The Shattered Hope
The front door of the inn was closed, which seemed very odd considering the time of the day. The late afternoon hours were usually busy despite the supplies becoming harder and harder to obtain and the prices increasing at a rate never seen before. But still, the good merchants and craftsmen of the town had to have something to eat in order to keep their businesses going, and many of them preferred Gerrick's inn, known for its fair prices during these troubled times. A locked front door made absolutely no sense. Merwyn walked around the corner to try out the side door, which she had used in the morning with Drevin, and found it open. Hearing muffled noise coming from the main room, she approached the doorway, hoping to find a rational reason why the inn was closed. And as she saw her father tied to one of the chairs, face swollen and bruised from the pounding he had received, a pair of strong arms appeared seemingly from nowhere, wrapped around her and locked her in place. Panic struck her, paralyzing her momentarily in place. She knew that evil men had killed Drevin's wife to catch him, but she never thought they could do something like this in the middle of the town. The feeling of safety inside the inn vanished like ashes in the breeze.
There were two grim looking assassins in the room and six Grey Cloaks to assist them. Morhan was sitting in the back, leaning against the wall and watching as Terrigan worked on Gerrick, most likely trying to make him reveal Drevin's location. Apparently, the brigands continued helping Morhan and Terrigan even after their leader was dead. Perhaps they had not heard about it yet, or they were simply too scared to deny their assistance. Either way, these assassins were still enjoying strong support in Lokhan.
The tall, ratfaced killer turned to Merwyn, smiling widely at her as the fierce looking hunk of a man dragged her from the kitchen. ”And this must be your daughter, Gerrick, or am I mistaken?”
The old innkeeper said nothing, but desperate fear flashed in his turbid, swollen eyes when he saw the girl, revealing the truth instantly.
”This will give us a whole new way to progress with our task,” Terrigan continued, still smiling. Then, with a quick gesture of his finger, he ordered one of the brigands to drag Merwyn further in and force her to sit on a chair.
”Now, old man, I will tell you what is going to happen,” Terrigan whispered to the innkeeper's ear. ”You will tell me the exact location where Drevin Dagorian is hiding, and if you choose to continue resisting—” he paused for a second, long enough to move over to Merwyn, pulled out a dagger from beneath his cloak and slid it inside the girl's neckline. Her tunic and the shirt underneath fell off like a curtain of a play as the blade cut through the cloth, revealing her perky, pale breasts for all of them to see. Approving chuckles rose from the crowd as she just stood there, gasping for air in sudden embarrassment.
”If you continue resisting,” he repeated, ”I will allow each one of these men to take her as many times as they wish, and once they all have splattered their semen inside of her, she will be beaten until she doesn't breathe anymore,” he explained with a calm, cold voice. ”And you know what is the best part of all this?” he asked with a morbid grin on his face. ”The best part is that you will get to witness all this, and once we begin, there will be no stopping. Now, I ask you to consider your options carefully, old man, but don't waste too much time on it.”
”Tell him nothing,” Merwyn hissed, and cried loudly as the man nearby slapped her in the face so hard that her lip ruptured. A single droplet of blood fell on her left breast, drawing a vertical crimson line across her bare nipple that had hardened pervertedly in the cold.
”No, please,” Gerrick spoke hastily, ”I will tell you. Please, don't touch my daughter!”
Terrigan laughed coldly. ”Words of wisdom, old man.”
”Don't do it!” Merwyn cried again, and received another ruthless hit, this time given with a fist. Feeling excruciating pain in her jaw, she realized one of her teeth had come loose. She spat it out quietly as the tears of pain flooded down on her cheeks where they mixed together with blood.
Gerrick looked at his daughter and shook his head incredulously, barely believing the bravery she showed in a situation like this - but he knew he had to talk. There was no other way out of this madness.
* * *
As soon as Gerrick had finished with his description of the route leading up to the foothills, Morhan stood up silently, checked his weapons quickly, and walked out.
