10. The ShowdownMature


The Showdown

The time Drevin had to spend in the cold and humid sewers was far from pleasant, for he had to remain quiet, out of sight, and constantly alert for his enemy, who could appear at any time. The long minutes turned into hours that crawled on at an agonizing pace before turning dull and meaningless. Nothing but an infinite line of moments, identical with each other, trudging along like a snail escaping the sunlight. He was lurking close to the actual underground settlement, but still far enough to be sure he was invisible to anyone who approached the place from either the entrance or the ruined Castle Grivold.

The rats made a rustle in the dark as they continued to look for food to survive through the harsh winter. The constant roar of water rang in Drevin's ears as he munched on some bread before lying down on the cold stone. It was very unlikely to see Morhan returning after twilight, which gave him a few hours to rest before he would have to continue his persistent watch. But just as he was about to spread his thick cloak on the ground to provide a little comfort, he felt something different - a presence that had not been there before. The shadows came alive as his weary eyes focused to see through the blinding darkness, his assassin's instincts were fully aware of the slight change. He could not see, but he knew he was not alone anymore.

Moving toward the door that led inside into the old headquarters, Drevin tried to separate sounds over the roaring water, knowing, however, that it was rather pointless. The approaching assassin would not make a lot of noise in a completely silent environment, let alone in this discordant cacophony. His eyes scanned the darkness relentlessly, attempting to catch a glimpse of his target, but there was nothing to be seen - and yet his alarmed instincts kept yelling warnings of danger at him. Something was wrong and it drove him closer to the edge of sanity as he could not pinpoint the source of these sudden inner tremors. He knew what he was up against, and just as he reminded himself about the nature of the man he was hunting, he realized that the path from the entrance to the headquarters was probably marked with rocks and branches that got moved around as he came through. It was more than likely that Morhan was already aware of his presence, and that would alter the balance of this cruel game again.

* * *

A ruthless grin appeared on his mordant face as he stepped into the sewer, disturbed, but at the same time pleased by the signs he saw along the way. No one could enter this place without leaving tracks, thus informing Morhan well beforehand. Carefully placed piles of sand, small rocks and dry leaves created a trail of signals that was impossible to avoid, even for someone as skilled as Drevin Dagorian.

”Welcome back, Drevin,” he whispered to himself as he began to progress deeper into the dark.

A softly glimmering sword and a serrated dagger in his hands, Morhan turned away from the main tunnel, which was something Drevin would have never done. That was his advantage; Morhan knew these sewers much better than his prey, and he was a master at exploiting every weakness his opponent had. Once again it was Drevin who found himself being the underdog, but he had not really expected much more than that. With Terrigan, these two had formed extremely deadly pair, but Drevin had no delusions of safety, Morhan was dangerous by himself, too. Perhaps even more so now that he did not have to care about any kind of common rules they may have had. A lone wolf like his apprentice, Morhan became most effective in the dark when he was able to play the game in his own terms with no one standing in between of him and his victim.

Drevin sneaked slowly, crouching like a stalking animal, unsure of direction where his enemy was. Could he have made a mistake? Maybe there was no enemy yet. Maybe Morhan was still in the mountains looking for him, and yet he knew that such assumptions were ultimately the road to ruin. His instincts had never failed him, and they would not do that now either. Morhan was there, he was sure of it, skillfully building that element of surprise that was so vital for assassins. It would come down to who was more skilled with this kind of maneuvers, and the answer came hurtling from the darkness.

A fraction of a second later, and Drevin would have had the serrated dagger pierced through his neck, but his incredible reflexes saved him, and the blade did nothing more than a barely bleeding cut as it hurled by. Without thinking - without realizing what exactly happened, Drevin's counterattack came straight from the spine. His poignards appeared in his hands faster than lightning, as if they grew to his hands out of thin air, one of them warding the serrated dagger off while the other reached for the attacker's throat. But the enemy was equally insidious, easily dodging his rapid strike. After sharing the initial hits, they took a little distance to rearrange their offensive strategies. The element of surprise was no longer imminent, leaving the outcome of this battle to the pure art of combat expertise, in which they both represented the absolute top of the continent's finest.

”So, you finally decided to crawl out of your hideout,” Morhan pointed out with colorless voice.

”I wouldn't leave without killing you first,” Drevin hissed, looking for any openings in his opponent's defenses.

Morhan grinned wickedly. ”Didn't you already do that once?” he said, pointing to the fact that Drevin had deserted the Purple Lotus and left Tarakhan without an attempt to slay his former master.

”That I did out of respect for my old mentor. But don't worry, I won't do the same mistake twice,” he promised.

They retreated away from the tunnel, as the almost impenetrable darkness prevented effective fighting maneuvers, and headed toward the hallway that led into the burned headquarters. Morhan had kept two torches on the walls to provide him some light as he traveled back and forth. There, in that empty hallway, they would settle their animosities once and for all. Only one of them would leave this place alive.

With a feracious series of strikes, Morhan opened the battle by attempting to make it a short one, but Drevin performed a controlled retreat, warding off one attack after another until it was his turn to charge. The lethal dance continued and the hallway was filled with raging symphony of clashing metal and exhausted breathing as the two assassins pushed themselves to the limit in order to gain victory.

Without further talking, the sophisticated dance of death progressed toward the point when one of them would be tired enough to make the conclusive mistake. It was easy to think that Morhan had the advantage with his sword that was much longer than Drevin's poignards, but that was not the case. Drevin's smooth and nimble fighting technique made sure that they were perfectly balanced as opponents. This battle would get its closure as a result of the smallest human error, but so far both had executed flawless performance.

