It was a comfortable ride on the train as Arlandra travelled south from Riftsire to Surra – his hometown. The steam train that he was currently riding was something quite extraordinary, and there was a network of tracks that connected every major city in all of Noveria. The train came upon one of the great bridges that crossed to the southern half the land and the vast blue water of the Sandra River revealed itself below.
Every time the assassin crossed this bridge he would think of his training and the childhood that he barely had. No matter how hard he tried to drown his past this bridge always revived old memories.
Master Ronin once told him that he was found at a very young age, wondering alone along the banks of the Sandra Rider. They told him that he was like a lost sheep wondering in a meadow in search of a purpose. They took Arlandra in and gave him the only life they could offer, the life of an assassin, and now – fourteen years after he was found – Arlandra Knight had become most renowned assassin in all of Noveria.
He was brought up in a group known as the Order of Assassins. Every day and night since he was ten he remembered training and learning; about the land, and about purpose, and about life. Arlandra killed his first target at the age of fourteen, and since then he had lost count of how many people he had killed. Back then he couldn’t bear the look of the poor man’s eyes as their light faded, even after all of his training.
When Arlandra returned from his very first contract, he went down to the river and cried, and he threw the dagger he had used into the flowing waters. Master Ronin came to him that day, with the crest of the order on his sleeve – a dagger and three stars – and he sat down with the young assassin.
“Soon you will learn not to cry,” he said calmly, stroking his long grey beard.
The young Arlandra pushed away his tears. “I don’t want to learn not to cry. Why did I have to be the one to kill that man?”
“Because there is no one else who would. You must understand, child, we are not murderers, nor are we heartless killers. We protect. We live in the shadows so that others may live in the light. And although you may never know what it is like to love a woman or to love your own children, to hold your own lands and bask in your own wealth, you will one day find within yourself a love for human kind, and that will be what moves you.”
Sometimes, Arlandra would stare out the window over the meadows and wonder about what could have been. What if his parents had never left him… or died… or whatever had happened to them. Who was he supposed to be? Would he have been in love by now, with an honest life and an honest job? He couldn’t count the number of people that he had killed in his life, and he was only twenty-two.
The Sandra River, along with all its dark memories, passed him by and the city of Surra came into view. Its massive grey-stone wall towered above him and obscured the sight of the inner city, but Arlandra knew all too well that inside was a constant sea of busy people going about their business like always. Surians loved doing business.
The buildings of Surra had a certain type of architecture that was not seen much else in Noveria. It was all flat, buildings of wood, stone and metal. The capital building of Surra stood tall and strong in the centre of the city, to the North of which was the factory district, responsible for Noveria’s reaping. Arlandra glimpsed as white clouds of smoke were puffed out of long chimneys in the sky.
To the west of the city was the military district, where camps full of soldiers were constantly being raided by the ferocious green orcs of the Eldar Forest. To the south end was the local district, home to the living areas of Surra’s residents as well as some of the city’s trade markets. And to the East was where Arlandra stood now, in the transport district. This is where the great train lines from Eran in the East, and Torren in the Southeast, came together.
It was always terribly busy here. People going in and out, market tradesmen bellowing of advertisements for their products, and the whistling howls of trains going by… it was sometimes a little overwhelming, but Arlandra liked it. He’d come here in case he needed to escape into a crowd; which he had done before. His target was a shopkeeper who had screwed over a client in a deal, and therefore his value became fifty gold pieces for a clean kill, and in a place this crowded escaping the guards was almost too easy.
Of course, Arlandra never used to kill for money, or at least he wasn’t supposed to. His Order had believed in justice and so they only targeted people who threatened humanity – but they were gone now so taking contracts was the only way for the assassin to survive.
When the train finally screeched to a slow stop Arlandra stepped off and onto the sidewalk. He was welcomed by the dry salty aroma of Benezian crystals being burned to fuel the train, and people bumped into him as he navigated through the busy crowds and headed towards the market square.
Salesmen shouted from behind their stalls as they tried to sell what they had. It was very heated in the thick of the market square – the humid aroma of cooked meat and bread and other foods, in such tight spaces, was remarkably uncomfortable, and yet these people called this their homes. Arlandra questioned if he ever truly was a Surian, because he could never imagine being raised in this. Maybe he was one of the Rhaetaii, from the desert lands to the South, now that would make more sense.
As he pushed passed an old lady he found the sign that he was searching for and stopped precipitously by a store stocked with guns and sword racks. He was now on the far side of the market square and the aromas of steaming cooked foods were less strong.
The rifles here all appeared to be of good quality. They were finely polished and most of the barrels were lined along with pulsing blue streaks so that the sky-blue glow harmonised aesthetically with the deeply polished stocks.
