Vhindr moved hastily from the main roads of Issia and into the courtyard where the city stables were located. But he stopped abruptly, causing Rhalin to bump into the back of him.
“What-” Rhalin began to ask, but then she saw the reason.
In the middle of the courtyard in the light of the many braziers in the area stood a single figure, her blue-white hair drifting on the breeze and catching the light of the fire.
“I do not have time for you Haylien,” Vhindr said as he moved across the yard, keeping a cautious eye on the elf.
“You don’t have time for the assassin of Baron Ellengar and Baron Barrgarah?” Haylien laughed aloud, “The most wanted person in all the north and you have better things to do?”
“Yes,” Vhindr replied simply.
“Like saving your sister perhaps?” the elf’s question made him stop and regard her suspiciously.
“How are you involved?” Vhindr demanded seriously.
“I am not.” Shrugged the snow elf, “Or should I say I wasn’t.”
“You are now?” Rhalin wondered.
“That depends,” Haylien smiled coyly.
“Whether you want to ever see your sister again.” the elf stated simply.
“I will see her again,” Vhindr replied determinedly.
“Your slave traders are going at quite the pace.” Haylien remarked casually, “They will be at Cairn by day break. Even you know you cannot hope to cover that distance and get to her in time before they sail from Chillbreeze.”
“What are you suggesting?” Vhindr demanded.
“That I help you.”
“What?” Rhalin balked.
“Why would you?” Vhindr scoffed.
“I could lie and say it is because I have decided not to seek retribution and have turned my life around to help others,” Haylien giggled, “But the truth is I thought I would do something nice before I kill your father.”
“Go give some gold to the homeless then,” Vhindr snapped angrily and continued for his stable.
“Like the three cart loads of gold coins and jewels I took from Hazeldin?” Haylien asked innocently, grabbing Vhindr’s attention again.
“You were the one who stole it, I should have guessed,” Vhindr remarked flatly.
“My payment from Roht and Barrgarah for killing Baron Ellengar,” Hayline shrugged.
“What?” Rhalin exclaimed.
“Did you not hear?” Haylien asked loudly with condescension, “I said Roht and Barrgarah paid me to kill their friend and brother so that they could rule Gaianaus in tandem.”
“You lie.” Rhalin cried and took a step towards the elf, but Vhindr stopped her with a hand on her arm.
“Calm down Rhalin,” Vhindr said to his companion softly, “She is playing with you.”
“Believe what you like,” Haylien said with sincerity, “It doesn’t change the fact that I will help save your dear sister Valianna.”
Vhindr looked to Rhalin who subtly shook her head.
“How do you propose to help?” Vhindr asked the elf.
“Vhindr,” Rhalin said in a hushed tone, “No. We can’t trust her.”
“How can I help?” Haylien asked aloud and gave Vhindr a coy look, “Like this of course.”
“No.” Vhindr and Rhalin cried in unison as Haylien clicked her fingers in the air.
But it was not a spell directed at them and all of a sudden there was a flash of light beside Haylien and there appeared a young woman with raven black hair.
“Valianna?” Vhindr breathed in surprise as the girl rubbed her eyes and looked about.
“Vhindr.” Valianna cried in surprise and ran towards him.
Vhindr was so stunned that he did not realise what was happening until Valianna had her arms wrapped about his neck in a firm hug. As his wits came back to him Vhindr returned the hug heartily.
“How?” Vhindr breathed as he pulled back from his sister’s embrace.
“She saved me.” Valianna replied and turned to the snow elf.
“Why would you do this?” Vhindr’s brow furrowed.
“No need to thank me,” Haylien smiled back sweetly. “In fact don’t, for I have to go and kill your father now. Bye.”
Without another word the snow elf vanished in flash of white light.
“Quick. Hold onto me.” Vhindr said seriously as he reached into his extra-dimensional pouch.
“What? Why?” Rhalin wondered and did not make a move to follow his instructions.
“We need to seem as one object for the warp to work properly,” Vhindr explain as he pulled out a round ebonite object.
“So the elf meant it when she said she was going to kill father,” Valianna said as she held on tight to Vhindr’s arm.
“I can’t go to The Port with you,” Rhalin stated and Vhindr turned a surprised look to his companion.
“I understand,” Vhindr smiled and nodded after a brief pause.
Rhalin offered a smile in return, “I will learn the truth of this matter from Roht. Good luck, you will need it.”
“This is not good bye.” Vhindr said genuinely, “I will see you again, soon.”
