The Assassins of Lunakirk

rating: +15+x

Howard Leight once again found himself hunched over the tanned piece of vellum stretched across his table, the manuscript illuminated by the dying embers of the hearth and stunted candles. The cartographer, still dressed in formal wear from his evening meal, sat before an open window. He held a crow's feather between his teeth, the quill sharpened to a point, as his hands were occupied with rearranging the various inkwells scattered about the cartography table.

Carefully setting the quill down, he selected a brush and refreshed it in the black inkwell, the paint within thinned down to a simple wash. With several measured flicks of his wrist, Howard painted the borders of his home city, Blackchapel, watching as the murky ink settled across the vellum surface. One third of the map — the left-most section — was coated from north to south. A thin strip of blue paint cut through the blackened page to mark the River Thames and its dockyards. To its right, a large chalk paste stain blotted out the boundaries of County Arkham, dancing lightly around the Stormfangs — the storm-swept and frozen sea abounding the southernmost extents of both territories.

Nestling between Blackchapel and County Arkham, Howard painted the lands of the Grand Duchy of Lesser Wallachia, a vast swathe of red wash swallowing much of the map's unblemished surface. The red tide extended in all four cardinal directions, engulfing the Southern Carpathian mountains and the forests of Oltenita. It continued onwards and submerged the tributaries of the Danube and the Olt, before coming to an abrupt halt at the northernmost boundaries of the map — the Long Pale.

Neither noise nor breeze emerged through the window and Howard was content to lean further forward. Replacing his brush for a quill, he dipped it into the recesses of a fine golden pigment set aside for the detailed labelling of the map’s features. It would be a delicate task, Howard concluded, requiring the utmost of his concentration. Settling his hands together and momentarily stilling his accursed shaking, Howard began etching names into the vellum’s surface; Albescu, Castle Drakul, Trajan's Bridge, Blackchapel, Miskaton. Voices rose up from the streets below him, slowly building in volume, until a loud slam broke out from behind him. Jumping at the sudden sound, Howard knocked an inkwell free from his table, blood-red ink dripping thick onto the tiled floor beneath, the pool seeping into the channels between each tile.

'Caius preserve!' Cursing loudly, Howard rose from his seat and turned to regard whoever dared intrude upon his tranquil studies. A tall, broad figure stood within the frame of his study's doorway, their squared facial features faintly clearer to Howard in the fireplace's dimming embers.

His butler, George, stepped into the study. 'Forgive me, Mr. Leight, the door just slipped out from m'hand,' George scanned the room with a cursory glance, examining his master’s spillage, before pushing the door close and turning his attention to the multitude of dents in the neighbouring wall. 'I’ll plaster those up, Mr. Leight.'

Howard returned to his seat, uprighting the spilled inkwell. 'That's the second time today that you've introduced yourself with such a grand cacophony, George. What is the issue this time?'

'There's a bloke here to see you, Mr. Leight. Tall, dark complexion, and dressed in the Livery.'

Howard looked up from his work and glanced at the cracked timepiece before him. 'Very well, see him in, George. You may leave us unattended, I expect there will be no need for refreshments.'

His servant left silently, closing the door with a far gentler touch. Busying himself with his work, the cartographer replaced the cork stoppers on the inkwells and set aside the books piled high about his table.

Placing one last worn scroll back upon its rack, Howard glanced once more into the cracked timepiece upon the shelves, adjusted his bow-tie, and approached the open windows of his study.

'The night air is most pleasant tonight, would you not agree?' Howard asked.

Silently, a hooded figure emerged onto the ledge running along the window, gesturing as if to answer Howard’s question. The figure withdrew their cowl and Howard could make out the dark-skinned features previously concealed beneath layers of shadow and cloth. The man, Cyrus, was intimately familiar to Howard. He crouched within the window’s frame, the wind running through his long black hair, oiled with a substance betraying notes of lavender and jasmine. On this night, as with any other night, his beard was cropped short and narrow along his jaw.

'If only such a truth were known to all who called this city home.' Cyrus replied. A response containing the closing introduction of the Cant. He wore a black cloak, lined on the inside with ostentatious red satin, and fastened about the neck with a golden broach — four interlaced triangles etched into the symbol.

