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Short Story Entry: The Threat of Whispers


Scree
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The Threat of Whispers

 

The city I found myself walking towards was uninspired, drab and overcrowded. I could tell even from this distance that people from all over had fled here in great numbers, fleeing from the chaos of the surrounding land. Masses of people pushed into the city, and guards watched over them looking for threats.  Making matters worse, a huge storm front could be seen rumbling in the distance. It had sent clouds rushing ahead of it, overcasting the afternoon and causing gusting winds to blow ahead of it. Much of the public had been sent rushing about to complete last minute business before it struck.

 

I had been watching this particular city through contacts and our spy network. It was a haven for the alliance of some very naive children who thought they could remain neutral even as the world descended quietly into oblivion. I had walked into, whatever this city called itself, alone and wearing only my hooded cloak. I didn't care if anyone recognized me or my garb, though clearly the weather was in my favor in that regard today. I didn't fear these people. Even cornered animals know their place.

 

If the neutrality this city and its owners claimed wasn’t a sign of how desperate the aligned guilds ruling it had become, the number of guards on the streets surely was. Large patrols of well-armed and armored troops stood on the streets; a futile gesture against the imminent threats they unknowingly faced. While much of the city seemed to be hustling about its last minute pre-storm business, convinced these mere men could protect them, I knew the truth of it all. This city and its people were sheep and the wolves were already in the pen.

 

Turning the corner towards one of the busier streets, just past a still busy market square, I stopped and leaned against a shop's exterior. The shopkeeper was out front buttoning down the window hatches in preparation for the forthcoming storm, paying me no attention at all as he hurried about his work. I turned my attention further down the plaza towards a multi-storied building that proclaimed itself as a tavern and inn. I knew it to be the finest in the city and one that specialized in the meetings I was even now planning on attending.

 

After watching the tavern for several minutes I saw what I had been waiting for: a group walking down the street, heavily armored and with a banner proclaiming to all who was in that group.  Amateurs. With the guests of honor finally there, it was time for me to go to work. I made my way, at a leisurely pace, towards the building. Despite the implications, I couldn’t help feeling eager in anticipation of what was to come.

 

As I finally neared the tavern, I took little notice of the troops and officers of other organizations milling about just outside. I recognized a half dozen banners and house insignias on the men out front. This was not just a minor meeting, everyone was here. Good. I didn’t stop as I moved past these men, skipping entirely the front entrance and the guard’s attentions. No one paid any heed towards yet another cloaked stranger bundled against the wind. Not in this weather.

 

The stables were crowded with horses; another sign the meeting here had brought together everyone important. I made my way past the stable entrance and handed my cloak to the stable boy brushing down a black mare. The side entrance to the tavern was just beyond. I walked past him, making my way through the door. I found it interesting how no guards were present here.

 

I found myself immediately in the crowded main room of the tavern, thick with people and the scent of meat and mead. I paused a moment to take note that the stairs to the second floor meeting area were guarded.  And when I looked towards the opposite end, the stairs that led to the rooms travelers stayed in were clear. Perfect. I grabbed a mug from a passing waitress and used it to look like I was just another patron. It helped me blend into the crowd as I moved towards the back stairs. As I made my way my eyes scanned the people in the main room, pausing carefully to note those who looked to be associated with the meeting going on upstairs. Very few of them were here in the main room. Curious.

 

As I reached the stairwell landing, I was met by a man wearing a cloak like mine. He had been expecting me, nodded and then gestured to the door at the end of the hallway. No words were exchanged, but I passed him and into the indicated room. Inside I found what I expected, an elegant room decorated as a honeymoon suite of a sort. More importantly, it was directly adjacent to the primary meeting room in the tavern.

 

A man with his hood pulled back with his head pressed up against the wall was inside. His tactic of listening to the meeting in the other room wasn’t elegant, but it was clearly working. The floor in front of him was covered in scrawled notes and more were being taken as he listened intently to the wall in front of him. He nodded subtly to me, clearly listening to something important at that moment and not wishing to miss it.

