The figure walked quietly down
the cobblestone alley with purpose. His leather shoes made no sound
on the stones. The black cloak draped around his body made him almost
indiscernible from the buildings around him in the dark moonless night.
He came to an intersection and stopped then turning left he paced
off his steps carefully and stopped again under a stone arched bridge.
Glancing around first, he placed a hand into a small hole in the
building, and pulled himself upward. He proceeded quickly, going hand
over hand, finding small crevices, until he reached the bottom of
the arch. He grabbed the edge, and suspended by the strength in his
fingers, he flexed his muscular forearms and pulled himself up onto
the bridge. He hopped over the short wall onto the walkway and paused
in a crouch. His sword clinked against the stones. He grabbed the
metal sheath and moved it to a safer position. "Damn" he
thought to himself. "I should have covered it with soft leather."
He froze as still as a marble statue as voices came from the far
end of the bridge. Two guards were walking toward him, laughing and
talking. Their footsteps loud as galloping horse in the quiet night.
" The wench had the biggest bosoms I have ever seen. And soft,
just like a kittens fur. She said she had to be on top. If she lay
on her back they flopped against her chin." His partner, the
other guard, let out a roaring laugh. "Flopped against her chin,
now those are some big bosoms." The two continued on across the
stone bridge not yet seeing the black figure crouching against the
waist high wall of the bridge.
Viss remained motionless in his crouch; his eyes fixed on the two
men. They separated and walked toward him from two different angles.
"What are you doing there? What brings you to this Court? Come
out of those shadows there or I will feed you my sword." One
of the guards put his hand on his sword in a mock attempt at terrorizing
Viss. "Come out I said."
Viss didn't move, and this puzzled the guards. The typical intruder
would have run by now, but this one just huddled there. The menace
of two armed guards put any same man into a flee for his life. This
is what always happened. A guard happened upon an intruder, he called
for a halt and the intruder, having been found out, ran for his life
and a grand chase followed. More guards were alerted and the intruder
was usually caught and sentenced to the dungeon. The intruder was
usually a commoner, down on his luck and trying to better his station
by stealing from the castle. But this was out of the ordinary. There
was no shock at being caught, and no grand chase through the outer
levels of the castle.
The two guards stepped closer, doubting their eyes. Maybe it wasn't
a man. A moonless night could be deceiving. Viss waited patiently,
his large hands remained relaxed and ready, lightly touching the stone
near his feet. " The unexpected inaction can be just as much
an advantage as the unexpected action." He thought to himself,
remembering the words of an old master.
They got close enough to be sure it was a man, but carefully stood
out of sword reach. One of the guards turned his head slightly to
the other. "Alert the commander of the guard, I will take care
of this one." Viss broke the silence as the second guard turned
"Fear not to be alone with me, he will return quickly."
The arrogance of Viss' statement stopped the second guard in mid turn
and enraged the first guard so much that he rushed at Viss without
even drawing his weapon.
"I am going to haul you along to the Captain either by your ears
or spit on my sword." The quiet arrogance of Viss' statement
angered him. He traveled the three steps between them quickly and
grabbing Viss by the cloak drew him up to a standing position. The
violence began. In a blur of unexpected speed Viss grabbed the guard's
wrists and smashed his forehead against his nose. The guard reeled
back from the crack of the blow, but he couldn't fall. Viss had both
his wrists locked tightly in his hands. " He looked at the other
guard. " Do not draw your sword." His voice was confident
and smooth, with no hint of the excitement of battle.
The guard paused long enough for Viss to take initiative in the second
round of violence. He crossed the guard's wrists one over the other.
This made the man's shoulders shift and one of his feet to come off
the stone of the walk. The second guard, sensing he had lost initiative
and his comrade was in dire trouble, rushed in. Taking advantage of
his captive's imbalance he jerked the guard violently, and the man
toppled directly into the rushing guard. The two guards fell into
a tangle of limbs against the stone. They recovered quickly and jumped
to their feet, drawing their swords with clean metallic scrapes. Meet
a fist with a fist, meet a sword with a sword, and bring death only
when you must." The long remembered and oft-repeated ritual came
to Viss as it had many times in the past. It was another echo of a
master from long ago.