“I’ll look forward to it,” Rhalin replied with a smile.
“Bye Rhalin.” Valianna said as the woman stepped back from her and Vhindr.
“Hold on tight.” Vhindr said seriously as he twisted the top of the object and slammed his palm into it.
A series of colourful lights flashed around them and the sound of whistling wind was heard and another bright flash of light the city of Issia was no longer around them.
Vhindr shook the dizziness from his mind and looked about the dimly lit room. Dull crystal light glowed on the walls above desks covered in papers and files. Along the walls beside the lights stood tall bookshelves filled with tomes and scrolls.
“Father’s study.” Valianna remarked as she too glanced about. “Did you know this was where the warp would bring us?”
“No.” Vhindr replied as he quickly headed for the single door.
With Valianna close on his heels they sped through the house, his heart filled with fear that Haylien had already killed everyone. Moving through one of the mansions many sitting rooms Vhindr strode into the entrance hall where a diamond chandelier hung above them and a beautiful arching stair case headed up to the second floor.
“Father.” Vhindr exclaimed as he noticed a robed figure sweeping down the stairs.
“This is an unexpected pleasure,” Lord Varrintine said curiously, “Why did you warp home?”
“An assassin is coming for you,” Valianna said feverishly, “It was an emergency.”
“What are you talking about?” Lord Varrintine chuckled.
“This is not a jest father,” Vhindr replied seriously, “Do you recall a certain hunting trip with your friends Eikle Ellengar, Jent Barrgarah and Tolfur Ragnarr? The elves Barrgarah and Ragnarr killed?”
“How do you know about that?” Lord Varrintine asked hesitantly, his customary composure seeming shaken.
“How is not the question,” Vhindr replied, “Tell me the truth of what happened, I beg of you.”
His father let out a deep breath and rubbed his brow.
“It is an event I never wished to relive,” Lord Varrintine said with a sigh, “It is as you say, Tolfur thought he saw an elk but instead it was an elf. The snow elf’s son leapt from the bushes and killed Tolfur in turn. And then Barrgarah cleaved the poor child in two. There is nothing else to say.”
“That is horrible,” Valianna remarked.
“Nothing else to say?” Vhindr asked in surprise, “What about the story you and Baron Ellengar fabricated about Ragnarr’s death?”
“Who told you that?”
“What does it matter?” Vhindr asked back, “Is it true?”
Lord Varrintine took another deep breath and sat down on the stairs, his face marked with pain.
“Know this son,” Lord Varrintine began, “This is the darkest chapter of my life, one I long to make right, but I know I cannot. Yes, Eikle and I created up a story to cover our friend’s death. You have to understand, Eikle was Baron of Issia, that kind of situation would have destroyed him.”
Vhindr was about to protest, but his father held up his hand to quiet him.
“I know,” Lord Varrintine said seriously, “I know it is no excuse for lying. I have to live with it though. As I have to live with the result of hundreds of the Elder Race being killed because of my lies. I wish I could relive that moment. Make it right. But at the same time, that foolish, cowardly choice to lie, made me the man of honour I am today.”
Lord Varrintine ran a hand through his raven black hair and shook his head in defeat.
“But tell me, how is that hunting trip connected with the assassin coming for me?” Lord Varrintine asked as he stood up.
“The elf Ragnarr killed had a daughter,” Vhindr said seriously, “She saw the whole thing.”
More pain came to his father’s feature, “If only I had known.”
“What?” Vhindr interrupted, somewhat harshly, “Would you have tried to help her?”
“Of course,” Lord Varrintine regarded his son curiously.
“Like you helped the wife and daughter of Tolfur Ragnarr?”
Lord Varrintine’s brow furrowed and he looked away.
“Honour.” Vhindr said angrily, “That is what you have always taught us. You always said that there was never an excuse for not helping those in need. I have met Rhalin Ragnarr, I know that she was forced to live on the streets with her mother for nearly three years. Why did you never look for them? They were the family of your friend.”
“I am not proud of my actions,” Lord Varrintine said, his voice rising, “Not with what I did when Tolfur died, and not with what I did after. I was a coward. I fled from Gaianaus wanting to leave all of it behind me. I just wanted to return home to my wife and sons.”
“Without a thought to your friend’s wife and child?” Vhindr asked incredulously.
“I am not infallible,” Lord Varrintine yelled back, “I have flaws. More so then, than now. But do you think I do not regret my actions? I have said so just now, numerous times.”
