Something dug out of the archives and dusted off for you...

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Something dug out of the archives and dusted off for you...

Postby Talen » Fri Jun 01, 2007 5:39 am

In honor of my 100th post, I thought I'd share something I wrote a few years back.

A little back story, I grew up reading fantasy, anything I could get my hands on (though I don't claim to have read it all). I also played fantasy RPGs rather avidly. This particular story is one of the myriad of short stories rattling around in my head that was used to flesh out a particularly favorite character of mine, one who gained quite a bit of notoriety in other realms...

So without further ado, I hope you enjoy it!

---

Night's Breath

She was young. If I were to hazard a guess, I'd had said that she couldn't have seen her twentieth year. Not that it mattered. Her gold was the same color as anyone else's. The task struck me as a bit odd, however, in and out, and she was emphatic that I didn't touch anything. Again, not that it mattered to me...

* * *

It was raining quite heavily by the time I saw the cottage. I didn't mind. The rain helped mask my coming from the dogs. I stepped beneath the overhanging boughs of a large oak and watched. The barn door was still ajar, so I assumed she was still out there finishing the chores for the day. I could have done it then, but that wouldn't have been right, not in the barn. I'd wait for darkness to fall.

By the time all the candles inside the cottage had been snuffed it must have been well on towards midnight. The old woman seemed tireless in her work. I'd watched her shuffle back and forth in the windows a countless number of times, deliberately going about some task. She'd come in from the barn just before the sun had set, barring the large door with a heavy crossbar. She'd struggled with it for quite awhile, it's bulk nearly overwhelming her more than once. I chuckled inwardly at the thought of going and helping her with it, doing it then, during her gratitude. No, that wouldn't have been right either.

She'd returned to the cottage then, muttering under her breath something unintelligible, most likely about the rain. It was coming down steadily, cold and merciless. I was soaked to the skin, but I still didn't mind. I could do it wet just as well as I could do it dry. I know she stoked the fire when she went inside by the amount of smoke that began to belch forth from the chimney. I pondered walking up the lane, through her gate to her door. Surely she wouldn't turn away a tired, wet traveler, not with so far to walk to the nearest village. She'd feed me, I was certain, and likely dry out my clothing for me as well. I could have done it then, amidst her hospitality, but no, that wouldn't be right either.

When the last candle went out I moved. Silently emerging from beneath the oak, I crossed the narrow lane to the wall. I do so love the sturdy rock walls that country folk use to enclose their yards. They're far easier to scale than a city fence and they make no noise when you do so. I quickly scaled up to the top of the wall and watched the house through the pouring rain. Where had the two wolfhounds gone? I knew she hadn't taken them inside with her, she wouldn't, not with the stock in the barn. I looked around the yard slowly, searching out likely places so large a dog might hide from the rain. There. One of them was lying beneath some wood planks left leaning up against the side of the cottage. Now where was the other one? Softly I leapt down from the wall, landing in its shadow. A low growl to my left told me what I needed to know; I'd found the other wolfhound. I slowly turned and peered into the gloom. The shaggy beast was about six feet from me; he'd been lying at the base of the wall, probably unaware of my presence until I jumped down next to him. The growl in his throat grew a bit and I heard the other dog stir, then he sprang...

Silencing a sixty-pound animal that's determined to rip your throat out isn't an easy task, but then again, nothing worth doing is easy. In the split second that the wolfhound cleared the small distance between us, my dagger cleared its sheath, only to be sheathed again an instant later, this time in the throat of the large wolfhound. As the dog lay twitching at my feet I pulled the dagger from it's neck and wiped the blade clean on its rain-matted fur. One down...

The second dog was standing defiantly in front of the cottage, glaring into the darkness and rain. It could sense something was wrong, but it couldn't make out what. I knelt over the corpse of the first wolfhound and clicked my tongue softly. The dog took a few hesitant steps forward, sniffing the air cautiously as it went. Just a few more steps... I scraped my boot slowly on the ground and the dog froze, its hackles rising. I tried one last time, whistling ever so softly, a sound that only a dog could hear against the noise of the falling rain. That did it. The dog took several more steps towards me and lowered its head to sniff at the ground. Moments later I retrieved my dagger from where it had become firmly embedded in the second dog's eye socket. I turned to look back at the dark corner of the yard from where I'd made the throw. Thirty feet in the dark, pouring rain? Yes, it was starting to feel right.

