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Posted: Nov 20 2014, 02:23 PM
Joined: 11-March 14
((ooc: This thread is closed. It is also from years ago and has absolutely no bearing on the present. Sort of.))
The Zethyn Plains was normally a pleasant and peaceful area. The South Plains had been the home of the de Jure family for generations, they lived in modest comfort on their small estate. There was a small village on its borders that provided workers and supplies. Every day passed much like the last. Weeks and months ambled by with little excitement, for this little haven was far removed from the hassle and strife that went with the capital of Sotenar, and it was too small to gain the attention of the dark Duchess of the region.
But then tragedy struck the peaceful community...
The small village inn was packed with most of the villagers inside, crowding in the warmth and light on this cold evening. There was fresh news abroad. Just when they thought things couldn't get any worse for a certain family, one of the stable lads had raced in, shouting that the Lord de Jure had committed suicide. The village as one, crossed themselves and resumed their gossip.
"Well that seals it, a gypsy curse, I swear it." One man said adamantly. "Them deJure's came a cropper for a gypsy curse, must'a upset the travellers."
His companion shook his head and banged his mug of ale on the table in denial. "No. It's always gypsies with you. I don't think they were cursed."
A woman waded into the conversation. "What, you can't think it was coincidence? I'm willin' ta believe anything' after what that family been through."
"It's nowt more than bad luck what 'appened to 'em. Can't blame old Halvadien hanging 'imself." The man argued back, shivering at the thought of magic. "I challenge any of you t'come up with proof of foul play."
The three companions and the rest of the village stayed long and late in the Inn, swapping rumours and theories of the recent spate of tragedies that had hit the noble family of de Jure. It all started a couple of weeks ago, when he'd lost his youngest son in a hunting accident.
Everyone had mourned the loss of Balinrod, but agreed it was a tragic accident. Then the eldest daughter began to fall ill - with grief most said (and most whispered trouble with carrying a child). Gradually poor Relin joined her brother in the fresh grave.
To lose two children in such a short space of time would be too much to bear, but on a visit to pray at their graves, the remaining three daughters of Halvadien de Jure disappeared. There was no sign nor trace of them nor their abductors, save for a tasselled scarf that was caught on a branch. Thus came the rumours of gypsy interference in the family's fortune.
The eldest son rode out at once to recover his sisters, but was unsuccessful, and at the end of every day he returned to drown his sorrows in the village Inn. One night, drunk and in despair, he picked a fight with a stranger and came off worse. Alvairard lay dying from a knife wound while the other man scarpered, afraid of persecution.
At this final blow, Halvadien withdrew from the world. He had seen his family destroyed in less than one turn of the moon. One evening, after bidding his staff goodnight, he quite calmly had dinner with his wife, then cut her throat. Like a man possessed, he took a length of rope into the barn and tied one end to a rafter, the other he looped about his own neck. With a swift prayer to the gods and his last surviving son, he jumped...
Thus ends the family de Jure of the Zethyn Plains.
Drake had been given his instructions, and he intended to carry out the drastic action he had been employed for. He didn't ask why, or what for; he didn't care if the targets were innocent or guilty; they were marked for death, and that was the end of it.
The journey to the Zethyn Plains wasn't too bad. The weather was holding fair, and he was back in peak condition after his last injury. He'd walked the whole way, preferring his own two feet to some unpredictable and easy-to-see horse. Slung across his back was a rough bag containing everything he needed to live and work. Beneath his travelling cloak, there was hidden his usual array of daggers and knives.
Once at the Zethyn Plains, he aimed for the southern border, keeping hidden the whole way, travelling in the dead of night when necessary. It would be best if none saw him, then none would remember him, none would question his presence.
Eventually he came upon the household of the family de Jure. It was the middle of the night, but even in the dark he could see that the castle was small, so humble compared to the dwellings of other nobles. There were guards posted at the main gateway, but they were relaxed in their duty, obviously this was a post that never received threat. Just a happy little family that did their best to upset no one. Drake almost regretted the ease in which he passed the sentries as he entered via the stable gates. Keeping low in the night's shadows, Drake moved through the stables, his eyes sharp for movement and opportunity. Rather than even attempting to get through the front door, he headed to the kitchen, which was unbolted. Inside, he took a moment to get used to the near darkness, only a few flecks of red glowed in the fireplace. Moving slowly so as not to make a noise, Drake navigated his way out of the kitchen and through the castle. He made no hasty movements, sitting for as long as necessary to know that he was safe to move a yard further. Within his mind he built up the layout of the castle, slowly opening doors with infinite patience to learn who resided within each room. They were all here, all living under this one roof, just as he'd been told. Lord and Lady de Jure, and six of their children. The seventh, Balaric de Jure, was off playing the heroic knight, and was due a worse fate.
