1 - Last Night in Arcadia

1 - Last Night in Arcadia

A Story by Stories Of Atlas

"The city of Arcadia shone as bright as a jewel in the night, this hub of humanity, this capital of civilisation, built and rebuilt many time."


from www.storiesofatlas.com

Last Night in Arcadia

Chapter 1

The city of Arcadia shone as bright as a jewel in the night, this hub of humanity, this capital of civilisation, built and rebuilt many time. The slums overlooked by the nobles, and the nobles themselves upon a hill as if trying to reach the skies. The towers of Arcadia were a shining becon to the rest of the world, strength in technology above all else. The bustling ports, the busy skylanes and the crowded streets of the largest city on Atlas.

The sun was setting over the ocean and the lamps were just being lit in the lower city. The lightermans footsteps hung as heavy as the fog which was particularly thick tonight. Night was setting in and ahead of him only darkness, his torch enabling him to see just a few steps ahead although he'd walked these streets a hundred times, a thousand times even. Each cobble under his worn sole held a different memory, and each shot a new pain through his aging body. In the darkness, beyond his sight, sat the lower city residence, perched on the stoops of there domiciles, waiting for the nights entertainment, usually a drunken brawl, occasionally a guard shake down, rarely what was seen tonight.

The crackle of an old wireless could be heard faintly, skipping across the air. Old songs about wars forgotten cut with news pieces of conflicts present that nobody listens too. The streets were empty at this time, all that could be heard was the heavy footsteps of the guards patrolling. The sound of boots that were made and bought far away from lower city, boots that make a noise unmistakable on the commons that children are tought to keep far away from.

Suddenly the street becomes a burst of light, the two guards stand, their armour shining brightly and their hands ready on the hilts of their swords, looking around carefully in the corners of the streets, at all the entranceways of the alleys and the gantries and the snickets. As suddenly as it came the street was left in darkness again and the footsteps carried on in an infinite circuit.

High above the streets, a different guard patrol, the domestic flotilla patrols the skies over the city. Enourmous galleons plucked out of the water by hydrogen balloons. Decades ago the premier demanded re-invention, evolution. A legacy that would shape the world. Hundreds of gold pieces were given to researchers and engineers to come up with new solutions. Atlas was rapidly changing, and the galleons floating ominously above the city was a constant reminder that the technology age had arrived. Ex naval vessels were recommisioned to protect the skies of the empire. Sails were ripped down and replaced with zepplins. Oars thrown out and steam furnaces built, powering air compressors to steer the vessels through the skies. Whilst there duty is to protect all of Arcadia the few vessels with permission to fly only patrol lower city. Shining their beacons down over the streets looking for any signs of criminal activity.

The criminals disregard there presence as nothing more than a distraction. The large tower blocks and heavily overburdened streets make it almost impossible to see anything street level from the sky. The beams of light scare the innocent, but the guilty have no fear from the skies.

Life in lower city carries on. The patrols stomp out their chosen paths. The crooked faces of the residents stare out into the night and the lighterman continues his meandering waltz, carrying the flame from street to street.

Through the darkness and the fog comes an unfamiliar sound. The stoopies begin to get excited and curious at the running sound, a high heel, half running half walking, a urgent step. Sinister ears prick and cruel eyes can be seen through the darkness. A stranger in lower city, an alien figure cuts it's way through the fog, a young face with wild eyes looking from door step to door step, from unforgiving face to unforgiving face. She heads towards a destination she'd heard of but never dreamt of visiting, she follows the soft thud and muffled shouts of a basement bar, beneath the largest residential block in the district. She treds carefully over the uneven cobbles cursing her choice of footwear but carrying on defiantly. The noise gets louder and she spots a crowd of drunks weaving their way through the streets, away from a sign that reads simply "Bar".

She pushes the door open just as the stream of light hits from the galleon above. Light carries into the room and cuts the shape of the bars latest guest into the retina of every shady cut throat and money hungry rogue in the parlour. For a few seconds silence descends as the light is absorbed, eyes squint in the bright before, once again, the light shuts down and the music of the bar continues. The woman surveys the bar carefully a trace of fear in her eyes. The dregs of every race on Atlas is represented in the bar, as though there's a giant sewer outlet in the ceiling. Elves and Gnomes line the bar. A couple of dwarves are taking turns throwing axes at large beam on one of the walls. Humans are smoking long reed pipes with Halflings and a small segragated corner is populated by a couple of Orcs who eye anyone who gets to close warily. She takes a few tentative steps into the bar the heels of her boots slapping the floor loudly upon each step. Gripping the barrier which seperates the bar from a large seating area, currently host to as many card games as there are tables.

She eyes an empty table in the corner and slowly makes for it, the atmosphere in the bar making her dizzy, the feeling of dozens of eyes boring into the back of her skull almost causing her to turn and run. Her fists clench in the long arms of the heavy trenchcoat and she strides forward the last few paces to the corner table her legs flashing through as her strides kick the flaps of the trenchcoat open.

She sits at the table at precisely the same time as two large men who sit either side of her, trapping her into the corner. One of them sweeps the table clear knocking a tankard flying across the room whilst the other stabs a large knife into the wooden surface and twists it carefully, a smile flowing through his scarred lips as he sees the fear well up in the womans face.

