“A mellow and solemn tune drifted from notes plucked from a harp. This sorrowful tune with no room for mirth or cheer, harbored vicious intent and narrow fear. The song, a fitting tribute to two lives living in despair.
Two lovers held each other in their arms and whispered their hopes while danger drew near. Their love was forbidden for their great families warred and killed in the name of righteousness. Each wielding truth as their sword and lies as their shield, yet in their blindness, they trampled the hope of these two lovers. “
A tall actor in luxurious noble attire stood upon the dark stage regaling his enraptured audience with an elaborate story of two lover’s tragic tale. It was not an original story, there were many like it, there were even those who had to tread on this unfortunate path. There was no stranger to a love that was not meant to be, and it came in many shapes and forms.
Thinking back, Aleks had one such memory, or perhaps many even. While he had experienced untold lifetimes, his memories had become a tangled mess. They fluttered like unkempt grass and basked in the shadowy embrace of whittled dreams. Which iteration was it? A hundred lifetimes ago? Or perhaps twenty-three? It could very well be that a multitude of memories had swirled and ebbed until they had become a garbled mixture, seemingly appearing as one solitary event. Except that every time he tried to remember the event, while the scenario stayed the same, the names did change.
Ah yes… Jezebel… A name I shall naught forget. Through the sifting sand of his memories, a single name jumped to the forefront of his shattered thoughts.
“Carmine, we must flee immediately or else our lives will be in danger.” Said a breathless woman who trembled in fear.
She turned her head left and right, frantically as if searching for an unknown threat. A dreary road spread before them into the distance, its cobblestone packed frame worn with the passing of time. A slumbering manor built from ancient stone bared its shadowed fangs in the listless night, stretching forth as if to swallow the unforbidden love of the teary-eyed couple. All this, setting the stage for the tragedy that had yet to come.
“Jezebel my love, then let us depart. I have prepared everything we shall need to begin anew. Do not worry, we will settle in a peaceful place where we can live our lives together with no fear.” Carmine, hand outstretched, spoke as if conversing with the starry night and in his quivering hand, a gentle red rose.
It seemed like she was touched by her lover’s determination, and a warm light began to shine from her face. The fear having receded, now her eyes were filled with hope.
“Yes, my love, let us depart!” Jezebel responded with courage from her heart and the two lovers climbed upon a horse and rode swiftly through the night.
But it wasn’t long before pursuing knights desperately chased after them, a reminder of their carelessness. They urged their horse on, driven to the depths of their resolve. Neither one would allow their love to be stripped from them.
No…. no…. Aleks suddenly shook his head and grasped it with one hand, pain filling his mind and clouding his thoughts. He struggled against the pain, gritting his teeth beneath the mask.
As for Lenia, she had been so enamored in the drama unfolding before her eyes, that she failed to notice the sudden struggle within her master’s mind. In truth it had only been a momentary lapse and but she would have normally been able to perceive the sudden change.
Flashes of lightning darted across the midnight sky. They were blinding in their ferocity. Rain poured haphazardly down from the sky, drenching the cracked earth.
A man and a woman were surrounded by sneering soldiers who taunted the man to no end. They laughed at his misfortune while the man glared at them in defiance. He would protect the woman he loved. Those were his most sincere thoughts, for he had planned to give his life that she might live. He had thrown everything away for her and they had been unknowingly caught and surrounded by vicious men.
The brave man swung his blade to keep his enemies at bay, all while shielding the woman behind him. His opponents only laughed harder, pretending to strike and then quickly falling back. They were toying with him and enjoying his vain struggle.
Despite that, he kept his resolve and continued to look for an opening. If he could make an opening, at least his love could escape while he held the soldiers off. That was what he thought and while he continued to strive to save his precious beloved, he felt a sudden pain in his side. He reflexively touched where he felt the pain and felt something warm and wet. When he brought his hand to his eyes, his hand was covered in his blood.