Drake stiffened as he felt the subtle shift, the freshness and ghostly light that foretold dawn was coming on swift wings. Opening the last door, he crept in, careful not to knock any furniture as he moved to gaze upon the woman that slept, blissfully unaware in dreams. Taking out a vial, Drake tipped the clear liquid mix of henbane and death cap into the waiting water pitcher by her bedside.
He froze as the young woman turned in her sleep and sighed. His eyes fixed on the face of Relin, knowing the fate he had subjected her to.
Near holding his breath, he backed out of the room and moved with fresh familiarity through the building, leaving via the gardens, unseen and alone.
Drake waited in the stables, hidden behind the feed bins when morning broke. Yawning stable lads dragged their feet and fed the horses with their eyes half-closed, then started to cart about the daily muck, unaware that today should be any different from every other. Life wasn't easy for them, no matter what they did, how hard they tried, the horses were never clean enough and the stables never met expectations. From his hiding place, Drake could hear the jolly banter between the lads as they joked and bad-mouthed their master and his sons, all the while knowing that they'd never say this to their master's face.
Huh, it seemed to be the way of the rich to forget that normal commoners had feelings and characters that existed outside of serving them. Drake had never worked a real job, but he felt a certain empathy to these low workers that were treated with disdain. It was nowt but ignorance. But what seethed within Drake was different to the contempt that the stable lads felt - he doubted that a stable lad would attack the master.
Before the morning had grown old, the two de Jure sons entered the yard, immediately silencing the gossip. They demanded their horses, which were quickly procured and tacked for them. The eldest gave the order for the rest of the horses to be turned out to grass while they went out hunting, then promptly rode out of the yard, his younger brother on his tail.
Drake waited until the grooms were all out of sight in the fields, then stood up. He flexed his stiff limbs then rushed out of the yard. Dodging the guards that lingered by the gates, Drake exited the estate and started to run. On foot he had no hope of catching the de Jure boys up, but he didn't need to, he could see the horses in the distance, vanishing into the forest that encroached upon the plains. With a certain single-mindedness, Drake set off after them. When he hit the trees, he scouted around until he found their trail. It led due east and he followed it, then noticed two more sets of tracks had joined the de Jure horses. He knelt down to make sure, then backed off into the scrub, settling down to wait once more. Most people didn't seem to realise that most of his job was waiting - or maybe they just didn't think about it.
The day wore on and it was past midday when Drake heard the sound of hooves and laughter. Four riders came back down the track, bows slung over their shoulders and fresh kills strung over their horses' backs. Two of the riders were the de Jure boys. In front of Drake, they pulled to a halt.
"Same time tomorrow?" One of the unknown men called.
"Yes, I want a rematch - that last shot didn't count." Alvairard de Jure replied.
"Rematch or not, you won't catch anythin' to impress Diana." The man retorted. With a laugh, he turned his horse away down another track that headed for the village, taking his friend with him.
The de Jure brothers (Alvairard reddening in the face), kicked on for a steady trot back to the estate.
Alone again, Drake took advantage of the silence to catch some sleep before tonight.
That night, Drake returned to the castle. As before he slipped into the residence unchallenged. He made his way without detour straight to Relin's quarters. There he let himself in and moved to the bedside, taking out another vial of poison and tipping it into her water.
Job done, Drake leant close to the sleeping woman. She looked paler, showing the first signs of fever. He held his hand close to her skin, but did not touch, able to feel the subtle raise in temperature around her.
Drake flinched as the woman's eyes suddenly flew open, and he found himself rooted beneath her sea-green gaze. His heart sped at being caught here.
But shockingly, the woman smiled. "You came, I've been waiting for you. Are you just a dream?"
Her voice was soft and quiet, a whispered confession that was half in dream. She reached out with a pale hand, but stopped just short of touching his face.
"Hush, sleep now. Dream where we are together."
Drake replied, trying to soften his own rough tones. Oh bloody hell, he'd be the laughing stock amongst his peers if they could see this.