" Why Bill, who do we have 'ere?" said one
the other "Looks like she's lost"
"Aye, she does at that. Say where d'you spose she could have strayed from?"
"She's a posh one, maybe one of those sorts from Mings morphine"
"Yeah, yeah" licking his lips and still twisting the knife into the table "Just like a sort to come into a bar looking for all kinds of fun, only maybe, I didn't brings me wallet"

The woman tried to stand, but the men grabbed her by each arm and pulled her back into her chair.
"Where do you think you're going?" said Bill menacingly into her ear, his breath causing her to turn her head sharply her eyes meeting those of the other man. For the first time he notices her noble features, her small nose and intelligent eyes. Dark curls of hair fall across her brow and brushes softly against her slender neck.
The two men look at each other, their eyes glinting and flecks of spit forming at the corner of there mouths
"Well well this little encounter just got a little more interesting" he spoke slowly and deliberatly close to her ear. With each syllable he walked his fingers up the womans thigh. "What say you partner?"

This time Bill remained silent. The first man never took his eyes from the womans, capturing her gaze, he smiled.
"You seem to have struck my friend dumb by your very sight." He licked his lips slowly, eyeing the woman up and down "If your face can rob him of his voice, imagine the state he'll be in when we're finished with you." His voice cracked with menace. He again said, but slower this time "What say you, partner?"

There was silence again around the corner table, albeit apart from the panicked breaths of the bars newest guest and the sound of creaking wood as the knife twists its way through splinter and crack.
The first man glanced across to see his partner staring ahead as if seen a ghost, leaning back in his chair his hands rigid on his thighs, sweat beaded his brow and his teeth were clenched tightly, tensed rigid in a morbid fear that seemed to be engulfing him.

"You spilt my drink" Came a strange voice from behind him. A voice from the shadows a lot closer than he could imagine it being. "You spilt my drink and you sat in my chair".
Over the shoulder a pair of eyes became visible, shining green eyes with a blue imperfection, shining with all the cunning of an eagle latched onto it's prey.
They both stared at the strange scence, their eyes adjusting to the depth of the dark in the corner of the room, slowly making out the outline of a large hat, the broad shoulders of a trench-coat. The spiked stubbles of a pointed face but the eyes, kept shining with dangerous intent, it was almost impossible to see the knife at Bills throat, the blade painted black to stop glints of light reflecting from it. He twisted it slowly, mirroring the knife on the table, scraping off a few layers of skin from the mans neck and letting it trickle down beyond the collar of the mans shirt.
His voice was barely audible, he spoke softly and deliberatley, not quite whispering but speaking in a way that seemed like he was speaking directly into their minds, his lips barely moving.

"You spilt my drink, you sat in my chair and now you're going to leave"
The first of the two man just sat there nodding, his hand losing grip on the knife and letting it clatter loudly onto the table, the blue hilt catching the light, visibly shaken by the sight, he staggered back against the wall
"We meant no trouble, we'll be going now"

There was a silence as the shadowy figure pressed the knife tighter to the mans throat causing him to stand up.

"See that you don't bother me again" and with a move that could barely be seen either because of the sheer speed of his actions or the gloom that surrounded them, he grabbed his prey by the back of his collar bringing the knife around to his ear. Pressing the blade horizontally against his ear.
"Now, piss off" he whispered into that same ear, pushing him away, slicing the ear slowly into two halves.

Howling loudly but sensing his freedom he gripped his ear, blood trickling from between his fingers, he stumbled away a few steps, daring not to look back. His friend just stared at the stranger emerging slowly from the shadows, those green eyes beaming at him. He circled the table clumsily, falling over a chair in his haste. Scrabbling to his feet under the gaze of a few of the outlaws on the next table he grabbed Bill by the shoulders and both men hurridley made their way to the door.

The shadowy figure pushed open the fold of his long coat and replaced his blade into a sheath in his belt. He sat down across from the woman, removing his hat and setting it in front of him he shook his head, allowing a messy head of brown hair to fall freely. He scratched his nose and leant back in the chair.
"And who might you be?"

His voice was different now, lighter than before, louder and warmer. His eyes however, his eyes contained the same menace, they seemed to be bearing into her, seeing a thousand invisible details at each glance, answering questions for him.
"ermm, I.." She stammered nervously, unable to process the right words under his gaze.
He looked at her again, and then down at the table in front of him

"You're a serving girl from one of the mansions in upper town, you work for a government official whom you wish to have murdered. You have money to pay but not enough for an assassination, therefore your owner is rich, you will tempt a killer with something else, perhaps you're owner has a lot of jewellery and gold laying around the house"

He blinked softly and looked back at her, her face totally aghast, visibly trembling, water was coming to her eyes. All of a sudden though, as though all was lost to her, she became enraged.

"Have you followed me all this way? are you hired by him to keep an eye on me? Why do you mock me so? How dare you follow me all this way and tease me with what you know, allowing me to feel hope but then to take it away from me so quickly"
Her pale cheeks turned red and hair fell in front of her eyes. She breathed hard awaiting his reply but no such thing came.
"What say you? Who are you?"

Slowly he extended her a hand. "My name is Aracel, pleased to meet you"
She gave him her own hand to hold, never taking her eyes from his.
"Shanra" she countered

"First of all" he began "I haven't followed you and infact the first time I saw you was when I turned the corner to see you sit down in my seat. I had actually spotted the two men that accompanied you first, I believed them to be undercover guardsman who had tracked me down for reasons that I will not go into. I know so much about you because of what you have told me with your appearance and your actions. You are clearly not a character one would meet in these streets but the fear in your eyes tells me that you know that these streets are dangerous, so you must live close."
As he explained his knowledge she noticed his eyes shine with delight and his lips curl into a smile. He wrung his hands in front of him as though divining the knowledge out of thin air occasionally stroking his brow.