'Do you plan to linger upon my window ledge all night, Cyrus,’ Howard asked, rapping his fingers indignantly against the etched windowsill. ‘Or would you rather explain precisely why you were making your identity known to my butler of all people?’

‘A contract has been bought, Leight.’ The assassin produced a single weathered coin from inside the leather bracers worn about his wrists and idly tossed it towards Howard.

'Oh. By whom? The Navvies, or perhaps the Smiths?' Howard asked, carefully inspecting the coin. It was clipped, old worn metal, and poorly forged — barely worth its own weight in value. The mint responsible for casting such shoddy coinage must have been primitive indeed; either that, or the minter themselves was of similarly primitive disposition.

'Three guilds; the Powders, the Bankers, and — of course — ourselves.' Cyrus' eyes moved from the coin as he ran his thumbs over two leather pommels jutting out from paired belts wrapped tight around his waist. Cyrus was one of numerous "citizens" employed by the Alchemists Guild, serving their interests beneath the cover of the night.

Three separate guilds? Normally bickering amongst themselves over the triviliates of politics and economics, the Livery Guilds of Blackchapel were rarely united in any matter, and unison between the assassins employed by said Guilds was an ever rarer and sordid affair. Howard considered this matter for a moment before speaking. 'A contract bounteous enough to unite the three largest rivals amongst the Liveries; a guild alone could not finance such a contract without drawing the ire of the others. How was I not informed of this, Cyrus?'

'Am I not informing you as we speak?' He replied drily, idly returning his attention once more to his long-knives.

'No, you are not,' Howard said as he raised an eyebrow. 'Now, if you would just quit your evasiveness for once and be brief and curt about the matter at hand?’

'Yes, fine. What would you like to know about our contract?' He asked.

Howard stood up from his chair, pacing about the room as he furrowed his brow in concentration. 'Who offered the contract, and when?'

Cyrus ran his fingers through the neatly cropped stubble of his salt-and-pepper beard. An idle gesture of concentration from a man who couldn't countenance the concept of remaining still for longer than the tick of a clock. 'Honestly, we’ve not a clue. Anonymous contact. They used some poor Wallachian waif as their messenger. She presented the Guilds with the contract on this very night, though our sewer rats are whispering that she was seen meandering about the Livery District for some days prior.'

'I believe I asked for brevity, Cyrus,' Howard sighed and began fishing around in his waistcoat pockets. 'How much was the contract's target evaluated at?'

'100,000 Guildmarks. You're holding a miser's sum of the total payment in your hands.'

100,000 Guildmarks! That was a Duke's ransom and then some, he mused to himself as he produced the magnifying spectacles from his waistcoat and examined the coin carefully. The coin was defaced, the relief bearing no recognisable image. The date of its minting had been imprinted below the rim — 1477.

'And who was the assassination target?' Howard asked.

Cyrus smiled, steadying himself upon the ledge and leaning inside the study. His mouth turned into a white grimace as his amber eyes shone in the hearthlight.

'A Wallachian Pureblood.'

Adrian sat upon the crumbling edifice of Hightower Church, watching as the citizens below hurried back indoors with the clanging of the midnight bell. The New Moon was upon them, a shadowed blot of ink spilling across the night's deep blue sky. The perfect opportunity for a spot of thievery.

Balancing upon his heels, Adrian took off at a sprint and his feet struck out against the cobbled roof, sending slates clattering into the gutters and crashing to the streets beneath. The thrill rode through him like a fulgurspark chasing the hidden currents of a storm's wind as he leapt from roof to roof. Aged tiles crumbled beneath his moccasins and he was careful to prevent his pitch-soaked toes from touching the ground beneath. The pitch, although useful for finding purchase within footholds, would send him tumbling to the streets if they caught against the uneven tiling of the roofs.