He couldn’t understand what happened, no enemies had gotten close. Was it magic? He looked to his side to see if the woman he loved was safe and for the first time he saw a wicked and crooked smile on her face. In her hand was a bloody dagger, the one she had used to stab him. He finally knew dismay as he saw the woman he loves step away from him and behind the soldiers that had surrounded him.
“Jezebel, why!?” He could barely speak over the thunder and rain and his own pain.
Jezebel stared at him with that crooked smile and laughed, “This was what we had planned from the beginning. Carmine, you are a fool to have given up everything for love. Now your entire clan will be killed and it begins with you, the only heir.”
“No… this can’t be… Jezebel.. What?”
Carmine fell to his knees in despair as the laughter of the soldiers around him crowded out his thoughts. His blood continued to gush out of his wound, staining his clothes as he turned his head in a daze and looked at the now blurry figures surrounding him.
“Poison?” He wasn’t sure if he said those words out loud or thought them.
If I could just stand, he thought as he struggled to move his body, but he lacked the strength.
“I never loved you.” Those were the last words he heard before he drifted off into unconsciousness and finally, into the sweet comfort of death.
“Something wrong Aleks? You wouldn’t want to miss the grand finale, hahahahaha.” Someone to his side spoke while laughing, but for a moment, Aleks wasn’t sure where he was.
His blurred vision stabilized and he could once again see the stage before him. There were several actors acting out a battle scene where the knights of two different clans fought each other to death. The two lovers looked on from a distance in sadness for they had escaped their clans, but they could not bring peace.
A childish story about a fool blinded by a mere obsession. Love is an illusion, there is only power and from that, everything is obtainable.
“I’m fine.” Aleks said, collecting himself and fully returning to the present.
Don Gregorio glanced at Aleks for only a brief moment and then his eyes wandered restlessly to the two balconies above the stage. He then pulled a pocket watch out of the breast pocket of his shirt and while checking the time said, “looks like it is just about time.”
As the drama of the play unfolded and it appeared to be winding down to the last moments, the Don looked over at Aleks and smiled mischievously.
“Do you know what happens when certain magic tools are overloaded with magical energy and then that energy is pushed past their tipping point?”
Aleks knew very well the answer to the Don’s question, but he remained silent. He had no desire in partaking in childish banter with a petty man such as the Don. Don Gregorio, thinking Aleks was ignorant of the answer, chuckled under his breath and then whispered
The theatregoers within had no idea what was taking place. To them, it was just another evening at the theatre, watching a tragic yet classical play. To Aleks however, it felt dirty and invasive window into his own mind, but those were irrelevant thoughts now and he pushed them out of his mind.
The Don’s whisper was barely audible for the moment he spoke, the entire building was rocked by two large explosions. The two lovers were exchanging their final vows as the play came to its climax: they were surrounded, with no hopes of survival and only a vial poison for both of them. One of them was to drink the poison and the other would use a blade. But they were unable to pass on in each other’s arms as their bodies were scattered over the front row.
There was a certain quietness in the moments after the explosions hit, where one couldn’t even hear the sound of a pin drop. But, that only lasted only a moment, when a woman let out a cry having the head of the main actor roll in front of her feet.
Chaos ensued as people rushed to escape from the theatre, fear motivating them beyond reason. They clawed and fought their way to safety without regard for anyone else’s safety other than their own. People were trampled under the feet of those luckier than they and those who made it out of the theatre heaved sighs of relief. Many of them quickly distanced themselves from the entrance and ran to where they would feel safe.
The balconies where the other Dons of the city had been sitting, and enjoying the play, had both been reduced to rubble. They had all died without any knowledge of what was about to befall them, completely oblivious to the fate which had been decided for them by another.
Lenia had acted immediately of course, she was not aware that something like this would happen and her first thoughts were of protecting her master. She quickly jumped out of her seat and pulled a knife out of a small sheath that had been strapped to her leg beneath her dress. Her eyes quickly surveyed the surroundings looking for any potential danger, but with the chaos, it was difficult for her to see much.