"There is a purse around your belt. I noticed when you tried to stand to escape the two thugs. It is a mans purse with enough space inside for the coins to move freely inside. As a man of some experience, I know that that would not afford you a decent assassin, perhaps if you had come with the intent to murder a brutal husband then you could find someone cheap enough. But this is something more, I can tell"

She stared at him as though in a stupor, nodding to accept each piece of information he fed her. There was a brief silence before he continued.
"Why don't I get some drinks and you can tell me the rest, I'm afraid you'll have to pay though, my last copper pieces are currently flowing over that gnomes shoes"

Chapter 2

She sat up straight as the drinks were placed on the table. Two large tankards spilling over with ale, the local brew that contributed to the variety of different smells that roll over lower city on certain days each week, mixing with the scent of the many stables and sties, the water filtration plants and the open sewers to give one more reason why strangers rarely visit lower city.

"First of all" she began "You're correct, I am a servant in the upper city. My master is a high ranking official, a kind and wise man who began his career as a guardsman and worked his way up like so few in these days. He has an active contempt for the way the city is run today, how voters can vote for the rich, worthless sons and daughters of great men and women who earned their stake, how wealth and honour are born into and never ammounted. He worked hard to get to where he is today, he heads the guard, he is involved in the government, he even has the premiers ear on certain topics. He was always a good master as well, he sees us servants as an embarrassing formality, he will do his own housework unless it is totally impossible."

She paused for a while, reaching for the tankard that was placed in front of her. Aracel sat still, absorbing the words.
She took a sip of the ale, turned her nose up and placed the tankard at full arms length away from her.

"His sons went off to fight in the east. The front over there is really heating up. I hear him discussing it at lengths with some of the other guards. They believe it will spark into war if something isn't done. Anyway, that is by the by. A few months ago I opened the door to an elf, I am unsure of the many clans of elves but he looked like he had travelled a long distance. He wished to speak to my master. I was unable to hear the conversation they had but I heard shouting. My master was furious, when I saw him next there was a look of terror and hate in his eyes, he dismissed all of his servants that night and by morning he was a changed man. Nothing could please him, he locked himself in his study. He would beat us and scream at us and his wife. This was all just to begin with. He got worse. I would hear rumours of corruption, I would be insulted on the street because of who my master was, I heard terrible stories of torture, of people disappearing. People I know going missing, other servants from the household are there one day and gone the next, I'm scared, I don't know what to do"

With this final confession tears sprung to her eyes and she stared down at the table for a while. Aracel watched her pensively, his mind working over details, matching them together with rumours he'd heard, with things he'd witnessed. His eyes darting from each piece of information as though completing a jigsaw in his head.

"Is your master Lord Roberts?" he eventually asked.
She looked at him and nodded slowly.

Roberts had recently started a campaign against the citizens of lower city. The populus had never heard of him until recently, the guard had always had a presence here but the law was usually given over to the gangs. It had only been recently when the guards had started storming properties and arresting people. Lord Roberts had passed a law a few months back allowing his guards to arrest anybody they believed to be involved with the enemies on the eastern front. There had been whispers that this law was a corruption, that only humans were being arrested and taken to the dungeons, there was no trial either, people were just disappeared in the dead of night and nobody would know where they were of if they'd ever see them again. The people were scared and it appeared that there was more to this Lord Roberts than Aracel previously thought.

The bar was getting busier and busier as the night came in deeper. There was only one more question on Aracels mind.
"Why did you run here? Are you in danger?"

She started to answer, meaning to tell him that the other servants were going missing one by one over the last few nights. That she was the last left and she had ran from the house in fear for her life. As she opened her mouth to speak though there was a commotion by the door as two guards walked in.

The bar fell silent, the patrons nearest the door placed down their drinks and left instantly, making sure not to make eye contact with the guards who already had there hands firmly gripped around the hilts of there swords. They stood at the doorway and looked across the smoke filled room, they looked completey alien in this wooden bar, their armour chestpieces shone in the candlelit doorway, the shoulder plume of one of them made him instantly recognisable as a Lieutenant Detective, the other just a Private Guardsman. They seemed to be absorbing the fear in the faces of the citizens of the lower cities, a fear which was new to them since the new regime the guards had brought to the streets. The lieutenant turned to his partner and spoke to him in a low voice unheard to any of the patrons before taking a few steps into the room. Lighting a cigerette and placing it to his lips the sound of his heavy boots on the oak floors echoed around the bar like a slow heartbeat as he circled around the tables whilst the Private glared at anyone leaving, considering them intensely, waiting for a sign of recognition to spark in his mind. The lieutenant meandered aimlessly around the bar, circling tables and meeting the eyes of everyone he past. None said a word to him, intimidated by both his large armoured frame and the reputation that he had earned himself. Aracel had recognised him the second he had walked through the door. It was this Lieutenant that had been in charge of the nightwatch that took down doors and blackbagged anyone who stood in his way. In one night it's said that he arrested more than a hundred people, only twenty of which were actually warranted. He was a hero of the Upper City, his tales of reform and civic change were championed and rewarded, but in the Lower City he was feared as an oppressor, even arresting woman and children for just looking at him in a way that he didnt like.

The footsteps continued and came to a stop by a table occupied by two women.
"Have you seen anyone from the upper city tonight?"
The women were silent, one of them looked aside and spat on the floor.
"We know she was seen entering this bar" The detective continued and was met by the same silence that his previous question had drawn.
The guard smiled, his lips curled with venom and spit flecked at the corners of his mouth. He sucked deeply on his cigerette and let the smoke slowly tumble down his throat before exhaling a large cloud that hung over the table.
"Perhaps we'll show you what we did to gain that bit of information from our informant" he drew a quarter of his blade, the sound hissed around the bar like a snake.

The two woman looked at each other and one of them turned and pointed to where Aracel and Shanra had sat. The guard stared at the now unoccupied table, at the two tankards that stood on top of it. He looked back at the doorway, the other guard shrugged.

