down.
Nerui looked at him with an odd glint in her eye, before dropping to the floor.
“Stay vigilant, though. The Unholy may be using the Flats for travel, but they may drift onto the road looking for food in the outposts,”
Nerui gave him a short okay, which was mixed in with a yawn.
Deadrick lit a small fire in the middle of them, then wandered away.
He walked for about an hour, soon coming across the road that surrounded the Flats, connecting the towns and outposts together- the road that would eventually lead to Juhra.
It wasn’t particularly well constructed- just rough, mixed stones cobbled together, trampled down into the mud over years of use.
Deadrick sat down at the side of it, near the edge of a cliff that marked the start of the Flats.
He was ready for the clawed hand that reached out for him from behind.
He swiveled quickly, gripping his attackers hand, and putting his weight on his foot. Pushing up, he dived into the air, his other arm wrapped around the assailant’s stomach.
They flew through the air, and slammed into the ground, Deadrick on top of the cloaked figure. He landed one punch before the attacker swung a powerful fist into the side of Deadrick’s head when his guard dropped.
Deadrick rolled off him, barely registering the long, black blade that the assassin removed from its cloak.
Deadrick couldn’t move fast enough, and the assassin dived onto him, planting the dagger deep into Deadrick’s shoulder, the sharp point easily piercing through his coat.
Deadrick yelled out.
The cry became a growl, and ignoring the pain, he freed one hand; swinging it at the assassin- but the assassin shifted before the blow could connect with its head. Instead, it glanced its throat.
It fell back, a hideous gurgling sound coming from within its hood.
Deadrick took a chance. Ripping the blade from his shoulder, he threw it aside and reached down, picking the surprisingly light assassin up.
Not allowing it any chance to move, Deadrick gripped him tight, and tore the hood from its head.
He soon wished he hadn’t.
The assassin was a man- but only just. His head was a pale, milky white, with a few long, black-as-night strands of matted hair bursting out occasionally from his scarred scalp.
His face was contorted and inhuman. His lips were thin and black, inside his mouth, he had both normal and abnormally sharp teeth. His tongue was long, forked and stained black.
He had a round, glass plate covering one of his eyes- through it, Deadrick could see a miniature storm of Ecrid, Mana, and even a few other types where his eye should be.
His other eye- blinking, and erratic, was bloodshot, pupil just a thin, yellow slit.
One of the most prominent features, however, was on his forehead. It was like someone had cut a pattern the papery skin with some sort of jagged knife, and then filled the wound with red paint.
Deadrick’s eyes went wide when he realized what the mark was.
Taking advantage of Deadrick’s shock, the assassin swung his lower body, trapping Deadrick’s hips inside his legs with a pincer grip.
Deadrick cried out angrily as his legs went from under him, sending them barreling over each other.
They slammed into the ground, with Deadrick taking the brunt of the landing. The assassin didn’t hesitate to jump to his feet, pulling the hood over his head and bolting forward.
Deadrick got to his feet, only to see the assassin dive over the edge of the cliff, the tail of his cloak fluttering for a second, then disappearing.
Deadrick ran to the edge and looked over, to the ground below.
He didn’t know what he expected to find, but he wasn’t surprised to see that there was no trace of the assassin.
He dusted himself off and adjusted his coat, looking at the tear in the fabric just above his heart. The skin had healed completely, leaving just a fain smudge of blood below where the knife had pierced through him.
He found his hat, and it was only when it found his head that a thought came to him, a thought that made his blood run cold.
He’d managed to fend the attacker off- but what if Nerui, Bruad and Danyel hadn’t been so lucky?