To Adrian's right stretched the mighty Lake Azur, an immense body of water lying in the yawning shadow of the Carpathian Mountains. An imperious cliff watched over the eastern bank of the lake, bathing the waters below in darkness as the lake's waves lapped at the cliff face. Atop that cliff stood Castle Drakul, the royal residence of House Dănești, the lawful rulers of Lesser Wallachia for the past sixteen generations. Casting his eyes back along the rooftops, Adrian could just barely make out two figures standing with their backs to a chimney stack.

Marius grunted as he grasped the ledge and hauled himself onto the rooftop. Two similarly dressed figures were already gathered atop the roof, their backs to the crumbling pile of bricks and mortar that had once likely been a smokestack. Lumps of moss poked out from between pieces of mortar and cement. Nature was defiant to the end.

'You're late.' The tallest figure said, brushing at the faintest specks of dust clinging to the outside of his black cloak. The steel likeness of a powder keg was pinned to their chest.

'By what, a clock's stroke? That doddering old fool always rings the midnight bell early on a Friday.' Marius replied, nursing his wounded ego with jagged words. His Guild and the Powders were fierce rivals and he’d never held much respect for their aloof members.

A woman of middling height, Alexandra, was the last to speak. 'You know the Hightower rings late. You should have been prepared regardless, Marius.' She wore a rounded emblem of solid silver, unblemished by any demarcation or symbols. Marius recognised Alexandra, a Governess for the Bankers, and known widely within the criminal underworld as a fence of exotic and luxury goods.

Marius scoffed in reply, idly scuffing his worn moccasins against the ruins of what someone might have once called a chimney. 'Of course, Alexandra. It won't happen again.'

The ritualistic jabs of the Guilds exchanged between the assassins, the tall man brought a burlap sack down from over his shoulder and placed it onto the cobbled roof before the three.

'Help yourselves to whatever you’re most used to,’ he said, deftly untying the twine fastening the sack shut with a delicacy that was unbecoming of his fat fingers. ‘There's a few Sticks and plenty of Splinters and Shards to go around.'

Marius took a step forward and peered into the burlap sack. It was filled with various balls, clay and metal, and a bundle of wooden sticks. Alexandra wordlessly reached into the bag and withdrew a large wooden stick as well as a handful of the metal and clay balls, secreting them away into the pouches adorning her leather armour. Marius himself picked out one of the Sticks, a long handle with a fired clay blob fastened at one end. The owner of the sack, the representative from the Powder, took the remaining contents and stuffed them into his cloak.

'Where's the target?' Marius asked, withdrawing the compact crossbow concealed within the depths of his voluminous sleeves. In a fight against a Pureblood, range was paramount. Of all the groups that hunted the denizens of the night, the nocturnal members of the Livery Guilds were the most suited for exterminating a Pureblood. The Palatinate, whilst slow and cumbersome, were fiercely armed with faith and steel, but sorely lacked the range required to prevent the hulking beasts from closing a gap. Hunters were numerous enough, but poorly armed; little more than peasant mobs costuming as righteous crusaders.

'The bait has already been set according to the stipulations of the contract. The author of the writ assures that our Pureblood has been stalking the perimeter of this city for days,' Alexandra answered, pulling back the oiled crank of her own crossbow. 'With the New Moon high, it will doubtlessly sense the opportunity to hunt freely.'

Marius turned his head to regard the Powder, noting the large and bulky equipment slung under his arm as a modified crossbow, capable of firing bolt-mounted Sticks. These latest weapons were the exclusive prerogative of those assassins owing allegiance to the Powder Company, one of the new fledgling Livery Guilds. This particular pattern of crossbow had been one of the many marvels to be introduced to the Guilds with the arrival of County Arkham.

A gentle wind whipped about Marius' cloak, the golden broach of his own Livery clanging in his ears and echoing out across the otherwise silent rooftops. To his left, he heard the clatter of cobbles and turned about, raising his crossbow and settling the cheek-guard against his face. A youth, standing some way across from the group of the assassins, had disturbed a handful of cobbled slates. As soon as he was spotted, the young man darted behind a cluster of chimneys.

'Focus, Marius,' he whispered to himself, moving his free hand to the curved long-knife tucked away in his other sleeve. 'One to the neck, one to the breast.'

'There!' The Powder shouted in a strained and harsh whisper, gesturing to the right with his weapon.