The lieutenant made his way over to the table and examined it carefully. Taking in all the detail that was presented to him. Two tankards that have barely been touched, a drop of fresh blood on the table, three chairs, one of them knocked over onto it's back. There was a knife left on the table, the cheap blue hilt still rocking slowly as if disturbed recently. Picking up the knife, he turned it over a few times in his hand, the point spinning on his finger. Pushing it into his belt he pieced together the information and walked back to the door, savouring the silence that follows him throughout the streets of Lower City. Leaning over he whispers into the ear of his partner who scurries off quickly outside. The Lieutenant turned to face everyone for the final time that night.

"Enjoy your drinks everyone, thank you for your time"
And with that, he exits the bar, leaving only the trail of smoke from his cigerette, disappating slowly over the now very sober patrons.

In the shadows of the back streets two figures are running. Their escape had been fairly easy, Aracel had spotted the guards as they enterered and had gripped Shanra by the wrist, pulling her to her feet and dragging her into a back room that had a small basement entrance in the floor. It was then easy enough to find the steps back up to the street behind the bar. They didn't need to run far, there were no guards waiting for them as they exited, no ambush ready for them to walk into. After a few hundred yards they slowly jogged and walked too a stop under the monorail lines a few blocks from the bar.

"Looks like you were followed after all" Aracel smirked at her. She regained her breath quickly and sat down against a wall.

"I guess I'd better get used to running, I was right after all, they must think I know too much, perhaps that's why the other servants have disappeared, I'm lucky to have escaped, but what kind of life do I have to look forward too now" she buried her head in her hands, not yet able to cry but the shock of her situation seemed to be dawning on her all at once.
Aracel looked around him.

"Be quiet" he said softly "you won't be on the run, I'll take your job, you've peaked my curiousity with your tale and..." his voice trailed off as the monorail rattled loudly above them, he watched it pass on overhead, a huge black shadow in the night, the artery of the Arcadia, connecting the whole city together, like a series of stiches holding together a torn shirt.
"...and I'm going to get to the bottom of it"
She looked up and thanked him. In the dark street, deserted by all but the rats the deal was completed, money and information exhanged hands. Details and addresses confirmed and blood was promised. After a short conversation Aracel and Shanra parted company.

Chapter 3

Aracel stood on the rooftops of Lower City, the enormity of the task spread out before him. In the distance he could see the wall which seperates the two districts from each other, the wall seperating the rich from the poor, the government from the governed. Upper City seemed to rise in the center of the metropolis, encircled by Lower City but it rose above it, always looking down on the less fortunate citizens. Anyone was free to travel wherever they liked but people very rarely did.
Aracel stood and thought for a moment, slowly patting his pockets making sure he had everything he would need, making sure his knives were secure in their sheaths. A gust of wind kicked his coat up, he instinctively reached for his hat, keeping it firmly against his head. His long black hair flowed from the rim of his hat from all sides, brushing his shoulders as the wind whipped around it. His eyes flashed in the moonlight and his ears searched out through the night, searching for his path to his target.

In the distance he heard the slow chugging of the monorail engine, perhaps a mile away, getting closer. He took a few steps forward, weighing something over in his mind. Since meeting with Shanra in the pub and absorbing all the information he gave her, something still didn't add up, he wasn't certain about something. His stomach turned over and he shook himself free from his doubt.

It was time to focus on the job at hand. He rose his head to the rooftops and started to sprint towards the end each foot placed with the silent grace of a cheetah in full flow, fully focused on an invisible path to his destination he launches himself from one roof and seems to glide effortlessly onto a roof across the street landing with a roll instantly recovering to his feet and back to running, barely even breaking his stride. A shadow moving across the rooftops totally invisible and inaudible to anyone. Rushing and leaping across the rooftops until eventually from the corner of his eye he spots the headlamps of the monorail steaming towards him at high speed.
Changing direction carefully he veers on an intercept course, his hand opening his coat letting it flap out behind him as he sprints to meet the train.

The galleons silently patrolling above him, the beams of light not noticing the figure running across the rooftops, instead they were etching out streets many blocks away. Aracel kept one eye on each of the beams knowing that the chances of him being spotted, even if the beam hit him, was pretty slim.

Vaulting over chimney pots, leaping over gaps, sliding under low bars he breaks down the distance, stride by stride until he finds himself running along the roofs parallel to the tracks just fifty meters in front of the train. Reaching for his daggers he holds the hilts firmly, waiting for the train to become visible in his peripheral vision. He spots a chimney pot and a smoke stack a hundred meters in front of him. "Perfect" he thinks to himself, his wits formulating and finalising a plan instantly. The train begins to pass him, Aracel, slowing down a little but still running with amazing speed, places one foot on the chimney pot and leaps up, turning himself over in the air, his other foot lands squarely on the brick smoke stack and he launches himself directly towards the train with tremendous speed and aggression.
His hands draw the twin blades from his belt and with vicious force he stabs into the side of the monorails coal carriage. One of the blades punctures the metal wall whilst the other skims the surface and glances off. Aracels body crashes into the train his shoulder taking most of the force as he twists and bounces against the carriage, he stops himself yelling out in pain and only just manages to keep hold of the knife which pierced the trains side. Correcting himself quickly he manages to swing his body over the side, reaching over the retrieve his knife. Breathing a sigh of relief and smiling to himself Aracel sits down amongst the coal, rubbing his shoulder and cursing himself for being so wreckless. The train should take him most of the way but he daren't relax too much, his mind spill spinning over the details.
Cursing loudly and slapping himself around the face.

"For saviours sake Aracel" he tells himself "You've been paid to kill, just kill and be done with it, the money you get from this will take you away from this accursed town and onto better things, one nights work and you're free"
Looking ahead he sees the dark mouth of a tunnel approaching. The tunnel marks the entrance too the Upper City, from here on in the monorail goes underground. The light goes out and darkness surrounds Aracel, his world closes in around him and the damp smell of steam and earth covers him like a blanket. Covering his mouth with a hankerchief he looks onwards, looking for the lights of a station coming up and hoping that the train will stop there, even for a second.