I padded silently towards the front door, glancing at shuttered window as I passed. It was still dark inside; my presence had not been noted. As if it ever would have been. The door was locked, of course, but I'd expected that. It wouldn't have been right for it to be unlocked. It was a simple lock, however, country folk have yet to grasp that they need locks on their doors just as much as city folk do. In the space of a few breaths, I was inside.

I turned slowly, just inside the door, pulling it shut softly behind me. The fire was banked, the bed of coals glowing red. The interior was humbly decorated, a small table with a chair next to the fireplace, and a long workbench along the opposite wall with a basin set into it. In the far corner of room there was an open doorway the led to the bedroom. Naught but the steady, rhythmic sounds of breathing came from the doorway.

Slowly I began to make my way across the room, fearing no sounds of betrayal from the hard-packed dirt floor. Out of the corner of my eye I caught movement and I froze with my hand on the hilt of my dagger. I breathed again; it was only the cat atop the stack of wood next to the fireplace. The cat watched me with silent eyes, she would not betray my presence; she understood why I had come. Cats always seem to know that sort of thing.

Quietly I stole into the bedroom, pausing a moment in the doorway to consider my surroundings. The room was very small, just enough room for the bed and a small bench that doubled as a chest. She was asleep on the bed, wrapped in several wool blankets to ward off the cold. She lay there, muttering softly to herself in her sleep. Yes, it was right, and it was right now.

My dagger made the slightest whisper as I pulled it from its sheath. I bent over the woman's sleeping form and it was done, she would not wake from this sleep. As I stepped back from the corpse I felt a slight shift in the floor beneath me. Something buried beneath the floor perhaps? The woman had not always been so old... what might she have from her younger days, now hidden below the floor of her room?

As I knelt to the floor to probe with my dirk I noticed the cat walk into the room. She looked at me and meowed softly, then padded to the foot of the bed and sprang lightly upon it. She walked up the body and sat on the chest, regarding it with interest. I laughed inwardly to myself; she'd eat well over the next few days. Cats have little concern towards their owners.

Turning back to the task at hand I felt my dirk hit against something buried in the dirt. I began to dig, careful as not to harm whatever it may be. A short time later I held in my hands a box that had been carefully wrapped in oilskin before being hidden away under the floor. From the looks of the wrappings it had been buried for many long decades. I unwrapped the oilskin to find a wooden box. It was as long as my forearm, as wide as my outstretched fingers and four fingers deep. It was masterfully crafted, as I could see no hinges nor any sign of a lock. There was some sort of faded script carved onto the face of it, but I couldn't make it out. I wiped the box with my sleeve, but that didn't help any. I bent slightly and blew on the box, why I don't know, it certainly wouldn't have helped, but as I did so, I heard a whisper of a 'click', and the lid popped open slightly.

I slowly opened the lid the rest of the way, wary of a trap. What I saw next was far beyond my expectations. Carefully laid within the box was a dagger of obvious quality. As I took it from the box I felt a faint rush, the air moved as if someone had stepped into the room with me. I stood and spun around, bringing my guard up. There, standing impossibly in the doorway, was the old woman. She was staring at me with a look of horror in her eyes. The dagger in my hands had grown cold and the blade was glowing with a delicate script. I squinted against the gleam and gasped aloud, it was Drowish script! This was a Drow weapon! I looked back up at the woman and readied, against all common sense, to kill her a second time. As I stepped towards her, however, her face contorted into a silent scream, the blade suddenly shone with a brilliant flash and she was gone.

I am not one to question good fortune. Somehow, by some means, my problem had been solved. What I did next was the only logical thing to do...

I vanished into the darkness of the night.