Turning his head in the direction, Marius watched as a hunched shadow crawled across a distant rooftop, clambering from one building to another with immense pace. Narrowing his eyes, Marius realised that the figure wasn't hunched at all but was instead walking upon its arms and legs like a mutt. It slowly sniffed the air and turned to regard the three figures crowding the rooftop, exposing its bony, narrow skull to the assassins.

Alexandra's voice echoed weakly along the faint currents of the wind. 'Hold.'

At her command, the Pureblood straightened up, nostrils flaring with a sudden alertness. Marius bit the inside of his cheek and blinked — and by the time he opened his eyes again — the creature was gone.

'Where'd it disappear to!' He yelled angrily, the metallic taste of blood swelling inside of his mouth.


Alexandra's voice punctured the silence and the three assassins instinctively fell into the five-hundred year old formation that had kept them alive for centuries. Marius marked the north, his eyes scanning across the rooftops for motion, dislodged cobbles, and listening for the sounds of talons raking against stones. The Powder marked the east, the last known location of the Pureblood. Alexandra was behind them. Right?

From behind him, he heard the sound of ripping chain, followed by the crunch of bones and the wet tearing of punctured flesh. Marius rolled to the left, bringing his crossbow to bear, whilst the Powder performed a similar action to his right. Alexandra, gasping and heaving, dangled six feet above the rooftops, a taloned arm jutting out through her front. Fragments of broken ribs and a splatter of blood-red ink sprayed the ground beneath her body as the Pureblood curled its fingers into a fist. Forcefully extracting its arm from within the assassin's ribs, the Pureblood watched as the limp body clattered loudly against the cobbled roof. Unhinging its jaw, the creature revealed rows of needled teeth, running its tongue along the slick blood now coating much of its muscular forearm and taloned nails.

Stepping back, Marius watched in horror as the Pureblood continued to groom itself clean. Standing seven feet tall, the beast was entirely naked and hairless. Its limbs were evidently double-jointed, moving like a circus contortionist and folding back along itself. The forearm was far longer than the entirety of the arm above the elbow. The Pureblood's long, sinuous neck ended with a bony skull, its eyes sunken into the recesses of the creature's face. Those eyes, glistening black and splitting into vertical pupils, turned towards the Powder as he settled the stock of his crossbow into the nook of his shoulder. As the Powder began depressing the trigger, the Pureblood extended its blood-slick arm. A foul, pulsating red light began tracing across the surface of the creature's palm, writhing along the weathered lines of the hand,

Marius groped for his long-knife and flung it at the Pureblood, the blade sinking into the depths of the creature's neck. Unblinking, the Pureblood finished weaving its spell and Marius could only watch as the man's veins and arteries strained against the surface of his skin, writhing as they tore apart and blood bubbled through the pores of his skin. The Powder collapsed to his knees and loosened his grasp on the crossbow, gagging audibly as a string of congealed viscera was pulled from between his clenched teeth. The Pureblood momentarily regarded the weapon before turning back towards the husk kneeling before it, twisting its arm in a circle and drawing forth spurts of blood that now pooled about the pair.

Screaming out in anger, Marius levelled his crossbow and depressed the trigger. The long shaft slammed into the Powder's back and he lurched forwards, his lifeless corpse collapsing onto the blood-stained roof. He drew his other long-knife, reversing his grip upon the cold, oiled hilt as Marius met the Pureblood's gaze. His defiant scream of rage and the animalistic howling of the Pureblood were both interrupted by the thunderous snap of a crossbow's firing mechanism. Shuddering from its leather strap, the shaft-mounted Stick shot out from behind his ear and across the rooftop, consuming the Pureblood in an inferno of orange and yellow flames. Squinting his eyes against the explosion's burst of searing heat, Marius was thrown backwards from the rooftop and caught a glimpse of Alexandra, the Powder's modified crossbow cradled within her hands.