Eventually the screech of breaks alerts him to the impending stop and his arrival in Upper City. Before the train reaches the platform Aracel vaults the side of the car and hangs for a few seconds before dropping onto the shingle beneath him with a loud crunching sound, he knows the service exits as well as the average person knows their commute to work, a sort of subconcious knowledge for the under classes. The soot dust clinging to his skin, he rejoins the shadows, climbing up the pitch black stairs and wandering through gantries adorned with mops and buckets and toolboxes left by workers that evening.

Very few people even know of these corridors beneath the city let alone walk along them. There are no guards patrolling, the underground catacombs are far to vast to have any sort of military or police presence. The workers all leave this place at the end of their shifts and as night falls it's far too dark and dangerous to work down here.

Climbing a final staircase he exits the corridors through a celler door, which opens onto the well lit streets of the Upper City.

The streets are practically empty at this time of night. There are less guard patrols in the Upper City, there isn't as much need for their presence up here. The same with the Galleons above. They rarely shined their lights over the streets and houses, mostly for fear of who they'd wake up. Shine the lights on the wrong house at the wrong time and a Captain could lose his vessel. Aracel gripped the drainpipe of a nearby house and climbed to the roof with the grace of a marsupial. The building was only two stories high but because of the hill it stood on Aracel could see over most of the Lower City, the streetlamps glowing softly in the distance, the fog still clinging to the ground like a blanket hiding much of the architecture, pushing everything into soft focus. Aracel allowed himself to gaze at the view for a short time before leaving it behind him and concentrating once again at the job at hand.
Lord Roberts house wasn't far away and Aracel made short distance of it with leaps and strides from rooftop to rooftop until the large manor was in view.

It was an old fashioned house built from stone mostly with great wooden beams keeping the structure together. The roof sloped viciously into the sky with two large chimney stacks protruding at either end. At the back of the house was a large garden surrounded by walls that were easily nine feet tall. Aracel stood watching the property for a few moments, his keen senses warning him of some danger and his years of training kept him calm as he surveyed his surroundings. A shadow grew in front of the house, and then another. Two guards continuing a patrol around the house. As Aracels eyes followed them, making notes on the paths they were taking he noticed more guards in the garden. This wasn't going to be as easy as he thought. He deflty sidestepped across the roof, coming to the edge, silently leaping across to a neighbouring roof. He could now see into a lit window, a silhouetted figure was moving inside.

The figure was Lord Roberts himself. He was busying himself in the bedroom, removing his jacket and throwing it over a chair in the corner he walked across the room yawning loudly. He removed the pocket watch from his waistcoat and examined it carefully. First looking at the time and then turning it over to read the inscription on the back. Smiling as he read it, running a finger along the words etched into the metal.

"To our dearest father"

He stood in front of the window for a while, paralysed in the moments thought, transfixed by the writing and the ticking of the watch in his hand.
Eventually he shook himself free from the mental prison and returned the watch to it's home on the dresser. The room was beautifully elegant this, the master bedroom, held an enourmous four poster bed surrounded by paintings and fine mahogany furniture. Lord Roberts would say he had never been comfortable in such opulent surroundings, coming from such a humble background, but the silk sheets and soft mattress are a comfort to him during these hard times. His wife never slept in the same room, she was home in a seprate bed in a different part of the house, it had always been this way in this household Lord Roberts would explain that it is unnatural for two people to share a bed to sleep.

He walked to the door looking out carefully down the empty hall before closing it carefully twisting the handle down so as not to create any noise. He had heard no word on Shanra or her whereabouts, his Lieutenant had not returned and it was now too late to be worrying about it, "she's probably dead in Lower City by now" he thought to himself. He returned to the dresser unbuttoning his waistcoat, removing it, folding it carefully and then throwing it onto the chair in the corner.
It had been a long day, the last few months were showing in his eyes, his wrinkled brow was limp and shapeless, his eyes had dulled with age and he walked as though carrying a large weight. He was a noticeably weaker man than he had been.
Removing his shirt he wandered over to the lamp, letting the shirt drop to the floor and kicking it towards the corner with the rest of his clothes. He removed the guard from the light and blew it out, leaving him in total darkness, except for the light from the doorway.

Confusion over took him, "didn't I close that door?" flashed through his mind in a second. And a second was all the time he had to think. As he turned around he met two green eyes flashing menacingly in the darkness, two green eyes and a sharp blade against his throat.

Chapter 4

"Sit down" whispered Aracel, his voice full of threat
Lord Roberts backed away carefully, not able to take his eyes from the two green points staring back at him. He felt the bed against the back of his legs and he collapsed down onto it.
"Do you know why I'm here?"
"You're here to kill me?" Lord Roberts mustered his voice breaking under the pressure.
"Correct" Aracel returned, sliding his blade back into the sheath around his belt.

The two left the silence hang in the air for a few seconds, a few seconds that seemed like a lifetime.
"Why don't you get it over with" Lord Roberts spat venomously. "Just end it here for me, I've been waiting for this day for a long time now, hurry up and be done with it"
Aracel smirked in the darkness, his eyes hadn't left his prey since he had silently entrered the room a few minutes before.
Lord Roberts stood barely able to suppress his voice "Just kill me!"
"No" Aracel replied. "There is more to this story than I have been told and you will tell me before I decide how to end this night. A man doesn't change internally without a change externally. You were a good man and now you are not. I have fixed together some of the puzzle myself but you hold the remaining pieces that I require"
Lord Roberts straightened up, colour returning to his face as the initial shock drifted away from him
"You may think you want to know what is happening here, but this is too big for sewer scum like you"
Aracel smiled and removed the clothes from the chair in the corner before seating himself in it "Try me" he said quietly
"No" was the defiant reply
"Try me, or I'll slice your wifes throat"

The smile grew on Aracels face and fell from Lord Roberts. His face growing red with rage but then submission fell upon him and he sat back down on the bed with a long exhalation.