“Two years, father,” Vhindr said, not backing down, “For two years Rhalin and her mother were on the streets. And you did nothing.”
Vhindr stepped back from his father, his mouth agape as he did not recognise the man before him.
“Enough.” Valianna yelled, tears in her eyes, “Please, stop arguing. We can’t do anything about the past, but the elf is coming to kill-”
Valianna was cut off by a loud crack at the door that made the whole house shake.
“The magick wards are firing,” Lord Varrintine remarked with concern.
Another loud explosion shook the ground and sent cracks rippling along the wall from the door frame. A third blast followed in quick succession and the large oak doors broke away from their hinges and fell inwards, letting the light of the moons stream in and frame the outline of a dark figure.
“I see you have beaten me here, Vhindr,” the figure spoke pleasantly and light laugh echoed around the entrance hall. “And from the yelling I heard earlier I gather you know why I am here.”
Silence filled the foyer as Vhindr hands clenched at his sides, he was angry at father but he would not let this elf kill him.
“I have killed Baron Ellengar.” Haylien continued ominously as she took a step forward. “I have killed Baron Barrgarah. And now I will kill you, Vincint Varrintine.”
“No you will not.” Vhindr stepped in front of his father, his Fog sword coming to his hands.
“You think your little anther crystal will save you this time?” Haylien smirked, her green eyes seeming to glow in the darkness.
“I am sorry for what happened,” Lord Varrintine spoke up and the elf looked at him in surprise, “Had I known-”
“What?” yelled the snow elf, “Would you have taken me under your wing? Would you have brought me back to me kin in Bel’dōr’raine? Would you have thought up a different lie to tell the masses? What would you have done Vincent Varrintine?”
“I would have tried to help-”
Haylien’s laugh interrupted Vhindr’s father.
“Like you helped Ragnarr’s wife and daughter?” Haylien asked as fires burned in her eyes.
“I am sorry.” Lord Varrintine sighed heavily, “I wish I could take back what happened that day, truly I do.”
“No.” Haylien growled, “You’re not sorry. Not nearly sorry enough. But you will be.”
In an explosion of motion the elf sent a ball of energy towards Vhindr’s father. Desperately the man tried to summon his magicks to defend, but nothing happened. Vhindr moved quicker, and with a slash of his saber the ball of magicks dissipated into nothingness.
“Don’t do this Haylien,” Vhindr said seriously. “Walk away now-”
“And what?” the elf interrupted, “I can go in peace, and no one will pursue me? I have killed two Barons remember. Now enough talking. Let’s see how much magicks your little anther ring holds.”
Suddenly Vhindr was flying backwards from Haylien’s spell, he felt the impact of the settee into his back as he tumbled into the lounge. Rolling to his feet Vhindr looked back to the foyer to see Haylien, sword in hand, as she moved towards his father.
“No.” Vhindr yelled desperately and threw a wave of magicks at the elf.
The energies hit Haylien in the side tossed her into the opposite sitting room where she crashed into a coffee table. Back on his feet Vhindr rushed passed his father and sister as Haylien jumped back to her feet.
Their swords flashed as they engaged and more magicks blasted about the room, breaking the furniture and shattering ornaments. Using the Fog he held within the anther crystal ring Vhindr increased his movements and strength to compete with the elf’s superior skills, but still Haylien had him on the back foot.
From the lounge room into the dining room they fought, spells cracking the walls and their swords slicing the paintings. Before Vhindr knew it he was forced backwards into hallway that linked the front of the house to the back, and in the narrower passage he managed to hold his ground.
Though Vhindr knew he could not keep up this level of intensity. The magicks in his ring were rapidly depleting and his only hope was that his father or sister would think of something soon and lend a hand.
Suddenly Haylien stepped inside his swing and grabbed his wrist, pulling him off balance with a twist of her hips and blasting him through the wall.
Plaster burst apart and wood splintered and Vhindr crashed into the house library. His magickal protections and buffs shattered as a rain of parchment and books fell down around him. It felt as if he had just been punched in the back by a troll, he was certain that a few of his ribs were broken but at least his spine was intact.
With groan Vhindr rolled to his knees and looked back through the hole in the wall expecting Haylien to charge in after him. But she was not there and desperately Vhindr staggered to the hole and tumbled through into the hall. Looking to the foyer he saw Valianna go sliding out the open door into the night from a simple gesture of the snow elf.