But Relin obediently closed her eyes and sighed. "I'm afraid you'll leave me."
Drake gritted his teeth and pulled away. "I will return tomorrow, and every night." He promised.
Disturbed by this incident, Drake withdrew silently from Relin's room and rushed along the dark corridors. He left the castle again, with only one detour, to pick up a vital prop for tomorrow's sport. A bow and arrows belonging to the de Jure men.
Drake didn't wait inside the estate this time, he made straight for the forests, and when the sun finally rose he followed yesterday's tracks deep into the trees. When he was happy with his position, he got comfortable, and waited...
The sun hadn't reached its zenith by the time he heard four horses thudding down the track. The riders were silent, already preparing for the hunt. They dismounted near Drake and tied their horses to some low branches, before continuing on foot. Drake followed them with silent feet, his eyes jumping from man to man as they spread out. Watching the older Alvairard put an arrow to string, Drake copied his movements, but altered his aim. As Alvairard let loose a wild arrow that spun uselessly through the canopy, Drake's aim was a little more accurate.
There was a scream and a thud, and Alvairard set off, running to his brother's side. Drake followed at a safe distance. He looked down with professional interest. Well, he needn't have tipped his arrow in poison after all, the wound to the boy's neck was lethal. Drake turned and left the scene where Alvairard cradled the young brother that "he" had killed.
Yelina, Luciga and Rihvon.
That night, Drake went again to the castle. As he passed the guards unseen, he sensed the sorrow that was tonight's cause of silence. Inside the residence, he could hear the weeping of a forlorn mother as he passed Lady Morlania's rooms. But he kept going until he reached Relin's rooms. He paused outside, taking a deep breath, still unsettled after last night's interaction.
Going in, he checked to see if she was asleep. The woman was laying rigid in her bed, her eyes wide open and strained. Drake could see the redness of her eyes around the more brilliant blue-green iris. Relin gasped as she saw him, but locked her gaze onto him, hungry to see him.
"I knew you'd come back."
She whispered, her voice quivering - Drake was not sure whether with excitement or because of the fever that racked her body.
"You're my angel, will you take me with you, my love?"
Disturbed by these words, Drake knelt beside her bedside, his face level with hers. He smiled. He was no angel, and could never be her love. The assassin blamed the hallucinogenic properties of the poison for her words. He reached out a rough hand and placed it gently against her smooth cheek. "Not yet, Relin. Sleep, so tomorrow comes all the faster."
The young woman shivered at his touch. His hand must be so cold compared to her burning skin. But she refused to close her eyes. "But you'll disappear when I do. If you must leave, leave me with a kiss."
Drake stared, trapped in her gaze once more. What was it with noble women, they all seemed to crave affirmation of love from men, they were ruled by it. Reluctantly, Drake leaned in and pressed his lips gently against hers, careful that his coarse stubble shouldn't touch her delicate face.
When he pulled back, he saw with relief that her eyes were closed and her breath deep and regular.
Silently cursing himself, he stood up, drawing a third vial from a pocket and emptying the contents into the water.
Again, he crept from her rooms and vanished into the night...
The following night, Drake returned, his pulse already racing by the time he reached Relin's quarters. He stood outside for a longer stretch of time, then eventually worked up the courage to enter.
He whispered. There was no reply, so he moved closer.
He murmured again. The woman twitched in her sleep and her eyes moved beneath her lids, but did not open. Her breath was rapid and uneven, and Drake could see the beads of sweat on the weak limbs. He withdraw the fourth vial of poison and looked at it in his hands. It was unnecessary, but he might as well give it anyway. He tipped it into the water and left. He paused at her door, glancing back at the bed.
He whispered, then left, knowing that this was the last time he'd see her.
Drake stayed away from the estate, lingering on the edge of the village so he could hear the gossip, that the eldest daughter, Relin de Jure had died from fever, probably due to grief. That her family were conducting a second funeral so soon.
Drake watched the funeral from a distance, the figures nothing but blurred shadows. He kept his sight fixed on the funeral party and didn't flinch as he was joined by two men.
"When?" One asked gruffly.
"Tomorrow." Drake replied in equal tone.
Without another word, the two men walked away.
The next day Drake loitered by the graveyard. His eyes flicked over the older graves, and rested on the two piles of fresh earth. He sighed, pulling his cloak tighter against the sudden chill as he waited. The two men arrived, and walked straight up to him, the three of them stood without talking.