The two guards charged and in the moment before contact, Viss had
gathered all the information he needed. They are both right handed,
carrying standard meter long rapiers, held in classical military stances.
This means they would only have been taught the twelve basic attacks.
It was a weakness that Viss easily exploited. The first guard, enraged
by his broken nose, the blood probably limiting his eyesight, rushed
in with a sloppy overhand blow. The other, using more restraint, sent
the point of his rapier directly toward Viss' chest. Viss twisted
sideways. It presented a smaller target, and allowed the stab at his
chest to pass harmlessly. At the same time he did this he raised his
sword to block the blow aimed at his head. He then pushed himself
off the short wall at his back and leapt past his opponents. The blade
of his sword lashed out at the guard with the bleeding nose. The sharp
edge sliced deeply into his neck. Viss hit the ground, rolled, and
turned as lithe as a giant cat. The guard with the broken nose crumpled
to the ground with blood gushing from his severed artery in his neck.
"Always dispatch the weakest enemy first." The voice from
his past spoke again.
Now the tone of the battle changed. The remaining guard didn't charge.
Witnessing the skill of his opponent he took a more careful stance
and glanced toward the far end of the bridge where he and his partner
had come from moments earlier. Viss, seeing the guard glance that
way, took several quick steps. This put him between the guard and
the exit. The man on the ground lay motionless, the pool of blood
continuing to grow around his body.
They two circled slowly, neither doubting that only one would survive
the next few moments. They closed on each other and their swords clashed
viciously several times before they broke again. Both fighters remaining
silent to conserve energy and maintain absolute concentration. Again
they sprang, each bringing in an overhand strike at the other. As
the two blades collided with resounding ring Viss twisted his weapon
slightly racing it powerfully down the length of his foes sword. It
smashed through the handguard and continued through the guard's hand.
It severed his thumb. The guard's sword had also slammed down onto
the guard of Viss' sword but didn't penetrate the harder metal. It
was a move that could only be safely made if you knew your opponent's
sword to be of inferior strength. This of course Viss knew. He had
wielded the standard sword of the Captain's guard many times himself.
The guard bent over in reaction to the horrifying pain. Viss continued
the motion of his sword in a fluid arc, bringing it back around his
own body then down; burying its blade deep into the guard's skull.
The man was dead before he hit the ground. Viss wiped his sword and
keeping it at the ready he turned and trotted toward the open portal
at the end of the bridge where the two guards had a few moments earlier
Viss had hoped to accomplish his mission without bloodshed but he
had dispatched the guards relatively quietly, and the alarm had not
been raised. They wouldn't be missed for a while yet. So he plunged
through the portal into one of the outer ramparts of the castle proper
still intent on completing what he had set out to do.
Several doors lined either side of the corridor. Passing the first
of these he counted doors and corridors and turned at intervals. His
goal was clear. He had bribed one servant and plied a second with
drink to get a detailed description of where in the castle it was
kept. Just as he entered a corridor that looked exactly the same as
the one he exited a gong sounded an alarm. It was an alert to the
guards in the castle that an intruder was somewhere inside. It was
for him. By now the new watch had discovered the slain bodies he had
left on the bridge. Running footsteps sounded from the corridor he
had just come from. "Almost there, this is the corridor. "
He thought to himself. "Third door on the right.
Throwing it open he jumped inside and shut the heavy wooden door
behind him. With his back braced against it he listened quietly for
the footfalls of searching guards. They ran past his door continuing
on down the corridor until they disappeared. "Two guards. They
would all be traveling in groups of two or more now that the intruder
was found to be a capable swordsman. He relaxed, released the breath
that he had been holding for too long and surveyed the room. It was
a guest quarters that was never used. It was supposed to be empty
but it wasn't. A multicolored rug covered most of the stone floor.