”Go with him,” Terrigan ordered, pointing at two brigands who followed the order without questions, although they were sullen for having to miss the rest of the show at the inn.
Morhan was wearing a thick, dark red traveling cloak on top of his armor to protect himself from the cold. The land would receive the first snow any day now, marking the beginning of a long winter. Terrigan was being a little rushy because of this fact; Morhan, on the other hand, did not care, for he enjoyed the hunt in any environment. Winter conditions surely added its own distinct flavor to it, and more challenge, but Morhan did not see that as a downside - slightly different at most.
The brigands had trouble keeping up with Morhan's pace, which was another indication of them being nothing more than amateurs trying to create fierce reputation. When they were not sneaking around in dark clothes, pretending to be a part of a secret order, they most likely enjoyed the best quality food and wine at their comfortable family homesteads. Some of them had abandoned the order as soon as the word of Elmor's death had reached their ears, but the others did not share the same luxury of choice as Terrigan had no interest toward whether they had a leader or not. He was now their master, and while the assassins of Purple Lotus remained in the city, the remnants of the Grey Cloaks were given the option to either help or die - for most of them the choice had been easy.
Anxious to sink his blades into enemy's flesh, Morhan had no mercy for his staggering assistants as he rushed through the streets. The gatekeeper glanced strangely at the peculiar party, but instead of bothering to ask questions, he remained inside of his booth, which was comfortably warmed by a small stove.
There was a particular reason for Morhan's anxiety, for he had been the one introducing Drevin to Grimnir and acting as his referee when he began his career as a potential canditate for membership. Morhan and Drevin were very much alike, both silent, extremely focused on the task at hand, not to mention their deadly skill with weapons. Morhan had found Drevin when he was nothing but a clever pickpocket in the crowded streets of Ashagor, but his fingers had not been nimble enough to fool the assassin. However, instead of punishing the young thief, Morhan had rewarded his effort with a deal. Running some useful errands had quickly raised Drevin from a pickpocket to a prospect, for his skill was undeniable. Morhan provided him the basic training before taking him to Iskadron, the administrative capital of the Purple Lotus. At the time Drevin had felt it was the best thing that had ever happened to him, but when he met Belith many years later, he quickly realized how dangerous and unstable the road he was walking truly was.
Now Morhan wanted to see him dead. He wanted to hurt Drevin in every possible way to make sure he understood the cost of his betrayal. Belith was already dead, now his closest friends would be dead, and not too far down the road, Drevin would be facing the same fate. But before killing his former protege, Morhan wanted to explain him in great detail all the consequences his actions had caused, relish upon the desperate misery he would wallow in as a result. That, alongside with the traitor's death, would be the proper reward for him.
It was far past noon before they reached the foothills of the White Mountains. The light drizzle had turned to a heavily drumming rain that created quickly spreading puddles everywhere on the craggy ground. After about an hour of searching, Morhan found the light trail leading up to the cottage. His brigand assistants were breathing heavily, swearing as they did their best to keep up with the assassin's pace. But finally, Morhan's patience ran out and he halted his steps, turning to face the soaked men.
”If I hear one more word or any other noise from your general direction, I will skin you both and leave you to rot in here until bears find your stinking carcasses.” The grim promise showed no humor behind it, and the brigands had no reason to doubt his words. They did not speak, but their eyes expressed clearly that both of them had heard and understood. Without saying another word, Morhan turned back and continued sneaking silently up the trail. The brigands fell a little further behind, trying to make sure there would not be a single sound that could give them away.
Morhan smiled coldly as he saw the small building in the middle of the rowan bushes. There was no light in the window, but a small, barely visible wreath of smoke that crawled out of the funnel revealed that someone was definitely dwelling in there. Waving his hand in the air, Morhan signaled the brigands to come closer. He needed to give them instructions to get them both into proper positions. Drevin was wounded, but Morhan was not fooled by such weakness, he knew exactly how fast his prey could disappear if he was given the chance.