"Very well" he conceded "but by the end you will see that there is no reason to hear this story, that by spending your time listening to my words you will be closer to being captured and will wish that you had sliced my throat without me knowing your presence. The story is, however, short but full of consequence"

"I'm listening" Aracel waved a hand wishing him to continue.

"As you know times are hard for our race, we are struggling to keep our borders clear from outlanders and there is much civil uprest. The re-discovery of the dwarven clans to the north has effected our resources and our disputes with, let us say, the wilder of the Elven clans, are sparking dangerously.
It is these disputes that are most prescient to this story."

He reached over to the bed side table slowly and picked up a small silver box containing his cigerettes, from which he took one between his lips and lit.

"I have two sons, both young men, both wished to follow in my footsteps and help our race gain a stronger footing in this world. They joined the forces when they came of age and with help from my name and position they quickly climbed the ranks. I would be ashamed of their shortcuts if I didn't believe them to be strong willed and well suited to the duties of an officer, Christan especially is a strong and just leader. They went missing in action however. Believed to be dead. I was beside myself for days, weeks, unable to bury my sons, unable to let go, I didn't know if they were alive or dead, I persuaded Generals to mount search parties and I bribed soldiers to extend their patrols into areas where my boys were last seen. I was broken, you cannot understand how lost I am without them"

He took a large drag on the cigerette, the burning embers revealing the moisture in his wet eyes and a single tear running down his cheek.

"An elf came to my door. He was a wood elf, an enemy disguised as a High Elf. The guards are so ignorant they cannot spot the difference between the clans. Letting an enemy into the city. He may of course have been smuggled in by one of your kind, I have never thought to ask"

As he said this Aracel shifted uncomfortably in his seat, a hand instinctively reaching for one of his blades, he let him continue however.

"He told me he had news of my sons. I cannot tell you how delighted I was, I took him into my study and was pouring him a drink, the finest I had when he told me that he had them captive. He was the one that ambushed my sons patrols in the valley. He killed most of their men, the rest they sacrificed to their ancient Gods, the officers they left until last, he would have killed them there and then if he hadn't discovered who they were. He told me I had to do whatever he asked else my sons would be the next sacrifice."

He took another drag

"This was a couple of months ago, you cannot believe how I have had to twist and turn to make him happy. My influence has cost many people their lives and many more their freedoms, the warrants he brings me I have to sign with no knowledge of who these men and women I'm condemming are, I just sign. But it doesn't end there, I've held meetings with our military and convinced them to give up key strongholds on our borders based on evidence that I have fabricated. I have weakened this nation and I don't know how much more I can do. He demanded sacrifices, at first I could only bare give them convicts and wanted men and women, but they wanted pure blood. My own servants blood for that of my sons."

He buried his head in his hands, the cigerette still lodged between two fingers. He arose, tears sparkling in his eyes

"Every day is a new struggle between how much I love my sons and how I love my country. Everyday I become more and more trapped.
And now you see how I wish you to kill me, I need to be released from this trap and death is the only way out. Perhaps my sons are already dead either way."

The two men sat in silence for a while, Aracel locked in concentration, mulling the new details over in his mind.

"Where are you hiding him?" Aracel asked softly. Two things had occured to him, Shanra didn't see the elf leave and had only seen him on that one night and just now Lord Roberts had said that he had visited practically daily, issuing new orders and handing him new warrants to sign.

Lord Roberts didn't move, his eyes fixed firmly on the ground between his feet. He simply exhaled, a plume of thick smoke leaving his lips and swirled in the air before disappearing.

"I know he's still here"

His eyes closed, a look of defeat falling over his face Lord Roberts slowly turned his head to face Aracel, opening his eyes slowly.

"You're right" he said, soflty his voice trembling slightly "This house is fairly old, it was still standing after the city was seiged by the Alliance decades ago. There are catacombs and connections to a huge system of underground corridors. Beneath this house there is a large room, sealed off from the rest of the underground system. I kept it hidden just in case, as a kind of resistance base of operations, just in case our civic woes here turned nasty.
As cliche as it sounds you will find the entrance to it behind the bookcase in my study. The room is down the stairs and at the end of the corridor"

Aracel got up to stand, unsheathing a dagger as he moved in one fluid movement. As he walked past Lord Roberts he addressed him without looking at him

"I shall exterminate this problem of yours, if I find any information as to the whereabouts of your sons I shall leave it in one of the draws of your desk. This is the last time you shall see me tonight though.
Good evening"

Lord Roberts was left alone in the room, sat on the bed, dizzy from the encounter and terrified for what repurcussions this night would have on his sons. Tears welled up in his eyes once again but he fought back, breathing deeply he offered up a prayer to his God and hoped that he was listening.

Chapter 5

The study was as large as the bedroom, perhaps bigger. Wood panels reached halfway up the walls, stretching from the floors and elegant wallpaper in rich reds and greens filled the rest of the walls.

Portraits hung on each wall, small paintings of city officials that helped build and rebuild Arcadia. There was a fire crackling softly, the embers still glowing, the logs still creaking. There was a large desk at the far side of the wall, papers were piled up against it, spilling over onto the floor, books were left opened all over the room, a small reading table by the door was covered in volumes of law and history, ancient, dusty, leatherbound tomes full of civic law. The books taken from a large oak bookshelf which ran opposite the fire. It was impossible to imagine such a huge shelf could be pulled away from the wall. Aracel walked up to it, running a hand along a few of the books, dust kicked up at his touch and swirled through the air.