The extreme focus and constant tension increasingly drained their strength, and Drevin felt his arms growing tired from parrying the heavy hits. Their feet were becoming slower, but the same bloodthirsty fire burned brightly in their eyes as the steel continued to sing the song for the inevitable end. Small bleeding chips and cuts were soaking their clothes with fresh blood, but so far neither one had received mortal, or even partially crippling wounds.

Then Drevin did something he instantly regretted. Trying to gain a cutting edge, he shifted his weight on one leg to put more strength on an intrusive attack that would normally rip open the opponent's defense, but Morhan was far better than that. He leaned slightly backward, pushing the remaining poignard away with his sword, leaving a clear pathway for his dagger. Drevin realized this immediately, but it was too late to prevent what was coming. Morhan's dagger slashed, reaching for his throat, but Drevin did something desperate as a last resort to stay alive. Leaning forward, he offered his face to parry the strike, thus saving his life, but the price he had to pay was grim. An ugly, long, heavily bleeding wound across his face that blinded his right eye was going to offer a tremendous momentum for Morhan, and he was going to use it. The hit had missed the left eye, but the excessive bleeding practically blocked his vision on the side of the injury.

Smiling coldly, he launched a long chain of strikes, aimed to shred any remaining defenses out of the way and deliver the final blow. Drevin did his best, but even the best was not enough under these terribly unfavorable conditions. He was able to ward off most hits, but the last one he could not see as it came from his blind side. The serrated dagger sank into the back of his shoulder, mangling its way through to the other side. The imminent, shredding pain dropped him down to his knees as Morhan pulled his weapon free. A dash of blood followed the blade, splashing down to the floor. One of the poignards slipped from his hand as the injured limb turned feeble. Seeking a swift conclusion, Morhan aimed at Drevin's uncovered neck, which was completely exposed as a result of his most unfavorable position - but he was not dead yet, and he knew there was no more time than a heartbeat to act. Despite the pain, his healthy hand dropped the remaining blade and reached behind his back, where the comfortable grip of the silveril knife met his fingers. With one long draw he stroke the silvery blade into Morhan's side, and for once luck was on his side. The glimmering knife pierced Morhan's lung. While such injury would not kill anyone for a long time, it slowed him down tremendously.

His desperate move bought him plenty of time to dodge the hit that was meant to end this duel, and Drevin used that time efficiently. A firm kick behind the knees sent the surprised assassin down to the ground. Morhan crawled away from him, attempting to grow distance before his enemy would have time for another strike, but he did not move fast enough. The blood-stained silveril knife in his hand, Drevin approached the crawling man. There was no time to be wasted. As long as he was breathing, Morhan would remain drastically dangerous.

A dull thud accompanied the gesture as Drevin sank the silvery knife into Morhan's back, who had already difficulties to breathe. He collapsed on the floor, unable to continue any further. The fight was over and Drevin was the weary winner of the graceless spectacle. Without wanting to give his former mentor a further chance to make any final moves, he drew out two more throwing knives from the hidden sheaths on his back, and hurled them at the man with brutal force. One of them hit Morhan in the middle of his neck, cutting the vital artery and thus sealing his victory, while the other one landed next to the silvery one where a rib prevented it from doing any substantial damage.

Drevin watched as a pool of blood expanded beneath Morhan's head. He watched and thought how much blood it would take before he could be absolutely sure this man was really dead. There were no fanfares, excitement or overwhelming satisfaction over a successful kill. Feeling rather empty, the wounded man approached the body to retrieve his weapons, but the sweetness of his triumph never appeared. The luscious taste of vengeance was never properly served, but the bitterness and coldness in his heart remained like frost in the springtouched soil.

As he was already walking away from the room, a sudden wave of rage washed over him. It came from somewhere deep within, like boiling water that bursts out from the springs of the northern frostland - completely unexpected and abrupt.

All the anger, hatred and fury made him turn back and assault the body with a force he could not believe was still in him. With a terrible grin upon his face, Drevin sawed Morhan's head off with one of his poignards, one long pull at a time. It took him quite a while, but once he had begun, there was no way to stop it. The steel blade gnawed against the bone as some additional droplets of blood seeped from the torn veins. After a time that must have been several minutes, Drevin rose, hanging the severed head of his enemy with blood-soaked fingers. Then he grimaced horribly as a low, beast-like growl ascended from his chest, took a couple of steps forward and swang his hand forcefully, sending the head flying across the room. It landed in the corner, accompanied by a sound that resembled a ripe melon dropping to the ground.

”May your soul rot in darkness of the Underworld, Morhan Margol,” he whispered, and turned away.

Using the same entrance as before, Drevin abandoned the place and headed back to the town. There was much for him to do to prepare for a journey, but first he needed to tend his wounds. The bleeding laceration across his forehead and the cheek required attention from a healer if he could fine one, the mangled shoulder would need a lot of time to recover, but Drevin was not short on time anymore. The midwinter was approaching, and in these harsh conditions traveling would be a fool's errand to take on. He would stay at the Broken Wheel Inn and become strong once again. Then he would travel south, all the way to Iskadron where he was going to put an end to this madness. That was the only way for him to make amends to all those people who had sacrificed everything for him. He would kill Grimnir, the Hooded One. That was something he should have done when he met Belith in the first place. It was more than likely that this grim task would require his life, but it seemed like the only way for him to shake off the ghosts of the past for good.

The End

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