* * *
Something was not right. Drevin could not quite put his finger on it, but over the years he had learned to trust on his most primal and sophisticated instincts as they had saved his life over and over again, and there was no reason to ignore them now when a shadowy glimpse, or a gust of mysterious wind could mean death. With a terrible grimace on his face, Drevin forced himself out of the bed. The wounds were sore and any movement sent sharp spikes of pain shooting through his chest and shoulder. Struggling with every piece, he equipped his armor and weapons as fast as it was possible. There was no telling how much time he had, for all he had so far was a creeping hunch, but as soon as he was on his feet, he received confirmation for his vague feeling. The brigands in the front yard were doing their best to stay hidden behind the rowans, but Drevin had no problems spotting them despite the cold mist that had crawled up from the ponds and streams of the vale below. Wondering what had happened, he moved silently toward the back door, thinking about sneaking out before the stalking men would come rushing in. Had Merwyn betrayed him in her sudden rage? It seemed unlikely, which left a whole wide selection of less comfortable options. Whatever was going on in the city, he wished both Merwyn and Gerrick were unharmed.
Right before he pushed the back door open, Drevin halted suddenly and smiled cunningly. He remembered this familiar tactic from his days in the South, when he was still working closely with Morhan. One of his favorite maneuvers was to send less capable men approaching the target from the front, while he sneaked in the back, and waited for the most natural reaction of the prey. Using this method lowered the escape chances down to minimum, but if the plan was revealed beforehand, there were some options to pick from. Instead of opening the back door at all, Drevin moved back to the front in order to leap away through the small porch before his former mentor could reach the back door. He could not know if the men outside were carrying bows or not, so he would need to get out of plain sight instantly.
Taking a deep breath, which made his sides hurt under the bandages, Drevin prepared for action without the slightest clue how well he could perform in his current condition. Nothing happened at first as he wrenched the door open and charged through the porch, heading for the thickets where he would be out of sight. But once the surprised brigands recovered from Drevin's completely unpredictable move, they rushed after him, yelling loudly to alarm Morhan about the lapse of their trap.
It became evident that Drevin had to silence those screaming fools or they would keep Morhan on his tails for as long as they were able to follow him. Picking two throwing knives from the sheaths hidden beneath his cloak, Drevin ran a small circle through the thickets and faced the confused brigands who never expected such a straightforward encounter. Without bothering to throw the knives as he was almost face to face with his followers, he leaped forward, thrusting the knives through their throats with one smooth move, which effectively cut off all the yelling.
Morhan smiled to himself as he ran through the bushes, following the noises coming from ahead. Knowing exactly what the sudden silence meant, he congratulated Drevin quietly for his successful escape from the cottage, but he was not safe yet.
Running as fast as he could with his increasingly aching injuries, Drevin tried to find a place where he could hide, any place that could help him to lose the tracks and bring his chaser to a dead end. He knew he was not strong enough to face Morhan yet. That showdown would have to wait a little longer. Drevin was concerned about himself, for he was already struggling on the verge of his strength, but at the same time, he was equally, if not more worried about his friends at town. A matter that pushed him forward no matter how poorly he felt. Terrigan had not shown up by the cottage, which was clearly stating that he was still in Lokhan, probably holding Merwyn and Gerrick as hostage in case Morhan's attempt would fail. They knew Drevin would not leave either one of them to die on their own. That was not him anymore, not an assassin, but a desperate man trying to settle down and live his life outside of the Purple Lotus. But as it seemed, there was nowhere to run before both Terrigan and Morhan would be dead, and that was not the easiest task to perform.
He could not hear anything, but he knew Morhan was not far behind. Heading toward the high peaks in front of him, Drevin was looking everywhere for a good place to hide, and as the rowan thickets were getting thinner, his despair deepened even further as the plain rocks could not help him.