Aleks had not moved even one inch and sat patiently in his seat. Lenia noticed her master’s calm and looked at him dubiously. Noticing his calm, she felt somewhat foolish at her actions but since she could not read her master’s intent, she continued to remain on high alert.
Don Gregorio had not moved as well, instead he laughed loudly as he brushed the dust from the explosion off his clothes. There were a few others nearby who had remained standing in their positions, but most had now fled. There was an occasional wail or cry of help from those unlucky ones who had been trampled on or who had become injured in the chaotic evacuation.
Finally, Aleks broke his silence and said to Lenia, “calm down and sit.”
She continued to look at her master with uncertainty, but he repeated himself while motioning her to sit. Lenia finally complied and sat back down next to her master but she was filled with confusion. She couldn’t understand what her master was thinking but she realized he must have the situation under control and so she relaxed.
Don Gregorio clapped and loudly exclaimed, “It’s done!” He then turned to Aleks and said, “Aleks, join together with me and the both of us can run this city! How about it!?”
The Don seemed to be in an excellent mood as he asked Aleks this question. Aleks turned to look at Gregorio through the eye sockets of the mask, made a sound of displeasure, and said, “so I can end up like those poor saps? I think not. We had a deal, that is all I want from you.”
His words were cold causing a brief moment of silence. Those that had remained within the theatre were all the Don’s men and they tensed up at Aleks’ words. They were expecting more violence to take place, but Aleks showed no concern, even if Lenia became wary once again.
Don Gregorio finally broke the silence with a laugh and then said, “…of course, Of course! I am a man who keeps his word after all. You got your mask didn’t you? I will have my men escort you out of the city through the secret passageway. It’s a shame, though. We could have done great things together. Well, now that our business is concluded, we’re done here. I’m sure we’ll be seeing each other again. Rex, get your men and escort our fine friend here out of the city.”
Aleks stood and said, “I wish to… pay my respects to the dead. One moment.”
Don Gregorio glanced at Aleks curiously and said, “I don’t get it, but so be it. Not like they’re going anyway, but you should make it quick.”
Aleks nodded and walked towards the corpses littering the floor. He momentarily crouched over them before moving on to the next. To anyone watching, it would look as if he crouched over them momentarily, but in truth, Aleks was devouring their souls beneath the mask. This was not something a normal Human would be capable of seeing.
I gained a few hundred SP from their corpses, 550 SP to be exact. A decent harvest. I have obtained 1250 SP after I created Lenia, this will serve me well in the future. Now I must move quickly and leave this place, Aleks thought to himself.
After he finished, he motioned to Lenia and followed after Rex, the Don’s man. Lenia followed quickly after him while keeping a cautious eye on all of the Don’s henchmen. She wasn’t about to let any of them out of her sight and glared at them violently. Rex led Aleks and Lenia out of the theatre and once they were gone from sight, the Don stood and looked towards the exit while chuckling maliciously.
“I think we’ll be seeing each other sooner than you think.”
News of the bloodbath at the theatre spread quickly and the city guard swiftly moved into the Red Light District declaring martial law. When they finally reached the theatre, they found none but the dead within and began a thorough investigation into the happenings of the night. They gradually increased martial law to the entire city, shutting down the gates at all entrances to the city. No one was allowed in, or out.
It was difficult for the investigators to determine who had died in the explosion since it had caused a fire and the corpses had been too badly burned to be recognized. Although, it was believed to be a quarrel between criminal organizations within the city and while normally they would turn a blind eye to their illegal activity, this had pushed things too far and had drawn too much attention. There were members of the nobility who had been in attendance within the theatre that night.
Fortunately, no nobles had lost their lives and a great deal of coin changed hands. It soon spread that a man in a unique gold mask was the perpetrator behind the attack. The next day, many posters would be plastered around the city with a crude likeness of him.
“He will pass through Kirin‘s passageway at the left fork. Wait for him there.” A dirty street thug told a man clad in silver colored armor.