Standing back he could see no feasable way to move such an enourmous object but then he saw it. Some of the shelves stood differently, as though a hole had been cut into the enourmous bookshelf and another bookshelf made to fit inside the gap. He approached it again, this time pulling books out from the smaller shelf until one of them refused to move. Grinning he tightened his grip around it and pulled back harder. The book still refused to give but instead the shelf began to creak, opening like an enourmous heavy door, he opened it just enough to enable him to pass through, not wanting any of the light from the study to pass through and alert whoever was down in the secret passages. Tightening his belt, he stepped through the gap.

The smell hit him immeadiately, overpowering his senses. The air was thick and ancient. The stone walls were damp and moss was growing on them, the smell of death was heavy in the corridor, once inside he crouched at the top of the stairs for a few moments, allowing his eyes to grow accustomed to the dark with his nose impaired he'd need his eye sight all the more.

Candles offered a tiny amount of light, littered as they were along the walls, most of them had blown out or had simply not been lit. He took a few steps downwards, the wooden stairs creaking slightly under his foot. He was aware of something damp underfoot, initially Aracel had taken it to be damp from the air but leaning down and placing two fingers to the stairs he instantly recognised the thick liquid on his finger tips, blood.

Blood, and lots of it, the smell was intoxicating and filled his head. More than one persons, it was streaked along the floor. He descended lower and lower and stopped at the bottom, setting foot in a puddle of blood. The light was better at the end of the corridor and he could see a large oak door, metal strips reinforced it but that didn't matter, the door was open and someone was moving around inside.

There was nowhere to hide in the corridor, drawing his blades Aracel began to walk forward, ready to meet whatever was in the room ahead. His steps fell silent each time, he was crouched down, coiled and walking like a panther, ready to pounce or flee at a moments notice. He grew closer and closer to the door, taking note of blooded hand prints streaked on the walls either side of him.

The heavy door sat ancient in the archway, a remnant of the city as it used to be, a heavy door with a heavy lock, wrought iron and solid oak, as unnatural a sight as existed throughout the lands civilisation touches, a fusion of old and new so hideous that it could only have been made by man. He placed an open palm against the door, praying that it wouldn't creak as he gently pushed against it, his senses on fire as his heart seethed in his heart, his muscles tensed and primed, his eyes flashing through the dark.

The door opened enough for him to slip through, the figure was still unseen in the large antichamber beyond, the sweet, sickly smell of death hung heavy in the air, and as Aracels eyes quickly scanned over the room he noticed the cage in the far corner, bloodstained with a floor that could not be seen for the dead. Piled high inside, branded and stabbed and already beginning to rot, the damp air doing little to preserve or dignify their flesh. He felt a brief burst of vomit come to his throat as he made his final steps into the room, fighting his internal reflexes he swallowed hard, instinctively stepping into the few shadows in the room. The stone walls boasted a large number of roaring torches, illuminating even the darkest corner or the room, a room which, so far lay empty.

There was a large desk against one wall covered in notes and pens, the chair had been pulled out as if someone had stood in haste. To the right of the desk was an archway shrouded in darkness, Aracel walked over, crossing the room and passing a large stone well in the center of the room. No doubt this was the purpose of the room many decades ago, since then the well had been filled in, it's use now seemed to be that of a make shift alter, surrounded by candles with a large beam of wood laying on top of it, soaked with blood.

The papers on the desk turned out to be blank warrants and military missives. They largely didn't make much sense individually but Aracel assumed this was where the blackmailer made his plans. He overturned a few pages when he noticed a name

Lord Roberts had mentioned his son was called Christian earlier. There was another name alongside it Adam, the rest of the note was written in Elvish and Aracel strained to understand the strange dialect of the Wood Elfs pen. By picking out a few words he understood it to be orders for his tribe to release the two brothers upon receiving the message. A kill switch for the plan maybe, just in case. It already bore the bloodmark of the author, the blood had dried a long time ago,
"he must have written the letter even before he arrived here" he thought to himself

Just then his senses burst into life, gripping a knife he spun on his heels and blocked high, the clash of blade against blade ringing loudly in the air, the enemy sword slid from his block and continued it's arc downwards glancing Aracels shoulder causing him to shriek with pain.

He jumped back to avoid another swing of the sword and drew his second knife, gripping it loosely as blood dripped over his hand.

The elf stood before him, his adversarie, sneaking through the dark without sound. Standing at almost seven foot his skinny physique stood impossibly huge before him and Aracel cursed himself for letting his guard down.
The elfs brown eyes flashed with menace and his voice rasped through the air "You will die"
Lunging forward again his large sword shone in the light from the torches as Aracel easily sidestepped the attack bringing his own blade into play, slicing out at his enemy as he passed, missing by a matter of inches. The pair stood facing each other again, sweat already glinting from each brow in the humidity of the room. With lightening speed and infinite grace the Elf attacked again, each blow was matched by Aracel, the clash of steel against steel was deafening and the brutality of each attack was staggering. The sword shone in the light, the blades of the daggers seemed invisible, masked in their black camoflauge. The elf raised his sword once again to bring it down in a deadly arc. Aracel saw his opening for a split second and acted more on instinct than anything else. He fell to the floor quickly and kicked at his enemies ankles, breaking his balance the elf could not stop himself tumbling forward, the momentrum of his attack staggering him, he fell right on top of Aracel with a wheeze.
The two lay there for a while, unmoving. The sound of heavy breathing was the only noise in the air, save from the crackling of the torches. The elf rolled over and Aracel stood slowly to his feet, reclaiming the two daggers from deep within the Elfs chest and placing them back into his belt.
He dropped himself into the chair, breathless from the night, exhausted by even the thought of the journey he had undertaken, promising himself never to return to that particular bar in Lower City ever again.
Turning back to the desk he spotted the page he was looking at. There was no direction on where it was to be delivered but he conceded to leave the letter in Lord Roberts desk as he had decided on earlier.
He recrossed the room, clutching his wounded shoulder and limping slightly, worried less about stealth this time. He smiled to himself as he past the body of the dead. He still had a lot of questions, but the corpse didn't seem very forthcoming with answers. As the thud of the blood pressure in his ears died down and Aracel caught his breath he heard another sound coming from the archway. This must have been where he had been hiding, could there be an accomplice?
Aracel edged towards the archway as the noise got louder. He turned the corner slowly, his head first, ready for the next attack to come, his eyes focusing he breathed out slowly. All at once his body relaxed again, his stance changed and he rounded the corner smiling. Another cage in this room but this time the occupants were all alive. Messenger pigeons, plump and ready to fly, this must have been how he was communicating with his tribe. Above the cage was a grating and through it Aracel could see the stars hanging in the sky.