The small stone fireplace was crackling sharply and giving off a warm
orange glow. The head of a small bed leaned against the wall to his
right. It extended out from the wall to the center of the room.
Standing on the other side of it and looking directly at Viss was
a large man. He gaped at Viss with an open mouth. Viss' unexpected
entrance had frozen him in mid motion. He dangled a backpack over
the bed and Viss couldn't tell whether he was putting it down or picking
it up when he froze. The two of them locked eyes for several long
heartbeats. Viss expected him to scream for help to any guards that
may be lurking around in the corridor outside. The man dropped the
pack onto the bed and its thump broke the tension. " You best
put that sword away." The man spoke in a deep rumbling voice.
"This man has confidence. No doubt his confidence stemmed from
capability." He placed his right hand gently on the pommel of
a massive broad sword that hung at his hip. "More guards approach."
Guards were now opening and closing doors. It was standard procedure;
first check and clear the main hallways, then move onto the smaller
corridors, then check each room individually. Viss knew the procedure
well. It wouldn't be long before this room was checked. He briskly
walked across the room past the bed and the fireplace. The deep voiced
stranger watched him but made no move to draw his sword. Viss threw
a leg over the sill of the window into the cool night air and giving
a quick nod to the rumble voiced stranger he climbed out onto a small
ledge that he knew would be there. As he disappeared he heard guards
burst through the door. "One or more armed men have broken into
the castle and killed two guards. Have you seen anyone suspicious?
"Just the Governor." Came the rumbled response. One of the
guards threw a curse at him and they exited the room, shutting the
door with a slam. The big man walked to the window in long confident
strides and looked out. Viss was gone. He had placed a hook on the
ledge and lowered himself by a rope into a window on the level below.
The room was as black as night and Viss crouched again in silence
and tried to get a sense of the room. Having come from the well-lit
room above, his eyes needed time to adjust. He listened intently.
The smallest of sounds could give him an idea of its size and what
was in it. This room, he suspected, held his goal. He couldn't come
directly to it because this floor of the castle was well guarded.
But, by climbing the wall to the arch and then dropping down to this
level he avoided most of the risk of being caught. As his eyes adjusted
he surveyed the room. It was a large room, large enough for a group
of horses to run in, if it were empty. It was filled with large waist
high crates that were as wide as the span of a man's outstretched
arms. Many were stacked on each other. The stacks reaching to the
wooden rafters of the ceiling. Moving to the nearest one and using
the point of his sword Viss pried the lid off and peered inside.
The poor lighting inside the room made the contents of the box indiscernible.
He reached inside and rummaged around. It was full of straw. He moved
his hands around in it and finding an object he pulled it out. Holding
it up in the dim light he looked at it. It was a head severed from
its body. Its empty eye sockets stared at Viss. The skin of its face
was shriveled and dry. Its mouth was pulled into a grimace of pain.
It looked as if whatever pain it had suffered in dying was still with
it and still causing it immense pain. He turned it around and examined
it carefully. The neck was banded and capped in some type of metal.
As if the head were a wine flask and the metal cap prevented all the
juices from leaking out. You could stand it upright on a table and
it wouldn't fall. He stared at it morbidly hoping to recognize the
disfigured face. The jaw dropped slowly open and the small hairs on
Viss' body stood erect. A glean of sweat instantly coated the skin
of his whole body in horror. When the jaw started to close again his
heart started to race and he dropped the head to the floor of the
room. Something was terribly wrong here. He could feel an evil force
at work here. Its presence was palpable, as if a demon were standing
by his side. He glanced around the room uncomfortably and it took
on a different atmosphere. It was no longer a room full of riches,
no longer a cache of gold and weapons. It was now a catacomb. A place
of raw death, complete with dead bodies, and haunted by the souls
of murdered people not finding rest in death. Looking down at the
head he fought off the nausea that threatened to empty his stomach.