“Haha, finally I will be able to earn some merit. My father has been searching for this miscreant and I will be the one to catch him. I will surely be rewarded for this!” The silver-clad man excitedly pounded his fist against the palm of his other hand while speaking.
“My boss said you shouldn’t underestimate him,” warned the lowly gang member.
This only angered the heavily armored man who slapped the gangster with his gauntlet breaking the man’s lip.
“How dare you speak to me in such a way, you filth. Get out of my sight. I will handle this in the way that I deem fit. Tell your boss that I will overlook this slight since you have given me good information. The next time I see you, I will lock you up in the catacombs beneath the Cathedral and torture the sin out of you.”
Hearing his words, the dirty street thug ran for his life while wiping blood off his lip.
“I must keep this a secret from my father for now.” He knew his father had been searching for a strange heathen and he was certain the individual that Don Gregorio informed him about was the one he was searching for.
He didn’t know the reason why his father was so adamant in his search but it didn’t matter. If he could capture or kill the man and bring him to his father, then he would surely be rewarded. As the youngest son with the weakest amount of divine blood among his siblings, he could only strive to gain recognition through obtaining merits.
“Irene, present yourself.” The man clad in silver armor called out to one of his subordinates.
Irene stepped forward, saluted and awaited her superior’s orders.
“You are to gather our squad, do not alert anyone else to what you are doing, especially my family members. Tell no one! Go.”
“Commander!” Irene saluted once more, got on her horse, and rode off towards their Order’s barracks.
Somewhere not far from where the thug met in secret with a member of the Order of the Sacred Flames of Mourning, Aleks suddenly chuckled mirthlessly. Lenia, who was walking by his side, looked towards him with interest. It wasn’t normal for her master to chuckle and she saw no reason for him to do so.
“Master….” She thought to ask but then changed her mind so as not to disturb him.
She glanced at him a few times but he showed no interest in her, or in sharing his thoughts. He only continued to follow the men that Don Gregorio had provided to guide them to the secret passageway out of the city. They had just barely escaped the Red Light District before the city guard arrived and time was of the essence.
It would be impossible for them to leave the city through the gates and this was the only way to leave unnoticed. She didn’t really understand the need for the roundabout way her master was doing things. He should have been able to find the way himself using his own abilities. Why did he feel the need to use those filthy humans? He could probably have found the mask on his own as well. She just couldn’t comprehend his way of doing things no matter how she thought about.
Her master’s mind was far too incomprehensible for her.
Rex turned towards Aleks and said, “we’re just ‘bout there, the entrance’s in a cellar ‘neath this ‘bandoned church.” He pointed at an old church which seemed to just be barely holding on. The foundation was mostly solid, but there were a few holes in the wall and roof. It was run down and appeared to be a church to an unknown deity. Lenia wasn’t too familiar with the various deities that existed in their world, but she was familiar with a few from her master’s teaching.
“I see. This church, hmm… There are no markings of any kind on the steeple. Which deity did this church worship?” Aleks asked.
“I dunno nothing ‘bout that, it’s been ‘ere a long time, more than a hundred years! Who knows what them blokes back ‘en worshipped. Don’t care too!” Rex’s words were crude and lacked respect which angered Lenia.
She reflexively moved her hand near her dagger but was stopped by a look from Aleks.
“I see, why don’t you bring us inside and show us the cellar and then your job is done.” Aleks said.
“‘Oight then! ” Rex replied with little concern.
Don Gregorio’s men led Aleks and Lenia into the decrepit church and finally to the entrance of the cellar.
“‘ere it is, now be on ya way!” Rex motioned to the cellar entrance while shrugging confidently. It was clear he had no respect for Aleks and was happy to be done with his job.
“Thank you for leading us here. I wish to express my gratitude with a gift.” Aleks said without emotion.
Rex looked over at his subordinates and they all laughed expectantly, “Oy, this bloke wants to ‘ive us a gift! Haha, sounds good. What is it?”
Before Rex could finish speaking he turned to Lenia and said, “Lenia, kill them.”
Lenia revealed a wicked smile, “My pleasure.”