The pistols were set up in a similar way and Arlandra noticed an old model flintlock very similar to the one that his target had pulled on him back in Riftsire. This made him curious, but he pushed the thought aside for later. There was a good stock of revolvers here, too. They were neatly presented in glass cases, with their scarlet purple tint and clean finish.
Arlandra looked up and heard the high pubescent voice of a young boy speaking to the man he had come to see. The boy was very excited as he stared at all of the weapons on display with wide eyes; they were full of wonder, of all things.
The boy was full of questions. “Why are there lights on the guns? What does it do?”
The first question any child ever asks, Arlandra laughed silently.
The storeowner was a large man with a big belly under a leather apron and a bald head. “Have you ever heard of Benezian crystals, lad?” The storeowner answered.
“No, I haven’t,” said the boy, “why?”
“Because that’s what’s making the weapons glow like that.” The storeowner let out a croaky chuckle.
“But what does it do?”
“Well, Benezian crystals are full of energy,” the owner explained. “It’s what we use to power the train lines across Noveria, and it’s also what we use to make our weapons nice and strong.”
“But how?” asked the boy.
“Well I’m no Taellian scientist but…” the storeowner selected one of the blue rifles to show to the boy, “Benezian crystals are ground up and mixed into the gunpowder so that when the weapon is fired the bullet gets an extra kick. Crystals are also cut and placed along the barrel, this makes it stronger, and allows for the energy to encase the weapon and protect it from being broken, rusted or worn away over time.” The storeowner glanced at the weapon like it was a lover. “This baby will last at least another hundred years or so. That’s given that the Taellians don’t come up with some new weapon to destroy stuff with.”
The man and the boy continued to talk, and in the meantime Arlandra looked very closely at a sword that had caught his eye as soon as he had entered the store. It was definitely made by the Rhaetaii – they were exceptional swordsmen, and thieves, but mostly swordsmen. They gained most of their skills and experience from living aside and fighting against the Djann – a non-human race from the Morroak Desert. Unfortunately the Djann and the Taellians never got along, and Surian business thrived off the city of Taelliwey, which meant that the Surians were forced to become enemies with the desert tribes. The Rhaetaii, however, found a way to get along with everyone; it was their special talent.
Arlandra didn’t deal too much with the Djann, or the Rhaetaii for that matter because he barely travelled south of the Sandra, but he had to admit they both had a good taste in weaponry.
The hilt of the sword was smooth and light as a feather, as was the blade on the end. There was a nice wavy pattern carved into the blue-hardened steel. The weapon itself was well balanced. The shining curved blade – infused with a single glowing line of blue energy – was not so long that he could not slit a throat with it, but not so short that he would be unable to defend himself in a fight.
“She’s a fine sword.” Arlandra glanced to the left and saw that the storeowner was patiently awaiting his attention. “Now, tell me the bastard’s dead.” The owner demanded.
Arlandra admired the sword some more. “He’s dead,” he mentioned, without lifting his eyes from the blade.
The owner kept his eyes fixed for a moment longer then slowly nodded his bald head and reached under the counter. From it he removed two heavy bags of coin and slid them across to Arlandra. Arlandra caught them, and then slid one of the bags back.
“For the sword,” he proposed.
The owner remained silent, and then slid the bag back again to Arlandra, and before the assassin could ask, the storeowner answered. “I have one more contract I’d like you to complete. This guy’s worth more than double of what you’ve made today.”
Arlandra considered this, gently lifting one of the bags in his hand, weighing it up carefully. “Go on,” he said, very intrigued by the new offer.
The storeowner was sweating in the day heat of the markets and he spoke with both hands leaning flat on the counter. “This guy is a high priority target by the name of Garn Pallerii. He’s a Taellian, and a feisty bastard is that. You’ll get two bags o’ coin now, and you can expect three more when he’s dead.”
Arlandra had been fitting his new sword to his belt as the owner talked. This guy is very good business, he noted to himself. But he still needed more details. “How can I find him?”
“Last I heard he was staying at one of the big hotels at Torren, I’d suggest you start there.” Torren was a rather shady city to the southeast of Surra, and it was constantly being hassled with by the djann. “Look, when you kill this guy I want you to search his body for a gold cigarette case with his initials on it. Garn would never part ways with that thing without losing his life so when you bring it to me, I’ll know that he’s dead.”
Garn must be important, Arlandra figured. He swore he had heard the name before, but where? He had collected his money and was ready to leave when the owner added a few more details. “Oh, and before you go, that last contract I gave you was a test so I’d know that you were who you said you were. No hard feelings, but the Assassin of Taelliwey is a hard man to come by. I can’t stress enough how important this job is. Garn is a dangerous man. He’s also smart so look out.” The owner had to raise his voice over the clatter of the crowded market. “And watch yourself on the way to Torren. I hear the Taellians and the djann have really hit it off over the railway.”
When the assassin left, he paced through the masses of people, and then flicked on his hood and headed straight for the next train to Torren.ns 126.96.36.199da2