Time crept by, but eventually more people arrived at the graveyard. Three girls, dressed in fine black clothes, accompanied by four guards wearing de Jure livery. The guards hung back, but the girls went forward to the new graves. Two looked as like as twins and stood clasping each others arms. The third was in tears and broke down, falling to her knees at the loss of a brother and sister.
Drake nodded to his acquaintances and they stepped towards the de Jure soldiers, each with a knife suddenly to hand. Drake stabbed the nearest guard in the abdomen, then knocked away a hurried attack from the second and drove a knife between his ribs. Drake pushed the man away from him, watching dispassionately as he dropped to the ground and convulsed. Looking to his side, he saw the other two guards had been dealt with swiftly by his comrades.
He was suddenly aware of high pitched screaming and turned to the three girls. He wiped his bloody knife on his cloak and put it away, noting that the other two followed his lead.
The girls seemed frozen to the spot, paralysed by all that had happened. Drake reached the oldest, Yelina, and with a sharp movement, twisted her head. The screaming stopped and she fell to the ground, limp. Drake turned to see the progress of the others. Each man took a twin and gave a sickening blow to the skull.
Drake took a deep breath. He didn't enjoy killing, he just did it because he was paid to. But there was something particularly wrong about killing girls. Oh well, he'd burn in hell later for it.
With the help of his "friends", they picked up the girl's bodies and left the graveyard. Drake paused to pull an old colourful scarf from his pocket, letting the wind take it against the bushes. They'd hide the bodies, the men would take the money Drake had promised them, then he'd get ready for the next part.
Life got quieter for Drake for a few days. He stuck mainly to the village to learn via the townsfolks unending gossip. He heard that the Lord de Jure, after all his recent tragedy had just lost three daughters. But they hadn't died - everyone was adamant about that. They had been kidnapped. Either as a plot to blackmail Lord Halvadien de Jure, or maybe they'd been taken to be sold into slavery or worse! And everyone was convinced the gypsies were behind it somehow - even without absolute evidence, they felt it in their bones it was those gypsies.
Lord Halvadien was getting older and remained in his estate, waiting for news, while his elder son (trying to reclaim his honour after killing his younger brother) rode out to search for his sisters.
Drake had only to wait for the young master Alvairard to return from his unsuccessful hunt. In the meantime, he moved unnoticed through the village, searching each face until he found two that he recognised - the two friends that joined Alvairard and Balinrod on that fateful hunt. Surely Alvairard would seek them out when he returned. So Drake waited patiently.
Eventually that day came. News spread like wildfire through the village that Alvairard was back, empty-handed and more shamed than ever. Drake kept a closer eye on the young lord's friends, and when he saw them enter the Inn, he decided that it was time to have a drink himself.
Taking his mug of ale, Drake sat in a dark corner, a silent hooded figure that everyone eyed with distrust. But eventually as the evening wore on and the drink flowed, most began to ignore him.
The whole gossiping Inn fell deadly silent when the door swung open and Alvairard walked in. Drake watched the young man carefully. He seemed drained, his face was pale and his eyes staring, as though he were living a nightmare and longed to wake. Alvairard was quickly joined by his two friends, and pulled over to a quiet table and plied with ale.
Drake sat quietly drinking, Whiling the hours away with his own thoughts. He preferred his own company - everyone else just annoyed and frustrated him.
He kept an eye on the far table, watching as the young lord became increasingly intoxicated, obviously seeking the sweet abyss that existed without constant caring and thinking.
Drake finished his ale and set the mug down, it was about time. It would all look innocent enough, he'd stumble over, looking more drunk than he was; knock into Alvairard, then start accusing him like any drunken idiot would. Then in the brawl, he'd slip a knife into the action, then get out of this place. Nice and simple, just how Drake liked it.
He stood up, pulling his cloak straight and loosening a knife from its hold. But as he stepped towards the young lord, a drunken idiot pushed him aside and, teetering off balance staggered towards Alvairard.
"Oh, 'ere 'e is. Show 'is bloody face like. Bah, you should be 'ung for what ya did." The man shouted, spit flying from his quivering lips.
Alvairard stood and drew a dagger. "I... I ask that you take care, sir." He stuttered, struggling to form his words. He held the dagger up as warning, but his hand shook.