Cyrus had taken his leave at the stroke of midnight and Howard was left alone in his study. Pacing back and forth, he found himself obsessed with the weathered coin between his fingers. A closer inspection had revealed much about the unassuming coin's storied history. The date, along with the resoundedly poor quality of metal, indicated that the coin had been struck long before Lesser Wallachia had been consumed by the leeches of the remaining Wallachian aristocracy. Howard ran his fingers along the scratched furrows lining the surface of the defaced coin. Somebody had deliberately removed the image of whichever dynast had lended their likeness to the surface of this coin.

The date, 1477, was firmly lodged inside of his mind, burrowing its way into his memory. What was so important about 1477? Reversing his pacing, he walked over to the cartography table and selected a large, leather-bound tome from the shelves above. Licking his finger, he leafed through the volume of the Voivodes. Its yellowed pages contained the family trees of each dynasty that had risen to power throughout the Kingdom of Wallachia; every bastard, pretender, ruler, and member by marriage could be found within the pages of this book. His finger trailed along the family line of House Drăculești, the sister branch to the current rulers of Lesser Wallachia, before settling upon a familiar name; Vlad Tepes III. Drakulya. Died; 1477. Renatus; 1477.

It all fell into place for Howard as he sank down into his seat and flipped the page over to reveal the final page of the Voivodes; the family tree of House Dănești. Each root and branch from this family tree descended along a page marked with a filigree of gold leaf and red beetle ink, finally settling upon a single name; Duke Karlow Dănești. The aged coin Howard gripped between his fingers wasn't worth anything due to its inherent value, but because of who it had once belonged to. The coin had never been part of a down payment to the Guilds. It had been the promissory note.

Adrian had seen the explosion from the neighbouring roof. It had rapidly spread its way between rooftops and consumed them with fervour. As the yellow tongues danced along his own rooftop, he had quickly scrambled from his vantage point into the streets below. Boarded doors and windows now surrounded him as he slowly paced along the cobbled road, feeble candlelight illuminating dancing shadows from between wooden slats. The city still slumbered as the night threatened dawn.

Turning the corner, he discovered a man collapsed against a broken wall, mortar and debris scattered all about him. He cradled a broken crossbow between his hands and heaved, coughing blood onto his cloak. Adrian rushed over, propping the man up against the wall, glancing at the golden broach affixed to the injured man's cloak.

'You're with the Livery Guilds? What's going on?' Adrian asked as he tore away a piece of cloak and pressed the dark fabric against the ragged, bleeding wound on the man's chest, the fabric slowly absorbing the colour.

The injured man nodded weakly and attempted to push Adrian away from him. 'Go, lad, leave me. Stench of blood is all over me.'

Adrian looked around him, his left hand resting upon the worn hilt of the knife at his hip. His other hand ached and he could feel the sickly, warm blood welling up from the makeshift tourniquet. Had he wandered into the middle of a Guild feud? Should he be expecting more assassins? He couldn't recall the last time he'd used the knife. It was little more than a toothpick compared to the long-knives and crossbows used by the Livery Guilds. He turned to the dying man beside him and opened his mouth to ask yet more questions.

A loud bestial howl stopped him. Adrian removed his hand from the tourniquet, blood spurting down against his leg. The injured man yelled and feebly attempted to grasp Adrian's sleeve, collapsing in a heap at his feet. The air seemed to rip and a crackle rippled through the empty space. The thief rose to his feet and cursed as the foul stench of sorcery shot through the air. Grasping the bleeding man beneath his arms, Adrian hauled him to his feet and began dragging him through the broken wall, continuing over into the next alleyway.

'Lad, it's me that thing's after,' the injured man gasped between heaving coughs filled with thick blood. 'Just drop me here. I'll buy you time.'

'C'mon, it's not much further to the Hightower. Consecrated ground and all.' Adrian replied as the man began dragging his feet along the cobbled streets, the scent of clerical incense riding upon the night's wind.

The injured man laughed quietly, grinning at the thief from within shadowed folds. 'Pureblood's don't care much for superstition, boy.'

A loud crunch echoed out from behind the pair. The Pureblood landed in the middle of the street and snarled at the men, its body coated in blood trickling from hafts of steel impaled into its neck and breast. It was badly wounded. Tattered remains of burnt skin clung to a shattered skull and its right arm ended in a cauterised stump. Adrian raised his knife and dropped into a defensive crouch, the injured man collapsing at the foot of the church's door and tightly clutching at the bloodstained cloth stuffed into his gut.