* * *

She found me about two weeks later in the private club above a bar. I was only mildly impressed that she'd managed to get in past the doorman, enough gold will buy you entrance almost anywhere. Still, had she paid for the two thugs she brought with her as well? I made a mental note to myself to speak with the owner about who he let upstairs when she walked over and sat down at my table. With her hired muscle flanking me on either side she felt over-confident. I let her.

"You found it, didn't you?" she asked.

She didn't waste any time, so I figured I'd waste some of hers.

"What are you talking about? I did the job, just as you hired me to do. Go away unless you've got another job for me." I snarled.

"I don't think you realize the danger you're in at this very moment, you'd do well to mind your tone with me." She replied haughtily.

I suppose it was one of my better attempts at acting, but I think I actually had her thinking I was scared. It must have worked, because she pressed her "advantage".

"Perhaps you'd take a walk with us then, to tell us what you've done with it..." Her voice trailed off as she stood up and began to make her way towards the stairs. One of her thugs laid a meaty paw on my shoulder and squeezed by way of an invitation to join them. I let him think it hurt. Fools. If there's one thing I just can't abide it's someone who thinks they actually scare someone else.

A short while later I found myself being led into a rather dark alley. Suddenly the darkness was chased away by the bright green glow from her ring. The thugs grabbed me by each arm and pushed me up against the wall while she attempted to strike a threatening pose before me. I was starting to get a bit miffed with these two idiots. It was time to give them a short lesson in manners and a rather in depth study in death.

"I know you have it! Now, if you don't have it on you, you'll tell me where you've hidden it and perhaps I'll be merciful towards you and let you live." She said forcefully.

"I'm still afraid I don't know what *it* is you're talking about." I lied.

"I'm growing impatient with your impertinence! Don't you know who you're dealing with?!? I am a mage of no small power! Give me the dagger!" She screamed.

Unfortunately for her hirelings, they decided she was more impressive than I was, which suited me just fine. As they turned and watched her ranting both of them relaxed their grip on my arm. Unfortunately a big mistake on both their parts, however, the last mistake either of them ever made. I'm sure somewhere that's of some consolation.

In one fluid, lightning fast movement I shot both my arms straight out and turned my palms outward. Spreading my arms, I bent them both at the elbows and wrapped my arms around either man's neck. Bringing my hands back into my armpits I kicked out with both feet, literally running up the torso of the mage of no small power. I planted one foot on her chest and kicked upwards with the other, snapping her head back while flipping myself over backwards, all the while holding onto the necks of the two towers of intellect. As my body completed its backward somersault I heard the satisfying sound of a neck snapping... twice.

Coming to rest lightly on my feet I dropped the bodies at my feet and looked over at the girl. She was coming to her feet slowly with one hand on her jaw where I'd kicked it. I thought it was time to show her the grave mistake she'd made.

"You forgot something rather obvious, I should think." I said calmly, watching her. She was sizing up her chances; I think she still thought she could intimidate me.

"Give me the dagger and I may still let you live." She countered.

"Pity, you haven't yet figured it out..."

"The dagger or your life!"

She had started backing away down the alley, putting some distance between us. I also noticed her hands had begun weaving in the tell-tale gestures of a spell before her.

Whether she ever actually saw the throw, I don't know. She may have been so intent on completing her spell that she never even saw me move. It's possible that in one moment she was preparing to release her spell and the very next she was wondering what happened to her breath, and why I was stepping calmly towards her. I just remember the confused look on her face as she looked at me, then slowly down the hilt of the dagger that was protruding from her chest. Her mouth was opening and closing slowly as she reached shakily with both hands, grasping at the handle. I answered her question:

"Yes, that is the dagger and it has a name... it is Night's Breath."

I pondered explaining to her the folly of trying to kill the very one you hired to do your killing for you, but by the time I'd drawn the breath for the words, the light had gone out in her eyes. So I did the only thing that was left for me to do...

I vanished into the darkness of the night.
"No single raindrop believes it is to blame for the flood."
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Talen
What is RSI ......... REALLY
 
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Postby Egaladeist » Fri Jun 01, 2007 5:53 am

Great story! I'd Digg it but unfortunately there's no writers category :sad: And happy 100th! :D
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I am the Eg man : Coo Coo Ca Choo
 
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