He rolled up the message and attached it to the foot of a large, healthy pidgeon, stroking the back of it's head as he did.
Reaching up to the grate he pushed it until it gave way and opened up onto the street, the pidgeons all flew out at once after he had shaken the cage a few times.
There was silence once again, Aracel allowed himself a little smile. It had been a long night, he stared up at the stars sighed before he began his climb back up and into fresh air.

Still covered in blood Aracel removed his coat and concealed his daggers in the bundle that he hung from his arm, his hand buried firmly in his trouser pocket. He strode through the streets of Upper District in his waistcoat and shirt, whistling softly to himself as he mulled over the story of the nights events, ordering everything in his mind to report back to Shanra. The streets were quiet, the lightermen had all finished their nightly patrols and the guards rarely wandered these streets Aracel knew that there was nothing else to fear that night. If the guards captured him then he would just send message to the Lord Roberts.
The stars shone brightly in the skies, beautiful pinpoints in the sky. Sources of ancient magic, destroyed forever by the reason of scientists and astronomers. A hundred thoughts like this past through his busy mind, the calm after the storm had passed.
He re-entered Lower City via the checkpoint, the border guard to tired and bored to quiz him deeply.

"Reason for transition? Visiting a friend"

The cobbles became harsh and unlevel underfoot and the air dipped cold once more, the gentle roar of the monorail off in the distance and the shattering light of the Galleons beaming down onto the streets once again. The journey was a fairly long one, it took him an hour of walking, though he did not rush through the meandering streets, discovering dead ends on the forever evolving streets of Lower City, collapsed buildings, constructed barricades, gangs that he didn't feel the need to confront. Lower City was as organic as the woods or the mountains, forever changing. Eventually he returned to the foot of the monorail scaffold, the place where Shanra had given him his mission, the place where he would complete it for her. As he approached there was no sign of her, he imagined that she had simply stretched her legs, or become to frightened and took flight. Aracel decided to wait a few minutes before finding a place to bed down for the night.

He leant back against the metal scaffold with a deep exhalation. His body was relaxed and slouched, totally alien to his normal stance, the late moon taking it's toll on him. A tingle ran through his body, his senses piqued and he pushed himself forward onto his two feet once again. Dropping his coat, one of his knives crashing to the floor, the other ready in his hand. Something wasn't right, he looked around through the night. Nothing. He relaxed and closed his eyes, turning his head this way and that, no sounds, nothing. Opening his eyes slowly, he breathed in silently. Wait. That smell. Blood. Behind the scaffold was a pile of boxes, enshrouded in dark, boxes and bins and sacks of rubbish and a foot. Aracel swore to himself under his breath as he pushed aside a few boxes revealing what he feared.

Shanra's lifeless body lay face down amongst the filth of the Lower City. A single knife protruding proudly from her back, it's blue hilt catching the light and laughing back at Aracel, mocking him.

He looked up and down the street, knowing that he wouldn't see anybody, knowing that he didn't have any clues, any leads about who would do such a thing. Cursing himself for leaving a girl like Shanra alone on a street corner.
He was helpless.

Aracel picked up his coat putting both knives in his belt for the last time that night. He walked down the street, defeated, disappearing into the fog.


© 2010 Stories Of Atlas

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I'm having trouble reading this. The sentences cut off on one side of the page :(

Posted 2 Years Ago

Loved this. I would love to post some of your working on my web site with your permission. Please check out the site and let me know. The address is
I really need some stories like yours. Thanks. Alex

Posted 3 Years Ago

"Reason for transition? Visiting a friend"( noticed this a few times. Missing punctuation. After friend there should be a , or ! or a ? and as the dialogue ends there that eliminates a comma. Maybe a period. Just needs some sort of punctuation lol.)

Aracel asked softly. (try to avoid the -ly adverb tagged onto dialogue)

Other than that, not a bad piece.

Posted 8 Years Ago

Just went back and read this after your dead forest piece, and it's nice to see some character overlap. As usual the writing is very good, and I enjoy the way you've been contrasting magic with technology, as that always tends to add more of real world perspective to any fantasy story.

Posted 8 Years Ago

something that i will subscribe to and wait for to read. It is truly amazing

This review was written for a previous version of this writing

Posted 8 Years Ago

Very Well Written Sir.

This review was written for a previous version of this writing

Posted 8 Years Ago

you write an amazing story!!!
keep it up!!

Don't Stop Believin'

This review was written for a previous version of this writing

Posted 8 Years Ago

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Added on December 18, 2009
Last Updated on March 31, 2010
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