"Better that you'd died than Balinrod - he'd find your sisters. But then he wouldn' be a murdere-"
The man didn't get to finish his insult, Alvairard launched towards him with a cry. The two collided and fell backwards over the table and were scrabbling around. The entire Inn was now focussed on the brawl.
Then everything seemed to freeze. The drunken idiot was gasping for breath and stood up quickly, shock making him sober up fast. His hands were bloody and he dropped Alvairard's dagger to the floor, then hurtled through the crowd to the door. Those closest and soberest shouted for help and for the stranger to stop. The rest craned their necks, then sobbed with horror when they saw young Alvairard spitting his last few breaths, his hands pressed to a spreading red stain.
Drake raised a brow. It was rare for him to be surprised. But... he quickly processed what had just happened and put his unused knife back into its place. What do you know?
He pulled his hood up over his head and shouldered his way out of the Inn, wondering if he could still claim on this one.
Lord and Lady de Jure
There was no point in waiting. He should strike while the iron was hot. The news would reach Lord Halvadien either tonight or (if the messenger was cowardly) in the morning. It was perfectly plausible that the old lord would be driven mad with loss. Drake only had to wait for the opportunity that came with an empty household.
He spent the next day making sure he was ready to travel south, it was going to be a long journey to meet his employer. He made sure that he had food supplies and a full water flask, he polished his array of knives - more attentive to those than he was to any person.
Then eventually when the sun was low in the sky, Drake made his way to the de Jure estate one last time. This was the earliest he had ever entered the place, but it was eerily quiet, the staff and guards alike keen to be away from a place that obviously harboured a severe curse or bad luck.
Drake hung back in the shadows as he watched the last of the staff leave for the day, it was obvious that they didn't want to sleep under that roof any more. He wondered if anyone dared to stay overnight to wait on their lord and lady, or did they just leave them to the evil spirits.
Drake moved into the castle, going straight to the dining room. He opened the door, one hand at his belt, ready to draw a weapon. In the flicker of candlelight he saw the solitary figure of a mature lady sitting at a grand table.
"What-? Who are you?" The woman asked, remaining perfectly composed.
Drake looked about the room, even glancing behind the door. Seeing no one, he walked towards her. "Where's your husband?" He asked. Close now, he could see the resemblance between Lady Morlania and Relin. They had the same eyes.
Lady Morlania delicately put her fork down. "Lord de Jure is in his office. You are rather late for an audience with him, our staff have already left for the evening."
Drake took a deep breath and moved in for the kill, the knife flashing through the air as he pulled it from his belt and cut across her throat with little resistance. He paused to wipe the spots of blood from the blade, before leaving the dining room without a second glance at the late Lady de Jure.
Now familiar with the inner workings of the castle, Drake went directly to the Lord's office and threw the door open with no hesitation. The Lord was standing over his desk, staring down at papers without seeing. He snapped up, eyes bulging at the sight of this young man bursting in. Drake didn't lose a moment and grabbed the Lord's arm and held a knife against his ribs.
"Let's go for a walk, your Lordship."
He growled, roughly forcing Lord Halvadien through the door and down the corridor.
The walk to the barn seemed eternally long, and Halvadien kept stopping and gabbling nonsense - it really did seem like the old man had been driven mad.
Inside the barn it was darker, but Drake's eyes quickly grew accustomed and he pushed the Lord into place. There was a tricky moment as he struggled to grab the length of rope without letting go of the Lord; but soon the noose was over the old man's head.
"P-please, please sir, anything." The touch of rope seemed to awaken the Lord Halvadien and he rushed to speak, to bargain, to beg.
Drake said nothing in reply, the man was already dead in his eyes and no words could change that. He let go of Lord Halvadien's arms and swiftly pulled the other end of the rope, make it tense and suddenly the Lord was pulled into the air. The rope snagged a few times over the rafter, and it moved with the struggling efforts of the dying Lord, but Drake managed to get it secured. He looked over the barn, giving a quick calculation to make sure the rope was the right length for the Lord to have jumped from the top floor. Then he walked out, heading back to the castle. Drake made a quick trip to the Lord's office, sweeping all papers into his bag, he went through the draws, emptying their contents, taking everything. Gold and jewels held no interest for him, this was about information that would be paid for.
Happy with the work, Drake slung his bag onto his back and made his way out of the castle, back into the night, disappearing again.
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