The creature paced slowly towards Adrian, regarding the unarmoured thief with curious intent, before coming to a sudden halt. Adrian smiled wildly as he stared into the sunken pits of the Pureblood's eyes. It's backing down. The assassins must have wounded it. If I kill it here, I'll be the talk of the town. Adrian, Vampire Slayer and Defender of the Guilds. I'm tired of being a lowly scoundrel — a good for nothing thief. Time to make a name for myself. I’ll never go hungry again-

A bright light pierced through the darkness surrounding him, slicing the night’s sky apart like a sword cutting through mail and cloth. The Pureblood raised its head and snarled, covering its eyes with the ruined stump of its right arm. Adrian felt a hand press down upon his shoulder and whirled about as the light began to recede and the shadows reemerged.

'That was brave of you, thief,' a tall, pale-skinned man said as he walked past Adrian. 'But awfully foolish.'

Adrian fell to his knees as the battle-fervour fled from his body. He glared down at the blood-soaked cobbled streets, gazing into the distance at the trail of blood snaking through the streets. As he raised his head, the vampire moved to stand between Adrian and the Pureblood, his right hand resting upon the hilt of a sword hiding within an ornate scabbard worn at his hip.

The Pureblood eyed the sword with visible unease, snarling and snapping as it attempted to manoeuvre through the space between its lowborn sibling and the prone, heavily-bleeding man slumped against the church doors. The vampire regarded the Pureblood momentarily before turning to Adrian. 'Can you stand?'

Adrian muttered in confirmation, slowly regaining his footing as he dropped the knife to the floor.

'Very well,' the vampire nodded in the direction of the injured man. 'Escort the assassin into the church. Tell him that he will receive another 10,000 Guildmarks if he lives to yet see the dawn. You’d be surprised what assassins are capable of to feel the weight of coins in their pockets.’

Adrian nodded clumsily and moved over to the bleeding man, helping him once more to his feet. He heaved the wooden doors of the church open and dragged the man inside. A clean-shaven priest rushed over and began attending to the wounded assassin. As he sealed the doors shut, Adrian caught a glimpse of both vampires standing opposite one another.

'Vilkas Jakšić, you have betrayed the Codes of the Feast.'

The other vampire's words rang hollow within Vilkas' ears. Before Vilkas stood yet another traitor, a fledgling unable to live up to the grand ambitions of his own sire. This thing before him was weak. Pathetic. Just another corpse brought back from the beyond by the diluted blood of the Eternal Voivode that now coursed through his veins. The Codes of Feast did not govern his kind. Mortal laws were for mortals, not those blessed with the true blood.

Removing his hand from the hilt of the bewitched blade, the vampire raised his gauntleted hand and gestured towards Vilkas. 'Loathe as I am to admit it, as a fellow member of the nobility, I am obligated by the laws of our shared homeland to offer you a Trial by Ordeal. Do you consent?'

Vilkas simply snarled, raising his own ruined stump of an arm to meet the challenge. The wretched flames had devoured his skin and his lifeblood still pooled about him from the blades jutting out from his body. Feasting upon this lowborn scum would restore him to health, reknitting his flesh and bone.

'Very well, Jakšić. I, Duke Caius of House Dănești, offer you an Ordeal by Combat.'

That bewitched blade wouldn't save him here. Vilkas was faster. Vilkas was stronger.

Adrian peered through the church's open windows, watching the Pureblood snarling and pacing in front of the other vampire. Before he had fallen under with the aid of Night’s Sleep, the other assassin had muttered incessantly about bait and the Duke. Adrian watched as the other vampire simply stood impassive before the savage Pureblood vampire.