The steel of Haylien’s sword glowed in the crystal light as she turned on Vhindr’s father, who stood proud and in full acceptance of what was about to happen.
“No.” Vhindr growled in desperation and tried in vain to cast a spell at the elf.
The Fog in the anther crystal ring was gone rendering him helpless to save his father. Anger and fear burned within him as he watched as Haylien held the Fog dagger before his father’s eyes.
“No.” Vhindr cried again and strength swelled within him.
He was not sure what happened then, but the next thing he realised he was tackling Haylien away from his father and into the marble pillar that framed the outside of the entrance. White lights flashed around him and all seemed to freeze. Cracks snaked through his sight and the outside of his families manor in Port Na’brath shattered as Haylien teleported them both far away.
* * *
Rhalin shielded her eyes as Vhindr and his sister vanished in a flash of light and a gust of wind and turned back to the city streets. Vhindr had said that the assassin had been playing with her mind when she spoke about Rhalin’s father and Roht sanctioning the murder of Baron Ellengar, but she knew there was more to it than that.
“Roht will tell me the truth,” Rhalin said determinedly as she walked briskly back through the city and to the castle high on the hillside of one of the three mountains that framed Issia.
It was very early now, the eastern sky above the mountains was starting to grow lighter and the alleyways of Issia seemed less foreboding. Tired eyed guards gave Rhalin little thought as she rushed up through the city and into the castle keep. Have spent a good deal of her life in this place she knew the castle well and made for the quickest route to Roht Ellengar’s chambers.
Without a knock she shoved open the doors to see Roht bent over his desk writing some notes hastily. The man jumped in surprise as she entered, but breathed easier when her realised it was Rhalin who had come calling.
“Rhalin,” Lord Ellengar exclaimed, “You are not one to barge in to private chambers without knocking. That is something I would expect from your companion Vhindr. Speaking of which, where is he?”
“Warped back to Port Na’brath to try and save his father from the assassin,” Rhalin stated seriously.
“Warped? People still use that method,” Roht replied distractedly and looked back down to his writing.
“Did you realise who you had hired before or after she killed Barrgarah?” Rhalin asked, drawing Roht’s blue eyes back to hers.
“I am not sure I know what you are saying,” Roht said slowly, his eyes narrowing dangerously.
“Uncle, ye know damn well what I am sayin’,” Rhalin snapped back, “Stop lying to me an’ tell me the truth.”
“There is that lower-class tone in your voice again,” Roht chuckled, and Rhalin clenched her jaw in annoyance.
“Damn it uncle,” Rhalin growled.
“A peculiar concept ‘truth’,” Roht remarked, “It can change to fit the circumstance or individual. So tell me, what truth do you want to hear?”
“Did you and Barrgarah have Baron Ellengar assassinated?” Rhalin asked deliberately, her blue eyes bearing into Roht.
“Eikle was a good man,” Roht sighed heavily, “Brave, just and charismatic. That is why the people loved him. A born leader you could say. But a ruler of a kingdom he was not, Barrgarah saw this, as did I.”
“So you had him killed?” Rhalin balked in shock, “He was your brother. You could have simply challenged his rule if you wanted him off the throne.”
“Eikle was too skilled and too clever to be defeated by a challenge,” Roht replied calmly, “And he was too stubborn to heed any of my counsel. Barrgarah and I made a decision, he would appear as the strong powerful warrior that all in Gaianaus wanted in their Baron and I would tell him what to do.”
“How could you have your own brother killed?” Rhalin breathed in astonishment.
“Quite easily,” Roht snapped back, “You don’t know what it was like growing up in his shadow. Nothing I ever did was good enough for our parents. Eikle would beat me in everything from sword play to hunting, but I was always the smarter. He knew this and yet always he ignored my wisdom. I tried to steer him in the right direction when he became Baron but he would barely deign to listen to a word I said. Can you imagine what that was like Rhalin? Me, a man growing up in Gaianaus who preferred to read instead of wield a sword. My family practically disowned me. Only Barrgarah was smart enough to see the short comings in my brother and see my clear talents. So yes, we had Eikle assassinated. For the good of the realm.”
Rhalin’s mouth hung open in shock as she slowly shook her head.
“But all our efforts are for naught now,” Roht sighed and slumped down in his chair, “The assassin played us all. Never did I imagine she would turn on us, why would she?”
“On the hunting trip when my father died, he and the others killed the assassin’s father and brother,” Rhalin stated flatly, her mind still reeling.
