If the capital city shone with what felt like a bright luminiscence as sunlight caught its glittering white spires, then it was contrasted starkly by its personality during the night. The order of the daytime guard was almost immediately replaced by its nightime revelry. It came as no surprise, since layers of arcane protection surrounded the city, making it near impenetrable by intruders… Restricting the bulk of imperial militia to the empty duties of the guard over a warded city would only serve to inspire an unhappy army. By lines of its reputation, it was something the king nor his council could afford.

For those reasons, Blackblade found himself face-to-face with more than one of the proud soldiers that graced the king’s personal guard. From what he had seen of the well-developed stupors that night, it was no wonder Belatore had opted to use his own arsenal of spells to keep the tide of battle in his favour. The king never knew which one of his retinue of swordhands would strike less effectively than they should when he most needed it.

The lower streets just beyond the castle walls were coincidentally dotted with taverns. Blackblade’s guess was that keeping a drunken body of warriors close by was better than no warriors at all. Should the need arise, the castle would always have its human fodder to expend within a heated assault that cut too close to the capital’s heart.

He was walking along one of those streets, in dim lamplight that offered aid to the blurry eyed bar hopper. He was wandering aimlessly. He and the king had reached a stalemate but a moment ago, on heated discussions surrounding the troubles that seemed to be brewing in their immediate worlds. Though pressed by the the urgency, Blackblade had to concede that the king would not be as forthcoming with his comprehension on such matters. Not yet. His old friend was still deeply shaken by the sights of him, and by the chasm of past memories and lost time that separated the two. Blackblade had to be patient, he knew. Besides, he needed to clear his own head. Being back in this place, and fully in touch with powers once dormant had opened the floodgate of his past as well. Beating back his own troubles would take some time… and he did not have much of it, given the state of the world.

Walking past the the commotion of the street’s debauchery, he turned a corner as the road curved along the outer castle wall. It brought him to a dark alley that lead straight down into the tier below the upper ring. He knew he would find comfort in the lower tiers, where the presence of mages did not seem as intense in casting a spying eye on his movements. He decided to make his way down the alley…

Walking at a peaceful pace, nothing seemed amiss; until, by some sudden hand of fate, it did. He was being watched.

Instinctually, his suspicion jumped to the imperial cadre of mages led by that rat of a councilman. In manners of stealth, he could think of no other that could have followed him this far without his knowledge. The very fact that one of them had managed such a feat at all was both alarming and impressive. But in a matter of seconds, he knew that the likes of his tracker was perhaps more lethal than what he ever could have anticipated.

Hearing the soft landing of mocassins on the cobblestones behind him, he felt the attack before he could realise what was happening. He felt the blade pierce through the back of his cloak – a hit that would have been a fatal blow, if not for the black steele of his sword that deflected the dagger with a deafening clang. The blade slashed and ripped the fabric as the assassin jumped back, allowing Blackblade to turn around and evade the next strike that was aimed for his chest. With a quick parry of physical hits, he grabbed the cowled figure by the scruff and pushed the assassin back to hit the stone floor and slide back on its haunches.

By their reaction alone, he knew that he had caught his assailant off guard. The dagger was clearly seeped in a counter-spell that would have cut cleanly through the strongest of magical wards. With his own blade enchanted, the clash of steel had sent a small shockwave of energy through them both, and he felt the sword hot against his back as protective enchantments were being burned away. If not for the ancient steel itself, his sword word have surely shattered by the forceful disentanglement of magic by which it was imbued.

The assassin’s setback was but momentary, and with instinct coursing through her, she was on her feet once more. Having lost the element of surprise, the assassin drew another long dagger from her side, moving into a stance of attack like a viper ready to strike. She was good. And judging by her height and the well-fitting bits of armour that surely hampered full manoeuvrability, she had to be strong as well. Blackblade suspected that she was no ordinary stealth agent. She was as deft a warrior as perhaps any soldier, willing to adapt to the challenge posed by her enemy.

His voice boomed through the alleyway, “Agent of the night, you will regret approaching me. You best begone, while you still draw breath. I do not intend to warn you again–“

“I will not forswear my goal to end your kind, dark spawn!” The assassin hissed the words with a far greater fragility than was evident in her poise. She was rattled with anger, and he had but a few minutes to furrow his dark brow and be confused by her words before she launched herself at him again…

A magical volley hit her square in the chest, crippling the forward momentum of the attack. But it did not disable her, as intended. Arms outstretched, his fingertips were crackling with energy to launch another throw of force should she dare to try her luck again. It was likely. Whatever guild she served, she seemed particularly adept at counter-magicks. She was certainly a mage-hunter. As much as his own quick conjuring would keep her at bay, so her own magical defences would subdue the effects of his attacks just enough for her to come at him again. She was a tricky opponent, but she was mad in thinking that her vicious blade would draw blood this night. “I mean you no harm stranger. You can still walk away from your misguided attempt at my life. You cannot win… “

“Enough with your persuasions demon! Your dark devices will be severed at its head! I can smell the stench of dark magic wafting off of you…”

Dark magic? It was impossible… Could it still…? The memory of the night in the gully town returned to him then, and the face-off with a dark entity usings energies that had latched on to him as he had resisted its malevolent force. It must have left a mark. Reeling from her vehemence, the words she spit at him started to sink in. “Demon?! You are mistaken. I–“

She attacked again, unmindful of whatever words he was about to say… He realised quickly that his defensive tactics would only buy him more time instead of negating the threat. In so doing, he raised his right forearm as the assassin’s blade slashed down… only for it to richochet against the layer of black draconian scales that had rippled into existence.

Unlike enchanted weaponry, dragonhide was near impervious to most forms of magic. With the momentum of the deflected blade throwing her off balance, Blackblade used some speed of his own to knock the dagger from her hand, sink his dragonclaw into her chest guard to hook her in his grasp, and thrust her against the wall. The force of that impact knocked the dagger from her other hand, as she was raised to his eye level with her back against the cold stone of the castle.

It took a moment for her to gather herself, but she stared down in astonishment at the black scales of the dragonclaw holding her in place, and then raised her eyes to his. The anger all but drained as she realised where she had erred, and in its place was a deep confusion mingled with sadness… “Ancient one… I… I am sorry… I thought…” She lowered her head in remorse.

Halvadere stared back at her, knowing that the old blue eyes of his true form were visible to the rattled mortal. Upon seeing that the threat had been diffused, the dragon gently set down his attacker, and released his grasp on her shaken body. Slumping to the floor, she looked up at him lost and imploringly, before he addressed her with a sagely calm, “Now tell me… Who is this demon you seek?”

Inktober #23

You may want to read the following connected Inktober entries:

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