It wasn't the light; it wasn't imagination or tension. The mouth really
did move, and it was still moving. It was trying to talk to him. He
kicked it and it rolled across the room with a sickening series of
thumps and metallic clanks. Leaning on the crate he wretched. His
stomach was no longer able to hold its contents. He wiped his hands
on his cloak and breathing deep he moved to another crate.
Prying this one open with the blade of his sword he once again pushed
off the lid. He dropped his rucksack off his back and took out a small
one handed torch. He did not want to blindly reach into this one for
fear of the horror that might be inside. It was worth taking the chance
of being seen. He placed the torch on the floor and rubbed his sword
against a small piece of flint. The torch ignited. He picked it up
and peered over the edge of the crate. The horror struck him like
a hammer blow. He could see several heads lying cradled in the straw.
One upward facing head opened its eyes as if in response to the light
from his torch. Milky, rotten eyes stared at him. It's mouth worked
furiously as if trying to talk. Its neck was capped in steel just
like the other one. He reeled backwards, his heart beating furiously
against his ribs, he could feel sweat curling it way out of every
pore of his body. In the midst of combat, his heart never beat this
fast. There was always an element of control. He could understand,
and overcome a mortal enemy. His skill and strength gave him confidence.
But this, he had no control over this. It went beyond the realm of
control. These heads were alive; alive by means he couldn't fathom.
There was a power here that rendered his sword useless. The strength
in his muscles could do nothing against something so perverted.
Two days ago he thought that these crates were filled with valuables.
. But today he found they were filled with horrors. There was a platoon
of soldiers, nearly a hundred, to guard two wagons filled with these
crates. He paused, now his interest had changed. He needed to know
what was going on. What was the Captain planning with this abomination?
He scanned the room looking for clues. One crate, being larger and
sturdier than the others drew his attention. Catching his breath and
wiping sweat from his face he moved toward it. The air in the room
was now stifling, as if it were drawing strength from his bones. He
moved slowly closer to the largest crate. The wood of it was roughhewn
and banded with iron. The other crates were plain wood but this one
was of a much stronger form.
It stood as high as Viss, slightly reminiscent of a coffin. An enormous
iron lock secured a metal band around its middle. Reaching out and
touching the lock he pulled his hand back quickly in surprise. "Damn
thing is cold as ice." It was not cold in the normal sense of
cold but cold in a different way. Not cold like the haft of a sword
that had been away from a soldier's body for too long, but a cold
like a need. It felt as if it was pulling heat from his body. It felt
like it was missing something and his body was the source that could
fill this need. He pondered the need deeper. It felt to him like there
was something dead inside, craving life, and trying to pull his very
life from him. He backed up. His legs were weak, his body getting
cold; the sweat on his face and arms was turning clammy. He felt like
he hadn't eaten in days, no energy. "Maybe I will sit down for
just a moment." With fatigue washing over him he sat down, his
back leaning against the wooden crate. The sounds coming from the
end of the room made no matter to him. He was too tired to worry about
it. The sound of large doors opening came into his thoughts, but he
didn't worry about it, he was too tired to worry. The thoughts filtered
through like a detached fact. "Something mildly interesting to
think about, but nothing to really worry about. Nothing of import,
just need to get some rest." Clanging swords moved slowly closer
to him. Voices were barking command. He couldn't tell what they were
saying, and he didn't really care. He dropped his torch on the floor
and it sputtered as a call to the approaching guards. "Put down
your weapon and come out from behind there." A guard cautiously
walked around the crate with his sword at the ready. "Got something
over here." He yelled to his companions.
The last thing Viss remembered was two guards leaning over him with
smiles on their faces. "Looks like you picked a bad time to fall
asleep thief." Viss hadn't fallen asleep. Whatever it was that
was in that crate had sucked much of the life out of him. He would
be executed for killing two of the Captain's guards. But for now he
would live to see another day. The guards had rescued him just in
time. If he had remained slumped up against that crate for much longer,
whatever it was that was inside would have drained the life completely
out of him, leaving him a dead empty corpse, or worse. This was his
last thought as he faded into a senseless dark deeper than sleep.