 

I retrieved the notes and quickly glanced at their contents. This meeting had been a busy one. Trade deals, military agreements, and even a few new alliances had been made. I didn’t recognize all of the names, clearly smaller entities unworthy of note I hoped. I paused at the top of the next page, reading and re-reading what had been written. “Must remove… threat… Obsidian… imminent...” Interesting. 

 

I went back to the door and opened it a crack. I made a quick hand-sign to the man who was watching our exit out of this place. The man quickly disappeared down the stairwell, following what had always been the predetermined plan here today. I closed the door and slid onto a couch opposite the wall and began my wait. I watched quietly as more notes and intelligence were gathered, knowing that every bit of it was important. It was unfortunate that these men had threatened Obsidian.  Not that it mattered, their fate had already been predetermined this day.

 

A half hour passed and the group meeting in the adjacent room, opposite the wall I was sitting in, had summoned their lunch to the meeting room. The meeting itself had concluded. As the food arrived and everyone began to eat, my spy stood up and handed me the last of the notes. Nothing further would be gained from this meeting. I began to shake my head slightly, disappointed as I read the last of his writing. These people were so… predictable. I motioned to the spy and he collected all of his hand written notes and tossed them into the fireplace. No trace could be left behind.

 

I walked back the way I had come and resumed my leaning position against the shop wall down the street. The spy stood nearby watching the opposite direction for trouble. I closed my eyes and waited. Within a few minutes, I heard what I'd been expecting. At first a woman’s scream, then several, and then all hell broke loose. I kept my eyes closed, waiting for more. The sounds of swords being drawn and men yelling became clear. Shouting and then… the first tendrils of smoke and flame began to lick up the outside of the building. Success.

 

The man who had been at the top of the stairs finally rejoined us. As he approached he tossed me my cloak I had left behind in the stables. As the flames grew and began to consume the entire building, the distinct sounds of frantic swordplay could still be heard. I put back on my cloak and drew the hood up, turning back to watch the unfolding maelstrom. Concussion blasts and the sounds of terrible magic being loosed could be felt even from this distance. I looked back, my cloak and hood fully back in place, and smirked at the chaos playing out before us.

 

The last man coughed grabbing my attention from the growing pyre, and extended his hand. It held something small. I reached out and grabbed it from his outreached hand. “The cook was able to complete his task sir.” Obviously I thought and pointed back to the scene in front of us. He chuckled quickly and added “How did you know they would blame each other for the poisoning?” I looked back at him and grinned, saying nothing.

 

The storm came against the city in that fateful decisive moment. Almost as if it could feel the furious melee that had broken out around the tavern. Rain poured down on the combatants dulling the sounds of the deadly violence still going on. A new man approached and handed me a report indicating that all of the alliances messengers had successfully left the city, warning their respective organizations of the day’s internal betrayals. I motioned for the man who had done such excellent work bypassing the meetings magical wards earlier today to come closer. He came to my side and waited for the expected order.

 

I nodded to him once more and in response he began the casting of a simple spell. When it finished a small but brilliant globe of light formed in his hands and began to float up into the storm, oblivious to the winds and torrential downpour all around it. Almost immediately in response I could see men in cloaks peeking out from all around us; they were on rooftops, in alleys, inside and out. I knew there to be over a hundred Obsidian Unseen (members) in this city hiding and waiting to complete the day’s operation.

 

I nodded once more and pointed to the center of the chaos. The man sent the now blinding sphere scurrying towards the tavern where it grew and blossomed into a brilliance that rivaled the sun, despite being in the middle of a dark and terrible storm. The sounds of combat faded further as it took its place above the battlefield, and even more still when the sphere disappeared entirely. In its absence everything seemed unnaturally dark, as if the spell had sucked all of the light from its surroundings.

 

Within seconds the sounds of men dying resumed. This time, however, I knew were my men striking while this fragile alliance had already poured their whole effort into destroying one another. The fight was short and bloody. They never really had a chance. The rains still came down in waves, futilely trying to wash away the day’s events. I knew this day would not be erased by mere rain. As quickly as the fight was over, the exodus from the city was faster still. I walked out of the city as casually as I had entered, with a hundred trained assassins joining the macabre parade. 

Edited by scree
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