Then he saw water in the middle of the bushes, a pond that was partially hidden away. Dead leaves and twigs floated upon the still water, almost covering the darkly reflective surface beneath them. It did not seem overly deep, but it gave Drevin an idea he was going to try as he was truly running out of options. Outrunning his opponent was not a plausible achievement in this game of life and death.
Quickly glancing back to make sure Morhan could not see him yet, he waded into the shallow water and lay down, leaving only his eyes and nose above the surface. The rest of his body submerged underneath the freezing cold veil. It felt like thousands of needles were punched all over his body at once, but he gritted and remained still. Watching the small ripples all around him as the rain continued to drum against the water, he saw Morhan's figure approaching from the silvery mist, and this time even the experienced assassin was misled by the weather. Unable to interpret the tracks properly, he continued walking toward the steepening hills and never saw his prey lying silently in the muddy pond.
After a few minutes of waiting, Drevin climbed up from the water, but it was not easy. The freezing water had already stiffen his body, turning every muscle nearly useless. But with fierce determination, he pulled himself out and stood up, shivering like a leaf of an aspen tree . He did not have much time before Morhan would realize his mistake and turn around. Drevin headed for the mountains, but as a well considered precausion, he walked east a couple of miles to make sure he would not run into the enemy while climbing the rocky slopes. He needed to find a place where he could make a fire fast or he would freeze to death. Winter was coming, and the weather was not going to turn any milder before next spring, so time was a crucial factor for his survival.
* * *
As soon as Morhan had left the inn with two brigands right behind him, Terrigan turned back to Gerrick, who was hopeful for them to finally release him and his daughter, and then leaving as there apparently was no reason for them to stay. But he was not aware of Terrigan's true nature at all. Letting someone go had never been high on his priorities, and he was not going to make an exception this time either. It added to his reputation, or at least he wanted to think it did.
”I promised that you would not have to watch as these gentlemen enjoy your daughter's flesh, did I not?” he asked from the bruised innkeeper, who nodded carefully.
”Well then,” he said with an empty chuckle that promised nothing good, ”I am going to be a man of my word, naturally.” And while still speaking the last words, he used the dagger he already had in his hand, and thrust it through the man's throat, pointing the blade downward to cause additional damage to his major arteries. Blood jetted out from the wound rhythmically, following his fading pulse as his eyes slowly glazed. Merwyn watched, unable to cry - or to produce any sort of sound for that matter. She was in utter shock from the sudden events.
After a moment of stertorous breathing, which soon ended into a long gurgling sigh, Gerrick's head drooped against his chest as he passed away. Mesmerized by the brutal, grotesque beauty, Terrigan considered these acts of violence as some kind of creative artwork, and he was constantly developing new ways to make more dramatic death scenes with his victims.
Once the girl had a little time to adjust to the situation, the floodgates were torn open, and she cried hysterically, unable to look at the still figure of her dead father. She had her eyes closed tightly with a rapid flood of tears running down on her face.
”And now,” Terrigan said with a cold voice, which indicated that his interest in this matter had already faded, and all he really wanted was to get out and have a mug of good beer instead of the piss they called mead in these lands.
”You can have the girl,” he said to the four Grey Cloaks still standing and waiting for further instructions. ”But please, remember to kill her after you've finished with her. I don't want her running around sending any word to Drevin in case he slips out again. I just don't have as much confidence in Morhan as he apparently has for himself.”
The brigands grinned widely, nodding at Terrigan in excitement to get their hands on the girl. As the ratfaced assassin left the inn through the side door, the brigands began to drag the moaning and crying young girl over to a table. There they threw her skirt up and tore down the panths, exposing her sweet curves to everyone. The first men were already untying their pants in the rush of lust, and there was nothing that could prevent these men from raping her over and over again before death would release her from the intolerable pain and shame.
”No!” she begged, desperately shaking her head. ”Please, don't do this! Please, don't!” But her supplications echoed to deaf ears as the dirty hands already groped her breasts and pawed her bare crotch.