The Pureblood attacked faster than anything Adrian had ever seen, lunging with its claws outstretched. He paled as a flurry of claws struck out towards the other man, responding by simply reaching towards the hilt of his sword. As Adrian moved closer, great blades of light erupted from the scabbard, engulfing the street in a flood of burning light. He staggered as visions exploded before his eyes, an immense fire consuming a blackened mansion, the glare of serpentine red eyes within the darkness, a throne enshrined within a hall lined with the dead and decaying. Adrian squeezed his eyes shut against the roaring tide of the white blaze, and then slowly forced them open again as the darkness returned once more. The vampire held his sword between his hands, its blade now smouldering with a pale, thin smoke — thick, black blood boiling away from the blade's surface as white smoke. The Pureblood was at his feet, unmoving and still.

Adrian saw that the Pureblood laid neatly cleaved in half, the ruined stump of an arm severed from the body and dangling by threaded skin and sinew. The blackened eyes of the head stared sightlessly forward at the other vampire. Light slowly filled the street as the morning sunlight broke across the horizon. When it touched the Pureblood's corpse, the body broke into flame and crumbled away into nothing but dust. The vampire simply kneeled down and ran his fingers through dust.

'Young man,' came a grim voice from behind him and Adrian turned around to face the town priest, Michael. His face was weathered and lined. 'The assassin. He would like to speak with you.'

Adrian nodded and walked over to the assassin who was laid out across a pew bench. He had been stripped of his black, oiled ringmail and livery cloak, both replaced by just a thin cotton shirt. Adrian's makeshift tourniquet had been replaced by a white bandage soaked in perfume and alcohol to overwhelm the pungent scent of rot.

'Is it done, thief? Is it dead?' The assassin whispered, his voice hoarse. No longer concealed within darkness, the assassin's pale face was singed and burnt hair clung to his scalp. He clutched his bandaged midriff as he spoke.

'The other vampire killed it. He used some kind of sorcery. I couldn't see what happened, but it's dead now.' Adrian replied.

'Good. 100,000 Guildmarks for that thing's head,' the assassin coughed. 'He did leave the head, right?'

'I never even learned your name.' Adrian said as the assassin grimaced with pain. Michael had done everything he could, but the shrapnel from the explosion had buried deep into his gut and his skin was thoroughly burned. The priest had said it would be a miracle if he saw the morning light.

'Marius. I could ask you the same question, boy.' Marius said, heaving himself up as his face contorted with pain.

'Adrian. My name's Adrian. Micha- the priest said you have to lie down, Marius.'

'Adrian, lad. You knew I was dead from the moment you saw me, and I knew I was dead from the moment I came back round after being launched from that roof. After dragging me through those streets, the least you can do is drag me outside so I can see the sun,' Marius coughed again, heaving up blood onto his clean shirt. 'This godless heathen isn't dying in a church.'

Adrian could do nothing but nod, bracing the assassin about his shoulders and half-dragging, half-carrying him into the street outside the church whilst Marius carried his livery cloak draped around his shoulders. All the churches within Wallachia had been built to face away from the sunrise and Hightower’s own was no different. When the sun rose, the light was caught within the stained glass windows and cast horrid shadows upon those praying in the pews below. Just another reminder of God's eternal presence in the lives of the faithful. Marius gestured at the shade beneath a tree and Adrian let him slip from around his shoulder, collapsing against the tree and using the trunk as a brace.

'You were quick and clever out there, thief. Brave too, willing to try and help a dying man, and then seeing out his last wishes.' Marius said as he pulled the livery cloak tight around his neck, his left hand groping for something within the cloak's lining.

'I just did what I thought was right,' replied Adrian as he knelt down by the dying assassin, pulling the cloak around Marius like a funerary shawl. 'What are you looking for?'

Marius produced a piece of metal from inside of his cloak and pressed it firmly into Adrian's hand. The surface, four-interlaced triangles, was smeared and stained with blood. The assassin moved his other hand from his seeping wound and closed both hands tightly around the thief's own. 'You take this and you show it to the Livery Guilds, lad. You'll be brought to a man named Cyrus and you'll never have to steal again.'

'I can't take this from you. I'm no assassin; I’m just a thief.' Adrian protested, but Marius could not hear him. The assassin's head leaned against the ancient trunk of the tree, his lifeless eyes gazing long past Adrian and trained upon the horizon ahead, staring directly into the morning sun.

Tales from Lunakirk

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