“Eikle never wished to speak of that trip,” Roht remarked, “I figured something horrible had happened.”
Rhalin leaned on Roht’s desk and let out a slow breath.
“Why did it take you and Baron Ellengar nearly three years to find me and my mother?” Rhalin asked slowly, her eyes still looking down at her feet.
“Would you believe me if I said Eikle could simple not find the two of you?” Roht asked, drawing Rhalin’s gaze to his.
“No.” she stated seriously.
“The truth in this matter is that he did not have the time,” Roht replied, and Rhalin’s gut went tight.
“And what of you?” Rhalin asked, “What of the others? Couldn’t the Baron send someone to find us? Hornberg is but a small town compared to Issia. We were living on the street with no one willing to help us.”
“And for that I am sorry,” Roht began.
“Sorry?” Rhalin exclaimed, “Is that all you can offer? You forgot about us. Everyone forgot about us. Why did you even come and find us in the end when you clearly had better things to do?”
“We had no knowledge of you living on the streets,” Roht replied honestly, “No word came to our ears of you predicament. We assumed that the two of you were living comfortably on the wealth your father accumulated through his business dealings. We did not know of the money he owed and it was only when Eikle wished to see you and your mother did we realise what had happened.”
“You assumed we were alright?” Rhalin spat bitterly, “You made an assumption on our well being which resulted in my mother’s abuse and death.”
“All I can offer is my sorrow,” Roht threw up his hands in defeat.
“Your sorrow will not bring my mother back,” Rhalin snapped.
“What can I say?” Roht asked seriously, “What words can I offer to right this wrong.”
“So what now?”
Rhalin took a deep breath and composed herself, “Now you will answer for the murder of Baron Ellengar.”
“You can’t be serious,” Roht laughed, “Do you really think that is what Gaianaus needs right now? The prosecution of one of the most prominent lords in all the north? The people need a strong voice to bring stability back to the realm.”
“Yours?” Rhalin scoffed.
“Yes,” Lord Ellengar replied seriously.
“No.” Rhalin said seriously, “You, and Barrgarah will answer for the death of your brother, and all will know of your treachery.”
“I cannot let you do that Rhalin,” Roht replied evenly.
“And how do you propose to stop me?”
Lord Ellengar placed his hand on the hilt of his sheathed sword that was belted at his hip. Rhalin narrowed her eyes at the man, her finger wrapping around the soft leather handle of her own weapon.
The door groaned as it swung inwards, breaking the tension between them, and in walked Regional Commander Liuden DeVaan accompanied by Captain Idunn and a Nevārancien warrior.
“Is it true Baron Barrgarah is dead?” exclaimed the female from Nevārance. “We heard it from a merchant on the road and raced here, but I cannot believe it.”
“He is dead,” Roht confirmed seriously, “Murdered by the same assassin who slew my brother.”
“May Death welcome him,” the Nevārancien said sadly.
“Hazeldin is dead.” Liuden said after a brief pause, “As are the bandits who stole the gold. The coins, however, were nowhere to be seen. It was as if they simply vanished along with whoever killed them.”
“And we have no clue as to who it was,” Idunn added.
“Perhaps I can enlighten you,” Rhalin remarked seriously, drawing curious looks.
“Rhalin, do not do this, beg you. Think of Gaianaus.” Roht said quietly to her, but she ignored him.
“The assassin took the coin.” Rhalin said, “It was payment from Baron Barrgarah and Roht Ellengar for killing Baron Ellengar. Little did they know this assassin had a personal vendetta against them, this is why she killed Barrgarah as well.”
“What?” Liuden exclaimed and looked to his companions before turning his eyes to Roht. “Is this true?”
“Do you really expect him to admit it?” Rhalin asked before Roht could reply, “Look for yourselves and you will see the truth.”
With nothing more to be said Rhalin headed for the door and out of the castle. She did not know where she would go only that she needed to be far away from Issia and Gaianaus.
Lost in her thoughts she nearly barreled right into a trio of guards as she exited the castle.
“Lady Ragnarr,” the guard said, blocking her way, “You are under arrest for collusion, conspiracy and espionage. We can do this easy or hard, but either way you’ll come with us.”
The guard’s hands clenched tightly to the hilt of their swords or halberds, their faces hard, and Rhalin knew she could not hope to defeat the three of them. As her shoulders slumped in loss she nodded to the guards to lead the way.
Unceremoniously her sword and belt were pulled from her before she was roughly shoved into a cell beneath the castle.